Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Best Reads of 2018 Part 2

I read 214 books in 2018 so when I was getting ready to do my Best Reads of 2018 feature, it was very difficult to narrow it down. Some of them were new releases, some were just new to me, and some of them are re-reads but all really stuck with me and found a lasting place in my heart and library.  I finally narrowed it down to 49 books broken into five parts.  Part 2 features my favorite reads from April, May, & June of 2018 each containing my original review.

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Part 1  /  Part 3  /  Part 4  /  Part 5

Hug it Out by Davidson King
April Book of the Month
Haven Hart Universe #2
Riordan Darcy has spent the last fourteen years building a name for himself as a notorious assassin. He travels the world taking the lives of some of the worst humanity has to offer, leaving his signature on every victim.

Riordan becomes unhappy and withdrawn from the world after a job goes horribly wrong and he makes the decision to get out of the life he was forced into, so long ago. When his meddling, older sister gives him a birthday gift that’s impossible to refuse, his plans to leave his life of crime take a backseat when he’s forced to protect the life of a veritable stranger.

When professional hugger and TLC provider, Teddy Harris, is offered a month-long companionship contract, he’s hard pressed to turn it down. Cuddler by day and a video game reviewer by night, Teddy’s need to make people feel loved and cared for is what drives him. When he meets Riordan Darcy, professional challenge and personal temptation collide, making it nearly impossible for him to endure a whole month with the gorgeous, enigmatic man without falling head over heels in love.

When a mole is discovered within Riordan’s organization, relationships are compromised, and people’s lives are in danger. Time isn’t on their side, and they discover answers can’t always be found by hugging it out when someone is hell-bent on eliminating each and every one of them. Can Riordan and Teddy survive long enough to fall in love, or will they die trying?

Original Review April 2018:
Riordan Darcy finds himself disheartened in his role as an assassin after a job goes wrong and his family is worried.  Teddy Harris, prefessional hugger and TLC provider, found his calling giving the kind of care to others that he found in his grandmother's arms growing up and he loves every minute of it.  When Riordan's sister hires Teddy for one month, she had no idea what she was starting.  Can these two polar opposites find happiness in each other's worlds or will love and comfort fail to conquer all?

First off I have to admit that when the author told us what Teddy's profession was, I chuckled and thought "okay that's a bit out there".  Now, I know how hugging can change your whole demeanor, how your day can be fulfilled or lacking.  Having set too many times by my mother's hospital bed as she was hooked up to a respirator and had to return to my lonely hotel room without a goodnight hug left many a day incomplete.  So I more than understood the needs and services that Teddy would be providing, I just did not know it was a profession.  So as the saying goes, "you're never too old to learn new tricks".

So on to Hug it Out.  Last fall I fell in love with Davidson King's writing, no that's not accurate enough because what she does is more than writing.  Davidson King is a storyteller.  Some might think that writers and storytellers are the same thing, I don't see it that way.  A writer tells a story but a storyteller creates a world that sucks you in, holds you there, and won't let go.  A storyteller creates a world you want to exist in, people you want to know, communities you want to see unfold outside your living room window.  Haven Hart may be a city that Miss King created but she does it in a way that it could be anywhere on the map.

All authors start somewhere but when their debut novel is as amazing as Snow Falling was, one wonders will their follow-up be The Empire Strikes Back caliber or go the way of Speed 2?  I can safely and honestly say that Hug it Out is a TESB-quality sequel.  Did Teddy and Riordan touch my heart as much as Snow and Chris? Probably not but I wouldn't want to place a bet on the difference.  I won't touch on the plot because as you know I don't do spoilers but let me just say that their story is a humdinger that had me hating such insignificant chores such as eating and sleeping.  I couldn't put it down but when I reached the last page, I kicked myself for not reading it slower to savor the awesomeness.

Some might say I haven't actually said much about the book or the characters and maybe that's true with the whole no spoiler rule I live by.  I will add that even though the characters, main and secondary, might not be people we would meet at the store or pumping gas, I still connected with their pain, tension, and the overall emotions they feel throughout.  Which only goes to strengthen my belief that Davidson King is more than just a writer as I said above.  A true gem that I am already looking forward to re-reading for years to come.

One final thing, for those who are wondering if you need to read Snow Falling first, its my personal preference to say yes but Hug it Out is a standalone in the Haven Hart Universe.  We see Snow and Chris from book one a few times and though it is not necessary to know their journey to understand Teddy and Riordan, I think it flows better if you read book one first but no, it is not a must.


The Magician Murders by Josh Lanyon
Art of Murder #3
Nothing up his sleeves. Nothing but murder…

Jason West, hot-shot special agent with the FBI’s Art Crime Team, is at the Wyoming home of Behavioral Analysis Unit Chief Sam Kennedy, recuperating from a recent hit-and-run accident, when he’s asked to consult on the theft of a priceless collection of vintage magic posters.

But before Jason can say “presto change-o,” the owner of the art collection turns up murdered in a National Forest.

When the dead man is revealed to be the Kubla Khanjurer, a much-hated part-time magician accused of revealing the highly guarded secrets of professional illusionists, it seems clear this is a simple revenge killing—until Jason realizes an earlier suspicious death at the trendy magic club Top Hat White Rabbit might be part of the same larger and more sinister pattern.

Original Review April 2018:
While recovering from a hit-and-run, Agent Jason West spends some unexpected extra alone time with Behavioral Analysis Unit Chief Sam Kennedy.  But the job is never very far away when he's asked to consult the local office with the theft of a priceless collection of vintage magic posters.  As is Jason's luck it leads to more than just theft but will this unexpected assistance strengthen or hamper his and Sam's growing relationship?

I'm going to jump right out of the gate and say "How can you not love Jason West?" I can certainly understand Sam's desire to keep him locked away and safe.  Okay maybe not locked away because with all the possible words you could use to describe Sam Kennedy, monster is not one of them.  Sam's growing feelings for Jason are definitely influencing his actions, he may not be new to his heart ruling the roost, but its certainly been a long time since that organ has been doing the thinking for him.  On the surface these two don't seem like they'd be right for each other but with some time and lots of arguing throughout this series, its become pretty clear that Jason and Sam are actually a perfect fit.  The hemming-and-hawing, back-and-forth, secrets and realizations have finally revealed what the heart wants.  Some might say I've given away a bit of the story with this paragraph but its my opinion that a well written love story isn't in the destination but the journey getting there.  And what a journey it is.

Now as for the mystery part of The Magician Murders, well for that you won't get any insight from me other than to say my thoughts were the same as Agent West's at one point but frankly I'm glad I was wrong.  There is just something about Magician that has a film noir essence about it, maybe its the stolen vintage posters, maybe its the cast of characters, maybe its the growing relationship between Jason and Sam, or maybe its just the amazing and mesmerizing writing style of Josh Lanyon.  Anyone who has read her work before knows that she loves a good mystery but its more than that, she creates characters that you want to know, characters that you want to smother in kindness and some you just want to smother.  It takes talent to take over-the-top personalities and make them seem almost everyday-neighbor-next-door types. Lets face it you won't meet them the next time you run to the store for milk and eggs but you sure would like to.

For those who are wondering if you can start The Art of Murder series with The Magician Murders I'm going to say no.  If you follow my reviews than you know I'm a huge series reader and that I also firmly believe in reading them in order, whether the author writes them that way or not.  If you want to split hairs than you could probably start with Magician as the case is new but you won't understand everything that Jason and Sam have  gone through to get to where they are, it flows better if you start with book one, The Mermaid Murders because there are some carry-overs as for future possibilities(hey don't expect me to reveal any secrets😉).  If this is a new series for you, trust me you will not be disappointed even if three books seem daunting don't worry because once you start they just fly by because you can't put them down.


Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose by Charlie Cochrane
Cambridge Fellows #12.6
Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith like nothing more than being handed a mystery to solve. But why would anybody murder a man with no enemies? And was it murder in the first place?

Original Review April 2018:
Jonty and Orlando have been enjoying some down time but they are hungry for a case.  Their wish is granted but is it solvable when the dead man had no enemies? Is it even murder?  Have they finally found a case that stumps even their brilliant history of deduction?  Will the time before the dunderheads return be enough?

So many questions, so many possibilities, but would Jonty and Orlando really want it any other way? No.  Would we the readers expect anything less? No.  Well, good thing then because you won't be disappointed.  Once again Charlie Cochrane takes this lovely pair and puts them through their detecting paces and we're lucky enough to be along for the ride.  Would I have loved a full-length novel? Of course, I am a long read fiend but just because the tale is short in pages doesn't mean its short in awesomeness.

Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose(great title BTW) gives us what we've come to know and expect from Jonty and Orlando's world: skullduggerry(because there is so much more to the case than what they are originally asked to investigate no other word would give it justice), humor, family(Livinia is doing her mother proud and Richard is even finding his father-in-law's shoes fitting quite well), friendship, and of course romance.  If you are looking for lots of heat between Jonty and Orlando, than you might be disappointed but just because its not burning up the pages doesn't mean the passion doesn't shine through.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  This duo is so dynamic and fun to read that I will always 1-click this series, whether the author writes only 1 more one-page coda or 100 full-length tales.  Jonty and Orlando have staying power.  Not all series can say that but Cambridge Fellows Mysteries can and I look forward to seeing them detecting, dithering over dunderheads, and dalliances for many years to come, be it new journeys or re-reading their old cases this is one mystery solving couple that will never get old even if we see them advance into their senior years.


Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon
May Book of the Month
From award-winning male/male author Josh Lanyon: a librarian finds himself in a plot right out of one of his favorite mystery novels.

Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can’t pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter’s roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa’s books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler’s death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there’s anyone on the tour he can trust.

Drawn into the intrigue, Carter searches for answers, trying to fend off his growing attraction toward John. As unexplained tragedies continue, the whole tour must face the fact that there may be a murderer in their midst—but who?

Original Review May 2018:
Carter Matheson is on the tour he's been dreaming of for a couple of years now, a bus tour for fans of mystery writer Dame Vanessa Rayburn, unfortunately his ex is also on the tour with the new boyfriend.  Unexpectedly, Carter finds himself with a roommate, John Knight, who doesn't appear to know much about Vanessa Rayburn's stories.  Between rumors, night wanderings, and attraction this bus tour is starting to look like one Miss Rayburn's novels leaving Carter unsure who to trust.  Will Carter survive the tour in one piece?

Holy Hannah Batman!  Murder Takes the High Road is a great way to kick off my summer reading, okay maybe its a little early to say its kicking off the summer reading but if it was a couple of weeks later than it would be the right timing for that statement.  Murder has a little bit of everything: mystery, lust, romance, attraction, drama, mayhem, and memorable characters that hold it all together.  Not only is Murder chuck full of everything that has put Josh Lanyon at the top of my favorite authors list but it has the added plus of everything I love about British mysteries.

Gossip, rumors, assumptions, and altercations are only a small part of what drives this mystery, that is if there really is a mystery . . . okay there is a mystery to solve but I won't tell you what it is but you are going to love finding out.  I was completely surprised and that doesn't happen to me much anymore considering all the reading I do.

As for the characters, well Carter is absolutely lovable and I can't even begin to imagine how Trevor could choose the "other guy" over him but thank God he did because Carter deserves better.  Which brings us to John Knight, a man on an author tour who doesn't appear to read said author, yeah there's nothing fishy about that 😉😉 As for the other members of the tour, well they are definitely an eclectic bunch that made Murder a wonderfully fun read I just couldn't put down.

I'd say who knew murder could be so fun but if you've read Josh Lanyon before than you know exactly just how fun she makes it and if you haven't read her before than this is a great starter for you.  I know that Murder Takes the High Road is a one off but if Carter Matheson ever decides to take another bus tour I hope we get to go along for the ride.  This is definitely one for my re-reads shelf.


Love in Spades by Charlie Cochet
Four Kings Security #1
Ex-Special Forces soldier Anston “Ace” Sharpe is fighting a different battle these days—one involving the world of private security across the state of Florida. As part owner of Four Kings Security, Ace and his fellow Kings tackle everything from armed transport and investigations to cyber intelligence and executive protection. Cocky, fearless, and brash, Ace isn’t afraid to take risks.

After years of working alongside his father, Colton Connolly is ready to take the helm at Connolly Maritime, but his father’s retirement is put on hold when Colton begins receiving death threats. If that isn’t bad enough, his father signs a contract with Four Kings Security to provide Colton with round-the-clock protection, despite his adamant refusal. Colton’s life has been turned upside down, the last thing he needs is a shadow, especially in the form of infuriating, sexy-as-sin Ace Sharpe, who seems to be on a mission to drive Colton mad.

Sparks fly the moment Colton and Ace meet on a sultry night club dance floor. But getting involved with a client, even one as fiery and beautiful as Colton Connolly, is a line Ace is unwilling to cross. Colton might be attracted to Ace, but he’d been burned before. He might be willing to put his life in Ace’s hands, but not his heart.

As the Florida nights heat up, so does their passion, and Ace and Colton are faced with a difficult choice—take the plunge and risk it all, or play it safe and walk away?

If Ace can keep a deadly threat from robbing Colton of a future….

Original Review May 2018:
Colton Connolly is ready to take over running the family business, Connolly Maritime, but he's been receiving disturbing mail and packages.  Colton isn't concerned but his father is and hires Four Kings Security to protect his son.  Anston “Ace” Sharpe and his friends have found a new place in life running Four Kings Security after their military career was over and its given them a new lease on life.  When their new client is Colton Connolly things don't go too smoothly at first but when Ace steps in and does what he does best, Colton has a change of heart.  Will their attraction to each other put lives at risk or only their hearts?

When I saw there was going to be a new series from the author who brought us THIRDS I was pumped.  I have to admit that when I'm that excited about something, I am often a little disappointed afterwards, that it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  WELL!! I needn't have worried because Love in Spades lived up to my expectations and more.  One can't help but compare bodyguard/client romances to The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, for me it just seems the natural comparison.  Let me tell you that Charlie Cochet's Love in Spades far surpassed my love of that movie.  Ace and Colton are a perfect pair,  By "perfect" I don't mean that everything is Utopian, because to me that isn't perfect.  Perfect relationship-wise is a meshing of love/hate, arguing/making-up, strengths/weakness, "perfect" is a balanced scale of good and bad.  That is exactly what these boys are, a well balanced duo.

As for the mystery behind the threatening letters/packages, well I think you know what I'm about to say: for those answers you have to read for yourself.  Trust me, you don't want to miss it!  I had some ideas from the very beginning and they evolved as I read the book(which a well written mystery should) so let me just say it was definitely intriguing that kept me hooked from beginning to end.

Four Kings Security is going to be great and I can't wait for more.  They may not be the boys from THIRDS but they are a very close second, I wouldn't want to put money on the difference and if the two series were cars I wouldn't want to put my finger between them.  Just brilliantly written with characters that I loved, even if I wanted to strangle a few of them at times(and not just the bad guys).  As I said, I am on the edge of my seat waiting for more.


The Given & the Taken by LA Witt
Tooth & Claw #1
Levi finally persuaded his wolf clan to allow him to bond to Ian instead of his predestined female mate. The catch? They have to spend a year apart after the bonding ritual. Then Ian must—using only their newly-forged spiritual connection—seek Levi out, proving the bond actually worked despite Ian being human.

Now the year is over, and Levi is desperate to have Ian back in his arms, but there’s one problem—Ian’s changed. In a moment of weakness during that agonizing year apart, Ian cheated… with a vampire. Now Ian himself is a vampire, and a devastated, furious Levi wants nothing to do with him.

That is until he learns his clan wants Ian brought to justice for desecrating their most sacred ritual. If they find him, they’ll learn he’s a vampire, and kill him. Afraid for Ian’s safety, Levi rushes to find him.

Darius, the vampire who converted Ian, tries to take him someplace safe, but when Levi catches up, all hell breaks loose. Now Ian’s on the run with a dead wolf’s blood on his hands, and the only way Levi or Darius are going to get near him is to work together.

They need to get to him before the rest of the clan… assuming they don’t kill each other first.

Original Review May 2018:
When Levi and Ian agreed the year separation after the bonding ceremony they knew it would be difficult but they had no idea it would be as difficult and life-changing as it was.  Upon reuniting, Levi finds Ian changed.  Ian is now a vampire and Levi wants nothing to do with him.  When he returns to his pack and learns what their plan for Ian is, Levi rushes to reach him first .  When Levi finds himself having to work with Darius, the vampire who changed Ian, to save Ian's life will they reach him before they kill each other or will the attraction they feel win out?  And where will that leave Ian when they find him?

WOW! There is no other word that will better describe the awesomeness of The Given and the Taken.  Just brilliantly WOW!  One of the things that I appreciated the most was that these men live in a world where people know about vampires and werewolves, where they are more than just myth and legend.  It probably occurs more than I think but not nearly enough for my liking so when I realized that humans knew about the vamps and wolves I loved this story even more.

As for the characters, I love them all, well not the pack elders but the four main characters were just awesome.  Sure I wanted to kick Levi's butt for awhile but let's be honest if we were in his shoes you know you'd be quick to judge Ian too and then have to spend the rest of the time fixing your mistake, so I can forgive him for that😉  Ian makes some mistakes but he was human after all, was being the operative word.  Darius may be a deadly vampire but I found him absolutely lovely and adorable.  Selena, Levi's best friend and would-be-mate if Ian hadn't come along, was honest and in-your-face, not letting Levi get away with his shoddy treatment of Ian not to mention making sure Levi and Darius don't kill each other.  What a great cast of characters.

I don't do spoilers but I have to say that I found Levi's faith in the pack laws evolving from trust to despising to be very believable.  Unfortunately, at some point we all lose faith in something or see what everyone else has been telling us so I was able to really connect with Levi in that instance.  Just brilliantly done from beginning to end and I can't wait to read parts 2 & 3 of the Tooth & Claw trilogy.


Robby Riverton: Mail Order Bride by Eli Easton
Being a fugitive in the old west shouldn’t be this much fun.

The year is 1860. Robby Riverton is a rising star on the New York stage. But he witnesses a murder by a famous crime boss and is forced to go on the run--all the way to Santa Fe.

When he still hasn't ditched his pursuers, he disguises himself as a mail order bride he meets on the wagon train. Caught between gangsters that want to kill him, and the crazy, uncouth family of his "intended", Robby's only ally is a lazy sheriff who sees exactly who Robby is -- and can't resist him.

Trace Crabtree took the job as sheriff of Flat Bottom because there was never a thing going on. And then Robby Riverton showed up. Disguised as a woman. And betrothed to Trace’s brother. If that wasn’t complication enough, Trace had to find the man as appealing as blueberry pie. He urges Robby to stay undercover until the danger has passed.

But a few weeks of having Robby-Rowena at the ranch, and the Crabtree family will never be the same again.

Original Review May 2018:
Robbie Riverton had a bright future ahead of him on the stage in 1860 New York but one fateful night everything changed.  Witnessing a murder he hightails it out of town and while on the wagon train he meets mail order bride Rowena Fairchild.  Through a few more twists of fate, Robbie takes Rowena's place with the Crabtree family. But when he meets son Trace, sheriff of Flat Bottom, more than his life is at risk.   Nothing will ever be the same for each member of the Crabtrees after they welcome Robbie Riverton, mail-order bride into their home.

How can one not fall in love with Robbie Riverton is beyond me, he is so absolutely adorable and anyone who can make such an impact on a whole family in such a short space of time is aces in my book.  Trace is no slouch himself when it comes to enjoyable, would I call him adorable? Probably not but he is certainly lovely and one I rooted for from the very first moment we meet him.  You just know the fire between them will rival any shoot-'em-up the Old West has to offer.  Now I won't give anything away but I will say that Robbie's journey is one I won't soon forget and I'll be re-visiting on more than one occassion in the future.

I haven't read everything in Eli Easton's library but what I have read has never failed to entertain and Mail Order Bride is no different.  Taking her spin on romance, her character development, her way with scenery and dialogue, and putting it into a historical setting was just one of the best reading treats I could ask for.  Was it a bit of a far-reaching idea for 1860? Some might see it that way but history does contain some interesting twists and turns.  This is fiction after all and Robbie Riverton: Mail Order Bride is clever, fun, sweet, and entertaining from beginning to end with just the right amount of heat and humor, I hated to say goodbye to the lads when I swiped the final page.  Who knows maybe if we're real nice and real lucky we'll see the boys again in one of Miss Eaton's famous Christmas stories😉😉 but if this was the only time we see them, Holy Hannah Batman! what a winner!

Original Audiobook Review August 2018:
I don't really have anything to add to my original ebook review as far as the story goes.  I don't usually do a re-read(or listen in this case) this soon after the first time so I was a little reluctant to do so but I loved Robbie and Trace's story so much that I decided to give a go even though its only been a couple of months.  Well, I still loved the boys and was blown over by Matthew Shaw's voice.  I tend to need to listen to an audiobook a few times because I find myself zoning out because I'm concentrating too much on what I'm doing but not with Mail Order Bride.  Truth is I felt like a bystander in Flat Bottom, if I looked up I would see Robbie riding in to town with the girls or Trace's badge glint in the sun as he walked by.  Matthew Shaw really brings this story to life and even though it might not have been my first choice to listen so soon after reading Robbie Riverton: Mail Order Bride, I'm glad I did and look forward to many more listens.


Guardian Spirits by Jordan L Hawk
June Book of the Month
Spirits #3
Psychic medium Vincent Night and his lover Henry Strauss have spent months striving to uncover the dark secret harbored by Vincent’s dead mentor, James Dunne. Their only clue comes from a journal: Dunne was seeking to restore the Grand Harmonium, an artifact meant to breach the walls between life and death.

Fate seems to intervene when Henry and Vincent are offered a job investigating the haunted orphanage where Dunne lived as a youth. But the ghosts of the orphanage don’t rest easily, and the lovers soon find themselves in a battle to locate the Grand Harmonium before it falls into the wrong hands—and unleashes evil upon the world.

Original Review June 2018:
After months of searching, Vincent and Lizzie are no closer to discovering what their mentor, James Dunne, was planning prior to his death.  With the aid of Henry and his cousin Jo, the only clue they have is a journal where Dunne mentions the Grand Harmonium but just what that is they have no idea.  When a job comes up, Henry is hoping to take their minds off the lack of progress but will this job be the distraction Henry hoped for or will it take the foursome into the lions den?  Will the love and family unit the four have become be enough to pull them out the other side unharmed or will it be the end?  And will they ever discover what the Grand Harmonium is or the true intentions of James Dunne before its too late?

Guardian Spirits is absolutely amazing!  Quite possibly the best of the trilogy and that's not something one often says.  Series very rarely get better with each entry, not saying they get worse but rarely better.  Spirits' main characters may be Vincent and Henry but Lizzie and Jo are not exactly what I would classify as "secondary", perhaps "main characters with less page time" but not "secondary".  I just love the dynamic between the four, they really have become a family.

As for the mystery well I think you know what I'm about to say: I don't do spoilers and so many small details really do play a part so I'll just say this: WOW and DOUBLE WOW!!!  We finally get to meet the man who set Henry on his path to put science into the worlds of mediums and clairvoyants.  We meet a few new characters, some are good, some are bad, some you just aren't sure of till the moment of pure terror hits but each one definitely has a place in the story.

I will say this: if you haven't read Restless Spirits or Dangerous Spirits then don't start with Guardian first.  In my honest opinion there is just too many tiny(and some not so tiny) details in each installment that plays a part in the journey.  Would you be lost if you started here? Probably not but it just will make more sense and help you understand character motivation to read from the beginning.  I'm sorry to see the end and wished there would be more to come but since this was a trilogy, I can't think of a better way to close it out.

Overall Series 1st Re-read Review June 2018:
Not much I can say in this overall series review that hasn't already been said but as it has been some time between Dangerous Spirits and Guardian Spirits, I decided to re-read books 1 & 2 before Guardian's release.  I won't lie, re-reading them made #3 even better but I hadn't forgotten a single thing of the first two like I thought I might have.  For me, having remembered everything in such detail only goes to speak that much more of the author's talent of storytelling and universe-building.  I loved the paranormal aspect of the series as well as the historical settings but its the diversity of the characters that really make Spirits great.  Such diversity isn't something we often see in this sub-genre of paranormal because Vincent, Henry, Lizzie, & Jo are all human and realistic.  Some might say that the foursome is far-fetched for the setting but the truth is just because they aren't often talked about doesn't mean they didn't exist, so kudos to Jordan L Hawk for creating a great blend of fiction, reality, history, paranormal, mystery, and wrapped it all together in a giant romantic bow.  This may not make my annual re-read list but I will certainly revisit the Spirits universe for years to come.


Double Dutch Courage by Helena Stone
Ronan Collins has spent most of his life in Dublin hiding who he really is. Coming out would hurt his mother, and Ronan isn’t going to be the second gay man to do that. When he receives news the father he has never known has died, leaving him both a house and a business in Amsterdam, he jumps on the opportunity to get to know the man who fathered him and to discover what he’s been denying himself for years. 

Lucas Brandt thought he had it all when Paul Kelly offered him a job and rooms to live in. With Paul deceased he fears he may be about to lose both. He didn’t even know Paul had a son, and now this stranger is on his way from Dublin to pull the rug out from under Lucas’s feet. 

The two men don’t expect to like each other, never mind feel attraction. With numerous reasons why hooking up would be a bad idea, why does giving in feel so much better? And is Ronan’s back story really as he’s always imagined it to be? 

Sudden changes require great bravery. Can both men find the courage to be true to themselves and each other?

Original Review June 2018:
Ronan Collins has never known his father, he's only known what his mother has told him so when he discovers that his father has died and left him his business and home, Ronan is completely shocked but jumps at the chance to go to Amsterdam and discover what he can.  Lucas Brandt was lucky to be mentored by Paul Kelly, not only did Paul give him a job but a place to live too but now that Paul has died, Lucas finds his future in the hands of an unknown son.  When these two meet, can Ronan's need to know who his dad was coincide with Lucas' need to know where he stands mesh?  Will they discover more than what they are looking for?

Double Dutch Courage is just delightful!  Ronan and Lucas are absolutely adorable both as individuals and as a pair.  There are so many routes the author could have taken, no doubt they all would have made for a good story but the journey Helena Stone takes these two men on is near picture perfect.  I just loved how Ronan is able to finally be himself, even if reluctantly, with Lucas' blend of friendship, co-worker, and tour guide.  His choice isn't easy having spent his whole life denying that part of himself in fear of hurting his mother but sometimes we need to search our past before we can find our future.

I was prepared to really hate Ronan's mother especially after she announced she was coming to Amsterdam for a visit.  Now I won't give any particulars in regard to her stay but I will say that this was one of those points I mentioned where the author could have taken many possibile paths but the one Miss Stone takes is definitely the better one.  If you are looking for proof that communication with secondary characters are important than this is a prime example.

Drama doesn't have to mean angst and turmoil, it can be simple every day misunderstandings, miscommunications, or even just discovery which is exactly what Double Dutch Courage is about: discovering the past, discovering the future, discovering yourself, and the journey connecting these findings.  Helena Stone filled the covers with sweet romance, intense connections, beautiful scenery, and just the right amount of heat to bring you a very entertaining, dramatic yet fun romance.


Once Upon a Western Shore by Harper Fox
Tyack & Frayne #9
It’s May Eve, and for once the body discovered in a meadow isn’t Gideon’s concern. The remains are decades old, and Gid and Lee are free to enjoy a proper Cornish Beltane, with maypoles, mirth, and a wild, sexy dash into the greenwood.

When trouble flares, it’s from an unexpected source: Tamsyn, after a quiet few months, suddenly manifests terrifying new paranormal powers. She can’t be kept hidden forever, and working out how to shield her is enough to drive a wedge even between these most united of parents.

Then Gideon’s cold case becomes a hot one for Lee. The dead man in the field has been forgotten by the living, but his memories are vivid and riding wild on the wind from the sea. No-one can act out his unfinished business but Lee, and it’s going to take all Gideon’s strength and love to get him through the ordeal.

Beltane magic past and present sweeps through Cornwall as Tamsyn steps into her powers, and the witches of the western shore look set to pay a dreadful price unless Gideon and Lee can bring to light the truth buried so long ago.

Original Review June 2018:
It's May Eve and Gideon and Lee are enjoying some quiet family time with their daughter, Tamsyn.  A century old body is discovered but even that is nothing to concern the boys.  Tamsyn's powers can't be kept hidden forever and when Gideon's cold case can only be solved with Lee's abilities, suddenly their Beltane is no longer quiet.  Will Lee be able to reach into the past to solve Gideon's case and will Gideon be able to pull Lee back?

When I saw that there was a new Tyack & Frayne story I was thrilled!  There is just so much to love about these boys, Tamsyn, family, and friends.  Their connection, their passion, their love for their daughter, the way they want to protect all those around them and with Once Upon a Western Shore we get to see those around them wanting to protect them too.  Throw in the cold case mystery, paranormal elements, friendship, and the love that binds them together and you find yourself on an amazing journey.

I won't go into too much detail because of the mystery but let me tell you that my heart breaks for the past but the boys' love goes a long way to heal the present so the past can rest,  watching Gid & Lee get from point A to point Z is quite a ride.  As for Tamsyn, I can't wait to see her continue to grow into her powers, it's terrifying and exhilerating at that the same time.  Watching Zeke go from a non-believer to a willing(mostly) assistant shows just how experiencing something can truly open a person to what is beyond their own four walls.

Once Upon a Western Shore is a great addition to the series and a thrilling next step in Gid & Lee's journey.  Can't wait to see what the author has in store next for this family and the little Cornish village they call home.


Hug it Out by Davidson King
When I opened my eyes, Riordan was watching me. He looked away quickly, but not fast enough. What did he see when he looked at me? A goofy gamer who loved to hug? Did he see the man behind the bunny suit? Maybe he wished I looked more like my friends and less like a nerd.

Odd that this was bothering me. Normally, I didn’t give a shit what people thought. Riordan was a client and I needed to remember that.

“I didn’t mean to be insulting, Teddy, or accusatory. It’s not every day I find out the man hired to keep me company is friends with Christopher Manos’ husband, a man who happens to be a well-known crime boss.” When he lifted his sunglasses and exposed his eyes, I felt better. The barrier was unnerving and reading people was better this way. “In my line of work, people are judged by those they associate with. Too many times, I’ve been right. Hang out with shit and you start to smell.”

Now it was my turn to react. “Snow is not shit. He’s an amazing guy. He may be married to a crime boss, but he’s not like that. He’s my friend because he treats me with respect. Now, I think I will be ending this lunch. You can put it all away. I’ll call a cab to take me home.”

Riordan jumped up when I did. His hands were inches from my arms, yet I could feel them as if they were on me. “Whoa, calm down. I wasn’t calling him shit. Wow.” He chuckled. “You’re a spitfire, huh?” He rubbed his hand over his buzzed head almost like he was nervous. “Here I thought you were all marshmallows and rainbows. It’s nice to see there’s a fire in your belly.”

“Look,” I said as I began putting the food away since it was obvious Riordan wasn’t going to do it. “I want to help you. Aisling hired me, and I know we said we’d give it a week, but I’m not sure it’s going to work. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable with someone else.”

I’d guessed Riordan was gay and called him paranoid. Both assumptions I would have never made with any other client. I also didn’t fight with clients. I was breaking all my own rules and cutting this short would be wise.

“You want to quit because we had a little spat?”

“It’s not a spat.” I tugged the blanket until he got the hint and moved off it. “I work for people who want me there. You don’t. This isn’t about you being a jerk about my friends or dropping me off to park.” I was mid-fold when I turned to give Riordan a sardonic look. “You do realize you pulled into a spot to let me out to find a spot, right?”

I could practically hear Riordan counting to ten as he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know. I had to deal with something. I can’t tell you, but…” He inched closer to me, eyes soft and sincere. “I don’t think you’re horrible. Our company is strange, but I like it. Let’s just do the whole month, it’ll be fine, I’m sure. I don’t want to start over with someone else.”

In a gesture almost too sweet, Riordan brushed a curl from my forehead and smiled. “I need you to not ask me about the things I do. I can’t tell you. Ever. But I promise I will relax more and stop being such a jerk.”

I could see the truth in his eyes. I knew calling it quits was probably the right thing to do. We were clashing left and right. He’d try to see things my way, but we’d argue again. But I was a fool sometimes and I really believed I could help him. “Okay. We can stick to the schedule for the month as planned. But if it doesn’t work, if we’re fighting or it’s stressful, we need to break the contract. Agreed?”


The Magician Murders by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
Rain flicked against the apartment windows in random, off-beat splash and dissolve.

It was sort of soothing, and Jason had not had much sleep the night before, but he could not afford to drift off in the middle of a conference call with his boss.

“If the legendary West charm has failed to convince Ursula Martin to file charges against Fletcher-Durrand, maybe Uncle Sam should take a swing at her,” Karan Kapszukiewicz was saying.

Kapszukiewicz was chief of the Major Theft Unit of the Criminal Investigative Division. She oversaw the Art Crime Team agents from her Washington DC office, which was where she was calling Jason from. Jason was on his cell phone, lying on Sam’s sofa in Sam’s apartment in Stafford, Virginia. The apartment was not far from the training academy where Jason was attending routine in-service refresher training.

“Respectfully, I don’t think that’s the approach we want to take with Martin,” Jason replied. “I think there’s still a good chance she’ll ultimately come through for us, but not if we push her. Her situation is complicated.”

“Isn’t everybody’s?”

Jason waited politely.

Karan sighed. “I had a feeling you’d say that, so…okay. I’ll let you make the call. she’s your complainant. Or was.”

Jason winced. The collapse two months ago of charges against the Fletcher-Durrand art gallery was still painful. He had worked his ass off building a prosecutable case of fraud, grand larceny and forgery—only to have the rug yanked out from under him when his original complainants had agreed to settle out of court with the Durrands.

There had been a hell of a lot more to it than that, of course, but the bottom line was the US Attorney’s Office would not be filing charges against Fletcher-Durrand at this time. Especially since the Durrand most wanted by law enforcement and everyone else seemed to have vanished off the face of the planet.

Not that Jason was so naïve as to imagine hard work and determination alone ensured the successful prosecution of every case—luck always played a role, and his luck had definitely been out. At least as far as the Durrands were concerned. In other ways…

His gaze traveled to a large Granville Redmond painting of California poppies beneath stormy skies, hanging on the opposite wall.

In other ways, his luck had been very much in, which was how he came to be lying on BAU Chief Sam Kennedy’s sofa waiting for Sam to get home. Two months ago, he’d feared his relationship with Sam had run its blink-and-you-missed-it course, but against the odds, here he was.

“All right,” Karan said more briskly, her attention already moving on to bigger or more winnable cases. “Keep me posted.”

“Will do.”

She was clearly about to ring off, but Jason being one of her protégés, Karan asked suddenly, “How’s training? You’re still at Quantico?”

“Yeah. I fly out tomorrow night. Training is…training.”

“Always,” Karan agreed gravely. “Okay. Have a good flight home.” She did hang up then. Her timing was perfect. Jason heard Sam’s key in the front door lock.

He clicked off his cell and rose as the front door swung open. The scent of April showers and faded, but still slightly jarring, aftershave wafted in.


Sam was a big man and he filled the door frame. Instantly, the quiet, slightly dusty rooms felt alive again. Occupied. The stale, centrally heated air seemed to break apart as though before a gust of pure, cold oxygen.

 “Hi.” Sam looked tired. He always looked tired these days. His short blond hair was wet and dark, the broad shoulders of his tan trench coat splattered with rain drops. He was not exactly handsome—high cheekbones, long nose—hard mouth—but all the pieces fit perfectly in a face that exuded strength, intelligence, and yes, a certain amount of ruthlessness. His blue eyes looked gray—but they warmed at the sight of Jason coming towards him. He dropped his briefcase and took Jason into his arms, kissing him with full and flattering attention.

Sam even tasted tired—too many cups of coffee, too many breath mints, too many conversations about violent death. Jason kissed him back with all his heart, trying to compensate with a sincere welcome home for what had probably been a shitty day.

Not that Sam found a day of murder, rape and abduction as depressing as Jason would. Sam wouldn’t be so very good at his job, if he did.

As always, the softness of Sam’s lips came as surprise. For a guy who was rumored to have a heart of stone, he sure knew his way around a kiss.

They parted lips reluctantly. Sam studied him. “Good day?”

“It is now.”

Sam smiled faintly, glancing around the room, noting Jason’s coffee cup and the files and photos scattered across the coffee table. “This looks industrious.” His pale brows drew together. “It’s hot as hell in here.”

Jason grimaced. “Sorry. I turned the heat up. I was freezing when I got in.”

Sam snorted, nodding at Jason’s jeans and red MOMA t-shirt. “You could always try putting on a sweatshirt. Or even a pair of socks.”

“True, I guess.”

Sam grinned. “You California boys.”

“Known a lot of us, have you?” Jason was rueful. At forty-six, Sam had twelve years and a whole hell of a lot of experience on him.

“Only one worth remembering.” Sam pulled him back in for another, though briefer, kiss.

Jason smiled beneath the pressure of Sam’s firm mouth.

When Sam let Jason go, he said, “Sorry I’m late. Any idea where you want to eat tonight?” He absently tugged at his tie, probably a good indicator of what he’d prefer. Jason too, for that matter.
“We don’t have to go out. Why don’t we eat in?”

Sam considered him. “You’ve only got another day here.”

“I didn’t come for the night life. Well.” Jason winked, but that was just in play. He suspected it was going to be a low-key night. Sam pushed himself too hard. There wasn’t any good reason for it because the world was never going to run out of homicidal maniacs. There was no finish line in this race. “Anyway, it’s not like I don’t get to eat out enough.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth tugged in acknowledgment. “Yeah. But you must’ve noticed there’s nothing to eat in this place.”

Jason shrugged. Sam’s fridge reflected the state of his own—the state of anyone whose job kept them on the road most of the time.

“I did notice. Not a problem. I’ll run out and pick us something up.”

Sam opened his mouth, presumably to object, and Jason said, “You look beat, Sam. Let me take care of dinner.”

“Why, thank you.” There was the faintest edge to Sam’s tone.

He didn’t like being reminded he wasn’t Superman. Jason had learned that over the past ten months. Sam worked hard and played—when he did play, which was rarely—harder. He had the energy and focus of guys half his age, but part of that was sheer willpower.

“You know what I mean.”

Sam grimaced. “I do, unfortunately.”

“So? You must have a favorite Chinese restaurant.” Jason was smiling because he didn’t take Sam’s flickers of irritation all that seriously—and because the first meal they’d shared had been Chinese food.

Ah, memories. They’d pretty much detested each other back then. Which had made the sexual tension that flared instantly between them all the more—and mutually—exasperating.

“Sure. But…”

Sam didn’t finish the thought. Weariness vying with his sense of obligation. Their relationship was such—the nature of their jobs was such—that there was not a lot of time for dating as most of the world understood it.

Jason got it. Anyone in law enforcement got it. But Sam still suffered these occasional bouts of guilt. Or whatever. Sam’s obsession with the job was always going to be a challenge to their relationship. Initially, Jason had figured it had to do with losing Ethan, but for all he knew, Sam had always been like this.

And maybe that single-minded drive had been an issue between Sam and Ethan too. Ethan had been Sam’s boyhood love. They’d grown up together, planned to spend their lives together, but Ethan had been murdered while they were still in college. That was about all Jason knew because Sam was not informative on the topic of Ethan.

“Take out and staying in is actually what I’d prefer,” Jason said.

“Yeah?” Sam scanned his face, then relaxed. “Well, if that’s the case. The China King restaurant on Hope Road is pretty good. Tell me what you want—”

“Nope. You tell me what you want. I’ve been sitting around here for a couple of hours. I need to stretch my legs anyway.”

Sam hesitated. “You sure you don’t mind?”

Jason half closed his eyes, consulting his memory of that first night in Kingsfield. “Hot and sour soup, shrimp with lobster sauce…what else? Steamed rice or fried?”

“Steamed. Good memory,”

“You need it in my line of work.” Jason wiggled his eyebrows, as though he was involved in some nefarious occupation and not just another cop with a fancy title. He hunted around for his shoes, locating them beneath the coffee table. His leather jacket was draped over the autumn colored accent chair in the corner of the room.

He was pretty sure Sam had taken this “apartment home” furnished, because the décor had a definite vibe. Comfortable, attractive, generic. Other than the four paintings by Granville Redmond that decorated his living room, office and bedroom walls, the place could have doubled as a very nice hotel suite.

“Hope Road, you said?” He checked his wallet.

“Go north on US-1. It’s less than a mile.” Sam was shrugging out of his raincoat, preparing to get comfortable, and Jason smiled inwardly.

“Got it. I’ll be back in a few.”


Jason glanced back. “Mm?”

Sam grinned. “Don’t forget the fortune cookies.”

“Roger that.” Jason touched a finger to his temple in mock salute and stepped outside.

Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose by Charlie Cochrane
Cambridge 1922
Autumn in England is lovely enough, a palette of red and orange hues painting the trees and bushes, but autumn in Cambridge is perfection. Especially in the last few weeks of freedom before the dunderheads appear. And autumn in the Fellows’ Garden of St. Bride’s college seemed to have reached perfection this year, with a profusion of ornamental shrubs and small flowers—which Orlando Coppersmith couldn’t quite put a name to—twinkling beneath the trees. What he could put a name to was the colour of the sky, although no artist would recognise the term “Jonty Stewart’s eyes blue”. Yet that was exactly the shade the heavens had adorned themselves in.

The colour of the sky had prompted his visit to the garden, en route home from taking part in some “frightfully important and totally incomprehensible mathematical stuff” as Jonty would have termed it. Why not spend a few minutes in a place which had played a significant role in his burgeoning relationship with Jonty, sixteen years previously? The fact that he could sit on a bench and rest his aching legs for a while wasn’t lost on him, either. Why on earth had he agreed to take part in a late season cricket match, especially one against a team of such notable batsmen? Even Jonty’s wily spin had been to little avail, although he’d not had to go haring after the ball to all corners of the field, having inveigled himself into a place in the slips where running would be at a minimum.

Still, Orlando wasn’t going to complain: that would be conduct unbecoming of a Professor of Applied Mathematics and, worse than that, Jonty would rib him for it. Jonty, whom Orlando realised with a jolt, was not fifty yards down the path and might well be heading in his direction. He quickly produced a set of papers from his briefcase and contrived an air of intense concentration.

“I wondered if I’d find you here.” Jonty’s voice sounded through the railings of the gate he was poised to open.

Orlando looked up, as though completely surprised. “Oh, hello. I was trying to find a moment’s peace.” He waved the papers.

“Sorry. Didn’t realise you were hard at work with your sums. I thought you might be sunbathing. Or resting your legs after the cricket.” Jonty, having closed the gate carefully behind him, plonked his backside two feet along the bench.

“Why exactly did you think I might be here?” Orlando asked, neatly sidestepping the aching legs issue.

“You were seen by Swann, that rather nice new porter. Limping along—you, not him, and his words, not mine—in this general direction. I deduced,” Jonty grinned at the word, “that you’d not make it all the way home so would likely seek a few minutes of repose. And what nicer place could a man find to repose in than this?”

“That last point is indisputable,” Orlando conceded. “Although I’ll take issue with ‘limping’. I merely had a stone in my shoe at the time and had to find a suitable place in which to remove it. I have killed two birds with the proverbial stone.” He brandished the papers again, having realised he’d contradicted his earlier statement.

“You’re not very good at telling fibs, so I don’t know why you bother.” Jonty gazed up at the sky. “What a beautiful day. God’s in a very blue heaven and all is right with the world. Have you had a good morning?”

“Excellent, thank you.” Orlando slipped the papers back into his briefcase—what was the use of pretence? “You?”

“Pretty good. All set for the arrival of the dreaded dunderheads. I see the college staff are fumigating the rooms and nailing down anything pawnable in preparation.” Jonty narrowed his eyes then sighed. “All we need now is a case. I think I’ve sufficiently recovered from the last one.”

“I’m not sure I’ll ever recover.” Orlando rolled his eyes. Being asked to defend one’s deadliest enemy on a charge of murder, and in circumstances where on first impressions he appeared to be as guilty as sin, would have tried the patience of any man.

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
That saying about pride going before a fall? I was aching with the impact of my landing as I stood in the bar area of the Caledonian Inn, trying not to watch Trevor and his new boyfriend meeting and greeting our fellow tour members that first night in Scotland.

“We should be staying at the Argyll Hotel,” Rose Lane was saying. She was about seventy. Tall and slender, her silver hair grazing her shoulders in a long pageboy, she looked like an elderly fashion model. According to her tour group bio she was a retired accountant from Portland, Oregon. Or maybe the accountant was the tall woman with curly brown hair, lurking on the edge of the noisy room. The bios—and faces—had begun to blur after the first six introductions.

Rose was still talking. Everyone in the room seemed to be talking. Which was natural. They were thrilled to be here.

Me…not so much.

“That’s where Vanessa murdered the bishop in Prey for Mercy. Besides, it’s a much nicer hotel,” Rose said.

“The Argyll is probably more expensive,” I replied, watching Trevor smile into Vance’s blue eyes—which were close-set and a little beady, if you asked me.

Of course, no one, particularly Trevor, was asking me. And anyway, aside from being cross-eyed, Vance was an undeniably good-looking guy. Taller than me. Darker than me. Everything more than me, it seemed.

That probably sounded like I still had feelings for Trevor, and I did. Anger, hurt, bitterness. I did not want him back. I wouldn’t have had him back if he’d been offered to me on a silver quaich. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still torn up about everything that had happened. Which was why I should not have come on the tour—even though it had originally been my idea and I’d paid for the entire trip.

I should have let Trevor win this one. I should have taken the high road. Failing that, the nearest exit.

“It is,” Rose agreed. “But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m sure we all want to make the most out of it.”

Vance leaned over to whisper in Trevor’s ear, and for a second I couldn’t remember what Rose was talking about. Oh, right. This ten-day tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands specially tailored to fans of famed mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Every stop and every stay was planned around a particular setting in one of the Rayburn books. The high point of the tour was to be the four days spent at Vanessa’s own castle on the island of Samhradh Beag.

“Who needs another drink?” Alison inquired, joining us. Alison Barnes was the tour organizer. A small, perky, red-haired thirty-something. She was American, but then nearly everyone on the tour seemed to be American. Alison peered at my empty glass, glanced unobtrusively at my name tag. “Carter? How about you? Rose, what would you like?”

“Nothing for me,” Rose demurred. “I’ll have wine with dinner.”

“Whisky and soda,” I said. I do better in unfamiliar social situations when I’m sufficiently lubricated. Tonight might require an oil can or two. Possibly an oil drum.

Rose launched into her complaint that we were not spending the night at the Argyll Hotel, and Alison’s heart-shaped face took on a hunted expression, which I imagined was the usual expression she wore by day two of these international jaunts.

Recognizing a good time to ease myself out of the conversation, I stepped back—and onto someone’s foot.

“Ow!” the owner of the foot protested—with unnecessary force, I felt, given that his foot was twice the size of mine. A few people glanced our way, including Trevor. Our gazes locked and Trevor scowled.

I scowled back. Still…not a good feeling to know someone you used to love now hated you. I turned to Ben Iams, the only other unattached male on the tour. “Sorry! I didn’t see you there.”

“That’s okay,” Ben said grudgingly. Peering at my name tag, he added, “Carter.” Ben was about fifty and traveling with his mother, Yvonne. I’d met them when we were checking in earlier that afternoon. According to his bio, Ben was a business systems analyst. He was tall, raw-boned and gangly. Not bad looking, but one of those guys who never quite grows into his frame. His hands and feet looked like they were swiped from another model kit.

There were about thirty of us crowded into the small lounge. Twenty of us were passengers on the tour. Twenty strangers with nothing in common but our love for Vanessa Rayburn. And, with one hundred and fifty-four novels to her name, there was a lot to love. Even so, ten days was a long time to spend with people you shared only one thing in common with.

If Trevor and I were still together, it would have been different.

No one was a bigger fan of Vanessa than Trevor, which was why I’d booked this tour for us nearly two years ago. How was I to know that by the time the tour rolled around, Trevor and I would be split up—with Trevor insisting I give my seat to his new Significant Other, Vance.

Which, if I’d had any sense at all, I’d have done. It’s not like I still felt any great enthusiasm for the trip, although yes, I too was a huge fan of Vanessa. I had already made up my mind that I wouldn’t be going, when Trevor informed me Vance was taking my place.

Which was sort of… Again?

Like a stubborn ass, I’d dug my heels in and informed Trevor he could go to hell. And the more Trevor demanded that I give up my ticket, the more determined I was to go on the tour.

And here I was. The winner. Trevor had had to break down and buy Vance his own ticket. And I would now have the pleasure of spending ten days in close quarters with the two of them carrying on like they were on their honeymoon.

Which…maybe they were. Not like I would have received an invite to the wedding.

A woman with wiry, wavy gray hair and rugged features to match Ben’s pointed at my name tag. “Last name Matheson. You’re a librarian and you live in Los Angeles.”


“Yvonne Iams.” She paused, her expression expectant. Why did so many of these people treat the introductions like we were all playing Mafia or Werewolf.

“Ben’s mother,” I said. That was safe enough. I racked my brain. Nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition. “Retired…veterinarian.”

“Right! And where are we from?” she prompted.

Somewhere in the United States, obviously, though her accent was hard to place. Thankfully, Alison broke in before I had to confess I had no clue.

“Everybody! Everybody!” She clapped her hands together. “I just got word. Can the Tour to Die For people please begin moving to the lobby? The taxis have arrived to take us to the restaurant.”

“This is so exciting,” a small plump woman in a shiny yellow raincoat exclaimed as we began to file out of the bar. She beamed at me. I smiled back. I needed to make sure I did not end up in a taxi with Trevor and Vance.

I needn’t have worried. Trevor and Vance jumped into the first taxi, one of a train of old-fashioned black cabs, which departed in a cloud of exhaust into the rainy October night. Destination: Glasgow’s City Centre.

Two taxis later I squeezed in with Alison, the plump woman and her sister—twins Bertie and Edie Poe from Michigan—and the elderly, elegant Rose.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” one of the twins said, scrunching against her sibling to make more room for Rose. “Glasgow at last!”

She pronounced it like “Glass Cow.”

“Is this your first trip to Scotland?” Alison asked us as the cab rolled away from the curb.

Bertie, Edie and I all admitted it was our first time out of the States. Rose turned out to be an experienced world traveler.

“It’s a beautiful, old city,” Alison said. “The biggest city in Scotland. In fact, it’s one of the biggest cities in the UK.”

“Third largest,” I said automatically. I try not to do that. Fact drop. It’s hard because in my work life I’m paid to be a know-it-all. It’s surprising how many people would rather ask the librarian than do the research themselves. Me? I love research. I love how one tiny piece of information can lead down a dozen different rabbit holes of astonishing discovery.

“You’ve been doing your homework.” Alison smelled like cigarettes, which was unexpected given her rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed, fresh-from-teaching-Sunday-school appearance.

“Are you here on holiday?” the cab driver asked. At least I thought that’s what he said. It sounded more like Awreet, r yeez heron holiday? For a split second I thought maybe he was speaking in Gaelic to amuse the tourists.

The ladies filled him in and he obligingly pointed out places presumed to be of interest. I stared out the window at the bright lights, dark water and disappointingly modern landscape.

“That’s St. Patrick’s,” the cabbie said. “A Polish girl was murdered there about ten years ago. Her killer buried her under the confessional.”

If he’d hoped to shock us, he was talking to the wrong bunch of tourists.

“Prey for Mercy,” Rose said knowledgably. “I get chills just thinking about it.”

Alison said, as though we all didn’t know this, “Vanessa used the real-life murders of serial killer Peter Tobin as inspiration for her plot.”

“Vanessa relies on true crime a lot,” agreed Bertie. Or was it Edie?

Whichever sister, her comment was greeted with a brief silence as we all considered Vanessa’s intimate acquaintance with true crime.

Edie—or possibly Bertie—changed the subject. “I’m not so sure about Indian food,” she said. “It always gives me indigestion. But I wouldn’t miss Chaophraya for anything!”

“Don’t worry. It’s actually Thai food,” Alison reassured her.

“Oh, that’s worse!” Edie’s—or Bertie’s—sister said. They giggled to each other at the thought of the horrors to come. At least they had a good attitude about it.

My own spirits lifted once we entered the twinkling heart of the city. The beautiful old Victorian and Edwardian buildings topped with gleaming domes and pointy spires, their ornate facades with pillars and columns and solemn-faced effigies and grand and glittering windows all reminded me of Peter Pan—or maybe just the Disneyland ride of the same name. I was happy to see the historic architecture holding its own against contemporary designs of steel and glass. It was a beautiful city, after all.

The caravan of taxis scooted in wherever an opening could be found and we scrambled out into the wet night. Despite the rain, the streets were packed with exuberant people, most of whom seemed to be looking for a party to crash.

“Tours to Die For, this way!” Alison shouted, racing from cab to cab in an effort to stop any of her flock from straying down the streets of the city Lonely Planet described as a “disarming blend of sophistication and earthiness.” I too felt the tug of adventure as I breathed in the perfume of exhaust and rain and damp stone and exotic aromas from the numerous restaurants along the way.

“There it is!” cried someone in the awestruck tones generally reserved for national monuments and famous film stars. We all turned to gaze in respectful silence.

Supposedly Europe’s largest Thai restaurant, Chaophraya occupied an impressive old building called the Townhouse on Buchanan Street. It was in this elegant and exotic setting that Queen’s Counsel Michael Patterson at long last proposed to Vanessa’s beloved series lead Chief Inspector Rachel MacKinnon. Choosing this particular spot for our first dinner together was a great way to begin the tour, as evidenced by the cries of delight and wonder as we hurried across the slick and shining road.

Alison shepherded us into the gorgeous lobby with its scarlet carpets, life-size golden statues and dark wood. We were led upstairs.

I found myself seated with two married couples, all four of whom were teachers who regularly vacationed together. Nelson and Wilma Scherf were tall, tanned and Germanic looking. Joel and Gerda Rice were shorter, slighter and darker.

We were introducing ourselves when we were joined by Ben and Yvonne. There were more introductions and then Yvonne picked up the menu, frowned, and whispered something to Ben, who nodded gravely while offering a general, pained smile to the rest of us.

“I think in these circumstances a set menu makes sense, Mother,” he said mildly.

I loved my parents but I couldn’t imagine trotting the globe with them. However, Ben and Yvonne seemed to enjoy each other’s company, so…good for them.

“When you consider how much we’re paying for this trip!” Yvonne shook her head.

In fairness, this meal was supposed to be one of the most lavish of the trip, and though the menu was set, the choices were noted as “our most opulent dishes.” And really, who doesn’t occasionally long for a little opulence?

Gerda said in the determinedly upbeat tone of the battle-scarred educator, “This is wonderful. There are some lovely vegetarian choices.” She read, “‘Thai green spinach curry made with spinach, enoki mushrooms, straw mushrooms and sweet basil.’ Yum.”

“You’re the librarian,” Wilma said to me.


“Isn’t it funny how Vanessa’s books appeal to so many teachers and librarians? Maybe we’ve secretly got a murderous streak.”

The others laughed.

Yvonne said, “I always thought I’d like to be a librarian.”

“Oh yes?” I said politely.

“I have a very good memory. A very good memory.” It sounded a little ominous, and had I been on Chaophraya’s management team, I’d be expecting an unfavorable Yelp review momentarily.

“A good memory is certainly useful.” More useful was a love of knowledge and learning—and the ability to enjoy (or at least cheerfully tolerate) working around people who didn’t necessarily share that love. I loved books and I liked people, and libraries are where those two things intersect.

Ben said, “It’s a shame the way funding has been cut. Our library is only open part-time now.”

I started to reply but broke off as Alison paused by my chair. Her expression was that of someone about to deliver bad news. “Carter, it looks like you’re going to have a roommate after all.”

“Oh.” I tried not to sound as unenthusiastic as I felt, but I must not have covered too well.

Alison said apologetically, “Because you originally booked a shared room, we did warn you that if someone turned up needing a roommate—”

“I know. It’s okay.”

And I did know, but I’d sort of figured since no one had turned up before the official start of the tour, I was home safe. It seemed not. Yet another reason I should have cancelled. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sharing my sleeping space with a stranger.

“His name is John Knight and he’s another American,” Alison said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get his bio in time, but I understand he’s an insurance salesman from San Diego. Which is right around the corner from you. So that’s nice, right?” Her smile was hopeful.

Well, it was a one-hundred-and-twenty-mile corner, so…sort of. I summoned up another of those halfhearted smiles for her. “Sure. Great. When’s he joining us?”

“He’s flying in tonight.”

God. Not even a single night on my own.

I said with fake heartiness, “Great! I’ll keep an eye out for him.”

She looked relieved and moved on through the obstacle course of chairs, purses and people.

At the table behind me the conversation had turned, inevitably, to Vanessa’s notorious past. I glanced over tantalizing descriptions of fried sea bass with chili sauce, turmeric king prawns and massaman lamb curry while listening to the debate on whether someone convicted of murder should have been appointed to the Order of the British Empire.

This was a common point of contention even with Vanessa’s most devoted fans. Most agreed that her youth at the time of Donald Kresley’s murder—and the fact that Vanessa had completed her full sentence as a model prisoner—made for sufficient atonement. But awarding her a DBE, making her a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, was a step too far even for most Americans.

And yet the honor was rightfully bestowed on one who had made significant artistic contribution to the British Empire, and if that wasn’t Vanessa Rayburn with her 154-book-long, still-bestselling backlist, who was it?

“I think maybe she was awarded the DBE before the news of her real identity came out,” a woman said.

“No, that’s not correct.” The voice was female and definitely English. “I remember the fuss when it was announced. People picketed.”

“That was such a long time ago. Almost thirty years.”

“It doesn’t seem so very long ago to me.”

I missed the rest of the conversation as our server arrived and the important business of ordering cocktails began.

Once drinks and meals had been ordered, Alison rose and gave a brief welcome speech and then sped through the evening’s business.

“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, therefore timeliness is essential. All luggage must be out of the rooms and in the hallways by seven every morning so that Hamish can get them stowed on the bus. Otherwise you’ll have to carry your bag down yourself. Change seats on the bus every day to ensure everyone is getting a turn at the windows and do try to sit with different people each night at dinner. You never know. You might meet your new best friend on this trip.”

I glanced at Ben, who happened to be looking my way. We shared another of those self-conscious smiles and hastily averted gazes.

By the time Alison sped through the subject of paid toilets, tipping and daily menus, fragrant platters of Bangkok street-style pork skewers marinated with honey and coriander root, chicken satay, spring rolls, and savory mini-tartlets stuffed with cod and flavored with lemongrass and lime leaf, were circulating from table to table.

Rather than allowing us to relax and eat, Alison—proving that all tour guides have a sadistic streak—suggested we take turns rising to introduce ourselves to the group.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pay attention, but I hadn’t eaten since somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, and the names and faces were beginning to fade into a hypoglycemic haze.

With the exception of Yvonne, who took notes, my tablemates nibbled on appetizers and listened politely as the Poe sisters, Rose, Trevor and Vance introduced themselves.

Trevor kept his opening remarks uncharacteristically terse. Vance burbled. There really wasn’t any other word for it. Or if there was, I didn’t want to work that hard to find it.

“I’m Vance Stafford. I’m a former model and actor, in case I look familiar to you. Nowadays I work as a dental hygienist.” He flashed a big white smile, giving the American Dental Association some free advertising. “I’m traveling with Trev. This trip is a not-quite-but-almost honeymoon for us.” He beamed at Trevor. Trevor smiled uncomfortably, met my eyes, glared, and looked away.

Vance sat down amid a chorus of “awws” and a smattering of applause. There we had it: the token cute gay couple. And my role? Wicked Queen?

I had made some bad decisions in my time, but coming on this trip? It topped the list.

Our table raced through the introductions, earning Alison’s approval.

At the table behind us were Jim and Laurel Matsukado from San Francisco, Wally and Nedda Kramer from New York, Daya and Roddy Bittywiddy, an English couple who resided in Devon—in fact, the only non-Americans in the tour group—and Sally Daly, a self-described “divorcée” and bookseller from New Mexico.

Alison introduced our bus driver as Hamish MacLaren. Hamish looked to be in his late eighties and wore glasses that might have been borrowed from Mr. Magoo. He offered animated and absolutely unintelligible words of greeting, which received a hearty round of applause.

That concluded the formalities and we were finally left in peace to enjoy our really delicious dinner. Everyone seemed excited and enthusiastic on this eve of adventure, and the air crackled with happy anticipation.

The meal finished with fresh fruit fondue. Ordinarily, sharing fondue with strangers would not be one of my favorite things, but I was so tired by then, I was past caring. We could have been scooping microbes from test tubes, and I wouldn’t have flinched.

At last, replete and exhausted, we headed outside into the wet night.

The Scherfs and Rices, having arrived in Scotland a day earlier, opted to explore Glasgow’s nightlife, but the jet-lagged rest of us made straight for the waiting taxis. I ended up with the Poe sisters again, and we were joined by Ben and his mother. It was a much, much quieter drive back to the Caledonian Inn. In fact, Yvonne was snoring softly, her head on Ben’s shoulder, by the time we arrived at the hotel.

I went straight up to my room, undressed, unpacked what I needed for the night, and used the hotel Wi-Fi to verify that no one urgently needed to hear from me. I wasn’t sure if I was reassured or disappointed when it turned out that I had so far not been missed.

I was brushing my teeth when the door jumped beneath a brisk and decisive knock.

John Knight, I presumed. I rinsed, spat, plastered what I hoped was a pleasant smile on my face and opened the door.

Not John Knight. My midnight caller was a wee five feet six in his stockinged feet, fair and not all that handsome when he was scowling—which was most of the time he was around me. In short—ha!—it was Trevor.

“I can’t believe you’d do this, Carter,” he said.

Love in Spades by Charlie Cochet
Chapter 1
“Goddamn it, Ace, get your ass back here!”

King’s indignant shout came through Ace’s earpiece, and it made his lips curl into a wicked grin. He hit the accelerator, and his Chevy Camaro Zl1 convertible roared like a wild beast. With the wind whipping through his hair, he tore down Anastasia Park Road, his vehicle mere feet from the black SUV trying to outrun him. Did they really think they were going to escape him?

“You’re not Vin Diesel in a fucking Fast and Furious movie! You’re going to get yourself killed!”

“It’s like you don’t even know me,” Ace shouted with a laugh, swiping his Glock from the holster under his arm. He leaned to the left and fired a warning shot, which hit the left taillight. The SUV swerved, regained control, and then lurched forward at full speed.

“Did you just open fire in a state park? Jesus fucking Christ!”

“Language, buddy. What would Momma say?”

“Don’t you bring your mother into this!”

“There’s nothing but road and trees. Besides, you need to be watching your blood pressure, old man.”

“Old— Fuck you! I’m a year older than you.”

“Technically, two years older.” Ace leaned over again, this time shooting out the right taillight, making the SUV swerve again. Amateurs. “My birthday’s not for another two months, which puts you at forty-one while I’m still in my thirties.”

“Would you stop shooting!”


“Why? Why? The ‘why’ should be obvious, you little shit!”

Ace tried hard not to laugh. King made it way too easy. “Like I said, there’s no one out here, so relax. I’ll have them before they reach A1A.”

“When I get my hands on you—”

After some scuffling, Red’s smooth rumble came over the line. “Ace? You gotta stop, buddy. Let the police handle it. Fifteen minutes. They’ll be with you in fifteen.”

“No can do, pal. My client, my problem.”

“Yeah, I get that, but, Ace, you’re not liable if the product you’re contracted to transport gets hijacked before you arrive to transport it.”

Fuck that. Didn’t matter that when he’d arrived at the client’s house, the client was screaming at a black SUV burning rubber, making off with the man’s million-dollar antique firearms collection. The point was, it was his client, and no fucking way was he letting these assholes get away with this shit on his watch.


Ace smiled at the sound of his cousin’s thickly accented voice, part of the Hispanic heritage they shared thanks to Ace’s Cuban mother. “Hey, the family’s all here! Hi, Lucky. How’s King?”

“Pacing the office and saying something about you sending him to an early grave. Por favor. Can you please not give our best friend and boss an ulcer, please?”

Ace snorted out a laugh. “King’s like a fucking Florida roach. Indestructible. A tank landed on him, and he’s still alive. Remember that?”

Red and Lucky erupted into barks of laughter, loud and boisterous. Man, he loved these bastards.

As expected, King was back on the line snarling at him. “Now you listen to me, you arrogant pain in my ass. You better do whatever the fuck you set out to do and not get dead, or I am going to hunt you down and murder you!”

“Well, that makes no sense. How can you murder me if I’m already dead? I mean, I guess maybe if I was dying and then you strangled me, or if—”


“Got it. Get the job done. Don’t get dead. That should be our new motto. I can see it now, right beneath the Four Kings Security crest. Clients will love it.”


“Gotta go. Don’t let Red eat all the donuts, and tell Lucky he still owes me fifty bucks.” He could hear Lucky cursing him out in English and Spanish before Ace disconnected the call. Time to put an end to this. He’d given the assholes two warnings, which they chose to ignore.

“Three strikes and you’re out.” With the opposing traffic lane empty, Ace floored the accelerator and pulled up beside the SUV. The driver looked at him, and Ace waved, gun in hand and a big smile on his face. He motioned for the guy to pull over, but was flipped off for his trouble.

“Okay, have it your way.” Ace prepared to shoot out one of the tires, but the guy wrenched the steering wheel, and Ace slammed the brakes. “Fucker tried to slam into me! So that’s how it is, huh?” Ace stroked his steering wheel. “Don’t worry, baby. No one’s gonna hurt you. Daddy’s gonna take care of it.” Pedal to the metal, he charged forward into the empty lane and sped past the SUV until he was several feet ahead. They were getting close to A1A and, more importantly, traffic. He jerked his steering wheel, the Camaro spinning until he was facing the opposite direction. He put the car in reverse and slammed the accelerator down, grinning at the stunned driver of the SUV as he whizzed by before moving into the lane and putting them almost nose to nose. Ace whooped loud, adrenaline rushing his system. Who did these guys think they were dealing with? Defensive driving was a staple of Four Kings Security. And the years Ace had spent driving all manner of vehicles over every kind of terrain didn’t hurt either.Movement from the

passenger seat drew Ace’s attention. The guy stuck the MP5 out the window, but before he could aim, Ace shot out one front tire, then the other. And unlike Ace’s car, which was equipped with run-flat tires, these guys had shit. The SUV’s driver lost control, careening off the road and into the shrubbery. Ace spun his car back around and followed, then hit the brakes when the SUV lurched to a stop. He put the car in park, unfastened his seatbelt, and got out. He was about to walk toward the SUV, when he heard King’s nagging voice in his head. With a grunt, he removed his double holster and snatched the tactical vest off the passenger seat. He quickly strapped it on, secured his Glock, popped the trunk, and pulled out his Taser shotgun.

Once the trunk was secure, he headed off into the dense shrubbery, shotgun at the ready. The only noise around him was from A1A traffic in the distance. He stalked toward the SUV, making sure to remain crouched low in the dry and dead overgrowth. It was after noon, and although the temperature was in the low eighties, the seventy percent humidity and glaring sun were trying to bake him. His black T-shirt was already sticking to his back, and sweat beaded his brow, the weight of the tactical vest certainly not helping. Having hunted through worse conditions, he barely registered the discomfort.

The SUV rocked, and the two front doors opened. The driver and his companion dropped out of the vehicle into low crouches. The driver held a handgun close to him, his companion the MP5. They darted to the end of the SUV, and the driver opened the trunk. A large armored crate sat in the back, and Ace shook his head. Were they planning on using a bunch of antique firearms?

“Fuck,” the driver hissed. “It’s got some kind of high-tech lock.”

No shit. These guys were obviously new to the whole hijacking gig. Did they really think a gun collection worth millions of dollars was going to be shoved in any old box? Ace recognized the crate, and that particular brand of awesome was equipped with biometric locks and a fingerprint scanner, so these dudes were shit out of luck. Ace steadied his breathing and crept into position right behind the two men. He’d seen all he needed. Gingerly he stood and aimed the shotgun at them.

“Any heart conditions I should know about?”

“The fuck?” MP5 guy and his companion jumped like spooked cats. They spun around, staring at him before their eyes dropped to the shotgun in his hands, their expressions comically bewildered. It was probably the bright yellow sections of the gun that were throwing them off.

“The fuck is that?” the driver asked, motioning to the shotgun.

“You didn’t answer my question. Heart conditions. How’s your ticker?”

The two men exchanged glances before the driver shook his head. “My heart’s fine.”

“Mine too,” the other replied.

“Glad to hear it.” He fired the shotgun in quick succession, hitting the driver’s companion first, then the driver, the 500 volts of electric shock dropping them to the ground, giving Ace roughly twenty seconds. Sirens filled the air, and by the time the police arrived on the scene, Ace was leaning against his car, arms folded over his chest, with the two men zip-tied on the ground by his feet.

Four squad cars skidded to a halt, and Ace waved at them. One very tall, very annoyed-looking officer wearing aviators got out of his car. He swaggered over to Ace like a cowboy from an old western, or more like a cowboy from Texas, since that’s what Officer Mason Cooper had been in another life. Mason towered over Ace, long legs, broad chest, and thick biceps, his large hands resting on his utility belt. He moved his aviators onto his head, his full lips—which Ace knew firsthand tasted very nice—pulled into a thin line.

“Good afternoon, Officer Cooper,” Ace said, grinning wide.

“Fifteen minutes,” Mason growled, that slow Texan drawl of his bringing back memories of them in bed together, naked, all that hard muscle pressed against Ace, his sexy rumble making Ace’s toes curl. “You couldn’t wait fifteen goddamn minutes?”

Ace squinted at him. “Is that a rhetorical question?”

Mason’s ice-blue eyes narrowed. He grabbed Ace’s arm and started hauling him away from the car before calling out over his shoulder. “Get ’em outta here. I need a word with Mr. Sharpe.”

Ace held back a smile at Mason’s manhandling. “Well, this brings back memories.”

Mason grunted, making sure they were far enough from the other officers before he released Ace, his low timbre doing lovely things to Ace’s groin.

“You okay?” Mason raked his gaze over Ace, his eyes darkening with lust. He tugged on one of Ace’s vest straps. “You listened.”

Ace rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, it was either that or have King nag at me about it.”

“I like how you were more concerned about King naggin’ at you than the possibility of ending up with a bullet in you.”

“I believe the two are not mutually exclusive. Remember when you arrested Red?”

Mason groaned. Loudly.

“Yeah, how’s that ‘not being nagged by King for the foreseeable future’ working out for you?”

“How many times do I gotta apologize for that? I was doin’ my goddamn job. I shouldn’t have to apologize! It was my first day. I didn’t know who the fuck y’all were. I answered a B&E, Red was there and strapped. How the fuck was I supposed to know he’d been hired to babysit the property? It wasn’t until King arrived at the precinct and everyone lost their fuckin’ minds because I’d apparently pissed off the Second Coming that I was told about y’all.”

Ace doubled over, laughing at Mason’s traumatized expression. Like he was having flashbacks of first meeting King. It had not gone well. The thing was, Ward Kingston only lost his shit with those he considered family because his emotions got the better of him, but with everyone else? He didn’t even have to talk. It was impressive. King gave off this weird vibe of familiarity, like he suddenly morphed into whatever guy the person he was dealing with had a soft spot for. He became their big brother, their beloved son, their favorite cousin, a long-lost love, and then they were eating out of his palm and they’d do anything not to disappoint him. It was something in those deep blue eyes of his and the way he smiled.

“I’m glad you find my distress amusing,” Mason mumbled. He glanced over his shoulder before turning his attention back to Ace. “So, what you up to this weekend?”

“Providing King doesn’t murder me? FYI, if you can’t find the body, flex those manly muscles in front of Lucky. He’ll sing like a canary.”

Mason scoffed. “No offense, but your cousin’s a manwhore.”

“Why would I get offended? He wears the status with pride.”

“Besides, you know I ain’t interested in Lucky.” His blue eyes softened, and Ace swallowed hard as he looked away.


Mason let out a sigh. He nodded before letting his head hang. “I know. Doesn’t hurt to try, though, right?”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Coop,” Ace said, gently poking Mason over his heart. “It does hurt. We tried, remember?” Mason Cooper was a great guy. Problem was, after almost a year of dating him, Ace knew as much about him now as when they’d first met. Mason had secrets. Lots of them. He also had major trust issues. The fact he couldn’t bring himself to confide in Ace—someone who made his living operating with complete discretion—after almost a year, made it clear they had no future together. Ace could have dug into Mason’s past or run a thorough background check, but he respected Mason, and looking into him without his permission would have been an unforgiveable breach of whatever they’d had. Having access to the information, didn’t give him the right to use it.

The sex had been amazing, and the intimate moments even better, but Ace needed more. The problem was he cared about Mason, which led to them hooking up several times after their breakup. Having Mason shut him out each time he tried to get close had become too painful, so he’d done what he did with every guy who made him feel like he’d want more—he left them before they could leave him. They could be friends. Nothing more.

“I reckon you’re right,” Mason said quietly. “It was good, huh?”

Not trusting himself to speak, Ace nodded. He patted Mason’s shoulder. “I’ll follow you to the station.” He spun on his heels, walked backward to his car, and winked at Mason. “Gotta call this in. I’ll be sure to tell Lucky you asked about him.”

Mason’s laugh when he flipped Ace off made him smile. Whatever demons Mason was battling, Ace hoped the guy found some peace. He deserved to be happy.

Ace helped two officers haul his client’s crate into the back of Mason’s squad car before he climbed behind the wheel of his Camaro. “Thanks, officers!” Ace waved as he waited for Mason to get into his car.

Watching the man walk by was always a treat. As soon as Mason was on the move, so was Ace. Since his client’s property was now in police custody, Ace wouldn’t be letting it out of his sight until his client arrived at the precinct. It would take some time for the property to be released from evidence, then Ace would transport it as agreed. Soon as he was done, he’d drive off to his home away from home. Of course, that meant having to deal with his less-than-thrilled brother-in-arms. If all else failed, he’d do what he’d been doing for years when it came to pissing off King. Hide.

The Given & the Taken by LA Witt
It was unusual, to say the least, for wolves and humans to be as compatible as we were, but Ian and I were perfect for each other. Absolutely perfect. He’d seen me in my wolf form, but unlike other men I’d dated, he never batted an eye at being physically intimate in my human form. Nothing had changed between us the day I told him what I was.

The rest of the pack said Ian was a distraction. He kept me from being around the other wolves as much as I used to. He was the reason I’d leave the pack’s farm for days at a time. They were all convinced we were just a couple of sex-obsessed lovers who’d eventually get it out of our systems.

They didn’t have a clue. It would have stunned them to learn we spent hours on end just lying in bed and talking. Of course we had a scorching-hot sex life, but it was the long, intimate conversations that kept me in his bed until all hours of the night. I loved his dry sense of humor. I loved the way he couldn’t keep his hands off me while we talked—fingers in my hair, along my arm, across my cheek. I loved everything about him.

But maybe that wasn’t enough.

Please, Ian, don’t leave me out here.

An hour passed. Another.

My pants legs hissed against the three-inch snowdrifts on either side of the path I’d tramped down, brushing powder free and adding a whisper to the rhythm of my boots on the frozen ground as I continued pacing. I considered going somewhere else, somewhere I could warm the feeling back into my hands and feet, but I stayed put. If Ian did try to track me down, it’d be easier for him if I stayed in one place. Following such a sense had to be alien for him, and if I moved beyond just wandering around this clearing, it would only disorient him. Humans weren’t as accustomed to following senses besides sight and hearing, navigating based on a nebulous “feeling” must have been confusing as hell.

I stopped pacing. The base of my spine tingled as that sense of Ian grew stronger. Holding my breath, certain it was my imagination, I homed in on that pull. On him. It was indeed stronger now than it had been earlier, so he must have been closer. And moving. Drawing closer by the minute.

Relief warmed my veins. Maybe he would show up after all.

My heart pounded. Restlessness and the need for warmth got my feet moving again, and I resumed pacing. Back and forth. Back and forth. Minute after minute, step by step. Back and forth. Another hour inched past as Ian inched closer to me, and all the while, I searched the air, tasting it for the first hint of him.

There. Relief turned to anticipation. Closing my eyes, I drew in a deep breath, savoring that scent that had been lost to me for one long, long year. I opened my eyes and paced even faster, desperate to ease this nervous energy, this tension that had me tempted to break into a run. He’d be here soon. Very soon. I’d waited this long; I could wait a few more minutes. He had to find me. Then this would all be over.

Stronger. Closer. It was all I could do not to start toward him, dragged like a powerful magnet by an unseen and undeniable force. My nerve endings tingled, as if electricity crackled across my skin, ready to arc from me to him as soon as the distance—

I stopped in my tracks, one foot suspended mid-step. My blood turned colder than the wind around me. Something in the air was off. Wasn’t right.

I wasn’t alone. Ian was closer than before, much closer, but there was someone else.

I took another deep breath, and my hackles went up.

A vampire.

The scent was unmistakable. Not like death or decay like many would expect, perhaps not even an actual smell. It was more of a disturbance. Like an itch. An irritation. The tickle in the back of the throat that demanded a cough, the sting in the nose that warranted a sneeze.

What I didn’t smell was blood. Not even the faintest hint, which meant it probably hadn’t fed recently, and there were few things more dangerous than a hungry vampire.

Panic surged through me. Wolves could sense vampires from a safe enough distance to avoid them. Humans couldn’t. Ian wouldn’t know it was there until he could see or hear it.

And nothing outran a vampire.

Fuck the ritual. I didn’t lead Ian out into the middle of nowhere to be hunted.

I lunged out of the clearing, sprinting across the slick ground with practiced agility, cursing the snow that crunched loudly beneath my boots and the ice that threatened to send me to the ground. I was faster and stealthier as a wolf, but the transition took precious seconds I couldn’t afford to waste.

Every breath of cold air I dragged in burned my nose and lungs. My boot caught on a snow-covered root, and I stumbled, then slid on the snow before grabbing a tree to right myself. I paused, eyes darting around in the darkness until I was doubly sure I’d oriented myself to him; then I was off and running again.

My every sense thrummed with Ian’s presence as it drew me toward him, but even that powerful, electric pull couldn’t stop my skin from crawling beneath this intensifying itch. My eyes stung, but I couldn’t tell if it was from the wind or the vampire. Either way, I wasn’t stopping until I got to Ian, and come hell or high water, I’d get to him before that bloodsucking creature did.

Slipping and sliding on icy leaves and moss, I rounded another bend. A silhouette stood out against a gray backdrop of moonlit snow, and we both stopped, facing each other.

“Ian?” I whispered.

“Levi,” he breathed.

“Oh, thank God.” I hurried to him, threw my arms around him and held him to me. Closing my eyes tight, I forced myself to stop panting and freaking out long enough to draw in a deep breath of him through my nose and—

I opened my eyes. Released my breath. Drew another.

Shoving myself off him, I staggered back and stared at him, narrowing my burning eyes so I could make him out in the darkness.

“You didn’t.” Panic laced my voice. “Ian, tell me you didn’t. Tell me you aren’t.”

He dropped his gaze.

Oh, no. No. Please, no.

But too many pieces fell too easily into place. The sudden disappearance and reappearance on my radar. The change in the way I sensed him. The fact that he hadn’t come to me until after sundown. The burning in my eyes and nose.

I finally found enough breath to whisper, “Why?”

He shifted, the frozen ground crackling beneath his feet. “It wasn’t…” Rubbing the back of his neck with both hands, he turned away.

My heart dropped. Curling and uncurling my hands at my sides, I was torn between reaching for my lover—my bonded soulmate, for God’s sake—and refusing to touch the creature he’d become.

“Who did this?” I asked.

He lowered his hands but didn’t turn around. “A…friend.”

The world listed beneath my feet. Forcing back the lump in my throat, I said, “A friend did this to you?” My heart sank deeper. “You let him convert you, when you wouldn’t let me?”

Ian faced me now, and though he was mostly eclipsed by shadows, the light from the moon and off the snow illuminated just enough to reveal his set jaw, his gaunt cheeks, his exhausted eyes. Looking him up and down, I realized he’d lost weight. Even the heavy jacket couldn’t mask that, and when he reached up to sweep some of his long hair out of his face, his hand was bonier than I remembered.

Becoming a vampire hadn’t done that to him. If anything, most people looked rejuvenated after they converted. They were the very picture of robust health; appearances were certainly deceiving when it came to these vile creatures. It took years for anything to take a noticeable toll on a vampire, but Ian looked a decade older than when I last saw him. Thin. Exhausted. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he was pale too.

What’s happened to you?

I inclined my head. “Ian…?”

“He was a friend.” He pushed his shoulders back and looked me in the eye. “I didn’t ask for this.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “He converted you against your will?”

Robby Riverton: Mail Order Bride by Eli Easton
Chapter One
March 15, 1860
New York City
“It was from Aunt Dinah’s quilting party, I was seeing Nellie home!”

Robby’s melodic tenor echoed in the narrow corridors backstage as he made his way to his dressing room. He exchanged winks, grins, or backslaps with everyone who squeezed past him. He was in a damned pleasant mood. The standing ovation they’d just received had put him on top of the world.

“Seeeing Nellie hoooome!” he bellowed in the big finish as he banged into his dressing room. His name, ROBBY RIVERTON, was on the door, and there was a water pitcher and a single rose on the table. This was the good life.

He plopped down at his dressing table. In the mirror Jenny Daley appeared, looking like an exotic flower in her red kimono. She leaned against the doorframe. “How you have a scrap of energy after three shows a day, I’ll never know.”

“Tis the reward of a pure and saintly heart,” Robby said, laying on a thick Irish brogue.

“Bollocks. You’re depressingly young. That’s all.”

Jenny Daley was a huge star of the New York stage. She played Lady Macbeth in their current production, and easily convinced the audience she could bend a man to her will with her raven hair and green eyes. She’d managed to outrun her age so far, though Robby figured she had to be nearing forty.

“You hardly even break a sweat,” Jenny complained.

“Nonsense. I’m wet as the Hudson in unmentionable places. Lord, I’m parched.” Robby reached for the pitcher. It was vilely hot onstage, especially under the costumes and makeup. He tilted the china pitcher over a glass, but nothing came out.

“Flory!” he bellowed. He went to the doorway, squishing Jenny aside, and stuck his head out. “Flory!”

Jenny stuck a delicate finger in her ear. “And to think I once had excellent hearing.”

Flory, a mousy little thing of about fourteen, came running. “Yes, Mr. Riverton?”

Robby ignored the hearts in her eyes. “My pitcher is empty again. How many times must I remind you to keep it filled?”

Her face fell. “Sorry, Mr. Riverton.” She bobbed a curtsy and ran off with the pitcher. With a huff, Robby returned to his chair.

“Don’t be hard on the girl,” Jenny tsked. “She’s awfully mashed on you, Robby.”

Robby began wiping off his makeup. “You forget, I was that girl. I labored backstage for four years, and I always had water ready for the actors.”

“Yes, but you are smart and capable,” Jenny said gently. “Thank God not everyone is, or we’d have even more competition than we have now.”

Robby gave her a smile in the mirror. “You’re right. Though how you stay so humble, I’ll never know.”

She made a face. “I’ve been set down a peg or two in my life. Now, are you coming out with us tonight? Don’t tell me you’re working, for I shall despair if you say no.”

Robby grimaced. “Not tonight, me bonny lass. I have an audition tomorrow. Need to memorize my lines.”

“Oh? What’s the play?” Jenny slunk into the room with renewed interest.

“Nick of the Woods at the Tripler.” Longing shot through Robby’s chest. He really wanted this role.

“Ooh! That ghastly thing?” She looked delighted.

“Yes, life in the wilds of Kentucky. It’s quite bloody, you know.”

“The play is? Or the real Kentucky?”


She shuddered. “Lands. You couldn’t drag me any farther west than Philadelphia.”

“I concur. But playing a frontiersman would be loads of fun. Don’t you think? All that growling and snarling and…hair.” Robby made claws with his hands and grimaced horribly at her in the mirror.

She laughed. “Darling, you growl like a kitten. You’d sooner be cast as Nick’s wife. Want to borrow my red dress for the audition?” She smiled at him prettily.

“Nick doesn’t have a wife. He has animal pelts, and knives, and a vengeful heart.”

“Pity. You’d be a shoe-in for Mrs. Of-the-Woods.”

Robby would never live down the fact that his first big break at Burton’s New Theater had been in a female role. He’d been working in costuming when the actress playing Ophelia fell ill with the flu, as did the understudy and several other cast members. Hamlet had been his mother’s favorite, and Robby had every line of the play memorized. He’d stepped forward and, at nineteen, got his first role on stage. The audience and critics had loved his “tender insanity.”

Well, why not? Men played women’s roles in the olden days. If anything, Robby considered it a double feat of acting—playing the part of “Miss Angeline Smith” who was playing the role of Ophelia. He was blasted proud of that performance.

“I can growl,” he said firmly. “When you come see me in Nick of the Woods, I shall put you into convulsions of terror.”

 “Well, good luck, my bene boy. We shall miss you tonight. You know what they say about all work and no play.”

She kissed his cheek and glided from the room, a picture of grace.

She didn’t give Robby the chance to respond, but what he said about all work and no play was that if he were very diligent, and very lucky, he might one day be as famous as Jenny Daley.

Robby finished removing his makeup, thanked Flory and gave her a sweet smile when she returned with water, and put on an undershirt and dressing gown. He settled down with a bottle of wine an admirer had sent backstage, turned up the lantern to its highest pitch, and dove into the realm of the dreadful Nick. He paced and grimaced, shouted and groaned.

He could growl, damn it. He needed a role like Nick. He’d been playing pretty boys for five years now, always the son or the young, naive lover. Hence his role as MacDuff’s son in the current production and not Macbeth. He needed to prove he was ready for mature roles despite his baby face.

He was so focused on his task that he lost track of time. Then tiredness hit him like a sledgehammer from out of the blue, and he could barely keep his eyes open. He glanced at his pocket watch. It was just after midnight. The unsavory elements would be out and about, and it was a twelve-block trek to Mrs. Grassley’s boarding house. He should have left hours ago.

When he exited the back door of the theater, the sky was pitch black and the city was transformed by the flicker and shadow of gas lamps. It was cold, the sort of cold that made the inside of your nose crisp and brought tears to your eyes. Robby pulled on his gloves, struggling with them under the back door’s gas light. At least the cold woke him up. If he walked fast, he’d be home in no time.

Only he got no farther than one step. He was suddenly aware that near the opening of the alley were moving shapes. There was a shouted, “No, please,” and a barely there snick of a knife.

Robby blinked in surprise. His eyes adjusted to the shadows just in time to see the act. Two large men held the arms of a dignified-looking fellow with gray hair, an elaborate moustache, and a three-piece suit. A fourth man, a short bulldog of a brute with thick jowls, a heavy wool coat, and a bowler hat, attacked the gray-haired man, jabbing forward with his right arm. The victim’s face contorted with agony as the knife plunged. Bowler-Hat stabbed again and again until the man with the gray hair slumped, lifeless. And still the knife moved once, twice.

Robby was so close, he could see the sticky glint on the blade.

He only realized he was panting in terror by the rapid cloud of condensation that formed in front of his face and faded, formed and faded. Then he made an involuntary sound, a sort of lowing, and the three men snapped around to look at him.

“Don’t stand there, you nimenogs. Get him!” Bowler-Hat bellowed.

The men who were holding the victim let him drop to the cobblestones. It wasn’t until they’d taken a step toward Robby that he found the sense to move. He briefly considered going back into the theater, but the door had locked behind him, and there was no time to muck around with keys now. He dove to the right. The alley wasn’t a dead end, thank God. He came out on Centre Street, the sound of his pursuers loud in his ears. He ran harder and faster than he’d ever run before in his life, on and on, street after street, turning as often as he could. He finally turned onto a familiar street and, seeing no one when he glanced behind him, dove into the Long Shoreman.

Jenny and her friends frequented the establishment often, and Robby was not unknown there. The owner, Phil, was a good sort. After no more than a brief plea, Phil stuffed Robby into his private office then vanished again. With his ear pressed to the door, Robby heard Phil’s voice and the angry demands of his pursuers. The back door banged as someone rushed out.

For a long moment all was silent, and there was only the pounding of Robby’s blood in his ears. Then a light tap on the door startled him. Robby stepped back to let Phil in.

Phil carried a whiskey bottle and two shot glasses, and he filled them. “They’re gone. Here, drink this.”

Robby took his and swallowed gratefully.

“What the hell was that about?” Phil grumbled. “Is The Weekly Sun hiring thugs as their critics now?”

“I saw a murder.” Robby’s voice was hushed, as if it were afraid to come out. He dropped down onto a settee crowded with coats, the strength leaving his limbs.

“No kiddin’? Did ya really?” Phil didn’t sound especially surprised. Murders were far from uncommon in New York City. “Well, we can smuggle you outta here after a bit, and you should be all right. I told ’em you went out the back and off they went.

Robby shook his head. It had all been such a blur. But a heavy, dark feeling was settling on him, a sense of utter doom and dread. “No, they saw me coming out of the theater. Had to have gotten a good look at my face. There’s a gas lamp above the door.”

“Oh. That’s a bit of rum luck.” Phil pushed aside some coats and sat down next to Robby. He poured them both another shot.

“And I was so thrilled to have that new poster of me stuck up at the front of the Burton too,” Robby said with a bitter laugh.

It had pricked Robby’s pride every time he passed that poster. There were five glass frames hanging at the front of the theater, and several were dedicated to the current and next production, so being featured in one of the remaining slots was the privilege of a drawing attraction.

The poster depicted Robby standing with one foot on a stool, a dashing cape cast over his shoulder, his face angelic as he looked toward the heavens. The costume, complete with leggings and puffy pantaloons, was from his recent role as Laertes in Hamlet. His face, unfortunately, was completely bare in the image, without even whiskers to disguise him. WITH ROBBY RIVERTON the poster proudly announced.

Yes, it was rum luck. The rummiest. Robby wondered how long it would take the men to trace him to Mrs. Grassley’s boarding house. A day? An hour?

“Ah, Robby, I wouldn’t worry about it,” Phil said amiably. “They’re probably some no-accounts who won’t even bother to go look at the front of the theater. Why should they? You saw something, they scared you off, end of story. It was dark, wasn’t it? You probably didn’t get a good look at their faces. They’ve no reason to track you down.”

Robby stared at Phil, that sense of doom settling deeper. Ice crept up his spine and he thought he might cast up his accounts. This couldn’t be happening. Dear Lord, his life was ruined. Scorched earth. He couldn’t go back to the Burton, or any other theater in New York. He probably shouldn’t even go back to Mrs. Grassley’s to collect his things.

Because he had recognized them, or at least one of them. He’d just seen Mose “The Terror” McCann, leader of the Bowery Boys and the most notorious gangster in New York, murder a man in cold blood. And Mose McCann was known for being smart, vicious, and very careful to never leave witnesses.

Robby grabbed Phil’s shoulders with both hands, like he might grab a life raft in a treacherous sea. “You must help me get out of town, Phil. Because if I don’t, I’m a dead man.”

Guardian Spirits by Jordan L Hawk
Chapter 1
The dead man refused to answer.

Vincent rose out of a trance with no foreign taste on his tongue. Only the lingering traces of the cinnamon cachous he used to cleanse his palate of more ghostly flavors. The air against his skin was merely cool, a crisp fall evening, rather than the icy cold indicative of a spirit drawing energy from the atmosphere. Hands gripped his from either side, both firm; if they had succeeded, he would have expected Lizzie’s to tremble.

“I failed,” he said, and opened his eyes.

He sat at the séance table in the upstairs parlor of their little shop. The curtains had been drawn against the gaslights illuminating the Baltimore street outside, leaving them in near-total darkness.

Even so, he felt the presence of the living in the room with him. Elizabeth Devereaux, his fellow medium, held his right hand. Jocelyn Strauss, seventeen years old and a genius when it came to machines and mathematics, sat directly across from him. And Henry Strauss, inventor—and Vincent’s lover—gripped Vincent’s left hand tightly.

“You didn’t fail,” Henry said. “He simply chose not to answer.”

“We could try again,” Lizzie suggested, though she didn’t sound at all pleased at the prospect.

“No.” A weariness more spiritual than physical weighed on Vincent’s bones. “He isn’t going to answer us. Neither of them are.”

“Cowards,” Henry said staunchly. “Jo, could you open the curtains?”

The circle broke apart, and Jo tugged back the curtains while Henry lit the lamps. Warm gaslight soon filled every corner of the slightly shabby room, gleaming off the apparatus Henry insisted on setting up at every séance: Franklin Bells, which would ring when the presence of a spirit charged the air, thermometer, barometer, and even a copper grounding rod should the summoned spirit turn violent. Not to suggest they had expected the spirit they sought tonight to be dangerous, but Henry always insisted on being prepared.

Since Vincent had spent most of his life drifting along with the currents, Henry’s tendency to plan ahead came as an unexpected comfort.

Jo glanced from Vincent to Lizzie, her brown face drawn with worry. “I’m sorry you couldn’t contact your mentor.”

“The spirits are under no obligation to answer us,” Lizzie said. She ran a tired hand over her jaw, frowned slightly as her fingers encountered a trace of stubble. Her shaving and plucking regimen was immaculate, even when it was only the four of them, and her gesture now told Vincent how heavily the situation weighed on her.

“I’d say Dunne damned well owes you an explanation.” Henry folded his arms over his chest.

“Pardon my language, ladies,” he added when Lizzie cast him a stern look, “but it’s true.”

James Dunne hadn’t just been Lizzie and Vincent’s mentor—he’d plucked them from the streets as children and given them the first home in which they’d ever been welcome. Taught them not only how to be mediums, but how to be decent people. By the end of their apprenticeship, he and Lizzie would have done anything for him. Or for Sylvester Ortensi, who had been like a kindly uncle to them.

Bad enough a malevolent spirit had possessed Vincent and used his hands to kill Dunne. But then Ortensi revealed to them that he and Dunne had hidden things from them. They had been  searching for something, and were desperate enough to turn to necromancy to find it. Desperate enough to murder anyone in their way.

Ortensi died before he could give them any answers. Hence the séance to contact the one person who might: Dunne himself.

Henry held out the silver amulet Vincent had entrusted him with at the start of the séance. The amulet guarded against involuntary possession; after his encounter with the dark spirit which had killed Dunne, Vincent seldom went without it. Unfortunately, channeling spirits required temporarily lending them his voice and body, which meant he had to take the amulet off for séances.

“Thank you,” Vincent said, and fastened it around his neck again.

“Is there anything else we can do?” Jo asked. She perched on one of the chairs, her lower lip caught between her teeth as she pondered. “Perhaps if we used the Wimshurst Machine? Added more energy to the air?”

“I don’t think it’s lack of energy that’s the problem,” Lizzie said with a heavy sigh. “Dunne has surely passed on. If he lingered on this side of the veil, perhaps…but he didn’t. And we can’t compel him to come back and give us answers, no matter how badly we might want to.”

“As I said before, the man is a coward.” Henry gave a little sniff, even as he began to clear away his instrumentation from the table. “If he withheld things from you, he should put forth a little effort. Set the record straight, rather than leaving you with such uncertainty.”

“Dunne wasn’t a coward,” Vincent said, almost reflexively. Even knowing what he did, even suspecting what he did, the instinct to defend his mentor still remained.

Lizzie pressed a hand to her forehead. “I don’t know what to think. We’ve tried spirit writing, psychometry, and now channeling, all to no avail.”

“We have to keep looking.” Vincent rose and went to the writing desk against the wall. Pulling open a drawer, he removed the journal they’d found among Ortensi’s things at the hotel in Devil’s Walk, after he’d died. Unfortunately, it had been a relatively new journal, started just before he’d departed Europe for the final time. If they’d had more money in the bank, perhaps they could have traveled to France, where he’d spent the last several years. Maybe his earlier journals were still there and would have yielded answers.

Most of the journal offered nothing beyond the ordinary details of a medium’s life. It confirmed what Ortensi had already told them. The murderous spirit of Devil’s Walk had been summoned by a necromantic talisman. Rather than destroy such an abomination, Ortensi had hoped to take it for himself. The only real clues lay in his final entry, made the day they’d arrived to assist him.

It’s so good to see Lizzie and Vincent again. I still can’t believe James is gone. He understood the operation of the Grand Harmonium far better than I. Vincent’s account of the spirit that killed James troubles me. It wasn’t like James to be taken so unaware. Some spirits conceal their true nature, but those usually have a motive of some sort, even if only to spread chaos and fear. This one slew James and simply…left.

As for James…I try not to mourn him. The impulse is foolish—death is but sleep, and as easy to wake from. I just need a little more time, and I’m sure I’ll be able to recreate the Astral Key. Then the Grand Harmonium will be restored, and James returned to my side. But it is hard not to miss him.

What might our lives have been, if Arabella hadn’t betrayed us? Damn her! We would have made the world a paradise, instead of the mire it is.

No matter. My youth might be gone, but once the Harmonium is restored, surely such things will be of no consequence. James might be temporarily beyond my reach, but at least I still have Vincent and Lizzie. They’re strong.

They passed every test.

They won’t fail the way Arabella failed.

I must separate Vincent from Mr. Strauss. Strauss represents the worst impulses, is possessed of the lowest of natures. He is filled with ambition and greed. If Strauss learned of the Grand Harmonium, he’d wish to take it apart and sell off the pieces for profit. He sees only the parts of a thing, not the wonder of the whole. Vincent’s tendency toward loyalty may prove inconvenient in this instance. I’ll observe them both closely tomorrow, and think on how best to drive a wedge in between.

The entry ended there. Vincent shut the journal with a snap. “What the blazes is the Grand Harmonium?” he asked aloud, just as he had again and again since first reading the words on the train back from Devil’s Walk. “What is the Astral Key he meant to recreate? And who is—or was— Arabella?”

“As for the Grand Harmonium, presumably Ortensi didn’t travel the world in search of the means to perfect a musical instrument.” Henry took off his spectacles and began to clean them with a handkerchief. “I still maintain it sounds like some sort of machine.”

“Ortensi didn’t seem very pleased with our machines,” Jo pointed out. “Or you, Henry.”

“I’m heartbroken to have garnered his disapproval,” Henry said dryly.

“He said it would return Dunne to his side.” The corners of Lizzie’s mouth turned down into a tight frown. “That sounds like necromancy.”

Vincent shook his head. Necromancy—the forced summoning of the unwilling dead—might be wrong, but that hadn’t stopped people from studying it thoroughly. “‘Death is but sleep, and as easy to wake from.’” He’d stared at the journal entry so often he had memorized the phrase. “That doesn’t sound like any necromancy I’ve ever heard of.”

“Besides,” Jo added, “If he meant to simply compel Dunne’s ghost, he could have just used the necromantic talisman he took from Mr. Fitzwilliam in Devil’s Walk.”

“Precisely.” Vincent ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “Some other means of contacting the dead, perhaps? A more reliable means than a séance, but without the compulsion of necromancy?”

“We could speculate endlessly,” Henry said. “At least it doesn’t sound like the Grand Harmonium is in a state to be used. Not without this Astral Key, whatever it might be.”

“There must be answers, somewhere,” Lizzie said. “If only Dunne had kept a journal. If we still had his house, or the shop in New York…”

“Well, we don’t,” Vincent said. “And honestly, I doubt it would help even if we did. We lived and worked with him for years and never suspected him of keeping secrets. He wouldn’t have left anything where we had a hope of finding it.”

“There must be something.” Lizzie stared out the window, as though the answers might appear on the glass. “We just have to keep searching.”

Henry frowned at her words. But he only said, “It’s late. We should get some sleep. Take my bed, Lizzie, so you don’t have to walk back to your apartment.”

“The sheets might be a little dusty,” Jo added with a sly grin.

Henry shot her a quelling look. Not that she was wrong. Ever since Vincent had moved into the little room above the workshop out back, he and Henry had shared its bed every night. Henry kept a few things in what had previously been his bedroom, for the sake of space, but for all practicalities he and Vincent lived together.

Which wasn’t something Vincent had ever envisioned for himself. But then, he’d never envisioned meeting someone like Henry, either.

Lizzie hesitated visibly, her gaze going again to the darkness outside the window. It was too late to find a cab, even if they’d had the money to spare, which meant either Vincent or Henry would have to walk her home. “Very well,” she said at last. “I’ll leave at first light, then return for Mrs. Burwell’s spirit writing session tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully her departed mother will be more amenable to contact than Dunne.”

~ * ~ 

Henry followed Vincent across the darkened yard to the workshop. He’d originally used the small building to conduct experiments which needed more space than was available in the store’s back room, or which produced smells that might drive away customers. And he still did; the downstairs was a single open space packed with tables and equipment. He and Vincent had converted the upper floor, however, into a cozy apartment.

They ascended the outside staircase to the apartment’s door. Once inside, Vincent didn’t bother to light the sitting room’s lamp, instead walking straight through to the darkened bedroom. Henry winced—this wasn’t like him. Ordinarily, Vincent would stay up to absurd hours, reading poetry or novels while he lounged on the couch in his oriental robe. Then he’d sleep until noon, before spending another hour choosing his clothing and pomading his hair. For him to retire to bed at such a relatively early time didn’t bode well.

While Henry lit the night candle, Vincent began to disrobe, his movements quick and efficient.

A flash of anger coursed through Henry, directed not at Vincent, but at the accursed Dunne.

When he’d first met Vincent and Lizzie, they’d been desperately trying to save the occult shop that had belonged to their dead mentor. They always spoke of the man in tones not just of affection, but awe. As though he were somehow more—better—than human. Flawless as an angel.

No doubt all of his treatment of them hadn’t been a self-serving lie. But their stint in Devil’s Walk made it clear the man had concealed a great deal. Lied to them about fundamental things.

No wonder they’d both been adrift ever since. Desperate to reconcile the things Ortensi had told them, with the idealized memory of their mentor. They were haunted…though not literally, in this case.

Henry would have some strong words for Dunne, should they ever manage to contact the scoundrel. How dare he put Vincent and Lizzie through such pain? If he had truly cared for them, he should have included them in whatever grand scheme he and Ortensi had worked toward.

But anger wouldn’t help Vincent. Henry pushed it down and stepped behind Vincent, putting his hands lightly at Vincent’s waist. “I’m sorry,” he said. “What can I do?”

For a moment, Vincent held himself stiffly. Then he sagged back, letting Henry take some of his weight. He was the taller of the two, so Henry pressed his cheek into Vincent’s shoulder. The citrus and musk scent of Vincent’s cologne filled his nose, and the warmth and heft of his body quickened Henry’s blood.

“If I knew, I’d tell you,” Vincent said. “You must think us fools, to let ourselves be so obsessed by this.”

“Not at all.” Henry slid his arms around Vincent’s slender waist, pulling him closer. “He was like a father to you. I know how badly losing him hurt.” Henry’s own father had died when he was but a youth, and God knew he still missed the man. At least his memories hadn’t been tainted by post-mortem revelations. “I can only imagine how you must feel now. Afraid you’re being disrespectful of his memory by doubting him, but worried your doubt is justified.”

“Exactly.” Vincent turned to face him, then bent for a kiss. “I’m sick of thinking about it.”

“Shall I give you something else to think about for a while?”

“Yes,” Vincent said fervently, and wound his arms around Henry’s shoulders, hauling him close.

Their kiss began leisurely, before deepening. Vincent’s warm mouth tasted of cinnamon. He’d already removed coat, tie, and vest, so Henry set about unbuttoning his shirt an inch at a time, slowly exposing the sienna skin beneath. Henry paused to make sure he paid Vincent’s dark brown nipples proper attention with his lips and teeth, and was rewarded with a soft groan.

Henry shoved down Vincent’s bracers, then peeled off his shirt, pausing just long enough to carefully hang it up. He’d learned early on that Vincent’s clothing was an armor of sorts. Whites expected an Indian to look a certain way; when confronted with the impeccably dressed Vincent,  they tended to offer more respect than they would have otherwise. It was a bit of stupid thinking Henry had fallen into himself, when they’d first met.

Henry made sure to brush his hand against Vincent’s erection more than strictly necessary as he unbuttoned Vincent’s trousers. Drawers came next, and Henry sank to his knees to take Vincent’s cock in his mouth. His taste, the heavy feel of him against Henry’s tongue, sent a rush of blood to Henry’s own prick, and he moaned as he took his lover to the root.

Vincent’s hands tangled in Henry’s hair, tightened—then pushed at him. “Not like this. I want you to come in my mouth at the same time.”

Henry slid off reluctantly, giving a last lap at the slit as he did so. “Get on the bed.”

Henry undressed quickly, but when he turned back to the bed, he stopped just to admire the sight. Vincent sprawled against the pale sheets, his cock dark with desire, his black eyes shining with lust. God, he was beautiful, all long legs and shapely muscles. He wore his thick black hair cut long, in imitation of the style Oscar Wilde had set on his American tour, and it spread across the pillow in a halo.

Henry in no way deserved him, but was grateful every day to have him anyway.

“I love you,” Henry said.

Vincent’s expression softened. “I love you, too. Now come here and let me show you how much.”

The sensation of Vincent’s bare skin against his never ceased to send a thrill through Henry.

For so long, his only encounters had been of the sort done in back alleys, quick and furtive, removing only as much clothing as necessary. The luxury of having a lover and a bed still felt new and exciting. Vincent’s arms snaked around Henry’s chest, pulling him tight, their thighs and cocks pressed together. Henry kissed Vincent thoroughly, moving his hips in a slow grind, sending slow shocks of pleasure through them both.

Vincent drew back just a bit. “I want you in my mouth.”

“Mmm.” Henry grinned and nuzzled what he knew to be a sensitive spot on Vincent’s neck, drawing a gasp from him. “I’m not going to refuse such an offer.”

He reversed his position on the bed, and they lay on their sides. Henry kissed Vincent’s strong thighs, then caught his cock between his lips once again. The slow, teasing lick of Vincent’s tongue along his own prick made Henry whimper.

“Impatient,” Vincent said, his lips moving against the very tip of Henry’s erection. Then he slid down, engulfing him in wet heat.

They clung to each other, hands roaming across whatever skin they could reach, mouths fastened on one another. Vincent’s tongue was clever with more than words, and soon Henry found himself fighting to hold back. He tried focusing on the prick filling his own mouth, but Vincent’s taste and feel, his little moans, only added to Henry’s arousal. He let out a muffled sound of warning, balls tightening, and Vincent groaned around him as he came.

He tried to keep sucking as he spent, rhythm lost, until Vincent’s thighs trembled and bitterness flooded Henry’s throat in return.

They lay silent for a moment, breath coming in short gasps. Despite the cool night, a light film of sweat slicked their skin. Henry pressed his lips to Vincent’s thigh.

“Come here, Henry,” Vincent murmured sleepily.

Henry didn’t want to move, but he clambered around until he was facing the right way in the bed again. Vincent had rolled onto his back, eyelids already drooping shut. The tension had eased from his handsome features, at least for the moment, and a rush of emotion shook Henry, so strong it threatened to cut off his breath.

“I’d do anything for you,” he whispered.

Vincent’s generous mouth turned up into a smile. “Then salt the door.”

“You just don’t want to get up,” Henry teased. But he rolled out of bed and did as asked.

Vincent hadn’t always slept with a line of salt across the windows and door. But after the malevolent spirit had possessed him and killed Dunne, Vincent feared it was still out there, somewhere. That it might return, despite the passage of time and distance.

Perhaps it wasn’t the most logical of fears, but if pouring salt across the doors and windows each night made Vincent feel safer, that was what Henry would do.

Once finished, Henry blew out the candle, then pillowed his head on Vincent’s chest. Within moments, Vincent had slipped away into sleep. Henry listened to the beat of his lover’s heart beneath his ear. The edge of the silver amulet pressed against his forehead, a silent reminder, along with the salt, of the lingering damage the spirit had done to Vincent’s soul.

Had Dunne known there was something unusual about the poltergeist he’d taken Vincent to confront? Vincent insisted there had been no warning, but Henry was less certain of Dunne’s honesty in the matter.

The man’s other apprentices had died somehow, after all. The ones Dunne had never seen fit to mention to Vincent and Lizzie. They would never have known, if Ortensi hadn’t told them.

They weren’t the first. They were just the ones who had survived.

Assuming Ortensi hadn’t lied to further his own ends. At least they could take the writing in the journal, intended for no one else’s eyes, as honest.

Perhaps it was just as well they’d failed to raise Dunne’s spirit tonight. The idea of never learning the truth irked Henry…but maybe it was time to put all of this behind them. To let go of the fear and guilt and doubt chaining them to the past. To focus instead on the future of their business, of their family.

Vincent and Lizzie needed something to distract them. The only clientele they’d had as of late had been the ordinary sort: weekly séances, some spirit writing, a few people who wanted them to come investigate odd sounds or cold spots in their houses, none of which had turned out to be due to ghosts. There had been nothing to demand their attention for more than an hour or two at a stretch, leaving them with far too much time to brood.

Well, then. Henry would simply have to find something for them. What, he didn’t know, but if he put his mind to it, surely he could come up with some project to allow them to focus their minds and energy, and let go of Dunne once and for all.

Double Dutch Courage by Helena Stone
Ronan seemed to search Lucas’s face for something, then lowered his gaze until Lucas was convinced he was staring at his lips. He mused that the sunshine had to be getting to him as the afternoon took on a dreamlike quality. Ronan licked his lips, the tip of his tongue tempting Lucas, teasing him. When Ronan leant forward Lucas wondered what was happening, whether he was imagining things. Surely Ronan wasn’t about to —

The soft press of Ronan’s lips against his elicited a sigh from Lucas. He would have been embarrassed about his reaction if he hadn’t been lost in the moment. It was the second time Ronan had taken him by surprise in this manner, except on this occasion he didn’t appear to have any intention of pulling back.

With so many reasons why this was the worst idea ever, it didn’t make any sense that the overriding thought running through his mind was more.

He cupped Ronan’s neck, keeping the pressure light, barely there. Ronan reacted as if Lucas had used force and pressed his lips firmer against his, parting them in the process.

Lucas was helpless against the onslaught. It had taken him days to stop obsessing about Ronan’s mouth after that quick, shy kiss a week earlier. There would be no coming back from this. He had no doubt he would end up hurt. Even as he had the thought, Lucas parted his own lips, slipped his tongue through the gap and tentatively caressed Ronan’s mouth.

“Oh.” Ronan’s soft exclamation meant his lips parted farther and Lucas took advantage. Fuck being sensible. Fuck worrying about tomorrow, or next week, or six months from today. He was here, now, and the tongue hesitantly exploring his was nothing like what he’d expected and everything he wanted it to be.

The kiss transported him back to his teenage years, to the first boy he’d ever kissed. Clumsy and with clashing teeth, it had been as awkward as it had been exciting. Pretty much as it was now, except this time it didn’t make sense.

He pulled back until the tips of their noses were the only parts of them still touching. Ronan’s lashes fluttered before he opened his eyes. They widened and he lowered his gaze.

“That bad, eh?” Ronan directed his words at the grass beneath their knees.

“Not bad.” Lucas tried to figure out what to say. Not sure what he was reacting to, he didn’t know which words to use either, so the truth would have to do. “It just brought back a memory of something I hadn’t thought about in ages.”


Ronan still wouldn’t look at him and Lucas didn’t like it. He lifted Ronan’s chin with his index finger. “It reminded me of when I was fourteen and me and Hans, my best friend back then, decided to find out what the big deal about kissing was.”

“It was like your first kiss?” Ronan still tried to avoid meeting Lucas’s gaze.

“Yes.” Lucas smiled. He couldn’t believe Hans had slipped his mind. They’d done a lot of exploring together before Hans decided he was interested in girls after all. He got so lost in his reminiscence he almost missed the words Ronan muttered.

“Makes sense.”

It hit Lucas like a ton of bricks. Here was yet another reason why getting involved with Ronan was the worst idea ever. If he was right, he would be Ronan’s first in everything. The thought that Ronan’s inexperience might include kissing hadn’t crossed his mind until this moment. He wasn’t sure he could make that journey with Ronan without getting emotionally involved. He had to know for sure.

“I’m your first?”

The combination of shame and defeat Lucas read in Ronan’s expression tore at him. He didn’t need an answer. He also didn’t need to think about what to do next. Yes, he would end up getting hurt, but he’d deal with it. It wouldn’t be the first time or, in all likelihood, the last. He could be Ronan’s first and make it a good, a memorable, experience.

“I want to be your second, too.” He didn’t wait and pressed his lips back against Ronan’s before he could respond.

Once Upon a Western Shore by Harper Fox
The layby opposite Pascoe’s Farm wouldn’t be a bad spot for a picnic. The ochre-pink single-track was quiet but for the occasional tractor, the parking space turf-lined and broad in the shade of a spectacular Cornish hedge. Still, Gideon hadn’t meant to come here. “I don’t know. I really only thought about Lamorna because it seemed so beautiful last night, driving about through the lanes in the moonlight. How do you feel about it?”

“Well – not called as such, not the way I sometimes am. This guy’s been dead a long time.” He gave Gideon a sheepish grin. “Maybe I’m just on the lookout for my next Spirits of Cornwall script.”

“Sounds like it has potential. Want me call DI Lawrence and ask her to run some checks on that name?”

“Not yet. I’m not sure, and... we’re on our day off, aren’t we?”

Hanging around at a crime scene. Gideon shook his head. Still, maybe the distraction would be better for Lee than brooding about Tamsyn’s latest display. That too was on the board for discussion, for some reason harder to begin than it should be, as if a danger lay there, a source of conflict. That was ridiculous, of course. He and his husband disagreed about plenty of things, but when it came to their kid, they stood united. “Do you want to take a look? The field’s just through that gate.”

“Isn’t it taped off?”

“Just the section where the diggers unearthed our guy.”

“Any chance we’ll run into old man Pascoe and his shotgun?”

“I don’t think so. The police doc gave him a sedative last night, and he’s very fragile anyway. He’s probably tucked up in bed.”

Slowly they both got out. It was the kind of day that fostered unhurried movement, the stretch of car-cramped muscles in the fragrant wind, whose touch here felt powerful enough to lift you up into flight. Beyond a rise of land to the south lay the sea. Despite all these beauties, uneasy protectiveness surged through Gideon, and he ushered Lee across the quiet road like a true village bobby, opened the gate for him and gestured him through. Lee broke into laughter at these attentions. “What’s up with you?”

“Nothing. Just looking after my investment, the famous TV psychic who’s gonna save me from a lifetime of pounding the beat.”

“Like you’d ever quit.” Lee grabbed his belt and pulled him in for a swift, electrifying kiss. He took a few strides into the field and looked around. “Oh, wow. That’s the one of the Drift stones, Gid.”

Gideon came to stand beside him. “The what? Oh, like the ones over by the A30?”

“Yeah. The remains of an alignment that ran through here from Madron and Tremethick and all the way down to Drift farmhouse. My dad and Jago said there was one right in our garden down there in my grandfather’s time, before it got blown up by a hellfire preacher.”

“Ugh. Probably one of my ancestors – or Zeke’s, anyway.”

Lee chuckled. “I think they were probably shared.”

“Yes, more’s the pity.” The meadow swept away to a sun-haze distance. The rough grass was awash with buttercups, giving back the dancing light with interest. In the centre of this dazzling space, a single megalith thrust skywards – one of the largest Gid had ever seen, held invisible from the road by the thick Cornish hedge and the rise, swoop and dip of the land. “I didn’t even know this was here.”

“Come and introduce yourself, then.”

They went hand-in-hand into the shadow of the giant. There was a sense of ceremony, of a vast presence somehow acknowledging his transient flicker of life. He doubted he’d have felt it on his own: Lee, no doubt, was on first-name terms with every great rock in the district. The wind blew strangely around this one, creating in his head an echoing song. Not questioning his impulse, he laid his free hand to the warm, lichen-rough flank. “Lee,” he said softly, “I love you. This is sacred land.”

“Yes, it is. You can see the top of Carn Brea from here, and the spire of St Buryan’s church, and the mound where Maze Quoit used to be. I love you, too.”

“Shit, though. It’s not gonna be sacred for long once that lot get done.”

They both turned in the direction of the farmhouse. A line of yellow police tape ran across the field’s far corner, and beyond that – lined up like a cavalry force – were nigh on two dozen JCBs, backhoes and caterpillar-tracked excavation machines. Lee shuddered. “The stone’s protected, though, isn’t it?”

“Yes, if it’s a scheduled ancient monument. I’ve been driving past here all my life, and I didn’t know it was there – maybe it’s slipped through the net.”

“That’s insane. It can’t have done.”

“Well, finding a body here will hold everything up. Not for long, though – the routine with cases like this is to take

the remains off-site and let everyone get on with their jobs. Why don’t you give your mate Jory from CAMS a call?”

“I will, just as soon as I’ve...” Lee had already taken his mobile out. He looked up reproachfully at the looming stone. “As soon as I’ve got a signal again. I am trying to help you, you know.”

Movement from across the field caught Gideon’s attention. There was so much light in the air that he struggled to focus, and although the woman making her way along the edge of the tape was familiar, it took him a moment to place her. “Looks like we’re not the only ones wasting our day off. That’s Lawrence over there.”

“Really? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her out of a business suit.” Lee scanned the far side of the drystone wall that bounded the farmhouse lane. “Hang on. I can see somebody else, and he is in his business suit. What’s going on here today?”

The four met up awkwardly by the gate to the farmyard. DI Lawrence seemed to have mislaid her usual brisk demeanour along with her suit, and it was Ezekiel who broke the windswept silence first. As Lee had pointed out, he was emphatically in uniform: shining dog-collar, jet-black suit. Having one of his crow days, as Gid called them, with the attitude to match. “I’d hazard a guess,” Zeke rasped, folding his arms on the top bar of the gate, “that I’m the only one here on legitimate business today.”

“Zeke, you know Detective Inspector Lawrence, don’t you?” Gideon laid a faint stress on the Detective. His own business here was debatable, but Lawrence was perfectly entitled to be poking about in her civvies if she wished. “DI Lawrence, this is my brother, the Reverend Ezekiel Frayne.”

“Of course. I remember you from Lee and Gideon’s wedding.” Lawrence put out a cordial hand, which Zeke took with equal grace. “Do you know the family here, Reverend Frayne?”

“No, although my father knew them well. I’m visiting a parishioner today.”

Something in Zeke’s formality awoke an old demon in Gid – hardly deserved these days, with a brother so transformed and ready for mischief of this own, but old patterns died hard. “You’re a long way out of your parish, Reverend.”

“So are you, Sergeant,” Zeke smartly returned. “Mr Penyar over there used to live up in Dark, and he still comes to my chapel there on Sundays. He called me last night to say he felt spiritually threatened after the discovery in the field yesterday.”

“Spiritually threatened?” Until now, Gid hadn’t noticed the skinny, beak-faced old man lurking on the far side of the lane. “Good day, Mr... Penyar, did you say the name was? I’m a police sergeant. Can I help you in any way?”

Apparently not. Penyar scuttled out of the shadows where he’d been lurking and made off down the verge without so much as a backward glance. “Great,” said Zeke. “Drive off my customers, why don’t you?”

“You said he felt threatened.”

“Yes, spiritually. There used to be a lot of local legends about witchcraft in this area. From what I can gather, the body that’s been found dates from around that time, and he’s disturbed about it, that’s all.”

“Well, let me know if somebody lobs a brick through his window. I might be able to help him then.”

A brief silence fell. Gideon turned to see Lee and DI Lawrence staring at him, bemused. “Gid,” Zeke said cautiously, “I haven’t done anything to upset you, have I?”

Of course not. Gideon wasn’t upset. His skin was prickling in the heat, and he could’ve used a good run, followed by a steak and nice solid fuck. “No. I’m fine. Lee and I were passing by this way, and we wondered...” He tailed off, not sure how he could really justify his presence to his brother or his boss. “It’s a bit of a strange case, I suppose. And old man Pascoe was very distressed last night.”

“So you came to check in on him,” Lawrence offered. “And maybe Lee thought he could have a look around, too?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Lee, who’d caught the habit from Gid. “I wasn’t sure you’d want me messing around this early in the investigation.”

“No, you’re very welcome. You know the drill for forensic hygiene – a lot better than some of our younger officers, sad to say. And the remains have already been taken away.”

“Have you heard back from the lab?” Gideon asked, trying to regain a civil tone and some kind of professional balance. “I know it’s early days, but...”

“Nothing, and to be honest we’re not likely to. It’s all very well being able to extract DNA, but a sixty-year-old corpse is highly unlikely to have got any of it registered anywhere, and dental records won’t help until we know who he is or where he’s from.”

“Er... I know who he is, ma’am.”

Lawrence turned to Lee in surprise. “Really?”

“Well – not exactly,” Lee corrected himself. “I think I know his name, that’s all, and that’s a different matter.”

“It’s still a hell of a step forward. Lee, I’ve seen enough of what you can do that I should’ve learned not to ask questions, but... how do you do this? How do you know?”

Lee shrugged. “Honestly? I have no idea. I dreamed about him, and the name was there. Just that, and the... the back view of him, walking away from me between hedgerows full of spring flowers. It’s this time of year, almost to the day, and...”

“Gideon!” Lawrence took an alarmed step back. “What’s happening?”

“Well, you did ask him how he did it,” Gideon said grimly, coming to take Lee’s arm. Zeke climbed over the padlocked five-bar gate with surprising agility and took up position on the other side. “He’ll be all right, though. Won’t you, love?”

“His eyes just changed colour. I saw it. They were green, and now they... they look like moonlight.”

Lawrence off-duty was a lot more easily fazed than the upright little martinet who ran Bodmin Police HQ. “It’s okay. It just means he’s having a vision,” Gideon said reassuringly, more for Lee’s sake than hers. Sometimes he throws up or has a seizure, and sometimes his heart beats so fast I’m afraid it’ll tear out of his chest. Sometimes he sees things that make him want to die, and I’m sometimes afraid that the good things of this world – the things I can show him – won’t be enough to make him stay. He held on tighter. Zeke, who knew about some of this, met his eyes, his silence a rough comfort.

Suddenly tension left the rigid arm Gid was holding. Lee sucked in an unsteady breath, trance breaking with a near-audible pop. “Sorry,” he said. “Sorry, Marjorie. That’s all I’m getting anyway.”

“Well, good.” Gideon rubbed his back, and he and Zeke carefully let him go. “You are meant to be on your day off, you know. Er... who’s Marjorie?”

“I am. I’m Marjorie.” Poor Lawrence had retreated all the way to the edge of the taped-off trench. “It’s my first name, but I hated it, so I always used Christine. No-one knows that except my parents, and they’ve been dead for ten years.”

Davidson King
Davidson King, always had a hope that someday her daydreams would become real-life stories. As a child, you would often find her in her own world, thinking up the most insane situations. It may have taken her awhile, but she made her dream come true with her first published work, Snow Falling.

When she’s not writing you can find her blogging away on Diverse Reader, her review and promotional site. She managed to wrangle herself a husband who matched her crazy and they hatched three wonderful children.

If you were to ask her what gave her the courage to finally publish, she’d tell you it was her amazing family and friends. Support is vital in all things and when you’re afraid of your dreams, it will be your cheering section that will lift you up.

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.

Charlie Cochrane
As Charlie Cochrane couldn't be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice - like managing a rugby team - she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, predominantly historical romances/mysteries, but she's making an increasing number of forays into the modern day. She's even been known to write about gay werewolves - albeit highly respectable ones.

Her Cambridge Fellows series of Edwardian romantic mysteries were instrumental in seeing her named Speak Its Name Author of the Year 2009. She’s a member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and International Thriller Writers Inc.

Happily married, with a house full of daughters, Charlie tries to juggle writing with the rest of a busy life. She loves reading, theatre, good food and watching sport. Her ideal day would be a morning walking along a beach, an afternoon spent watching rugby and a church service in the evening.

Charlie Cochet
Charlie Cochet is an author by day and artist by night. Always quick to succumb to the whispers of her wayward muse, no star is out of reach when following her passion. From adventurous agents and sexy shifters, to society gentlemen and hardboiled detectives, there’s bound to be plenty of mischief for her heroes to find themselves in, and plenty of romance, too!

Currently residing in Central Florida, Charlie is at the beck and call of a rascally Doxiepoo bent on world domination. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, drawing, or watching movies. She runs on coffee, thrives on music, and loves to hear from readers.

LA Witt
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies. She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don’t tell Lauren. And definitely don’t tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut…

Eli Easton
Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, and organic farmer, Eli has been a m/m romance author since 2013. She has over 30 books published.

Eli has loved romance since her teens and she particular admires writers who can combine literary merit, genuine humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, bulldogs, cows, a cat, and lots of groundhogs.

In romance, Eli is best known for her Christmas stories because she’s a total Christmas sap. These include “Blame it on the Mistletoe”, “Unwrapping Hank” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles”. Her “Howl at the Moon” series of paranormal romances featuring the town of Mad Creek and its dog shifters has been popular with readers. And her series of Amish-themed romances, Men of Lancaster County, has won genre awards.

In 2018 Eli hopes to do more of the same, assuming they reschedule the apocalypse.

Jordan L Hawk
Jordan L. Hawk is a non-binary queer author from North Carolina. Childhood tales of mountain ghosts and mysterious creatures gave them a life-long love of things that go bump in the night. When they aren’t writing, they brew their own beer and try to keep the cats from destroying the house. Their best-selling Whyborne & Griffin series (beginning with Widdershins) can be found in print, ebook, and audiobook.

Helena Stone
Helena Stone can’t remember a life before words and reading. After growing up in a household where no holiday or festivity was complete without at least one new book, it’s hardly surprising she now owns more books than shelf space while her Kindle is about to explode.

The urge to write came as a surprise. The realisation that people might enjoy her words was a shock to say the least. Now that the writing bug has well and truly taken hold, Helena can no longer imagine not sharing the characters in her head and heart with the rest of the world.

Having left the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam for the peace and quiet of the Irish Country side she divides her time between reading, writing, long and often wet walks with the dog, her part-time job in a library, a grown-up daughter and her ever loving and patient husband.

Harper Fox
Bestselling British author Harper Fox has established herself as a firm favourite with readers of M/M romance. Over the past four years, she’s delivered eighteen critically acclaimed novels and novellae, including Brothers Of The Wild North Sea (Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2013), Stonewall Award-nominated Scrap Metal and the enduringly popular Life After Joe. Harper takes her inspiration from a wide range of British settings – wild countryside, edgy urban and most things in between – and loves to use these backdrops for stories about sexy gay men sharing passion, adventure and happy endings. She also runs her own publishing imprint, FoxTales.

Harper has recently returned from Cornwall to her native Northumberland, and already the bleak moorlands around her home are providing a wealth of new ideas for future work.

Davidson King

Josh Lanyon

Charlie Cochrane

Charlie Cochet

LA Witt

Eli Easton

Jordan L Hawk

Helena Stone

Harper Fox

Hug it Out by Davidson King

The Magician Murders by Josh Lanyon
Lessons in Chasing the Wild Goose by Charlie Cochrane

Murder Takes the High Road by Josh Lanyon

Love in Spades by Charlie Cochet

The Given & the Taken by LA Witt

Robby Riverton: Mail Order Bride by Eli Easton

Guardian Spirits by Jordan L Hawk

Double Dutch Courage by Helena Stone

Once Upon a Western Shore by Harper Fox