Tag Archives: Nicki Bennett

Under the Skin, from Dreamspinner Press 9/5/11 (Ariel Tachna and Nicki Bennett)

Featured Author Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their cat. Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with France, where she met her husband, and India, where she hopes to retire some day. She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.

Police detective Patrick Flaherty has no illusions about Russian mobster Alexei Boczar, but that doesn’t stop his fascination with the bodyguard to one of the most ruthless families in Chicago’s growing Eastern European crime community. From the moment Patrick meets Alexei’s eyes over the body of another Russian mobster, Alexei is a thorn in Patrick’s side, refusing to cooperate with the police and turning all of Patrick’s questions back on him. Alexei’s hard-as-nails persona whets Patrick’s professional determination to get the information he’s sure the gangster is hiding, while personally Patrick just wants to get his hands on Alexei’s hard body.

The tattoos marking Alexei’s skin tell the story of his criminal past, but the more Patrick learns about Alexei, the more he wants to know, until he finds himself over his head in a relationship that might cost him his job and could well cost Alexei his life. Alexei is equally fascinated by Patrick’s willingness to overlook his past and even his present associations, but he has secrets of his own that could drive a wedge between them forever.

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Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, just a category, M/M romance

Ariel Tachna: well-traveled author (the interview)

Welcome, Ariel, and thank you for being here. I’m eager to dig in and talk to you about the work you’ve co-authored with Nicki Bennett—including your recent release, Under the Skin. Before we get started with that, I’d like to talk a bit more about you as a writer and some thoughts on writing.

Q: Your bio tells us you’ve traveled quite a bit. I’ve read before about your love of all things French, and your fluency in that language, but I hadn’t heard about your travels to India. Perhaps you’d be willing to share a bit about your relationship with those two countries, and in particular a sense of how that and your other travels influence you as a writer.

A: Hi, Lou. First of all, thank you very much for having me. It’s always a pleasure to visit the blogs of fellow authors. My relationship with France, as I’ve said before, is very much at the center of my life, and it’s something that started very early: when I was in seventh grade. My fascination with India and all things Indian (which, while I don’t speak the language, rivals my love of France in all other respects) came as a result of meeting my husband, a native of Kerala, and choosing to build a life with him. My love of France and my experiences living there gave me a cultural sensitivity that carried over to this new relationship, because anyone who tells you that you can have a relationship with a man and not have one with his family has never been in a relationship with an Indian, that’s for sure! It was important for me to fit in with his family: to eat Indian food with my fingers like a native, to be able to wear a sari and put it on by myself (which still continues to amaze a number of Indian women I meet whose American-raised daughters can’t do it), to follow their traditions of removing my shoes when I’m in their houses, etc. I’ve only traveled to India once, in 2003, but we had an amazing experience and I left with a profound respect for a country where I could find beauty even among the squalor and where I was welcomed as warmly (sometimes even more warmly) as my husband everywhere we went because I was willing to fit in as much as my very fair skin and red hair will ever allow.

Q: How did you come to write M/M Romance?
A: I discovered M/M Romance about eight years ago in the frenzy of fandom and fan fiction that surrounded the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve always been a writer, but when I started reading fan fiction, I found far more stories centered around Aragorn and Legolas or Aragorn and Boromir than around Aragorn and Arwen. I’ve always been an adventurous reader so I took a gamble and opened one to see what it was like. I haven’t looked back. One of the joys of fan fiction is that there are amazing stories mixed in with not so amazing ones. There’s a place in fan fiction for beginning writers and for experienced ones. That community allowed me to begin to explore the dynamics of M/M relationships in a non-judgmental arena. It didn’t take me long to outgrow the limits of what I could do with my chosen characters and I quickly branched out into “AU” (alternate universe) stories that were essentially original stories with familiar faces.

Q: Can you give us an idea of how many book-length titles you’ve authored or co-authored in that Genre?
A: I have nineteen novel-length titles published or in the process of being published, with another four in the process of being written (and who knows how many sitting in the wings) as well as one more-than-novel-length piece of fan fiction that will never be published because it is too wrapped up in the canon of Lord of the Rings to be transformed away from those familiar faces to original fiction.

Q: Over time, do you think the genre has changed in a general sense? If so, in what way? How do you see the future of M/M Romance? Is it becoming more mainstream? Popular among more types of readers?
A: This is a really interesting series of questions. Until Dreamspinner started four years ago, I was only peripherally aware of M/M Romance as an actual, professional publishing category. I had a couple of acquaintances from fandom who were published, and one who was seriously taken advantage of, and so while I’d always dreamed of being published, I was leery of taking that step. At the urging of that same friend, I took a gamble on Dreamspinner, submitting Healing in His Wings to the Size Matters: Short Stories Long Enough to Satisfy anthology, which is now out of print, although my novella has been released as a stand-alone. What I discovered as I started marketing myself, and eventually started doing marketing for Dreamspinner, is that there was a huge, untapped market out there. The growth in production at Dreamspinner over four years is a result of demand, both from our readers and from our authors. Even with all the manuscripts we turn down (new authors to us have about a 10% acceptance rate), we are already filling our calendar into second quarter of next year. The other thing I’ve discovered is that there are two distinct classes of readers: straight women who get a visceral thrill from M/M relationships and gay men who are finally getting the love stories they were denied for so long by a publishing industry that chose only to tell tales of AIDS and woe and death and misery. I do think M/M Romance is becoming more mainstream, although I think there’s a long way to go still. A friend of mine who helped me extensively with Overdrive keeps checking for it on the shelves of bookstores he visits without any luck, an indicator of how far we still have to go before we’re represented on the shelves of the average bookstore, but we used to have a hard time getting review sites to accept our books. Now I send out an average of ten review copies a day of Dreamspinner’s titles, and often far more than that.

Q: Your recent release, Under the Skin was co-authored with Nicki Bennett. If there is anything you’d like to (or can) share on Nicki’s behalf—in terms of bio or writing background while respecting her privacy, please do.
A: Nicki is a bit of a hermit, so she doesn’t do a lot of interviews, but here’s her official bio.
Growing up in Chicago, Nicki Bennett spent every Saturday at the central library, losing herself in the world of books. A voracious reader, she eventually found it difficult to find enough of the kind of stories she liked to read and decided to start writing them herself.

And a bit more information about our friendship. We met through fandom when she commented on a story I was writing, a very detailed explanation of how I’d blown the ending of the most recent section I’d shared. I went back and read what I’d written and realized she was right. So I rewrote it (one of the joys of fan fiction instead of professional fiction), sent it to her to see if I’d fixed the problem, and reposted it. In the intervening seven years, she’s seen everything I’ve written before anyone else unless I was writing for her. A few months after we met, I convinced her to try her hand at writing, and the rest is history.

Q: I’d like to know about your own experience co-writing. Different authors approach it in different ways—in Under the Skin specifically, how did you and Nicki organize or divide the process, and how did co-writing affect the end product?
A: Nicki and I write together in real-time. We brainstorm a story and decide on the general plot, some of the details, and the basics of the characters. Then we each pick a character. From that point forward, everything our chosen characters say, do, think, and feel, comes from each of us. I may make a suggestion for her character or she might make one for mine, but ultimately the decisions for my character are mine and the same for hers. Once we’ve completed a scene, we’ll go back through it together, looking for editing issues: typos, repeated words, jarring transitions, etc, and in that stage, we’re far more likely to “write over” each other’s things, but after seven years of writing together, we’ve developed a combined style that works very well for us and flows very naturally so there’s generally very little smoothing to be done in terms of making it feel like a cohesive piece of work. I am of the opinion, and have been since we first collaborated, that we bring out the best in each other, and while Checkmate will always hold a special place in my heart, I’m pretty sure Under the Skin is the best thing we’ve written yet.

Q: Let’s talk more about Under the Skin. Both of your main characters are strong, bold men. They have very different agendas, at least in the beginning. Assuming (since this is romance) that there’s a ‘happy ever after’, how difficult was it to bring them together for more than simply sex?
A: Incredibly difficult. Nicki and I actually started this four years ago, just before my son was born, and set it aside because we couldn’t write the ending. We sort of knew what had to happen, but we weren’t willing to write it. About a year ago, we finally decided to stop messing around and simply do it. We had two issues with Patrick and Alexei. The first was the demands placed on them by their respective jobs. Let’s face it. If anyone found out about them, Patrick would lose his job, even if he didn’t go to jail, and Alexei would probably be killed, both because Patrick is a cop and because he’s male. The reality, though, is they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves or their dicks in their pants, so they ended up in this, to use Patrick’s words, “fucked-up whatever this is.” The second challenge was getting them to admit they wanted more than sex. Part of that was the whole job thing, but the rest of it was their inability to envision their own happily ever after and so to open themselves up to the risk of having that fail.

Q: How did you get the idea to use Eastern European Mafiya as the crime element in Under the Skin? Do you, or does Nicki, have a background in law enforcement or criminal justice, or was “research, research, research” that enabled you to make a realistic environment and plot? Have you written much crime drama, in general? Do you find it more or less difficult to incorporate romance into that framework, as opposed to other less violent or dangerous scenarios?
A: Neither of us has a law enforcement or criminal justice background, but we do have a good, mutual friend who is in law enforcement and was willing to tell us when Patrick veered away from believability. We have another good friend who is Russian and was willing to help us make sure Alexei was believable, not so much as a vor but as a Russian man. Several times, she e-mailed back after we’d sent her a scene and said, “yes, but no Russian man would ever say that or do that.” So we’d go back to the drawing board and fix it. In terms of the hierarchy and traditions of the vory v zakone, it’s amazing what you can find on the Internet if you look hard enough.

I wrote one mystery before now, A Summer Place, which was my first novel published by Dreamspinner, but I wouldn’t say either of us is an expert in the genre. I have some favorite mystery romances or romantic suspense novels, but the majority of my and our ideas don’t seem to run along those lines. This one did, and the danger and violence added aspects to the relationship we couldn’t have gotten any other way. That crucible formed their relationship as surely as the experiences leading up to their first meeting formed Patrick and Alexei.

Q: The other excerpt we’re featuring today is from Hot Cargo, also co-authored with Nicki Bennett. On the surface, this is a book that couldn’t be more different than Under the Skin. So that readers can get familiar with the scenario—and perhaps see what I’m referring to as far as the difference, I’m going to post the blurb here. I’m interested in knowing, whether sci-fi—space opera, in this case—is a genre you’ve been writing in previously, and in whatever you can share about how you came to write this, what you found especially challenging or especially enjoyable.


Captured and accused of piracy, privateer Blaise Risner, captain of the Golden Stallion, finds himself in a clinch—literally—with Confederation Admiral Peter Keller, who promises to see justice done by way of hard labor. But when the chemistry between them rivals the heat of the twin Talixin suns, the dominant admiral decides he wants to handle the rehabilitation of the provocative pirate himself. After their first close encounter, Blaise figures that serving Keller in such a personal capacity won’t be such a terrible sentence.

Keller dispenses his own forms of painful justice and sensual discipline, which usually involve a not-so-resistant Blaise on his knees bound and determined to give as good as he gets. The privateer can’t deny that suffering the handsome admiral’s punishments makes him burn like the fires of the Horsehead Nebula. Serving in the roles of prisoner and captor defines their ‘relationship’, but no power can stop a shooting star… the star of startling passion that flares every time they touch.

Just when Blaise thinks he can navigate the treacherous asteroid field of emotion to find common ground with Keller, an interstellar war tears them apart. Through it all, Blaise’s desire for his captor stands as tall and strong as the monoliths of Maraven, and he’ll go to the very edge of the galaxy and back if that's what it takes to crack the ice around the admiral’s heart.

A: This story started as a birthday present for Madeleine Urban who loves sci-fi and space opera. We’ve both always been multi-genre readers, and science fiction has always been a huge part of that. Star Wars, Star Trek, Anne McCaffrey, to name a few, were staples on my bookshelves as a teenager, while Nicki read different authors but similar tales, so rising to the challenge of creating something sci-fi for Madeleine wasn’t beyond our reach. Then we wrote another snippet of the story for a get-well present when Madeleine was under the weather. And then it was her birthday again. And suddenly Nicki and I looked at each other and said, “If we keep going, we’re going to have to develop a plot for this thing.” So we took a step back from the combative relationship between Blaise and Peter and started trying to shape the rest of the universe. Once that was done, then we kept going, and I will say that I didn’t know until the last chapter if Blaise and Peter would kill each other or end up together. Even more than in Under the Skin, where I never doubted Alexei’s and Patrick’s feelings, just the situation they were in, with Hot Cargo, I truly didn’t know if the men could make a relationship work.

Q: Time for my favorite question! In your own mind, who’s the sexiest? Patrick or Alexei? Blaise or Peter? This is not multiple choice, you don’t get to just put an X in the box. Essay question: why and how? Also, no fair saying they’re all sexy in their own way. Might be true, maybe you can fudge a little, but we’d like a clear choice!
A: For Patrick and Alexei, that’s an easy answer for me. Alexei. Nicki might disagree with me, but I always fall in love alongside my characters, and since I wrote Patrick, I fell in love with Alexei. He is the ultimate in strong, silent type, the diamond in the rough with so many hidden layers I’m still not convinced we’ve discovered them all. He’s also the one who ultimately has to change the most in order for their relationship to have a chance, and that conflict in him, that moment when he finally makes the choices he’s spent the whole book trying to avoid, resonates so deeply with me. I was already pretty much in love with him, but there’s a scene toward the end when Alexei lays it all on the line and asks Patrick to trust him, where every vulnerability is laid out for Patrick to see and a negative response would destroy him… that’s the ultimate in sexy to me.

For Blaise and Peter, the answer is a little bit harder. Peter is an Admiral. He’s all about the rules. Blaise is a pirate—excuse me, a privateer—and he’s all about breaking the rules. He’s in a difficult situation, given the choice of hard labor or serving time on Peter’s ship with the tacit understanding that at least part of his duties will be as Peter’s fuck toy (and Peter isn’t kind or gentle about it at first.) Once again, we’re left with two men who have no reason to trust each other and so pretend all they’re doing is having sex, and once again, it’s the subtlety of the way they interact on that level that shows the reader how their relationship is changing, but they refuse to acknowledge that until circumstances beyond their control force them apart. Then they have to decide what they’re willing to give to fight their way back together again. You’re about to tell me I haven’t answered the question, and I haven’t. I think this is probably the one case in all the things Nicki and I have written together where I would identify my own character, Blaise, as the sexier of the two, and I think part of that is his bad-boy persona, and part of it is his ability to adapt to the situation he’s in and ultimately he’s the one who fights for them, who refuses to let silence or distance or anything else keep them apart.

Q: Ariel, what can your readers look for in the future? Will either of the stories we’ve talked about today have sequels or spinoffs? Anything else in the making with co-author Nicki Bennett—or on your own?
A: Hot Cargo already has two spin-offs: Healing in His Wings, which I wrote by myself, and Something About Harry, which Nicki and I published in January. At the moment, we don’t have a sequel or spin-off planned for Under the Skin, but who’s to say what the future will hold? We didn’t plan on writing Something About Harry either. In terms of what Nicki and I are working on now, we’re about halfway through All for Love, the third installment in our historical series that began with Checkmate and continued in All for One. All for Love will be the story of Raúl and Gerrard, who were secondary characters in the first two books. On my own, I have Reluctant Partnerships, the sixth volume in the Partnership in Blood universe, coming out in October, and I recently got acceptance of Stolen Moments, a contemporary romantic drama set in small-town Alabama, with a tentative date of late December for publication. I’m working on three other projects, but no deadlines on those yet.

Thanks, Ariel, for agreeing to be featured on the blog. It’s been a delight having you and I hope you’ll visit in the future.

Thank you, Lou, for having me and for asking interesting, challenging questions. I’d love to come back and chat with you and your readers again!

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Filed under Dreamspinner Press, featured authors, just a category, M/M romance

Excerpt: Under the Skin (Some sexual content)

Chicago Police Detective Patrick Flaherty frowned as he passed through the dark door of the gym. This was where Alexei Boczar, the Russian he could sometimes convince to act as a Mafiya informant, had said to meet, and the door was indeed unlocked as promised, but the establishment was otherwise clearly closed. His nerves tightened as he automatically scanned the rooms for anyone who might be hiding, but he saw no one in the late evening gloom. Including the man he was here to meet. His frown deepened. Where the fuck was he? Patrick had taken a serious risk coming here. The Russian had better make it worth his while.

Making his way deeper into the building, he found the weight room, row upon row of skeletal machines, all silent and still with no one there to bring them to clanking life. The shadows they cast danced like formless phantoms across the walls in the red emergency light that tinged the white metal as if with blood. Patrick shivered at the thought, all too sure that they had seen blood shed. He had no illusions about Boczar or his associates. He just didn’t have any proof.
Spying another door, he pushed into the locker room, eyes blinking furiously as they tried to adjust to the suddenly bright light. Squinting a little until his vision settled, he searched the room, looking for his errant contact. Despite the light, though, this space was as devoid of humanity as the previous rooms had been. Still, it assured him that Boczar was here somewhere.

Alexei drew on his cigarette, the burn of the rich Belomor tobacco a sharp contrast to the sultry warmth of the sauna. He listened to Flaherty moving around the locker room and revised his impression of the police detective upward—he hadn’t been convinced the other man would really show up. Exhaling sharply, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Flaherty!” he called out, loudly enough to be heard through the heavy door of the steam room. “In here.”
The sound of his name in the Russian’s heavily accented voice startled Patrick slightly. He searched quickly for the source, seeing movement through the tinted glass of the sauna. Resigning himself to enduring the heat, he crossed the room and pulled open the door, catching his first glimpse of the other man through the steam. It obscured his vision, taunting him with glimpses of Boczar’s face, his tattoo-covered body clad only in a towel draped strategically across his groin.

Stepping inside and letting the door swing shut behind him, Patrick studied the strong, lean muscles of Boczar’s chest, such a contrast to the way he had first seen the other man. The top coat and gloves the Russian had worn at the hospital as he came to check on a wounded associate had hidden all but the most basic shape of his body. The towel hid almost nothing, leaving Patrick free to study and admire to his heart’s content. He looked automatically for the Russian’s gun, but wherever Boczar had concealed it, he had done so well.

Inclining his head in greeting, Alexei bit back a smile at the younger man’s blatant stare. The tattoos always fascinated those who hadn’t seen them before, those not familiar with the hellish environment in which they were earned and ignorant of the meaning they held. He watched a bead of sweat form on the policeman’s temple and weave a sinuous path down a smooth cheek and long, slender throat before vanishing under the younger man’s shirt collar. “You must be warm,” he observed, taking a final drag of the cigarette and dropping it on the damp tiled floor. “Make yourself comfortable.”

Patrick stared at Boczar in disbelief. Could the gangster actually expect him to strip down? He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to remove his coat. Pulling it off and setting it aside, he met the other man’s gaze evenly. “I have a proposition for you.”

The Russian’s eyes narrowed, as much amusement as he would allow himself at his companion’s obvious discomfort. Chiortov Irlandets, stubborn to the last, he thought, though it didn’t stop him from running an appraising glance over Flaherty’s lean young body. He’d strip down quite nicely, Alexei mused; too bad it didn’t look like he’d have the opportunity to see it.

Still, the unusual location for the meeting had left his adversary—for that’s what Flaherty was; it would be well not to forget it—off guard, as was his intent. “A proposition?” he repeated, his slow, accented drawl heavy with innuendo as this time he made no effort to hide his assessing gaze.

Patrick knew his target’s reaction over the next few minutes was critical. If Boczar wouldn’t even talk to him, he’d not only wasted his time, but quite possibly ruined the chances of his sting succeeding. “I still want the guy who shot your associate,” he began, hoping to appeal to Boczar’s family loyalty if nothing else. He resisted the urge to loosen his collar, which had already grown uncomfortable in the heat of the sauna. Before long, his shirt would be soaked through, the way he was sweating. “I thought maybe you could help me find him and the ones behind him… and bring them down for good.”

“He has already been found,” Alexei replied softly. He could almost see the wheels turning in Flaherty’s head, casting about for any news of recent killings. Just for a moment, he considered informing the other man that if not for the necessity of sending a message, the body would never be found. Flaherty was smart—likely he already recognized that. “The others will pay… soon.”

“And you will start a turf war that turns Chicago into a bloodbath with your family in the center of it,” Patrick retorted. “What if there were another way?”

“Another way?” The enforcer’s skepticism was clear in his harsh reply. Coming here had been a waste of his time, unless…. Dark circles were beginning to spread beneath Flaherty’s folded arms, sparking a dangerous idea that Alexei couldn’t bring himself to resist. “Let us make bargain,” he proposed. “I will hear your ‘proposition’—if you take off shirt.”

Patrick frowned. That was not the way this negotiation was supposed to go, but at least Boczar hadn’t dismissed him out of hand. Feeling supremely self-conscious beneath the blue-gray gaze that pinned him, Patrick loosened his tie and worked open the buttons down the front of his shirt, shrugging it off his shoulders along with the shoulder harness that held his Glock 9mm. He had to admit he was cooler in only his scooped-neck sleeveless T-shirt. “I want them,” he said bluntly, “not just the one who shot your friend, but the whole organization. And if you help me, I’ll make sure your family’s left alone.”

“Why should I help you?” Alexei answered, his gaze raking over the younger man’s sculpted muscles. Flaherty’s chest, what he could see of it, was smooth and toned, a chain holding a small gold cross rising and falling against the thin white cloth of his undergarment with each breath. “That too,” he nodded, leaning back on his elbows on the wooden bench.

Patrick snorted in frustration, but the negotiator in him knew Boczar’s kind well enough to realize that if he refused, he would probably lose the other man right there. Ripping the material over his head in one smooth gesture, he said, “If I go after them alone, there’s always the chance that I’ll find out something incriminating about you and yours. If you’re helping me, I’d have reason to ignore it. If not… well, I don’t have to spell it all out for you.”

“And if I am found to be helping you, my own life would be forfeit,” Alexei countered. Flaherty’s skin was smooth and unmarked by the scars and tattoos that defined the Russian’s arms and chest. A faint line of dark hair ran from the shallow indentation of his navel to disappear beneath the waistband of his dark-blue slacks. Wondering how far the detective would be willing to go to achieve his goal, he gestured toward the thin black belt. “The rest of it too.”

Patrick’s eyes narrowed. He’d gone along with baring his chest, seeing no harm in it given the other man’s lack of attire, but he was doing all the giving with no reassurances in return. “We’re perfectly capable of protecting you should the need arise,” he pointed out. “You want me out of my trousers… give me a reason to do it.”

“Afraid?” Alexei taunted, spreading his arms wide. “You can see I carry no hidden weapons”—he glanced down at the towel covering his groin—“but perhaps you wish to—what is term? ‘Frisk’ me?”

The thought of getting his hands on that hard, scarred body was incredibly tempting. Patrick tried to remind himself that he was a professional, but no amount of internal lecture could stop the desire that swelled through him at the idea of skin against skin. He was on his feet and crossing the sauna before he could stop himself. “If you insist,” he ground out, his hands bracketing the tiles on either side of Boczar’s head, their faces mere inches apart. “Stand up and put your hands against the wall.”

Faster than the young policeman could blink, Alexei rose and caught the man’s throat with one hand, his right arm with the other. The towel fell to the floor as he pressed Flaherty’s face to the wet tile, twisting his arm behind his back, the other hand caressing his throat warningly. Pinning the younger man against the wall, his chest pressed to a warm expanse of naked back, Alexei let the hard swell of his desire nudge Flaherty as he rasped against his ear. “Is this reason enough?”

Patrick struggled in the tight grip as much as he was able, not willing to simply cede his body to the Russian despite the hot lick of desire from feeling the hard cock bumping against his ass, the hard chest pushing firmly against his back. If he weren’t here on police business, if he didn’t know what he knew about the man behind him, he’d probably be fighting to drop trou instead of trying to get away. But he was here on business and he did know what kind of man he was dealing with, both of which changed the complexion of the situation completely. Kicking back hard against Boczar’s shin, he spat, “I don’t remember offering my body as part of this negotiation!”

Chuckling softly, Alexei released Flaherty and took a step back, palms raised in a gesture of conciliation. “You ask me to risk trust of my family,” he challenged, heedless of his nudity, his erect cock jutting from the concave planes of his belly. “Should they construe my meeting you as betrayal, you could be visiting me in hospital next—or in morgue.” His steely gaze slid down the younger man’s body to the thickness clearly visible through his trousers and back up to smoldering brown eyes. “What do you offer me in return?”

Shit, Boczar’s a sexy bastard, Patrick thought irrelevantly as he turned to face the other man, breathing hard. He had no modesty to speak of, standing there gloriously naked with the same brash confidence as when he had been fully hidden behind the trappings of his position at the hospital. Despite his lack of clothing, he was not unaffected by the heat, a fine sheen of sweat coating the magnificent body, the tattoos that covered his chest and arms serving as a stark reminder of what kind of man this was while at the same time drawing Patrick’s attention to every swell of muscle.

“The department can provide you with protection,” he began until he saw the scorn come into the other man’s eyes. “But you don’t think for a minute that you need our protection, do you?” He took a deep breath and considered what he was about to do. The Russian was worried about possible consequences for betrayal, but if anyone found out what Patrick was about to offer, he’d be facing consequences, too, although perhaps not the life and death ones that the other man risked. “Are you saying that if I turn back around and let you fuck me through the wall, you’ll help me?”

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Excerpt: Hot Cargo (Rated R+, Adult)

“Report to the zero-g chamber in ninety minutes,” Peter ordered, walking away without a backward glance. He knew Blaise wouldn’t dare disobey him. The ex-smuggler might push his limits every chance he got, but the Admiral knew they both enjoyed the consequences of those actions. In the meantime, he’d ensure he learned everything Petrov had to disclose about the most recent attack.

“Yes, sir,” Blaise replied to Keller’s retreating back. He finished changing out the last light bulb quickly and returned his cart of supplies to the maintenance closet. Deciding he had enough time for a shower, Blaise returned to his quarters and turned the ’fresher on high, letting the hot water wash away the grease and grime of the day. Relaxed afterward, body humming in anticipation, he grabbed a quick bite to eat before reporting as ordered to the zero-g training room, figuring he might not be free again for quite some time.

It hadn’t taken Peter as long as he’d thought to grill Petrov. Unfortunately, the Pleides’s captain didn’t have as much information as he’d hoped, the attackers once again leaving frustratingly little evidence in the wake of their destruction. He’d pumped Arkady for everything he could remember, but other than the now-familiar energy signature, there’d been nothing but smoking ruins left behind. Peter had cursed as he looked over the vid-scans after Petrov left. The small mining facility hadn’t had much of value to attract pirates, and it didn’t appear the attackers had made any attempt to claim any of the ore from the storage silos before blasting them – and the planetoid’s dozen miners – into ions. Scowling at the images of senseless devastation, he keyed off the display and stalked toward the zero-g chamber, determined to work off some of his aggression.

He was finishing up his preparations when the door swished open and Blaise entered, his attitude as unconsciously arrogant as ever. The Admiral was sure that Blaise’s rebellious attitude was one reason he had yet to tire of the younger man as he had all his earlier subs – that, and the fact that the smuggler made him hotter than the surface of a supernova. As soon as the door closed behind Blaise’s tight ass, Keller tapped the controls to lock the door and kill the chamber’s gravity. “Show me how well you can maneuver in freefall,” Peter ordered. “Strip.”

Blaise was no rank beginner. He had worked more ships than probably most of the sailors under the Admiral’s command, and many of them had been little more than junkyard scrap. He’d had plenty of experience with freefall, mostly when the gravity generators failed. With confident ease, he moved slowly to keep himself from spinning out of control, unbuttoning the fastenings on his ship suit and sliding it off his shoulders and down over his hips.

Peter watched the smuggler appreciatively as Blaise gracefully wriggled his way out of his work uniform, revealing his bare skin and the fact that his cock didn’t require gravity to get hard. “Very good,” he acknowledged, completely comfortable after decades of zero-g experience. “But in your former line of work, you were alone on your ship most of the time. What would you do if you had a shipmate who needed your … assistance?”

“Do you need my assistance, Admiral?” Blaise asked teasingly, though he was also following protocol. He would never approach a shipmate in zero-g conditions without alerting the other person to his intentions.

“One of these days, Blaise, that mouth of yours is going to get you into real trouble,” Peter warned. “Let’s see if you can make it over here without knocking me into orbit, for a start.”

Blaise pushed off gently, floating smoothly across the room, aiming for a spot a little to Keller’s left. “Would you have preferred I come sailing over here with no warning whatsoever?” he countered as he caught himself smoothly on the railing next to the Admiral’s elbow. “I would have thought that against shipboard procedure. It certainly was against mine.”

“You had shipboard procedures?” Peter scoffed in disbelief. “Hard to believe, since you’re so obviously ignorant of proper discipline.” Using just enough motion to slam into Blaise forcefully, he spun the younger man around and pressed his chest firmly against the chamber wall. “You know what kind of assistance I’m looking for, Blaise,” he hissed, holding the pirate’s hip with one hand and rubbing the evidence of his arousal against the taut cheeks. His other hand caught Blaise’s thick hair, pulling the younger man’s head back into his kiss.

Blaise returned the kiss eagerly, far beyond caring that the Admiral knew of his willingness and desire. They had finished with those games for the most part after his birthday, the effects of the wine having broken down barriers they’d chosen not to restore. Instead, he reached behind him and used his grip on the commander’s hips to give him enough leverage to push back into the cock that pressed against him so invitingly. “I’m always happy to serve, Admiral,” he replied when his lips were released.

“You seemed eager enough to serve Petrov earlier, too, so that’s not saying much,” Peter retorted. He slid his lips down the strong curve of Blaise’s neck, biting down hard when he reached the junction of his shoulder, marking the skin with his teeth. The bruise wouldn’t show beneath Blaise’s work suit, but it would remind him of who he belonged to, for a day or so at least.

“A change is as good as a rest,” Blaise quipped, though he would never have submitted to the captain the way he submitted to the Admiral. Only Keller could elicit this response from him. The older man didn’t need to know that, though. Blaise knew the Admiral enjoyed his rebellion as much as the smuggler enjoyed the consequences.

At Blaise’s flippant answer, the Admiral felt a surge of jealousy that surprised him with its intensity. Wrenching the grinning smuggler around by his hair, he towed him across the room to the opposite wall, where he’d secured a pair of leather straps. Removing one, he ran it over his palm, nodding to the other. “Grab that and hold on,” he ordered the pirate. “And don’t let go. If I have to restrain you, it will only make things worse for you.”

Blaise obeyed the Admiral’s orders immediately. His innate sense of self-preservation told him he’d pushed the commander as far as he safely could. Now, it was just a matter of holding on for the ride. A thrill shot through him as he imagined all the possibilities presented by their current situation.

Peter hooked a foot under the rail that circled the training room walls, knowing he’d need some way to brace himself. Otherwise, the first time he brought the strap down against Blaise’s ass – like that! – would send him spinning across the room in reaction.

Even in zero-g, the strap moved with enough force to smart when it hit Blaise’s skin. His hips jerked forward, a motion that would have sent him spinning helplessly through the room if not for his grip on the leather cuffs. As it was, his body twisted around, leaving his vulnerable belly facing the Admiral.

Reaching out to the younger man, Peter spun Blaise back around to face the wall again. He wanted to teach his brash lover a lesson, not leave him incapacitated. Holding Blaise’s shoulder secure with his free hand, Peter brought the strap down a second time, raising a bright red welt on the honeyed skin.

“Ah, shit!” The second blow was enough to pull the muttered curse from Blaise’s lips. Rarely did their games cross over the line to true pain. The energy whip the first night he’d been on board was just about it. His usual punishments involved being denied release. While relatively minor compared to what he’d endured while aboard the Gavenelian ships, it was still enough to leave him tense against the next blow, and none to happy about the situation either.

Peter hardened himself against Blaise’s exclamation of pain. Six blows in all, he told himself. That should be enough to get the cocky bastard’s attention. “Maybe you won’t be quite so eager for a change after this,” he growled, laying a series of quick blows across the spacer’s backside.

Blaise bit his lip to stifle his cries as four more blows fell. He was panting by the time it was done, his body tense and braced for more. His relief when the Admiral released the strap and let it float away was palpable. Still trembling, he tried to steady his breathing, using meditation techniques he had perfected during his imprisonment to push aside the adrenaline coursing through him.

Peter dropped the strap and positioned himself behind his shaking partner. He ground his cloth-covered erection against Blaise’s reddened ass, letting the younger man feel his unabated arousal. “Now, I believe you were going to show me how eager you were to serve me,” he husked against the pirate’s ear. Letting go of Blaise’s hips, he pushed off gently, letting himself float freely.

Blaise took a deep breath and started to release the strap he held when he remembered the earlier order. “I can’t do much if you’re over there and I’m over here,” he said softly. He’d had his fill of punishment for the day.

Impressed that Blaise had remembered his order not to let go of the strap, Peter grinned. “Very good,” he acknowledged. “But I think you’re going to need both hands now. Get over here and take care of what you started.”

Blaise released the leather he was holding and pushed himself in Keller’s direction, letting their bodies bump and the momentum push them toward the far wall. Catching the railing with one hand, he used the other to keep the Admiral from crashing into the wall. As quickly as he dared in the zero-g conditions, he undid the uniform and bared the commander’s body to his gaze. Nudging the Admiral upward, he steadied them both when the thick arousal was at the height of his mouth. Lowering his head, he inhaled the swollen shaft, swallowing around the mushroomed head.

Peter didn’t bother to hold back his moan of pleasure as Blaise’s talented mouth closed around his cock. Holding the dark head in place with one hand, he pried Blaise’s hand away from the railing with the other, letting their bodies drift weightlessly.

Unattached now as they were to anything grounded, Blaise had no choice but to use his grip on the Admiral to provide the leverage he needed to bob his head up and down over the hard cock. One thing, though, didn’t require gravity to be effective. Grinning as best he could around his mouthful, he hummed in his throat, letting the vibrations tease Keller’s erection.

Blaise’s oral prowess never failed to arouse Peter’s admiration – among other things – and at first the Admiral simply enjoyed the delicious suction on his rigid shaft. He watched as a string of saliva escaped the privateer’s lips, breaking into tiny glittering globules that floated past Peter’s face. As he felt his control beginning to slip, he grasped Blaise’s bicep around the stylized horse tattoo, flipping gracefully end-over-end until he faced the younger man’s well-striped ass. Unable to lay hands on the mysterious attackers, he’d taken out his anger and frustration on his smuggler. He owed him something in recompense.

Blaise had let Keller’s cock slip from his mouth in surprise at the maneuver, and the Admiral grasped the spacer’s lean hips and twisted him around, thrusting the neglected organ back in his face. “Didn’t tell you to stop,” he ordered, lowering his head to lap at the droplets of fluid beginning to escaping from Blaise’s swollen erection.

The howl that tore from Blaise’s throat at the feeling of the Admiral’s tongue on his cock was muffled by the shaft in his mouth, but nothing short of the void of space could silence it, not when he was feeling Keller’s mouth on him for the first time.

Blaise’s uninhibited reaction made the Admiral wonder why he hadn’t given in to this particular temptation before. True, he’d never been tempted to taste another prisoner’s cock before Blaise’s, but the salty taste and silky texture of the pirate’s thick shaft felt damn good in his mouth. Not as good as his cock would feel buried in Blaise’s ass, though. With that thought in mind, Peter slid two fingers into his mouth alongside the slick column, coating them thoroughly with saliva and Blaise’s pre-come.

Blaise tried to focus his attention on his ministrations to the Admiral, not wanting to be rebuked for neglecting his duties, but he could feel Keller’s fingers sliding alongside his shaft in the other man’s mouth. He knew where those fingers were going, and the thought alone had him trembling with desire.

Peter tightened his thighs around Blaise’s shaggy head, forcing himself into the smuggler’s mouth until his balls pressed against the man’s sensuous lips. Keeping a firm grip on one hip, he pushed his wet fingers into Blaise’s hole with more urgency than care. He’d make sure the younger man was stretched enough to receive him, but he needed to be inside him the way he needed oxygen to breathe in the void of space.

Blaise’s back arched under the rough penetration, not to fight it, but to draw Keller’s fingers deeper. The sharp movement sent them spinning gently through the room, but he paid no attention to that. His mind was on the thick flesh in his mouth and the callused fingers stretching his ass. Everything else had lost all meaning for him.

Feeling Blaise arch and clench around him, the Admiral worked his fingers deeper, spreading them until he could feel the tight muscle start to relax. When their entwined bodies bumped gently against the chamber wall, he groped for the rail to steady them. Reluctantly abandoning his efforts to work his cock down Blaise’s throat, he pulled the dark-haired captive up to face him. Taken by a sudden impulse, he pulled the younger man’s mouth to his, savoring the taste of his own essence on Blaise’s tongue.

Blaise offered his mouth as willingly as he offered his body, though they still kept to the pretense that the Admiral was forcing his submission. He wondered fleetingly if they would ever move beyond these games, but there was no time for such considerations now. All that mattered was that Keller was fucking his mouth with his tongue like Blaise hoped he would soon be fucking his ass with his cock. He sucked hard on the invading muscle, welcoming it eagerly.

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