Friday, October 22, 2021

More Halloween Horror! JP Jackson's SUMMONED

 

 

About the Book

Devid Khandelwal desperately wants to experience the supernatural. After years of studying everything from crystals to tarot to spellcasting, nothing has happened that would tell him the Shadow Realm is real. And that kills Dev. As a last-ditch resort, he purchases a summoning board, an occult tool that will grant him his ultimate desires.

Cameron Habersham is Dev’s best friend. Cam loves Dev like a brother and will do anything for him, as long as he looks good doing it. So when Dev asks him to perform the summoning board’s ritual, he reluctantly agrees, but he knows nothing will come of it. Nothing ever does.

However, within a day, Dev and Cam’s lives are turned upside down as wishes begin to come true. They discover the existence of a supernatural world beyond their imagination, but peace between the species is tenuous at best.

Dev finally gets to see the Shadow Realm, meets the man of his dreams, and is inducted into the local male coven. But for all the desires that were summoned into existence, Dev soon realizes the magical community dances the line between good and evil, and Cam ends up on the wrong side of everything.

The old adage is true: Be careful what you wish for.

Excerpt

Summoned
J.P. Jackson © 2021
All Rights Reserved

“It’s how much?” Cam scoffed, glaring at Damien behind the counter.

“$299.99, plus tax.” Damien’s tongue piercing got in the way of the ‘s’, and the word came out more like ‘pluth’.

“Ignore him, Damien. New piercing? I like it.” Dev tried to ameliorate his best friend’s rude comment, then turned to scowl at Cam. “Honestly, why did I ask you to come?”

“Because you love me.” Cam tapped a finger on the box Dev clutched in his hands. “Dev, your parents are going to kill you if you spend that much money.” Cam cocked an eyebrow at Dev. “And seriously, man, how are you going to pay for…whatever that thing is?”

“With this.” Dev pulled out his wallet and flipped the black leather cover open to extract a brand new, slick, and shiny, never-been-used MasterCard.

“And where the hell did you get that?”

“Special offer for impending university graduates.” Dev sneered. If all went well, he’d be graduating in the next couple of weeks. Cam, however, had dropped out the previous year to figure himself out as a rebellion against his parents’ divorce. His mother had fiercely argued against the idea for two months until she gave up and agreed to Cam taking the year off.

“Oh dude. Just say no.” Cam had never been supportive of Dev’s interest in the occult, but this was going to be the last purchase.

Unless this purchase worked. And Dev knew it would.

It had to.

Dev placed all his hopes and dreams on the fact that this was going to work.

*

Dev couldn’t wait to open up his latest acquisition.

When he and Cam had arrived at Dev’s house, all he wanted to do was rush up the stairs to hide out in his bedroom, tucked away from any distractions or family drama, intent on inspecting his newest possession. Well, any distraction other than Cam, who had accompanied him home.

Instead, as Dev started up the stairs, looking back over his shoulder to ensure Cam was following, he careened into his sister Amna.

“Ugh, you oaf!” Amna shoved him backward, pushing him into Cam. “Oh! Whatchya got in the bag? It looks like it’s from that witchy store you like!” Amna slid a finger into the bag to pull it towards her to inspect. Dev pulled his prized possession towards him.

“Cam, come on, let’s go.” Dev snarled at Amna.

Cam, however, wasn’t keeping up. He’d wandered into the kitchen. Cam was playing nice.

“Hi, Mrs. Khandelwal.” Dev’s mom loved to cook and proudly fed her family traditional meals. Tonight’s fare, from the smell of things, was Rogan Josh. Dev hated curry with a passion. He wasn’t fond of lamb either and the two together were wretched. He decided going out for fast food was a better alternative.

“Cam,” Dev ground up his face with displeasure, “let’s go.”

Cam shot daggers back at Dev. He shook his head, rolling his eyes as he returned his attention to Dev’s mom. “Nice sari!” Cam smiled. “Later, Mrs. Khandelwal.”

Upon entering Dev’s room, Cam flopped onto the bed and began examining his too-long fingernails, preening them while lying on his back. Cam’s shoulder-length sandy-brown hair, which had a slight wave to it and a multitude of natural blonde and auburn highlights, splayed out behind his head, making his pose look model-esque. His three-days’ worth of stubble added to that. Dev would never have used the description of “male model” in front of his lifelong pal. The last thing Dev wanted was to feed Cam’s ego. Cam’s head filled most spaces he inhabited.

“Get your damn boots off my bed.” Dev slapped Cam’s feet.

“Oh my god. Yes, Mom.” Cam toed off the designer rainbow-snakeskin boots. The thud, thud ricocheted in the tiny bedroom.

“What are those things made of? Lead?” Dev quipped in response to their noisy removal.

“That’s the sound of a quality product, bitch.” Cam gave Dev the side-eye. Dev caught the glance. They glared at each other for all of a second, then burst into laughter.

He continued to stare at Cam, who returned to plucking away at some unseen dirt beneath a thumbnail. He had to admit, Cam was too handsome for his own good. They had known each other since grade school and had been, for the most part, inseparable. Dev had stood by idly as Cam used his good looks to get what he wanted. Not that Dev would describe himself as ugly. Far from it. But between the two, Cam always got the good-looking guys first, and that encouraged Cam to parade around, flaunting his beauty.

Dev had invited Cam to tag along on his afternoon shopping excursion. The out-of-the-way pagan store, Magix & Mystix, held all sorts of goodies, most of which Dev couldn’t afford, hence the credit card, but he’d had his eye on this particular object for the last couple of months and had squirrelled money away like a miser in order to afford it. All that saving, though, still hadn’t amounted to the amount of cash required.

But his luck had changed when a kiosk from a local bank had opened in the Student’s Lounge at the University. The handsome, bicep-bulging booth occupant, wearing a shirt obviously a size too small, promised an enticing introductory percentage rate on the credit card, stating the bank offered the cheapest one in the city. And with this purchase from Magix & Mystix in mind and the desperation to get his hands on it, Dev signed the credit card contract in a heartbeat.

All the way downtown, and during their short walk to the store, Cam had proclaimed he was being led through the seediest parts of Edmonton’s dark alleyways on their way to make the purchase and complained often about how they were going to be robbed, stabbed, or murdered in some grisly fashion.

None of that had happened.

But Dev had finally got his paws on the summoning board, and as he pulled the rectangular box out of the store’s signature black paper bag, his stomach tensed with excitement. The coveted item had a silver pentacle stamped in the center with one word superimposed over top.

Desires

 Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

J.P. Jackson is an award-winning author of dark urban fantasy, paranormal, and even paranormal romance stories, but regardless of the genre, they always feature LGBTQ main characters.

J.P. works as an IT analyst in health care during the day, where if cornered he’d confess to casting spells to ensure clinicians actually use the electronic medical charting system he configures and implements.

At night, the writing happens, where demons, witches and shapeshifters congregate around the kitchen table and general chaos ensues. His husband of 22 years has very firmly put his foot down on any further wraith summonings and regularly lines the doorway with iron shavings and salt crystals. Imps are most definitely not house-trainable. Ghosts appear at the most inopportune times, and the Fae are known for regular visits where a glass of wine is exchanged for a good ole story or two. Although the husband doesn’t know it, Canela and Jalisco, the two Chihuahuas, are in cahoots with the spell casting.

J.P.’s other hobbies include hybridizing African Violets (thanks to grandma), extensive traveling and believe it or not, knitting.

Newsletter | Facebook | Twitter | Blog


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

How about a MEAT MALLET as a Halloween Treat?



If this short doesn't send a chill up your spine by its deliciously horrifying conclusion, I don't know what will... 

ABOUT THE STORY
Steven's cruising the Chicago lakefront park when he meets the man in the Jeep. He seems nice. He seems sexy. He seems like the kind of guy Steven could have a very good time with. When the guy invites him to his place, Steven doesn't hesitate to accept.

But when Steven gets back to the guy's apartment, he realizes, too late, there's more on the menu than just sex. Steven has fallen into the hands of a very hungry predator...and he may never escape.

EXCERPT
Oh, I know all the jokes when it comes to tenderizing meat for cooking. Most of them center around “beating your meat.” How childish. But the truth is, if you’ve got some tough meat—oh Lord, keep your mind out of the gutter, people!—you have to work with it a little bit to get it tender.

That’s what I’m doing right now. Go ahead: laugh. Yes, I’m beating my meat. I prefer using this old oak hammer type thing my Mom had when she was just a girl. You’ve seen similar ones. They look like a wooden hammer and have little pointy things on either side of the mallet head. They work wonders when you beat your meat, breaking up the tough gristle and fat, so once you cook it, it gets really tender, especially if you cook the meat in its own juices.

Bam! I pound the nice cut in front of me, beating it into submission.

The mallet, its solid oak burnished to a dark, dull shine, is splashed with the blood of the new meat. I suppose that’s what gives the mallet its patina of darkness.

Blood.

Bam!

BUY NOW (Amazon Kindle) 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Vampires for a Halloween Treat: Damian Serbu's THE VAMPIRE"S WIT




About the Book

The Vampire’s Witch welcomes readers back to the world of vampires, witches, and magic.

Jaret Bachmann’s life spins out of control after a handsome stranger saves him from an attack along the bike path on Lakeshore Drive. His estranged high school sweetheart stalks him, the enraged ghost of his ancestor destroys his family, and his bike path savior-cum-lover abandons him after learning Jaret is a powerful witch.

A horrific family tragedy sends Jaret into deep depression. Struggling to find his way afterward, Jaret searches for comfort in the unlikely friendship of a secret vampire community.

Over time, Jaret’s friendship with the vampires strengthens and he forges a new family connection with Xavier, Thomas, and Catherine. But he and Anthony are estranged, and though their souls are entwined, their hearts are another matter.

Xavier, Thomas, Anthony, and Catherine return in this, the third book in The Realm of the Vampire Council series and a sequel to The Bachmann Family Secret.

Excerpt

The Vampire’s Witch
Damian Serbu © 2021
All Rights Reserved

19 April 2010

Chicago, Illinois

Even after three years, living in a big city still creeped Jaret Bachmann out. He hated his fear of dark corners and alleys, not to mention his concern about getting beat up as a gay guy. Straight guys, no matter how peaceful they looked, worried him. In broad daylight, he felt more secure as long as he watched where he went, kept his head up, and stayed in populated areas. And he loved living in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Being in a metropolitan area was so much better for him than small town Colorado. Still, he only had a little light available before the sun went down tonight.

He giggled at himself to release some tension. His mind went to some weird place about the sun setting, like a vampire might jump out and attack him. As if.

Heading out to meet his best friend, Brady, Jaret relaxed once he got to the path along Lake Michigan. He passed several joggers, almost got hit by a bike, and meandered his way south. He contemplated taking the “L” but had plenty of time to walk. The spring weather warmed up Chicago, still a comfortable seventy degrees, even as the sun slowly descended in the west. The weather was perfect. Besides, he could always use the exercise.

Jaret felt safer and got his iPod out to search for music. He loved Lady Gaga; why not a little monster love? Or Train’s latest CD rocked. Still, he paused at “Relax” and grinned. That song totally kicked ass. Totally. And, he hadn’t listened to much of his favorite singer’s first album in a long time. If he loved Lady Gaga, then words couldn’t describe his adoration for Mika.

He popped in his earbuds and picked up his pace. He even danced a little, despite being in public and seeing the few passersby glancing his way as if he’d gone insane.

The path grew darker with the setting sun and the trees lining both sides of the trail. This dance mix steeled Jaret’s nerves. He wiggled his butt, jumped to the side, and smiled at a little old lady and her dog as they walked by.

A few yards later, he was alone. He fretted a little but cranked the music to ignore the world around him. To comfort himself, he reached into his pocket and rubbed the ruby necklace he always brought along for protection. All the Bachmann heirloom jewels empowered his witchcraft and kept him safe, and he loved the beautiful rubies most of all. In a pinch, he could always use his magic to ward anyone off. He’d never had to use his ability to defend himself, except from ghosts, but knew he could if needed. Being a witch had its advantages.

Jaret almost missed the group of four guys sitting off to the side, watching the lake or something. He slowed when he glimpsed a bright-red shirt and thought of his boyfriend, Steve. He’d seen Steve earlier in the day, wearing this totally hot red T-shirt that clung to his chest and showed off his gorgeous biceps. He couldn’t remember the shirt exactly, though he thought it had a University of Nebraska logo on the front.

Jaret lurched to a stop when he bumped into someone. “Uh, oh. Sorry. I didn’t see you.” He glanced up to see another guy with a pretty big belly, yet tons of muscle, not to mention a wicked scowl.

The guy yanked out Jaret’s earbuds and glared down at him. “Fuckin’ fairy. Watch where you’re walkin’.”

“Sorry,” Jaret barely whispered and started shaking. He’d heard about gay bashings but had never experienced one. In fact, he had never been in a fight. He could see this dude meant him harm by the way he loomed over him.

Jaret reached into his pocket for the necklace. His shaking hands got the better of him, and his finger got stuck in the little coin pocket instead.

Growing more afraid, Jaret stepped to the side to continue until the guy moved with him and blocked his way. Jaret stared at the familiar logo of Northwestern football on the purple T-shirt. He often saw the very shirt on Steve. This guy was enormous. Not good.

His heart racing, Jaret scanned for anyone nearby watching. He spotted the group of four guys out of the corner of his eye. Any chance for help evaporated when two of them moved closer, and he saw they, too, wore Northwestern football gear.

One of them grinned and clapped. “Caught yourself a little fag, Mikey? What you gonna do with him?”

Mikey laughed and crossed his bazooka-sized forearms over his chest. Then he reached down and petted Jaret on the head like a dog. Jaret had little time to act to protect himself. There was no time to get the necklace out. He shot to the side to move around the asshole, but the guy put out his leg and tripped Jaret. He sprawled onto the path, skinning his elbow.

Jaret’s heart pounded as fear almost overwhelmed him.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is scheduled for release July 2020. Keep up to date with him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.DamianSerbu.com.

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Six Chillers for Your Halloween Reading Pleasure

It's that time of year again. Halloween is just around the corner and these six scary tales will put you in the mood...

 For your consideration, I offer up six of my scariest novels and hope you'll check out one (or more!) as a Halloween treat! So, in no particular order, here goes:

WOUNDED AIR
Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.


BUY


A DEMON INSIDE
Hunter Beaumont doesn’t understand his grandmother’s deathbed wish: “Destroy Beaumont House.” He’s never even heard of the place. But after his grandmother passes and his first love betrays him, the family house in the Wisconsin woods looks like a tempting refuge. Going against his grandmother’s wishes, Hunter flees to Beaumont House.

But will the house be the sanctuary he had hoped for? Soon after moving in, Hunter realizes he may not be alone. And with whom—or what—he shares the house may plunge him into a nightmare from which he may never escape. Sparks fly when he meets his handsome neighbor, Michael Burt, a caretaker for the estate next door. The man might be his salvation… or he could be the source of Hunter's terror.

BUY
Amazon




THIRD EYE

Who knew that a summer thunderstorm and his lost little boy would conspire to change single dad Cayce D’Amico’s life in an instant? With Luke missing, Cayce ventures into the woods near their house to find his son, only to have lightning strike a tree near him, sending a branch down on his head. When he awakens the next day in the hospital, he discovers he has been blessed or cursed—he isn't sure which—with psychic ability. Along with unfathomable glimpses into the lives of those around him, he’s getting visions of a missing teenage girl.

When a second girl disappears soon after the first, Cayce realizes his visions are leading him to their grisly fates. Cayce wants to help, but no one believes him. The police are suspicious. The press wants to exploit him. And the girls' parents have mixed feelings about the young man with the "third eye."

Cayce turns to local reporter Dave Newton and, while searching for clues to the string of disappearances and possible murders, a spark ignites between the two. Little do they know that nearby, another couple—dark and murderous—are plotting more crimes and wondering how to silence the man who knows too much about them.

BUY
Ninestar Press


IMMORTAL THINGS

What would you give up for immortal life and love?

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 just 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.

Blood Sacrifice is a novel that 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.

BUY
Ninestar Press
Amazon




OBSESSED

Voices slam through the corridor of his wounded mind. The words of his dead sister cry out. His parents' taunts fill the silent room where he sits and waits--waits for the murderous rage, filling him with strength, driving him to kill, to touch the cold flesh, taste the warm blood--to feel alive again…

A witness has seen him, but his killing only turns her on and now she wants to protect him. His wife suspects him, but the private detective she hired cannot stop him. Joe MacAree fears nothing--except that he may no longer be human. The thirst that drives him is relentless, moving deeper and deeper into his own shattering, private realm, where each murder is a delicious new gift of life, where revulsion is beauty, and the obsession will never let him go.


"A harrowing ride through cutting-edge psychological horror, this one's got a vicious bite. Rick R. Reed's Obsessed is a twisted nightmare." - Douglas Clegg, bestselling author

BUY



DINNER THE BLUE MOON CAFE

Amid an atmosphere of crippling fear, Thad Matthews finds his first true love working in an Italian restaurant called the Blue Moon Café. Sam Lupino is everything Thad has ever hoped for in a man: virile, sexy as hell, kind, and… he can cook!

As their romance heats up, the questions pile up. Who is the killer preying on Seattle’s gay men? What secrets is Sam’s Sicilian family hiding? And more importantly, why do Sam’s unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?

The strength of Thad and Sam’s love will face the ultimate test when horrific revelations come to light beneath the full moon.


BUY

Monday, October 11, 2021

Great New Audiobook Just in Time for Halloween: MD Neu's THE REUNION

 


Now available at Audible, The Reunion would make a great suspenseful listen for Halloween or any time of the year!

BLURB
It’s been 20 years since the quiet Midwestern town of Lakeview was struck by tragedy. But every year on the anniversary of the event, Teddy returns home for ‘The Reunion’. Lakeview, like Teddy, has secrets, and not all mysteries should come to light.

Get your copy here.





Monday, September 27, 2021

IMMORTAL THINGS Is Here!

 


Genre: Horror/Thriller, LGBTQIA+, vampires, artists, prostitution, dark, immortal, Chicago

Add to Goodreads


About the Book

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.

Excerpt

Immortal Things
Rick R. Reed © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
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.

Or both.

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.

He has no heart.

BUY

NineStar Press | Books2Read | Amazon

Meet the Author

Real Men. True Love. 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.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  Blog Button 2

Friday, September 3, 2021

Loss and Love in Homecoming

 Have you read my bittersweet love story yet? It's all about finding life and love after unimaginable loss... 


About the Book

After losing his partner Toby, Chase faces a long, painful road back to life and love.

At first, he doesn’t see how he can go on, but then Chase and Toby’s old friend Mike cajoles him into returning to Chicago for the annual International Mr. Leather Competition. There Chase revisits a world of hot, casual sex that he had forgotten existed, meets a friend who cares more for him than he ever realized, and discovers the possibility that he just might be able to move on without betraying the memory of his late partner.

Will Chase find his way back once more to life? To love? And will he find that place he’s been missing? Home. You’ll have to experience the heartrending journey firsthand to find out.

Excerpt

Homecoming
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Toby tried his best to stay awake.

He was on the Microsoft shuttle, traveling home from his job at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, to his condo in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It was a long commute, but he had his phone, his weariness (which meant he sometimes slept through the trip), and an overactive imagination for company and entertainment. The commute was made longer because he had to transfer to a bus once he got to downtown Seattle to get close enough to home. Home was a two-bedroom with amazing views of the Space Needle and Lake Union he shared with his soul mate, his beloved, his special one, Chase.

He was grateful every single day for the wonderful life he’d built for himself. He was one of those lucky folks who could hardly imagine how things could possibly be any better.

The familiar scenery passed as the bus drew closer to closer to downtown.

He wished he could banish this fatigue, but it had been a long day and a long week and there simply wasn’t much fuel left in his tank.

But it was his birthday, for god’s sakes ! He wanted to celebrate—so much. It was a milestone, after all. One doesn’t turn forty every day.

If he came home exhausted and ready for bed—and sleep—at nine o’clock, it would only validate the sinking feeling Toby had that forty was the beginning of the long path down that particular piece of geography known as “over the hill.”

He hoped seeing Chase at the door to their shared home would revive him enough to at least maybe order a Pagliacci pizza for delivery and to stream a couple of episodes of Unforgiven on Britbox.

Now, that sounded like a perfect evening and a birthday celebration ideally suited to his introvert leanings. He was grateful once again he and Chase hadn’t made big plans for the 4-0. They could have a nice dinner over the weekend, perhaps, at his favorite Korean street-food eatery, Revel, over in the Fremont neighborhood. Or maybe they’d splurge, as they had last year, and try to get a table at Canlis.

To keep himself awake, he brought his phone out of the pocket of his jeans and, like everyone else on the bus, stared down at the illuminated screen.

He checked Facebook and found it flooded with birthday wishes, so many he got lost in the long thread of well wishes, emojis, and memes exhorting him to have an amazing celebration. Twitter was a little less celebratory, but he still felt like a rock star when he scrolled through all the birthday tweets directed toward him.

Last, he brought up one of his favorite blogs, Tales from the Sexual Underground, written by an old friend of his from Chicago, Danny Britton, who went by the more youthful-sounding pen name of Bryce Weston, because Danny didn’t know how seriously he’d be taken as a middle-aged dude from Highland Park writing about fringe sexual practices and personages. No one would guess most of his tales were made-up (except for the interviews with sex workers and porn stars) and that the man behind the blog was actually pushing fifty and was happily settled with a doctor husband and two very demanding Pomeranians. The wildest Danny got was a season ticket to Ravinia music park every summer.

Danny posted a new column twice a week and devoted the other days to curated roundups of news about sex workers, the porn industry, and the rights and freedoms of those wanting to pursue kinks without government interference. His blog had grown so popular that, last Toby heard, he was making a good chunk of change from advertising. The Twitter followers for his blog numbered in the tens of thousands.

He had a way of writing that made Toby feel he was speaking directly to him, even though he and Chase were pretty much mere acquaintances when they all lived back in the Windy City area.

This week’s latest blog post, for example, spoke to him and where he found himself in life at age forty perfectly. He’d read it earlier on his lunch break, but found himself wanting to savor its short, sweet, sexy words one more time. It was all about how love wins out over sex every time, although the two together could actually induce heaven on earth, provided everything was in place.

It was amazing how Danny could put himself in the shoes of a single gay man so convincingly. He’d been with his physician partner, Jake Wells, for more than two decades.

Back when he and Chase lived in Chicago, he’d tease Jake about the blog when they’d run into him at Wrigley Field or strolling around Millennium Park or at the gay beach at Ardmore and Hollywood. Toby would wonder aloud if Jake had been reincarnated from the soul of a wanton slut of a gay man, or if he was perhaps a horndog trapped in a gay milquetoast’s body.

Perhaps inspired by the teasing, Jake had even written a blog about that. It was hilarious. You never knew what would inspire Danny, or Bryce, as he was known to the masses.

Anyway, this particular post, though, made him so grateful and happy he’d found his one and only, Chase. He was grateful there was no longer any need to play the field. Someone, a happily married gay friend of his at Microsoft, had once quipped that there was no reason to go out for hamburger when he had filet mignon at home.

Toby couldn’t agree more. He began reading.

“Going for Quality, Not Quantity”

Why, I can remember a time when sex parties and the filthy backrooms of leather bars were the height of sexual euphoria. Coupling with strangers en masse set my heart to racing, the blood to pumping, and the brain to disengaging. Caution and even reason were thrown to the wind. Out the window too—unwisely, yes—went fears of AIDS, STIs, and even the limitations of the human lumbar system as I swam through the darkness like a hungry fish, searching with eyes glazed for the next cock, mouth, or ass.

But all of that stuff seems to have lost its charm, to be replaced by “gasp!” if not romance, then at least human connection.

Am I getting old? Maybe not. Maybe I’ve just grown jaded. And, wonder of wonders, perhaps I’ve grown wiser.

But these days, sex seems hotter when it’s one-on-one, with someone I actually know more about than the fact that he’s able to swing that baseball cap around effortlessly, inhale a bottle of poppers, and blow me all at the same time. I get more aroused in my own bed, waiting for someone whose name, occupation, and likes and dislikes I at least have a rudimentary knowledge of than I used to lining up for a crack at the crack in the sling.

A couple cases in point. Old habits die hard, which is why I readily accepted an invitation to a party held during International Mr. Leather (IML) weekend in one of the rooms of the host hotel, the Hyatt. There were to be about fifteen guys gathered. There would be no chips and salsa, witty repartee, or flirtatious glances across the room. No, we all knew what we were there for. The only party favors supplied were bottles of various lube (even that new sensation J Lube, which bears no relation to J Lo, except that both might or might not have something to do with big asses, but I digress), poppers, a sling set up in one corner of the room, and a portable enema hose in the bathroom’s shower. There was no music. No conversation. Just naked men (and some pretty hot ones), grunts, groans, and the odd operatic aria (“Sweet mystery of life, I adore you”).

After about an hour or so, and making the corporeal acquaintance of at least five other men, the whole thing seemed rather amusing and well, if I’m honest, a little boring. Gatherings like these were often so much better in the imagination than they were in real life.

So I left, even though the partiers had hours to go before they slept. Trying to get my clothes back on amidst a tableau out of something Fellini might have dreamed up was no easy task. Picking my way to the door through the sweaty bodies almost made me giggle…it was like playing a very grown up game of Twister.

Contrast that with Sunday…and a very nice day at the beach with someone whom I’m getting to know on many levels. Contrast the sex party with just the two of us, in my sun-drenched bedroom, pretty much doing what the guys at the sex party were doing, but instead of looking for who we should fuck next, we stared into each other’s eyes, charting the course of each other’s pleasure.

What’s happened to me? Does this mean I’ve finally grown up? Or am I just getting boring?

Yeah, Toby thought, I get it. He and Chase had been together now for years, and the thought of wanting a little variety or a little on the side had no appeal at all for Toby. He’d won the prize—a hot man who still inspired his passion, but also one who inspired a sense of contentment, a sense of home, and best of all, an assured future together.

They were almost at his stop and, yes, Toby, anticipating kissing Chase in the next few minutes gave him with a boost of energy. He wouldn’t need anyone else to make his fortieth birthday one for the books.

Buy the Book

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

It's a HUSBAND HUNTERS Anniversary! Win a FREE Autographed Copy!


Today is the anniversary of the publication of my reality-TV-romance, HUSBAND HUNTERS! Read on and find out how you can win a free autographed copy.

ABOUT THE BOOK

You never know where the love of your life might turn up.

When Matt Connelly suggests to his best buddy Cody Mook that they head to downtown Seattle to audition for the gay reality TV show Husband Hunters, both agree the experience might be a lark and a chance to grab their fifteen minutes of fame. What they don't know is that the show, modeled after HGTV's House Hunters, will open doors of longing neither expected. For Matt, the secret love he has long harbored for Cody might be thrust into the spotlight. Cody might realize his search for his perfect-forever-man extends no farther than the man who's always been at his side.

Husband Hunters promises laughter, tears, and, just maybe, a happy ever after. Will Cody and Matt's story be one of best-friends-to-lovers—or an outright disaster?

BUY

From JMS Books: https://www.jms-books.com/rick-r-reed-c-224_245/husband-hunters-p-3013.html

Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZHJP3Y8

CONTEST

To win your #FREE autographed copy, simply follow these simple rules:

1. Go to the Amazon Kindle page: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07ZHJP3Y8 for Husband Hunters and click on "Look Inside!" just above the book's cover image. Read the excerpt and answer the following questions:

A. In the review of the TV show Husband Hunters that opens the book, the critic names three products advertised on the show. What are they?

B. What was the second thing main character Cody Mook woke up to at the beginning of chapter one?

C. At what Seattle hotel were auditions for Husband Hunters being held?

D. Matt and Cody spot a hottie at the auditions that looks very much like a popular TV actor in a very popular TV series. Name the actor and the series.

2. E-mail me your responses at rickrreedbooks@gmail.com

BONUS!! 3. If you're on Twitter or Facebook, send out a message to your followers, urging them to enter the contest. You could say: 

Rick R. Reed is giving away an autographed copy of his latest book, HUSBAND HUNTERS! Details: http://rickrreedreality.blogspot.com/

I'll draw one winner from all e-mails received on Friday, September 3. Unfortunately, because of the prohibitive cost of mailing, this contest is open only to US residents. If you're outside the US and would like to win an ebook of Husband Hunters, simply follow the steps above (and note that you are outside the US) and I will enter you for the digital version in the format of your choice.

Please repost!

 

Friday, August 27, 2021

M4M Real Heart, Real Romance

 



ABOUT THE BOOK

Three great stories. One great love.


VGL Male Seeks Same

Poor Ethan Schwartz. It seems like he will never find that special someone. At age forty-two, he’s still alone, his bed still empty, and his 42-inch HDTV overworked. He’s tried the bars and other places where gay men are supposed to find one another, but for Ethan, it never works out. He wonders if it ever will. Should he get a cat?

But all of that is about to change…

NEG UB2

Poor Ethan Schwartz. He’s just had the most shocking news a gay man can get—he’s been diagnosed HIV positive. Up until today, he thought his life was on a perfect course. He had a job he loved and something else he thought he’d never have: Brian, a new man, one whom Ethan thought of as “the one.” The one who would complete him, who would take his life from a lonely existence to a place filled with laughter, hot sex, and romance.

But along with the fateful diagnosis comes another shock—is Brian who he thinks he is?

Status Updates

Ethan finds himself alone once more and wonders if life is worth living, even one with a cat. Via a Facebook friend request, an old nemesis appears, wanting to be friends. Ethan is suspicious but intrigued because it seems this old acquaintance has turned his life around…and the changes just might hold the key to Ethan getting a new lease on life…and love.

Excerpt

M4M
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Ethan Schwartz was alone. At forty-two, the state of being alone was almost like having another person by his side, a person he was growing to know more and more intimately with each passing night in his too-big-for-one bed. In fact, Ethan sometimes wondered if being alone was his natural state of being. Perhaps it was simply his fate to spend his evenings in front of his brand-new forty-two-inch Toshiba HDTV, watching classic 1940s movies from an endless queue at Netflix.

He wondered if his life would ever change. Maybe he would continue to go to work at his job as a publicist for several Chicago theater companies, come home about seven o’clock, nuke a Lean Cuisine, fall asleep in front of the TV, and repeat the routine until he expired.

He had thought, as he tossed in bed at night, in those endlessly stretching hours slogging their way toward dawn, of getting a dog or even a cat. He envisioned himself walking into his apartment door at night, greeted by a French bulldog’s grin or the slightly harlotish leg rub of a Maine coon. But an animal just didn’t seem like—well, it just didn’t seem like enough.

In the above scenario, he also imagined a man coming in the same door minutes later and Ethan getting the four-legged companion riled up by saying “Daddy’s home!” No, Ethan knew—in his heart of hearts—he wanted an animal of the two-legged variety, one who would talk back to him, one he could spend long autumn weekends in Door County with, one he could take out to dinner parties and bring home to his family at Christmas. He wanted an animal that wouldn’t shed and would need little housebreaking. Well, at least not much. At forty-two, Ethan had lowered expectations.

He also dreaded the thought of subjecting some poor tabby or Boston terrier to a solitary existence much like his own. After all, the stand-in-for-a-boyfriend pet would spend most of its time roaming the apartment by his or her lonesome and staring mournfully out the window because of Ethan’s long hours at work.

He knew from experience that subjecting an unsuspecting animal to an existence akin to his own would be cause for calling out the SPCA.

So Ethan would have to go on dreaming of meeting Mr. Right in human form and continue to watch as those dreams faded into wispy gossamer as the years relentlessly marched toward old age. Already Ethan found it necessary to use a moisturizer on his face and a depilatory on his back. His dark brown hair he kept buzzed close to his skull in an effort to minimize its traitorous thinning. Starting at around age thirty-two, every year he’d added a pound or two to his five-foot-ten-inch frame, and every year that pound or two became harder and harder to lose, in spite of long, sweaty hours on the treadmill or a diet consisting chiefly of the frozen culinary delights of the people at Smart Choice, Lean Cuisine, or South Beach Diet.

Heading toward middle age sucked…especially when you were doing it alone.

Tonight Ethan dug in the Doritos bag for one remaining chip of decent size while glued to the adventures of Ugly Betty. Why couldn’t he at least find a nice nerd, as Betty once had? Why couldn’t he at least have a little drama at work, like the Mexican magazine assistant faced every single day of her charmed life? Ethan’s days were spent trying to chat up theater critics in hopes of persuading them to write a review or feature on whatever play he was pushing that week. Or he holed up in his cube and wrote the same press release over and over, with only the titles, venues, and dates changed. When he had taken the job ten years ago, he’d thought the free nights out at the theater would be a great way to get dates. He’d assumed he would meet lots of handsome actors, and they would all want to cozy up to the publicist who could get them so much press.

He’d thought wrong.

Ethan got up and shut off the TV and threw his Doritos bag in the trash. He stretched and looked out the window. His move to this North Side Chicago neighborhood had been another misguided romantic maneuver, one that started full of hope and confidence and had been dashed by cold reality. He felt even more isolated and alone as he looked down from his studio apartment on Halsted Street, the blocks between Belmont and Addison that Chicagoans referred to as Boystown. When he had rented the little studio above a gay bookstore a decade ago, he had reasoned that wrangling a date would be no more difficult than hanging out his third story window with a smoldering gaze and a come-hither pout.

He had reasoned wrong.

Shortly after Ethan had moved in and hung his first Herb Ritts poster, Boystown had begun quickly gentrifying itself. Most of the gays moved farther north to Andersonville or even Rogers Park. Sure, gay bars still lined the street, and the teeming throngs continued to taunt him with luscious examples of masculinity on the prowl, but it had been a long time since one of the minions had made his way up the creaking stairs to Ethan’s studio.

Oh, he supposed he could throw on some jeans, T-shirt, and his Asics and run across the street to Roscoe’s or any of the other watering holes lining the rainbow-pyloned avenue, but he had been to that dry well too many times to even consider it. Every year, it seemed, there was a new crop of gorgeous twentysomethings laughing and drinking…and practiced in the art of ignoring nice but nondescript men like Ethan. One could only endure so long the hours of standing against a wall, Stella Artois in hand, trying to look approachable and then never being approached. It didn’t do much for the ego.

And it didn’t do much for the wallet. Or the self-esteem. Or certainly the romantic, or even sex, life.

No, the bars had long ago lost their allure, becoming more and more an exclusive club for younger gays looking to hook up, or dance, or text message each other…or whatever other ways they found these days to make Ethan feel old. Besides, Ethan hoped for a more meaningful connection.

And with each gray hair, each crow’s-foot and laugh line stamped upon his features, he despaired of ever finding it.

He padded into the little bathroom and gasped as a cockroach beat a hasty retreat into a crack between the baseboard and linoleum-tiled floor. He shook his head and thought that even the bugs wanted nothing to do with him.

He looked at his tired face in the mirror and laughed. “Jesus,” he said to his reflection, “you’re pathetic.” He held his aging mug up to the light cast by the overhead fixture and said, “What’s wrong with everybody? You’re not so old. You’re not so bad.” And indeed, Ethan spoke the truth. He looked every bit of his forty-two years, but that was still pretty young, wasn’t it? Didn’t somebody at the office just yesterday say something about forty being the new thirty? And his face, while certainly not Brad Pitt sexy, was pleasing, with a nice cleft in his chin, a strong nose, and deep blue eyes framed by long black lashes. His lips were a bit thin—a gift from his German father—and he could probably use some sun to give his pasty complexion a little pizzazz, but all in all, it wasn’t a face one would run from, screaming into the night. It was every bit as cute as a Tom Hanks or Will Ferrell.

Ethan pulled his toothbrush from the medicine cabinet and decorated its bristles with orange gel—when had toothpaste gone orange?—and gave his teeth a savage brushing, even though his dentist always admonished him about that, telling him a slow, gentle course was the way, lest he wanted to erode his gums entirely away. But Ethan had never been able to dissuade himself from the idea that the harder the brush, the whiter the teeth.

He spit and wiped his mouth on the hand towel and headed back into the common area to pull out his queen-size—hush!—futon for another night of lonely slumber.

Tomorrow, he thought, he had to do something about his depressing state. And he did not mean moving out of Illinois. Somewhere there had to be a companion for him, just waiting. His dream man wasn’t in all the places he had fruitlessly checked, like the bars, backstage, and in his office. But he was out there, and like Ethan, he too was pulling the covers up by himself and thinking the answer to the riddle of how to escape a solitary existence was just within reach.

Just before he fell asleep, he wondered if his mystery man also cynically told himself the same thing every night.

“Shut up!” Ethan cried into the darkness. And then whispered, muffled into his pillow, “Tomorrow will be different. I just know it.”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

New and Notable: TO SUMMON NIGHTMARES by JK Pendragon

 

 


Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, romance, demons, witches, horror, suspense, magic, mythology, psychic ability, PTSD, author, celebrity, Europe, small town, Ireland, new adult, transgender

Add to Goodreads


About the Book

Three years ago, Cohen Brandwein was a teenage media-darling, a popular author and internet celebrity. But ever since he came out as trans, public opinion has been less than golden, and these days he wants nothing more than to escape the big city and find somewhere quiet to work on his next book.

When he inherits an old house in the Irish countryside, Cohen sees it as a perfect opportunity to get away from it all. What he doesn’t count on is becoming embroiled in a paranormal murder mystery, and falling for the primary suspect, a handsome but mysterious self-proclaimed witch, whose reality makes Cohen’s fantasy books seem like child’s play…

Excerpt

To Summon Nightmares
J.K. Pendragon © 2021
All Rights Reserved

November, 2007

Jacky had crawled into Niall’s bed in the night. Niall thought about waking him and telling him to go back to the thin foam mattress on the floor, in case one of his parents walked by and saw them together through the crack of the door. But the floor was wood, and the house was old, and winter was setting in. Sleeping on the floor was cold, but Niall knew that wasn’t why Jacky had crawled into the bed next to him.

He stirred, and Jacky’s thin fingers grasped at his nightshirt, his legs wrapping tightly around Niall, and he muttered something in a soft and frightened voice. His hair, black and shiny with grease, fell limp in front of his sunken eyes. He was so beautiful, Niall thought, knowing he was the only one who saw it. He wrapped his arms tightly around Jacky, wishing he could protect him and keep him safe always. But Jacky couldn’t spend every night at Niall’s. He would have to go home tonight. Home to him.

“Niall!” His mother’s voice from down the hall spooked them both awake; Jacky’s eyes flew open in a panic. He jumped away from Niall and hurriedly scuttled under the blankets on the floor as the sound of footsteps grew closer and Niall’s mother pushed the door open.

“Morning, boys!” she announced, and Niall and Jacky pretended to wake up, rubbing their eyes and gazing blearily at her. “Oh heavens, it’s freezing in here; you’ve left the window open all night!”

Well, that explained the chill. She stepped over Jacky, who shrank away from her, to shut the sticky window tight. “Time to get up or you’ll be late for school. No more sleepovers if you’re going to be exhausted the next morning. What time did you boys go to bed last night?” She cocked her head, hands planted on her hips.

Niall and Jacky looked at each other guiltily. “Not that late, Ma,” said Niall. “I dunno. We didn’t look at the clock.”

“Well, get dressed.” She tutted. “Honestly, you boys don’t appreciate me. You think all mothers allow sleepovers on school nights?”

“No, Mam.” Niall managed a smile through bleary squinted eyes. “You’re the best, Mam.”

“Well, you’ve got that right. All right, up, breakfast’s almost ready.”

She left, closing the door behind her.

Jacky sighed and lay back on the pillow. “Why can’t I just live here with you, Niall?”

Niall bit his lip. “Well, y’know maybe if you told her, like, what’s going on with your dad—”

“She won’t listen,” said Jacky crossly. “They never listen. I told you. And me dad told me if I made a fuss again he’d hit me harder.” He flinched, his eyes going dark. “He said he’d kill me last time. I told you, Niall.”

“I know, but I bet Mam would let you stay here.”

“She wouldn’t, Niall. Anyway, I don’t wanna talk about it. We’re doing it tonight, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, I said tonight, didn’t I?”

“You sound like you don’t want to.”

“Of course I want to!” Niall jumped down onto the floor and grabbed Jacky, pulling him into a tight hug. “Hey, we’ve been planning it for weeks. I’m not gonna back out now.”

“Bet y’are though,” said Jacky, sniffling.

“I’m not.” Niall took Jacky by the arms and looked him firmly in the eyes. “I’m not just gonna abandon you, Jacky. Whatever it takes, I’m gonna take care of you. I love you.”

“I know.” Jacky sniffled again, rubbing his eyes. “I just can’t go back there again. I can’t keep lettin’ him—”

“You won’t.” It hurt deep in Niall’s heart to see Jacky cry. He couldn’t stand it. He pulled Jacky to him and kissed him hard, hoping it would stop the tears and take away some of the fear. “Listen, I got it all planned out. Everything’s ready. I’m gonna be there tonight at midnight sharp, okay? We’re gonna do it.”

“You promise it’ll make him stop? You promise it’ll work?”

“I promise, Jacky. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been studying this stuff for years; you know that. Magic works. I’ve tried it. You saw the stuff I can do.”

“It’s just little stuff.” Jacky crossed his arms.

“Yeah,” said Niall, feeling slightly offended. “That’s just ’cause I haven’t tried anything big yet. Look, if you don’t believe me, I’ll prove you wrong tonight. Right?”

“Yeah.” Jacky sighed and turned away to look for his clothes. “I hope it works, Niall. I dunno what I’ll do if it doesn’t.”

“It’ll work,” said Niall. “Don’t worry.”

It was impossible to concentrate at school. Niall’s mind was running through the ritual, remembering all the incantations. He’d be reading them out loud from a book tonight, but he had memorised them all anyway. He doodled the summoning circle in the margins of his notebooks, over and over again, so he’d have it perfect. It had to be perfect.

Jacky wasn’t in any of his classes this year. He had been in years past, but last year Jacky’s grades had slipped, and he’d been placed in learning support. Niall had tried to help him. Tried to make him learn. But his attempts had only been met with acidic responses and eventual tantrums from Jacky. He was smart, but no one could make him learn. So Niall had decided to leave it alone. He would learn when he was ready. And this might just change everything.

Jacky met him at lunch, in their usual spot outside the gymnasium. It was a corner that no one ever came near, so they were in relative privacy. He leaned his head on Niall’s shoulder and sighed. Niall drew him close, savouring the moment of aloneness. “How’s class?”

“Just stupid,” sniffed Jacky. “I can’t really think. I’m so excited.”

“Me too. I’ve been practising.”

“I got on the computer a little.” Jacky stiffened a little and leaned away from Niall to grab his bag. “I printed out some stuff.”

“What?” Niall leaned forward.

“Well, I thought—” Jacky pulled some papers out of the bag, printed articles. “I thought we might make a last-minute change.”

Niall bit his lip. “I don’t know, Jacky. It’s kind of a delicate thing.”

“Who’s the one you want to summon? Densel?”

“Denusel,” corrected Niall. “Well, he seems best; I mean, I looked him up in a bunch of different demonology books, right? He’s supposed to be really good at persuasion and mind control, so I figured he’d be a good fit. Plus, it said he had an even temperament.”

“It’s just…” Jacky frowned, chewing on his nails. “He’s not supposed to be very powerful, is he?”

“He’ll be enough, Jacky; it’s all relative. This is a really simple request, like a small transaction. The more powerful demons are much more dangerous, and they do much bigger stuff.”

“Yeah, but if you do it all right, it’ll be fine. It won’t be able to hurt us.”

“It’s— Sure, but we don’t need to—”

“Because I looked it up, and I found this.” Jacky shoved the article at Niall. It looked old like it had been photocopied from a book, but not one that Niall had ever seen before.

“Khireneth,” he read aloud. “Notably powerful demon, recordings include— No, this is no good. It doesn’t say anything about his power level or what he does.”

“It does down here, see?” Jacky pointed. “Look, it says he calls himself ‘Champion of the Oppressed.’”

“Sure, but that doesn’t mean anything; demons are all liars. They’re bad and dangerous unless you know how to contain them.”

“I know. You told me, but you do, right?” Jacky swallowed. “I want to make sure it works. I want to be sure.”

“I am sure.”

“Niall, I want to do this one.”

“No.”

“Please. Please, Niall.” Jacky blinked and a tear rolled down his face. “It has to work. There’s no other way. My dad—”

Niall clenched his jaw. He hated that man. And he hated even more that there was nothing he could do. Jacky wouldn’t let him tell the teachers, or the police or anything. Not since he’d come to school with a black eye once in fourth grade, and the teachers had sent a social worker to their house. Niall didn’t know what Jacky’s father had done to him as punishment, but he never talked about it. And when Niall even suggested telling someone about it, Jacky went white as a sheet.

Niall hated feeling helpless. That was probably why he had taken up magic. It gave him a feeling like he had some control over his life; that he could help. And he could help. If this summoning went well, why couldn’t they summon a more powerful demon? The transaction would be the same. And it would be a for-sure thing.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay, Jacky, we’ll do it.”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

J.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied.  

J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at jes.k.pendragon@gmail.com.

Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  Blog Button 2

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The First Chapter of my Lambda Literary Award Nominated Novel, BLUE UMBRELLA SKY





Blue Umbrella Sky is my novel about starting over and how love can heal wounds. It was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

I thought you might enjoy reading the first chapter to see if this tale of two lost souls finding redemption and love in each other might whet your appetite for more.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Milt Grabaur has left his life, home, and teaching career in Ohio to start anew. The Summer Winds trailer park in Palm Springs, butted up against the San Jacinto mountain range, seems the perfect place to forget the pain of nursing his beloved husband through Alzheimer's and seeing him off on his final passage.


Billy Blue is a sexy California surfer type who once dreamed of being a singer but now works at Trader Joe’s and lives in his own trailer at Summer Winds. He’s focused on recovery from the alcoholism that put his dreams on hold. When his new neighbor moves in, Billy falls for the gray-eyed man. His sadness and loneliness awaken something Billy’s never felt before—real love.

When a summer storm and flash flood jeopardize Milt's home, Billy comes to the rescue, hoping the two men might get better acquainted… and maybe begin a new romance. But Milt's devotion to his late husband is strong, and he worries that acting on his attraction will be a betrayal.

Can they lay down their baggage and find out how redemptive love can be?


BUY
Amazon
NineStar Press

BLUE UMBRELLA SKY
CHAPTER ONE

Milt Grabaur stared out the window of his trailer, wondering how much worse it could get.
The deluge poured down, gray, almost obscuring his neighbors’ homes and the barren desert landscape beyond. The rain hammered on his metal roof, sounding like automatic gunfire. Milt shivered a little, thinking of that old song, “It Never Rains in Southern California.”
He leaned closer to the picture window, pressing his hand against the glass and whispering to himself, “But it pours.”
That window had given him his daily view for the last six months, ever since he’d packed up a life’s worth of belongings and made his way south and west to Palm Springs and the Summer Winds Mobile Home Community. This same picture window, almost every single day, had shown him only endless blue skies and sunshine. An errant cloud or a jet contrail would occasionally break up the field of electric blue, but other than that, it was azure perfection. Milt reveled in it. He’d begun to think these expanses of blue, lit up by golden illumination, would never cease.
Until today.
At about three o’clock, that blue sky, for the first time, was overcome with gray, a foreboding mass of bruised clouds. Milt wondered, because of his experience in the desert so far, if the clouds would be only that—foreboding. The magical gods of the Coachella Valley would, of course, sweep away those frowning and depressing masses of imminent precipitation with a wave of their enchanted hands.
Surely.
But the sky continued to darken, seemingly unaware of Milt’s fanciful imagining and yearnings. At last the once-blue dome above him became almost like night in midafternoon and the first heavy drops—fat beads of water—began to fall, first a slow sprinkle, where Milt could count the seconds between drops, then faster and faster, until the raindrops combined into one single and, Milt had to admit, terrifying roar.
And then an unfamiliar sound—the drumroll and cymbal crash of thunder. The sky, moments after, lit up with brilliant white light.
The rain fell in earnest. Torrents of the stuff.
The other trailers, his neighbors, nearly vanished in the relentless gray downpour. The wind howled, sending the rain capriciously sideways every few seconds. The palm trees in his front yard swayed and bent with the ruthless gusts, testimony to their strength, despite their appearance of being stalklike and weak. The wind tore dry husks of bark from them.
At first Milt was unconcerned, thinking the rain could only do good. It would bless the parched succulents, cacti, and palms that dotted the rocky, sandy landscape of the park, maybe even bring them to colorful life, forcing a brilliant desert flower, here and there, to bloom. His decade-old Honda Civic, parked next to the trailer, would get a wash, the thick layer of sand and dust chased away, almost pressure-cleaned.
For the half a year he’d been here, Milt had been amazed at how clean everything could look when, in actuality, anything outdoors was quickly covered in a veneer of fine sand, almost like gritty dust. Milt was forever wiping off his patio furniture, cleaning the glass surfaces of his car. But this minor inconvenience was more than outweighed by the stunning and almost surreal appearance of the Coachella Valley and the desert, a wild beauty which far surpassed anything even an optimistic Milt had dreamed of when he had made up his mind, somewhat suddenly, to shed his old life in Ohio and move out to Southern California.
He stared out at the gusts of wind, the flashes of lightning, and the almost-blinding downpour and realized he had no idea it could be like this. The trailer park was smack up against the San Jacinto mountain range, and Milt realized with horror that not only would the little park suffer from the copious water falling from the sky, but it would also be the beneficiary, like it or not, of runoff as it came hurtling down the mountain face.
As if to confirm his notion, Milt gasped as he noticed the street in front of his trailer.
It was no longer a street.
Not really.
No, now it was a creek. A creek notable for its rushing rapids. Water was speeding by at an unprecedented pace. Milt sucked in some air as he saw a lawn chair go by, buoyed up by the current. Then a plastic end table. An inflatable pool toy—a swan—that Milt supposed was in the right place at the right time. But the damp throw pillows whizzing by, like soggy oyster crackers in soup, were not.
Milt turned to look behind him at the sound of a whimper.
“Oh, what’s the matter, sweetheart?” He held out a beseeching hand to the gray-and-white pit bull mix he’d picked up from the Palm Springs Animal Shelter over on Mesquite the first week he’d gotten here. “It’s okay.”
She looked ferocious but was a big softie, easily frightened, shy, and with a disposition that made Mother Teresa look like a terrorist. Ruby, he’d called her on a whim, in honor of the kind lady that lived two doors down from him when he was a little boy back in Summitville, Ohio. That Ruby, like this one, had always been kind but retiring, shying from the slightest spotlight.
This Ruby, right now, was terrified, her tail between her legs, backing toward the shadowy corners of the room, eyes wide with fear. Milt reached out, trying to grab the frightened dog, but she scurried away and dashed out of sight down the narrow hallway leading to his bedroom, nails clattering, slipping and sliding on the tile floor. Milt sighed, knowing exactly what she was doing even though he couldn’t see her—scurrying under his bed to cower among the dust bunnies and cast-off shoes.
It would take hours—and treats—to coax her out. Milt knew from experience….
He returned his attention to the storm raging outside, which showed no signs of abating.
Plus—and this made Milt groan—there was a new wrinkle to the carnage. Not only were the streets around his trailer now rapidly flowing rivers; Milt also realized with horror he was about to get flooded.
He gazed down on standing water several inches deep spread out across his patio. It covered the outdoor rugs he’d bought, with their whimsical cactus design, soaking them like washcloths. It rose up the sides of his patio furniture. Milt swore he could see it getting higher and higher.
Worst of all, Milt watched the water hover just outside the sliding glass doors, waiting, perhaps, for an invitation to come inside.
Ah, the hell with it, the water seemed to say, why wait for an invitation? This party needs crashing!
And it began to seep in…. A little at first, and then faster and faster, until his entire floor was covered.
Milt involuntarily cried out, voice high-pitched and terrified, nothing like the butch forty-two-year-old he thought himself. “Help! Flood! Somebody, please!” The cry was pure panic. Logically, he knew no one would hear.
What that helper would do, Milt had no idea, but he simply wanted someone to be with him in his predicament. The thought flitted across his consciousness that he’d been here six months, and it wasn’t until today and the advent of a rainstorm of biblical proportions that he realized he didn’t want to be alone. He swore as warm water covered his bare feet at the exact moment his power went out, plunging his little sanctuary into murky dark.
And at this very unnerving moment, Milt realized—gratefully—someone just might have heard his pleas for help. There was a pounding at the back door, rattling the glass jalousie panes. He turned, confused for a moment—he’d cast himself as a sole survivor, a man against nature, alone.
The pounding continued. A voice. “Hey! You okay in there?”
Milt crossed the living room and the small galley kitchen to get to the back door. But when he opened it, there was no one there. The wind pushed at him, mocking, and the rain sent a drenching spray against him. Despite getting soaked, Milt leaned out, gripping the door’s frame with both hands for balance, and looked around.
Even though the covering of storm clouds had made it seem as though a dusky twilight had fallen, he could see that there was no one there.
He wondered if he’d imagined the knocking and the voice. He really didn’t know his neighbors, having kept to himself since he’d moved out here because he just wasn’t ready to connect with others again. He’d given so much to his Corky during those final tortured months…. Sometimes Milt felt he had nothing left to give anyone again ever.
And a dog, cowering and bashful as she might be, had been company enough.
His little reverie was shattered by a second round of knocking, this time at the sliding glass doors in his living room. “Okay, so I’m not hearing things.” Milt turned away from the back door and headed to the sliders.
Outside, a young man stood, drenched from head to toe, in a pair of neon-pink board shorts and, well, nothing else. Maybe there’s flip-flops. Milt couldn’t see the guy’s feet. His jaw dropped as he hurried to open the door. In spite of all that was going on—the storm, the flood, the risk of his home being destroyed—he couldn’t help his thoughts, notions he’d decided long ago died within him.
I am looking at an angel; that’s all there is to it. He’s going to sweep me away in those muscular arms, lifting me right up to heaven and setting me down gently next to my Corky.
Milt shook his head. A short burst of laughter escaped him, almost as if someone else were chuckling in his living room with him.
The guy was handsome, a tanned and buff dreamboat. Corky would have loved him, saying, once upon a time, that looks like this boy’s should be illegal, or at least sinful. Milt smiled.
Even though his hair was plastered to his head, Milt could tell it was thick and luxurious—right now the color of dark wheat, but Milt was certain that in dryer moments, it was as gold as the pure, unfiltered sunshine Milt had grown accustomed to being greeted by every morning. He had a body that made Milt, if only for a moment, forget the storm and the fact that he was a widower, still grieving nearly a year after losing his man. Muscles, smooth bronze skin, and a six-pack had the power of oblivion, of taking precedence over everything else.
Stop, he mentally chastised himself. He flung open the slider, noticing the rain had—at last—slowed to a patter and the winds had died down almost completely. Milt, though, couldn’t seem to put lips and tongue together to form a greeting or ask a question or to even say anything at all. His eyebrows came together like two caterpillars possessed of their own will.
“Hey there, man. I heard you calling out for help.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I live in the unit behind you.” He smiled, revealing electric-white teeth that made Milt’s thoughts go even more blank or even more lascivious, he wasn’t sure which. He shivered.
The guy gave Milt a more tentative smile, the type you’d give to the kindly neighbor down the street who’d just emerged from home wearing nothing but a pair of saddle shoes and a big smile. Milt wondered if the guy thought he was encountering a person who couldn’t speak, or maybe someone whose mind had completely deserted him. Lord knew Milt was familiar enough with people like that, having  only very recently seen to every need of a person just like that.
“Are you okay, buddy?”
Milt managed a smile, despite the fact that his feet squished on the soaked carpeting. Oh Lord, is everything ruined? How much is this going to cost? Is it going to wipe me out? “Yeah,” Milt sputtered. He glanced behind him. “It looks as though I’m getting flooded.” There appeared to be at least a couple of inches of water covering the floor of his trailer. He groaned.
The young man leaned in to survey the damage and gave a low whistle. “Yikes!” He leaned back out so he could face Milt. “Bet you didn’t think you needed to worry about flooding in the desert?”
Milt shook his head. “Well, it wasn’t foremost.” He glanced behind him again, feeling like his sanctuary had been violated—as it indeed had. And what fresh hell would spring forth from the damage? “What am I gonna do?”
“Well, my opinion is you need to get yourself the hell out of there. As I said, I’m right behind you, up the mountain a tad, so I’m still dry. You wanna grab some of your stuff just in case and come on over?”
“Stuff?”
“Yeah, man, like, I don’t know, a laptop, maybe? Family pictures? Important papers? You know, just in case. The stuff you’d run out of here with if the place caught on fire.”
“Oh, right.” Milt sighed. “This is awfully kind of you.”
“Hey, we’re neighbors. At Summer Winds, we look out for each other. I’ve been wanting to meet you, anyway. Sucks that it has to be under these circumstances. But come on, I’ve got a dry house, air-conditioning, and enough candy to send you into a diabetic coma.” He laughed.
Milt stood, his mind beating a hasty retreat. He shouldn’t feel indecisive, but he did.
“Or if you have other plans…,” the man finally said. “Indoor pool party?”
“No. No! I’d love to come over.” Milt looked around his place once more. Most of his stuff was up high enough that it wouldn’t get wet, unless the trailer toppled over or something, but there was one thing he couldn’t just leave behind. “I need to get Ruby.”
“Ruby?”
“My girl, my dog!” Milt snapped, as if his visitor should know. He immediately regretted his tone, but his neighbor simply seemed to be taking his dire straits way too lightly.
“Ruby. Cute name. I’ve seen you walking her. She’s sweet. Go grab her. She’s welcome too. Animals of all varieties are welcome in my crib.” He winked. “I used to have a dog myself, a Yorkie, Bergamot, that thought he was a Doberman.” He frowned. “But he passed away last winter. Coyote got him.”
Milt jerked a little in horror. “I’m sorry.”
Milt couldn’t imagine losing his dog—he’d already fallen hopelessly in love with Ruby. He felt a deep-seated twinge of empathy. “The storm shook her up. Let me just see if I can coax her out from under the bed.” Milt didn’t think the task would be too tough, since it was now wet under the bed and Ruby hated water. He turned and started away, sloshing through the hateful water. Midstream, so to speak, he changed his mind and turned back.
He held out a hand. “I’m sorry. Milt. Milt Grabaur. I’d invite you in, but my place, as you can see, isn’t exactly presentable.” He laughed and then felt like bursting into tears.
“If you knew I was coming, you’d have baked a cake? A sponge cake?” He snorted and shook Milt’s hand with a big calloused paw. “Billy Blue.”
Milt smiled. “Seriously?”
Billy shrugged. “Yeah, my mom and dad had a great sense of humor. Or thought I was destined for the stage, instead of cashier at Trader Joe’s. The advantage of a name like mine, silly as it is, is that people tend not to forget it.”
“I think it’s a lovely name.” Milt met Billy Blue’s gaze—and thought how fortuitous it was that his irises matched the color of his last name. And you’re a lovely man. Handsome, built like a brick shithouse—and sweet as pie.
“I’ll be right back with Ruby.” He turned and this time did manage to slosh to the very rear of the trailer, where his wood-paneled master bedroom awaited. Before he even stooped down in the grimy water to coax, he began talking to Ruby. “Good girl. Nothin’ to be ascared of, honey,” Milt said in his most soothing voice, cadence and words dredged up from his boyhood memories of living near the river in the foothills of the Appalachians, in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. He squatted down, wincing a little as his knees came into contact with the spongy shag carpeting he’d hoped to replace one day, and lifted the bottom of the comforter, which was stained dark from the water.
Underneath the bed there was only a couple of inches of water, a pair of Keen sandals, and a metal storage box that contained Milt’s “toys”—and we’re not talking Fisher-Price here.
There was no Ruby. Nor any other living creature.
Milt got to his feet, groaning, and took stock of the entire bedroom, thinking perhaps Ruby had retreated to a corner or hidden behind the chest of drawers. But she was nowhere to be found, not even in the adjacent bathroom, which looked now as though Milt had taken a long, long shower and had simply not bothered to turn the water off.
Knowing she wouldn’t be there, but checking anyway, Milt opened the frosted glass shower door to find it empty.
He made a tour of the trailer, getting more and more anxious with each step, with each empty nook and cranny. “Ruby?” he called out several times, each time his voice growing louder, as though sheer volume would make her appear.
But she didn’t.
And the thoughtlessly left-open back door gave testimony to what had most likely happened. The poor terrified girl had probably tried to escape that way, running headlong into a fate worse than she was trying to escape. Milt hurried to the open door, peering out onto his little patio, hoping against hope she’d be out there, stub of a tail sending up splashes as she looked mournfully at him.
But Ruby was gone.
Milt felt as though his heart would break.
He closed the door behind him, sighing and wondering if he should leave it open, just in case she tried to return. Return to what? A trailer flooded with filthy—and probably bacteria-ridden—water?
He moved back to the sliders, looking over Billy’s broad shoulders, hoping Ruby would appear on the doused desert landscape.
Billy smiled at Milt’s return. “Dog?” he wondered.
Milt’s breath caught. The day, or not really the day but only, really, the past few minutes, had been a disaster. Disasters happen fast and savage in Palm Springs. He wasn’t sure he could speak without bursting into tears, without chastising himself for his own carelessness.
If only I hadn’t left that damn door open.
“She’s nowhere to be found.” Milt shrugged.
Billy frowned, and his gaze seemed to reach out to Milt in sympathy, which made Milt want to cry even more. “She’ll turn up.” Billy changed his expression to a reassuring smile. “She’s got it good—a man all to herself, and I assume a limitless supply of treats.” He winked. “I wish I could say the same.”
Ah, so he’s one of us. I thought so, but one doesn’t want to assume. “I’m sure you’re right,” Milt said, although he wasn’t sure at all.
“You still want to come over? I got carnitas cooking in the Crock-Pot. Homemade tortillas. I may be blond, but I cook like the locals.”
Milt managed a smile. The thought of food made his stomach turn, thinking of Ruby running around out there somewhere—with threats like coyotes, black widow spiders, and rattlesnakes all around, just to name a few. She might look fierce, but Milt feared she wouldn’t last long up against the desert’s more formidable predators.
At least it’s not raining anymore.
“You wanna gather some stuff up?”
Milt shook his head. “It’ll be okay.” Barefoot, morose, he stepped through the sliders and outside.
“Atta boy. We’ll get settled over at my place, and then we can do a little search-and-rescue mission. I’m sure she’s not far away.”
“I hope not.” Milt followed Billy Blue into the unseasonably damp day. Steam was already beginning to rise off surfaces not under water.
The sun was beginning to come out again, revealing blue skies.
Milt couldn’t see it, though.