New Hopeland City may have been built to be the centerpiece of the technological age, but some remnants of the old world still linger. The tools of the trade have changed, but the corruption remains the same, even in the criminal underworld …
When PI Cassie Tam and her girlfriend Lori try to make up for their recent busy schedules with a night out at the theatre to watch the Tech Shift performer Kitsune, the last thing they expected was for Cassie to get a job offer. But some people are never off the clock, and by the end of the evening, Cassie has been drawn into a mundane but highly paid missing pet case. Unfortunately, in New Hopeland City, even something as simple as little lost dog can lead you down some dark paths.
Until now, Cassie wasn’t aware that there even was a rabbit hole, let alone how far down it goes.
“I’m sorry, but did you want to get changed before we speak? We’d be happy to leave the room while you get ready. It must be hard work performing in both the TS gear and a kimono thick enough to house projectors without them moving out of line with each other, even if they are the smaller, lightweight models.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Kitsune sighs. “There’s a wireless motion detection system in each hand too,” they add, waving two metallic, clawed paws. “You’ll note that my tails are missing. They don’t yet make multi-tailed suits, you see, and the number is important within the folklore, so we had to find other solutions. The projector tucked under the obi sash keeps the back open nicely, and it allows movement, both in animation and in the actual device, but it’s a bit stronger than the main ones.”
“Meaning that it’s heavier,” I reply.
“Indeed. The way the system works is identical to the tail guidance in regular suits though.”
I frown and Lori clarifies, “Regular Tech Shift gear uses two small wireless touchpads to control tails, one for the bottom half, and one for the top half. They’re embedded in the hand rest of Ink’s front legs. For hybrid-style gear, they usually sit inside the thumb of each hand. It’s the same concept in each one, but animal-style gear allows for bigger movements, while hybrid gear measures micro movements.”
“Which would be rather fiddly, given the level of movement that I require. These are built into the paw pads and are set to register larger movements so that the tails can move in time with the different dance routines and my more flamboyant gestures,” Kitsune explains, demonstrating one of the hand flourishes from the show. They pause then and chuckle. “Ah, but I’m rambling. I am afraid that changing is, contractually speaking, impossible. Will my appearance be a problem?”
“No, I’m used to Tech Shifters…”
Lori laughs and cuts in with, “You are so not used to us yet.”
I laugh quietly, despite myself. The miserable old loner that still lives in my head says I should be angry about that; I’m working after all. But the part of me that was enjoying the evening is far more prominent and reminds me that this was supposed to be Lori’s evening too. I can allow her a small jab or two on that basis. “My early experiences with Tech Shifters were not positive,” I say, addressing Kitsune. “I’m getting better, though. What do you mean by ‘contractually speaking,’ if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all. It is essentially as it sounds. The Kitsune brand is a joint venture between myself and Kevin, and there is a lot of paperwork involved dealing with how the whole thing is to be played out in every mundane situation that you could imagine. What it means is that I can boss Kevin about and make him my dogsbody as much as is required, but at the same time, I must respect his rather brilliant marketing strategies. Part of that means that the mystery of the Kitsune’s true identity is to be protected at all times. As such, I do not meet with anyone without my professionalface on. It seems a little strange, I know, but he was previously a historian of certain old-world sporting brands by trade and thought that applying a degree of what he called kayfabewould help give the whole thing a new edge. I can’t say that he was wrong.”
“So, are you Kitsune when you’re around family too?” Lori asks. “Or partners?”
“Oh, I have no time for partners, not with mytouring schedule. With family, I can be myself, though Kevin did insist upon them signing a gagging order to prevent them from revealing my identity to anyone who hadn’t signed a similar contract. You should have seen my mother’s face when he brought that up. I honestly thought that the rolling pin she was holding was going to be put to nefarious use. Outside Kevin, even my oldest friends do not know who resides beneath the mask.”
“That must be hard to maintain,” I say.
“Oh yes, I have cover stories and everything. It’s somewhat akin to witness protection if television is to be believed. As far as most know, I am simply a touring stagehand for the great performing fox spirit.”
I nod. “Kitsune, as pleasant as this is, I assume there was a reason that you wanted to see me?”
“Oh yes, of course. I saw the news coverage of your recent success with that Gary Locke character,” they say, and Lori flinches slightly. “As far as local detectives go, there are plenty of them about, but you are certainly the most well regarded. I have actually been in town for a week now, and I am due to remain here for a further two. I am afraid that, over that initial period, I was subject to a crime of the nature I am led to believe the police do not take overly seriously.”
“The police wouldn’t be happy about not knowing your identity, regardless of the crime. If it’s one that they won’t usually touch, that doesn’t leave many possibilities. What are we talking about?”
“It is rather lonely on the road,” they sigh wistfully. “A few months ago, we stopped in Toledo, and I was awoken from a post-performance nap by a clattering outside the tour bus. I wandered out, expecting to find a fan or two hunting autographs, and instead found this charming little thing skulking around the bins. I named him Fish.”
Kitsune produces a phone from their kimono, loads up a photo, and passes it over. It shows a snow white American Shepherd dog sitting on one of the tour bus seats and giving the camera a suspicious look. It’s too big to be a puppy, but certainly not big enough to be fully grown.
“You named your dog Fish?”
“It seems strange, doesn’t it?” Kitsune laughs. “There’s a reason, though.” They take the phone back and enlarge the picture, revealing that the dog’s tail is about half the length it should be. It was easy to miss at normal size because the single colouring made it seem like it was tucked under its legs. “When I was young, my parents had some rosetail betta fish. One of them was pure white, and it had a habit of nibbling through its tail fin. When we took Fish to the vet, they said that the tail damage, judging by the angle of the marks, was likely self-inflicted. I couldn’t remember what my parents called the fish, so I just stuck with Fish.”
I nod. “And I assume that Fish is now missing?”
“I am afraid so. It happened yesterday, during the early hours. I was woken by a loud bang and found that Fish was gone, and the tour bus door was open.”
“Could Fish have run away?”
“It would have been difficult for him to open the door, but not impossible. I don’t think that he would have run, though. We were lifelines for each other, you see. He kept me company during the day, and when he had nightmares, I comforted him. If he was spooked, he would usually run and hide near my bed. I heard something else too, a van door being slammed shut maybe? And then an engine.”
“So you’re thinking that he was stolen.”
“Honestly? I don’t know. Do you think that you could take the case? How much would it cost?”
Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England and shares his home with a wide variety of people and animals, as well as a fine selection of teas. He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain success in a great number of fields. To date, this has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler, completing a range of cosplay projects, and publishing multiple works of fiction.
These days, Matt can be found working on far too many novels at once, blogging about anime, comics, and games, and plotting and planning what other things he’ll be doing to take up what little free time he has.
Today, Romance Across the Rainbow is happy to host the Blackwood Series Tour.Mary Rundle has a new MM paranormal mpreg book out in her Blackwood Pack series:
About the Series:
Join the journey of the Blackwood Pack, seven brothers who are gay wolf shifters in search of their fated mates – stories about love at first sight with twists and turns, angst and humor, romance and adventure. Each book has two main characters who meet, fall in love, mate and achieve an HEA but the stories also chronicle the continuing saga of the Blackwood Pack. The series is best appreciated by reading the books in order.
Mary is giving away a $15 Amazon gift certificate with this tour – for a chance to win, enter via Rafflecopter:
Steel, one of the last Dire Wolves on earth, has searched more than 100 years for the special mate promised by the Fates. Discouraged after meeting his latest prospect, he sees a naked hitchhiker on his way home who’s everything he’d envisioned the man of his dreams would be. His wolf and body tell him he’s found his fated mate but why can’t he pick up his scent?
Robbed of his car, clothes and money, Jackson, Alpha of the Blackwood Pack has no choice but to thumb a lift, frantic to get home to his six brothers. He’s been protecting them from a rival pack who massacred most of his family and wants to finish off the rest. When Steel rolls down his window, Jackson knows he also has found his fated mate but it would be too dangerous to claim him with his pack under attack.
After the intervention of an Oracle and a Witch, Jackson discovers why the Fates made him unique-just for Steel. Navigating the mine field this revelation brings, Jackson and Steel must figure out how to make their relationship work while dealing with forces determined to kill the Blackwood pack – and them.
Steel’s wolf was snarling and snapping as he drove away from Jimmy’s after leaving Jackson behind. He just couldn’t understand his wolf. What am I missing here? Jackson is not my mate.His mate had to be a wolf—he knew it because he’d been told not only by his mother who was an Oracle but by no less than three other Oracles. His mate would help save his species of wolves.
The importance of this was impressed upon him throughout his life. He stepped on the gas, eager to get home to do some research. He needed answers because he had a feeling of foreboding about what was going to happen to Jackson and that was driving his wolf crazy.
Finally arriving home, he stopped at the fifteen foot high gates, keyed in his passcode and then drove up the long driveway to his sprawling house, nestled among the trees on the knob of a small mountain. Although there were taller mountains to roam on his 200,000 acres of land, this spot spoke to his wolf spirit. He inhaled deeply as he got out of the truck, feeling his body reacting to the sights and smells around him.
Looking around, he wondered if Jackson would like this spot as much as he did. And that did it—his cock hardened in a second and his blood started to heat up. What the fuck? He drove the image of Jackson’s firm body from his mind and thumped his cock several times to get it to go down.
Hmmm, what to do first?Decision made, he stripped out of his clothes and stood still for a second before he called on his wolf and shifted. Birds scattered as the noise of bones cracking and stretching filled the air. When the sound faded away, Steel stood in his wolf form, shaking out his fur and scenting the air. Deer to the east, a small black bear and her cub ambling along the trail to the south and, yes there it was, a path that was free of any animal—Steel knew it wouldn’t be a good day to engage in a sparring match. His wolf was too unsettled for that.
He struck out at a full run for the trail leading north to one of the tallest mountains on his land. His large paws made no sound on the thickly carpeted forest floor. Steel had gotten so many mixed signals from his wolf today he needed this time to figure out what was happening. He knew his wolf needed it also. While he was running, Steel examined his wolf’s feelings regarding Jackson because it was much easier to understand his wolf when they were one, especially now, since he hadn’t understood his wolf’s reaction to a man who had no scent. Taking in the smells and sounds of his forest, his mind searched and filtered through his wolf’s feelings.
Dr. Ian Wallace, a rare Scottish Wolf, has dedicated his life to saving and healing wolf shifters by joining Frontline Doctors. Determined never to take a mate, he avoids relationships and is content to live a nomadic life, taking assignments to wild and remote places. That is, until an old friend asks him for a favor which Ian’s wolf will not let him refuse. Now on his way to the Blackwood Pack compound, his wolf becomes frantic and Ian learns not only that he has a Fated Mate, but that his Fated Mate is in danger.
Colton was forced to give up his dreams of becoming a nurse and joining Frontline Doctors when tragedy befell his family. Instead, he healed sick animals around his home while hiding from a pack who wanted him dead. Given the chance to use his skills, Colton seizes it and embarks on a journey that will reveal just how special he is.
A kidnapping, slave auction, revelations of long-kept family secrets and a rare, powerful gift from the gods are some of the surprises in store for both of them until they finally find their way into each other’s hearts after discovering neither is who the other thought he was.
His wolf surged forth, claws grew, teeth dropped, fur sprouted and he vibrated in Colton’s arms trying to fight the shift. But did he want to? Ian wasn’t sure. He and his wolf needed to avenge the wrong done to their mate. If Colton wasn’t going to kill Pablo, Ian’s wolf would. Then, mind made up, he pushed out of the arms holding him and landed with all fours on the floor. Snarling and growling, Ian’s wolf wanted his prey—to kill him and remove any threat to his mate. He lifted his head, opened his mouth and issued his challenge. Howling loud and long his wolf wasn’t going to quit until his mate was safe.
Stunned, Colton looked at the small yet fierce wolf in front of him—a rare golden-tipped, white wolf with deep golden eyes—the stuff of legends. Holy Shit! Before he could do anything, the room was filled with six, very large bodies, ready to handle the threat of Ian’s howls. In a blink of an eye, Ian’s wolf turned, facing the perceived threat against Colton. Hackles raised, saliva dripping, he looked as if he’d take on everyone now crowding the space.
Colton knew this had the makings of a disaster; he needed to calm his mate so he could shift back. Slowly he slid off the loveseat and knelt next to his mate. “Ian, please babe, stop. I’m safe. These are my brothers and Steel. You know them, please babe.” Colton put his arms around the neck and buried his hands in the soft fur. Rubbing his face against his mate, Colton inhaled deeply, marveling again at the scent. He felt Ian’s wolf slowly relax as he reassessed the situation. That was, until Colton heard Jackson.
Jackson waddled into the room, bellowing, “What the fuck is going on?”
And just like that, Ian’s wolf turned to face the new threat, growling, tensing, ready to spring. Colton saw Steel move in front of Jackson, the rest of his brothers moved and stood in front of Steel, forming a wall of muscled bodies, intent on protecting Jackson and his unborn pup.
Colton panicked. He jumped up and moved in front of Ian’s wolf. Nobody was going to touch his mate. Now Colton was the one fighting a shift as he listened to his mate issue howls and growls, warning everyone he was ready to fight. Colton knew everything was going to hell in a handbasket but he didn’t know what to do. He needed help to defuse this right now—but who?
Suddenly, he heard an Alpha voice so powerful and overwhelming that Colton immediately tilted his neck in submission as did all in the room. Maximus, in Dire Wolf Alpha mode, strode into the room, immediately sussed out the situation, and commanded, “Stand Down! Now!!” he roared those words, enveloping the room in his Alpha power.
Enforcer Dylon Royd worked for the notorious Silver Point Pack until they accused him of disloyalty. Imprisoned and beaten to within an inch of his life, he’s dumped at the side of a road and left for dead. Waking up in the Blackwood Pack’s hospital, he’s shocked to discover his Fated Mate is one of the pack’s members he’d been ordered to kill.
Cody is a seer and has grappled with visions all his life, but after most of his family is massacred they have intensified so fiercely he begins to make plans to escape his pain and suffering. Thinking no one wants a freak for a Fated Mate, he tries to reject Dylon until he realizes his salvation depends on accepting him.
A life or death situation for Cody, a rare gift to both from the Fates, a dangerous mission, and an unexpected surprise are some of the challenges they face. Together they begin a journey to save Cody’s life while forging a partnership that requires absolute trust for both to survive.
Low hanging, heavy, cloud cover. A pitch-black night in the Tajikistan mountains. It were as if the gods were blessing his commitment to stop the bloodshed so many of his people had experienced over these long years. Ulfric tried to recall a time in his life that was free of the beatings and killings that Arald had inflicted on his pack. But he could not remember such a time. Now his wife was expecting their first pup, and as much as he was excited about it, he dreaded it just as much. So, when this chance arose, he had to try, for the sake of his family.
After telling his wife he was leaving, Ulfric slipped out the back door and paused. Lifting his nose, he sniffed but found no other wolf nearby. Sticking to the shadows, he quietly made his way out of town, hoping his luck held. Right now, Arald was meeting with the representative of Dire Enterprises in a pre-conference meeting. He hadn’t wanted to wait this long but it was impossible to even contact the other pack Alpha until today.
As he saw it, this was his final chance to stop the tyranny he and his pack lived under. But he couldn’t stand alone. He needed the other pack to join with him during the conference if there was ever a chance his pack would be free of Arald and his goons. Pausing often to check for anyone following him, he crept down to the mountain waterfall where they could talk where not even wolf hearing could distinguish spoken words.
Apologizing to Arald and Slate Valentin for his need to get home to help his wife, Ordovic left the building, nodding to the guards who stood outside the meeting room. He wasn’t sure why his presence was required since nothing would change for his pack. No, Arald controlled this land—something even a young shifter knew. And even though he tried to tell himself there wasn’t anything he could do about it, Ordovic hoped that this time might be different.
That was the reason he gave himself for heading to the agreed meeting place instead of home where his wife and children slept. But he wanted a better life for his children. A place they could grow up and not fear being attacked every time they left home. And as the leader of his pack, he owed it to his pack members to at least try to free them from the oppression they now lived under.
Fading back into the shadows at the top of the mountain path, he waited to see if anyone had followed him. His ability at camouflage was superb, though it was a well-guarded secret. After a few minutes he continued down the path. At least he didn’t have to worry about being attacked—killed, yes—but the guy from Dire Enterprises made the three leaders sign a contract agreeing to not attack another pack while the peace conference was in session.
Kieran was sold into slavery where he was forced to care for other prisoners held by a shifter trafficking ring. But that changed when a Blackwood brother freed him and the others. Now for the first time in his life, the world beckons and he can plan his future. That is, until he discovers why the Fates brought him to the Blackwood Pack.
Logan, one of the brothers, has become a virtual recluse, spending hours at his design table, unable to shake the horrible memories of his family’s massacre and an unhappy childhood under the fist of his father, a dictatorial and abusive Alpha.
When Kieran appears, Logan is smitten with this pink-loving twink who tries to use his sassy and irrepressible wit to win his heart. After Logan claims Kieran, he finds keeping him is not easy. When both realize Logan can’t give himself completely to his Fated Mate, Kieran takes off but tells no one where.
A frantic search, rejection, dark secrets revealed, ghosts exorcised- these are just some of the obstacles Kieran and Logan must overcome as they embark on a mission of discovery that will make their love for each other stronger. Only then, will these two unique wolves fulfill their destinies decreed by the Fates and gods and prove worthy of the powerful gifts bestowed on them.
Kieran saw Lizzie coming in from the kitchen and said to her, “Miss L, what fantastic taste you have. I’m so glad they have you supervising their clothing choices otherwise, who knows what they would learn from their daddies?” Then, turning back to Dylon and Cody, “No offense big guys, but you really should let Miss L do some shopping for you, too. I mean, I know you are mated—I mean Fated Mated—so there isn’t going to be anyone else for you but still, you should look good for each other. Hey Miss L, do you think Dylon could use a facial mask? Maybe something to soften his skin so Cody will want to kiss him more? You know, that’s the first thing to go when you have kids. No time to take care of yourself. But I bet with a little help from Miss L and me, we could have you looking like you did before you had kids. Do you take bubble baths? You know, they’re great for softening all parts of your body, well maybe not all parts, if you catch my drift. That’s another side benefit for new parents who aren’t getting all they want in the sex department. Maybe Miss L and I …”
“Stop!” yelled Dylon, startling Jessica who let out a wail while most everyone else was doubled over with laughter. “Now, look what you did!”
“Don’t you blame Kieran, Dylon. You yelled, causing your daughter to cry,” Lizzie scolded, taking Jessica from her son’s arms, “Shush there, sweetie, grandma has you.”
“But did you hear what he was saying to us? He said we had sex problems!” complained Dylon, handing Jessica’s bottle to Lizzie.
“Kieran was only trying to help, weren’t you honey?” Lizzie asked Kieran. “All new parents can do with a little help.”
“That’s right, Miss L. I have some ideas to spice up their sex life I can run past you, and if you agree, then I can find out where to buy the items online—you know since they are new parents and all.”
Growling, Dylon spat, “You are not going to discuss my sex life with my mother—do you understand? No way! No how! Never! Kieran, am I making myself clear?” Then turning to his mother, he said, “Mother, don’t, just don’t. This is embarrassing me and my mate.”
Holding up his hands, Kieran said, “Whoa, big guy! If you don’t want my help, then no problemo. I’m sure Jackson or Colton will appreciate my help in getting their sex life back on track. If you want to suffer, then who am I to interfere? But you really ought to think about Cody before you go issuing your orders. Right Miss L? It takes two to tango.”
Handing Jake to Dylon, Cody said, “Kieran, that’s enough. While I appreciate your offer to help us, there’s no need as we’re very happy with our ‘sex life’. You and I are going to have a talk later about boundaries, or the lack of them, in this case.”
Author’s Note: Oh my gosh! I am so excited to be here and thank you for hosting my blog tour. The Blackwood Pack series tells the story of seven brothers meeting their Fated Mates and so much more. Each book has HEA for the mated pair but it also brings the reader along as they find out what happens to the whole pack. The exclusive excerpt I have for you today is from Raphael’s Power, Book 2 and tells the love story of Colton and Ian. I hope you enjoy it!
Colton heard a soft knock and then smelled food. Oh my gods! Just what the doctor ordered. He snickered and carefully slipped out of bed. Pulling on jeans, he walked barefoot to the door so as not to wake Ian. Quietly opening it, he saw Dakota behind a serving cart covered an array of mouth-watering dishes. His stomach grumbled loudly as he smiled at his brother. Holding a finger to his lips, Colton whispered, “Shh, Ian’s still sleeping. Let’s take this into the sitting room.”
He wondered where Dakota had gotten the serving cart with the quiet rubber wheels as they stealthily rolled it into the next room. Colton turned to Dakota. “Thanks, bro. You have no idea how hungry I am.”
Dakota slapped his brother’s hand away from the bacon. “Hands off. This isn’t just for you, dumbass. It’s my mating gift to you and Ian. You wait until he wakes up.”
“Oh, my gods, did you make this for us Dakota?” Ian asked, standing in the doorway with a sheet wrapped around him.
Dakota smirked at Colton before turning to Ian. “Yes, it’s my mating gift to you and Colton. I hope you enjoy it and if there’s anything else you want, just let me know.”
“That is so sweet, isn’t it Colton? What a great present. Thank you. I know I’ll enjoy it,” Ian said as he wandered over to the cart. “Wow, everything smells so good.” He then reached over and gave Dakota a hug.
Colton’s wolf growled. He didn’t care if Dakota was his brother. All of Ian’s hugs belonged to him. Grabbing Dakota’s arm, Colton yanked his brother away from his mate and shoved him towards the door. “Thanks for your gift,” he growled, “But I’ll take it from here.”
“Stop it Colton,” cried Ian. “That’s no way to treat your brother who spent his time making us something special to eat.” He marched over to Dakota and said, “Regardless of the brutish behavior of my mate, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’m starved and I know Colton hasn’t eaten either.” Then he looked at his mate and said “Well?”
Colton sighed. “I’m sorry brother. Please chalk my behavior up to my lack of food.”
Dakota chuckled and said, “Sure bro, lack of food…uh huh.” His chuckle morphed into loud endless laughter as he left their suite.
Ian stared for a few minutes at the door before turning to his mate. “I think it’s time you and I have a chat. That display of possessiveness doesn’t work for me. I’m a doctor and I touch many wolves each day while I’m treating them. I receive thanks and sometimes hugs from the patients and their family. If you plan on going all-Alpha on me every time it happens, you better rethink it. Practicing medicine is important to me not only because I help people but because it makes me happy. And from what I’ve heard, it’s the same for you.”
Colton’s jaw dropped at Ian’s tirade. Holy Crap! What the fuck has happened to me! Taking Ian’s hand, he tugged at it a little before his mate gave in and followed him to the love seat. After sitting down, he looked up at Ian and said, “Will you join me so we can talk? I’m really very sorry about my reaction. This is all so new to me and I think you’re right, we need to clear the air.”
Ian looked at his mate, searching his face to see the truth of the words and, finding them, he sat facing Colton. He regretted his outburst not because of what he said—as it was the truth—but for the way he said it. Medicine was his life and when he discovered his fated mate was also in medicine, he was overjoyed. Being a doctor or a nurse was a hard life—it meant long hours, roller coaster emotions at successes or failures and devotion to your patient even if it meant personal sacrifice. That’s why he never wanted a mate.
“Ian, I’m truly sorry. I know you’re right. The only explanation I can offer is that my wolf is so dammed possessive right now. I’m hoping he’ll settle down after awhile. I’m going to talk to Jackson or maybe Steel, about how they handled it and get some suggestions. I absolutely will never stand in your way of practicing medicine. Being a doctor is part of you and I love all of you.”
Colton’s declaration of love brought tears to Ian’s eyes. He was loved—something he never realized was missing from his life. Looking back, he clearly saw how lonely his world had been. His parents loved him, but his wolf was right all along, he was alone in the world. Finding Colton changed him—and his world—in ways he was still discovering.
Ian launched himself into Colton’s lap. “I love you so much. I never knew what I was missing until I found you. You complete me and make me so happy. You’re my world!” he said, nestling into his mate’s arms, kissing his chest, while grinding his ass into his mate’s groin. “I’m sorry I was angry before. This is all new to me, too, and I growled in Mexico when you were hugged as you said good-bye. I never thought I’d have a mate and now I do and I’m all mixed up trying to sort out my feelings.”
I never went to school to learn writing nor attended a writing workshop, but it didn’t stop me from entering a writing contest and from that came my first book, Dire Warning. Readers loved it and I was on my way to chronicling the Blackwood Pack, seven brothers who are gay wolf shifters in search of their fated mates– stories about love at first sight with twists and turns, angst and humor, romance and adventure and, of course, happy endings.
My stories come to me as if they were being channeled by my characters, all of whom I love (except for a few villains). They are eager to recount their lives, loves and adventures and are not inhibited when it comes to revealing steamy details. I love the M/M paranormal genre because it gives my imagination a lot of territory in which to roam. My mind can really run wild and come up with some amazing stuff when it doesn’t have to stay inside the box. Although my writing is sometimes raw—that’s the way I like to tell my stories—readers love it and are clamoring for more. I currently live in the Northeast and love the beautiful change of seasons, my husband, and our quirky calico cat, though not necessarily in that order.
Romance Across the Rainbow is pleased to host Natsuya Uesugi, author of the cyberpunkgrydscaen series. Enjoy the fine cover, blurb, excerpt. Find out how to enter the giveaway, and scroll down to read an exclusive article from the author.
Natsuya Uesugi has a new book out in his dystopian sci fi series grydscaen:
A clandestine meet occurs in the Echelons under cover of darkness where Top Secret intel on the stock market changes hands. The insider tip gets the gothic hacker Jester engaged in a high tech game. Parliament votes to lower harsh stock market regulations fueling the Corporation’s bottom line, a payoff from ministers who were propped up by illegal corporate campaign donations. Ordered by Jester, the teenage hacker Rom infiltrates the largest high volume brokerage house causing wild gyrations in trading. When Jester triggers an insidious stock market payload, all hell breaks loose threatening the pristine City. Will Zoon, the leader of the Triumvirate, get roped into the fray? Can Raven, the government hacker, put the cryptic clues together before the market crashes? Find out in grydscaen:dark. Whose side are you on?
Lino just wanted peace. All he got was war.
In the year After Colony 2055 there was the Great War. SenseNet government scientists harnessed their knowledge of nuclear weapons and created a new form of energy. This kedek energy was a natural found occurrence that existed in pools far inside the planet. Harnessing this energy into weapons called kedek bombs, scientists warned these weapons were unsafe and should never be used.
The draconian Atlantea Federation conquered more than half of the world’s territories. A group of islands and nation states formed the Pacific Territories and in a single brave act retaliated in a battle known as the Blood Red Incident. The Atlantea Federation responded with wrath releasing the kedek-based Dionysis Effect nuclear bomb stolen from the SenseNet. The untested weapon’s radioactive fallout created Codesswhich manifested as psychic powers.
Pacific Territories’ society was segregated into citizens and non-citizens. Only citizens could reside in the pristine City. Non-citizens were left with poverty and strife in the Zone where the bomb had gone off, or in the Echelons with the Red Light District, drugs, and crime.
A group of hackers rose up to combat government oppression and injustice by the Zone Police. Enforcement squads rounded up psychics nightly taking them to work camps in the toxic kedek mines. The Terror Hack used guerrilla warfare to fight the Elite government. The Packrats, a cyber terrorist organization vowed to regain control and free society through cyber revolution. Run by the elite hacker Faid Callen, he created the Packrat Sprawl and set up the Runners, Wastes, Acolytes, Hosts, Prophets and Mobile Command. Each faction possessed deadly skills and laws in the Packrat Code that ruled their actions. Civil war ripped at the heart of society.
The son of the Viceroy, Lino Dejarre had psychic power. All he wanted was peace. He joined the Psi Faction as a clandestine psychic operative and was tasked to capture Faid Callen and quell the violence. When the Atlantea Federation attacked the City, Lino found himself once more answering the royal edict and forced to become Sub Viceroy and rule as war raged around him.
Separated at age nine and banished from the royal family, Riuho Dejarre’s hatred for Lino grew as he tried to scrape out a life in the slum level Echelons while Lino lived in the pristine City. Stripped of his citizenship, Riuho vowed he would get revenge and did everything in his power to thwart Lino’s every move. From his first encounter with the Atlantea Federation, Riuho found his place and the resources to get what he desired.
The Atlantea Federation attacked brutally on the ground and also threatened the Pacific Territories’ space colonies. Lino and his Psi Faction team were roped into global diplomacy, inter-colony politics, covert missions, battleships, and space battles where they encounter the Atlantea Federation head on. When Riuho once more enters the fray, the high stakes game threatens to destroy everything for which Lino has worked.
Intrigue, psychic powers, clandestine operations, treaties, politics and a hacker revolution. From space battles, to kidnappings and assassinations, and battleships off the coast, grydscaenis filled with in depth characters and richly detailed storylines that peak your interest and keep you coming back for more.
“Not here. Hide the data till we are off the street. This way,” Toapfyl hurriedly motioned to the data messenger in the blue military coat, dark cargo pants and combat boots who followed him off the sidewalk and down another alley. He was wearing the typical garb for a data messenger which made Toapfyl comfortable when he met the stranger in the alley leaning against the wall, easily identifiable.
Toapfyl, a Level 3 hacker, was wearing maroon jeans and a zippered black hoodie pulled over his ebony half shaved head, exposing a slap of dirty brown dreadlocks gathered in a ponytail at his forehead hiding his right eye.
A prostitute wearing a pink miniskirt and fishnet stockings kissed a businessman in a black suit under a sickly yellow streetlight. Toapfyl and the data messenger were once again shrouded in shadow by the derelict buildings as they passed leaving the two to their pleasure.
Toapfyl pushed in a dilapidated door at the end of the alley, grime from the street creating a dusty haze in the air leaving a putrid stink. They entered a staircase. There was no light as they descended. Toapfyl sparked up his aegis to his hand, the manifestation of his psychic power, and lit a path to the basement.
He pushed in the door onto a dimly lit room and revealed Jester, the leader of the Jester hacker guild sitting in a rickety folding chair in the center of the empty room smoking a cigarette from a long black holder. A soft haze filtered over him from a light fixture dangling precariously from ceiling wires, the glass cover filled with dead moths that had happened their way inside and lived out their final days circling the artificial sun. The wan flickering light cast shadows that danced at the corners, the bulb swinging back and forth, moved by the basement door opening.
Legs crossed, Jester was wearing black patent leather platform boots, a shiny mahogany lace skirt, skintight black denim jeans, and a slick dark vinyl blouse with embroidered crimson roses, He sported an elaborate olive short coat with a high collar and dark cuffs and epaulets. A monocle optical sensor over his right eye, he was wearing a green top hat with a scarlet rose perched at the brim. His pink straight, shoulder length hair shined in the light.
He made an irritated gesture with his hand. “Don’t keep me waiting. Where is it?” Jester took a long drag from the cigarette and blew out a puff of smoke. He waved as Toapfyl closed the door.
“Not until I get paid.” The shocked data messenger prompted pulling out a red etched credit sized data card shaking it.
“Do the needful,” ordered Jester raising an eyebrow. He turned his back to them as he continued to smoke his cigarette taking a long drag.
Toapfyl pulled a platinum credit card out of his back pocket. The data messenger pulled his. They locked the two cards at the long end, pins embedded in the technology. Toapfyl typed out the amount of 55,000 credits on the virtual keyboard appearing on the face of his card. The cards chimed signaling the encryption key matched and the credits transferred from Toapfyl’s account.
The data messenger released his card and ran it through a handheld confirming the amount. He nodded stashing the handheld in his chest pocket.
“Done,” responded Toapfyl.
Jester turned back around not witnessing the exchange purposefully and stuck out his hand with his black lacquered fingernails in the knitted fingerless gloves. The stitching was coming apart at the seams on the thumb and index finger, the gloves covered in little white pills. Where everything about Jester’s appearance was immaculate, the gloves gave away an underlying confusion or sloppy disregard for his perfect veneer.
Jester was one of the hacker guild leaders who almost never showed his face in public. It was well known that Jester did not make meetings with data messengers or low level hackers, like a Level 3. He couldn’t be bothered with them. The fact that the data messenger insisted, and that Toapfyl made it happen, kept the data messenger on guard. He placed the red card in Jester’s palm and turned to leave.
Toapfyl jerked raising a gun to the data messenger’s temple. He touched skin. “No one leaves until the data is confirmed.”
Rom, the teenage Level 9 hacker, emerged from the shadows behind Jester. Eyebrow raised, he was annoyed with Toapfyl. Rom pulled a handheld out of his tan trench coat as he came into the dim light. His dull blonde unkempt hair gleamed with a blue streak at the front. He took the data card from Jester and swiped it in the port on the handheld reading the file as the system ran the security check. He typed on the deck triggering an encryption key prompt as the handheld’s computerized female voice spoke the request.
“The data is encrypted? Why didn’t you mention that?” questioned Toapfyl suspicious. He pushed the gun barrel closer taking a step in and made the data messenger move his head back.
“No problem,” interrupted Rom. “Most data messengers are Packrat Runners smuggling data from the City into the Echelons. It should take a Packrat decrypt key. I have access to the Packrats’ archive of one-time, pre-shared obscure keys. What I need for this, right?”
“That is why I wanted Jester at the meet. Toapfyl, all data messengers use encryption. If you don’t know that, you are an idiot. No self-respecting hacker attached to Jester would even ask the question you did just now. Only a Level 9 can penetrate. Jester would know a Level 9. Rom is one of the best in the business,” the data messenger revealed his disgust with Toapfyl and yanked the gun out of his hand pointing it back at the hacker.
Toapfyl blanched confused how he had been disarmed and lowered his eyebrows at the disrespect. Rom shot him an angry glare silencing him.
Jester smirked giving Rom permission to engage and waved the data messenger off. The messenger lowered the gun handing it back to Toapfyl.
Toapfyl opened the basement door and motioned the data messenger out accompanying him up the stairs leaving Jester in the room with Rom.
Natsuya Uesugi is a systems analyst and ethical hacker by day and a manga artist and a writer by night. With an MBA in International Management and a minor in Japanese, Natsuya insists on showcasing diversity in his writing using his Japanese, Native American and African American heritage.
He studied animation and game design in art school and has published the grydscaen manga “A Storm’s Coming” which features the LGBT teen Rom from “grydscaen: dark,” and two manga in the yaoi series “graphic noiz.” Two episodes of the short anime “A Storm’s Coming” is available with a third episode planned. Four counseling centers are currently using the “A Storm’s Coming” novelette to help LGBT homeless youth and troubled teens with self esteem.
He is author of the dystopian cyberpunk “grydscaen” series, the dark fantasy trilogy “”The Seer of Grace and Fire,” and the yaoi novels and manga “graphic noiz.” He enjoys skydiving, cosplay, watching anime in Japanese, watching French news, World Cub futbol, eating ramen and anything with matcha, and writing poetry.
So that is it, it is over. Net Neutrality is dead. The era of a free and open Internet for all has been threatened with a corporate hijacking of the liberty and right for free information. Will this spell doom for regular main street or will it just blow over and have no impact? Let’s look at what it is, look at what might happen and tie it in to the new book grydscaen: dark and how that relates.
Net neutrality is basically the fact that Internet Service Providers must treat all data on the Internet equally and not discriminate against users or charge different users different prices for content, websites, applications, equipment or method of communication. They cannot intentionally block, slow down or charge money for online content or specific websites and information. This had been enforced through government laws prior to it being repealed recently.
In the past broadband was possibly regulated as a utility which would have to follow rules and not treat customers differently or discriminate. The end of Net Neutrality causes a potential rift in this space. There are other principals like “discrimination by protocol” blocking based on the communication protocol, or “discrimination by IP address” which was to be likened to Internet censorship. Favoring private networks, peer discrimination and favoring fast loading websites over slower content are also items that need to be reviewed.
Proponents of Net Neutrality are consumer advocates, human rights organizations and online and technology companies. Supporters of Net Neutrality want to designate cable companies as common carriers which would allow them free access to cable lines the same aspect as seen in dial-up. They want to see that cable companies do not screen, censor or control Internet content. Rights and freedoms are on the line and some say that Net Neutrality supports free speech and information access which can make more informed consumers.
The FCC and the government repealed the rules that they deemed “unnecessary and heavy handed,” and will now make way for investment and broadband access. Technology companies are still pressing to save the Net Neutrality rules. The repeal means that the FCC will hand over control to the Federal Trade Commission which will only step in if there is unfair blocking and that companies must disclose throttling. This gives free reign for broadband provides to block or throttle sites with no one looking over their shoulder to make sure they are not being discriminatory. The change could also modify how content is billed and how slower and smaller providers will not be able to compete with large scale companies that have a monopoly like Netflix and Comcast.
Many states in the USA have filed lawsuits to keep the Net Neutrality rules and as of this week Washington state on its own is the only state in the USA at this time to have Net Neutrality. The FCC warns that they will go after states that try to enforce laws not in accord with the Net Neutrality repeal.
So, with all that said let’s look at how grydscaen predicted this would happen and how it plays out in the grydscaen series. The “gridscan” is the network of everything in the grydscaen series, the term “grydscaen” is the same word for network written in Packrat hacker code. The network is everywhere and we see Jazz on a jock rig when Rom is hacking accessing the network and getting in deep so they can hack the stock market. The Elite government in the grydscaen series controls everything in the Pacific Territories and there are government organizations like the SenseNet and the Corporation that oversee censorship and control of what information people have access to. The government also releases propaganda like the Facebook Newsfeed stacking we have seen recently and many have commented on about false and skewed news with Russia and influencing the Presidential election.
In grydscaen the Parliament votes to control rules and in grydscaen: dark we see the Parliament repeal a critical stock market regulation that basically allows hackers like Jester and Rom to infiltrate and take control of the stock market causing it to plunge hundreds of points in seconds. grydscaen: dark makes a commentary about the role of big government and corporate greed and how this basically enables hackers and those who want control to affect markets and consumers and in the case destroy the economy in the Echelons.
In grydscaen the Newsfeed never goes off the air, this is because they have a monopoly over the air and the government props them up. Even when hackers and cyber terrorists attack the infrastructure the Newsfeed continues to broadcast. In regards to Net Neutrality the Newsfeed’s control over what people see, when and where on the various gridscan channels or on handhelds and TVs means they can sway the popular opinion. In grydscaen this starts riots in the Echelons once the hackers take control.
We will see how Net Neutrality plays out and if the cable companies and Internet Service Providers will take advantage of regular consumers. Hopefully it will not pan out like grydscaen predicts.
Thanks to the author and Other Worlds Ink for letting Romance Across the Rainbow be part of the tour!
Alexis Duran has a new book out in her Jacqui the Cat cozy MM mystery series – “Roam” – and there’s a Giveaway!
About the Series
Jacqui Corleone is a fashion designer, a yoga-instructor and a concerned citizen who selflessly helps the police solve crimes. Oh, and he occasionally turns into a small wild cat. Probably due to a wizard’s curse or an evil government plot to create super warriors.
Or, he’s a cat cursed to turn into a human and only the bite of a sexy alpha lion will allow him to remain in his superior form of Cat.
Jacqui does not have a split personality, but sometimes his cat personality can get rather loud.
Loud? You’re loud.
Jacqui Corleone is a cat shifter who doesn’t know why or how he turns into a cat. He lives a solitary life in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. He’s not afraid of intimacy (yes, he is) but sensibly refrains from potentially awkward entanglements. Unfortunately, the sexy new deputy sheriff just moved in across the street and Jacqui’s vow not to get mixed up with island dudes is sorely challenged.
When the mysterious disappearance of three blue pots draws Jacqui to investigate, he’s drawn ever deeper into danger–and into the arms of Deputy Wyatt West (you wish).
Alexis is giving one lucky winner a $10 Amazon gift card. Enter via Rafflecopter for a chance to win.
Jacqui Corleone is a fashion designer, a yoga-instructor and a concerned citizen who selflessly helps the police solve crimes. Oh, and he occasionally turns into a small wild cat. Probably due to a wizard’s curse or an evil government plot to create super warriors.
Or, he’s a cat cursed to turn into a human and only the bite of a sexy alpha lion will allow him to remain in his superior form of Cat.
Jacqui does not have a split personality, but sometimes his cat personality can get rather loud.
Loud? You’re loud.
Jacqui Corleone is a cat shifter who doesn’t know why or how he turns into a cat. He lives a solitary life in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. He’s not afraid of intimacy (yes, he is) but sensibly refrains from potentially awkward entanglements. Unfortunately, the sexy new deputy sheriff just moved in across the street and Jacqui’s vow not to get mixed up with island dudes is sorely challenged.
When the mysterious disappearance of three blue pots draws Jacqui to investigate, he prowls ever deeper into danger–and into the arms of Deputy Wyatt West (he wishes).
Not that anything could make Jacqui a dull boy, but hours spent stooped over his sewing table had given him a kink in his neck along a strong urge to throw aside his needle and leap out the window.
Instead he sighed dramatically, pressed his palms against the edge of the heavy table and stretched his neck, tilting his head to one side and then the other. He arched his back, slouched, arched again. Not working.He stood, padded across the hardwood floor and slid open the glass door to his tiny balcony.
He’d been working for hours and still had two jackets to finish. Zee was arriving the next day to pick up the new outfits Jacqui had created. Everything had to be perfect. And complete. Complete and perfect and amazing. Because Zee was a rising star, and when the rabble got a look at the Cat’s Eye creations adorning Zee’s nearly famous bod, Jacqui would have it made. That was the assumption, anyway. Orders would flood his inbox, gobs of money would flow into his bank account, and he could hire an assistant and stop working these dog-awful hours.
Or not. After all, what else would he do with his time if not toil?
Right now, he had a strong urge to prowl.
Now is not the time, Cat. Now is the time of toil.
He stepped out on his second-story balcony and took a deep breath of fresh, slightly salty air blowing in off the water. His studio apartment overlooked Friday Harbor, and at the cusp of sunset, both town and harbor were bathed in a pinkish glow, doing that twinkly and picturesque as all get-out thing that happened on lovely summer evenings like this.
No. The stitching had to be perfect. The lines exquisitely formed to Zee’s angular shape, the drape immaculate. The last version hadn’t been up to Jacqui’s exacting standards. He’d pulled out a day’s work in a pissy rage at himself, and now he was paying for it.
You’ll be more efficient after a prowl. And Zee’s seaplane won’t arrive until midday.
Jacqui made the mistake of looking down, letting his gaze wander across the street, to where a moving van had recently been parked.
Jacqui had a new neighbor.
Back. To. Work.
Jacqui’s new neighbor was Wyatt West, the new deputy sheriff in town. Yes, Jacqui had played around with the name in an endlessly juvenile fashion. Wild Wild West, with the broad shoulders, lean waist, and an ass to die for. Dark brown hair, amber eyes, and a crooked smile that made Jacqui’s heart do a little squeezy thing, leaving him breathless. How wild was West, Jacqui couldn’t help but wonder?
So they’d never spoken. Minor detail. Didn’t matter. Until this weekend Wyatt West of the exceptionally hot body was a live aboard, a local brand of lunatic who lived on a sailboat surrounded by fucking water. Jacqui wasn’t about to go sniffing around a mental case like that.
But now Wild Wyatt Hot Bod was Jacqui’s across-the-street-two-condos-down neighbor and required closer inspection. Because all neighbors required inspection. Because curiosity.
“Wait for it. Anticipation makes it all the more sweet.”
To hell with that. Do the change and let’s check Wild West out.
Half-cat, half-human, all-awesome, Jacqui has spent his life avoiding getting too close to anyone. But despite his best intentions, he just can’t stay away from the sexy deputy sheriff, Wyatt West, especially after Jacqui is the victim of a local band of thieves and turns to the police for help.
When the call of curiosity grows too insistent, Jacqui does a little prying around on his own, an activity that quickly leads him into danger.
Is this the end for our Furry Fashionista, or will the heroic and altogether too handsome Wyatt save the day? And more importantly, will they finally have sex?? Read Pounce, Book 2 in the Jacqui the Mysteries, to find out.
Jacqui stretched out long, ass in the air, paws out in front of him. As Cat, he was strong, fast, invincible. He could see in the dark, leap tall fences in a single bound, smell and hear every nuance of change in his neighborhood, and spy on Wyatt without getting arrested for being a creeper. Everything about being Cat was good, except for doorknobs and dogs. And the inability to sew or make anything. And the fact that ordinary cats took one look at him and freaked.
He sat on the sidewalk outside his apartment. The gin had released its hold on his brain. The crowd at Wyatt’s had long ago dispersed, and Jacqui could not sleep. At two o’clock in the morning, the street was empty of people. A possum rooted around in someone’s compost pile on the next block. Two cats were facing off in a yard behind the apartment building, still in the growling low stage. Bats zinged through the air, chasing bugs.
His ears twitched and his tail flicked back and forth across the pavement. From a long way off, he heard a bicycle. Because he had nothing else on his prowling agenda, he went toward the sound, vaguely curious to see who was peddling home in the wee hours.
He padded across the street and peeked into Wyatt’s backyard. If the tree in the corner were positioned differently, he’d totally be peeking into that bedroom window.
No. That’s just wrong.
Another reason why being a cat is better. Peeping is required. It’s a survival skill.
Jacqui peered into the dark rectangle of Wyatt’s patio door for a while, thinking back on how dangerously close to flirting they’d come. They’d flirted with flirting. He knew if he changed back into Jacqui and rapped on that door, Wyatt wouldn’t be surprised. Except for maybe the naked thing. And maybe Wyatt would think Jacqui was more than a little weird, but he wouldn’t turn him away.
Jacqui turned away. It kind of felt inevitable, this imminent collision of body parts and exchange of fluids, but it had to be carefully controlled and limited.
Okay, Wyatt, we can fuck, because we’re guys and that’s what guys do, but here are the rules:
One: No getting all up in my business.
Two: No looking at me funny when I have out loud arguments with myself.
Three: No asking me where I’ve been all night.
Four: No questioning why a guy who loves cats and volunteers at the local shelter doesn’t own a cat.
Five: No falling in love.
Six: No suggesting I see a therapist to address my fear of intimacy issues.
Seven: No prying into my life prior to two years ago.
Eight: No whining when I drop you like a hot potato for no reason whatsoever.
Nine: Who the fuck is that?
Jacqui stopped on the corner of Harrison and Oak to watch the Midnight Biker push his bike up the hill. He was a young dude Jacqui hadn’t seen before, with stringy blond hair poking out of a stocking cap. He wore a lived-in, slept-in, rolled-in-the-dirt-in dingy canvas coat and shredded jeans. He had a big pack on his back and his eyes darted this way and that, peering into people’s yards.
Suspicious? Oh, yeah.
Jacqui slipped into a convenient pool of shadows and watched the interloper trudge by.
Being half-cat isn’t easy in a human world, and Jacqui’s life has just gotten a lot more complicated now that he’s dating the hot deputy sheriff who lives across the street. Wyatt’s brain might explode if he finds out his lover turns into a cat sometimes.
And even more unthinkable, Wyatt might REJECT Jacqui if he discovers that his boyfriend and Satan the feral wild cat are one and the same! As if Jacqui doesn’t have enough to worry about, he becomes the unwilling foster parent of a drooling dog, and soon discovers a nefarious plot involving marauding Rottweilers with a taste for Cat.
Follow Jacqui into trouble in his most exciting misadventure yet!
Several desperate phone calls did not procure any dog-sitter leads. Mei Lin was off island. Rose laughed derisively at the suggestion. Mary Lou, who ran the shelter, was ferrying visiting relatives around the island and just couldn’t possibly take in an extra dog, no matter how much she really wanted to.
When Sam pulled to a stop in front of Jacqui’s apartment, Jacqui’s spirits were low. All Cat could do was emit a low moan every now and then.
“I’ve got to give the beast a bath before I let it anywhere near my stuff.”
“Can I watch?” Sam asked, grinning.
“Help? Surely you meant to ask if you could help?” Jacqui said, turning a withering glare upon him.
“Yeah, that’s what I meant.”
Jacqui slid out of the truck and ran up the stairs to his loft apartment. He was half-tempted to lock the door, pull the drapes, and hope that Sam would give up and drive away with the dog.
He grabbed a bottle of expensive shampoo that he’d decided left his hair too dry, and a thick beach towel. Clutching these items, he looked around at his pristine upholstered furniture and shining wood floors with increasing trepidation. He set down the supplies, rummaged around for an old sheet, and threw it over the couch.
Jacqui didn’t have much in the way of old stuff. He quickly got rid of items that didn’t please him. In other words, he had little he was willing to sacrifice to the ravages of Stinky. Worst-case scenarios began to fill his mind: images of dog toenails shredding cushions, dog slobber staining silk, and so he forced himself to pick up the bath supplies and go back down the stairs.
Sam had found the hose the groundskeeper used and was playing a game of spray-Stinky-from-behind every time the poor dog turned around, which was constantly. The sight of the lumbering man-child and the soaking wet, hairy dog sent a shiver up Jacqui’s spine. He didn’t like hoses, and didn’t like the merriment with which men like Sam turned them on others.
“Put the hose down and step away,” Jacqui said in a low, hopefully menacing tone.
“What? Don’t want to get wet?” Sam asked with a grin, but when he saw the glower on Jacqui’s face, some glimmer of self-preservation stopped him in his overly playful tracks. He took his thumb off the trigger of the nozzle. “I promise I won’t spray you on purpose.”
“Not good enough. Put the hose down, Sam.” Jacqui reached for his best Clint Eastwood, steely-eyed glare.
Sam carefully lowered the hose to the ground and lifted both hands as he backed away a few steps.
“There’s the look that puts the fear into a Rottweiler.”
Stinky ran circles around Sam, barking gleefully, a sound that grated on Jacqui’s already taut nerves.
“This is not a game. This is not fun. We are going to clean that damn dog with no shenanigans. Understand?”
“No shenanigans.” Sam nodded and hung his head in fake shame.
Jacqui strode forward with confidence. Never let them see your fear.
He dropped the towel and the shampoo on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road, and picked up the hose. He took a deep breath and said, “You hold the beast. I’ll douse him.”
Q:What was the First Romance novel you remember reading? A: The first romance novels I read were my mom’s gothic bodice-rippers. You know the ones with the heroine in a torn nightgown running away from a haunted mansion/castle on the cover? I have to say these books DID NOT inspire me to write romance. I was the kind of kid who’d read anything I could get my hands on, and I mostly had a love/hate relationship with these books. I hated them because the hero was always an incredible jerk, and the heroine was a simpering victim who tolerated his abuse until he came to his senses and fell madly in love with her, usually after she fell off a horse or something. So why did I keep reading them? I loved the mystery, the haunted mansion/castle, and sometimes, though not often, the plucky heroine who persevered against her jerk employer and the ghost/murderer/gang of thieves. I didn’t discover of the power of the romance factor until much later in life, when I experienced how a great romance can be portrayed. The book that redeemed romance for me once and for all was, believe it or not, Middlemarch, by George Elliott. The first really awesome gay romance that I read was The Archer’s Heart by Astrid Amara.
Q:What Characteristics make up your fave hero? A: I really love the bad boys. But of course, they’re not really bad, they just need the right good boy to steer them back toward the light. I get all squishy over a bad boy with a keen sense of humor, a lot of self-awareness, boatloads of confidence and a fierce loyalty to those he loves. I have to say the lovable bad boy is my favorite to both read and write. As a writer, I also enjoy writing the hapless good boy; the geek, the bookworm, the sorcerer’s apprentice who gets every spell wrong. He’s the sort of lovable guy who is striving to do his best, and then gets knocked sideways by the arrival of his opposite, the über-confident bad boy.
Q:Pet Peeve when it comes to romances? A: Hands down, most annoying that happens a lot in the romance genre is The Easily Avoided Misunderstanding. This happens when a writer in search of conflict creates a misunderstanding between their couple, or soon-to-be couple, by having one of them swallow on obvious lie about their love interest, or overhear and misunderstand a bit of conversation, or decide to take offense at something and fly off to the other side of the country without giving their alleged true love any chance to explain, refusing all phone calls, deleting emails, etc. And the reader knows the whole misadventure could be avoided by a ten seconds conversation.
“So did you really sleep with my sister?”
“Oh, good. Didn’t think so.”
Q:Hardest part of the writing process? A:This is a toss-up, and depends on which process I’m currently embroiled in. I love the first draft. I write fast and furious and let it all spill out. This makes for a pretty rough second draft, because I have to go back and make sense of all my babblings, fill in plot holes, murder my darlings (cut out all those lovely adjectives and adverbs) and mold that steaming pile of words I’ve created into something others will enjoy reading. The other hard part is the first round with my editor. Oh, ouch! And having my sex scenes analytically critiqued is just embarrassing. Who’s doing what to whom? Whose body part is that and is that even physically possible? The thing that saves me during this part is knowing my book will be so much better for having toughed it out.
Q:Words of wisdom to aspiring authors? A: I in no way consider myself wise, or even terribly smart when it comes to the craft and business of writing, but I have learned a few things on the road to publication and I can now proclaim these three things to be self-evident:
Don’t isolate. Get a writing group or partner and share your work. Use beta readers, and hire an editor if you’re self-publishing. Listen to thoughtful critique, be brave, do what it takes to get better.
Be true to your voice and your vision. Write what you love. Don’t let anyone tell you dragons don’t exist so you shouldn’t write about them.
Persistence is the key. Boring but true. Those who keep writing and submitting no matter how long it takes are the ones who get published. There will be rejection, it will hurt, but keep going. If you love to write, it’s worth it.
About the Author
Alexis Duran was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. At the University of Oregon, her fascination with people and relationships led her to major in Sociology, but her main love has always been creative writing.
She’s worked in museums, finance, film production and for several performing arts organizations. Her favorite job so far has been inventorying the collection of a haunted Victorian Mansion. She is the author of the Masters and Mages and Edge of Night m/m fantasy series as well as several stand-alone romances.
Her fiction has won awards including the Rupert Hughes Award from the Maui Writers Conference.
She lives with one dog and four and a half cats. She is currently working on the next Jacqui the Cat mystery and always has several new ideas brewing.
Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d4711/?
About the Books
Ardulum: First Don (book one)
The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.
When Ardulum first appeared, the inhabitants brought agriculture, art and interstellar technology to the Neek people before vanishing back into space. Two hundred years later, Neek has joined the Charted Systems, a group of planets bound together through commerce and wormhole routes, where violence is nonexistent and technology has been built around the malleability of cellulose.
When the tramp transport Mercy’s Pledge accidentally stumbles into an armed confrontation between the Charted System sheriffs and an unknown species, the crew learns the high cost of peace—the enslavement and genetic manipulation of the Ardulan people. Now a young Neek, outcast from her world for refusal to worship ancient Ardulans as gods, must reconcile her planet’s religion with the slave child whom she has chosen to protect—a child whose ability to manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of the ancient myths of Ardulum. But protecting the child comes at a cost—the cultural destruction of her world and the deaths of billions of Charted System inhabitants.
The Charted Systems are in pieces. Mercy’s Pledge is destroyed, and her captain dead. With no homes to return to, the remaining crew set off on a journey to find the mythical planet of Ardulum—a planet where Emn might find her people and Neek the answers she’s long sought. Finding the planet, however, brings a host of uncomfortable truths about Ardulum’s vision for the galaxy, and Neek’s role in a religion that refuses to release her. Neek must balance her planet’s past and the unchecked power of the Ardulans with a budding relationship and a surprising revelation about her own genealogy.
Ardulum: Second Don blends space opera and hard science into a story about two women persistently bound to their past, and a sentient planet determined to shape their future.
Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side, but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Neek must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.
“Were we just attacked?” she asked incredulously. Neek took a closer look out the viewscreen. The rectangular cutter that sparkled with pinpricks of light and the wedge-shaped, agile skiffs, were Risalian. The pods—both the smaller purple ones and the frigate-sized, maroon ones—were unfamiliar. Their fomations were just as strange, stacked in columns like stones on a riverbank instead of in pyrimidal and spherical formations like Systems ships would. “Are those all Charted Systems ships?”
Yorden threw up his hands in disgust. “They’re not just Charted Systems ships—they’re Risalian ships. The cutter and skiffs are, anyway. No clue on the pods. What those blue-skinned bastards are doing out here with fully weaponized ships, I can only guess. However, they’re firing lasers. If we lose our armor and take a hit from any of those, we are space dust.”
“Comforting,” Neek mumbled. She hadn’t noticed the laser ports on any of the ships, but now that she looked closer, all of the vessels were covered with armor plating and had at least two laser turrets each.
Neek continued to watch as the pods begin to cluster around a Risalian cutter. A pod ship zipped beneath the cutter, firing wildly at its underside, before making a quick right turn and heading back to a larger pod. Five others followed suit. The cutter’s shielding began to splinter, but the ship remained where it was.
Neek leaned into the viewscreen, still unsure what she was seeing. “The Risalian ships aren’t chasing, they’re just defending. What is going on? If they’re going to appoint themselves sheriffs of the Charted Systems, they could at least fight back.”
Yorden smacked his hand against the wall, loosing a shower of dust. “Something on that Risalian ship is holding their attention. Get us out of here, before either of them gets any closer.” He pointed to a cluster of ships to Neek’s right, and her eyes followed. Little flashes of bright light sparked and then died intermittently as ships were destroyed, their flotsam creating an ever-expanding ring. A large piece of metal plating floated past the Pledge’s port window. The edge caught and left a thin scratch in the fiberglass as it slid off.
“What are they protecting that is so damn important?” Neek wondered out loud and then snorted. “Something worth more than our hold full of diamond rounds and cellulose-laced textiles?” she added cheekily.
Scowling, Yorden pushed Neek’s hand away from the computer and began his own scan of the Pledge’s systems. “Communications are still up, but I don’t think either party is listening right now.” Frustrated, he kicked the underside of the console. “Try one of them. Better than being crushed.”
“Captain, come on. We are dead in space. If another one comes at us, why don’t we just fire at it? It’s better than being rammed.” She pointed upwards at a circular hole in the ceiling. “What’s the benefit of flying a ship so ancient it falls apart if you’re not taking advantage of the grandfathered weapons system?”
Yorden’s terse response was cut off when a short burst impacted the ship. Another group of skiffs flew past, depositing laser fire as they did so. The Pledge banked to port, carrying momentum from the impact. From the direction they had come lay a trail of shattered ship plating.
A panicked voice called down from the laser turret. Neek bristled, steeling herself against the inevitable irritation that came whenever their Journey youth spoke. “That skiff just fired at us. How does it even have weapons? I thought we were the only ones in the Systems with a ship older than dirt.”
Neek wrapped her right hand back around the steering yoke. Each of her eight fingers fit perfectly into the well-worn grooves, and the brown leather darkened a shade as her naturally secreted stuk smeared from her fingertips. She smiled to herself. Flying a geriatric tramp was still better than flying nothing at all.
“Look, Captain,” she said, keeping her eyes on the battle. “I can steer this thing if we get pushed, but that is it. We don’t have any other options. They have guns. We have guns. Well, we have a gun. Why don’t we use it?”
Second Don (Book Two):
“You have to tell her,” Nicholas said. He pushed himself out of a lean and pointed to where Emn’s blood had fallen. She’d been interfacing with the ship all the way through the wormhole and hadn’t noticed Nicholas return to the cockpit. That meant Emn was getting a lecture, one way or the other. Annoyed, she tugged at the fabric across her chest, the sensation something she was still getting used to, and turned to look at Nicholas. She’d have much preferred a lecture from Neek.
Nicholas’s eyebrow rose. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen you bleed from interfacing with the ship. If your physiology is so incompatible with it, then Neek needs to know. We need to find another ship.”
Emn dabbed at her ear with a finger, ensuring the canal was clean, and then straightened the front of her dress. She’d already stopped the bleeding. The blood vessel breaks had been small—only minor capillaries affected—and healing was simple first-don stuff. Except, each time she synced with the ship, the pain was worse. What had started as a light buzzing during her time on the Mmnnuggl flagship Llttrin, during the Crippling War, was now a pressure that thumped between her skull and brain. It was ever-expanding, pulsed behind her eyes, crushed blood vessels, and had her leaking maroon from her ears and nose.
After sitting down against the black paneling, Emn looked at her lap. The dress, which she’d managed to keep mostly clean of blood, was tight in areas she’d not anticipated. It clung to her hips and chest, highlighting the most notable changes since her metamorphosis. It was… Could something be uncomfortable and yet comforting at the same time? She was an adult. There was no denying that, not with something so formfitting. Emn enjoyed the visual reminder of who she had become.
“For me to discuss any of this with Neek, she’d have to actually talk to me. Right after the Crippling War, I thought we had broken through that layer of self-doubt, or whatever makes Neek so rigid around me, but I guess not.” Emn went to pull at the front of her dress again before catching herself.
Nicholas ran his hands through his thick hair and shook his head. “You’re telepathically connected. You don’t have to be in the same room to talk.” Just as he had when she was in first don, Nicholas plopped beside her so she could lean into him. The reminder of their friendship helped ease the thumping in her head. She was forever grateful that Nicholas didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with the changes she’d undergone.
“Do you think it looks all right?” Emn asked, looking down at the front of her dress.
Nicholas snorted. “You look like a woman in a dress, Emn. It fits well. Your chest looks normal, if that’s what you’re asking, although you’ll crease the fabric if you keep pulling at it like that. If you want more specific feedback, there’s a different person you should ask. I know you don’t have a perpetually open connection, but even if she’s closed down, you could still nudge her. It’s good for her.”
Emn returned the half smile, imagining how Neek would react if she just started chatting to her through their link about mundane things, like constellations or cellulose biometals, or if she actually asked about the dress…
As if Neek had been listening, the door abruptly slid open, and the room was filled with the distinctive sound of booted feet. Emn and Nicholas stood up.
Neek took a moment to stretch, reaching her hands up over her head and letting her sixteen fingers, eight per hand, brush the ceiling. This was the only room in the small Mmnnuggl pod where any of them could stand upright, and it was blissful to do so. Stretching pulled the fabric of the flight suit taut against Neek’s chest and Emn let her eyes linger, careful to ensure the image did not leak across their bond. They needed Neek in the cockpit, captaining, not hiding in her room. She didn’t need to know about Emn’s burgeoning…something. Not yet, anyway. Still, Emn followed the tightly braided red-blonde hair to her narrow shoulders and then to her wide hips partially hidden in a baggy flight suit. Neek had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and Emn wrinkled her nose without meaning to. The lighting in the pod did not go well with Neek’s olive-brown complexion. Realizing that she had probably stared for a bit too long, Emn walked back to the viewscreen.
“Looks like such a harmless planet from out here,” Neek said as her arms fell to her sides. Currently filling the floor-to-ceiling viewscreen was Risal, its orange algae oceans and brown landmasses looming above them. Risal’s two moons, the red Korin and white Rath, buffered the planet on either side. At their current position, the shadows from the sun overlapped Risal in two intersecting crescents, leaving a thin hourglass shape of lit land. Two cutters were in orbit around Korin, docked next to one another near the moon’s north pole.
Emn knew more than she cared to about those moons. She had no firsthand memories, but being synced to the late Captain Ran’s cutter had given her data on both. Rath was used as an andal plantation, although it was not a very successful one. Korin, in contrast…Korin was likely where she had been born. Emn probably had had siblings there, perhaps other genetic parents as well. They’d be dead, of course, like all the Risalian Ardulans, but that didn’t make the moon any less oppressive.
Her focus was suddenly returned to the cockpit. Confused, Emn blinked, trying to clear her vision, and then realized what was happening. Her thoughts must have leaked. Now, instead of Korin, she was seeing herself through Neek’s eyes, their connection taut. It was strange to see herself from the back—a woman in a knee-length, gray dress with shoulder straps and a flared hipline, tracing a finger over the moon’s image. Her black hair held only hints of the red that shone in her youth, and the moonlight highlighted the dark veins that streaked across her translucent skin. Patterns emerged, if one looked long enough—and Neek was—patterns of geometric shapes bound tightly together, distorted and intersecting. Several words bounded across their link despite Neek’s best efforts to rein them in. One in particular struck Emn as odd.
Except, calling the markings such belied their daunting mythos and marginalized Neek’s history. Emn tossed the word aside, conscious of its relevance but unwilling to call it to Neek’s attention.
Third Don (Book Three):
I dislike this flight suit,Atalant muttered as her stuk absorbed into the rough material. The Ardulans did not refine the andalrayon as much as Charted Systems manufacturers did, and the fabric was full of rough, lumpish slubs.
If you could find some time for us to be alone and do away with the memories for a few hours, I’m sure I could arrange for my dress to make an appearance. The images that accompanied her statement flushed Atalant’s cheeks.
Maybe if we met onboard the Scarlet Lucidity , in orbit around Ardulum, where no one could interrupt us and I felt a bit freer… Atalant’s thoughts drifted into that delightful possibility. The Lucidity had soft chairs in the cockpit, wide beds in the quarters, a small bin of andal in case Emn got hungry…
Andal! Atalant’s priorities came crashing back down around her. The planet caught her wandering and whispered dreams of its own, dreams of saplings in open fields, of thick rains and busy pollinators. The collective consciousness of Ardulum sent a yearning desire for family, for a new place to call home.
“Home is overrated,” Atalant whispered.
“I don’t think so. What about your parents, Atalant?” Emn whispered into her ear, misunderstanding Atalant’s words. “Your father and your talther miss you, I’m sure. Your brother is there, waiting to see his sister.” Emn’s lips brushed Atalant’s forehead. “All the things you said at those political rallies, all the times the president cut you down, your exile, your uncle’s teachings… Could you just let all this hang? Can you let the truth, that you worked so hard to uncover, remain a mystery to the rest of your people?”
Atalant didn’t answer. When Emn didn’t press further, Atalant reached over Emn and lifted the window open to its full height. The sounds of reptiles croaking filled the silence between them. Atalant let the heaviness of her eyelids sink her into drowsy memories. She thought of the Lucidity, berthed and awaiting her return in a suburb of the capital. She thought of the gold robes she now regularly wore, of their similarities to the Heaven Guard robes she had so coveted in her youth. She thought of her brother, his pursuit of andal science over Ardulan religion, his urging her to join the Heaven Guard of Neek. She thought of soil barren from andal plantation farming, the decline of the forests on her homeworld, and the death of the Keft ecosystem. She thought of her uncle, the High Priest of Neek, of his teachings, the holy books, and of what the return of living gods could do for her stagnant planet.
The sound of Emn’s even breathing relaxed the remaining tightness in Atalant’s shoulders. As she drifted off into sleep, her mind wandered to the possibility: what would it be like for Ardulum to return to the planet Neek? What havoc would the mystic, traveling planet play on her world’s religion? On her family? Would she be welcomed as a hero, or still branded a heretic? Would she be shot on sight? Gold robes of the Eld or gold robes of the Heaven Guard? Did it matter?
What would it be like for her to come home?
About the Author
J.S. Fields (@Galactoglucoman) is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns.
Fields has lived in Thailand, Ireland, Canada, USA, and spent extensive time in many more places. Her current research takes her to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest each summer, where she traumatizes students with machetes and tangarana ants while looking for rare pigmenting fungi. She lives with her partner and child, and a very fabulous lionhead rabbit named Merlin.
A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.
Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.
Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.
Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.
The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.
Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.
They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.
Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona sera,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.
“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”
“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”
“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.
“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.
He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.
His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. “Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”
“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”
Diego shot him a dirty look.
Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…
“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”
Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”
“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”
Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in” was all he said with another smile.
Now an exclusive excerpt!
Brad was rousted from bed by someone pounding on the front door. Who the hell was coming by at ten thirty p.m.? He grabbed the bat he kept next to the bed.
“Who is it?” Sam asked blearily.
“I don’t know. I’ll find out.”
Sam sat up, and Brad smothered the urge to jump back in bed. Screw their visitor. Sam looked adorable with his sleepy eyes and blond hair sticking up at odd angles.
The pounding sounded again.
“Want me to come with?”
“No, just be ready to call 911.” They were downtown, after all. Things happened here, sometimes. “I’m coming!” Brad shouted to whoever was knocking. He pulled on his robe and clambered down the stairway to the front door. “Who is it?” he called, bat held at ready.
“Brad, it’s Marcos. I need your help.”
Marcos… the web designer? He unlocked the door. “How the hell did you get my home address?” he asked, staring at the man. “You do know I’m married, right?”
Marcos grinned sheepishly. “I know. You had a fundraising party here last year for the Center, remember?”
“Oh, crap. Yeah.” He’d forgotten all about it. “So why are you here?”
“I need your help. Remember that girl, Marissa?”
“Yes. What happened?” He was starting to regret having shared the information with Marcos. If anything had happened to her as a result, he could lose his job.
“She’s in trouble. She called me from the County Jail up on I Street.”
Brad scratched his chin. “Why did she call you?”
“I don’t know. I left my number for her where she hangs out. I guess I was the only one she could think of.”
“Maybe so. Many of these kids don’t have anyone. Hey, come inside. It’s cold out there.” He let Marcos in and closed the door.
“Who was it?” Sam was standing at the top of the stairs in only his white briefs.
Marcos looked up and whistled.
“Just our web designer.”
Sam blushed. “Um, sorry. I’ll leave you guys alone.” He vanished into the bedroom.
“Come have a seat.” Brad ushered Marcos into their small living room.
“Congratulations, Brad. The hubby’s quite a catch.”
Brad cleared his throat. “Marissa?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry. She said she was framed. She needs me to come get her out, but I don’t think they’ll let me, since she’s underage. You know people there, right?”
Brad nodded. “What was the officer’s name?”
“Um… Donna? Dorothy?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“I’ll come with you and see what I can do. What will you do if they release her to you?”
Marcos shook his head. “I don’t know yet. Get her home and in a warm bed for tonight. I can figure out the rest tomorrow.”
Brad touched Marco’s shoulder. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because she’s me twenty years ago.”
Brad nodded. “Okay, let’s go. You brought your car?”
Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow in East Sacramento, with two pink flamingos by the front porch.
He spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.
He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.
In this day and age, that’s not an earth-shattering headline. We want headlines that scream of life-altering events.
Terrorists Nuke Peace Conference!
Wow! What a gripping headline. This is something to change the world. Oh, wait! The world did transform. This ran as the lead story a few hours before the beginning of The Upheaval. The current world birthed in nuclear fire and electromagnetic disruption. Gone are the nations I grew up with. My life altered again.
Cain Slays Abel!
The truth behind such a classic story is far more complicated than anyone could imagine.
The brothers’ tale is a life-altering event, at least for me. Twice a report of murder transformed my life in an unpredictable way. I am Richard St. Martin, Master of Darkness. Before my story can be told, you need to learn the story of the first dark monster, Cain. My stepchildren call him Father Cain because he was the first. To find the actuality behind the myth, I recruited two talented mortals – Dr. Jeremiah Banks, Archaeologist, and Professor Juan Di Vargas, Theologian and Religious Scholar. Together they found the secret origin of the vampires:
JEREMIAH SURVEYED his clothing choices for the conference and grimaced. He hated suits, but Dr. Sinclair, the dean of his department, and Mrs. Pike, the dean’s secretary and sort of a second mother, both insisted he dress in professional academic attire.
“You’re representing the University of Arizona and the Republic of Texas, Dr. Banks. Think of the university’s reputation. Don’t appear like you are fresh off the boat following months in the field,” Jeremiah recalled Dr. Sinclair saying as he handed him his clearance to travel. During a visit to her house, Mrs. Pike said similar things before she called her late husband’s tailor and made an appointment to fit Jeremiah for new suits. Suits made Jeremiah uncomfortable, he preferred sturdy field clothing, but Dr. Sinclair held firm, no wild field archaeologist attire. Resigned to his fate, Jeremiah gave into almost all the dean’s requirements, but refused when the request came to cutting his long copper locks. Jeremiah brushed through his hair, twisted, and slid the length into a sapphire-encrusted leather tube to hold everything in check.
The Emir, who oversaw his dig on behalf of the caliph’s government, gave him the hair binder as a gift. The man developed a fascination with Jeremiah’s copper hair and its silky texture. With his hair under control, Jeremiah dressed to impress in a navy-blue suit with a subtle white pinstripe. Sapphire cufflinks and tie tack finished the ensemble. The cufflinks came as a second present from the emir after a night of admiring Jeremiah’s body in all its naked glory. The combination of Jeremiah’s pale skin and fiery chest hair and pubic region, plus the impressive prick and balls in their natural state, fascinated the noble. The emir never touched him or asked for contact; the man wanted to check if the red hair remained the same color all the way down.
All three pieces of jewelry helped to highlight his bright blue eyes. Jeremiah checked himself in the mirror before picking up his notes and slides for his lecture and heading down to breakfast. During the evening, the staff worked their magic, transforming the ballroom from reception hall into a dining room. A waiter led Jeremiah to his assigned table and seat right next to Prof. O’Grady. The rest of the table filled with other scholars from universities in the Republic of Texas. He found Dr. Lanister’s vacant seat next to his and opposite Prof. O’Grady. “Prof. O’Grady, I want to apologize for the rude comments last night at the reception.”
“No, Dr. Banks, if anyone got out of line last night, I did, and should be doing the apologizing. Thank you for correcting my attitude towards Dr. Lanister. I spoke way out of line. I wanted to apologize to him in person, but the hotel informed me Dr. Lanister checked out late last night claiming illness and returned home.”
“I’m sorry he departed. He stopped by my room last night reeking of alcohol, so I encouraged him to retire for the evening. I’m sorry to learn he caught something,” came Jeremiah’s reply as a waiter stopped and filled his coffee cup. “I wonder, are you familiar with Prof. Juan Di Vargas from the University of Madrid?”
“Only by reputation, Dr. Banks. I understand he’s presenting today on how the story of the Flood developed in several early cultures,” O’Grady remarked, signaling the waiter to take her plate. “Don’t you present today as well, Dr. Banks?”
“Yes, about an hour after Prof. Di Vargas. I hope to catch a moment of his time between lectures. His latest paper mentioned the possibility of the biblical city of Enoch being in the Tigris-Euphrates Delta. I think Enoch might be part of the culture, which produced the tablets I found. I wish to compare research with him.”
“Good luck in your endeavor. Di Vargas doesn’t often deal with those who pursue the more physical aspects of their researches, at least according to his reputation. I can arrange for you to speak with a scholar of the period more open to using archaeology. Let me introduce you to Prof. Chevalier from the University of Paris.”
She missed Jeremiah’s grimace of distaste, which he hid behind a sip of coffee. Chevalier’s research clashed with every line of the investigation he pursued while Di Vargas’s headed in a similar direction from a different angle. Jeremiah wiped his hands with his napkin, picked up his notes and slides, and rose from the table.
“Thank you for the offer, Dr. O’Grady. Perhaps another time. Please excuse me. I need to make sure the media team receives enough time to arrange the presentation before lecturing. I’m confident we’ll cross paths at dinner.”
“I think they plan to mix things up tonight, but there will be other meetings during the conference. Such a pleasure to meet you again, Jeremiah, or I should say Dr. Banks. You stood out, one of my more promising students, and I’m proud of how well you blossomed under Adamson’s direction.” O’Grady offered Jeremiah her hand. “I’m eager for your lecture this afternoon.”
Jeremiah shook her hand and left to track down the media team. He still needed to set up his slides before attending the lectures he wanted to listen to this morning.
Kethric Wilcox began writing and publishing as a personal challenge to be creative in a new medium. He was attracted to the LGBT Romance genre after reading several paranormal romances where it seemed like the shape-shifters never faced dangers outside the relationship issues thrown at them by their authors. Thus was born the shifter hunting House of Beauty on the premise of a twisted fairy tale. What if Beauty and the Beast didn’t end with happily ever after? Wilcox’s Legend of the Silver Hunter trilogy looks at this question and then asks what happens if a member of this family falls in love with a descendant of the Beast, can they find happily ever after or are they doomed to repeat the tale. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Wilcox now lives and works in Little Rock, Arkansas in a house that he and his partner renovated. By day Wilcox is a graphic artist and exhibit designer, and at night an author of paranormal romances.
Wilcox currently has two new trilogies in progress: Origin of the Vampires (The Curse, Lord Hunter, and Lord Slayer) set in a dystopian future of the Silver Hunter world; and Legacy of the Silver Hunter (The Goldilocks Pledge, Ruby Wine, and Black Snow) which continues the story told in the Legend trilogy from the view points of other couples in Kieran and Cory’s lives.
Hi readers! Sylvre.com’s Romance Across the Rainbow Blog is happy to welcome back author Grace Duncan. This visit, she’s brought an excerpt on the Forgiveness tour! Be sure you read to the end to enter the giveaway and check out the other tour stops.
Nine years ago Eric Joyce went wolf when his chosen mate broke the bond, and he hasn’t walked on two legs since. Convinced he lost his friends when he ran out on them, he cut himself off from the pack. But a surprising visitor prods him back down the mountain, and he finds himself welcomed warmly.
Ben Arellano grew up in Texas with a human Catholic mother who didn’t understand a thing about wolves—and didn’t try to learn. He spent his whole life being told his wolf was a demon that needed to be exorcised, surrounded by a wolf pack made up of good ole boys who had no tolerance for his Mexican ancestry or his bisexuality. When he’s given the opportunity to relocate to an accepting pack in Pittsburgh, he jumps at the chance.
When Eric and Ben meet for the first time, neither is ready for it. Where Ben expects rejection, Eric is convinced yet another mate will leave, break the bond, and put him through the same hell all over again. Can they get past their reservations and have a happily mated life?
Released March 20, 2018 from Dreamspinner
Cover by Reese Dante
Ben didn’t need his preternatural senses to know she was there. Despite how quiet she was trying to be—or, at least, he assumed she was trying—he still heard her crying. He was pretty sure their human neighbors heard her.
He focused on packing the few things he had left into the last box. He closed it up, ignoring the sniffling, and picked up his overnight bag. After checking the toiletries bag, he turned around to go back to the bathroom.
“Ben, Mamá. Why can you not at least call me by the name I prefer?” he asked, deliberately speaking in English.
“I named you Jesus for a reason!”
Ben sent up a prayer to Diana for patience, though he wasn’t entirely convinced she was there. He wasn’t convinced any god was there. “You also named me Benjamin—Ben—for a reason. You’ve told me more than once what mi abuelo meant to you.”
She scowled at him. “Of course he meant a lot. But—”
“Mamá, I don’t believe in that. Just… never mind. Excuse me.” He slipped by her into the hall, then down to the bathroom and retrieved his toothbrush as she followed him. After stowing it in his toiletries bag and tucking the bag back in the overnight case, he turned to her one more time.
“I still do not know why you have to go so far away. Somos familia!” She took off in a long string of rapid-fire Spanish that he tuned out—the same arguments she’d been giving him for months, since he’d made the decision to move to another part of the country.
“Mamá, this is exactly why! You could never accept me. Nothing I do makes you happy! Every time I even mention my wolf—”
She crossed herself, making him roll his eyes.
“—you cross yourself and tell me I’m going to hell for not exorcising him.”
“It is a demon in you, Jesus!”
She ignored that.
He sighed. “It’s not a demon. He is part of me. We’ve been over this more times than I can count. If it’s not my wolf—”
She crossed herself. Again.
“—it’s because I did not go to medical school. Or I did not marry the girl you picked out for me. Not that I’m even ready to get married, Mamá.”
“You could have been a doctor!”
“I wanted to play my guitar! That was not good enough. I did go to school, but even accounting was not good enough!”
“I do not know why—”
“Never mind. I’m not going to keep fighting with you, Mamá. This is why I have to go. I cannot keep doing this. I need to go somewhere that I can be myself. Even the pack here is not as welcoming as I would like.”
“Jesus Benjamin Arellano!” she shouted.
“Alicia! That is enough.”
Ben took a breath and sent a grateful look at his papá. “Papá. I cannot—” He spread his hands and shook his head.
“Let me take the last box. Do you have everything?” Papá asked.
“Yes, this is it.”
Mamá started crying again. Ben ignored her—again—and picked up his overnight bag, then followed Papá through the house to the driveway. He stowed the bag on the floor of the passenger seat next to his backpack, then shut the door and turned back to Mamá. “Te quiero, Mamá. You know that. But I need space to be me.”
“But… so far.”
“The pack in Pennsylvania needs an accountant. They’ll welcome me—all of me.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Maybe I’ll meet my destined mate there.”
“Let him go, Alicia,” Papá said.
She shook her head. “I do not understand how you can hurt me like this!”
Thank you so much to Lou for giving me space today! I hope you enjoyed this excerpt.
(You are so welcome, Grace.—LS)
About Grace: Author Bio:
Grace Duncan grew up with a wild imagination. She told stories from an early age – many of which got her into trouble. Eventually, she learned to channel that imagination into less troublesome areas, including fanfiction, which is what has led her to writing male/male erotica.
A gypsy in her own right, Grace has lived all over the United States. She has currently set up camp in East Texas with her husband and children – both the human and furry kind.
As one of those rare creatures who loves research, Grace can get lost for hours on the internet, reading up on any number of strange and different topics. She can also be found writing fanfiction, reading fantasy, crime, suspense, romance and other erotica or even dabbling in art.
Welcome Scott, and congratulations on the release of Lander. Having you on the blog has given me a reason to take a closer look at your work—something I confess I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I have to say I got drawn in—so much so that I read Skythane instead of doing a number of other things I had on my to do list. I’ve got a few questions that arose from my reading, but let’s start with a few more general facts.
Q: Please tell us three of your favorite things about being a writer. We all get discouraged from time to time—when that happens, what keeps you writing? ame three books, novels, that you could read over and over again—the books that make you want to be a writer, too.
A: So first off—Larque on the Wing—a fabulous magical realism tale about a housewife who wanders into the gay part of town and finds out she quite literally has a gay man inside of her. In this world, there’s a man who can bring to the outside who you really are on the inside. This book showed me what could be done with magical realism and a rainbow palette.
My second—Daughter of the Empire, by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts. OMG this book is good. It tells the story of a daughter of a powerful family who returns home after the rest of her kin are slaughtered, and is forced to take control of the family business. The world is a feudal society that mirrors Japanese culture, and the twists and turns are fantastic, as is the ending. Plus there are two more after this one. A master class in plot-driven sci fi/fantasy.
Finally, Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. I am a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey generally and the Pern series in particular, and this one pulled all my heart strings – an epic tragedy that seamlessly combines sci fi and fantasy in a beautifully realized world.
Q: If you couldn’t be a writer, what profession would be your first choice, and why?
A: Hmmm… I always wanted to be an astronomer, until I found out how much math it required.
I’ve always loved space and sci fi, so astronaut would be my second choice. 🙂
Q: Among your characters, who is your favorite, and why?
A:My favorite character? But I love them all! But if I had to choose… probably Mael from “The Great North.” He’s so strong and sure of himself – he comes from a society where there’s no issue with folks who are gay or lesbian or any other part of the queer rainbow. Plus there’s the whole death and reincarnation thing (spoiler)…
Q: In a throwback to a question I used to ask authors for every feature—what are the fifty hottest, sexiest words you ever wrote? Okay, you have some leeway here. It can be less than fifty, but not many more, and “hot” and “sexy” can be defined any way you want.
A:From “A New Year”:
Finn pulled him down into a bed of moss, hungrily, and they kissed with a passion that unleashed Heath’s lust like an uncoiled spring. He pulled off his shirt and unbuttoned his jeans, and Finn shirked off his own clothing. Heath nuzzled Finn’s neck, and was soon lost to an animal passion that surpassed anything he had ever experienced in his bedroom with his own hand and a box of tissues in the dead of night.
I may have cheated and gone over. Just a bit.
(That’s perfectly all right, Scott.)
Q: You do have stories in other genres, but is sci-fi your favorite? If so, what in particular makes that true? Who are your sci-fi author heroes—the writers who made you fall in love with the genre? What new sci-fi favorite authors are on your current reading list?
A: I have three loves – sci fi, fantasy, and magical realism. Most of my stories fall under at least one of those categories, and sometimes several. Sci fi/fantasy has been a favorite of mine since I used to raid my mother’s sci fi bookshelf – McCaffrey, Asimov, Clarke, Anderson, Bova, Tolkien, and many more.
I love being a part of bold, amazing, fully realized worlds that are so different from this one, and others that seem like they might just be a heartbeat away. Give me starships, elf magic and planet-wide terraforming, and I’m in bliss. Put them all together successfully, and I’m in awe.
I have very little reading time these days, but I love me some Angel Martinez. And though he’s new, OMG, Peter Hamilton. If you are a hard-core sci fi butt and you haven’t read Hamilton… * shakes head *
Q: You are one of the administrators of the Queer Sci-fi website, an associated Facebook group, and a critique group. Can you give us a little history? Was this your brainchild? What do you most want people to know about QSF?
A:LOL… yeah it was. I started writing when I was in elementary school, and sent off my first book in my mid-twenties, but I didn’t write queer characters then. When I came back to writing in my mid-forties, I knew it had to be different this time. My new stories exploded with rainbows, and I wanted people to share my newfound freedom with. I found some good groups in Facebook, but none was quote what I wanted – a group that was truly inclusive of all kinds of speculative fiction and all kinds of people across the queer spectrum.
So Queer Sci Fi was born.
Not long after, I managed to convince Angel to come run it with me, and then we added Ben Brock, who has become our reviews guru.
The site’s watchwords are diversity, safety and fun – we work hard to foster an atmosphere where everyone can hang out together and rub elbows with others who are different, without feeling sidelined, disparaged, or made to feel invisible.
Q: The names and creatures in Skythane and Lander draw on Irish or Celtic mythology. What drew you in that direction? How extensively did the ancient figures of Oberon and the fey influence the worlds you created, or the stories you set within them?
A: LOL… it was an accident, actually.
I wrote the first three scenes of what eventually became Skythane in the mid-nineties, and then put it back on a shelf. It had no direction, no outline, no particular place it was going, and it joined a bunch of started stories that I’d never finished.
Around 2014, I pulled out the scenes to take a look at them. The image of the half world against the stark backdrop of space stuck with me. And the name – Oberon.
I did some research, and ran across Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’ Dream” – where King Oberon and Queen Titania are two of the many characters in a play that includes faeries, a magical forest and a love potion that makes people do crazy things. And Skythane was born.
I had gotten about halfway through, but then in November, 2015, I made it my NaNo project, and wrote the whole thing in one month. Of course, it took a few additional months to rework it and clean it up, and then Dreamspinner bought it and the rest was history.
Just for kicks, here’s the first scene I ever wrote of the story in all its misspelled glory. It still appears in the current book, with a few alterations:
Raindrops rolled off the plas screen in crazy patterns, the drops skidding across the slick surface in a wind-whipped frenzy. Xander lay on his back, head thrown back, watching them with a laziness that belied his inner turmoil. His chest heaved slowly up and down, his breath easing out of his lungs with silent ease, his whole posture and demeanor speaking of ease.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Below the surface, under the deception of skin and sinew, seemingly relaxed muscles and redolent pose, his heart beat at a thunerous pace, and his mind raced for answers that seemed to just as quickly slip beyond his grasp.
The trick he’d brought home worked enthusiatically, his warm hands lain upon Xander’s thighs, his warm mouth evident elsewhere. Xander smelled the deep musk of him, slipped a hand absently through the man’s dark, tousseled hair, watching the rain increase to a thunder on the plas. The drops glistened, each an individual universe of shimering light, combining and recombining and running quickly out of sight.
Despite himself, he felt himself rising quickly to climax; despite his detachment, his mind was drawn up like the tide in the swell that seemed to radiate from his cock and balls down through his toes, up along his spinal cord.
Lightning flared suddenly in the wet-black sky, followed by thunder so close it shook the bed, and Xander came at the same time, his body crying out in joyous release. He shuddered, shivered and shuddered again, feeling for just a moment on the crest of the wave, in a pleasure so intense it burned through him like phosphorous, white hot fire.
In the short moments afterward, he drifted in an oblivion that was blessed in its emptiness, missing the pain that had taken up residence inside him these last few weeks.
When he opened his eyes, the nameless trick was staring down at him, expectant. Xander pushed himself up, off the bed, and took a fifty out opf his wallet, handing it to the trick with a dismissive gesture.
“I can do more…” the man said, but Xander shook his head.
“You’ve done enough. Now get out.”
The trick shot him a dirty look, but hurried out of the flat, slamming the door behind him. Xander looked after him in disgust. This was what he’d sunk to, bringing home tricks for a quick blow?
He stood against the long window, his lithe form silouhetted in the darkness of the plas, touching the cool surface with his hand, and tried to remember where things had gone so horribly wrong. The city spread out below him, thousands of amber lights in strings along the main causeways. In the distance, he could make out the Molokais, their peaks just a sharp-toothed wall of darkness at the edge of the world. Above them, the stars swam in the deepest night, thickest overhead, neither of Oberon’s two moons yet up to challenge their dominance of the night sky.
Turning his back on the night, he stared around the flat, glaring at the unmade bed as if it were to blame for his indiscretions. “Light,” he said, and the dim glow increased to something approaching daylight. “Candler, Deca Seven, Play.”
He eased himself down onto the center of the bed, and Candler Dalias’son was floating there before him, his beautiful gossamer wings extended on either side of him. Camber looked down at him, his amber eyes filled with concern. Xander drank in his beautiful face, the glow of his skin. “Xander, what’s wrong?” Candler reached out a hand toward him, and Xander reached out to touch his fingers, but his own hand closed in thin air.
“Candler, I miss you so…” he started, but his voice cracked. It was still so hard, even after all these weeks…
“Javier’s going out country next week,” Candler said, oblivious to him. “I’d like to go with him…”
“End play,” Xander said, and the thing that wasn’t Candler disappeared. Out country… he’d forgotten… “Oh Candler, why did you have to go?”
He sank down into the bed, exhausted with grief, and fell into a dark and dreamless sleep.
Q: The story descriptions tell us a little about the main characters in Lander. What secondary character do you think is most important to the story? What do they bring to the tale?
A: Hmmm. Depends on how you define secondary. Alix – the Lander the title refers to, starts as a secondary character in Skythane, but comes into his own in “Lander.” But I’d have to say Morgan. This little guy revealed himself to me in Skythane and I didn’t really know what or who he was, but he’s become central to the story. You learn a lot more about him in Lander, and he will be pivotal to “Ithani,” the last book in the trilogy.
Q: Let’s talk about themes. What would you say is the primary theme of the Oberon series? The theme of Skythane? Of Lander? I assume book three is at least well underway. What will be the theme of Ithani?
A:Change. On a macro scale, the change of the world and the species and breeds of people and aliens. And on a micro level, the way the characters themselves, especially our everyman Jameson change.
Q: To wrap up, Scott, what’s in store? Do you have a date (tentative or otherwise) for Ithani’s release? What other works do you have in progress? Any events you’d like your readers to know about? Anything else you’d like to say?
A: So many questions!
Yes – Ithani should be out in February 2019. 🙂 I am about 16k into it at the moment.
And yes, I has plans!
The sequel to “The Stark Divide” – “The Rising Tide” – is in edits, and will release in October, and the final book in that trilogy, as yet unnamed (but it might be “The Shoreless Sea”) will be out in October 2019.
This year, I also plan to get into self publishing with a vengeance, with my blog serial “The River City Chronicles” hitting the shelves in English and Italian in the spring, an anthology of some of my shorter works in the fall, and the fourth Queer Sci Fi flash fiction anthology, “Impact.”
Also, sometime this year, Mischief Corner Books should be coming out with the three volumes of the serial that appeared on their blog titled “Marionettes in the Mist” – I wrote it along with Angel Martinez, Toni Griffin and Freddy MacKay.
After that, who knows?
Thanks so much for having me!
You are very welcome, J. Scott Coatsworth, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing sylvre.com to host you on your tour for Lander. The exclusive excerpt was an unexpected gift, and I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to answer my nosy questions. I wish you all the best with Lander and with everything you’ve got sizzling. I hope you’ll visit again someday.
Readers, thanks for being here. Comments are welcome, and we’ll try to answer any questions.
Alix followed after Xander and Quince, trying to ignore the scowls and hateful stares he got from the skythane they passed as they made their way through the halls of the castle. He wasn’t wearing his enforcer garb, but either these people recognized him from his time there, or they were just soured on landers as a whole.
He couldn’t really blame them. They’d come as advisors to the king, promising to help modernize Gaelan. Within a few months, they’d become occupiers instead.
One man spat on him as he passed.
Alix closed his eyes. They had their reasons—even if he hadn’t been personally responsible for most of the bad things that had happened. He was still a ranger.
He was also astonished that Xander was a prince here. The first time they’d met, Xander had been a pale, skinny thing, running courier duty for Rogan in the Slander. Alix had immediately wanted to protect the boy, but it had taken him three long years to find him again and to buy out his contract. By then Xander had been seventeen, but in some ways he had still seemed much younger, his development arrested when Rogan had taken him. He’d had a lot of anger issues.
Xander had grown into his full potential. It was strange to see the man inhabit the role of a skythane king. Xander had always been out for himself before anyone else, a lone wolf. It was a natural response to six years of sexual slavery.
Now that version of Xander was gone. Somehow, his new maturity only made him more attractive to Alix.
Quince had warned him to stay away, but how could he? The man he had dreamed about for a year, had missed like a ragged hole in his soul, was right there in front of him.
Alix was no fool, though. Xander was focused on his new love, and he would gain nothing by stepping in the middle of that. Especially when Jameson was in some kind of crisis. He would have to wait and see what developed.
“In here.” Mylin led them into a small, bare room with a lumpy mattress.
“What is this place?” Xander asked.
“It’s my room,” Mylin explained. “I didn’t want it. But some of the others insisted I have a place to come for an hour or two to get away from the madness.”
Xander kissed her cheek. “I’m grateful.”
It was a particular kind of grace, as if the whole place didn’t belong to him to begin with. “Let’s get Jameson down on the mattress.” Quince and Xander laid Jameson down, holding him in place to keep him from thrashing about too much and injuring himself.
The man’s face was flushed, his wings extended and shivering as if he were freezing cold, but his skin was covered in sweat.
“What’s wrong with him?” Alix asked. He’d seen that look on men on campaign who’d been injured, but there wasn’t a bruise or cut on him, as far as Alix could tell.
Mylin returned with an earthenware bowl and a cloth and used it to wipe his forehead. The cool water seemed to calm him.
“He’s stuck in a memory loop,” Xander said, as if that should make perfect sense. “He sees these past memories, things that happened wherever he is, and sometimes they overwhelm him.”
“Whose memories? Looks more like a seizure to me.” Xander wasn’t buying into the native superstitions, was he? Though to be fair, Alix had seen his share of strange things on this half of the world.
Xander glared at him. “I have them too, but not like this.”
“The memories. You sounded skeptical. We just shifted an entire world. You have to learn to adjust your expectations for what’s likely and possible.”
That shut Alix up.
“This happened before?” Quince asked.
“Yeah, back in the cavern.” Xander pulled out a pulse pistol. “This shocked him out of it.”
Quince smiled grimly. “I imagine it would. But you don’t want to go applying too many of those to poor young Jameson here. They could start to scramble his brain.”
“I know.” Xander winced. “So what do we do?”
Alix refrained from saying that it would be hard to tell the difference. “I might be able to help,” he said instead, as surprised as any of them that those words came out of his mouth.
Xander and Quince turned to him, surprised. “How?” Xander asked, but he looked hopeful.
“I have some experience dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.” He pulled off his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. He brushed off Xander’s renewed glare. “I know it’s not the same, but he needs to regain his focus on the here and now. I know a few things that might help.” He knelt next to Jameson.
Alix had a hard time keeping up his anger at Jameson. In fact, for a moment he was reminded of Xander, the first time they’d met. Jameson was pale and helpless, out of control of his own fate. Alix growled under his breath. He did not want to have sympathy for this man.
Gently he took Jameson’s hand and turned it over. Stunned, he hesitated.
Jameson’s fingernails had a double moon—a second arc above the first, separated by a thin line. It was subtle, but he was used to seeing it in rangers who’d taken up the habit during the long occupation.
Jameson was a pith user?
Alix shook his head. It was none of his business. “Can you take the lantern out of here? It may be easier if he has less to focus on.”
Robyn complied, taking it outside the door, and the room dimmed.
Alix held Jameson’s palm to his own bare chest. “Jameson, can you hear me?”
There was no glimmer of recognition in Jameson’s eyes.
Alix sighed. He had no guarantee that this would work. Still, it didn’t hurt to try. “Jameson, this is Alix. I’m right here with you.” He took a deep breath and breathed out just as slowly. “You have to focus, Jameson. Focus on me. Feel my breathing.” He breathed in once, deeply, holding it for a long moment, and then out again. “I want you to breathe with me.”
Alix put his other hand on Jameson’s chest. “In. Out. In. Out. Focus on breathing.”
He concentrated on his own.
“Is it working?” Xander peered over his shoulder.
“Shhhh.” Alix’s hand was warm against Jameson’s beautiful chest. Jameson looked like an angel. He shook his head. He would not let himself be attracted to Xander’s crush. “We’re all here with you, Jameson. In….”
Jameson’s chest lifted.
Jameson’s chest fell.
“That’s good.” Soon they were breathing together as one, connected skin to skin. It was as intimate a thing as he had ever experienced. “It’s okay. Let the memories go. Just keep breathing.”
Xander’s hand settled on his shoulder, sending a new splash of warmth through his body.
At last, Jameson’s eyes focused.
He looked up at Alix. “What… what happened?”
“You were stuck in your memories. The breathing helped you to get a grip and move past them.” He lifted his hand off Jameson’s chest and laid it down on the bed. The connection was broken.
“Thanks.” Jameson’s voice was raspy.
“Are they gone for now?”
Jameson looked around. “I think so.”
Alix nodded. “Good. I can teach you how to cope with them, I think. If you want.”
“Yes, please.” Jameson closed his eyes. “So tired.”
“He was tired last time too,” Xander said. “I think these memory storms really take it out of him.” Alix got up so Xander could kneel next to Jameson. “Sleep, my love.”
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