Friday, 31 January 2014

Sentinels Of Varnuse: When The Walls Come Tumbling Down #5

#5.
A whole month had passed since their wedding; since the day Quin had finally made Brayden his for all time. Quin sat upon his throne watching the people around him. Something wasn’t right. There was just something that seemed off, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it could possibly be. Even though everyone appeared to be acting the same as usual, he still had the sense something bad was heading their way.

The kingdom of Panthea was usually a very peaceful place to live. They even got on with all their neighbours. There was nothing he could think of which could upset the world in which they lived, yet, something was niggling in the back of his brain as if in a warning he needed to take precaution. Even greater was the sense he needed to look after his family—because when it came, and it would—his family were going to be targeted.

“What has that look on your face?” Ingrid said softly as she took a step closer to him. “I can hear you thinking from where I stand.”

“I just have a feeling something is coming. Something I’m not going to like.” A frown came and rested on Ingrid’s beautiful face, which in turn brought a frown to Quinlan. “Now what are you thinking about?”

“Is this a feeling, or a premonition? Because, if it is a premonition we’ll need to make plans. Your premonitions have never led us wrong before.”

“I don’t know what it is. I just have this feeling something is coming for Brayden and the boys.” Quinlan shook his head in frustration. “I really can’t see clearly what it is.”

Ingrid cracked her knuckles and appeared to be in thought. She grinned when Quinlan winced at the action. “Sorry, keep forgetting you’re a wuss, and can’t handle that.”

Quin glared at her. “I’m your king. Isn’t it about time you showed me some respect?” He had to fight the smile that was coming, because he knew full well Ingrid in fact respected him a hell of a lot more than she afforded other people.

“Not gonna happen, Quinlan. I know all your deep down secrets…and I’m not against using them for my advantage”

Luckily he knew she was only joking. “Don’t suppose you’ll be willing to forget those—hmmm?”

“Ha!” Ingrid blurted out then blushed in something akin to embarrassment or maybe exasperation. Quinlan wasn’t quite sure which one.

“Look, here come your heart now,” she gestured in Brayden’s direction as he entered the great hall.

Quinlan’s breath caught at the smile Brayden wore as he approached. His husband always did have the best smile. In quin’s opinion it was only rivalled by his sons.

“Good morning, my love, did you sleep well?” Quin held out an arm and pulled Brayden down onto his lap.

Since his return Brayden had thrived on a lot of affection, and Quin was willing to give him whatever he needed to feel whole. There were secrets in Brayden’s past which he wasn’t ready to share yet, and Quin was prepared to wait until he was.

Brayden leaned in and kissed Quin on the cheek. “I slept very well,” Bray answered as he wrapped his arms around Quin’s neck and held him tight. “Thank you for the present, it’s beautiful.”

Fear and caution warred within Quin as he tried to keep his voice calm. “Present? I haven’t given you a present.” He tightened his embrace when he felt his husband begin to tremble. “What did you get?”

Brayden pressed his face into Quin’s neck. Quin knew Bray was taking in his scent. Over the last month he discovered this was how Bray was able to calm himself.

“It was a flower. Actually, it’s the whole bush.” Bray sat up and looked Quin straight in his eyes before he continued speaking. “When I woke up this morning there was a potted plant sitting beside the window in our bedroom.” Confusion seemed to have filled his eyes. “I could swear it’s the Heart of Panthea, but I thought they died out generations ago. I went and looked it up in the library before coming here—just to make sure that’s what it really was.”

Quinlan looked at Ingrid and without saying anything she went and spoke to two of the guards. He knew she’d sent them to retrieve the plant in question, and bring it to them.

“Are you sure you didn’t give it to me?” Brayden’s voice quavered.

“No, my love. I’m positive the gift wasn’t from me.” Quin kissed Brayden’s temple. “Don’t worry, we’ll have it sorted out in no time.”

Brayden couldn’t seem to grasp what was happening. “Then who would give me a present if not you?”

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. You belong to me,” Quin hugged him possessively, “no one else can have you.”

Quinlan and Brayden sat up straighter as the gift in question was brought before them. Quinlan had to admit, as gifts went, it was truly beautiful. The heart shaped leaves were of the deepest green, and the flowers were of a red so dark it looked like they had been soaked in blood. This was the reason for the name the Heart of Panthea. What many people didn’t know, or maybe wouldn’t remember, is the Heart of Panthea was usually sent as a warning. To receive such a gift meant someone had put a price on your head.

Quinlan gazed at the man sitting panicked on his lap, who in their right mind would put a price on his husband’s head? Why would they? More to the point is how did they get into the castle undetected? The look on Ingrid’s face told Quin she also remembered the meaning of such a gift.

Ingrid shook her head slightly as if telling him not to say anything. Her gaze flickered to the still trembling Brayden then back in his direction. Quinlan dropped his own gaze to her hands and saw their sign for, ‘we’ll talk soon,’ followed closely by the sign, ‘I have a theory,’ this was something he couldn’t wait to hear, and he knew that whatever it was, it wasn’t going to be good.
Her theories were never good.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Migraines & Story Ideas

I think I have suffered with migraines for as long as I can remember... 

My doctor says they're caused from stress, but I don't believe that.

I have another theory...

I think I get migraines the most when my brain has decided to give me as many story ideas as possible all at the same time. and my mind is unable to function until I have at least written down a crap load of notes on each one freeing up some space inside my head... This is usually when Vlad decides to get the hell out of dodge until there is some semblance of order back in place.

This is about day three of my current migraine... I've passed the stage where where I have the rainbow halo of lights in my vision and I want to be locked in a dark room and sleep it all away. Now, I'm at the stage where I can't focus enough on my WIPS to finish them - but I am able to take notes on the scrambled chaotic mess inside my head... where I have worlds/ characters/ species/ and the basis of the ideas all there waiting to be taken notice of.

Here's hoping that the migraine does what it came for and leaves... I already have enough WIPS without adding more to the list.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Monday, 27 January 2014

Just A Quickie:


Well, last night as I was lying in bed a question came to me, and as much as I tried to ignore it the more demanding it became... and soon that one question turned into three.

For as long as there has been life, there have been shifters, and those who hunt them...
But what if the hunters became the hunted?
What if they needed to turn to their sworn enemies for help?
What would be the price paid for that help?

So you can basically see my dilemma. I had the beginning of a story idea, and while I relish new story ideas--sometimes I wish they would come to me at normal times... like in the daylight hours not at 2 a.m. when I need to be sleeping. But 10 pages of notes later I finally know where I'm thinking of going with this... As yet I have no series title nor do I have book titles. Though I do have a sense of how the world looks... what circles of life are still ongoing... Who they people in power are and what they're willing to do to retain their power... 

There are rules: 
1: Never mate outside your own species.
2: Never trust the enemy.
3: Best to kill first - ask questions later.

The picture above will give you some sort of inkling into my head-space. But the whole world isn't a crumbling wreck... some parts have gone back to basics where nature rules... some parts have been made into something else by mankind... at this stage that's all I can tell you until I can make sense of my own notes... next time I should put my glasses on to write shit down... LOL. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Julie Lynn Hayes ~ When Will I See You Again


“Goodness, what big eyes you have!” Little Red Riding Hood exclaimed.


“The better to see you with, my dear,” said her grandmother.

Except we know it’s not really her grandmother, don’t we? It’s the Big Bad Wolf in disguise.

Little Red Riding Hood was my first introduction to the wolf as more than an animal. This wolf walks and talks, he has very human emotions and he’ssneaky and crafty. Is he really a wolf, or is he more... perhaps the forerunner of the loup-garou? More commonly known as the werewolf, or wolf man?

Outside of fairy tales, I think my first encounter with wolf men came with the Lon Chaney, Jr. film. His werewolf was a scary dude, and very hairy. Not to mention he was a total beast. And I mean that literally. As a werewolf, no remnant of Larry Talbot’s humanity was evident once he changed. He acted on pure animal instinct, and people were scared spitless at the sight of him.

There have been a number of films in this genre, with pretty much the same horrifying scenario of the man forced to turn into a hideous beast at the tug of the full moon, usually the result of a curse of some sort. Or the bite of another werewolf. There was nothing romantic about these creatures.

And then along came An American Werewolf in London, which took werewolves in a new direction, and revitalized the genre and breathed new life in it (with more than a touch of humor), leading to such films as Van Helsing and Underworld, among others.

Meanwhile, in the world of fiction, the werewolf underwent a more startling transformation. Romance writers created tortured souls that were also incredibly sexy, and gave a whole new meaning to the word. The first sexy werewolf I can remember was actually on TV. Quentin Collins, in the old soap opera Dark Shadows, was sexy David Selby. He’s the first werewolf I remember thinking was hot. Okay, there was Oliver Reed too, in Curse of the Werewolf, but he was also scary lol.

Werewolves are now a staple of paranormal romance writers, rivaling the vampire in popularity. At any given time, usually one of these creatures dominates the field as far as who’s the top of the polls. But werewolves have actually devolved into two camps – the werewolf and the shapeshifter – and these are not the same thing, not at all.

What’s the difference, you ask? The werewolf is a slave to the pull of the Full Moon. Come rain or shine, hell or high water, no matter where he is or what he’s doing, when it’s time, he’s going to change, and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. But the shapeshifter controls his change, and he’s generally in command of his faculties when he does, so he has the advantage of the hapless werewolf.


What brought about this sudden surge in shapeshifters? I think it was laziness, personally, because some writers didn’t want to deal with having their heroes wait until the Full Moon – they wanted guys that could change at a moment’s notice. And they didn’t want to be confined to once a month. Technically speaking, shapeshifters are not werewolves by their very nature. Doesn’t make them wrong, just different. 

Not only that, but suddenly there are shapeshifting men for every species of animal you can imagine, and maybe a few you never expected to see in a book (or outside of one lol) I remember reading something about treeshifters! Not your every day variety of shapeshifter, you have to admit.

Werewolf or shapeshifter – both are fun to read about and to write about. I think they’re here to stay. I know I enjoy writing about them.

Release Date: 26 January 2014
Availabe: Amber Quill




Blurb: Raoul Marchand is the crown prince of Charisma, the infamous night club in Crescent Bay, renowned for its supernatural clientele. He has the pick of any and all men, but he cares for none. He uses them and throws them away again, and has done so for some twenty years, in the aftermath of a tragedy that robbed him of what he loved most in the world.

Alexx Jameson is an idealistic young would-be reporter with the Crescent Bay Chronicle. Presented with an opportunity to write a story on the Marchands, he eagerly grasps the chance to be a real reporter. His friend, Chronicle receptionist Miller Fenwick, suggests they go to Charisma to do a little research. Alexx isn’t sure that’s such a great idea. After all, he’s still under age, being only twenty. No problem, Miller can fix that! Added bonus, there’s a full moon tonight.

When Alexx first encounters Raoul, it isn’t exactly in the way he dreamed of, and he’s sure he made a terrible first impression. But Fate throws them together under unforeseen circumstances, and the attraction between them can’t be denied. Can Raoul let go of the past long enough to find his future with Alexx, or is he doomed to repeat past mistakes?


Excerpt:
Alexx drew in his breath in dismay. This wasn’t going well. Even so, he could not stop staring at Raoul. His eyes met the other man’s. Raoul’s were very golden; he wasn’t aware such colors even existed in the spectrum of the human eye. But then again, he didn’t have any friends that were werewolves either. He wondered if this was a sign that perhaps this man was about to change, right here and now?

The thought was both exhilarating and frightening.

Alexx’s vision telescoped until he wasn’t aware of anything but this gorgeous man in front of him. Blood pounded in his ears and his mouth felt suddenly dry. Having lost all sense of the others in the room, he was surprised when he felt his chair yanked out from under him. Before he could fall, a hand grabbed the scruff of his neck, propelling him to his feet. He glanced at his companion; Miller was being subjected to the same surly treatment.

“You waste my time for this?” Raoul’s upper lip curled back in a snarl. Alexx found himself wildly attracted to him. “I have somewhere I need to be. Paolo, please show these gentlemen out.” Sarcastic much? He turned and reached for the door, but it opened before he touched it.

A shaggy blond with hazel eyes and a cheerful countenance stuck his head inside. “Hey Paolo—” He interrupted himself at the sight of the occupants of the room.

Alexx heard Miller’s sigh of relief, even as he too recognized the newcomer. He’d seen him around the Chronicle often enough, although he’d never really spoken to him. Foster Levine, son of the Chronicle’s owner—heir apparent and future newspaper magnate.

Alexx’s relief quickly changed to anxiety. What if Foster knew how old he really was? He couldn’t be sure one way or the other, but for the sake of argument, he had to assume he did. Would he out him to Raoul Marchand and his burly minion? Had they simply jumped from the frying pan to be scorched by the fire?

Author Bio:
Julie Lynn Hayes was reading at the age of two and writing by the age of nine and always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Two marriages, five children, and more than forty years later, that is still her dream. She blames her younger daughters for introducing her to yaoi and the world of M/M love, a world which has captured her imagination and her heart and fueled her writing in ways she'd never dreamed of before. She especially loves stories of two men finding true love and happiness in one another's arms and is a great believer in the happily ever after. She lives in St. Louis with her daughter Sarah and two cats, loves books and movies, and hopes to be a world traveler some day. She enjoys crafts, such as crocheting and cross stitch, knitting and needlepoint and loves to cook. While working a temporary day job, she continues to write her books and stories and reviews, which she posts in various places on the internet. Her family thinks she is a bit off, but she doesn't mind. Marching to the beat of one's own drummer is a good thing, after all.  Her published works can be found at Amber Quill Press, Dreamspinner Press, MuseitUp Publishing, Torquere Press, and eXtasy Books. She is also an editor at MuseitUp.  


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Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Gaean Prophecies: Admetus Gaea (Jan 25)



Blurb:
When their world calls for a saviour to come forth--they don't always get what they ask for. Instead they get someone better, who happens to save the world along the way. They get Grayson Gellespie--defender of Admetus Gaea.

Jarkebb Arindad: The banished son of Lord Jondalar Arindad, ruler of the Elven-kind, was sent to find the saviour foretold by the prophecies. He came back with his foster brother and best friend--Grayson.

Grayson Gellespie: Just a man who finds himself thrust into the role as the saviour of a world he believed was nothing but an imaginative story. What does he do when he finds out it's all real? How will he find the way to save them all?

Bailin Greer: Warrior of the Deepwoods Faerie, Bailin is tasked by the Lady to be the saviour's eyes behind enemy lines. What happens when the bad guy isn't the enemy?

Alone they'll fail. Together, their combined forces will have the power to forever change the world in which they live Three stories woven together to tell the beginning of the Gaean Prophecies. Apart from saving the world, our heroes have to fight for the right to be with their bond mates along the way.

CONTENT ADVISORY: As a serial novel, this story has a "to be continued" ending. Stay tuned for further adventures in BROKEN SERENITY, coming soon!

Excerpt:
Prologue

The end

Grayson knew he wasn't born of this world because he could still remember his past, yet he knew with every fibre of his being that he belonged here. The world he now found himself in, and these creatures that lived here, were in his blood. At first he hadn't understood where he was, or how he'd gotten here--or if 'here' was even real. He thought maybe everything he was experiencing was the symptom of some coma-induced dream, filled with the silent stories that his foster brother, Jarkebb, used to tell him. In the end, Grayson found it didn't matter anymore. Here, all those characters he'd always loved and hated so much were now more than just a figment of his overactive imagination.
Here--they were real!
Grayson looked down at his wounded companion, "Let me tell you a story." Closing his eyes, he stroked the long red hair as his friend's head lay in Grayson's lap. It was matted with blood. Grayson didn't know if it was theirs or one of their enemies--and didn't care. Grayson let his mind drift back to the day he woke up and found that he no longer existed. He concentrated hard on the events that occurred just before his life had changed forever. He could almost taste the smoothness of the Baileys on the rocks, could almost feel the warmth that flowed through him as Jarkebb wrapped his arms around him in an excited hug. A smile touched his mouth as he recalled his other life. He didn't want to have to think about the sound of the feet that were marching towards them, knowing that today might very well be the day that they all died.
And so his story began.

* * * *

The beginning

Lord Jondalar Arindad's body prickled with apprehension as he watched the wizard walk toward the Sigale. Even now it filled him with a sense of awe that the gateway still stood proud and tall in the pale moonlight. The sense he got was as if the Sigale knew its very reason for being was for tonight and tonight alone. No one knew for certain just how long the sacred gates had existed. Some say the gates had been this way since the dawn of time. Others say they were a gift from the Great Dragons that had once freely roamed over the skies of Gaea. No one could know for certain until the Great Dragons wished to reveal themselves once more--not like that was ever likely to happen. In all the searches that had been made for their hidden lair, no one had come close to locating the creatures.

The ancient prophecies foretold a stranger who would come as a gift from the Goddess herself. With his arrival, a great change would begin. This change would awaken the Great Ones, and unite all Gaeans as one. Over a thousand generations had come and gone since the last Great Dragon had been sighted.

A thousand generations, during which Gaea had fallen into war and darkness.

A thousand generations in which despair had run rampant until all hope was lost.

The Sigales were created for something. They were meant to change the way of things, yet in recent history this particular gate had been used only twice. Once to send away someone who was banished, and now tonight it was being used to bring that same someone home.

War was coming.

Jarkebb Arindad had been in banishment for the past fifteen years. Now with the great unrest happening between the continents, he was needed home again. His return would bring forth the stranger destined by the Goddess.

The wizard stood before the Sigale. Turning slightly, the wizard looked directly into his eyes to confirm all was in readiness to begin. At the slight inclination of his head, the magic man turned once more to face the Sigale. His whole being seemed focussed upon the incantation he was about to perform. Closing his eyes and breathing deeply of the crisp night air, he watched as the wizard raised his arms towards the heavens and began.

"Ky del aeel ja emryss (I call upon the eye of the world,)
Tam liena na hale ghen (Where creation did begin.)
Ky del aeel fom Belda Gaea (I call upon our Mother Earth,)
Da gil sha sutrhun ralta" (To promise her power within.)

As the wind picking up in velocity, Jondalar's hair whipped about his face as he stared at the wizard's fingers lightly tracing over the intricate patterns upon the surface of the Sigale. The gateway was once more coming alive under his caress. Soon... soon the sacred gate would be fully open between the worlds and his son would be able to return home where he belonged. Jondalar stood and watched, just to make sure the fool wizard was doing everything right. He didn't want to come so close, only to have it ripped away from him.

"Ky del aeel ja Dragon essane (I call upon the dragon's breath,)
Da Dias ja Sigale se frie (To open the gates of time.)
Ky del aeel ja dos nodine (I call upon the four winds,)
Jaey sutrhun da mietscra (Their powers to entwine.)
Ky del aeel ja dye fen sutan (I call upon the sun's own strength,)
Da raden ja janadrae hi (To light the traveller's way.)
Ky del aeel ja santarn dho (I call upon the rainbow's end,)
Tam Gaeae sutan anahol li" (Where Earth's strength does lie.)

The power in the air surrounding them began pulsating like the beating of a heart. The wind's intensity grew stronger, wailing in unison with the sound of the wizard's voice. Jondalar felt as if the very earth itself was rising up to wrap itself lovingly and protectively around his body, their presence responding to the ancient language in which the other man spoke.
As the Wizard Kynnan chanted, Jondalar's thoughts drifted to the beautiful face of the young man who had filled his dreams with nightmares for centuries. These nightmares had vanished with the banishment of his son. Jondalar hoped that his actions tonight would not bring them back once more. For fifteen years, he'd both longed for and dreaded this night because--while his son had been banished--so had the dreams. This wizard had better know what he was doing and not screw things up like the last one had.

"Ky del aeel loscae chenadae roden (I call upon the star's true light,)
Da jahen ja janadrae erros (To bring the travellers near.)
Ky del aeel ja winane bien trel (I call upon the first moonbeam,)
Grietan ralta ja Dragon deoc" (Trapped within a dragon's tear.)

Lightning tore across the darkened sky and thunder echoed through the nearby mountains. Both men could barely keep their bodies upright as the wizard fought to finish the incantation.

"Ky del aeel ja ranae se frie (I call upon the royals of time,)
Da Dias ja Sigale rya winon" (To open the gates as one.)

The wind buffeted around Jondalar's body as he desperately tried to hold onto his footing. The elements felt as though they were both helping and hindering all at the same time. None of that mattered. The only thing that did was the return of his son.
Jarkebb would be here soon.

"Ky del aeel liena gael (I call upon creation's hand,)
Da envay sha baha rhal" (To lead her lost souls home.)

The darkness exploded momentarily into daylight as the full force of the incantation was released around them. The sacred gate now stood aglow. As if by magic, the midday sun had come to replace it. The imagery was there for but a moment before everything imploded into utter chaos.

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Friday, 24 January 2014

Haley Walsh ~ Foxe Fire (A Skyler Foxe Mystery)

Release Date: 24 January 2014
Available: MLRPress


Blurb:
Can out-and-proud high school teacher Skyler Foxe find the Redlands firebug before he falls prey to a killer?

High school English teacher Skyler Foxe is now out and proud, even though a few months ago he had no intentions of being so. But since the cat is now out of the bag, he embraces it as well as his boyfriend, head football coach, Keith Fletcher. But who is that good-looking gay parent hanging around Keith, causing mischief at the school as well as in Skyler’s private life? And then some of Skyler’s past returns, stirring up trouble. Add to that a firebug and suddenly everyone seems up to no good, especially when a smouldering corpse is found outside the loacal gay bar. Skyler can’t help himself and gets up to his old sleuthing tricks once more. 

Excerpt:
Skyler pulled into Trixx’s parking lot a little after nine. He got out of the Bug and gazed at the little gay bar he had called home for the last several years since coming out in college. Trixx always gave him a good feeling, mostly for the happy experiences he’d gotten from the place, but also from the many friends he had made there.

It was a small 1940s one-story building, sitting by itself on the corner in downtown Redlands. Painted dark blue with climbing vines on the outside, it could have been a chic restaurant, but its clientele was not looking for that kind of entertainment. Trixx did have food, but mostly it had well-made drinks, and served as a place to gather, to grope, to dance, and to hook-up. It was far too small to have a backroom, and being the only gay watering hole in the area for miles, the owners didn’t want to give the local authorities any reason to close the place. The guys knew better than to hook up in the back alley, but it did sometimes happen in the cramped restroom.

Not for Skyler. Knowing as a teacher he had a reputation to uphold, he usually brought his tricks home. Or as a last resort met up in their car.

He sighed, nostalgia tickling his senses as he spotted a parked SUV moving with a telltale rocking. The tinted windows offered no clue as to who was inside doing what, but he recalled many a time giving or receiving blowjobs in that same remote parking space away from the street light.

The outside patio, with its wrought iron fence and overhead canopy, was all aglow with twinkly lights. Men crowded the little space to chat away from the loud music or to smoke. It looked like a good turnout for a Wednesday. But then Skyler brought himself up short. The turnout used to matter when he was cruising. It certainly didn’t matter now that he wasn’t. But his instincts couldn’t easily be turned off, he supposed.

When he opened the door, the pounding beat of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” filtered out. The lights from the small dance floor flickered over the faces of the men and a few women who were either dancing or clustered in small klatches shouting at each other to be heard. He cast a glance toward the bar and there was that muscled bartender with the beard and the long blond hair. His shirt sleeves were always torn off at the shoulder, and he wore his shirt open and unbuttoned, revealing a perfect hairless sixpack. The man was breathtakingly gorgeous and if Keith weren’t his boyfriend, he would have been all over that.

Without thinking, he made his way to the bar and flashed a smile at the bartender, who grinned right back and settled quickly in front of Skyler. “Grey Goose on the rocks, my friend?” he said.

Skyler swallowed and nodded. “Thanks.”

Gil, the bartender, deftly complied and soon slid the drink toward Skyler and waved off the bills in Skyler’s hand. “First one’s free tonight…for hot blonds.” And then he winked.

Skyler felt the blush creep up his neck. Oh to be single! He stuffed the bills in the tip jar instead and smiled back, taking the cool glass and moving away into the depths of the bar. He sipped at the vodka with its twist of lime and let the alcohol ramble through his system. When he looked across the room, he spotted Jamie. Who could miss that hair?

He made his way through the churning physiques, allowing a few hands to skim over his chest or across his ass as he went, inhaling deeply of the scent of many warm male bodies with their intoxicating blend of sweat and cologne. He tapped Jamie on the shoulder and he turned.

“Sky!” He wrapped Skyler in a hug and lifted him off his feet. Skyler held his drink to the side to avoid spillage. He set Skyler down and smiled at him. His hair was now acid orange and spiked all over. It seemed he liked to dye his hair according to his mood or maybe the weather. Perhaps this was a bit of both.

“I like the hair. I think.”

Jamie ran his palms carefully over the coifed spikes. “Do you think it’s too much? I don’t think it’s too much.”

“For you? No.”

Jamie smiled and grabbed his arm, yanking him back to their booth. Rodolfo and Philip were already there. “Hi guys,” he said.

Philip scooted to the edge. “Skyler, I wanted to apologize for earlier…”

Skyler laid his hand on Philip’s shoulder and shoved him back in his seat, sliding in next to him. “It’s all right, Philip. I understand. I’m completely untrustworthy.”

“You can’t be,” said Jamie, sitting opposite. “If that were the case you wouldn’t be sitting here with us, but with that bartender.”

They all turned as one and stared at Gil, giving a collective sigh. “He is a big scoop of oh-my-god,” Skyler admitted.

Rodolfo leaned forward over Philip. At another time, this would have set off a firestorm of bitching back and forth, but ever since he and Philip hooked up, they had been nothing but sickeningly lovey-dovey. It’s not that he wasn’t happy for Philip; it was just too much gooeyness for Skyler’s tastes. He hoped that he and Keith never looked like that either in private or public.

“You shouldn’t take offense at what minino says, Skyler amante.” Rodolfo’s smooth Spanish accent purred from his throat. He could have been Antonio Banderas’ twin, if Antonio had been Ecuadoran. “Philip gets over-excited, don’t you, minino?”

Jamie flicked Skyler a high-browed glance before he sucked on his mojito straw for all it was worth.

Philip gave Rodolfo a peck on the lips and smiled at him indulgently before he fastened his gaze on Skyler again. “Well, I’m just glad you got over it. The SFC must endure!”

Warmth glowed in Skyler’s heart. Yes, he was glad he came tonight. He needed a little boost.

“So Skyler,” said Jamie, leaning into the table so they could hear him. “You said you wanted to discuss something with us?”

Skyler leaned in, too, and then Philip and Rodolfo followed suit. “Yeah. Um…I was thinking of asking Keith if we should—”

“Get married?” squealed Jamie, clapping his hands.

Skyler gave him a scornful look. “No! Something else.”

“Skyler wants to go au naturale,” Philip cut in. “Sleeveless. Fully armed torpedoes in the tube…”

Jamie’s eyes widened. “You want to BAREBACK?” It was loud. Especially since the music hit a lull at that particular point. It seemed everyone in the place turned around toward them. Skyler sunk down in his seat, feeling his face flame.

“Thanks, Jamie!” he hissed.

Jamie waved his hand as if erasing Skyler’s thought bubble. “It’s no biggie. Every gay man at one time or another thinks about it.”

“But should we?” said Skyler, straightening. “We’ve only been together five months.”

“Do what feels right, Sky. You’ve both been monogamous, haven’t you?”

He nodded, clutching his drink. “But I still…you know. Look.”

“Honey, you wouldn’t be male if you didn’t look.”

“But the problem is,” said Rodolfo, who had been quiet during their exchange, “is that if one of you strays, what are you going to do then?”

Everyone turned to look at him lounging back against the seat. Philip glared. “What do you mean?” he said, voice a bit strident.

Rodolfo slunk forward, laying his hand on Philip’s cheek. “Not with you, minino. I have no reason to go anywhere else.” He nibbled the man’s lips.

“Damned straight,” said Philip with a huff. “But Rodolfo’s point is well taken. What if you do stray, Skyler? Then you’d have to own up and go back to condoms. And how would that work out?”

“Are you saying you’d lie about it if there was no bareback issue?”

This time, no one would look at each other.

“Oh, my God! I can’t believe you guys. I wouldn’t lie to Keith. And I have no plans to stray.”

“But what about him?” asked Jamie. “What if he lies?”

“He wouldn’t. He doesn’t.”

“How do you know?”

“He just wouldn’t. He’s in lo—um…I mean…”

“He’s in love with you, you mean,” said Philip softly. “And yet you’ve never said it to him. How do you suppose that makes him feel?”

Skyler took a long drink and stared into his melting ice when he lowered the glass. “He knows how I feel.”

“Does he?”

“Look you guys, I just asked for a little advice. I guess you’ve given it.” He grumbled to himself for half a minute before he sat up again. “I forgot to tell you. You’ll never guess who came calling the other day.”

“You’re such an asshole, you know that!”

They heard it even above the music. Everyone else within earshot had, too, apparently, as heads swiveled toward the plump blond woman wearing a tight yellow t-shirt yelling at her taller companion, some blond man with his back to the crowd. The slim man in jeans and a tan corduroy long-sleeved shirt looked familiar to Skyler, like he’d seen him recently, though he couldn’t be sure from that angle. The woman seemed familiar, too, come to think of it.

The woman making a scene suddenly edged away from the dancing and caught a glance at Skyler. Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second before she whirled toward the bar, hunching her shoulders in a dismissive gesture. The man put his hand on her arm but she shook it off. With a look heavenward, the man stormed out the back door.

“What was that all about?” said Jamie after sucking the last of his mojito from the glass. “Strange couple for this place.”

“Haven’t you noticed?” said Philip. “There are all sorts of strange couples here.”

“I had,” he muttered out of the side of his mouth, flicking his eyes once more toward Rodolfo and Philip before he stared down into his empty glass.

The music churned up with “Levels” and Skyler looked Jamie square in the face and said, “Dance with me?”

Jamie smiled his boyish grin. Maybe it was the Grey Goose, maybe the lights flashing around him, but Skyler was getting to like that acid orange hair. Jamie slid out of the booth and took Skyler’s hand, waiting for him to slide out as well. Rodolfo began pushing on Philip’s shoulder and they, too, headed for the cramped dance floor.

They started moving to the beat and the feeling brought Skyler back to more carefree days. He closed his eyes and just let it go. Jamie’s hand came to rest on his hip and they both moved together. Jamie was a great dancer and Skyler realized that he hadn’t danced with him in some time. He opened his eyes, watching the colored lights glance off Jamie’s bright face.

“You’re starting to look relaxed again, Sky,” said Jamie over the music.

“I didn’t realize how tense everything was making me. I wish Keith didn’t have to work so late. I wish he was here.”

Jamie was about to speak when Skyler spotted someone just over his shoulder. Slender, blond, tan long-sleeved shirt. That guy that that woman was yelling at? And then he turned and noticed Skyler. “Dave!”

Dave the fireman danced his way over, grinning. His blond hair was casual, with longer locks hanging over his forehead like Skyler’s. He looked even better in civvies than he did in his fantasy-inducing uniform.

“Hey, Skyler. I didn’t think I’d see you here again. Thought you were off the market.”

“I am. Boyfriend’s working late. I’m just here blowing off some steam with my friends. Speaking of which, this is Jamie. Jamie, Dave.”

They shook hands. “Hi, Dave,” said Jamie, crinkling his nose as he smiled.

“Jamie. That’s some hair you got there.”

He tugged on a spike. “You like?”

Dave smiled noncommittally. “Does that mean you’re a fiery personality? Or is it just ‘cause you’re hot?”

Jamie fanned his face and smirked at Skyler. “I like your friend.”

“He’s just got fire on the brain,” said Skyler. “Dave’s a firefighter.”

“Oh?” Jamie sidled up to him and put his hand on his upper arm, squeezing the muscle. “Firemen do all sorts of brave things, don’t they? Rescuing people and lugging that big hose around.”

Skyler rolled his eyes. He realized he’d just lost Jamie and backed smoothly away, letting him dance with the man.

He passed Rodolfo and Philip entwined and grinding, eyes only for each other, and made his way back to their booth. He sipped his watery vodka and watched the pairs and groups of men, missing it a little, but missing the company of Keith more. It felt grown up suddenly to make that realization and he sat back, a little proud of himself.

He made his way to the bar for a second drink and decided to stand outside, get a little air. On the patio, a bald man, maybe forty-five, but in fit form, was leaning in close to a guy around twenty. A black drag queen was batting his lashes at an Asian guy with a buzz cut. Skyler sipped his drink and smiled. He loved his kids and colleagues, but it was nice to be among people who understood him, whom he understood. His tribe. It was probably why he loved Trixx so much, even if he wasn’t looking to hook-up anymore.

A dark maroon sedan with tinted windows cruised slowly by. It hadn’t turned on its headlights and went around the parking lot until it stopped at the far end and just idled there. Someone’s getting lucky. He sighed. Ah, memories.

He took a long sip and shivered. The weather was finally cooling off, at least at night. He was wearing a light shirt, and even with the warm proximity to the others he shivered. He waved to a few old tricks smiling at him, before shifting through the men on the patio to make his way back inside. He returned to the booth just as Jamie and Dave joined him. Jamie’s face was glazed with perspiration, and Dave had taken off his shirt. It was stuffed in the back of his trousers. His smooth chest gleamed in the flickering light.

“Get you a beer, Jamie?” asked Dave.

“A mojito, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No problem. I’ll be right back.”

Jamie watched him go and then turned to Skyler with a wide grin. “He’s so great! Isn’t he great?”

“I really don’t know him that well.”

“He said you slept together.”

“Doesn’t mean I know him that well.”

Jamie shook his head with a smirk. “Such a dirty boy.”

“No more. I’m taken,” he said with a puff to his chest.

“Well I like him. He said he ran into you the other day. You were putting out a fire?”

“Oh yeah. Forgot to mention.”

“Forgot to mention that you had to go to the hospital, too, Skyler?”

Skyler toyed with the lime slice in his drink. “I…guess I forgot.”

Jamie tisked loudly. “You used to tell us everything. This is what comes from having a boyfriend!”

Skyler laughed. “I guess so. Sorry. Dave seemed like a nice guy. He said he wasn’t out at work but was thinking about telling his troupe or gang or whatever they’re called.”

“A ‘watch’ or ‘company’ or just ‘crew’.”

Skyler looked at his friend. “So how did you become so knowledgeable all of a sudden?”

“I had to design a new website for the Redlands Fire Department.”

“Oh.”

Dave returned, looking over his shoulder. He set down Jamie’s mojito and slipped into the seat beside him. But he seemed distracted. His face was stiff and his fingers moved restlessly over his bottle of beer.

Jamie was too busy diving for his drink, so Skyler leaned toward him. “What’s up, Dave? You looked anxious about something.”

He looked at Skyler as if looking through him before he shook his head. “It’s nothing. It’s just… Something weird. I feel like I’m being…followed. Or stalked.”

They all twisted around to look. “From who?” said Jamie.

Dave settled back down and took a swig of his beer. “That’s just it. I don’t see anyone now. On the way over, though, I thought a car was following me, and then I kept seeing this guy.”

“Stalking?”

He leaned against Jamie, who didn’t seem to mind. “I don’t know. I couldn’t get a good look at him. He always wears sunglasses and a hoodie. Just a weird feeling, you know?”

Rodolfo and Philip returned, with Rodolfo dragging his boyfriend behind.

“That’s hot work out there,” said Philip, out of breath.

“Not as hot as later, minino,” Rodolfo purred.

Philip looked up and noticed Dave for the first time. “Hello. Who’s this?”

Jamie stretched a possessive arm over the man’s shoulders. “Everyone, this is Dave. He’s a firefighter. He helped Skyler yesterday.”

“Why?” said Philip. “Was he stuck in a tree?”

“No,” said Jamie, getting that excitable tone in his voice that Skyler recognized when Jamie had a secret to tell. “Skyler put out a brush fire yesterday and had to go to the hospital.”

Philip sat up so sharply it threw off Rodolfo’s grasping hand. “You what? And you didn’t tell us?”

Dave ducked out of the way of Jamie’s wild gesture. “That’s what I said! He always used to tell the SFC.”

“SFC?” said Dave. “What’s that?”

Before Skyler could stop him, Jamie said, rather loudly, “It stands for the Skyler Fuck Club. We,” and he gestured to all of them seated, “were all once Skyler’s tricks that became friends. Oh my God!” His shrill voice pierced even the loud thumping music. “So is Dave! You totally have to be an SFC member!”

Dave grinned into his beer, cheeks slightly pink. “And what does it require? Secret handshake?”

“Well,” said Jamie, plowing on despite Skyler’s trying to gesture to him. He felt his face flame again. “You already slept with him, so that’s the main thing out of the way. Now you just become a loyal friend.”

Dave gave Skyler a smile but quickly returned his attention, and his scouring eyes, to Jamie. “I can do that.”

“Then I call this meeting to order,” said Philip. He seemed amused by Skyler’s discomfiture. “I make a move to induct Dave…um…Dave…?”

“Oh, sorry,” said Dave. “It’s Dave Caruthers.”

“Dave Caruthers into the most honorable and secret fraternity of SFC.”

“I second the motion,” said Jamie.

 “All signify by saying aye.”

“Aye!” they echoed, all but Skyler, who couldn’t stop blushing.

“All opposed? The motion carries.” He slammed his empty beer bottle down like a gavel.

“That means you’re official,” said Jamie, and leaned in to kiss him.

Dave looked momentarily stunned until a smile parted his lips and he grabbed Jamie by his biceps and drew him in for a deeper kiss.

“Oooh!” said Rodolfo. “I’d say that was against Fuck Club rules but I’m afraid Philip and I already broke that taboo.”


“It’s anarchy,” muttered Skyler into his drink.