Title: A Sacrament of Sin Series: The Midnight Agency #4 Author: Matthew Angelo Publisher: Self-Published Release Date: October 15th, 2021 Heat Level: 1 – No Sex Pairing: No Romance Length: 30k Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Science …
Love’s Gamble by Hayden West Book 2 in the City of Fountains series General Release Date: 12th October 2021 Word Count: 15,774 Book Length: NOVELLA Pages: 68 Genres: CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE GAY GLBTQI MYSTERY Add to …
Basic Witch by Katy Hunter Book 1 in the Half Blood series General Release Date: 12th October 2021 Word Count: 15,310 Book Length: SHORT STORY Pages: 68 Heat Rating: Sizzling Genres: ANGELS AND DEMONS CONTEMPORARY …
Every Gathering, Raine hides from potential mates, knowing that in a society where tri-bonds were the expectation, a wolf wanting a mate all to themselves was an anomaly.
Enter Gabriel. They’d met two years before, both left disappointed when no bondmark appeared on their wrists at that time. Gabriel’s been hunting, but there’s been no sign of Raine, outside of the one brief visit that didn’t end the way he’d hoped for.
Fast forward to the present Gathering. He’s stumbled onto Aiden, a wolf miserable in his own pack due to the way he’s treated. Born with a disability, he knows he can’t keep up, but no one has taken the time to teach him where his true potential lies—until Gabriel that is. Gabriel’s protective instincts kick in almost immediately.
Now Gabriel has one wolf he desperately wants to care for and another who has been hiding from him. Unfortunately, it might not be a challenge Gabriel is up for.
Midsummer, or, as most of the pack called the season, matesummer. Raine watched the vehicles pulling onto the grounds. Large motorhomes and SUVs packed with members of other packs flooded their lands for the gathering. Resting his cheek against the bark of the tree he was sitting in, Raine grumbled a stream of curses, a nearby squirrel angrily chattering his own stream of profanities back at him.
“Why does it always…have to be…a tree?” Huffing and grumbling preceded his brother Noah’s appearance beside him, a sour expression on his face as he gripped the branch overhead.
Shrugging, Raine looked away from his annoyed gaze and back toward the impending invasion. As soon as they got settled, all those foreign wolf scents would fill their lands and linger for weeks afterward. “I like trees.”
“I like trees too—to pee on, not to climb. We’re wolves, and wolves are supposed to keep their paws on the ground.”
“There are exceptions to all things.”
“What are you doing here, Noah? Shouldn’t you be curled up with Evan and Holden in your little love nest?”
He knew he’d failed to keep the bitterness out of his voice the moment his brother’s eyes narrowed at him and wolf amber momentarily replaced the gray.
“And yet I’m here. I wonder why that is.”
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
“I came to deliver a message, not that you’ll care. That big brown-and-white wolf from the northwestern pack is looking for you. I believe he said his name is Gabriel.”
For a moment, Raine couldn’t breathe. It was like Noah had sucked all the air out of the forest and left him digging claws into the branch of the tree to ground himself.
“How’d he look?” Raine gritted out between clenched teeth.
“At first glance, you’d never know he was in a fight that nearly killed him.”
“No one asked him to do that.”
“With the way he was always watching you and trailing you, there was no way anyone was going to tell him not to.”
Sighing, Raine scrubbed a hand over his face, his shoulder aching from how heavily he was leaning against the trunk. Butterflies and fear warred in his belly, clenched tight to keep from vomiting up his last meal. He would not think about the gathering two years past, or the mistake he’d nearly made in allowing himself to be claimed.
“Saw him struggle to lift his backpack with his left arm. It’s a wonder he can use it at all. I was certain he was going to lose it with as mangled as it was.”
“Shut up, Noah.”
Of course his brother didn’t listen. That was part of his charm. He was stubborn that way, always had been, even back when they were young pups and Raine steadfastly refused to have anything to do with their father, Noah’s mother, or the rest of their siblings. Alone. Scared. Grieving over the death of his mother, he’d become a snarling, feral thing, living in the small apartment at the back of the house that he and his mother had lived in for as long as he could remember. He’d bitten everyone who approached until Noah.
“My guess is he was still rehabbing it last year, which was why he didn’t show up to the gathering then,” Noah continued on, as if Raine hadn’t interrupted. “You should talk to him. It’s the least you can do.”
His brother was right, not that he planned to listen. Nearly going down that road once was bad enough. Never again. His mother had taught him better.
“He was alone, if that helps any. No mating marks on his wrists either, so it’s safe to say he’s still single.”
“Stop pretending you don’t give a shit and take the second chance you’re being offered. I doubt you’ll get a third one.”
“Why can’t you stop meddling and drop it? For fuck’s sake, Noah, I’m not interested!”
“Could have fooled me, what with the way you called to check on him every day after he first went home.”
“And then I stopped, which should tell you something.”
“Yeah, that you’re clinging to an irrational notion put in your head by an irrational woman, who…”
“Do not talk about my mom!”
“Why? Afraid of hearing the truth?”
Snarling, Raine ripped a furrow in the wood. “Leave, Noah, before I forget how much I love you and throw you out of this tree.”
“You’re ruining your life; you know that, right?”
“No. Taking a mate and trusting that I would be their one and only would ruin my life. I won’t do it, Noah, and I wish you’d stop asking me to.”
“I’ll stop asking when you come to your senses and see that there is room in our hearts to love more than one person,” Noah insisted, not for the first time. In fact, he was sick of hearing it.
“Do you really believe Evan and Holden love you as much as they love each other?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then you’re a fool. They had three years together before they met you. Three years of memories, moments, and promises. No matter what you do, you can never catch up. It will never be equal.”
“If that’s all you think love is, then I pity you, Raine, I really do.”
The look on Noah’s face, disappointed, sad, left Raine momentarily upset that he’d put it there. Until he thought about his mother, her tears, the way she’d looked in the mirror, asking what was wrong with her that his father couldn’t love her. Asking why she’d never be enough. He’d spent his early years with a broken ghost who’d hug him one moment and scream at him for wanting to play with his siblings the next.
He’ll drown you the moment I’m not around to protect you, she’d rage, grabbing him by the arm, shaking him hard enough his teeth clacked together. Sometimes she’d forget her strength, or claws, leaving deep, bleeding marks in his upper arm or accidentally dislocating it. It had happened so many times he could do it at will now—a constant reminder of her pain.
“I don’t want your pity.”
“No, you never want anything, do you?” Noah glanced away from him, over to the slowly filling grove where the gathering would take place.
“Wrong. I want to be left alone.”
“Fine, wish granted, but I want you to remember this moment in ten years when you’re alone and sorry you blew your opportunity with someone who really and truly loves you.”
With those last words hanging in the air between them, Noah lowered himself to the ground, shifted, shook, and disappeared into the forest. Asshole! He’d be the one to see, in ten years, when he was living in an add-on apartment or back at Mom and Dad’s after his two mates decided there was no longer room for him in the relationship.
If only there was a way to ensure a pairing would never become a tri-bond. Then he’d happily go to Gabriel and explore the possibilities.
Another idea took hold then, as he watched awnings popping up on campers and people pitching tents. Maybe he should go to Gabriel anyway, talk to him and get it out of his system. Maybe they’d prove to be incompatible, and he could stop daydreaming about what it would be like to belong to someone. Hell, maybe he was just looking for Raine to curse him out about the fight. Hearing Gabriel say he hated him would go a long way toward helping him to stop dreaming about the man.
Decision made, he dove off the branch, somersaulting twice before hitting the ground in a crouch, sniffing.
His nose led him back to the trail, fully aware that following it might mean running into strangers and pairs already getting a jump on the frolicking and fooling around portion of the event. A bunch of pups would be born ten months from now; that was for damn sure. And then what? Some pairs would end up trapped by those stupid bond marks. Others would raise their pups alone. Hell, he even knew of occasions where one parent took half the litter and the other raised the rest, siblings who never saw, or even knew, of one another until they met at a gathering, stunned to discover someone else who looked like them.
Layla Dorine lives among the sprawling prairies of Midwestern America, in a house with more cats than people. She loves hiking, fishing, swimming, martial arts, camping out, photography, cooking, and dabbling with several artistic mediums. In addition, she loves to travel and visit museums, historic, and haunted places.
Layla got hooked on writing as a child, starting with poetry and then branching out, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters and all the other folks that she’s met and fallen in love with over the years. Sometimes she writes urban romance and sometimes its aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, or wandering somewhere outdoors, she can often be found curled up with a good book and a kitty on her lap.
By day, Elise draws and paints, spilling out the horrific visions of her tortured mind. By night, she walks the streets, selling her body to the highest bidder.
And then they come into her life: a trio of impossibly beautiful vampires: Terence, Maria, and Edward. When they encounter Elise, they set an explosive triangle in motion
Terence wants to drain her blood. Maria wants Elise . . . as lover and partner through eternity. And Edward, the most recently converted, wants to prevent her from making the same mistake he made as a young abstract expressionist artist in 1950s Greenwich Village: sacrificing his artistic vision for immortal life. He is the only one of them still human enough to realize what an unholy trade this is.
Immortal Things will grip you in a vise of suspense that won’t let go until the very last moment…when a shocking turn of events changes everything and demonstrates—truly—what love and sacrifice are all about.
No one can hear the screams, the cries for mercy, and the shrieks of agony. It is as though the house is alive and it clamps down in reaction to the turmoil going on inside. One would never guess from its calm exterior that blood drips from its walls and those unlucky enough to enter have a good chance never to emerge again.
This house appears to be empty. Dignified. Crumbling testimony to the wealth that once existed on Chicago’s Far North Side. It sits like a boulder on a corner, empty-eye-socket windows facing Sheridan Road and beyond it, the expanse of Lake Michigan. The lake is dark now; white-tipped waves crash against the shoreline, breaking at the boulders, a crescent moon bisected and wobbling on its black and churning waters. The house has borne witness to these waters, moody and changeable, always fickle, for more than a hundred years.
The house is fashioned from white brick, yellowed and dirty. Nothing grows in the yard, save for a few straggling weeds that refuse to give in to the barren soil.
The house is dead.
And so are its inhabitants.
The dead are inside and reveal a surprising likeness to living creatures. They can move and speak just like the rest of us. They have wants and needs. They go about fulfilling these wants and needs with the same kind of intensity and purpose as the rest of the world. One could even say they have jobs, even if their occupations would be deemed illegal and certainly immoral by almost everyone.
But look beyond these superficial similarities and you’ll feel chilled. Touch their flesh and it’s cold. Lay your head at their breasts and hear…nothing. Look into their eyes and find yourself reflected back in a black void that you just know, if you linger too long in its embrace, you’ll be sucked in and it will be all over for you. Grab one of their cold wrists and feel stone, marble to be exact.
There is no pulse.
But tonight, they are a merry band of three. Like the living, they are filled with anticipation. An evening out awaits them. They will, like so many others getting ready for a night on the town, meet others, exchange knowing glances and a mating dance of words. They will sup, but not on the gourmet offerings of the city.
Most houses borne of this period contain many rooms, perhaps more than necessary. Whoever designed this house had the presence of mind to create wide-open spaces, breathing room. Enter the double front doors and you come directly into the living room. Or is it a drawing room? A great room? No matter. What you do not enter is a vestibule or a foyer as other houses of this period would contain. The walls are parchment colored, but right now, that color is indiscernible to the human eye, lit as they are by dozens of flickering candles. Water stains mar the walls and give to them a trompe l’oeil elegance, a look of almost deliberate aging. The floors are dark, their hardwood planks, tongue and groove, blackened by the lack of light and dust accumulated over many years. Along one wall is a fieldstone fireplace, its mantel tall as a man, its hearth cold and empty.
There is no furniture in this huge room. No chairs. No tables. No bookcases or desks. No divans or chaise lounges.
What does occupy the room, other than these three lifeless, yet curiously beautiful souls, is art. Paintings of every period lean against the wall and hang from their crumbling surfaces. Here is one after the style of Rubens, there another that looks pre-Raphaelite, here a Picasso…Jackson Pollock…Monet…Keith Haring…Willem de Kooning…Mark Rothko…Barnett Newman…plus the works of a legion of unknown artists, in every style and medium imaginable. The walls are crowded with it. The room is a gallery assembled by someone with vast resources, but tastes that go beyond eclectic. The only common theme running through these works is that all are unique. There is a respect for form, for color, for technique. Most of all, there is a certain indefinable quality that manages to capture the human spirit in its delicacy, in its discontent, in its hunger.
Perhaps it’s the hunger that appeals to them.
And the floor is a cocktail party of human sculptures. Men and women carved from marble, granite, and alabaster, cast in bronze. There are later figures cast from polymers, smooth acrylic, welded metals.
It is eerie—this empty house that has become museum or mausoleum.
But art is what the dead crave. It sustains them—that and something else—something warmer and more vibrant, but they are too genteel to admit to such hungers. Like animals, they simply feed when they are hungry and discuss it as little as possible.
The walls also contain long leaded-glass windows, through which, appropriately enough, a full moon sends its pale rays, distorted and laying upon the darkened wood like silver. The leaded glass has become opaque, obscured by layers of dust, grime, and accumulated smoke.
And we can see the creatures now, gathering. Listen: and hear nothing save for the creaking of ancient floorboards.
First, let us consider Terence, broad shoulders cloaked in a pewter, latex zippered vest open just enough to display the cleft between smooth and defined pecs, tight leather jeans, and biker boots. Blond hair frames his face in leonine splendor: thick, straight, and shining, it flows to just below his shoulders. Glint of silver on both ears, studs moving like an iridescent slug upward. Terence is the second oldest of the three. His skin, like the others, has the look and feel of alabaster. Dark eyes burn from within this whiteness and present a startling contrast. Terence is a study in symmetry: his wide-set eyes match each other perfectly, his aquiline nose bisects dramatic cheekbones, and his full lips speak volumes about sensuality and lust. Stare into Terence’s eyes and gain a glimpse—quick, like a jump cut in a movie—of cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and the grime and elegance that was London in the late 1800s. Shake your head and the image disperses and you are left thinking it’s only your imagination conjuring up these images. After all, what does this post-punk Adonis have to do with the British Empire in the time of Oscar Wilde? Besides, Terence’s smile will have you thinking only of the present. And the present is what Terence lives for—the pleasure he can find, the communion of flesh and blood, seemingly so religious and yet sent from hell. He throws back his head and does a runway model turn, for the benefit of his companion, Edward, who rolls his eyes and snickers. “Don’t look to me to be one of your adoring minions.”
Let’s shift our focus to Edward. Edward is musculature in miniature, stubbled face and a shaved pate. Leather vest, black cargo pants tucked into construction worker boots, no jewelry save for the inverted cross glinting gold between shaved and defined pecs. On his bicep, a tattooed band: marijuana leaves repeated over and over, rimmed with a thick black line. Edward’s look would be comfortable in the leather bars along Halsted Street, and he is the only one of the three who prefers the embraces of men. He is relatively young, a newcomer to this scene of death and the greedy stealing of life. Watch him carefully and you will detect a hint of uncertainty in his handsome, rugged features. Melancholy haunts his dark eyes, which, unlike Terence’s, are not symmetrical: the left is a little smaller than the right and crinkles more when he laughs, which is seldom. Curiously, though, it is Edward’s features that look most human…because it’s humanity that lacks perfection and Edward hasn’t been of this undead world long enough to adopt its slick veneer of beauty that’s too perfect to be real or wholesome. Look into Edward’s eyes and you’ll see a beatnik Greenwich Village, a more personal vision: an artist’s studio which is nothing more than a cramped room with bad light with canvases he worked on night and day, brilliant blends of color and construction for which Edward had no name, but one day would be called abstract expressionism.
Shake your head, and—as with Terence—these images disperse. There’s nothing there, save for this macho gay clone boy with eyes that still manage to sparkle, in spite of the thin veneer of sadness and remorse deep within them.
And last comes Maria, on silent cat feet, moving down the stairs. A whisper of satin, the color of coagulating blood: rust and dying roses, corseted at the waist with black leather. Black hair falls to her shoulders, straight, each strand perfect, sometimes flickering red from the candles’ luminance. Dark eyes and full crimson lips. Maria stands over six feet, and her body, even beneath the dress, is a study in strength: muscles taut, defined, like a man save for the fact that the muscles speak a hypnotic feminine language: sinew locked with flesh in elegance and grace. “Feline” would not be going too far were one to describe her. There is the same grace, the same frightening coiled-up power, perfect for the hunt, perfect for surprising and making quick work of her prey.
She pauses, turning slowly in front of the men, her men, waiting for an appraisal. And, unlike Terence, this move does not seem vain, but more her due.
The men applaud softly and Maria stops, dark eyes boring into theirs. They do not see the watery streets of Venice, but you would, if you dared to engage her gaze for long. Dark canals and mossy mildew-stained walls, crumbling stairs at which black water laps, an open window through which one hears an aria. Smell the mildew and the damp.
The three take seats on the dusty floor, bring out mind-altering paraphernalia.
Terence, first: “Whom will we lure tonight?”
And Edward, eyes cast downward, the candle flames reflected off his bald and shining pate, sighs.
It is Maria who touches him, her hand a whisper, but with the tightness of a claw against his shoulder, forcing him to look up into her eyes. “I know it’s hard. But eventually you’ll come to understand, to be like Terence and enjoy what is natural.”
Edward laughs, but there is no mirth in it. “Natural? You call what we do natural?”
“We are God’s creatures, just like the ones we prey upon. Just as an owl preys upon a mouse. We have needs and we do what we must to satisfy them—or else we die.”
“We’re already dead,” Edward says.
Maria picks up a glass cylinder and looks at it critically for a moment. “Legend looks at us that way. That much is true.” At the top of the cylinder is a small bowl, which Maria stuffs with sticky, green bud. The smell of marijuana is redolent in the air, mixing with the burning wax of the candles. “But I prefer to think of us as another species. A different kind of animal.”
Edward stares at the silver light coming in through the long leaded-glass windows. It has been more than fifty years since he first met Terence in a tiny basement bar in Greenwich Village. Fifty years since he transformed himself into this new kind of animal Maria is now trying to make him think he is, to excuse their killing, the mayhem they wreak wherever they go. The heartbreak and the bloodshed, the latter so delicious, and so damning. Will he ever become callous enough to view what they do and what they are, like Maria? Will he ever be able to look at one of their victims, convulsing before them on a grimy floor, surrendering to death, and see them as merely sustenance? He’ll never believe it.
The most curious thing about his transformation is this: time has taken on completely different dimensions.
Five decades have passed like five days. It makes eternity easier to bear, he supposes.
“If that’s what gets you through the night, Maria, fine. And as for being like Terence one day, well, that’s a hell I hope to never visit.”
His last comment elicits a snort from Terence, who seems to either find everything humorous or everything sexy. He lives for pleasure. Sometimes, Edward wishes he could be like him. Terence has no conscience. It would be easier to be so ignorant.
“Here.” Maria hands him the glass cylinder, the thing that in a head shop would be called a Steamroller, and Edward fishes in his vest pocket for a disposable lighter. He fires it up and holds it to the little ashen bowl topping the cylinder, watching as it grows orange and holding his hand over the open end of the tube. It fills with smoke. When Edward removes his hand, the blue-gray smoke rolls toward him, into his open mouth, and he longs for the oblivion he knows it will bring. He holds the smoke deep in his lungs and then exhales. It doesn’t take much of this stuff to change his mood, to make him forget, and for that, he’s grateful.
He hands the cylinder to Terence, who locks his hand over his and stares into his eyes. “You always were so beautiful,” he whispers.
“You always were such a liar.”
And the merry band of three becomes silent and a little less merry. They know the truth: Terence is a liar, and had it not been for his charm and deceptions, Edward would not be with them tonight.
No, Edward would not be with them. He would be a man in his seventies by now, either a bum or a respected abstract expressionist painter; in the movie of his life, someone short but muscular would play him; the title of this film would not be Pollock, but Tanguy. Instead, Edward was no longer an artist, no longer a human being really. No, he is now a creature who has made stealth and superhuman attunement his artistic expression. He thinks, with a dark snort, that all he draws now is blood.
Maria’s cold, satin flesh takes hold of his forearm; the slight pressure of her nails: the gentle touch of a bird of prey’s talons. Even with his own kind, Edward thinks, one can’t be too careful.
She knows he is not attuned to the night, but is depressed and resigned to the hunt. He has never fully realized the joy of taking sustenance. Maria stares into his black irises with her own pitch orbs, and smiles. She licks her lips and raises her nose to sniff. “Mmm. Can’t you smell them, Edward? The sharp, hot tang?” She closes her eyes in a kind of rapture, breathing in deeply. The smell of people wafts through the hot summer air, as much a background as the bleating horns, exhausts, and squealing brakes from the cars on Sheridan Road.
Edward allows Maria to lead him to the front door. Puncture or perish is the joke he whispered to himself.
Terence waits at the curb, his big Harley churning and revving. He grins and one can see, even from yards away, Terence’s eyes twinkling with anticipation.
Edward thinks as he descends the wide flight of stairs, Maria clutching his arm, that Terence is the luckiest of the three because he feels no remorse.
Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.
He’s pretty sure the Water Weaver wants to kill him as well.
But after two months of fighting an attraction for a man who couldn’t possibly be his mate, Lucien cracks when he’s pulled into an impulsive threesome with Calder and a sexy man they picked up in a bar.
That night was earth shattering.
And now he needs to figure out how to keep both men safe and his.
Calder doesn’t want to fight his attraction for the Fire Weaver any longer, but they can’t really be soul mates, right?
And what about Gio? The sexy man gives him such a feeling of completeness and peace.
Could one man really have two soul mates?
Can’t he just have them both?
Tangled Warriors is the fourth book in the Weavers Circle series. This MMM paranormal romance includes fast-paced action, running through Savannah, secrets, shapeshifting, kidnapping, deadly Girl Scouts, sexy times, insecurity, three crazy old ladies, soul mates, and magic!
“Shots!” Gio suddenly proclaimed. “I think we could all use a round of shots. What do you say?” He looked up at Lucien and smiled. “Join me in a round of shots. Break the ice.”
“Nothing feels icy to me,” Lucien murmured, while the fingers on Calder’s waist tightened.
He suddenly felt bad. He was intruding like an annoying little brother. Yes, his intention had been to stop Lucien from hitting on this guy, but now that he was standing there, he felt how wrong it was. What Lucien did and who he slept with was none of his business. He was supposed to be working on getting rid of the bad blood between him and Lucien, not making matters worse.
“None for me,” Calder said softly. “I’ll grab the drinks and get out of your way.”
Gio surprised him by cupping the side of his face with a warm calloused hand. “Oh no, sweetness. We don’t want you going anywhere. You’ve got to stay.” Gio looked over Calder’s shoulder at Lucien. “We want him to stay, right?”
Calder tensed, waiting for the rejection, but Lucien shocked him even more by pulling him in tighter so that he could feel Lucien’s groin against the small of his back. Those long fingers slipped down from his waist to caress his hip bone, sending the most delicious tingles all over his body. “Stay. Have a shot with us,” Lucian pressed. His voice was warm and so very tempting. Calder couldn’t remember ever hearing Lucien talk to him like that. He wanted to live in that voice. Just curl up in it like a warm, handmade quilt.
Releasing him, Gio turned to the bartender as she delivered Lucien’s and Calder’s mix of drinks and ordered a round of shots. Calder didn’t hear what he’d ordered exactly because Gio had also slotted himself better against Calder, causing his brain to short out. He was now in the one place he’d never thought he’d be—a Gio-Lucien sammich. Even with all their clothes on, it was now his favorite kind of sandwich. He would happily eat it every day for the rest of his life.
Calder was too tongue-tied to manage words. He nodded. At least he thought he nodded. He must have done something, because Gio’s smile grew wider. A second hand landed on his hip right where Lucien’s
The shots arrived, and Gio slid one over to Lucien before physically placing one in Calder’s hand as if he knew that his brain wasn’t in control of his body any longer. He watched as Gio clicked his shot glass on Lucien’s and then Calder’s. Tipping his head back, he sent the amber liquid down his long, sexy throat. Calder did the same without a thought. The burn was enough to wake him out of his stupor.
Sucking in a harsh breath, he coughed several times while slamming his shot glass on the bar. Gio grabbed his hand again and shoved a drink into it. Without thinking, Calder sipped it, relieved that it was his gin and tonic. The addition of more alcohol to his system probably wasn’t the smartest, but at least it had gotten rid of his coughing.
When he could breathe, he took a deep drink and set the glass on the bar to find Gio smiling at him while Lucien’s hand continued to dig possessively into his hip.
You okay?” Lucien inquired. For once, the question didn’t sound spiteful or mean. There was genuine concern in his tone.
Calder managed a small nod and Gio laughed.
Of course he’s okay. What are you drinking, sweetness?” Before Calder could answer, Gio leaned in and licked his bottom lip, sucking it into his mouth for a second, then releasing it with a wet pop. “Mmm…gin and tonic. Not bad.”
Calder barely heard the words. It was just a rush of blood past his ears as it raced to his steadily hardening dick.
As Gio moved away, he reached past Calder and pulled Lucien close. “And what are you drinking?” Calder watched as Gio licked his way into Lucien’s slack, welcoming mouth. He didn’t know what turned him on more—actually kissing Gio or watching Gio kiss Lucien. It defied all logic, but it was clear that his libido had zero interest in logic. He only wanted to know all the wonderful things Gio could do with his mouth.
Gio released Lucien and licked his own lips slowly. His dark eyes had turned black as his pupils dilated with desire. “I can tell this is going to be a fun night already. I suggest we head to my place so we can get more comfortable and less likely to be arrested.”
Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.
Kane Cambridge is a descendent of the secret royal family of the United States. She is the American Princess.
Kane Cambridge does not lead a fairy-tale life. She works in an office, her boyfriend just broke up with her and her future looks mundane and unexceptional. Where is the rom-com ending that she’s watched in a hundred different movies?
Kane is visited by a mysterious benefactor who reveals that he is the grandfather she never knew. He arrives with a lesson in American history. The original framers of the Constitution wrote a clause that created a ceremonial position for American royalty. Kane’s ancestor was a secret queen of the United States, and now Kane is the American Princess.
American Royalty is the story of an average woman who discovers her own independence and grows to accept her position as a princess. Among her potential suitors are a sexy sultan, a prominent British prince and a brave commoner who is her soldier in shining armor. Will she choose the traditional path or make her crown an American version—all rock ’n’ roll and a little risqué?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of public sex and exhibitionism, mentions of physical abuse and cheaing in a relationship, and mentions of a F/F sexual interaction.
“What’s your pleasure, Princess?”
“The name isn’t Princess. It’s Kane. And I’m good, thanks.”
Kane Liberty took another sip of her Long Island Iced Tea and sighed. The last place she wanted to be was out in public. The last place she ought to be was home alone. So here she was at a bar, trying to beat her feelings back with a club—a bustling club with bangin’ beats. The lively dance music was the opposite of her gloomy mood.
She looked sideways at the stranger a couple of seats beside her at the bar, a mountain of a man not so easily dismissed. He loomed next to her, about six foot six, a mass of muscle and masculinity. His skin was the color of her Long Island Iced Tea, warm and pleasant. The stranger possessed a sort of human gravity that was hard to ignore.
“Let me get you something,” he tried again.
“I’ve already have enough,” Kane said.
Despite looking like the kind of man who didn’t give up easily, he didn’t bother Kane again.
That was good. Kane wasn’t at the bar to meet a man. She was there to forget one. His name was Dilly. Dillon Durfee. He was supposed to be The One. They had been together for three years. Kane had been waiting for him to give her a ring. Instead, he had packed one bag and given her his key to the apartment they’d shared—then he was gone. He had disappeared before Kane had even realized it wasn’t just some cruel practical joke.
That had been on Monday. This was Friday. Kane was still a wreck. Work had distracted her for the last few days, but the weekend had arrived and she faced two free days without a boyfriend for the first time in years. Kane had texted her girlfriends after work and Lani and Sora had promised they would meet her…at seven. It was only six-thirty and Kane had her first drink already half gone.
She looked around the bar, avoiding eye contact with the stranger who had offered to buy her a drink so as not to encourage further flirtation. Kane might be browsing, but she wasn’t ready to buy. She was a long way from even taking something off the shelf. It had been quite some time since she’d even bothered to look at the selection. Like going to the grocery store when you were already full, Kane had only given a perfunctory glance at the men available in places like this while she’d been dating Dillon. Now that she was free, she looked harder at the merchandise than she had in the last three years.
Men had changed while Kane had been off the market. They looked softer, more scared, less aggressive than the boys who had always hit on her before—before Dilly. Boys at the bar in designer jeans and too-tight T-shirts sported look-but-don’t-touch smirks. Middle-aged men moped like pets trained to beg for treats and know their place. The gaze of old geezers skittered across the floor and ceiling, as if they only had interest in shoes and scalps.
With the exception of the beefy bull beside her, no one had tried to even make eye contact since she’d walked in. The new rules in society likely made for a more cautious climate in the dating scene. Disrespectful interactions were no longer tolerated, and maybe this put guys on the defensive. The modern dating pool felt like swimming with hungry sharks that were all afraid to bite. She wasn’t ready to get nibbled yet, anyway.
“So what happened?” Kane asked the big man beside her.
Her Long Island Iced Tea was almost gone, and the alcohol made her bolder than she’d been in a long time.
“What happened to what?”
“There are plenty of men all around us.” The big guy had a sexy British accent. Kane wasn’t in the mood for sexy…or foreign. She missed humdrum and familiar.
“These aren’t men,” Kane complained.
The big Brit shrugged.
Butterflies flitted about in Kane’s stomach, a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Over the course of the last three years, Kane had become chill. Complacent. Content. She’d believed Dillon was her one and only. She hadn’t expected to ever have to start again. Kane had been relieved that she was done with first encounters—first dates, first kisses, first fucks. Kane thought she was closer to endless instances of ‘only’ with Dillon—her only wedding, her only family home, her only child. Now she couldn’t stop thinking about her lasts—the last kiss, the last time they’d made love, the last fight, the last words Dilly had said to her.
Kane took another drink until the glass was empty.
Even the bars had changed. They weren’t as loud, as if meaningful conversation had replaced bass-beat flirtation. The place was bright and clean instead of smelly and dirty. Screens were everywhere—twenty TVs playing sports on every wall, phones in hands like candles flickering all across the room, terminals advertising games for money at every table. LED lights ran along the underside of the bar, trimmed windows and doorways, glowed under the floor and illuminated the deejay stand. There wasn’t a shadow to hide in in any corner at all. Mirrors covered the rest of the surfaces, either reflecting everyone’s sin or a reflection of this modern generation’s endless vanity.
“You started without us,” Lani scolded as she approached the bar while Kane sipped her second drink.
“She needed a head start,” Sora said, waiting back as Lani ordered from the bartender. “This girl needs to get numb.”
“What’re you having?” Lani asked Kane.
“This is already my second tea. Maybe I shouldn’t have another.”
“Maybe you should grow a set of balls,” Lani said. “I’m getting you a fucking drink.”
“Whatever you’re having,” Kane conceded.
“In that case, you might be in for a threesome with that hot-ass deejay.”
Lani had been married since they were kids and was always too much talk about a whole lot of action.
The bartender brought two shots of something bright and pink, like liquid candy.
Lani took the empty stool beside Kane and put her arm over Kane’s shoulder, giving her a side hug. The three girls had known each other since elementary school and Kane laid her head on Lani’s bare shoulder. Lani had three kids and patted Kane on her temple like she was a toddler with sniffles instead of a grown-ass woman with a broken heart.
Lelani ‘Lani’ Travers was blonde and busty, with double-barreled weapons that could get her a free drink in any bar in America. Her curves should come with road signs to warn eager eyes of the dangers of each turn. She wore makeup as a mask and a costume as colorful as Supergirl, like some kind of superhero of sex with boots more appropriate for a prostitute than Powerwoman.
Sora Chan took the stool on the other side of Lani. Sora was half as wide, twice as terse and doubly dressed, every inch of her covered from chin to toe. She wore glasses to make her look smarter, which would put her in the company of Einstein or Faraday. Kane wasn’t sure if Sora had come right from work or if dressing in a pantsuit and putting her hair in a bun was her idea of ‘loosening up’.
Back in high school, Missouri Lewis had nicknamed the three of them ‘Neapolitan’ because Kane’s skin was medium mocha, Lani was white—or orange if she had recently spray-tanned—and Sora was all Asian. None of them were quite sure how Sora equaled pink instead of butterscotch. Lani had explained politely to Missouri that Neapolitan “is chocolate, vanilla and fucking strawberry. I’m not sure what kind of shitty ice cream you were eating.” Still, the name stuck. Sometimes they would still share a serving of Neapolitan as dessert and laugh about it. Kane preferred the strawberry.
“You can do better than Dillon Durfee,” Sora said.
Sora had said that for the last three years. Maybe she was right. Kane hated him right now, and yet she still loved him so much. He’d been Dillon, her Dilly, for so long now. He’d been her everything, and now there was nothing. He might not have been movie-star material, but Dilly had been her heart. Now he’d broken free, leaving it in shambles. And Kane didn’t want to hear that she could do better. It was like when people offered condolences when they discovered Kane was an orphan. Many would offer empty expressions about her deceased parents, like “They’re in a better place.” or “God must have wanted more angels.” None of those words had helped the fact that her parents weren’t there.
Kane grabbed the pink drink and took the shot in one big gulp.
“You look dressed to slay, sweetheart,” Lani said.
Kane had stopped by their apartment—her apartment—and put on her shortest red dress and highest spiked heels. She’d puffed her head of black curls out into a nimbus cloud that floated around her face, like a thunderhead preceding the storm. She wore the bracelet Dillon had given her for her birthday and the necklace she had gotten for a Christmas gift, but Kane had left behind the promise ring that didn’t mean anything anymore. Maybe she had inadvertently lured the British man who had tried to buy her a drink. Her bare hands hadn’t indicated an affiliation.
“Would you rather I had on a sweatshirt and yoga pants?” Kane asked.
“I so would not,” Lani said. “You and me, we could snag any guy in this place.”
“I’m sure your husband would love to hear that, La.”
“Do you think Chase would rather have a wife who couldn’t attract anyone?” Lani asked.
“Not couldn’t. Maybe wouldn’t.”
“Kane’s not ready to start all over with another relationship so soon, Lani,” Sora warned.
“Who said anything about a relationship? She just needs to find a hunk of man who can take her mind off that creep who dumped her, even if only for one night.” Lani gave Kane a big wink.
Kane looked back over her shoulder for the big guy who had offered her a drink, but he was gone. She didn’t want to start anything with anyone, anyway—not even something as meaningless as casual sex. She just wanted to drink a little and wallow in some dance club depression here among her girlfriends.
“How are the kids, La?” Kane asked, already tired of talking about Dillon and her damage.
“Nonexistent,” Lani said. “Don’t try to change the damn subject. We’re here for you, Kane. This night is all about forgetting the past. No crazy kids. No bad relationships. No miserable yesterdays. Just right now.”
Kane wasn’t sure if Lani had said that for Kane’s benefit or for her own. Lani wore a top cut dangerously low, as if the twins might spill out if she made any sudden movements. Her exposed midriff was flat and impressive for a mother of three. Daily yoga with her personal instructor paid off. Lani’s jeans looked as tight as a pair of spandex, showing off every bulge and crevice. Lani might be thirty, but she could pass for a coed.
Asian and elegant, Sora had short hair chopped right below her ears, straight and black. Her pants were a dark navy color, pressed and perfect. She had sensible shoes that would be comfortable even after an entire day on her feet. CEO of her own business, Sora always looked like the adult in the room.
“So, what happened?” Kane asked, looking around at the men who were just looking back. It felt like a junior high prom where everyone was afraid to ask each other to dance. “The last time we went out on the town without any boys in our group, we got hit on by every guy in the club.”
“That was when we were on the other side of thirty,” Sora said.
“Hey,” Lani snapped. “Who said anyone was over thirty?”
“Well, you graduated the same year I did,” Sora replied.
“Keep it down when you’re spreading your version of the truth, Sora,” Lani hissed, looking around. She preferred that everyone believe she was ten years younger. Lani dressed like she was on a collegiate soccer team instead of as a soccer mom. Lani’s outfit was tighter than the sports bra Kane wore for Tuesday night cardio.
“The last time we went out without any of the boys was the night I met Dillon,” Kane said.
“He’s such a dee-bag,” Lani said.
“Not now, La,” Kane sighed. “I’m not ready to be angry.”
“You aren’t pissed that he gets to be a heartless son of a bitch while your heart is just broken?”
Sora flashed a warning look at Lani and Kane picked up on it. There was something Kane didn’t know—something about Dilly, something that her girlfriends didn’t think Kane was ready to learn. There was more to the story. But wasn’t there always? And didn’t it bring more hurt with it, every time?
“Love is like my beer,” Lani said, holding up a bottle freshly delivered by the bartender. “All fizzy and fun and cool at the beginning. But by the end, it gets as flat and warm as a puddle of piss.”
“You should write for Hallmark,” Sora said dryly.
Kane didn’t ask what Lani had been talking about before Sora shut her down. She wasn’t drunk enough for more truth…more hurt. She wasn’t drunk enough to ask what Lani had hinted around.
Alessandro and Maximus Luceres are a united force and dangerous wolves to cross. Members of the powerful House of Luceres, they have spent their lifetimes searching the world over for the Lupus Sanguis Chalice, the fabled wolf blood chalice reputed to save the life of a human bitten by a werewolf during the first full moon.
But never in all their travels did the twins expect to find their possible Forever Mate, much less discover the beautiful Trinity Wells to be in league with their sworn enemies, the nefarious House of Ribelle, who are seeking the precious chalice by any means necessary and want Trinity to mate with one of their own.
Shockingly, Trinity is bitten by a Nomad wolf, starting the clock ticking down to her possibly fatal transformation and making the discovery of the chalice all that more vital.
Will Trinity survive the change…and unite the pair of brothers rivaling to be her Forever Mates?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and bloodshed. There are fated mates, an allusion to dubious consent, and mentions of inadequate parenting.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”
Maximus vibrated with excessive energy, droning out the minister. Standing there like a stuffed turkey in his dove-gray morning coat and tails, waiting for his brother and mate to conclude the official ceremony, all he could think was sign the damn contract already. The sooner he got out of this godawful monkey suit and had an extended run in the clear, crisp desert air, the better.
He stretched his neck under the stiff white collar. There wasn’t much call for such attire in the sacred halls of a dusty library, researching ancient writings, seeking clues to the whereabouts of sacred objects, in particular the House of Luceres’ holiest of grails, the Lupus Sanguis Chalice. Just thinking of laying his hands on the priceless item made his pulse quicken.
Lives spent in the higher halls of learning was a calling he and his twin Alessandro were well suited to. He didn’t want the unenviable job of being CEO of a string of worldwide casinos, like the ones his soon-to-be married brother reigned over, though he admired how his sibling managed the position with such style and grace.
But even Cristaldo had to release his wolf on occasion, to manage his beast effectively. Maximus hid a grin at the reminder of how off-the-rails his alpha sibling had become when he’d first met up with the lovely, all-too-human Everly. He’d nearly lost it, according to their brother Lucius—Cristaldo’s twin—who took great glee in reminding everyone of the fact.
“And do you, Everly Joy Affini, take this man, Cristaldo Maximus Luceres, to be your lawfully wedded husband, until you are reborn?”
The words sounded so final, albeit quite accurate, and were accompanied by a few notes of surprise from amongst the human wedding guests. They’d have been even more shocked if they understood what it truly meant—that once mated werewolves died after finding their Forever Mate, they reincarnated and came back and searched until they found each other. All they needed was a plan to meet up again, although the fragrance of their mate and the call of lust it created seemed to be sufficient in most cases. It was a fascinating world to be part of, one that would shock human sensibilities to their foundations. Reason why we have to live in secret among them. Pack rule number one.
“And do you, Cristaldo Maximus Luceres, take this woman, Everly Joy Affini, to be your lawfully wedded wife, until you are both reborn?”
His brother raised his mate’s veil and the look of adoration and love so clear in his eyes made Maximus glance away. Sly, sitting in the first row of pews as acting majordomo of the House of Luceres, let out a loud sob, his kindly face creased with contentment as he pressed a snowy-white handkerchief to his mouth.
A sense of need and envy stirred deep inside Maximus, its rawness taking him by surprise. What is this? He ran a finger between his shirt collar and his neck in an effort to loosen it. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to remain still and see the final part of the ceremony to its expected conclusion. His twin Alessandro stirred at his side, apparently needing a deep breath of his own. The church was too hot and too stifling by half.
He held on, encouraged by a vision in his mind’s eye of the pair of them racing across the desert floor, the crescent moon overhead lighting the way. He couldn’t even begin to think of him and Alessandro finding their Forever Mate, though she haunted their dreams on occasion. The one who will love us both. Does she even exist?
His mind revisited an intoxicating scent he’d experienced for a couple of brief seconds a few months back while visiting their holdings in Milan. Who was that female? The fragrance had vanished before he could track her, an annoyance that still plagued him.
“You may now kiss your bride.” The gleam in the minister’s eyes expressed his understanding of who they were and the importance of the pair he was joining together for all eternity. Of course—he was their father, Cesare, home with their mother, Sophia, from traveling abroad. Their entire extended community was in attendance, from all corners of the globe. More than two hundred in total from their side of the family alone sat patiently, and some—mostly the male attendees—impatiently in the pews.
“I have to get out of here.”
“Soon, bro. There’s time between the ceremony and the reception for a good run.”
The clock began to tick ever louder in his head. If it were just supernatural beings present, he could have got away with leaving before the bride and groom made their way down the aisle to be greeted by well-wishers and rice. But humans were a different matter.
By the time his father had finished his blessing of the newly married pair and the documents were signed, his entire body felt about to vanish into one of the multiverses where they became wolves…and this time not come back. Run forever free on the other side.
Not that he had caught more than a glimpse of that special dimension in his decades plus of shifting. He’d studied the phenomenon of course, understanding that in physics energy was never lost and that werewolves became altered at the quantum level due to their special DNA.
He imagined explaining that to a physics professor at the Sapienza in Rome where he and his twin were currently scholars in residence. But understanding it and preventing it were two different things. He had no more control at times than a chameleon that changed color in a new environment, especially when the full moon called.
A new energy in the air woke him from his musings. The agony was over and everyone was moving, following the newly married pair down the red carpet to the open doorway. He took a big breath of fresh air into his starved lungs outside the church doors, watching the crowd mill about, vying for their chance to speak to the happy couple.
“Let’s nab the ’copter before anyone else gets the same idea,” Maximus said, jerking off his black tie and thrusting it into his jacket pocket. Undoing a few buttons on his white shirt front, his muscles tight with the urgent need to release the pent-up strain of the past few days, he thumped his twin on the back. Alessandro stood beside him on the church steps, his expression calm. He’d always been the more patient one, from the moment of birth when he’d let his twin exit first. “Let’s go.”
Less than ten minutes later, they were buckling themselves into the seats of the helicopter. It was gassed and ready, perched like a sleek beast on the roof of the Glitter Palace casino.
Maximus took over the controls and the rush of lift from the powerful engine quickly soared them high above the desert floor. He set course for the vast desert property the pack also owned near Sin City. Not that his twin was any less proficient, but Alessandro tended to let him lead, a situation that alleviated brotherly rivalries…most of the time.
“Perhaps we’ll be next,” Alessandro mused, his expression distant when Maximus glanced over at him.
He snorted at the idea while keeping a close eye on the numerous gauges that lined the cockpit, glancing out through the side window for the landing pad. “Not likely, bro. Not many women want two men in their bed. At least, not many that will admit it. Besides, she’ll like me best once I show her my considerable assets.” He added a wolfish grin for good measure, wanting to ensure his twin didn’t experience the slump that the festivities tended to bring to unmated pack members.
“It’s not what you have, bro, it’s knowing how to use it. And it’s not all about the cock. Your tongue can be mightier. And my talent in that direction is legendary.”
The reply surprised him. This mate they spoke of was a fantasy, and yet here was his brother testing him.
“When she takes my knot, it’ll be all over but the fat lady singing.”
Alessandro remained quiet while Maximus set down the whirlybird on the pad and killed the motor. Unbuckling his harness, Maximus reminded them why they were there. “Mate or no mate, time to hunt.”
“Oh yeah, you’re on.”
They both jumped to the ground and began shedding their clothing as if they were on fire. When Alessandro was naked, his warrior body revealed in all its glory in the moonlight, from his wide chest to his muscled abs to his strong thighs, Maximus knew he was seeing a mirror image of himself. A very satisfying image. They also had in common thick dark hair that refused to be tamed and cocks that wouldn’t quit.
But now was the time to be free. Anticipation took over and he embraced the change. In seconds, he was through the portal that glinted with sparks of light when he entered it, every cell of his body shifting to a new form, before he was thrown back through again.
Changed. To a wolf.
He stretched and blinked, his keen senses honed to a deadly sharpness. He lifted his muzzle to catch the faint breeze, testing, hungry for distraction. The arid landscape was enhanced with his new vision, mutated to an array of shades unknown to the human eye. Subtle hues of blacks, browns and grays. Movements of tiny creatures caught his attention before he caught the scent of a big horn sheep.
He led the chase, his big paws closing the distance in leaps and bounds. It was good to be wolf. So good that he allowed himself the luxury of a resounding howl of wolf song, meant to tighten the senses of all creatures of the desert.
“You’ll frighten our prey away.”
He didn’t like the reminder. Sure, he was spontaneous at times, but it beat taking too long to make a decision—one of Alessandro’s characteristics that could bite them in the ass one day if he hesitated at the wrong moment.
“There will be lots of others, bro. Stand down.”
He used his powerful body to give his sibling a solid nudge on the upper shoulder. Alessandro hit back, harder than he had.
“Bring it on.” Sibling rivalry helped keep them in top physical form and he was more than ready for the challenge.
Their hard bodies twisted and slammed together with a loud resounding thud, both of them hitting the hard-packed sand as one snarling, swirling mass of limbs and fur. He fought hard, looking for an opening. All he needed was a slight pause in the action where he could take his brother down. Make him submit. Seconds ticked by as each sought the advantage, strutting and sending out telepathic taunts.
“I have the bigger knot.”
“I have the most talented tongue.”
The wrestling match, fueled by the week’s limiting formal events, continued unabated for far longer than usual. Neither of them could win without doing the other harm. And that was not the point. But still they fought, past the time they should have stopped. The lust for a mate. That was at the base of this primal drive. Maximus sensed this even as he couldn’t stop himself from asserting his alpha pride over his brother’s.
His flanks shuddering with exhaustion, he locked his jaws onto the back of Alessandro’s neck to get him under control.
A long loud growl of warning caused him to break his hold in an instant. He tensed and peered into the darkness, legs bracing for combat with the intruder. Alessandro stood at his side, prepared as well to rise to the challenge. Over there, near a Joshua tree, a gleam of bright blue pin points—a third wolf. And behind him, other dark shadows appeared, eyes shining in the darkness, a solid line of danger.
January Bain has wished on every falling star, every blown-out birthday candle and every coin thrown in a fountain to be a storyteller. To share the tales of high adventure, mysteries, and full-blown thrillers she has dreamed of all her life. The story you now have in your hands is the compilation of a lot of things manifesting itself for this special series. Hundreds of hours spent researching the unusual and the mundane have come together to create a series that features strong women who don’t take life too seriously, wild adventures full of twists and unforeseen turns, and hot complicated men who aren’t afraid to take risks. She can only hope the stories of her beloved Brass Ringers will capture your imagination as much as they did hers when she wrote them.
If you are looking for January Bain, you can find her hard at work every morning without fail in her office with two furry babies trying to prove who does a better job of guarding the doorway. And, of course, she’s married to the most romantic man! Who once famously replied to her inquiry about buying fresh flowers for their home every week, “Give me one good reason why not?” Leaving her speechless and knocking her head against the proverbial wall for being so darn foolish. She loves flowers.
If you wish to connect in the virtual world, she is easily found on Facebook, Twitter and writes a weekly blog about her journey on Blogger. Oh, and she loves to talk books…
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Titus Eisenhower loves his job as an elementary school teacher in a small Texas town. Sure, he has to be careful, but not being out is fine with him since he’s not interested in dating another man after his last relationship went so badly. But now he’s got the career he’s always wanted, a safe place to be and friends. Isn’t that everything he’s dreamed of?
But when he meets a man he can’t resist, Titus realizes he’s stifled a part of himself…and a part of his dream. He can’t trust another man ever again, but he can manage a little summer fling, right? Wrong—everything about the mysterious Draven calls to him, and the two share a connection Titus has never dreamed of.
That’s already mind-blowing, but learning the truth about Draven is world-shattering. With evil threatening, and old enemies closing in, Titus will have to believe in things he didn’t know were possible if he and Draven are to stand a chance…
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of fighting, reference to murder and abusive relationships and arson.
Publisher’s Note: This book was previously published as Across the Tides. It has been revised and reedited for publication with Pride Publishing.
“Come on, kids, let’s see if we can find any shells!” Titus Eisenhower nodded to the parent volunteers forming a human wall between the Pre-K children and the ocean, keeping the kids from getting in past their ankles. The annual field trip to the beach was one of the highlights of the school year for the kids and teachers alike.
Seeing the children’s faces lit up with joy, hearing their shrieks of—mostly—laughter, watching them run and splash in the bit of water they could reach…it made his heart swell every single time he got to take part in this trip, and this was his fifth with one of his classes.
The other teachers were at his sides, vigilant, but when it came to children and water, all parents, all adults, needed to be watching the whole group.
This year’s parents were great. He’d only had one pissed-off dad who had refused to let his child go since he couldn’t just hang out with his kid. Other than that, there’d been plenty of parent volunteers, and, wonder of wonders, they got on well, too. Last year, two of the dads had gotten into a fist fight over some perceived insult. That had been a disaster.
“God, I bet we don’t ever get such a great group of parents again,” said Stacy Evans, his best friend and colleague. She’d been hired the same year he had, and they’d become fast friends. Stacy’s bright-orange hair was all over the place as the beach breeze whipped it about. She shoved uselessly at several flapping strands. “Why, oh why don’t hair ties work for me?”
“Honey, that hair can’t be tamed any more than you can,” quipped Michelle Ochoa. She was older than Titus and Stacy, but not by too many years. “You’re as wild and powerful as the wind.”
Michelle was also Stacy’s girlfriend, though no one but Titus knew that.
Stacy laughed. “Whatever. When I’m blinded by my own hair, then what’ll I do?”
“Mr. Eisenhowew, I finded a shell!” Little Bobby Garza hopped in place as he waved a sandy glob in the air. “Wook!”
Titus grinned and jogged over to Bobby before squatting so he could be eye to eye with the boy. “Hey, you did! That’s awesome! Want to dip it in the next wave and see if we can get the sand off?”
“Yes!” Bobby’s delighted shriek made Titus’ ears ache, but the rest of him filled with sheer wonder and delight. He loved his job, and he loved the kids, loved seeing them grow and learn. It made him less cynical every time he saw the world shine in a child’s eyes.
“Then let’s do it.”
Titus got the other kids to show their treasures. A couple were upset that they didn’t find good shells, but, overall, everything was going surprisingly well.
After they’d got the kids lined up—and allowed the parent volunteers to take their kids home in their own vehicles, rather than making them ride the buses—Titus took a moment to look back at the ocean. The waves were slight, which was normal for this area of the coast. It was only one-thirty in the afternoon, so the sun was high and bright, the reflection on the water exquisite in its beauty.
“Just think…next weekend, we’re going to be here in our own beachfront condo, partying—or relaxing, more likely—for a whole seven days,” Stacy said, her soft voice breaking into Titus’ quiet appreciation of the view.
Not that he minded. He grinned at Stacy. “You and me and some margaritas,” he promised.
Stacy nodded. “Darn right. I’m so looking forward to it.”
“Me, too.” Titus and Stacy had started their beach tradition their first year at the school. Michelle and Stacy hadn’t been dating then. They’d fallen for each other a little over two years ago, but Michelle didn’t come to the beach vacations. She had prior commitments with her family in Michigan that took her away.
Titus privately thought Michelle didn’t want to intrude, and he had mixed feelings about that. He didn’t want to be a third wheel, but he hated to think Stacy might regret Michelle not being there.
“Stop brooding,” Stacy said, poking his arm. “You’re going to get wrinkles all over your forehead and around your eyes before you hit thirty if you keep doing that.”
“I wasn’t brooding,” Titus protested, immediately trying to smooth out his features.
“Yeah? Then what were you frowning at?” Stacy asked.
“Y’all need to hurry up—we have to get on the road,” Michelle called out to them.
“Oops, we’re holding everyone up.” Titus grinned, relieved at being saved from having to answer Stacy’s question.
“I’ll keep bugging you until you answer me,” Stacy promised as they rushed to the buses.
Titus could have protested, but he knew better. Besides, all he had to do was tell Stacy the truth—he didn’t want her to feel like Michelle wasn’t welcome.
But he’d keep the other truth to himself—that he was lonely, and when he’d looked out over the water, that sense of loneliness had permeated his happiness, and now, melancholy lingered in the place where joy had been. Yes, I’ll definitely keep that secret.
A native Texan, Bailey spends her days spinning stories around in her head, which has contributed to more than one incident of tripping over her own feet. Evenings are reserved for pounding away at the keyboard, as are early morning hours. Sleep? Doesn’t happen much. Writing is too much fun, and there are too many characters bouncing about, tapping on Bailey’s brain demanding to be let out.
Caffeine and chocolate are permanent fixtures in Bailey’s office and are never far from hand at any given time. Removing either of those necessities from Bailey’s presence can result in what is known as A Very, Very Scary Bailey and is not advised under any circumstances.
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Melissa’s world was shaken when her three children were taken by Child Services. A few suburbs away, a couple were excitedly preparing to become foster parents. Zara and Renee have been busily preparing their home and their lives to become mothers. Despite their preparation, their world is shaken by the arrival of their children. Their first placement, three siblings needing a loving home turn the couple into an instant family. But while the couple are rejoicing their new roles, Melissa is spiralling into depression she fears she’ll never get out of.
As Zara learns more about the children’s background, she is touched by Melissa’s story. In contrast, Renee has grown to become a fiercely protective stay-at-home-mother determined to do everything for the children, with no regard to their birth mother. As Zara’s motivations for foster care shift, the couple find themselves battling with questions such as “Why are we doing this?”, “What is the right thing to do?” and whether their relationship is as secure as they first expected. Could the very thing they thought might bring them even closer together actually tear them apart?
Narrated by three voices—the birth mother, Melissa, and the two foster carers, Renee and Zara, Shaken Worlds is a novel about what it means to be a mother and the way three women view their role for the same three children.
I was hit with the memory as soon as I woke up. I instantly felt sick. I needed to talk to someone, but I didn’t know who would listen and not judge. Anyone who heard my story would surely feel better than me. I was sick of people judging me – I’d just had months of it. Months of interviews, phone calls, people watching me. I was exhausted, to the bone. I listened out for my son’s wail, but it didn’t come. Perhaps I’d never hear it again. And with that realisation, the tears welled up in my eyes and soon fat teardrops were falling down my face.
“You’re a mess, Melissa,” I told myself. “It’s no wonder, no wonder at all, that they don’t think you’re a fit mother.” But then I thought about it more. “Surely, an unfit mother wouldn’t be this upset? I have a natural motherly instinct. Hell, I’m waiting for my son to cry! Unfit mothers just don’t care, do they?”
And then it hit me – today I’m listening out for my son to cry, but three months earlier, I wasn’t. Maybe I was just that kind of unfit mother. I walked to the kitchen, pissed off. Angry at the system, angry at the people, angry at the courts, but most of all, angry at myself.
The alarm clock startled me from my dreams. I couldn’t even remember what I was dreaming about, but I knew I’d rather be asleep than awake. Renee stirred beside me, and sighed, but we didn’t talk. Instead, on autopilot, I padded to the shower, thinking about my day ahead. I turned the water on to hot, middle of winter, and waited for it to heat up while I stripped. I looked at myself in the mirror, mostly happy with what I saw. A little pudgy in the middle, but you get that at 35. Or at least the girls in my family get it around their mid-thirties. I showered and then came out of the bathroom. By now Renee looked more awake. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” I pulled a pair of charcoal trousers out of my wardrobe. Grabbing a white bra and white satin blouse, I got ready for work. “What’s your day like, today?” I asked Renee, as I brushed my long, dark hair.
“Not too bad. I have a few meetings.” Renee works as an Executive Assistant to some big-wig in an accounting firm. She’s a very efficient worker. I, on the other hand, am a more ambitious, but less organised, academic.
“My day isn’t so bad either,” I was half concentrating on doing my makeup as I spoke. “I’ve got to finish writing a paper, but other than that, not too much. Maybe tonight we could go out for dinner?”
“Yeah,” Renee said, lightly slapping my bum as she walked past me on her way to the bathroom. “Good idea.” Neither of us had much motivation to cook by the end of the week, so I’d known she’d agree. I put some shoes on – my comfortable flats, being a Friday, after all—and walked out to the kitchen. Although I was hoping to get ready for work pretty quickly, I decided to brew the nice coffee pot, rather than the horrible instant stuff. And just as I got my coffee cup ready, the phone rang, interrupting my thoughts.
“Hello?” I popped my toast in the toaster.
“Hello, I’m looking for Zara or Renee.”.
“That’s me.” I then realised she wouldn’t be able to decipher which of us I was, added, “I’m Zara.”
“Hi, Zara. I’m Angela from Sydney Child Services.”
“Oh, right?” I was intrigued. Renee and I had trained to become foster carers over the past few months and finally had everything approved last week. I knew we had one form still outstanding, so I figured Angela was ringing about that. Unless…oh, I didn’t dare wonder; instead, I held my breath.
“Last night, we had three children come into care.” The toast sprung up from the toaster and I felt faint. Three children? Why was she telling me this? I wondered, not daring to dream.
“We haven’t got a placement for them, yet, they came in so late, and as you were recently approved as foster carers, we wondered whether you would be interested in the placement.”
“Three children?” I repeated. “Wow,” I laughed nervously. I heard Renee finish up in the bathroom, so I raced to the bedroom and gestured silently, trying to get her attention. I repeated myself, “three children,” emphasising three. Renee’s eyes widened.
“What?” she whispered, alarmed, and I flagged my hands to shush her, so I could hear Angela continue.
“Yes,” Angela replied. “They’re in your age group. Normally we wouldn’t have a first placement of three children, but they’re in your age group, and we do like to keep siblings together. Plus, we do have such a shortage of carers.”
“Of course.” I nodded, even though Angela couldn’t see that. I knew all that, they’d emphasised all this in our training sessions. Still, I wondered if we could handle three children. “Could you tell me more?” I asked, stalling for time.
“I haven’t met them myself, but I hear they’re quiet children. Then again, given the circumstances, it’s hard to know what to expect. A baby boy, he’s eight months old.” We’d always imagined a baby boy! “Twin girls, they’re three.”
“When would they need placement?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
“Immediately,” came the reply.
Although it wasn’t a shock, it hit me. We could be a family of five today! “I’ll discuss it with Renee and get back to you,” I said.
“Sure, Zara. As you can imagine, this is a matter of urgency. I mean…”
“Yeah, I’ll get straight back to you, in about twenty minutes.” I said, feeling the pressure.
Renee sat down and gave me a funny smile. “Give it to me,” she said, half-laughing.
“Three kids. Eight months and three.”
“That’s only two.”
I shook my head. “There’s TWO three-year-olds.”
“TWO three-year-olds? Wow, that’s hard to deal with!” We laughed.
“Boys or girls?” she asked.
“Baby boy and twin girls.”
I shrugged. “Honestly we didn’t go into that much detail. They only went into care overnight. Quiet kids, apparently.”
“Yeah, but imagine being taken from your family. Of course, you’d be quiet. Three kids?” She shook her head in disbelief.
“Too much?” I asked her, a little disappointed. “Maybe we should say no. There will be more offers, more kids.” I was worried that if we said no, we would go to the bottom of the list, but I didn’t say that.
“Looks, it’s possible. We always wanted three kids. Not all at once, but one day,” she said, clearly thinking it over. She looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights.
“This woman, Angela. She needs an answer ASAP.”
“ASAP,” Renee repeated. She shook her head. “It’s just such a leap.”
“Yeah, but it’s a leap we are ready for.”
“So you think we should do it?” she asked me.
“I don’t know. I mean, maybe it’s short term, maybe it’s long term. I didn’t even ask. But these kids are probably sitting in some office right now, scared. They need a loving home, and this is why we did this.”
“Yeah, but I haven’t even finished work yet!”
“That’s okay, Renee. I reckon I could work from home, classes are over for now. How long do you need?” Deep down, I was a little worried about staying at home with children, but I had the flexibility in my career that Renee didn’t have, and it would only be until Renee’s boss would be able to replace her.
“A month. Anthony could replace me in a month,” Renee said decisively, “but are you sure you can do this?” I nodded with certainty I didn’t entirely feel.
“So we’re doing this? I’ll stay home with the kids, then you take over. Yeah? We’re really doing this?” I was beside myself with excitement and nerves and couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“Yeah. Ring the lady back. Maybe I’ll see if Anthony can do without me today. Shit, Zara. Which room will we put the baby in?” Renee looked anxious.
“The one with the cot,” I said, laughing. I couldn’t believe she was even asking that question right now, but I kept laughing. “Who cares? Let’s just ring Angela back.”
Gemma Johns has always loved writing and wanted to write a novel since she first discovered how much she loved reading them. Her older sister told her she needed to ‘live a little’ before she wrote a novel. Years later, Gemma has now lived a lot, so finally decided to put pen to paper. Writing fiction is a part time gig for her, and she has a full time job in academia. Gemma lives in Australia with her wife and their five children.
Rare male weresnake Robbie has had his whole life decided for him down to his meals. But when the time comes for him to perform an unspeakable duty to his clan, he runs.
San Francisco Pride is in full swing when technomage Theo spots a scared-looking young man with brilliant emerald eyes. He’s only looking for a hookup, but before he knows why, he’s taking Robbie home and introducing him to champagne and enchiladas. He doesn’t have any intention of falling in love.
Robbie doesn’t want to return to his clan, at least not without trying to fit a lifetime of experiences into a week, but every day he stays puts Theo in more danger. One week of freedom leads to sexual awakening and adventure… but they’re going to need all their wits and Theo’s magic to fight for their future.
Breathe. Just breathe. Well past midnight, I sat on the edge of my bed—fully dressed. If I do this and they catch me, they might kill me. But… How can I not? I can’t stay. I can’t do what they want… Every time I thought about it, my stomach began to churn, and I felt light-headed. What other options were there?
“Come on,” I whispered, then laughed. Talking to myself? That’s what this had come to?
I stood on wobbly knees and opened my large walk-in closet. Over the last month I had been stowing things I would need in a backpack I hadn’t used since I was thirteen. An extra pair of pants, four shirts, seven pairs of underwear, seven pairs of socks, three half-full deodorants (having convinced Mrs. Matlock, our housekeeper, that I go through them quickly), and two half-tubes of toothpaste earned with the same deception that caused spikes of guilt when I thought about it. No one had noticed these things slowly going missing, or if they had, they didn’t say anything.
I stared at the backpack for a ridiculous amount of time. This is a bad idea. They’re going to kill me…
I snatched the backpack before I could think about anything else, rushed to the bathroom where I grabbed my electric razor and toothbrush and shoved them in. I slipped my e-reader from the bedside table into the front of my pack and surveyed the room. My room since I was born. My prison…
Of what few things were there, I could see no reason to take anything else. Opening the door slowly, I peeked out into the darkened hall. Shifting my eyes to my serpent’s, I double-checked the hall and sighed with relief that there were no heat signatures that would suggest anyone lurking. Except me. I was the only one who stayed in my wing unless there were guests, so the bath and two other bedrooms in the wing were usually empty.
What was I going to say if they found me? I rolled my eyes at myself. What could I say? “Yes, Mother, just out for an evening run. Oh, the backpack? Well, you know how smelly I can get, thought I’d bring a change of clothes, or seven.” I snorted at the absurdity of the situation, and then at the fact that I had been hovering in my doorway for over a minute. A little voice in my head started the mantra, “Just go, go, go.”
I nodded and hurried out the door, down the hall, down the stairs, and paused.
The house was silent. Of course it was; no one was awake at this hour.
Food. What was I going to do for food? Good thinking… I tiptoed around the corner and through the formal dining room, which led into the kitchen. Ms. Matlock retired to her cottage at 9:00 p.m. sharp every night. She did not return to the main house until 6:00 a.m. every morning, and Mother and Aunt Edna never came into the kitchen. Except after midnight when there’s someone rummaging around in there, I chastised myself and worked harder to be quiet.
I held my breath and listened again.
I grabbed three pieces of fruit from the large bowl at the end of the counter. If I take more, they’ll notice. Heck, they’ll notice I’m gone at 7:00 a.m. when I’m not down here for breakfast, so what will it matter if they notice more fruit is gone? I groaned and stuffed four more apples into my bag. The rest of the food in the house wasn’t prepared into meals, and I didn’t know how to cook. The thought came to mind of trying to teach myself how to cook one of Mrs. Matlock’s meat loaves so I could take it with me. But the smell would probably carry, and how long did it take to cook a meat loaf? What about salad? I could probably put together a salad… But how would I carry it?
I was stalling. This was stalling. I shook my head and hurried back through the dining room toward the front door and stopped. Mother’s purse. She stored it in the entryway cupboard, but today it was sitting on the counter. I stopped breathing. Taking small gasps of air, I stood still.
She was behind me. I could feel her. Her eyes boring into the back of my skull. Her breath tickling my ear.
I whipped around to find the hall empty and shuddered with relief. A visceral thing.
Gasping for breath, I bent over and rested my hands on my knees. I’m going to vomit. Deep breath. In through the nose.
Connal Braginsky is a software engineer who lives in San Diego, California. Diagnosed with high functioning autism, Connal sometimes struggles in social situations, but has an inner world that is always incredibly rich. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge about many esoteric things, Connal brings a lot of personal philosophies and interests to writing.
Sean Ian O’Meidhir is a psychologist who lives in San Francisco, California. Sean is a hedonist who believes in living for today, living every day to the fullest, and enjoying as much as possible. They have been gaming since adolescence and have written about and played hundreds of lives, revelling in the chance to take on new personalities, dramas, even disorders.
Ren finds more to life in the city that never sleeps than working at his uncle’s Shinto temple. And one of those things is trouble. Ren finds himself in hot water with a local motorcycle club, and they’re out for blood. When it seems like it can’t get any worse, a cry for help echoes inside Ren’s mind. At the other end of the call, Ren finds Devon, a powerful telepath known as an Esper. He just so happens to be under attack by the same motorcycle club that wants Ren dead. Despite the risk, Ren saves the day.
Though their connection was strong, Ren finds that there is more to Devon than meets the eye. Now, the fire that burns inside of him is yearning for release. Ren and Devon realize they have only each other with dark magic, a curse, and a murderous motorcycle club on their heels. As time ticks away, both men need to use their powers in ways they never thought they would. If not, they risk losing the connection—and love—that has grown between them.
The air chilled my skin as I raced my 1941 Indian Motorcycle through Times Square without a thought to other traffic or even law enforcement. Breaking the law exhilarated me, even in such a small way. Freedom. It felt like there were no constraints on me as I drove through my hometown with reckless abandon. A car skidded to a stop, its horn blaring as the driver yelled a stream of profanities in my direction. I smiled as I rode past. I lacked any fucks to give at the moment. The traffic could wait for me.
Living in a city that never sleeps, there was still traffic at night. Nowhere near as much as during the day, but enough that I should pay more attention. Becoming roadkill didn’t appeal to me, but the thrill of the ride was like a drug. I enjoyed the cool air on my face and the way the city blurred past me in all its neon
rush. This is life.
Sitting up, I gave my back as good of a stretch as possible and let the city fly past me. Everything came as a blur in my vision, and my heart raced with excitement. If only I could ride forever and never have to look back. Ahead of me, the traffic light turned yellow, causing me to slow, but not too much. I was far
from wanting to stop.
As I approached the intersection, neon lights shone with life on billboards. Signs for decadent entertainment advertised triple x movies. Large screens came alive with bold ads for the latest soda
and Hollywood film. All promised the same thing, an escape from the drudgery of time.
The red light popped up ahead of me, and I skidded to a stop that caused a few hookers to raise an eyebrow. Shit, this was going to take a while. I had time to spare since I wasn’t going any-where, but I was impatient, and the traffic lights irritated me. I moved my riding goggles up and around my helmet. The city lived and breathed with its skyscrapers, people, and lights that lit up the night sky. I took it all in.
The people, the bright lights, the traffic, and even the smell of rubber, exhaust, and the city itself filled my senses with pleasure. I loved this town. You could get anything here. If not for free, then for a bit of cash or even love. Not that I would pay for that sort of thing. Money can’t buy the real thing anyway, and what you could rent for a few hours involved a trip to the free clinic for a shot of penicillin.
I was content to wait till my heart led me to the one it needed. No matter who it was, I knew my heart would recognize him. Yeah, I’m gay, but that’s the least of my secrets. If anybody asked, I’d be honest. I didn’t wear my sexuality on my sleeve. Being Japanese-American made it challenging to be out and proud.
My culture is conservative. My parents were dealing with it well. At least, my mom was, but my sexuality was far from their biggest concern. Like I said, that’s the least of my secrets. Early in life, I had a way of making things catch on fire. My mother, in all her superstitious beliefs, thought our ancestors had cursed me. It took a trusted Shinto priest to calm her nerves and let her know what her son had was a gift from our ancestors. It didn’t stop her worries, since normal childhood tantrums never lead to pyrotechnics. My father forced me to serve at the shrine on top of an apartment complex to help control my fire-starting abilities. He hoped it might “cure me of my gayness,” as my father put it.
Working in the shrine didn’t help cure my sexuality, but it taught me discipline and control. I learned a lot of great karate that I wouldn’t have if I had a normal upbringing. The control eased my parents’ minds, but deep down, my power still scared them. With time comes change, I know, but no one else in the family knew about my pyrokinesis until then. That didn’t bother me so much since I never talked to them. Such is life and family tradition. Even a tree bends to the wind.
Speaking of the wind, the light on the other avenue turned yellow as the traffic light danced in the breeze with the others. I set my goggles back over my eyes. It was time to ride. I took off as soon as the light turned green. There was no time to waste. This was the one time of day I had to myself. I spent my days adulting, throwing fish at the market in the mornings, followed by strict katas at the shrine under the watchful eye of my sensei. He oversaw my shrine training with a bamboo stick. The sting reminded me of the mistakes I made. Just the memory of it was enough to make me wince. It wasn’t horrible or even abuse, and I rarely got it anymore. I was a man now, and usually, my uncle put me to work doing menial chores instead of giving me a crack of the bamboo. I didn’t mind the chores.
Sensei was getting old and didn’t get around as much as he used to. He was an outstanding teacher and had my full respect and love. I loved him like a father. Unlike the memory of the whip, the thought of my sensei made me smile. He, along with my father, made me into the man I am today. The instruction from both of them kept me out of trouble—for which I will be forever grateful. The government could’ve targeted my pyrokinesis, or it could have gotten me killed. I would not allow that; we were the keepers of so many secrets. There were times the pressure made me think my skull would explode.
The power that burned inside me needed an occasional release. Even setting a piece of paper on fire helped ease the pressure. Sometimes it needed more, but those instances became less and less as I gained more control. All those times of meditation at my uncle’s temple helped me a lot. Now, calling a small flame in the palm of my hand or lighting a candle with a thought was easy. Burning down a building was also an option, but not one I considered. Help me.
Jaxon Altieri is a half-human, half-dragon of Italian descent out to overthrow the world of LGBT publishing. He is also a writer of gay romance and erotica who specializes in pervy erotic cowboy scenes and over the top action sequences that may be too much for romance or erotica.
As a resident of Colorado with a history of writing weird shit and with a degree in business and IT, Jax hopes to enjoy his writing career to its full extent. When he’s not writing, he’s playing with his dogs, listening to metal, or trying to get in his partner’s pants. Oh, he also takes Krav Maga and loves Sci-Fi stuff.
Four fiercely protective shifters. A curse and a ghost town. A bunch of wily cats and one woman who can save them all.
Lucki Collins has landed the job of a lifetime—Cat Keeper of Lady Clover’s Cat House in Weeping Falls, Alaska.
Lucki discovers early on that Weeping Falls is cursed and that the cats she’s there to care for are the townspeople, who must abide by the cycle of the sun and moon—taking cat form during the day and human form at night. They are magical creatures known as ‘familiars’, who can enhance the powers of a witch considerably, the very thing that puts them in danger.
Lucki meets her protectors—Reuben, a bear shifter, Wren, a wolf shifter, Ben, a hawk shifter, and Julian, a lion shifter—who must not only keep her and the cats safe, but also somehow convince her to bond with them. Their magical bond is the only thing that will give Lucki control over her powers, which are necessary to defeat Angelica, a sorceress who wants to capture all the cats and use them for her evil goals. Lucki hasn’t had the best experience with love, but rather than leave the men hopeless, she offers to help them break the curse by another means.
Things don’t go according to plan, and Lucki is left with the challenge of overcoming her past and setting aside her fears. If she can believe in herself and put her faith in love once again, she might just be able to triumph over evil and save the people she has come to deeply care about in Weeping Falls.
Reader advisory: This book contains a scene of public sex, references to emotionally/psychologically abusive sex, the death of a parent from cancer, graphic and gory violence, the death of a major character and murder of animals.
Cat Keeper of Weeping Falls. It sounds like a joke, right? Cat Keeper… What the hell kind of job is that?
“The best job in the mothereff”—burp—“ing world!” Lucki Collins raised her almost empty pint of beer and cheered the crowd of rowdy townspeople who were seated all around her. The burn of too much booze heated her cheeks, and the ache from so much laughing had her cradling her side. She was being treated like a queen and didn’t care if she was making an ass of herself.
“Cheers to our new Cat Keeper. May your time here be ever filled with joy.” Mr. Rose an elderly man with a bright red nose and long white whiskers, raised his glass, which was filled with…milk. It was the only thing he’d been drinking all night.
Lucki figured it had to be mixed with bourbon or something. The man was way too cheerful to be sober. They’re all way too cheerful. The entire town of Weeping Falls, a population of a hundred at most, had welcomed her with open arms the second she’d cleared the town line—and hadn’t stopped welcoming her.
“To our blessed Cat Keeper!” Everyone cheered, raising their glasses, thumping on the tables, laughing, singing.
They were in the tavern, a throwback to the old West, complete with its swinging doors and long curved bar, plank wood floors that were scuffed and dented and an old-time piano that one of the residents had been playing since Lucki had gotten there. Everyone was dressed in the fashion of the time too—from the cowboy hats to the heel spurs, corsets and billowing skirts. Lucki truly felt like she’d stepped into the olden days—and she loved it.
Weeping Falls had been an actual mining town back in the day. Now it was barely hanging on as a ghost town tourist attraction—the Wild West in Alaska. There wasn’t much in the way of bookings, from what she’d gathered. The only visitor was her, and she was soon to be a resident too. She’d be Lady Clover’s Cat Keeper, responsible for tending to a massive cat colony who’d been bequeathed a mansion and a trust fund and who called Weeping Falls home.
When she’d been offered the job, she’d thought she’d heard wrong.
“Cat keeper? What kind of job is that?”
Scout, the man who’d found her, had answered her simply and honestly. “We can’t afford a trained vet to come. You have almost all the requirements and a lot of experience working with animals. You’ll do.”
Lucki had been working at shelters her whole life. Always a tender heart around those injured or in need of love, she’d solely manned a cat sanctuary in her hometown until a fire had taken out the entire colony the past summer. It had nearly destroyed her heart to lose all those precious lives.
Scout had come knocking on her door one morning, claiming he’d heard about her compassion toward the felines and had wanted to offer her a new job as Cat Keeper for Lady Clover’s Cat House in Weeping Falls, Alaska.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time—a windfall, actually. Everyone knew she was destined to be a crazy cat lady anyway, and now she was going to be paid to fulfill that dream. It sounded pretty freakin’ perfect to her.
Besides, she had another reason to leave home—a big, six-foot-two, built-like-a-brick-house reason whom she wanted no reminder of ever again. He’d be in jail for another year at least, and by the time he got out, he’d find no trace of her. That gave her some measure of peace.
Her heart had been crushed, battered and beaten enough over the last ten years. She needed this escape, and Scout’s offer had come at the perfect moment. Time would heal all wounds—or so she’d heard—but cuddling with a bunch of cats would make that time sweeter.
And there hadn’t been a moment of regret—not one. She’d spent more than a day on the road with only a brief stop to rest, travelling all the way from her hometown in northern British Columbia.
It was a long way to come for a bunch of cats.
Best decision ever!
She downed what was left of her beer then snorted in the most unladylike way when another full pint slid in front of her.
“Oh boy, no way!” She laughed. “You people are going to get me totally wasted.”
“Aww, lass, no harm,” Andy Crawlie drawled. “We’re just happy yer finally here. We’ve been waitin’ on ya fer a vera long time.”
That had been what it had been like the entire night. They’d fed her delicious food until she was stuffed, then they’d started pouring the beer, keeping her glass full while they sang and laughed and told stories. There were enough people in the tavern that she lost track of all the names and keeping everyone straight. But she had plenty of time to learn them.
Lucki giggled but pushed the glass away. “Thank you for all your generosity, everyone.” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the music playing. “I think I should head back to Lady Clover’s, though. It’s late… Wait! How late is it?” Her phone had stopped working at some point during the night. She imagined that cell service was spotty at best around here anyway. She made a mental note to ask someone about it in the morning when her thoughts were clearer.
“Oh, it’s hardly after midnight, dear,” Sandy Evernight said as she picked up Lucki’s beer and took a sip for herself. “But if you must go, we’ll send you with an escort, to make sure you get back to the house in one piece.”
“An escort?” Lucki pushed her chair back. The wood feet thudded across the floor, giving Lucki a bit of a fight to stand.
“It’s always a good idea around here.” Sandy shrugged, her cheeks bright. She had a glint in her eyes that made Lucki question if there was a punchline coming. “‘Cause of the wild animals and such.”
“Wild animals?” Lucki frowned, her good mood taken down a notch. Not a joke, then. Right, because you’re in the middle of freakin’ Alaska! Spring is coming. Of course there are animals roaming around.
“Och, Sandy, quit scaring the girl. You want her to pick up and leave before she’s even settled in?” Mr. Rose said. “Rueben’s out there watchin’ for her. He’ll make sure she gets home safe.”
“Oh, Reuben’s around?” Sandy winked, aiming another sly smile at Lucki. “Didn’t know. Hadn’t seen him.”
“Don’t be daft, woman.” Andy tsked.
“You’ll be fine, Lucki,” Mr. Rose said with a reassuring pat on her arm. “Just be sure to put your coat on. The nights are still bitter cold around here.”
Someone handed Lucki her giant parka as she stood on wobbly legs, the beers rushing through her system worse than she’d first thought. “Thanks.” She slipped herself inside the warm down coat and instantly shivered as the heat embraced her. It would soon be too hot to be wearing inside the tavern. That was for sure. “I’ll see you all in the morning.”
Everyone mumbled something at her in response, but as she moved toward the door, she realized they just as soon returned to their drinking and joking, seeming to forget all about her. Looking over her shoulder at the group, she smiled once again. Such a fun bunch of folks. Unusual, sure, but also warm and embracing. Their unquestioning friendliness was like a comfort blanket around her heart. And that was something she really, really needed.
She pushed through the doors and blinked against the cold bite of the air. Icy wind shot up her nose and stung her brain. Sandy had said it was spring and she wasn’t wrong, calendar wise, but the weather up here was not any kind of spring that Lucki had ever experienced. Even in Canada, where the winters could get brutal, May usually came with milder temperatures, even at night.
But today was only May first, she reminded herself. Beltane. The familiar stir of longing rattled through her. In years past, Beltane was always a night she’d enjoyed with others. With him. Marking the coming of spring, Beltane was a celebration of new growth and fertility, and usually involved a night of ritual, song and dance, bonfires and, in her adult life, a lot of sexual exploration. This was the first time in many years that she would be alone.
But the past is the past, and it’s better to be alone and happy than with someone and miserable.
“Blessed be,” she said with a sigh.
She let her eyes adjust to the night then looked up at the impossibly bright stars overhead. She’d never seen so many in her life. She scanned the sky, hoping to see the Northern Lights, which she’d read about when she had been trying to research what to expect in Alaska, but the only light was from the stars and the moon, which was near full. Beautiful. She took in a deep breath, ignoring the burn of the cold air as it ripped up her nose again, freezing her nostrils. Refreshing, sure, but also painful. She chuckled to herself then took a few steps off the porch.
The gritty earth crunched under her feet. It was a strangely comforting sound that broke up the silence of the night and gave Lucki something to focus on other than the shadowed buildings.
The town consisted of a main strip with all the old ghost-town amenities—a barbershop with its candy-cane stripe, a hotel down the road, grocery store, shoemaker, blacksmith and even a church. There was a carriage without its horses and bundles of hay off to the side. It was so old-world and yet not. There were modern amenities as well—like the streetlamps, which were a little too far apart for Lucki’s liking, and a few cars parked here and there.
She flipped up her hood, suddenly feeling the cold worse as it whipped down the back of her neck, making her shiver right to her bones. Lady Clover’s Cat House was at the other end of the strip. The lights of the mansion shone from almost every window, a guiding beacon, so it would be impossible to not find her way there.
My new home. Hard to really fathom. It was three stories of old-world charm. Painted yellow like the sun, it had stained-glass multicolored windows with white shutters to frame them and a wraparound porch that could fit a hundred people with no problem. There was even a swinging chair there for her to lounge on in the warmer months, and she so looked forward to reading a few books out there with some cats on her lap. It was a house she could only dream of living in one day, and here she was walking down a dirt road, on her way to spending her first night in a castle of cats. Bliss.
Although this particular bliss included a pretty frosty walk. The cold bit at her cheeks and stung her eyes, so she walked faster. The noise from the partiers dimmed behind her. The silence of Alaska greeted her with each step she took toward her new home. She could fall in love with a place like this. It was so peaceful. So simple. She didn’t miss the buzzing white noise that she’d grown accustomed to back home or the constant urgency to check her phone for messages. She was unplugged. Calm. At peace.
Lucki stopped in her tracks. Ohhhhhhh, one of the cats? She hadn’t met any of them yet, but she was eager to.
She shifted her hood so she could look all around. “Here, kitty. Come here, kitty. Let me see you!” She felt no shame in her excitement over meeting the cats. She looked forward to bonding with each of them. She’d been warned it was quite a large colony, a hundred at least. “Here, kitty!”
She felt a nudge against her boot and shifted her hood to look down. The coat was so bulky that she could hardly see her own feet.
“Mr. Whiskers?” she said, as she swooped down to pick up her own cat. “What are you doing out here all alone, baby?” The only cat to have survived the fire was one of her favorites, a mangy brown tabby she called Mr. Whiskers. She’d brought him with her to Alaska but had left him safe and sound in the house—or so she’d thought. “How’d you get out here?”
“Muuuuurrrrow!” He purred like an engine and nuzzled into her arms as she stroked him.
“Well, you silly boy, let’s get you back inside where it’s warm.”
She walked, the crunch of her feet on the gravelly dirt road a distraction again. She pulled her attention from the ground and scanned the buildings around her.
“It’s awfully dark.” In between the streetlights was pitch black, and unusual shadows had collected in those places, keeping just out of reach from the lights. In each of those in-between spaces were alleys that were so opaque that they were impenetrable without a flashlight.
Creepy. The sobering reality of being completely alone in the middle of a town where she didn’t really know anyone slithered down her spine. If she called out, would anyone hear her?
The faint sound of music from the tavern drifted toward her. Nope…probably not.
She also kind of felt like she was being watched. Paranoia? Maybe. The tickling at the back of her neck had her scrunching her shoulders, and she picked up her pace all the same.
“Where’s this Reuben guy everyone is talking about?” she whispered to Mr. Whiskers, but he didn’t say anything back. He just purred in his contented kitty way. No fucks given.
The cat house was only about thirty feet ahead, if that. The urge to bolt the rest of the way poked her from all sides, but she was scared that if she did that, she’d drop the cat or freak him out enough to make him claw his way over her face.
Just one more alley to cross. She moved a little to the center of the street, putting some distance between her and the black maw of nothing on her left.
As she crossed the alley, she heard a noise. Low and quiet at first, it was a rumble of sound that she didn’t know quite how to place. It froze her in her tracks, though. There was definitely a menacing tone to it, like a warning. A growl.
“Do you hear that, Mr. Whiskers?” She couldn’t keep the quiver out of her voice. Keep walking.
Mr. Whiskers stopped purring. In fact, he stopped moving and was frozen in her arms, his body rigid as he stared down the alley, a murmur of a hiss growing in his belly.
The growling from the alley came again. It was definitely not friendly. Oooooh nooooo…
Something dazzled, a blink of light, then twin orbs of blue appeared to be floating in the darkness. So pretty. The slow grind of gravel under foot, deliberate careful movements, didn’t bring Lucki any comfort. “What is that?”
She unlocked her knees then took a step back. Then another. The sound got louder. The growl grew in strength with each step toward her until it was a warning she couldn’t ignore. She moved back quickly, almost stumbling on her own feet. Out of the shadows came a giant dog, its teeth bared, eyes menacing.
No, not a dog.
“H-h-holy shit,” Lucki stammered.
The wolf crouched, ready to pounce.
I’m going to die.
Mr. Whiskers hissed a growl of his own then leaped from her arms and she, the stupid fool, chased after him—right up to the wolf, within feet of the menacing beast. Mr. Whiskers stood between them, his fur fluffed out and back arched. He gave a hiss of warning with a paw raised, ready to strike.
“Mr. Whiskers, are you nuts?” Her voice was barely loud enough for anyone to hear. It was a croak instead of a scream. No one would come to her rescue. “Help!” Her voice failed her once again, coming out as a half whisper, strangled by her fear. The wolf watched her, its eyes searing deep inside. It ignored the cat completely.
What is the right move? Why didn’t I research this?
What to do if a wolf stalks you…yeah…that.
The wolf took a menacing step in her direction, its predator glare never wavering. Lucki’s legs shook with an alarming sway. Her knees were literally knocking together. If she tried to run, she’d fall flat on her face for sure.
Running with a predator giving chase was probably not a great idea anyway.
The cat launched itself, jumping toward the wolf.
Her voice unlocked. “Mr. Whiskers, no!”
But it was too late. The cat struck a clawed paw against the wolf’s muzzle, causing it to growl and lower its head. Lucki thought for sure Mr. Whiskers was gonna lose all nine lives in one go, but Mr. Whiskers didn’t get the memo on that. He struck again, quick and determined, a claw swipe against the wolf’s nose.
Lucki quickly calculated the odds of snatching the cat up as she ran. It didn’t look good. She was not that coordinated.
She sucked in a deep breath, then opened her mouth to scream.
The wolf took a step back, its head bowed…in…submission?
What the…? Her scream died on her tongue.
Mr. Whiskers, still all puffed out, still defending his human, was no longer on the attack. He even seemed to have a smug grin as he tossed a glance in Lucki’s direction. The wolf stayed down, muzzle lowered to the ground, its eyes blinking rapidly.
“Get outta here if you aren’t going to be civilized,” a booming voice said from behind.
The wolf flicked its eyes up, looked behind Lucki for a moment, then it bolted away into the darkness of the alley.
“Sorry, hon. Got caught up in a conversation and didn’t realize you were leaving so soon.”
Lucki glanced behind her, then did a double take. A huge, burly man stomped toward her. He had to be at least six-five, six-six. He wasn’t wearing a coat, just a blue lumberjack shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, that showed some impressively muscled forearms. His brown hair was parted to the side and his soft eyes crinkled with what kind of looked like amusement. The lower half of his face was covered with a beard, close cropped and well kept. This guy was a bear—a huge, lumberjack bear. He had an easy smile and a dimple, and he was so disarming that Lucki smiled back, that and her panties melted right then and there.
“I’m Reuben.” His voice had the kind of husky depth that stroked her soul.
Her legs quivered.
She cleared her throat to get the lusty lump of drool out of the way. “There’s a wolf…” She turned her head to the alley, but the wolf was definitely gone. Mr. Whiskers nudged her to be picked up.
“Yeah, I saw.” Reuben radiated heat. It literally steamed off him. He came up next to her then placed a firm hand on her back, which instantly steadied her legs. “Let’s get you to the house before you freeze to death.”
“A wolf, though…” She turned her head from side to side, scanning the area as she bent down to pick up the cat.
“He’s gone now. Don’t worry about him.” Reuben’s voice was so sure, so confident, so soothing. “Happy to finally meet you,” he added.
“Was that real?” The adrenaline that had coursed through her body crashed out of her in a whoosh. She took a step but her legs crumbled out from under her.
“Whoa there!” Reuben swooped in and held her upright. “They been pouring drinks into you? Those beasts don’t ever learn.”
Her head was clear. Any buzz she’d had from the booze had burned through her. It had to be shock that was making her dizzy and disoriented now. She could have died. Mr. Whiskers had done his best, but really, that wolf could have eaten her in a few bites.
“I got ya.” Reuben picked her up then cradled her and the cat in his arms.
She gasped, more to herself, as she looked up at him. “You’re a big guy.” She was in the arms of a mountain.
He chuckled. “I am.” He hitched her up higher. “Let’s get you home, shall we? Then we can properly introduce ourselves. It’s Beltane, you know, a good night for introductions.” He smiled, his dimple popping and his eyes glistening.
Angela Addams is an author of many naughty things. She believes that the written word is an amazing tool for crafting the most erotic of scenarios and likes telling stories about normal people getting down and dirty and falling in love. Enthralled by the paranormal at an early age, Angela also spends a lot of her time thinking up new story ideas that involve supernatural creatures in everyday situations.
She is an avid tattoo collector, a total book hoarder, and loves anything covered in chocolate…except for bugs.
She lives in Ontario, Canada in an old, creaky house, with her husband, children and four moody cats.
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