Wednesday, December 2, 2020

M4M: How Three Stories Translate Into One Great Love

 


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.

Read a Little...

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

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Perfect Idea for Thanksgiving: Enjoy DINNER AT HOME




Dinner at Home, my "romance with recipes," offers you a compelling love story, a taste of redemption, and just a few recipes you might want to try for yourself, at home.

BLURB

It only takes a few days for Ollie D'Angelo to lose his boyfriend, his job, and his home. Instead of mourning what he doesn’t have, Ollie celebrates what he does: the freedom to pursue his real passion—cooking. He begins Dinner at Home, a home-catering business, and it takes off.

Late one night, Ollie catches Hank Mellinger, a streetwise hood down on his luck, about to rob his car. Ollie soon discovers that appearances aren’t necessarily what they seem. Hank isn’t a criminal caught red-handed, but a hungry young man trying to make a life for himself and the four-year-old niece he’s trying desperately to take care of. 


Instead of calling the cops, Ollie offers Hank a job and a way to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Together, they discover they can really cook... and that their shared passion for food just might lead to a passion for each other.


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from JMS Books (only $3.99!)
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EXCERPT
At the front door, Ollie paused, keys in hand. "I'm an overly trusting idiot and have been told my heart's too big for my own good." He laughed. "And it's all true. If you have a gun, a knife, or whatever, I hope you know you can take whatever you find in here. Just don't hurt me."

Ollie unlocked and opened the door. Smells of cooking drifted out, warm and comforting, making Hank's mouth water and his stomach growl -- loudly. He placed a hand over it and grinned at Ollie, embarrassed.

Ollie didn't smile back. He cocked his head. "You're hungry?"

"Oh God, you don't know." Hank swallowed painfully, his throat dry, hating to be found so weak and wanting. His mind rushed to Addison, and he realized, again, how important it was that he get home soon to her.

"Why don't you come into the kitchen and sit down? I'll fix you something to eat."

"You don't have to do that, man. You don't even fuckin' know me."

"I know you're hungry. And I suspect, because I have great and powerful deductive reasoning, that your breaking into my Subaru had something to do with that." He opened the refrigerator and started rooting around in it. Although Hank couldn't see his face, he could hear Ollie.

"And I'm a cook. It's your lucky night. I have leftovers out the wazoo. Name your pleasure. I have mac and cheese with roasted peppers and bacon, my famous Mexican casserole with salsa, black beans, corn and roasted chicken, a little veggie beef soup, half a pork tenderloin with a bourbon brown-sugar glaze ..."

Hank wanted to get up and shove the man out of the way and simply kneel before the refrigerator, stuffing what sounded like manna from heaven into his mouth.

"What do you want, buddy? I can heat up any of this stuff in two minutes in the microwave."

Hank put his head down on the table and sobbed. He heard the refrigerator door close and felt Ollie's shadow fall over him. "Oh for Christ's sake, kid. Get a hold of yourself! It's just food." He chuckled and Hank could feel Ollie kneeling down beside him. Ollie slid a hand onto his shoulder and rubbed. "What's the matter?"

Hank managed to ebb the flow of tears once more, embarrassed and ashamed. "It's just that I'm so hungry. I've never been so hungry."

Ollie stood up. Hank watched him pull what looked like a glass dish of mac and cheese from the white refrigerator. He put it in the microwave, pressed a couple of buttons, and the machine was humming, giving Hank a warm late-night supper.

This would seem like such a blessing if it weren't for Addison.

Ollie said, "I'm sorry. We'll get something hot into you in just a couple of minutes."

"I'm not alone," Hank said.

"What's that?" Ollie paused before the microwave, glass dish in his hand.

"I said I'm not alone."

"I don't know what that means. You look alone to me."

Hank stared out the kitchen window at the darkness pressing in, like something palpable. He felt like he and Ollie were the only two people in the world. "I have a little girl. Her name is Addison."

Please feel free to repost this blog! I'd be forever grateful.




Monday, November 23, 2020

STRANDED WITH DESIRE is Out Now!

 


Thrilled to announce STRANDED WITH DESIRE is now out (see below for links to get your very own copy)! This romance that blooms after a plane crash in the Cascade Mountains is an exciting adventure and love story. It was great collaborating with awesome author, Vivien Dean on this. 

About the Book


CEO Maine Braxton and his invaluable assistant, Colby, don’t realize they share a deep secret: they’re in love—with each other. That secret may have never come to light but for a terrifying plane crash in the Cascade Mountains that changes everything.

In a struggle for survival, they brave bears, storms, and a life-threatening flood to make it out of the wilderness alive. The proximity to death makes them realize the importance of love over propriety. Confessions emerge. Passions ignite. They escape the wilds renewed and openly in love.

When they return to civilization, though, forces are already plotting to snuff out their short-lived romance and ruin everything both have worked so hard to achieve.



Get a Taste...

Stranded by Desire
Rick R Reed and Vivien Dean © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
Colby LaSalle never dreamed his life would end in a plane crash over the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. But here he was, whispering fevered petitions to the Lord as the plane screamed, plunging downward…faster, faster.

Out the windows, all he could see was white. And the only outcome he could imagine was that once that white cleared, the last thing he’d take in would be towering pine trees and the cold side of a mountain hurtling toward him. It was almost too horrific to comprehend.

In those few moments, as Colby braced himself in his seat, head down near his knees, he found himself thinking what a loss this was. The man across from him, his boss, Maine Braxton, would never know the most important thing about Colby. And that thing was not his proficiency as an administrative assistant, keeping Maine on track and on schedule in all his business affairs, but that Colby was passionately—and secretly—in love with him. With all his heart and soul.

That fact, and the unspoken words that hid it, seemed tragic to Colby, maybe even more tragic than the life he was about to lose. What kind of life, Colby wondered, did you really have if you’d never truly loved and been loved in return?

Colby, at twenty-eight, had never been in love before. And now it looked as though he would never have the chance to act on his desire, on that feeling that made his heart flutter whenever Maine walked by his desk. Was love like a tree falling in the forest? If the object of that love never knew of it, did it really exist?

Colby looked up for a moment, maybe to have a final look at Maine, but was distracted by the view through the cockpit window of the six-seater plane they were traveling in—a Beechcraft Bonanza. The opaque fog of white cleared for a moment, and Colby could see, to his horror, that his imagination was correct.

They were hurtling toward the side of a mountain. The view was surreal. Shock kept him from thinking it was anything other than a very vivid nightmare.

He then looked over at Maine and saw he had slid from his seat to the floor. The strong, powerful man cowered there, hands over his head. His lips moved in what Colby could only assume was silent prayer.

Colby longed to slide over, to cover Maine with his own body and shield him from the impact, but he was paralyzed, a butterfly pinned to a board, and could only add his own whispered prayers to those of his boss.

“Please, God, help us get out of this alive. Let Maine know how very much I love him. Give me that chance.”

The private pilot, a blustery, gruff man named Gus Pangborn but whom everyone just called Rooster, shouted, “We’re gonna try and go up! We’re gonna try and go up!”

Colby didn’t know if he was talking to him, Maine, or himself, but the desperation in the pilot’s gravelly voice was clear. The despair in Rooster’s words communicated one thing to Colby and one thing only—he had no hope.

Colby squeezed his eyes shut tight and placed his head back down toward his knees again, covering it with his hands, although he wondered how much good it would do once the plane crashed, once it was consumed by a giant fireball.

What Colby LaSalle didn’t realize, though, was that the plane crash would signal not the end of his life, but the beginning.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Also available in Audio at Audible

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New and Notable: BURNING IT DOWN by Christopher Koehler

 

Title: Burning It Down

Series: CalPac Crew, Book Three

Author: C. Koehler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 23, 2020

Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 87400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, sports, firefighter, veterinarian, rowing, accident rehabilitation, new identity

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Synopsis

Owen Douglas, Sacramento’s first out battalion chief, is grievously injured in the line of duty. When Brad Sundstrom finds out that Owen’s been noncompliant with his physical therapy due to depression, he pushes Owen into the Capital City Rowing Club’s adaptive rowing program.

Adam Lennox, a former collegiate rower, escapes an abusive relationship and makes his way to CCRC and quickly finds himself dragooned into helping out with adaptive rowing.

Owen, much to his surprise, finds both rowing and Adam much to his liking. When he realizes that Adam returns his interest, the sparks fly and they start a relationship. But even Eden has its snake, and Adam’s ex, Jordan, comes looking for him, willing to do anything to make Adam and Owen pay.

Excerpt

Burning It Down
C. Koehler © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Late summer, approximately a year and a half after the start of Rocking the Boat.

Four months into his new job as battalion chief for Sacramento City Fire’s second battalion and Owen Douglas still couldn’t sit still. Sure, he knew the job from a theoretical standpoint, and every day he learned more from a practical standpoint, but he couldn’t ignore the niggling discomfort he felt when he saw those bugles on his collar. Like his new uniform didn’t fit quite right, and perhaps from a certain point of view, it didn’t. No matter how he squinted or how many times he turned it this way or that, he couldn’t see all that much light between his investigation into the arson at the Bayard House at the beginning of the year and his promotion to battalion chief. More to the point, neither could the men and women under his command.

Not to mention every time he opened his mouth, unicorns crapping glitter and rainbows popped out. At least, that was what people seemed to be waiting for. He liked to think he was discreet, that nothing at work proclaimed him Big Gay Owen, no snapshots of boyfriends, no photos of him shaking his ass on a Mardi Gras float, no matter how much fun he’d had in Sydney, just a subtle rainbow on his battered 4Runner, a bar no bigger than the head of a toothbrush. He tried not to play the gay card, but he was the first out battalion chief in the fire department’s history, and well he knew it. More to the point, the people under his command knew it. Maybe he was just making too big a deal out of it or felt guilty for being promoted over the heads of more senior firefighters.

His intercom buzzed with his secretary on the other end. “Yes?” Owen said.

“Prissy Morrain to see you.”

“Oh! Send her in, please.” He dashed to his office door. He didn’t expect her until tomorrow.

Owen routinely left his office door open, but he quickly got out from behind his desk to greet his visitor, and not just because she outranked him.

“Chief Morrain! I’m so sorry! I must’ve made a mistake in my calendar. I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow—”

Prissy Morrain waved a manicured hand. “Retired Chief, and I’m a day early. We both have better things to do than make small talk over hors d’oeuvres over at some white-tablecloth restaurant. Did you bring your lunch today?”

Owen nodded. Since he was a “first” for the department, he’d sought out the advice of another “first,” the first woman battalion chief, now retired from active firefighting and promoted off to one side to do something less dangerous involving paperwork. “I’ll grab it out of the fridge. There’s a nice park a block away. We can eat there.”

“That’ll do fine.”

Prissy Morrain was a handsome woman, Owen thought; really, she could’ve been one of those older models, the ones with silver hair and flawless skin who pitched vitamins to women of a certain age. Her wrinkles weren’t so much age lines scoring her face with years but delicate lines of character radiating out from her eyes and around her mouth to accentuate a ready smile. How she’d managed that with a career spent fighting fires and sexism, he’d never know.

He spent the short walk to the park rehearsing what he wanted to say, but when Prissy asked, “So what’s the problem?” Owen could only blurt, “I’m just not clicking with the people under me. This station, sure. My office is here, but the other stations in this battalion not so much, and there’s one station that when I walk in everything stops for a few minutes while I walk back to talk to the captain on duty, and that’s just creepy.”

“Have you talked to human resources?”

“Don’t be absurd” slipped out before he could stop it.

Prissy laughed. “Smart man. You don’t want this on your record.”

And that was why he’d contacted her. “Team-building exercises aren’t my thing at this point and are just a waste of time. I’m not in a burning building with these guys. They simply need to function with each other and work in coordinated groups, and they do. But I don’t like getting the stink eye either.”

“Look, hearts of gold, most of these guys, but it’s a conservative profession. The younger ones are yours,” Prissy said, arching one eyebrow, “maybe even literally. There’s more than one gay man among the recruits, and you’re a fine-looking specimen yourself.” She peered over the rims of her mirrored sunglasses, holding up one hand when Owen opened his mouth to interrupt. “Of course, you know better than that, but you know what I mean. It’s the ones who’ve been around a few years, the ones who’re your age and older, you may have to prove yourself to, the ones who might’ve even been up for your job. They’re the ones thinking ‘fag’ behind their smiles.”

“Or not, some of them,” Owen grumbled. “A few of them don’t even bother to smile.”

Prissy chuckled. “They’ll soon learn the stupidity of that. They may be comfortable for A or B shift, but if they’re dumb enough to piss in the battalion chief’s Wheaties, then they’ll have plenty of time to learn the errors of their ways on C shift, or better yet, transfer to someone else’s command. Too bad for them you’ve got just about the best battalion in town.”

It was true. Since he’d captained one of the downtown stations, when he’d been promoted, the fire department put him into an entirely different battalion so he wouldn’t be in immediate charge of his old buddies. The open battalion encompassed Midtown, East Sac, and part of the Pocket, named for the land inscribed within a bend in the Sacramento River. Sometimes he wondered if it was a coincidence that the city’s first out battalion chief also oversaw the gayborhood. He shrugged mentally. Oh well, easier relations during fire inspections, right? “That just seems so petty.”

“And the frat boy antics aren’t?”

Owen sighed. “True enough.”

“It’s not something you want to do often, because you will hear from their union reps about that, and about anything else if they develop an axe to grind,” Prissy said, “but used strategically, it can make your point quite nicely, and the best part is, it’s hard to prove.”

Owen nodded his head slowly. “One hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week, and five stations to staff twenty-four seven in three shifts.”

“Exactly. If you need to, you can always find something miserable for someone to do for a shift or two.” She ate some of her sandwich while she thought. “One more thing, and I hesitate even to mention it, but it was something a few—a very few—of my own firefighters used against me.” At his quizzical look, she said, “Sexual harassment.”

Owen sat back, tossing his own sandwich down. “Oh, that’s just what I need.”

Prissy patted his hand. “Don’t go borrowing trouble. It hasn’t happened yet, but you need to be aware of the possibility. You’re an out gay man, and you supervise a lot of men, some of whom are, by your own admission, not very happy right now. If they can’t pin anything else on you, they may try that.”

“Did that happen to you?” Owen asked, no longer hungry.

“Oh yes. I was a by-the-book chief, and when they couldn’t come up with anything else, some union rep had the bright idea of sexual harassment. Male firefighters, female chief. It was a situation rife with possibilities. Too bad for them and their credibility none of it was true, which quickly emerged when it came to a hearing. The judge laughed them out of court. It may be the same with you. You’ll be a by-the-book battalion chief, but some of them won’t like you just because you’re you, and the only thing they’ll come up with is that you ‘looked at ’em funny’.” She snorted. “Like you’d go for their stringy asses.” She stood up. “You know how to reach me, so do it if you need to. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sculling. One of the advantages of seniority and a desk job is that you can take off more or less at will and no one will miss you. Of course, that’s one of the disadvantages too.”

Rowing. Brad. “Does everyone in this town row?”

“Only the best people. You should come check it out. The Capital City Rowing Club’s adult learn-to-row camps are about done for the summer, but there are still learn-to-scull lessons available.”

“Thanks for the talk. I really appreciate you taking the time,” Owen said, remembering a time he had been anything but by-the-book. The Bayard House. The second floor. Brad. He shivered at the thought of what they’d done. Unprofessional as it had been, it had also been damn hot.

And just the kind of thing people looking to take him down would eat up with a spoon. Fortunately, Brad didn’t seem like the kind to tell tales out of school. He was just too nice a guy. Brad had spent their one encounter thinking of someone else, someone who’d dumped him, and still the big sweetheart had pined for that other guy, even with Owen’s lips wrapped around his cock, and hadn’t that ever done wonders for his ego.

Owen wanted that, wanted that kind of devotion, he thought, sitting there in the leafy green silence of the park. Instead, like that time in the still-smoldering Bayard House, he was just the hookup. He got Brad off and sent him home and then followed up to make sure Brad called whatshisname. He liked to think he was more honorable than most, always the nice guy, always finishing last.

Then he heard the sirens and that was it, no more lunch. That was fine. He’d parted company with his appetite around the time Prissy had mentioned sexual harassment. The park was barely two blocks from the station, but he jogged back. “What’s going on?” Owen asked the dispatcher when he got back.

“A small grass fire at Cal Expo, sir. It doesn’t sound like anything to get excited over.”

Yet. In Owen’s experience, all fires were worth getting excited over, at least until proven otherwise. But maybe that was why he was a firefighter. He liked suiting up in his turnouts and racing to a fire in an engine running hot. He shook his head to clear the rising tide of adrenaline. He’d given some of that up to become battalion chief.

Then the radio went off. He picked it up. “Douglas.”

“I need four more alarms. This thing’s bigger than we were told. Much bigger, and it’s heading for structures.”

“On our way.” He put the radio down. “You heard Captain Chin. Get those trucks moving and notify Arden-Arcade,” he told the dispatcher.

“Beaufort!” he yelled for his driver as he ran for his office and his turnouts. A huge grass fire at Cal Expo that’s heading for the pavilions, and the state fair in less than a month. Why do I always end up involved in political fires?

He wore his turnout pants over his uniform. Sure, he’d sweat like a thoroughbred in moments in the heat once they arrived at the fire. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. The rest he chucked in the backseat of the command SUV with the communications equipment. Then he checked his watch as he climbed into the passenger seat. Less than five minutes. Not ideal, but at least he beat his driver.

Beaufort came running up seconds later. “Damn, sir. How do you do that?”

“Because I’m a firefighter.”

“Ha ha,” Beaufort replied, climbing behind the wheel and flicking the sirens and lights on. But it was true. After earning his bachelor’s in biological sciences at UC Davis, Owen had gone to the Fire Academy at Sierra College. Beaufort studied communications and joined the department in that capacity, along with driving Owen’s now important executive-level ass to big fires.

Owen glanced out of Beaufort’s side of the SUV. “Look—!”

All he could tell was that it wasn’t one of his, and then the enormous fire truck smashed into them, tossing the SUV aside like a rag doll. He lost consciousness as the airbags deployed with a thunderclap.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Christopher Koehler always wanted to write, but it wasn’t until his grad school years that he realized writing was how he wanted to spend his life. Long something of a hothouse flower, he’s been lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged that, especially his long-suffering husband of twenty-nine years and counting.

He loves many genres of fiction and nonfiction, but he’s especially fond of romances, because it’s in them that human emotions and relations, at least most of the ones fit to be discussed publicly, are laid bare.

While writing is his passion and his life, when he’s not doing that, he’s a househusband, at-home dad, and oarsman with a slightly disturbing interest in manners and the other ways people behave badly.

Christopher is approaching the tenth anniversary of publication and has been fortunate to be recognized for his writing, including by the American Library Association, which named Poz a 2016 Recommended Title, and an Honorable Mention for “Transformation,” in Innovation, Volume 6 of Queer Sci Fi’s Flash Fiction Anthology.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Read the First Chapter of my Lammie Finalist 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.


Monday, November 16, 2020

New Release Blitz: Eye of the Beholder by Thomas Grant Bruso

 

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, established couple, evil spirits, businessman, law enforcement, mental illness, horror

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Synopsis

In the middle of a psychic session with Madame Petri, David hears a ghostly voice calling his name. But he is not sure if it’s the elderly fortuneteller exaggerating the reading or bizarre grumblings coming from a mysterious old man in a painting hanging in the psychic’s foyer.

When Madame Petri disappears in a ball of flames, David rushes home, terrified. From that moment on, David and his policeman boyfriend, Zane, find themselves trying to solve the series of murders and mayhem that begin to haunt David.

Excerpt

Eye of the Beholder
Thomas Grant Bruso © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“What do you see?” I asked.

I was sitting across from Madame Petri at the oval-shaped table in the dimly lit backroom of her business, Spiritual Crossings.

The devil-white glow in the medium’s iron-gray eyes pierced through me. “A dead body,” she said. Her bloodred nails were sharp and pointy like talons and wrapped around the cloudy white edges of the crystal ball.

I bit back the sour taste of Cote Rotie from an art exhibit event I had hosted earlier in the evening. All I wanted was a reading of my future, I had told myself after closing the gallery and walking three blocks to Madame Petri’s Spiritual Crossings. Now, I turned to the neighborhood medium and shuddered, my gut clutching.

Some of my art friends had recommended her to me.

“You’ll like her,” one of them had said. “She’s colorful and full of spirit.”

“Go in with an open mind,” somebody else had told me.

Maybe I need new friends.

Clenching the border of the velvet-soft tablecloth, I leaned forward to see if I could glimpse what she had seen in her crystal ball.

There was a bright light in her gaze when she noticed me rising off my seat a few inches to get a better look at the dead body in the cloudy glass ball. But I was drawn back to my chair with a hand clutching my shoulder from behind and pushing me back into my seat.

Blackness swallowed the light in her eyes as if a switch had been turned off inside her, and her gaze fell back to the crystal ball, which was dimming like the low lights in the room.

A steely silence engulfed us.

Balls of sleet smacked against the front glass window in the outer foyer, and the soft sound of thunder rumbled around us. Lights flickered overhead, and a cold draft snuffed out some of the burning incense candles in the dark alcove behind me. A murmur of fear climbed the back of my throat, and I let out a mousy squeal.

When I looked up at Madame Petri’s waxy face, her expression froze.

I clenched my teeth, biting down hard on the cloying taste of cigarettes in my mouth.

Over Madame Petri’s shoulders, I noticed shadowy movements in the other room, and beyond the half-open velvet curtains, the drifting clouds of smoky incense danced like ghosts in the pallid light.

A pale, narrow face stared back at me from the inky blackness: decrepit, deathly white.

I shouted and rose from my chair, breaking the medium’s stern concentration.

Madame Petri stared up at me, her firm grip on the white glass ball unmoving. Her eyes were wide and frightened.

I sucked in short, tight breaths, glancing behind Madame Petri to the outer room, to the far wall where an abstract painting of a haunted face of an old man glared back at me.

David.

I heard my name and froze. Looked around. Let out a deep, shaky breath.

Nothing there.

A trick of the light, that’s all it was, I thought. I adjusted my eyes to the dense grayness and took my seat across from Madame Petri.

“I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my clammy palms on my jeans. “I thought I saw something.”

“You saw it too,” Madame Petri said. The lights in the room dimmed and died and came back.

My mouth was cotton dry, and I shook my head, staring into the still deadness of the medium’s eighty-year-old eyes, thick and hazy with cataracts.

“Saw what?” I stared over her shoulder again at the dark slashes of color in the evocative painting hanging askew in the foyer. It looked like one of the paintings hanging on the walls of my art gallery.

“Death,” Madame Petri said, a crackle in her voice. She raised a jewel-encrusted finger and pointed at me. “Somebody is going to die.”

I rubbed my arms to ward off a chill and heard the harsh warnings of my partner in the corridors of my mind, ridiculing me for shelling out a day’s worth of work to talk to a psychic. How much did it cost you this time to have your future predicted by that phony would-be clairvoyant?

Then the sound of somebody whispering evoked a troubling memory of dead voices. Their small screams floated in the dark like distressed spirits.

“What was that?” I asked, clenching the arm of the chair.

Madame Petri looked around the room and then over at me, a web of wrinkles bracketing the edge of her small mouth. Her tangerine-orange lips stretched into a wide, clownish smile. “The spirits, dear. They’re coming.”

I rose to leave. As I pulled out two twenties from my wallet, Madame Petri reached across the table for my hand. Her fingers were dead cold, and I felt a tremor of electricity when she touched me. “Be careful,” she said, flipping over the Death card from the pile of her tarot cards and tapping it with a black, pointy fingernail. “He who opens the gate must shut it.”

I jerked my hand away and tucked my wallet back into my pants pocket.

The lights flickered again and went out.

Panicking, I stayed still in the dark, calling out for Madame Petri, and hearing movement ten feet from where I stood behind my chair.

“Madame Petri,” I said. “Are you there?”

The heightened smell of decay and burnt flesh and cigarettes aggravated my senses, and a spark of strong pain ignited in the back of my mind.

David.

I heard movement at the other end of the room, somebody bumping into something, and a vase falling and crashing to the floor. Glass shattered.

When I called out Madame Petri’s name again, there was no answer.

I navigated in the dark to the foyer, staying close to the edge of the room and reaching out for the wall to help guide me to the front door.

At the opening to the velvet curtains, lights flashed and turned on in the adjoining rooms. My heart was pounding, my breath short and raspy.

I went to the rain-smattered front door and pushed it open, turning around once at the sound of a door creaking open behind me down the hall, its hinges squawking in protest. I called out Madame Petri’s name, but there was no response. I couldn’t see her anywhere in the semidark hallway through the hazy tendrils of smoke from the blown-out incense candles, but my gaze drifted to the far wall where the painting of the decrepit face of an old man was mounted.

“Madame Petri,” I called out. I reached into my back pocket for my half-smoked pack of Salem’s and my Bic lighter. Flicked it a few times, my hand shaking hard, my heart pounding.

Nothing.

A cold, wet rain blasted me on the back of the neck, and I shivered from the early evening chill.

I lit the end of my cigarette, barely managing to work the lighter, and inhaled a lungful of smoke before shoving the pack of smokes and the cigarette lighter back in my pants pocket.

Then quickly, as if a bolt of lightning flashed through my jumbled thoughts and illuminated my worst nightmares, I glimpsed the haunted painting again to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. The man in the painting was gone, the canvas blank.

Animalistic, ghostly murmurings in throaty growls awakened down the hall.

I ran.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Meet the Author

Thomas Grant Bruso knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer. He has been a voracious reader of genre fiction since he was a kid.

His literary inspirations are Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ellen Hart, Jim Grimsley, Karin Fossum, Sam J. Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Connolly.

Bruso loves animals, book-reading, writing fiction, prefers Sudoku to crossword puzzles.

In another life, he was a freelance writer and wrote for magazines and newspapers. In college, he was a winner for the Hermon H. Doh Sonnet Competition. Now, he writes book reviews for his hometown newspaper, The Press Republican.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Tasty Horror: Meat Mallet



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

BLURB
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!

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