Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Best Reads of 2018 Part 4

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 4 features my favorite reads from September & October of 2018 each containing my original review.

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Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 5

The Mystery of Nevermore by CS Poe
September Book of the Month
Snow & Winter #1
It’s Christmas, and all antique dealer Sebastian Snow wants is for his business to make money and to save his floundering relationship with closeted CSU detective, Neil Millett. When Snow’s Antique Emporium is broken into and a heart is found under the floorboards, Sebastian can’t let the mystery rest.

He soon finds himself caught up in murder investigations that echo the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe. To make matters worse, Sebastian’s sleuthing is causing his relationship with Neil to crumble, while at the same time he’s falling hard for the lead detective on the case, Calvin Winter. Sebastian and Calvin must work together to unravel the mystery behind the killings, despite the mounting danger and sexual tension, before Sebastian becomes the next victim.

In the end, Sebastian only wants to get out of this mess alive and live happily ever after with Calvin.

Original Review September 2018:
When Sebastian Snow comes into his antique shop one morning he can smell something isn't right and when a heart is found under the floorboard, suddenly his life is changed.  When Calvin Winter and his partner are sent to Snow’s Antique Emporium to investigate a heart under the floorboard he never expected to find his life changed.  Will Snow and Winter find a connection beyond the murders straight out of Edgar Allan Poe and will they even survive?

I'm just going to jump out of the gate and say WOW!!!  How this series has slipped my reader radar I have no idea but now that I found it I am loving it!  I'll admit that Snow & Winter may not make my annual re-read list but I do know that I will pay them another visit down the road😉 They may not be at the top of my Top 10 Crime-Fighting Duo list but they certainly made the list and to be completely honest the notches between numbers 4, 5, & 6 are so small I would never want to place a bet on something so minute.

Edgar Allan Poe has been the basis for many book mysteries and I have yet to read any that aren't uniquely done.  The books and stories the writers use may have been used before but there is so much room for interpretation with Poe's work that they are always originally done and CS Poe has put her own intriguing spin to it.  That's all I'm going to say towards the mystery side of The Mystery of Nevermore except I will add that I was guessing all the way to the reveal and that alone makes this a keeper as I am rarely surprised right up to the end anymore because I have been reading/watching mysteries for nearly all of my 44 years on this earth.

As for Snow and Winter themselves, well what's not to love?  Sebastian Snow is an antique dealer that has an unlikely(or not so unlikely in fictional settings) ability to find himself in the middle of trouble.  Who knew antiquing could be so dangerous? I love his respect for history and his determination to discover what's going on.  As for Calvin Winter, he may not be out of the closet yet but he knows that Seb is a special person even if he is a trouble magnate who doesn't exactly listen.  Together they have the potential be extraordinary.


His Grandfather's Watch by NR Walker
It was just an ordinary day for Alex Harper at Harper's Antiquities, until Callum Winters walked in with a watch.

"It was my Grandfather's. I was hoping you could tell me something about it."

A love story of two couples, generations apart.

***Second Edition. Earlier edition released in 2012. No additional content has been added.***

Re-Read Review September 2018:
I really can't think of a single thing to add to my original review that would express how wonderful this novella is other than, it's shortness may be in the number of pages but not in the quality of the story.  His Grandfather's Watch had me even more teary-eyed now than it did when I first read it three years ago.  It is rare that you get two heart felt love stories in a novella but that is exactly what this little gem brings to the table.

I chose to re-read this now in honor of Grandparents Day but whenever you decide to pick it up you won't regret it and I highly recommend reading this one because not only will you be entertained but you might also learn a thing or two about understanding your family's past.  I know I can honestly say that had I not already been deeply invested in my family genealogy this story would have had me itching to discover my family's past.

Original Review July 2015:
This novella may be a short quick read but it is more powerful than many full length novels I have read.  I was sitting in my front yard under the shade of my maple tree and was so glad I had sunglasses on because otherwise I probably would have scared the children playing across the street when the tears started running.    The blend of contemporary and historical is perfect for the emotional buildup for the story the watch represents.

The historical part of the watch's tale touched my heart a bit more but I am a bit of a history buff so stories of the past usually do.  As my mother's 24/7 caregiver for the past 20 years, when Callum said "My life hasn't been about me in a long time" really struck a chord because in those 10 words she summed up what every caregiver lives not to mention the kind of man Callum is and the fact that Alex understands it also goes a long way in describing his character as well.

I rarely give novellas a full 5 bookmark rating just because my heart prefers full length stories but this is such a powerful emotional ride that nothing short of the full 5 is fitting.


The Campbell Curse by Olivier Bosman
DS Billings Victorian Mysteries #3
The year is 1892. While touring Britain with her production of Macbeth, the famous American actress, Carola LeFevre, receives an anonymous death threat . Detective Sergeant John Billings from Scotland Yard is appointed as her personal security guard. Billings is thrown into a theatrical world of gossip, intrigue and temper tantrums, but things take a darker turn when the tour heads for Edinburgh. A great tragedy befalls Miss LeFevre and Billings becomes embroiled in a horrific crime which appears to be the consequence of an ancient Scottish curse.

Blurring the line between reality and superstition, The Campbell Curse is a dark, gothic mystery which touches on our deepest fears. This is the third full length novel in the series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone story.

Original Review September 2018:
After receiving dangerous death threat, American actress Carola LeFevre on tour doing Macbeth is provided security in the form of Scotland Yard Detective Sergeant John Billings.  Billings finds himself in a world unfamiliar to him with the theater people but when the tour goes to Edinburgh a tragedy occurs.  Tragedy, Scottish curse, theater, and John Billings finds himself smack in the middle of it all.

Once again we have an author who obviously has tremendous respect for the past.  This respect shows in both little and big ways as we are thrown into a world of Victorian crime.  Whether its the high end, "I'm above you" actress Carola LeFevre or the common man DS John Billings or the dozens of characters in between, the attention to detail is what really makes them come alive.  Sometimes an author can spend too much time on the little nuances of the era and the story can become cluttered but this is not one of those authors.  The Campbell Curse is a lovely blend of drama, mystery, and historical accuracy that makes a very entertaining experience.

If you are expecting a lot of M/M romance than you will be disappointed, there are a few hints of it but Curse is another leg of John Billings' journey of accepting who he is but considering its 1892, he fights his inner desires but perhaps he's not too old to learn or then again maybe he is(you know me I won't give any spoilers😉).  I will say that I loved his interactions with everyone in this entry as well as his determination to discover the truth even if at times it seems he is the only one wanting to do so.

If you are wondering if The Campbell Curse can be read as a standalone, yes technically it can be as the mystery is new and there is no connection to previous cases other than John Billings and his fellow Scotland Yard detectives.  However, personally I would highly recommend reading this series in order for a couple of reasons: 1. I just don't like jumping into a series in the middle whether there is any connection between the installments or not, its just not "how I roll" and 2. in the case of DS Billings Victorian Mysteries, even though each entry is a separate case there are recurring characters and especially John Billings, watching him grow towards acceptance is an important part of the story which for me just makes each entry flow better having ridden along with him on his journey from the beginning.

So if you love historicals, mystery, character growth, and just an overall intriguing story than The Campbell Curse and the DS Billings Victorian Mysteries series as a whole is definitely worth reading.


The Hunt by JM Dabney & Davidson King
Disgraced detective turned private investigator, Ray Clancy, left the force with a case unsolved. Finding the killer was no longer his problem, but it still haunted him. How long would he survive the frustration of not knowing before he gave into the compulsion of his nature to solve the crime?

Server, Andrew Shay, existed where he didn’t feel he belonged, living behind the guise of a costume. Yet it paid the bills, and he refused to complain about the little things in life. One night he returned home from work to find his roommate dead and the killer still there. Afraid and alone, his life spiraled and he didn’t know what to do. Could a detective at his core and a scared young man join forces to bring down the killer in their midst?

Original Review September 2018:
Accused of something he didn't do, Ray Clancy opened his own private investigation office after leaving the force with a case of brutal killings unsolved.  Andrew Shay returns to his apartment one night after work to find his roommate and friend killed and the killer still lurking.  With the cops seemingly not doing everything they can, Andrew finds Ray and hires him.  Will the disgraced cop and scared server be able to solve the mystery and find the killer before the killer finds them?  Can one find happiness and love in the middle of such danger?

OMG!!! I am so not an "OMG" kind of gal so when I say "OMG" you know I really mean "O-M-G!!!"  The Hunt is aptly named because there is hunting on all sides going on in the pages of this book.  The Hunt is a murder mystery that is reminiscent of classic noir, from the characters to the crime to the scene setting, it has everything that takes a mystery one step further into that noir status.  Okay, it may lack the femme fatale that is an almost must in noir, however Andrew sees himself at times as the helpless victim when he is in fact anything but helpless or victim and that is what helps complete the noir package for me.

Talking of Andrew, you can't help but love him.  Yes, I want to wrap him in bubblewrap and tuck him away to keep him safe but he's stronger than he gives himself credit for which only adds to my love for him.  As for Ray, well in my honest opinion he belongs right up there with Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade and yes, I pictured Bogey from the getgo.  Now I won't mention the cast of secondary characters because in doing so I think I'd risk too many spoilers, and that's something I don't do, however I will say that Bradford is delicious and I wouldn't mind seeing him get his own story down the road.

Collaborations can be tricky but when done right you can't tell who wrote what character because the styles mesh which is what Dabney and King bring us.  Followers of my blog know that Davidson King, although relatively knew to the published world has shot near the top of my favorite author list, however I have never read JM Dabney before but I definitely look forward to checking out Dabney's backlist after reading this awesome tale.  Together they bring you an incredibly fun(if "fun" is a word you can use for murder😉😉), mysterious tale of mayhem that you won't want to put down once you start, so if you only have 30 minutes you may want to wait to crack open The Hunt.

One final mention is to the cover.  I don't usually give the cover much thought when doing a review because as great as it may be its not what sucks me into the story, I don't let the models or artist renderings of the characters influence how I picture them in my mind's eye.  However, Morningstar Ashley has outdone herself with this cover.  Frankly, the cover got me hoping this would be in the noir genre and the authors didn't disappoint(as I've said above) so this is a perfect cover for this amazing story.  A true all around package of reading yummy-ness.


The Artist by Bonnie Dee
Creating love from darkness is the greatest art…

Living a bohemian lifestyle in Paris is wonderful for Teddy Dandridge, but disastrous for his finances. His unconventional artistic creations find few buyers. After a year of failure, he returns to England to fulfill a portrait commission for a wealthy family, but he finds a different, source of inspiration secreted away in their sprawling house.

Isolated and rejected by his family, Phineas Abernathy haunts the west wing like a ghost. A physical deformity has locked him away from society for all his life. Filling his days with reading and drawing, he dreams of a life that seems unachievable…until irreverent, opinionated Teddy explodes into his quiet world

Intrigued by the kind and creative man beneath the ungainly exterior, Teddy gives Phin nightly drawing lessons. A private friendship is born as the men share life stories, future hopes and a growing attraction. Phin agrees to pose for a portrait in which Teddy tries to illustrate the depth and beauty he sees in him. He also guides the eager virgin in the ways of love between men.

When persecutors from Phin’s past arrive at the house, the slights and hurts he has suffered his entire life boil over. He must at last be brave enough to emerge from his cocoon and venture into an often cruel and judgmental world. And Teddy must decide what matters most to him.

Original Review September 2018:
When financial disasters force Teddy Dandridge to leave Paris and return to England, he is commissioned by a wealthy family to paint a portrait of their daughter who is about to be presented to society.  Phineas Abernathy has spent his entire life isolated and secreted away by the family for his physical deformities.  When Phineas comes across Teddy painting, their worlds will never be the same but will society or more importantly the Abernathy family let Teddy and Phineas find happiness?

Once again Bonnie Dee has brought history to life with her respect of the times with wonderful attention to detail all while bringing a lovely story to life in The Artist.  You want to feel bad for Teddy because he had to come home from Paris and in one regard his dreams were dashed but he doesn't let that stop him because he is still able to do his painting and you just know that he still has so much to offer the artistic world.  As for Phin, I found myself so angry at his family especially his mother.  Even taking into consideration the times and how women did not have the say they do today I still found myself wanting to just slap her silly for not standing up for her boy.  Watching Phin find his voice is heartbreaking at times but its also very heartwarming.

I feel like I am on the verge of giving away too much of Teddy and Phin's story so I think I'll end the review but I do want to say I love how everyone in this tale has a place in both the couple's journey and the book as a whole.  There really is no "throwaway" characters in The Artist and that is not always easy to do for an author but Bonnie Dee has done it wonderfully.  As I mentioned above, as you read her work you can understand and almost see her respect for the past and yet this is a lovely work of fiction that entertains from beginning to end.  If you've never read Bonnie Dee before than The Artist is an awesome place to start and if you are like me and devour nearly all her work than you don't want to miss this one.


Push & Pull by Brigham Vaughn
October Book of the Month
Midwest Series #2
When is it time to stop living in the moment and think about the future?

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

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

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

Original Review October 2018:
Brent and Nathan have been long planning on a final summer vacation after graduation but at the last minute Nathan decides he needs to spend the summer with his boyfriend, Caleb.  Furious, Brent sees his summer plans and money slipping away but Nathan and Caleb have a backup plan: Lowell Prescott.  Angry but unwilling to lose everything he already stuck into the trip, Brent agrees and off the two virtual strangers go.  Will a road trip around Lake Michigan be what Brent was hoping or will it be a disaster?  And will these two go from strangers to more or will they go their seperate ways once the summer is over?

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

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

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

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

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


Spirit by John Inman
Jason Day, brilliant designer of video games, is not only a confirmed bachelor, but he’s as gay as a maypole. One wouldn’t think being saddled with his precocious four-year-old nephew for four weeks would be enough to throw him off-kilter.

Wrong. Timmy, Jason’s nephew, is a true handful.

But just when Timmy and Uncle Jason begin to bond, and Jason feels he’s getting a grip on this babysitting business once and for all, he’s thrown for a loop by a couple of visitors—one from Tucson, the other from beyond the grave.

I’m sorry. Say what?

Toss a murder, a hot young stud, an unexpected love affair, and a spooky-ass ghost with a weird sense of humor into Jason’s summer plans, and you’ve got the makings for one hell of a ride.

Original Review October 2018:
When Jason Day agreed to care for his four year old nephew, Timmy, while his sister and her boyfriend went on a month long vacation he had no idea what he was getting into.  Between the man in the basement Timmy meets and his uncle showing up from Tucson, Jason has his hands full.  Wait, what man in the basement?  In the middle of mystery, unexplainable noises, and Timmy's limitless energy will Jason find time for a little romance too?

How I haven't read Spirit before is beyond me, it's as unexplainable as the man in the basement first appears to be.  Who knew creepy ghost stories could be so lighthearted and humorous?   Grasping a child's limitless energy can be a difficult thing to write without them coming across as brats that need more than one timeout but somehow John Inman has made Timmy not only spirited, energetic, a handful, but he's also made him cute, adorable, and exactly what Jason needs.

Now I won't really touch on the plot of this incredibly fun, creepy, and wildly addictive mystery because so many little things give just too much away.  I will say that having read some of John Inman's work before, I knew it would be more than just an uncle caring for his nephew while the mother is on vacation and I wasn't wrong.  Spirit really does have a little bit of everything(okay there's no sci-fi), it may sound cliche to say its got so much going on but in this case it really does.  Jason is incredibly likable and Sam from Tucson has a secret or two in the beginning but he too is absolutely delicious.  As I said above Timmy is a rambunctious little boy who despite being a bit sassy at times he really is a sweet little guy you just want to protect.

Spirit has it all and more, it hooked me from the first paragraph and when I reached that final page I was not ready to close it down.  If you are like me and already a fan of John Inman than you'll love this story and if you haven't checked out his work before, than Spirit is a great place to start.  He has a way about his work that blends edgy, creepy, mysterious, humorous, and of course romantic in just about a near perfect way.  I may not get the opportunity to read all his work as it is released but he has certainly earned his place on my "Automatic 1-Click" list.


Dead End Street by Rick R Reed
The old house at the end of a dead-end street is more of a dead end than anyone realizes...

They are five misfit kids who have banded together in their small Ohio River town. Over the years, they had organized various clubs, and now they've formed the Halloween Horror Club. The premise is simple: each week, each teen spins a horrifying tale, and at the end of five weeks, the scariest story wins a prize. The twist: the stories have to be told in the infamous and abandoned Tuttle house, where, fifteen years earlier, nearly an entire family had been murdered in their beds.

The idea of the club seems like a good one, until the kids begin to realize they may not be alone in the Tuttle house, which backs up against the woods. There seems to be someone--or something—watching them. Is it Paul Tuttle, the son who, while still in his teens, disappeared the night his parents and sister were killed? Or is it someone even more sinister?

With each story (each a completed short, original horror tale that stands on its own), the tension mounts...and so does the anger of the house's mysterious inhabitant. He is enraged at having his space violated, and his rage could mean a real dead end for those who dare to invade his home...

Genres: Horror / Suspense / Thriller / Young Adult

Original Review October 2018:
When Peter suggests to his friends their latest club should be called Halloween Horror Club where once a week a different member has to come up with a horror story to tell and at the end of the five weeks they'll vote on the scariest, they were all for it.  Then Peter added they had to do this from inside the abandoned house at the end of a dead end street where a family was murdered and the son went missing, there was a few not so keen but decided to go ahead anyway.  Will the five survive the house to tell all their stories and vote or will the mysterious stranger behind the noises they hear have other plans?

HOLY HANNAH BATMAN!!!! Rick R Reed has brought creepy to a whole new level with Dead End Street.  Not only is the story as a whole a complete edge-of-your-seat nailbiter, but we also get five short stories within the main tale through the kids' contributions to their Halloween Horror Club, so its like getting 6 for the price of 1, what's not to love about that?  Unfortunately, there are too many communities that have that one house with a sad, tragic tale in its history, most are probably not abandoned property like the kids use but still add a spooky flavor to your town.  The fact that it can blend in anywhere just heightens the nailbiter element, for me anyway.

Now I haven't really read a "young adult" tale since I was about 12, I pretty much jumped right into more mature-age stories early on.  Some might find the young adult tag debatable because of the horror element and perhaps that is true, I think this is one that if you are looking for a story for middle to high school age kids then you have to know the kids you are buying for.  Personally, had I read this when I was 13-17, I would have been just as creeped out but in love with the story as I am now but it might be a little intense for some kids(and adults too😉).  As I said, you just have to know the kids you're thinking about giving this to.  Frankly, there is no age limit on enjoyment so if you are like me and young adult stories are really not your "genre of choice" but spooky, creepy, mystery, horror is then I can't recommend Dead End Street enough.

I don't really think I can say anything more about Rick R Reed's Dead End Street without touching on spoilers so I'll just reiterate: HOLY HANNAH BATMAN! and WOW! and SCARED THE BEEJESUS OUT OF ME! and a thousand other catchphrases and words that basically say: this is a winner and I highly recommend it to anyone who even remotely enjoys mystery/horror.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.  Seriously, stop reading my review and go jump in yourself.


With a Twist by K Evan Coles & Brigham Vaughn
Speakeasy #1
Getting dumped is never easy. Even though Will Martin Will knows that Carter is the love of Riley’s life, Will is left nursing a broken heart when his relationship with Riley ends. In an attempt to distract himself, Will throws in himself into teaching at NYU and writing. An invite from Riley to a speakeasy called Under helps Will begin to heal, and he finds himself enjoying both the drinks and the company.

Soon after, he’s shaken by news of his father’s cancer diagnosis and Will reluctantly returns to Long Island to see the man who disowned him after he was outed.

Sparks fly when Will meets his father’s mentee, Republican Senator David Mori, who is both mixed race and openly gay. Will is looking for a no-strings-attached fling and David is leery of getting involved with his mentor’s son, so they keep their affair a secret.

As his father’s health worsens, Will elects to remain in Garden City and his relationship with David grows beyond casual sex. Now, both men must decide how to bridge the divide between them.

Reader advisory: This book contains expressions of homophobia and racism by multiple secondary characters, references to disownment, and descriptions of terminal illness and death of secondary characters.

Series Summary:
Media mogul Jesse Murtagh and bartender Kyle McKee decide to go into business together and open Under Lock & Key, a speakeasy on the upper West Side of Manhattan. The bar, with its secret passphrases and craft liquor cocktails, becomes a sanctuary for Jesse and Kyle’s circle of friends, who gather once a month to catch up with each other and share their experiences.

Under is both hang out and haven for the men who spend time within its walls and their friendships build family ties that are sometimes missing from their own lives. 

Each book in the Speakeasy Series can be read as a standalone novel.

Original Review September 2018:
When Will Martin gets an invitation to a new club called Under from his ex, Riley, he never expected to really enjoy himself or the company but he does.  Upon receiving news that his father has been diagnosed with cancer he reluctantly returns to the family home to help his mother and sister care for him.  David Mori has looked up to Senator Martin as a mentor and friend so when he learns of the senator's cancer diagnosis he wants to help.  There's no denying the attraction between Will and David but will they let it become more?  Can Will forgive his father before its too late?

I'm going to jump right out of the gate with this one by saying be sure you have a healthy supply of kleenex handy for this one.  I'm glad we get to learn Will's story.  When we met him in the author's Tidal duology, I can't say I really warmed to him but the deck was stacked against him as far as trying to find happiness with Riley Porter-Wright so I was excited to see his own journey to the HEA(if that's what he's destined for😉😉).  I was really intrigued to see the inner thoughts of an openly gay, mixed race Republican, I can't speak from personal experience but I think the authors were probably pretty spot-on with some of the attitudes David faced.

As my mother's 24/7 caregiver for the past 20+ years I have to say I was a little saddened that it seemed like Will was making all the sacrifices.  With a Twist may be Will and David's love story but I think it's more Will's journey of finding happiness with love, family, and friends.  So on one hand it seems likely that Will would be doing all the life changes but if I was him, I would have a seed of resentment starting in me from doing so, but maybe that's just me and my Irish-Dutch-German stubbornness😉.  I know David's not really in a position to make the same level of sacrifices at this time but I do believe he is the kind of person who will when the time comes, that time just wasn't within the pages of the story.

Now, having said that you are probably thinking that I didn't like the story.  You could not be further from the truth.  Oh no, I loved With a Twist(and look forward to more adventures and journeys in the Speakeasy series).  Truth is that I was so pulled into Will's relationship with his dad that at times I forgot this was a love story between Will and David.  David is the kind of politician that I think we all want speaking for us: he listens to his constituents and not just the party hullabaloo.  Even though I may not have agreed with Will's level of sacrifice I do love that he grows and discovers that not everything is as we remember it to be, for a stubborn man he is open to learn(reluctantly at times).  I don't think there's any doubt where the couple will end up but the journey getting there is what Twist is all about and for that journey you'll need to read this one for yourself, no spoilers from me😉.

Vaughn & Cole bring to life a horribly mismatched couple that couldn't be more perfect for each other.  Shows us that it takes time and sometimes time isn't always on our side, it might seem cliche but "making the most of the time we have" is an important lesson we all need to be reminded about.  With a Twist is a heartbreaking tale of words we can't take back, regrets because we're too stubborn to step first, and time lost.  But its also a heartwarming tale of reaching out, discovering new friends, and making up for lost time.  Simply put, this is a remarkably entertaining read that will leave you completely enthralled from cover to cover. Truth is, I think that despite my feelings on Will's sacrifices, finding myself so sucked in to the story and not wanting to say goodbye to Will and David says more to the authors' talents than anything I can put into words.


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

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

Yet that kindness comes at a price.

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

But this time it turns on everyone.

Original Review October 2018:
Be it fate, destiny, or just chance that brought Joe Chase and Ned Bowden together as neighbors quickly turning to friendship.  Each bear scars, physical and emotional, that keep them from admitting to each other that what they feel is deeper than friendship.  Having finally taken that first step towards more they find the world has another hurdle to overcome: first the redness came then the darkness and with the dark comes a new evil.  Will Joe and Ned find happiness or has fate and the world have other plans?

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

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

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


The Mystery of Nevermore by CS Poe

I didn’t mean in a figurative sense. I meant something smelled like it was decaying.

“Shit,” I muttered. I stood at the door of my antique shop, hand to my nose.

Tupperware. It had to be an old lunch.

It was a wintry, miserable Tuesday in New York City, two weeks’ shy of Christmas. The snow was coming down heavily at seven in the morning, blanketing the city and producing an eerie, muted effect. I had shown up early to my business, Snow’s Antique Emporium, in downtown Manhattan, with the intention of going through some newly acquired inventory. Instead, I was dripping melted snow onto the welcome mat and trying to pinpoint that god-awful stench.

I quickly hung up my jacket and hat and changed out of my boots into an old pair of worn loafers beside the door. I ran my fingers through my unruly hair and smoothed the front of my sweater while walking down the tiny, crowded aisles. I stopped to turn on old lamps as I followed the smell. The glow of the lights was subdued, creating a cavernous look for the shop.

At the counter that had an old brass register on it, I took the step up onto the elevated floor, scanning the shop. It smelled even worse here. I reached into my sweater pocket and replaced my sunglasses with black-framed reading glasses. Turning on the bank lamp, I winced and looked away from the light.

I stared at the door standing ajar to my right. It was a tiny little closet that served as an office, with a computer and chair and mini fridge all tucked away for my use.

Does forgotten Thai food smell like death after two days?

I walked in, opened the fridge, and hesitantly sniffed a few cartons. Okay, I needed to do some serious cleaning, but what seemed like a half-eaten burrito was not the source of the odor.

I walked back to the register, groaning loudly as I looked around. Something had to have died—a rat, perhaps? I cringed at the thought of finding a New York City rodent in my shop, but I crouched down and started shoving aside bags and boxes used at checkout while I looked.

The front door opened, the bell chiming overhead. “Good morn—what’s that smell?” my assistant, Max, called. “Sebastian?”

“Over here,” I grumbled.

Max Ridley was a sweet guy, a recent college grad with an art degree he realized rather too quickly wasn’t going to pay his rent. He was smart and knew his history. I’d hired him the same day he’d come in to fill out an application. Max was tall and broad-shouldered—a handsome young man who was maybe bisexual or maybe just out to experience it all. I’d heard enough stories over morning coffee, reading mail, and pricing antiques to know Max’s preference seemed to be mostly anyone.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a one-man sort of guy.

“God, the weather sucks today. Do you think it’ll be busy?” Max asked as he strolled through the shop.

“Usually is,” I said, looking up over the counter.

“What did you leave sitting out?”

“Nothing. I think a rat died or something.”

“Can I turn on more lights? It’ll be easier to find.”

“I already have a headache,” I said absently. I crouched back down to finish moving out the supplies from under the counter.

I was born with achromatopsia, which means I can’t see color. We have two types of light receptor cells in our eyes, cones and rods. Cones see color in bright light, rods see black and white in low light. My cones don’t work. At all. The world to me exists only in varying shades of gray, and I have a difficult time seeing in places with bright lights because the rods aren’t meant for daylight purposes. Usually I wear sunglasses or my special red-tinted contacts as an extra layer of protection….

“I forgot my contacts. And the snow was too bright.”

“Even for shades?”

“Yes. Damn, where is that smell coming from?” I asked while standing.

Max motioned to the register. “Smells the worst right here.”

“Yeah.” I walked back to the steps and promptly fell forward when the creaky floorboard underfoot skidded sideways.

Max lunged out and grabbed me before I could plant my face on the floor. He held me tight, my face smooshed against his armpit. “Did you have another fight with Neil last night?”

“Why?” I asked as I pulled myself free from his hold.

“You’ve got some bad mojo following you around this morning.”

“It wasn’t a fight. It was—you know, I’m not talking about it while the smell of rot continues to permeate my shop.” I turned back to the step and bent to examine the floorboard that had become free.

Bad idea. The stench of decay filled my nostrils, and I fought back the urge to gag.

“I think you found it,” Max muttered, looking down over my shoulder. “I’ll get a bag.”

I nodded silently, holding my nose while I looked into the opening under the floor. It—the thing—wasn’t dark, like a dead rat. It didn’t appear to have fur, but I’d be lying if I said I had great vision when it came to close-up details.

“Max? Come here.”

“What?” His voice came from the office before he joined me with a garbage bag. “What’s up?”

“Look in there.”

“Oh come on. You don’t pay me enough for that.”

“No, I mean, I don’t think that’s a rat.”

Max got down on one knee and glanced inside before quickly pulling back. “What the hell!”

I stared at the floor. “Tear up the planks! Here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

“What is that?”

“Poe,” I replied.

“God, you’re so weird, Seb,” Max muttered.

“What else am I supposed to say?” I asked, pointing at the rotting flesh. “It’s a heart.”

“Who did you kill?”

“I’ll call the cops.”

HAVING TO explain to the dispatcher that I needed police not because of a dead body, but there was a body out there missing an essential part, was certainly the strangest thing I’d done in some time. I’ll admit the situation piqued my interest, but there are 101 things in life I simply don’t have the patience for, and finding someone else’s rotting heart in the floorboards of my shop just about topped the list.

Max sprayed nearly an entire can of air freshener while we waited after the phone call. “Smells like fresh laundry,” he stated while reading the can.

“Oh good,” I said.

“Laundry and death,” Max corrected after a pause. “Sometimes I want to die instead of dragging my dirty clothes to the Laundromat.”

“Max.” I sighed.


I crossed my arms, looking toward the back of the shop at the piles of boxes that had been left there. When new inventory arrived, it needed to be carefully inspected, priced, and arranged in the shop. If it was too priceless for the shop, it needed to be listed for auction, not sitting in a damn box on the floor. Those and several more were collecting dust in my apartment. So much for finally getting around to it all this morning.

There was a rap at the door, and I walked over to unlock it. “Good morning.”

“Sir,” one of the uniformed officers said. “We got a call—”

“There’s a body part in my floor,” I quickly answered, leading them through the aisles toward the register.

It was pretty clear they’d been sent to dispel whatever fear or confusion the dispatcher thought I was experiencing, yet they followed without complaint or comment. The first officer removed his cap as he bent down to the opening I pointed at. He only glanced inside before shaking his head and rising.

“Brigg,” he spoke to his partner, and the woman approached.

I watched them confer briefly before she got on her radio. “So,” I said, “do we need some hazmat team or something?”

“Can I get your name, sir?” the officer replied as he removed a notepad from his belt.

“Sebastian Snow.”

“And do you run this business?”


“Own the building?”

“No. I wish.”

He looked up. “Approximately when did you suspect something was in the store?”

“You mean—that?” I asked while looking down at the floor. “When I opened the door this morning, I could smell it. It was about seven.”

“Does anyone else have access to the store?” The officer looked over my shoulder at Max.

“Max has keys, but only I and—only I have access to the security code,” I explained.

The truth was, my partner of four years, Neil Millett, also had keys and the code, but mentioning his name around cops was a bit tricky. He was a detective with the NYPD’s forensic investigations unit, and very much in the closet. So much so that the only people who knew we were living together were Max and my father. Neil didn’t want other officers knowing he was gay, and when I was twenty-nine with a heart all aflutter for a sexy detective, I didn’t mind. Now I was thirty-three, and it was wearing me out.

The officer wrote down a few notes. “Do you have cameras? You have a lot of expensive-looking items in here.”

“I have one, but it’s been on the fritz for the past month.” I had been suffering from a lack of mental stamina lately and just hadn’t found the energy to give a shit about a number of things, camera included.

It wasn’t like me. I knew that.

Neil made a point of bringing up my recent attitude. A lot. It only pissed me off more.

The officer continued taking down my contact information, then asked for Max’s as well. A few more basic questions followed, and then Brigg led two plain-clothed cops from the front door toward us. Glancing around the now congested aisle, I saw yet another woman entering, carrying some sort of medical kit.

The overhead lights, which I never used, were switched on without warning, and the entire room was washed out of sight. I hastily covered my eyes and turned away, stumbling and reaching around the countertop. Max went to the other corner to avoid the police and the heart, grabbed my sunglasses, and handed them over just as someone spoke my name.

“Mr.… Snow, is it?” a woman asked.

Turning as I put on my shades, I was confronted with the two new cops. The woman who spoke was maybe my age and couldn’t have been an inch over five feet, with a strong build and closely cropped hair. The other, a man, was tall and big and filled out his suit with nothing but muscle. He looked older than Neil, who was thirty-seven. His hair was light, so I guessed it was what I have been told is blond.

I squinted to better study him. He had freckles. A lot, actually. I kind of had a thing for guys with freckles. Cheeks, nose, forehead—he had freckles all over, and it gave him a sort of sweet look initially. Maybe his hair was red instead.

“Sebastian Snow,” I agreed.

The woman took the lead, extending her hand to shake. “I’m Detective Quinn Lancaster, and this is my partner, Detective Calvin Winter.”

“Uh, hi.”

Lancaster smiled. “How’s business been, Mr. Snow?”

“Fine,” I said, confused. It was strange to be looking down at such a short figure of authority, but she had an air of confidence I wasn’t willing to question.

“What can you tell me about your clientele?” Lancaster continued.

I shrugged while crossing my arms. “Regular folks, some with big money, some looking for curiosities. Corporate types, hipsters—I get a little of everyone in here.”

She nodded. “Would it be all right if you removed your sunglasses, sir?”

“I can’t.”

Lancaster looked up at Winter briefly before asking, “Why’s that?”

“I have a light sensitivity. If you turn the overheads off, I will,” I said while pointing up.

Winter turned away and gave an order to one of the uniformed officers. The lights died and the shop was once again illuminated by the strategically placed lamps.

“Better?” Lancaster asked, her tone not mocking or unkind.

I pulled the sunglasses back to rest on my head as I put my regular glasses back on. “Thank you,” I said briskly.

“That’s called photophobia, isn’t it?” she asked.

“I have achromatopsia.”

“I see.” She didn’t bother for more details. “Has anything out of the ordinary happened in the past few weeks?”


Lancaster frowned. “Who found the body part?”

“I did, when I came in. I smelled something awful and started looking for it.”

“Have there been any break-ins or stolen items?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “What’s this about? I’m assuming something bigger is at play here, otherwise you two wouldn’t be grilling me.”

“Why do you say that?” Lancaster asked.

“I live with a cop” was what I wanted to say. Four years of stories from Neil had, admittedly, given me an unhealthy interest in whodunit mysteries.

Instead, I just shrugged.

Winter spoke for the first time. “Do you know Bond Antiques?”

“Yeah, on Bond Street and Lafayette,” I confirmed.

“How is your relationship with the owner?”

“I fail to see what that has to do with anything,” I responded. “Mike Rodriguez and I have known each other for a while.”

“How do you get along?” Winter asked.

“He’s competition,” I stated. “What’s going on?”

“Sebastian!” called a familiar voice.

Ignoring the towering mountain that was Detective Winter, I looked around him to see Neil walking through the shop, shaking snow from his coat. I was immediately both happy and frustrated to see him, which didn’t seem like the right response. I hadn’t called to tell him what happened, so there should have been no reason for his appearance.

I turned to the counter. Max raised his hands up defensively and shook his head.

“What’s going on?” Neil asked upon reaching us. He looked at the two other detectives and removed a badge from inside his coat. “Detective Millett, CSU.”

Lancaster didn’t seem interested. “Detective Lancaster, homicide,” she replied with a nod. “My partner, Winter. We haven’t requested forensics yet.”

“Homicide?” I echoed. I mean, sure, I guess technically a heart without a body could mean something more sinister was at work besides a medical cadaver showing up to class and some poor student flunking when he had no heart to dissect.

I looked at Neil. He seemed concerned and maybe nervous, and for a minute, I was happy because he was worried about me. The annoyance I had been harboring toward him all morning suddenly washed away, and I had the urge to reach out for a hug.

“Sebastian is—a friend,” Neil said.

“Friend,” Winter repeated in a tone I didn’t like.

“He called me.”

Goddamn it, Neil. He was so convinced he’d lose his shield for having a life outside his job, that after four years I was still just his friend in public.

“We’re in the middle of asking Mr. Snow some questions,” Winter said before looking back at me. I swear his gaze was intense enough to strip me down to bare bones. “Mr. Rodriguez’s business was broken into Sunday night.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I answered, turning away from Neil. “Was anything stolen?”

“The investigation is still underway. He pointed a finger at you, though.”

“M-Me?” I asked in surprise. “What—Mike thinks I broke in?”

“Why would he say that?” Winter asked.

“I have no idea,” I quickly answered.

“Where were you Sunday night?” Lancaster asked. “After eight.”

I could feel Neil’s desperation rippling off his body. I had been at home with him. I believe around eight we had been fucking, which had ended prematurely and dissolved into an argument until about nine. That’s where I had been.

“Home,” I said simply. “Look, I’m not answering any more questions without a lawyer, if that’s what I need. I called because I found a human heart in my shop, and now you’re accusing me of robbing someone.”

Neil’s hand was on my elbow next, and he was excusing us while dragging me away. Stopping near the back of the shop, he let go and turned to tower over me. “What the hell is going on?” he whispered.

“What’s going on?” I repeated. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m a cop, Sebby—”

“Don’t call me that.”

“What human heart? Why didn’t you call me?”

I honestly hadn’t thought to ring Neil. Maybe a year or two earlier, the first reaction I’d have had would be to call my cop boyfriend to come solve this peculiar little problem. Now, he hadn’t even crossed my mind. It was disconcerting.

“Nice lie you told, by the way,” I said instead. “I called you? Why the hell did you come if it wasn’t to be here for me?”

“Stop it,” he ordered in a harsh whisper. “We’re not having this argument again.”

“Go back to work, Neil. Everything is fine,” I said stubbornly.

“You didn’t….” He hesitated.

“Tell them about you? No. I know the drill.”

Neil gritted his jaw. He looked angry. He turned back to the other detectives before saying, “Is that Calvin Winter?”

“What? Yeah, why?”

“Be careful what you say to him.”

“Why, Neil?” I repeated.

“Because I hear he’s a homophobe,” Neil said.

Without thinking I replied, “You’re a homophobe.”

Neil looked back at me with a strange expression I couldn’t place. “Real nice, Sebby,” he said after a moment.

I couldn’t take it back, but when I stared up at Neil, when all of our recent arguments over the past month came rushing back, I didn’t care and didn’t want to take it back.

“Go back to work,” I said again. “We’ll talk at home, behind locked doors.”

I was making him angry, and I couldn’t stop myself. I don’t know what had gotten into me lately. Neil and I had been at each other’s throats for weeks. I provoked him, or something he said got under my skin in ways it never did before.

Neil didn’t say another word. He turned while zipping up his coat and brushed by the other detectives in silence on his way out.

I took a breath. It was shaky. I was being cruel to the most important man in my life.

I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose as Lancaster left the woman with the medical supplies and walked toward me with a smile.

“Good news, Mr. Snow.”

“Oh boy.”

“It’s not human.”

Who, Neil? “The heart?”

“It’s a pig’s heart,” she replied.

“A minor relief.” I took another breath, working harder than necessary to calm myself. “So can I open for business?”

She spread her hands. “There’s been no foul play, although it seems like someone wanted to pull a prank on you. I highly suggest you invest in some tighter security.”

No foul play. My gut said otherwise. Two detectives—from homicide, no less—had shown up right away, and I played twenty questions regarding the unfortunate pig and Mike Rodriguez, the latter of which I found extremely strange. Why would time be wasted to send out detectives for something that proved to be nothing? And it still didn’t explain how the pig heart ended up in my shop to begin with.

Lancaster thanked me for my time, to which I muttered some pleasantry. She turned to leave with the medical examiner.

Winter, however, approached me. “Your friend seemed upset.”

I frowned while looking up. I was on the shorter side, only five foot nine, and both Neil and Winter stood a good half a foot taller. Neil was a leaner build, like myself, which was a stark contrast to the brick body that was Detective Winter. He was close enough again that I could study his freckles—which to me actually looked like gray blemishes. They’d be clearer if I invaded his personal space or looked at his skin with a magnifying glass.

Neither of those do I recommend doing to someone you’ve just met.

In comparison, his light-colored eyes were so brilliant and sharp, it was almost unnerving. They reminded me of minerals on display at the Museum of Natural History. They were gorgeous, but also maybe just a little weary. They looked like they’d seen something that had hardened and tired him considerably.

Winter swallowed up the air around me. He was both intimidating and somewhat comforting to be in the presence of. He smelled nice too. Some kind of spice—really different from Neil’s cologne.

“I didn’t break into Mike’s shop,” I said again. For the record.

His gaze shifted slightly to the boxes behind me. “What’s all this?”

I looked over my shoulder, then back at him. “New inventory.”

“From where?”

“Bond Antiques,” I retorted. “Jesus. It’s from an estate sale.”

He reached into his suit coat next, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he pulled his gun with the way I was shooting my mouth off. Instead, he handed me a business card. “Should you conveniently remember something.”

“Like slaughtering some pigs?” I shoved the card in my pocket.

“Have a good day, Mr. Snow.” He turned and walked out of the shop.

THE STORM seemed to have scared off the day’s foot traffic, which on any other afternoon would have worried me, being so close to the holidays when the sales are needed. But I couldn’t concentrate on anything business-related. My salad sat beside me at the register, half eaten and getting soggy as it settled into the pool of vinaigrette dressing. I held a magnifying glass to the mail as I read.

“Why not get bifocals?”

I looked up to see Max staring at me, pulling up the spare stool to sit. “What?”

“The magnifying glass is sort of silly. You pull them out of pockets like you’re an old-timey detective.”

“I tripped down the stairs wearing bifocals when I was younger,” I answered while setting the glass aside and stacking the junk and bills together. “Broke my arm.”

“Yikes.” Max reached out to push my salad around with the fork. If he planned on scalping my meal, the sogginess must have changed his mind. “So why was Neil here?”

“I don’t know.” I stood, brought the mail into the office, and dropped it on the desk.

The morning had been resting heavily on my mind. Usually I was closed on Mondays, but holiday demands often changed my schedule, so I had been open yesterday. When I closed the shop last night just after six, it gave someone a thirteen-hour window to break inside. Max and I had spent the remaining hours of the morning going through the Emporium, and from what we could tell, not a single item had been misplaced.

It was that concept that puzzled me the most. Why break into an antique shop, get past the security alarm, only to steal nothing?

So someone came in, put a decaying pig heart under the floorboards, and hightailed it without taking so much as an old button?

More upsetting was the matter with Mike Rodriguez. I had worked for Mike for a few years before going into business for myself. I respected his knowledge and the success of his shop—he’d been in this line of work for over twenty years now—but he was a cranky old fuck. He hadn’t liked me all that much when I worked for him, and I’m certain he felt slighted, to say the least, when I took everything I had learned to open the Emporium.

Mike specialized in higher-end antiques. Georgian and Victorian furniture, clothing, paintings, and other works of art. It wasn’t where my interests were, and the Emporium was cluttered and stuffed instead with books and old documents, maps, photos, and every little gizmo and gadget from another century. People enjoy the odd and bizarre, like Victorian glove stretchers or tear bottles. The Emporium was doing very well after only a few years of business, and I suspected Mike was insulted.

I walked back out of the office, leaned against the doorframe, and crossed my arms. Mike and I weren’t exactly on friendly terms these days—we certainly weren’t mailing each other Christmas cards—but how the hell had he come to the conclusion that I should be looked at as a possible suspect? Had he waited three years to seek revenge against me? And it wasn’t even revenge so much as insulting my integrity and character.

“Man, look at it coming down,” Max murmured as he stared out toward the front door, watching the storm continue.

“Jingle Bells” started to play on the shop’s speakers. Dashing through the snow, all right. The city was getting buried.

“Why don’t you get out of here early, Max.”


“Yeah. The subways are going to be a wreck, I bet,” I said while walking to the counter.

“Are you leaving?”

Honestly, I wanted to swing by Mike’s place and ask him what was going on, but it didn’t seem like the smartest idea. Maybe I’d give him a call. That was less threatening. As much of an asshole as he was for accusing me of doing something like breaking into his place of business, we had a long history and I did want to make sure he was okay.


“I’ll walk out with you, then,” Max replied as he stood and started cashing out the register for me.

The shop phone rang, and I reached to take it off the receiver. “Snow’s Antique Emporium.”

“It’s me.”

Neil. I collected myself. “Hey.”


“We’re closing up early. The weather’s getting bad, and Max has to take the subway to Brooklyn.”

“I’m ducking out,” he replied. “I’ll swing by for you.”

“I can walk home.”

Neil took an aggravated breath. “Sebby, please don’t argue with me just once this month, okay? Let me pick you up.”

Why was I getting angry at him for wanting to drive me home instead of making me walk in this nasty weather? “All right. Thanks.”

“Want me to grab anything for dinner?”

“I thought I’d cook,” I said offhandedly. I was getting sick of takeout. Neil couldn’t cook to save his life, so it was up to me if we wanted a homemade meal.

“That sounds great,” he replied happily. “I’ll be there in twenty, tops.” He hung up, and I put the phone down.

“Neil’s coming to pick me up,” I said to Max. “I’ll finish closing. Why don’t you get out while you can.”

Max laughed and finished his counting. “Thanks, Seb.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow if the weather looks like we may have trouble opening.”

“I’ll plan to come in unless I hear otherwise.” He was out the door within moments, disappearing into the storm.

I locked the front door and collected my belongings. I packed my laptop into my messenger bag. On the off-chance we stayed closed, I could at least start cataloging the inventory I had at home. Of course, I’d been telling myself that for two weeks and never seemed to have the energy for it.

By the time I’d shut off the lights, secured the shop, and changed into my winter attire, Neil’s black BMW was parked out front.

The car had been another source of aggravation between us. I don’t have a license because of the amount of work those with achromatopsia have to go through in order to be permitted to drive. It isn’t worth the headache when I live in a city with such incredible public transportation. That being said, I had agreed to buy a car with Neil and pay for it together so we could vacation out of New York every once in a while.

Neil has expensive taste. He wouldn’t settle on anything less than a new luxury coupe. I didn’t understand the point—we’d save so much money with a decent used car. That argument had ended with me saying that I’d refuse to help with the payments, to which he had stubbornly agreed and told me to fuck myself. Out of childish spite, I had tried to refuse every ride offered thus far.

The car was warm when I opened the door and sat in the passenger’s seat. The windshield wipers worked hard to keep the heavy, sticky snow off the glass. Neil was listening to some Christmas tunes and looking like his cool, sexy self. I had to admit he looked good behind the wheel of this car.

He smiled. “Ready?”


Neil pulled back onto the road, taking it slow down the streets already buried in snow and brown slush. “You may get snowed in tomorrow if this keeps up like the weather predictions claim.”

“Will you have to go in?” I asked.

“Public servants don’t get snow days. Warm enough?”

I muttered a response and fell silent. We lived in a cramped, too-small-for-two Manhattan apartment not far from my store. It wouldn’t usually take so long to reach, but the road was completely buried, and cars ahead were already slipping and sliding. Neil wasn’t taking chances by driving fast.

I looked at his profile, seeing the same handsome face I’d known for years. He told me he had brown eyes and sandy brown hair, comparing it to coffee with too much cream in it. Whatever the color, he had always been attractive to me, and he aged wonderfully. I saw the man I had fallen in love with, staring at him.

Why had we been fighting so much?

My good old dad said it was because I was losing my mind being shoved back into the closet for the sake of Neil’s paranoia. I had denied it for years, that it would eventually make me nuts, but lately it seemed like Pop had been on to something. I had been out since college, and I was proud of who I was. Neil had been my first serious relationship, and it had thrown me for a spin to learn he wasn’t out.

It still threw me.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

“For what?”

“For giving you attitude this morning.” I stared at my hands. “Why did you come to the Emporium?”

He sighed. “I was in the right place to overhear detectives being dispatched to the address. I thought something was wrong—something happened to you.”

“Thanks for being worried.” I snorted and shook my head. “That sounds weird.”

“I get what you mean.” He removed one hand briefly from the steering wheel to pat my thigh.

NEIL DROPPED me off on our street and went to find a place to park. I let myself into the building, hiking the three floors of old, rickety stairs to our one-bedroom apartment. The pipes were clanking loudly as the water heaters were turning on. I hung up my coat and hat and put my boots in the closet. I dropped my bag on the foot of our bed before turning on a few lamps around the apartment.

I know Neil didn’t like living in such a dark home, but he was polite and dealt with it without a word of complaint so I didn’t need to wear sunglasses inside. I had tried to keep my condition a secret from him for a long time. It got really hard when he’d ask something like “Could you grab my navy blue button-down for me?” or “Pass the green salsa?” while eating Mexican. It ended up coming out when he found my collapsed walking stick in my bag one evening while searching for a condom.

I laughed quietly to myself, opening the fridge in the kitchen. That had killed the mood. I thought then and there he’d break up with me. Both boyfriends I had had before left me because of my condition. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was a burden, I guess. Neil had stayed with me, though, and that mattered.

I heard Neil at the door, removing his coat and shoes while I was chopping onions and peppers in the kitchen. I tossed the diced veggies into a pot to let them cook while I opened two cans of tomato sauce.

“Spaghetti?” Neil called, the smell familiar.

“We need to go shopping,” I answered. “Not many other options.”

He stepped around me and opened the fridge. “Want a beer?”


He popped the tops off two bottles, set one on the counter beside me, and leaned back against the opposite side. “So tell me what happened this morning.”

I recited the story again for what felt like the hundredth time while I doctored up the sauce with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and whatever spices I could find deep in the cupboard. “But it wasn’t human. It was a pig heart.”

“What did the detectives say?”

I shrugged. “Lancaster told me to open for business and get better security.”

“And that Winter fellow?”

I looked over my shoulder. “Why don’t you like him?”

“I told you why.”

“He let the questioning about Mike drop and left.” I had turned back to stir the sauce, but paused and looked at Neil. “You haven’t heard anything about that, have you? Mike’s break-in?”

Neil shook his head before taking a swig of beer. “Someone else’s case, not mine.”

“Why do you think Mike would accuse me of breaking into his store?”

“Because he’s a prick.”

“Yeah, but—”

“But nothing,” Neil interrupted. “He’s always had it out for you, Seb.”

Taking a drink of beer, I considered my next comment. “I was thinking about giving him a call tonight.”

Neil stared at me as if I’d grown a second head. “You’re not stupid, are you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sebby, stay the hell out of it. Let the police investigate what happened to Mike, and don’t be an idiot and harass him.”

“Who said anything about harassment? I was just going to see if he’s all right.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Neil replied. “The police don’t need to see you’ve been contacting him after he pointed his finger at you in the first place, okay?”

Neil had a valid point, of course, and who would know better what a cop would think than another cop?

Taking a drink and giving dinner my full attention, I zoned back in when I heard him saying my name.

“Seb, promise you won’t stick your nose where it’s not supposed to be.”

“Why do you think I will?”

That question made Neil laugh. “Because you like the thrill. The two hundred mystery novels on the bookcase in the living room say so.”

“I don’t have two hundred,” I said defensively. But so what? I liked a good brainteaser.

“Seb,” he said again, more sternly.

“I won’t,” I insisted, getting annoyed. “I get it.” Before Neil could say another word, I said, “How the heart ended up in the shop has yet to be explained.”


“How’d a pig’s heart get under the floorboards, Neil?” I asked while turning. “I didn’t put it there, and I was the one to close up last night. I didn’t forget to lock the gate or set the alarm.”

“It was probably a prank,” he said simply, shrugging.

“A prank?” I echoed. “By who?”

“I don’t know. Kids—teenagers. Someone sick in the head. Come on. You’ve been busy as hell at the Emporium. You and Max can’t keep an eye on everything all the time.”

Again, what Neil said could have very easily been true. Minus today, we had been slammed since before Thanksgiving. There was always a handful of customers roaming about at one time, inventory coming in, items going out for auction—I couldn’t always watch everything.

“But what’s the point?”

“What’s the point of a hotdog-eating contest?” Neil countered with a laugh. “People do stupid things sometimes, Seb.”

“I guess. It’s a little dramatic, though. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’”

“The what?”

“Poe,” I said. “It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

“Oh, yeah, I think I remember reading that in school,” Neil replied thoughtfully.

“An old man with a blind eye is murdered and cut up. The murderer thinks he hears the heart under the floorboards where he put the body,” I explained. “He goes mad with guilt while the police are there looking into a possible disturbance.”

“Well, damn.”

“Good thing I’m only legally blind,” I said sarcastically.

NEIL AND I watched some police procedural drama while we ate, which really was just Neil complaining for forty-five minutes that the forensics team was handling the scene incorrectly, and no one got DNA results back that quickly. Disgruntled, he ended up channel-surfing before finding Home Alone and settling on that.

“I always wanted to do this,” he said as we sat in the dark, sipping wine later in the evening.

“Be Macaulay Culkin?”

“Catch bad guys,” Neil replied.

“You do,” I pointed out. “Just with big-boy toys. You’re a little too old for tar on the stairs and BB guns.”

Neil wrapped an arm around my shoulders, and I got comfortable in his embrace. It was nice to be enjoying the evening together and not fighting about stupid shit. Neil must have been thinking the same thing, because he leaned close and kissed the top of my head.

“Hey,” he murmured.

“Hey, what?” I responded, looking up. Believe it or not, my vision was considerably better in the dark. Neil’s finer details were easier for me to see here.

“Why don’t we hightail it out of here?”

“To where?” I laughed.

“The next room over.” Neil leaned forward, setting our glasses on the coffee table before getting to his feet.

I stood, taking Neil’s offered hand, and let him lead me into our cramped bedroom.

He stopped to put my bag against the wall and shut the door.

“Afraid someone will see?”

He paused before turning to look at me. “To keep the cold air out, Seb,” he corrected in that voice I’d come to learn as the Sebastian, you’re being irrational tone. I did not like it, because he used that tone on me whenever a discussion of his sexuality reared its ugly head.

Neil reached out, grabbed my waist and the back of my head, and kissed me hard. He tasted a little sweet and a little bitter, which about summed up our relationship. He had lost his suit coat and tie since arriving home, but I quickly helped with the remaining shirt and trousers. Neil was busy tossing aside my slacks and sweater when he laughed against my mouth.


“You dress like a grandpa,” he whispered.

“I like that sweater.”

“It’s older than you.”

“I’m not trying to win a fashion contest.”

Clothes shopping was stressful for me. Department stores were so bright, and there was apparently a concept of clashing colors. My idea of adding new options to my wardrobe was heading out to secondhand shops with Pop, letting him grab a dozen items in dark colors he says won’t hurt anyone’s eyes if I mix and match, then we’re out in ten minutes.

“We’ll get you a nicer sweater,” Neil said, kissing my neck.

“I like that one,” I replied.

“It’s from Goodwill.”

“So? I don’t need some three hundred dollar Ralph Lauren sweater when that one does a fine job of keeping me warm,” I said defensively.

“Are you done, Sebby?” Neil asked, pulling back to stare at me. “Do you really want to argue right now?”

I didn’t, of course not. I was sick of fighting, tired of every conversation ending in one of us getting frustrated with the other. Staring at Neil in the near dark, a familiar and awful thought came to mind again.

I wasn’t what he really wanted.

It was stupid shit like the sweater. What did it matter if I wore something a little frumpy? He wanted to have me wear something chic and fashionable, like the damn car.


I shook my head, wrapped my arms around his neck, and kissed Neil, trying to get back into the mood.

When was the moment our relationship turned?

He pushed me down onto the bed, kissing and sucking down my chest and stomach.

When we moved in together, maybe.

I was turned onto my belly, and the snap of a bottle preceded a warm, oily finger pressing into me.

When had I grown so defensive? So bitter and resentful toward my partner?

Neil’s hands were on my hips, raising me up before he pushed in roughly.

I gritted my teeth as he started thrusting.

I didn’t like who I had become.

His Grandfather's Watch by NR Walker
Chapter One
Sitting in the back room at my desk, with a dismantled 1901 Newman's clock, I heard the bell that chimed every time a customer walked through the door. My dad was behind the counter, and I heard him greet the customer, making small talk, discussing whatever antique it was they'd brought with them.

It's what we did.

My father's love of all things antique grew into this business, Harper's Antiquities. Dad was the expert and Mom did the research, but they both traveled, scouring the globe for their life's passion. My brother Scott did antique furniture restoration, but it wasn't something I ever saw myself doing. Then I started helping out when I was a kid at school, and I found a love of clocks.

It’s my specialty.

I could hear Dad talking to the customer, but didn't pay them any mind until I heard my name.


Putting down the part in my hand, I walked through to the showroom where I found my father and the customer he was talking to. Very different from my pale skin, black hair and grayish eyes, he was a good looking guy, similar age to me, but with sandy brown, kinda longish hair, tanned skin and blue eyes. He was holding a pocket watch in his hand.

"This is my son, Alex," Dad explained. "He's the expert on watches like yours."

I extended my hand in professional courtesy. "Hello."

"Callum Winters," he said by way of greeting, putting the watch on the counter before shaking my hand. There was an accent, Southern I thought, but I wasn't sure.

Dad waited for us to let go of each other's hands, then he looked at me and smiled. "Callum was just telling me he'd like to know more about this watch."

I looked at the silver watch casing and fob chain, then at its owner. I reached my hand toward the watch, but before I touched it, I asked, "May I?"

"Sure," he nodded.

Picking it up, I could tell a few things from a visual inspection. "This casing was a popular design in the 1940's," I told him. Gently, I opened the casing to reveal the quartz face. "The dial is Hamilton, but I won't know dates or maker for certain, unless I take the back off and look at the movement."

"Could you do that?" he asked. His accent was definitely southern. "I was hoping to know as much about it as I could."

I smiled. "Sure. I'll need to grab some details, and I should be able to look at it in about two days. Then I can tell you everything I know."

Callum nodded. "That'd be great." We looked at each other for a little too long, and I couldn't help but wonder if this cute, Southern man was gay.

Dad seemed to think so, because with a cheeky smirk, he handed me the register log, looked between us and not-so subtly said, "Callum, I'll leave you in Alex's very capable hands." He pointed behind us, "I have... stuff... I need to do out the back."

Callum politely thanked him, and I considered kicking my father in the shins. We were behind the counter, so it's not like Callum would have seen me do it. But Dad must have picked up on the look I gave him, because he smiled, turned quickly and disappeared through the door.

I grabbed a pen, handed Callum the register and asked him to fill in his details. I picked up the watch, turning it over in my hands. It was a nice piece, and I couldn't help but ask, "What do you know about the watch?"

He looked up from the paperwork. "Um, it was my grandfather's. That's about all I know."

He handed me the completed form, and I told him as procedure, I required some ID. Taking out his wallet, he handed me his driver's licence. His Texas driver's licence.

"I just moved here," he said. "I've got my change of address receipt here somewhere."

He started looking through his wallet, and I stopped him. "No, its fine. I just need to sight photo ID, that's all."

He smiled kindly and nodded. "So, two days?"

"Yeah. I'm half way through another job. Then I can look at this, and I'll give you a call when I'm done," I told him. "Is there anything in particular you're looking for?"

He shrugged one shoulder and shook his head. "No, not really. Just dates, make, model... to be honest, I'm not really sure."

As I was putting the watch and paperwork in a paper envelope, I asked him, "Would you like a valuation?"

"No," he said simply. "Monetary value isn't important."

He thanked me, I told him I'd be in touch and he left. When I walked back into the workshop, Dad grinned at me. "He was a nice young man," he said.

"Mom!" I yelled to the upstairs office, where my mother would have undoubtedly had her head in a catalogue. "Dad's trying to set me up again."

She yelled back, "Was he cute?"

Oh for crying out loud.

He was actually, but that's not the point. Dad chuckled at me.
Ignoring him, I sat the pocket watch on my desk and turned my attention back to the clock I was working on.

I managed to ignore both my parents and their comments about cute, brown-haired watch owners until they got bored and left me alone. And I managed to push the thoughts of the pocket watch and its handsome Texan owner out of my mind until it was time to go home.


I arrived back at work a little before nine in the morning and headed straight for my desk, which was more like a workstation, when the paper sleeve holding the pocket watch caught my eye.
I picked it up and took the watch out, feeling the cool, heavy weight of it in my hand. I didn't hear my dad come up behind me, and his voice startled me. "How's Mr. Yeo's clock coming along?"

"Oh, shit! You scared me," I said with a laugh, clutching my heart. Then looking back to the clock I had half done, I told him, "Um, it should be ready by lunchtime tomorrow."

He nodded thoughtfully. "I think you should do the watch instead."
I looked at the pocket watch I was still holding. "Why?"

"Because Mr. Yeo is a collector," he replied with a shrug. "To him that clock is just something else he acquired. Even old Mr. Yeo will tell you that. But this," he pointed to the watch in my hand, "this means something."

Dad smiled at me. "Mr. Yeo can wait a day or two. He won't mind. I'll even phone him myself."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

He nodded. "He wants me to go with him to look at an 18th Century hand-carved Italian rococo centre table he'd seen at an auction house anyway, so I need to speak to him."

"Okay," I agreed. Within twenty minutes, I had Mr. Yeo's clock itemized and put away and the silver pocket watch in front of me.
I made my usual notes as I proceeded detailing. There was nothing remarkable about it, until I removed the back casing.

Because what I found hidden in the back of the pocket watch was unlike anything I'd encountered before.

I took out the client form with Callum Winters' details on it and picked up the phone. "Callum Winters? It's Alex, from Harper Antiquities. I'm calling about your watch."

"Yes?" he answered, unsure.

"Can you come into the store?" I asked. "There's something you need to see."

The Hunt by JM Dabney & Davidson King
Rudy had given me a strange look when I’d walked in a few minutes earlier and didn’t take my usual spot at the counter. I was still mentally processing the call I’d received from one Andy Shay. I’d done a quick search for him and found several social media profiles from different Mr. Shays, but didn’t take the time to do a more thorough investigation.

When he’d stated he’d witnessed a murder, I’d resigned myself to dealing with another crazy person, but then after Andy had explained, my tired brain had quickly put the pieces together.

Andy sounded young and justifiably scared. His voice was soft with slightly husky notes. I didn’t know why out of everything the kid’s voice is what I remembered most.

I raised my mug to my mouth and downed half of it, hoping the caffeine would wake me up. I should’ve slept. I’d spent most of the morning researching and hadn’t come up with one mention of similar crimes. Even if there was only one detail the same, I’d grasped at hope, only to be disappointed when the suspect was dead or imprisoned. I don’t know how I felt about that, but I didn’t have time to think too much about it.

I curved my hands around the mug and stared into the dark liquid. The bell going off over the door had me lifting my head. A thin man walked in with clothes that hung on his frame. As soon as I’d looked up our eyes met. There was no doubt in my mind that he was the one I was waiting for, and I slid out of the booth. I sensed the young man’s fear, so I patiently stayed still as he prepared to approach me.

Andy’s first few steps were cautious, as if he hadn’t made up his mind on whether I was an ally or foe. I knew that expression, I’d lost count of how many times I’d seen it over the years. Two decades of dealing with terrified and reluctant witnesses prepared me for anything.

“Mr. Clancy?”

I was slightly taken aback by the sound of that voice in person and blamed it on my lack of sleep. The kid was young, maybe mid-twenties.

“Call me, Ray. Please, take a seat.” I motioned at the bench and waited for him to slide into it. “Coffee?”

“Yes, please.”

“Rudy, refill for me and another for my friend here.” Rudy smirked at me from behind the counter, and I knew what he was thinking. That was the farthest thing from the truth. I was impatient to find out what happened the other night, but I waited for Rudy to approach with the coffeepot and an extra mug.

“Does your date need a menu, or are you planning on being cheap, Clancy?”

“Rudy, don’t fuck with me today.”

The words must have come out harsher than I’d thought because I caught the kid flinching in my peripheral. Skittish. I was going to have to temper my normally gruff nature.

“Cranky,” Rudy muttered, and I waited for him to drop off the menu, then return to the opposite side of the counter.

I watched in horror at the amount of sugar the kid doctored his coffee with and tried to hide my disgust behind my own mug of straight, black coffee. The way coffee was meant to be drank. Andy’s hands shook, and if I hadn’t paid closer attention, I would’ve missed that. I warred with the decision to let Andy take the lead and start the conversation or broach the subject myself.

My curiosity won. “Why did you contact me?”

“I researched the case. A crime reporter, I can’t remember his name right now, well, he did some stories and your name was mentioned. Your name came up in several articles.”

“But why are you here? I’m not a cop.”

Those four simple words still stung my pride. I should be on the case. Who’s to say that I wouldn’t have caught the guy sometime in the last six months.

The Artist by Bonnie Dee
Part of what kept me in France long after my illusions were dashed and my pockets frighteningly empty was my desire not to give my family the satisfaction of being proven right. I’d learned one could not simply survive on a dream, and even artists must sometimes accept less than desirable commissions. But I was not giving up on my own creative vision, merely taking a temporary side step.

I wished I’d brought my sketchbook to the wild garden so I could capture the ancient crab apple tree clinging to the last leaves of faded summer. It made a poignant statement about human nature, for didn’t we all clutch at life until our very last breath? A movement behind a nearby bush accompanied by a rattle of branches drew my attention from musing on life and death.

“Who’s there?” I called, heartbeats ramping up at the unexpected intrusion. I calmed myself with the thought it was probably a gardener. God knew the place could use some pruning.

The hider behind the bush went utterly still. I moved cautiously as if tracking a deer as I edged around the shrubbery. When I glimpsed a gray jacket through red leaves, I had a fairly good idea who was spying on me.

“Mr. Phineas Abernathy, I presume.” I misquoted explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

The figure behind the bush did not reply, but a burst of laughter escaped him. He understood my quote, so he was not weak brained as his sister suggested, but he was clearly shy. I would make it my mission to entice him out into the open.

“My name is Theodore Dandridge. I’ve been hired to paint your sister Rose’s portrait. I believe you already know that.” I paused, and when Abernathy didn’t respond, I added, “Won’t you show me around your garden, and we can have a chat?”

“Not… No!” The mutter was followed by the clearing of a throat and stronger negation. “I’d rather not. But I will talk with you from here.”

“All right. I noticed you watching me paint earlier. Are you interested in art?”

“Yes. Very much. I wish I could see your work.”

“I could bring my sample portfolio to your quarters later,” I offered. “Or, if you don’t wish to invite me up, I could send it along with your servant whom I met earlier. What’s his name?”

“Ledbetter. Perhaps I’ll send him to you later in the day.”

“Do you draw or paint?” I asked.

“Oh no. I scribble a bit, but nothing worth looking at.” He shifted farther behind the bush, withdrawing his shoulder so all I could see was a bit of sleeve.

“Nevertheless, I’d like to see your work as well,” I said. “I’m interested in every type of art, from the great masters to children’s drawings. Art is an expression of the soul. Nothing is unworthy of interest and admiration.”

“I’m not an artist.”

“Of course you are. Everyone who puts so much as a mark on paper or molds a snowman out of his mashed potatoes is an artist.”

My bit of whimsy prompted another laugh from the lurker. He eased into his former position, and now I could see a bit of his face3. Maybe, in time, I could cajole him all the way out of the bushes.

“The desire to create is universal. Many people suppress the artistic side of their nature because they don’t believe it is ‘good enough’ for others to see—or hear, if they are musically inclined. Perhaps they’ve been told the arts are frivolous, a waste of time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Without creative expression, be it music, literature, art, acting, or what have you, we are less than our full selves.” I only half paid attention to my words, though I truly believed them. My companion was visibly relaxing, taking a less rigid stance as he listened.

“Sharing even primitive talent is a beautiful thing,” I assured him.

“I could never be so bold,” Phineas replied. “I don’t want anyone to see my doodlings.”

“Begin by sharing your drawings with me. I will give you honest suggestions for improvement, but not a harsh critique. I can teach you some technique, although personal expression is about so much more than that.”

“I would like to know how to draw a face that looks like a face and not a lumpy squash.”

“Shall I give you lessons while I’m here? In the evenings, after I’m finished working on Miss Rose’s portrait.”

“Oh! I don’t know…” Again he withdrew into the scarlet leaves.

I held my breath and waited. I’d made the offer and could do no more.

“Yes. I would like that.” He spoke with sudden determination. “I would like it very much. Might you come to my rooms after supper tonight?”

“Absolutely. Now that’s decided, perhaps we ought to meet face-to-face.” I took a step toward him.

“No. I’m not ready,” he said breathlessly. “Tonight will be soon enough. When it’s a bit…darker.”

“As you wish,” I replied mildly. “Still, you can’t hide away in the shadows forever, my friend.”

“You might not say so after you’ve seen me, Mr. Dandridge. I am more akin to a gargoyle than Michelangelo’s David.”

An arrow pierced my heart at his matter-of-fact tone. Someone had convinced the poor man he was hideous so he identified himself in no other way. As an unusual child, I’d certainly experienced my share of slurs, so I understood the powerful effect words held. I felt an immediate kinship and desire to help Abernathy realize his difference was only one part of his being.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirit by John Inman
Chapter One
SALLY’S SUITCASE was dusty rose with little Alice-blue primroses on it. Very pretty. It was also big and bulky and weighed a fucking ton. I grunted like a caveman and broke out in a sweat simply hefting it into the trunk of the taxi. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I felt a couple of sinews in my back snap like rubber bands.

“What do you have in here? A dead body?”

“Oh, pooh,” Sally said, slapping my arm. “You gay guys gripe about everything. Just suck up the pain and try to be butch. Fake it if you have to.”

Since butch doesn’t always work for me and since I was never very good at faking anything, including maturity, I stuck my tongue out at her instead. “Blow me, Sis.” Since I knew it irked her, I cast a critical eye at her ash-blonde hair. It was bleached to within an inch of its life, and it had been that way since high school. “And stop bleaching. One of these days you’re going to wake up bald.”

She flipped her long hair back off her shoulder. “I don’t bleach, I tone.”


“Jason, you’re such a brat.” She smirked, sticking out her own tongue and waggling it around in midair, just as she had when she was nine and I was six and she was trying to freak me out. My sister could even now, at the ripe old age of thirty-one, touch the tip of her nose with her tongue. I had always admired that remarkable ability. Being a gay man, I’ve used my tongue extensively over the years in a number of scenarios, and in a number of dark moist places, but I still haven’t acquired that skill.

“Bitch. Floozy. Slut,” I mumbled under my breath, making her smile.

During this exchange, the cab driver stood way off to the side glowering, smoking a cigarette, and looking worried that someone was going to ask him to lift something. Since I had dealt with cab drivers before, I knew better than to ask.

The driver was a stodgy old guy who peered out at the world through a perpetual squint, or maybe he was just trying to keep the smoke out of his eyes. In any case, he now made it a point to stare at his wristwatch and clear his throat as he stomped out his cigarette underfoot.

“Time to roll,” he seemed to be saying. “Things to do, places to go.”

Sally and I gave each other a perfunctory peck on the cheek, and only then did we gaze around, wondering where Timmy had gone. Mother of the year, and babysitter extraordinaire, we weren’t. I quickly realized I hadn’t seen the kid in over a minute. He could be in Texas by now.

With a sigh of relief, I spotted my four-year-old nephew on his hands and knees by the foundation of the house, trying to peer through one of the tiny ground-level windows that looked into the basement. He had his little hands on the glass, with his face stuck in between them to shut out the glare, and he was talking to himself and snickering.

“Look, Sally,” I intoned. “The kid’s insane already, and you’ve only had him four and a half years.”

She slapped my arm again. “Oh, shut up.” Glancing at her wristwatch, she said, “Where the heck is Jack? He said he’d be here by now.”

“Jack comes when Jack comes.” I rolled my eyes when I said it. I didn’t much care for Jack.

Sally gave me a devilish grin. “Don’t get pornographic.”

“What? I didn’t mean it that way!”

But Sally wasn’t listening. We were already traipsing across my tiny front yard to fetch the kid. Since I got there first, I scooped Timmy into my arms. His hands and face were muddy brown where he had pressed them against the dirty window.

Sally stuck her fists on her hips and scowled at him. “You look like a miner,” she said.

“He is a minor,” I said. “He’s only four.”

“Oh, shut up,” Sally said again.

Timmy stuck his dirty finger up my nose and laughed. “You guys are funny.”

Sally stared at the two of us as if wondering what she had been thinking, bringing us together like this. “You’re going to ruin him, aren’t you, Jason? When I get back in four weeks, I won’t know my son. He’ll be lost to me forever.”

I shrugged and snapped and snarled and tried to bite Timmy’s hand off, which made him laugh even harder. “That’s the chance you take, Sis. Free babysitters don’t come cheap, you know.”

Sally just shook her head and headed back to the cab, mumbling under her breath, “That makes a lot of sense.”

A car horn in the distance snagged our attention. It was Jack, barreling down the street in his stupid MINI Cooper with the British flag on the roof. Jack was about as British as an Ethiopian famine. He gave a cheery wave out the window and pulled up to the curb with the warbling of a coloratura wailing from his tape deck. Jack liked opera.

I set Timmy on the lawn, and Sally and I watched as Jack jumped from the car, suitcase in hand. Sally was smiling. Remember when I said I didn’t like Jack? Well, Sally did.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” she asked the tree beside her. She couldn’t have been asking me. She knew perfectly well how I felt about the twit.

Although I had to admit, Jack was immensely easy on the eyes, with his tall, hunky frame and broad shoulders and wavy black hair. I also suspected he was a homophobe, though, since he couldn’t say two words to me without making a snarky comment about my being gay.

“Hey, Sally!” he called out to my sister. “Hey, Rosemary!” he called out to me.

He thought that was funny. I merely turned and scooped a surprised Timmy off the ground and held him in my arms so I wouldn’t have to shake Jack’s hand.

Did I mention I didn’t like Jack?

Jack tossed his bag into the back of the cab beside Sally’s, overflexing a few muscles while he did it just to prove he could.

He walked up to Timmy, who was firmly perched on my arm, and tweaked his nose. Me, he ignored.

Timmy said, “Ppffthh!” and turned away from the guy. He didn’t like Jack either.

Jack didn’t even notice. He gave Sally a smooch on the mouth and said, “Ready, babe?”

The driver tucked himself in behind the wheel and started the engine, all the while making a big show of buckling his seatbelt and fiddling with the meter like he was the busiest guy on the planet. He hadn’t even closed the trunk, so while Sally and Dipshit climbed into the backseat, I set Timmy down on the edge of the lawn for the second time, laid a finger on his nose, and told him to stay put. In a brilliant flash of insight, I realized he wouldn’t do any such thing, so I immediately snatched him up in my arms again. Then I slammed the taxi’s trunk lid closed myself—one-handed, I might add, since Timmy was dangling from my other arm like a wiggling stalk of bananas.

Jack’s hand came out of the window and pointed across the roof of the cab. He clicked his car keys at the MINI Cooper at the curb, which beeped in response and locked itself up tighter than a drum. Sort of like the Batmobile.

“Don’t tip the driver,” I whispered, as Sally leaned out the other window to give me a final good-bye peck. Timmy laughed. He had his finger up my nose again.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Sally said, stretching her neck out a little farther to give Timmy a good-bye kiss as well. Then she took one look at the kid’s filthy face and settled on a friendly pat atop his head instead. She wagged a finger in his face. “You be good. Obey your uncle while I’m gone.”

Timmy really laughed at that. “Yeah, right.” He giggled and, squirming out of my arms, he took off running back to the basement window, where he once again dropped to his knees and peered inside.

“Maybe he got my brat gene,” I said, not entirely joking.

Sally didn’t even pretend to find that statement untrue. “No maybes about it,” she said, ruffling through her purse, making sure she had her money, her plane tickets, and whatever else women scramble around for in their purses when they’re trying to be efficient.

I stepped away from the cab, molding my face to look trustworthy. “Don’t worry about the kid. I’ll lock him in the closet if I have to.”

“Just don’t scar him emotionally. I spend enough money on my own therapy.”

“Very funny.”

Then Jack chimed in with, “Don’t turn him gay either. We can’t afford all the makeup you boys use.”

I blushed. Had he noticed I’d used a cover stick on a zit that morning, or was he just talking out of his homophobic ass again?

I couldn’t help myself. I leaned back in the window and crooned, “Don’t worry, Jacqueline. I’ll try to restrain myself. And we won’t listen to opera. I promise. I read that a lot of closeted gay guys listen to opera. Oh, and we won’t use napkins when we eat either, and we’ll blow our noses directly onto the ground just by pressing our thumb to the opposing nostril and blowing the crap out that way. Either that or we’ll wipe the snot on our shirtsleeves. You know. Like you do.”

Sally giggled, Jack turned away unamused, and the driver gave the lot of us an odd look in the rearview mirror, which made me blush again. Sally didn’t give a crap what the driver thought, and Jack was too busy being a prick and trying to look important to notice. He was studiously ignoring me as he checked his airline tickets, plucking them out of his pocket, flipping them open, perusing the contents. They weren’t going to Mars after all. It was just a four-week vacation. After a week in New York to catch a few shows, enjoy a few restaurants, and gain a few pounds, they were then going to diddle up and down the Eastern Seaboard on a train. Several trains, in fact. Personally, I would rather set myself on fire than trap myself in a rumbling metal tube for three weeks with Dipshit; but hey, that’s just me.

Sally reached out, patted my head like she had Timmy’s, then poked it back out of the window with the heel of her hand.

“Stop causing trouble,” she said with a merry sparkle in her eyes. Then she turned to the driver and said, “Airport.”

I heard him mumble, “Well, there’s a surprise,” as the cab backed out onto the street.

I waved, watching the yellow cab hustle off into San Diego traffic, and when I turned to find Timmy, he was gone again.

Holy crap! The kid was a gazelle. What had I gotten myself into?

His disappearance was solved when I found him around the corner of the house in the backyard, peeking through a different basement window. Jeez, he was like Gollum, seeking out the world’s deepest, darkest places.

When I scooped him into my arms, he sang out, “Daddy!”

And I thought, Well isn’t that sweet.

I HAD toddler-proofed the house as best I could. The basement door was securely latched so the kid couldn’t tumble headfirst down the flight of stairs leading into the bowels of the house, snapping a myriad of youthful bones along the way. Electrical wires were safely coiled and taped up and tucked under furniture in case Timmy got the inexplicable urge to chew on them. Electrical outlets were covered. All breakable knick-knacks were raised out of reach and all dangerous objects securely stashed away—switchblades, rolls of barbed wire, plastic explosives, bobby pins. (Just kidding about the bobby pins. I’m not that nelly.)

My dog, Thumper, who was a mix of Chihuahua, dachshund, miniature poodle, and quite possibly a three-toed sloth, was no threat to Timmy at all. The poor thing was almost twenty years old and hardly had any teeth left. I hadn’t heard her bark in three years. She only moved off the sofa to eat and go potty, and once her business was done, she stood in front of the sofa looking up like the Queen Mother waiting for the carriage door to be opened until I scooped her off the floor and redeposited her among the cushions. Poor thing. (I mean me.) She lay there all day long watching TV: Channel 9, the Mexican channel. Don’t ask me why, but that was the only channel she would tolerate. Couldn’t live without it, in fact. The one benefit to this annoying habit of hers was that, while I didn’t understand my dog at all, I was pretty sure I was beginning to comprehend Spanish.

Timmy was at that happy stage of child rearing where he could pull down his own pants and climb onto the commode without any help from squeamish gay uncles. He had brought an entourage of toys with him that would have kept an orphanage entertained. The first thing I did after finding a trail of little black skid marks on my new oak flooring was to confiscate his tricycle, allocating the thing to outdoor use only, which Timmy accepted with stoic resignation, although I did hear him mumble something about chicken poop and peckerheads. I’m not sure if his watered-down-obscenity-strewn mumbling was related to the tricycle announcement but fear it was. While the kid might have gotten my brat gene, there was also little doubt he had inherited my sister’s sarcastic-foulmouthed-snarky gene. God help his teachers when he started school.

With his mother and his mother’s twit of a boyfriend safely out of the way, Timmy and I settled into a routine. The routine was this: he ran around like a cyclone, and I ran around behind him trying to keep him alive. It took my nephew a mere two hours to wear me out completely, and while I dozed for five minutes on the sofa to recoup my strength, using Thumper for a pillow (she did have a few uses), Timmy managed to find a screwdriver somewhere and proceeded to climb onto a chair in the kitchen and remove the back panel from the microwave. Don’t ask me why. What took him five minutes to take apart took me thirty minutes to put back together. I’m not handy with tools. Timmy, on the other hand, seemed quite proficient. If I hadn’t been afraid he might actually succeed, and consequently make me feel even dumber than I already did, I would have asked him to change the oil in my Toyota.

In the middle of the afternoon, Timmy and I found ourselves in the backyard picking oranges off my orange tree for the next day’s breakfast. (Well, I was picking the oranges. Timmy was stuffing them down his shorts. Who knows why?) He was squealing happily and running around with oranges dropping out of his trouser legs and rolling merrily across the yard. I was busy trying to be masculine like a proper hunter/gatherer, climbing up into the orange tree to get that one beautiful orange on the tippy-top limb that I couldn’t quite reach to whap with the broom handle, when I was suddenly stunned by the sound of silence. God, it was lovely. Lovely and suspicious. I peeked through the foliage toward the ground and saw Timmy sprawled out like a dead thing, sound asleep in the grass.

I could only assume it was naptime.

Being the ever-conscientious uncle, I climbed quietly down the tree, gently scooped the kid into my arms, and carried him into the house. The moment I laid Timmy on the bed in the guest room upstairs—since Thumper was hogging the couch—Timmy popped his eyes open and stuck his finger up my nose again. In two seconds flat, he was wide-awake, tearing through the house and screaming like a banshee.

Note to self. Next time the kid goes to sleep, no matter where it is, leave him there. Edge of a cliff? No problem. Middle of the street? Don’t worry about it. Just put up a couple of safety cones to redirect traffic and let him be.

Timmy was making so much noise, and his voice was so annoyingly high-pitched, that Thumper had buried her head under the sofa cushions. I longed to crawl under there with her, but being the adult in charge, God help me, I couldn’t. I rummaged through the mound of clothes Sally had supplied for Timmy’s four-week stay, hoping to find a tiny straightjacket and a soundproof muzzle in among the T-shirts and shorts and Daffy Duck underpants, but she must have forgotten to pack them, dammit.

For my headache, which was quickly blossoming into an epic doozy, I popped four aspirins and chewed them dry. How’s that for butch? And to distract Timmy from doing whatever the hell it was he was doing, I asked him if he’d like to help me fix dinner.

“What are we having?” he asked. There was a rope of snot dangling out of his nose that looked like a bungee cord. I watched, fascinated, as he sucked it back in. A moment later, it made another appearance, flapped around for a minute, then he snorted it back up again. It was a fascinating thing to watch. Fascinating and disgusting.

“Salmon and green-bean casserole,” I finally answered, trying not to barf.

He made a face. “Blechhh! I want hot dogs.”

“Hot dogs.”

“And ’roni.”

“What the heck is ’roni?”

“With cheese,” he said. “’Roni and cheese.”

“Oh. Macaroni and cheese. No way. Do you know how many calories are in that? I have to watch my figure.”

Timmy giggled. “Jack says you’re like a girl. He says you even like boys.”

“I do like boys. But not that one. Jack’s a twit.”

Timmy giggled again, but it was a crafty giggle. “If you make ’roni and cheese and hot dogs for dinner, I won’t tell him you said that.”

“Ever hear of extortion?”

“No,” he said, “but if you make hot dogs tonight, we can have ’stortion tomorrow.”

“Fine,” I said. I wasn’t a complete idiot. I’d serve him salmon tomorrow and tell him it was extortion. The kid was four years old, for Christ’s sake. He’d believe anything I told him, right?

With the uneasy feeling I was in over my head, I stuck the beautiful slab of salmon back in the fridge for another day and rummaged through the freezer until I found a package of hot dogs buried under the edamame and brussels sprouts. The hot dogs had been there since some long ago Fourth of July celebration. Wonder of wonders, I found a box of macaroni and cheese in the pantry off the garage. Gee. I didn’t even know I had it. Maybe the kid was not only annoying, but psychic as well. That was a scary thought. A prescient four-year-old.

Later, while sitting at the kitchen table consuming our 50,000-calorie dinner, Timmy didn’t shut up once.

“The man in the basement is nice,” Timmy said around a mouthful of hot dog.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I said.

“He said to tell you he’s glad you live here.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m glad he approves.”

“He hates Mommy.”

“Well, she can be annoying sometimes. Don’t tell her I said that.”

Timmy shrugged. “Can I have another hot dog?”

“You haven’t finished the one you’ve got.”

“I only like the middles. The ends taste funny.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

“Thank you.”

“How’s the ’roni and cheese?”

“Good, but it needs more butter. Mommy uses two sticks.”

It was my turn to shrug. “It’s making my ass grow as it is. I can feel it ballooning underneath me in my chair even as we speak. Both cheeks. Mommy’s ass will be ballooning soon too. Watch if it doesn’t. One day she’ll wake up and she’ll be all ass. No head, no arms, no bleached-blonde hair, just ass, with maybe a few toes sticking out. And if you count the man she’s with, it’ll be two asses.”

Timmy giggled. “You’re funny.”

“And you’re nuts,” I said, building him another hot dog. “Mustard?”



“It’s good. Here, try it.” He leaned over the table and squirted ketchup on my hot dog.

“Jesus, kid, you’re killing me here.”

“Eat it,” he said.

I took a bite of my ketchupy hot dog. Damn. I liked it.

Timmy grinned at my expression. “See?” he said. He scooped up a big ladle full of macaroni and cheese and glopped that on my plate next to the teeny pile I had placed there myself.

“Eat,” he said, sounding like every overworked mother of every finicky-ass kid that ever walked the face of the planet since the beginning of time.

So I ate. Every noodle. Every fat-saturated glob of cheese and margarine. Then I had another hotdog. With ketchup. And two glasses of chocolate milk. I hadn’t drunk chocolate milk for fifteen years. Damn. I liked that too. Blasted kid.

Tomorrow I’d diet.

When we were stuffed to the gills, Timmy stood on a chair and dried the dishes while I washed. I didn’t own a dishwasher. Timmy seemed slightly astounded by that fact.

“Is this how they did dishes in the old days?”

“Yes,” I said. “Later we’ll take the laundry down to the river and beat it on a rock.”

“Oh, goody. I like rivers.”

“That was a joke. I have a washing machine just like Mommy.”


“Watch your mouth.”

“There’s a scary movie on TV tonight, Uncle Jason. If you’re good, I’ll let you watch it.”

“Screw you, kid. I’ll let you watch it.”

Timmy clapped his hands and almost dropped a plate. “Yay, we’re watching a scary movie!”

I stared at my nephew for about fifteen seconds. Had I just been tricked into telling him he could watch a scary movie? He wasn’t that smart, was he? Good lord, I’d have to be on my toes for the next four weeks or this kid would be leading me around like a poodle on a leash.

Speaking of which. “Wanna help me walk Thumper?”

Timmy’s eyes got big and round. “You mean the dog?”

“No, my pet anteater. Of course the dog.”

“Can she walk? I thought she was dead.”

“She’s not dead. She’s just old.”

“But she hasn’t moved all day.”

“Like I said, she’s old. One day you’ll be old and you won’t move all day either.” And God, wouldn’t that be a blessing.

Timmy craned his neck back and looked through the kitchen doorway into the living room, where even now I could hear Thumper snoring like a sawmill.

Timmy stood there on the chair, the plate forgotten in his hand, his face agape with wonder like one of the shepherd kids in Fatima, Portugal, eyeballing the Virgin Mary popping out of a stump. “I wanna see her walk. Are you sure she’s not dead?”

“Yes,” I said, molding my face into a phony smile, a la used car salesman trying to sell a clunker to anybody who’d listen. Shooting for camaraderie, I waggled a finger in Timmy’s ribs. “And just to make it more fun, it’ll be your job to pick up the poop.”

Timmy turned and stared at me. Then he guffawed. It’s a little disconcerting when a four-year-old guffaws. “She’s your dog,” Timmy said, his face scrunched up in concentration while he dug a booger out of his nose. “You pick up the poop.”

Damn. I thought I had him that time. I handed the kid a tissue, plucked the plate from his hand, and tossed it back in the dishwater in case it had a booger on it—and decided on the spot if Timmy ever managed to stay alive long enough to grow up, he’d probably be president. Two terms. Hell, even I’d vote for him. Both times.

Timmy seemed properly astounded that Thumper truly was alive. He even insisted on holding the leash as we traipsed out into the night. Of course, we were traipsing at a snail’s pace since Thumper’s arthritic joints were not conducive to scampering.

“She’s awful slow,” Timmy whined.

“When you’re old, you’ll be slow too.”

“Then I won’t get old.”

“Fine, Peter Pan. Just walk the frigging dog.”

The night was gorgeous and balmy. It was June, and June in San Diego is perfect. With a younger dog, we might have enjoyed the evening for hours, but with Thumper, we barely got around the block. In fact, we didn’t. We were halfway around the block when Thumper gave out and insisted on being carried the rest of the way home.

“Will you carry me too?” Timmy asked.


“Can I wear the leash?”

“Sure,” I said. I unclipped the collar from Thumper’s throat and clipped it around Timmy’s neck. He followed along behind me on the leash like a good little puppy until we passed Mrs. Lindquist, who lives down the block. She was walking her Pomeranian, and when she spotted me with the kid on a leash, she felt it her duty to intervene.

She bent over Timmy and patted his head. “Is this man hurting you?” she asked.

“Woof!” Timmy said.

Mrs. Lindquist straightened up and nailed me with a piercing stare. “Is he normal?” she asked.

I smiled and said, “Define normal.”

Mrs. Lindquist simply shook her head and walked on, dragging the poor Pom behind her. Lucky bitch. At least her dog could walk.

Back at the house, we deposited Thumper in among the sofa cushions, and she promptly fell asleep, worn out completely by all the excitement. Timmy didn’t want to take the collar off, so I merely unhooked the leash and left the collar in place around his scrawny neck. He looked like a tiny submissive, waiting for his Dom to come along and whap him with a whip.

I ran a couple of inches of warm water into the tub and laid out a towel and my favorite rubber ducky. Don’t ask.

“We have twenty minutes before the movie,” I said, handing him his pajamas. “Go take your bath.”

“Mommy only makes me take a bath once a month.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Nice try, Timmy. Get in the tub.”

He glowered and snatched the pj’s out of my hand. “Don’t watch. I know you like boys.”

At that, I laughed. “Jesus, kid, just go take your bath, and I’ll make us some popcorn for the movie.”

He brightened up. “With butter?”

“No. I thought I’d just dip it in lard.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Timmy skipped off to the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

He skipped back out of the bathroom three minutes later. His hair was a little damp, but that was probably just for show. If any other body parts had seen moisture, he couldn’t have been long about it. Unfortunately, I was too worn out to care. His pajamas had little rocket ships on them. I found myself sort of wishing I had a pair.

We settled onto the sofa on either side of Thumper and tuned in to the movie, switching the sound from Spanish to English. Thumper raised her head and growled, so I switched it back to Spanish. Timmy thought it was funny, watching the movie in Spanish. We had English subtitles of course, but he couldn’t read them. At least I didn’t think he could. Still, he didn’t seem to mind.

The movie was so bad I found myself giggling halfway through it. Then it got scary, and I found myself chewing on a cushion and squinting through the gory parts, trying not to look. Timmy and Thumper both sat there wide-eyed and breathless, taking in every spurt of blood and every dying moan from the poor helpless citizens of Burbank being devoured by zombies on the screen.

The movie wasn’t yet over when Timmy doubled over like a pocketknife and fell sound asleep. This time when I oh so carefully carried him in my arms up the stairs and deposited him in his bed, he stayed there.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

I toddled downstairs, as happy as I had ever been in my life, poured myself a healthy dollop of scotch, and settled in to finish the movie. Thumper was still watching it. I guess she liked it too. Her tail was wagging. Or maybe she was just as elated as I was that Timmy had finally crashed.

“What did I miss?” I asked.

Thumper ignored me. Too wrapped up in the movie to respond, I supposed.

After three scotches and the demise of upwards of a hundred movie extras, all torn to shreds and devoured by the scary-ass zombies, I was ready for bed myself.

I peeked into Timmy’s room to make sure he was still sound asleep, and he looked like a little angel lying there in his rocket-ship pajamas. Of course, I had spent the day with him. I knew better.

I brushed my teeth, then switched on the newly acquired baby monitor I had bought myself before Timmy’s arrival and which now sat like a tiny guardian angel on the nightstand insuring me a little peace of mind that Timmy wouldn’t dismantle the house while I slept. The baby monitor exuded a comforting fuzz of sound, filling up the shadows quite nicely. I rather enjoyed hearing it. I tucked myself naked into my bed, since it’s the only way I can sleep, then tucked Thumper under the covers beside me like a hot water bottle. I lay there all snug and secure with the crackly sound of the baby monitor and those three or four scotch and waters coaxing me into dreamland. Thumper rested her chin on my leg and was snoring in less than a minute. It took me a little longer. Just before my eyes and brain happily shut down for the night, a thought hit me in the head like a line drive, jarring me awake.

I bolted straight up in bed, suddenly remembering what Timmy had said at dinner.

“The man in the basement is nice.”

I blinked.

What man in the basement?

Dead End Street by Rick R Reed
"Thanks," Peter said. "Anyway, what I was thinking was this: it's only six weeks until Halloween, right?"

Erin nodded and flung a mass of her dark brown hair over one shoulder. She gave Peter the full attention of her eyes, which were so dark they appeared bottomless.

"Well, what we could do is meet officially once a week. At that time, each one of us would be responsible for making up a scary story ... you know, something really gross or bloody ... for that week. When we're all done, we'll take a vote and whoever gets the most votes gets to decide how we'll spend Halloween."

"Boring!" David said. "Can we move on to other business, like putting some other music on? This sucks."

"I think the idea has potential," Marlene said.

"I didn't tell you guys the best part, though." Peter's face flushed red with excitement. "We'll meet at the Tuttle house each week. That's where we'll tell our stories."

The group got quiet. Even the music seemed to get softer, as if an unseen hand were turning down the sound.

"The Tuttle house?" Erin whispered, her dark eyes alive with fear.

"Isn't that where all those murders happened? That family?" Roy's voice cracked.

"Supposedly." David spoke up. "That was a long time ago, before any of us were even born. I think it's just a rotting house up on the hill. Nothing to be scared of."

"Then we can do it?" Peter sounded hopeful.

"I haven't got a problem," David said.

"I don't know," Erin twisted a strand of her dark hair. "What if someone catches us?"

"Who's going to catch us?" Marlene spoke up. "The house is at the end of a dead end road; there aren't even any neighbors until you get to the Washingtons and they're at least a football field or two away. If we're quiet, I don't think anyone would even pay any attention. It's just an empty old house, really."

Peter looked around at them all. "An empty old house? Maybe. That's part of why I want us to meet there ... to see just how empty it is. I've heard things, lots of things about the Tuttle house." His gaze met Erin's, who had gone pale. "It may not be as empty as some people'd like to think." He grinned. "Or hope."

With a Twist by K Evan Coles & Brigham Vaughn
“Senator Mori, please, come in.”

Greta sounded very pleased as she welcomed David into the house. Will stifled a sigh and set his tablet on the side table in the sunroom. The man was handsome, but, with the exception of LGBTQ issues, he frequently voted like a typical moderate Republican robot. Will hadn’t worked out exactly how he’d been roped into having dinner with his father’s colleague, but, unfortunately, he couldn’t back out now.

Actually, Will mused, I know exactly how I was roped into this. Agnes Martin had said they were having a small dinner and insinuated it would be rude of him not to join them. By the time Will realized his mother had invited David, he couldn’t refuse. Even if Will had had been able to, he owed David an apology. He had been rude to David the first time they’d met.

Will had also googled him and been relieved to learn David wasn’t ultra-conservative but he still couldn’t wrap his head around a gay man aligning himself with a political party actively trying to damage their community. If Will was being honest, David’s relationship with Will’s father bothered him more. He was envious and resentful of the closeness they had. And hurt. Why did his father appear so much more accepting of David’s sexuality than Will’s? The rejection stung bitterly and made Will want to lash out and make David feel as terrible as he did.

But no matter how he felt, it didn’t excuse his behavior. He stood and headed for the foyer.

Will caught a glimpse of David, who stood talking with Greta. If only the man weren’t so infuriatingly good-looking. Will couldn’t think of the last time he’d found a man so attractive, even Riley.

To Will’s surprise, David wasn’t alone. A medium-sized black and white dog with fawn- colored stripes on its legs and a tail that curled up onto its back stood by David’s side. He held the leash loosely in one hand.

“Hello, David.” Will stuck out a hand for him to shake. David’s expression was friendly and his hands were large and strong around Will’s long, narrow fingers.

“Nice to see you, Will.”

“You as well.” Ignoring how good David’s skin felt against his, Will dropped his hand.

Greta patted his arm. “I’m going to go help your mother get food on the table.”

“Thanks, Greta. I’ll walk David back to the patio in a moment.” After Greta disappeared down the hallway, Will turned his attention to the animal sitting calmly at David’s feet.

“I see you brought a date,” Will said with a small smile. He was such a sucker for dogs. Not to mention hot men with dogs. He crouched and held out a hand. “Hello there, gorgeous.”

“Her name’s Mabel.”

She sniffed him delicately before pushing her snout into his hand in greeting. He laughed and looked up at David as he scratched Mabel behind the ears. David stared down at them with an expression both perplexed and amused.

“She’s beautiful,” Will murmured. “Husky mix?”

David nodded. “Husky and Shiba-Inu mix. Or so said the guy I got her from. She’s mixed like me.”

Will blinked at him and David laughed softly. “Sorry. I’m Japanese on my father’s side, and a whole range of European countries on my mom’s. My brother-in-law is always on me about the jokes my sister and I make about being mixed race. The jokes make him uncomfortable.”

“Your candor took me by surprise.” Will cleared his throat. “How old is Mabel?”

“Two—no, two and a half. I’ve had her since she was a pup.”

Mabel let out a whine and licked Will’s forearm as if pointing out he’d stopped petting her. Will chuckled and resumed.

“Do you have any pets, Will?”

He shook his head and gave Mabel a final pat before he stood. “I live in Manhattan and my building doesn’t allow it.”

David nodded. “I think she’s enjoying the move from Queens to Long Island. She seems to like the beaches and canals quite a bit.”

“When did you move from Queens?”

“A few years ago. On your father’s recommendation, actually.”

“Hmm.” Will made a noncommittal noise. He wasn’t sure what to make of the relationship his father and David had. David’s race wasn’t an issue. Neither of his parents had ever shown themselves to be racially intolerant, although Will had a vivid memory from high school of arguing with his parents about why using the term ‘Oriental’ was really, really inappropriate. At worst, they were occasionally clueless, but even then, they’d listened to his argument and made an effort to change.

Sexuality was a different story, however. How could Bill be vehemently against his own son’s sexual orientation but have no problem working side-by-side with a gay man? And inviting him to his house for meals? Will bristled, but he forced himself to tamp down the irritation. That reminded him, he still needed to apologize to David.

Will cleared his throat. “Uh, before we head back to the patio, I wanted to say I’m sorry about the way I behaved when you were here earlier this week. My temper got the better of me, and I hope you can forgive me.”

“Of course. No hard feelings.” David gave him a warm, open smile.

“Thank you.”

Will’s mother appeared before he could say anything else. “What on earth are you two still doing in the foyer? Let David in, Will.”

“I was getting to know his dog, Mabel,” Will said, feeling slightly abashed. Apparently, all of his manners did go out of the window when he encountered David.

Agnes regarded the dog with a soft sound of delight. “Oh, she is lovely. Even prettier than the pictures you sent me. I am so glad you asked to bring her. You probably felt like you needed a guard dog to fend off the cats. I am so embarrassed Fluffers used your shoe as a litter box.”

A laugh escaped Will before he could stop it. “That old thing is still alive? I haven’t seen him around outside and I assumed he’d died.”

Agnes frowned at him. “Fluffers is very much alive. Just getting a bit senile these days. Thankfully, David was very gracious about it.”
David chuckled. “One should always expect the unexpected when it comes to pets and kids.”

“You are correct.” Agnes smiled at him. “Now, I want both of you to come back to the patio. Appetizers are on the table.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

That spark of happiness was named Joe. Joe Chase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if he was.

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

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

Ned almost giggled at the thought.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes he even succeeded. For a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sexy thoughts.

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

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

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

And in the distance, he heard someone whistling back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

CS Poe
C.S. Poe is a Lambda Literary and EPIC award finalist author of gay mystery, romance, and paranormal books.

She is a reluctant mover and has called many places home in her lifetime. C.S. has lived in New York City, Key West, and Ibaraki, Japan, to name a few. She misses the cleanliness, convenience, and limited-edition gachapon of Japan, but she was never very good at riding bikes to get around.

​She has an affinity for all things cute and colorful and a major weakness for toys. C.S. is an avid fan of coffee, reading, and cats. She’s rescued two cats—Milo and Kasper do their best on a daily basis to sidetrack her from work.

​C.S. is a member of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Her debut novel, The Mystery of Nevermore, was published by DSP Publications, 2016.

NR Walker
N.R. Walker is an Australian author, who loves her genre of gay romance. She loves writing and spends far too much time doing it, but wouldn't have it any other way.

She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who she gives them life with words.

She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things...but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.

She’s been writing ever since...

Olivier Bosman
Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I've spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have every confidence that I will now finally be able to settle down among the olive groves of Andalucia.

I'm an avid reader and film fan and I have an MA in creative writing for film and television.

JM Dabney
J.M. Dabney is a multi-genre author who writes mainly LGBT romance and fiction. She lives with a constant diverse cast of characters in her head. No matter their size, shape, race, etc. she lives for one purpose alone, and that’s to make sure she does them justice and give them the happily ever after they deserve. J.M. is dysfunction at its finest and she makes sure her characters are a beautiful kaleidoscope of crazy. There is nothing more she wants from telling her stories than to show that no matter the package the characters come in or the damage their pasts have done, that love is love. That normal is never normal and sometimes the so-called broken can still be amazing.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

To stay up to date on her latest releases, sign up for the Coles & Vaughn Newsletter.

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

Rick R Reed
Real Men. True Love.

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

K Evan Coles
K. Evan Coles is a mother and tech pirate by day and a writer by night. She is a dreamer who, with a little hard work and a lot of good coffee, coaxes words out of her head and onto paper.

K. lives in the northeast United States, where she complains bitterly about the winters, but truly loves the region and its diverse, tenacious and deceptively compassionate people. You’ll usually find K. nerding out over books, movies and television with friends and family. She’s especially proud to be raising her son as part of a new generation of unabashed geeks.

K.’s books explore LGBTQ+ romance in contemporary settings.

CS Poe
EMAIL: contact@cspoe.com 

NR Walker
EMAIL: nrwalker2103@gmail.com

Olivier Bosman

Davidson King

Bonnie Dee
EMAIL: bonniedeeauthor@gmail.com 

Brigham Vaughn
EMAIL: brighamvaughn@gmail.com

John Inman
EMAIL: John492@att.net

Rick R Reed
EMAIL: rickrreedbooks@gmail.com

K Evan Coles
EMAIL: coles.k.evan@gmail.com 

The Mystery of Nevermore by CS Poe

His Grandfather's Watch by NR Walker

The Campbell Curse by Olivier Bosman

The Hunt by Davidson King & JM Dabney

The Artist by Bonnie Dee

Push & Pull by Brigham Vaughn

Spirit by John Inman

Dead End Street by Rick R Reed

With a Twist by K Evan Coles & Brigham Vaughn

Nightfall by John Inman