Welcome Birthday Guest Tara Lain!

The Mad Tara’s Champagne Party

Happy Birthday, Amber! Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts on the Birthday Party I’d throw for myself. I actually asked my honey what he thought I’d want. He summed it up. Champagne, cheese, and presents! Yep. Champagne is my drug of choice, I’ll eat cheese before most any other food, and I love the suspense and festivity of surprises.

So I imagine something just shy of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Every place setting has a different variation on a champagne drink – a Kir Royale, a French 75, a Mimosa, a Bellini, etc. – and a special cheese snack with veggies or fruit or crackers or something. All the guests enjoy the goodies at each place setting then – move down!

The guests, of course, are most important. Since Amber asked for fictional guests only, a lot of mine would be men. It would be hard not to invite all my heroes but if I have to choose I’d probably err on the side of sparkling conversation.

That means, of course, I’d invite Shaz Phillips from Knight of Ocean Avenue. He’s not only bright and witty, but he’s deeply familiar with Biblical scripture and loves discussing spiritual topics. I’d love to see Shaz meet Jory Keyes, Mary Calmes’ hero from the Matter of Time series. Jory doesn’t know a stranger and would keep the party going. I’d also invite Snake Erasmo from High Balls. Snake’s unlikely combination of interests would enliven any party. Then, of course, there’s Paris Marketo, the snarky panther shifter from The Pack or the Panther. Maybe if I spoke sweetly, he’d dance for us – on his pole! I’d invite Dr. Llewellyn Lewis from the Case of the Sexy Shakespearean since he’s such a fascinating scholar and delver into mysteries, but he probably wouldn’t come. Too shy. And I think I’d have to invite all the heroes of my new 2019 series, Superordinary Society, to the party – Jazz, Dash, BeBop, Carla, Khadija and Fatima. They’re too young to drink, so we’ll need some sparkling cider.

Rats! I can’t really cut down the guest list – it goes on and on. It’s going to have to be a VERY big table, but that’s okay, because I’d like all my readers to come too.

To thank people for coming to celebrate Amber’s birthday, I’ll give one winner their choice of any ebook from my Dreamspinner titles (which is all but a very few books). You can pick one you think might include a great birthday party guest!

Bk 1 - Knight of Ocean Avenue 400x600

Amazon | Dreamspinner

How can you be twenty-five and not know you’re gay? Billy Ballew runs from that question. A high school dropout, barely able to read until he taught himself, Billy’s life is driven by his need to help support his parents as a construction worker, put his sisters through college, coach his Little League team, and not think about being a three-time loser in the engagement department. Being terrified of taking tests keeps Billy from getting the contractor’s license he so desires, and fear of his mother’s judgment blinds Billy to what could make him truly happy.

Then, in preparation for his sister’s big wedding, Billy meets Shaz—Chase Phillips—a rising-star celebrity stylist who defines the word gay. To Shaz, Billy embodies everything he’s ever wanted—stalwart, honest, brave—but even if Billy turns out to be gay, he could never endure the censure he’d get for being with a queen like Shaz. How can two men with so little in common find a way to be together? Can the Stylist of the Year end up with the Knight of Ocean Avenue?

Welcome to Day 13!

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I’ve always loved the character of older architecture. The history in old homes has a life of its own which led me to the creation of Hidden Magic.

Hidden Magic 400

You can get a copy of your own here

Blurb:

Chapter One

William Stamson never thought he’d fall in love with a lady.

After being a gay man for the first twenty-five years of his life, he met a tattered painted lady with three broken windows and a gap-toothed fence, and fell illogically, irrevocably in love.

“I’ll take the house,” he told the realtor who stood patiently waiting for him to finish examining the front of the mansion.

“B-but you haven’t seen the inside. The house needs a lot of work,” she sputtered. “There are several in much better shape if you like this neighborhood.”

He watched her wrestling between wanting an easy sale and her moral obligation not to sell a decrepit house to a client. He wondered if her reluctance stemmed from the magic pulsing through the property like a beating drum, pounding out a complicated rhythm. Hearing the underlying music wasn’t a common ability. Most days Will wished he were one of those talentless people. Although he could hear the power thrumming through the air and tingling the tips of his fingers, his strange immunity kept him from using any of the tantalizing magic. He wasn’t surprised no one could live in the house. The mansion all but seethed with energy, an uncomfortable experience for magic wielders, while giving non-magical people the eerie sensation of a haunted house. Electricity crackled in the air, arcs of energy dancing around him. The house’s magic reached out to him and invisible fingers ruffled his hair, like a human petting a favored child.

Closing his eyes, he opened his senses to the entity.

A soft gasp, a pleased hum, and then the pounding rhythm smoothed to a quiet whisper. A hush filled the air like the silence after a tornado, or maybe the eye of a storm.

Acceptance.

The sensation sank into his bones, warm and loving like a mother’s hug. Well, maybe other people’s mothers. His didn’t give actual hugs. Physical contact might wrinkle her designer clothes.

“Are you sure you want to put in an offer?” The realtor’s anxious voice broke up the moment, the magic dissolving. Her tone wavered between hope and desperation. For the first time he noticed the worn cuffs on her green suit and the faded color of the shirt tucked underneath.

“Yes,” Will insisted. Despite the building’s odd power, the place screamed home. Besides, writing scary detective stories could only be easier living in a spooky mansion. He smiled when he thought about his relatives’ future reactions.

Will was the dreamer, the only exception in a family known for controlling powerful people across the globe. As a result of his carefree approach to life, everyone thought he needed someone to take care of him. Not a relation on either side of his family had forgotten to leave him a small inheritance when they died.

In Will’s family ‘small’ was a minimum of two million dollars. His great-uncle Frederick had been particularly generous, even as he’d addressed Will as his ‘idiot nephew’. Will had willingly overlooked the condemnation for the cool one hundred million his uncle had left in his account.

However, as much as he loved them, if he didn’t move out of town soon, he was going to go to jail for fratri-patri-matricide. Will longed to settle down with the Mr Average of his dreams. None of the doctors, stockbrokers or lawyers paraded in front of him by his hopeful mother and calculating father met his needs. After fucking them, they really served no purpose.

He knew his behavior made him a slut. But hell, he didn’t golf, and after humiliating his snobbish dates by comparing stock portfolios, there wasn’t anything left to talk about. His dates all ended with him cutting them loose and ignoring them when they called.

After having gone through most of the successful gay men in Seattle, Will had decided maybe he should try something different. Besides, the zombies were starting to creep him out. All cities had at least a few necromancers that could raise the undead but Seattle was starting to get more than its share. Will needed to leave before someone got the bright idea to drain his blood as a form of zombie pest control.

As a void—a person who could nullify magic—Will’s blood was the essential ingredient in unbinding spells that raised the undead. A few times lately, the hairs on his arms had stood on end from the sensation of something with a strong magical presence watching him. Another reason he’d searched for a new place to live. He needed to lure whatever was following him away from his family.

The search for a new location brought him to this small town east of Seattle. Unable to find a man, Will planned to settle down with an old painted lady needing a fortune in upgrades.

Luckily, he had a fortune.

“This house has been on the market for a while.” She quickly consulted her notes as if they would reveal the secret to Will’s desire to purchase the old mansion.

He gave her his pants-dropping smile, more than a little surprised when his charm worked and her cheeks turned an interesting shade of pink. “Then they should be happy to receive an offer. Let’s go back to your office and get the paperwork going.” He could feel vibes of anticipation coming from the house as if the building had sat waiting for him to save it from ruin.

Poor house.

“What’s the asking price?”

She mentioned a ridiculous amount, considering the condition of the house, but he figured the place must have sentimental value to someone, and this one time he didn’t feel the need to bargain. He wanted the house.

“I’ll take it.”

“There might be some delay. I’m not sure a bank will approve such a large amount for the place.” She gave the house a dubious look.

“No problem. I plan to pay cash.”

“Oh.” She looked surprisingly flustered. “Then let’s draw up the paperwork.”

 

* * * *

 

A week later, Will happily drank hot coffee in his freezing kitchen. Apparently the heater had died several years ago and no one had had the funds or interest in fixing it. He wasn’t much of a breakfast person, aside from the occasional cold cereal, but he would definitely go into town for a hot lunch. He needed to have the stove looked over professionally before he’d willingly trust the appliance with his favorite teakettle. Small-town diners were the perfect place to find out the latest gossip and help him discover whose second cousin twice removed had a son good at fixing stuff.

 

* * * *

 

The diner was everything he’d ever seen in the movies.

Old movies.

From the cracked retro fifties booths, to the ageing waitress with frizzy hair and attitude, the place appeared as if it were something out of a film.

The waitress gave him a slow once-over like she didn’t know what to make of him. He didn’t know why. He wore a plain pair of jeans and a red polo. He’d even left his handcrafted Italian leather shoes at home and wore his plain white Nikes.

He was the epitome of ordinary.

“Have a seat anywhere,” the waitress told him. As Will passed her, he caught the faint scent of cigarettes and chewing gum. She was a walking cliché and Will barely held in the laughter. He held onto his composure by a thread, hoping she didn’t snap a bubble at him. He didn’t want her to think he found her anything but delightful.

Will settled comfortably on a carefully duct-taped vinyl bench seat and accepted the faded menu. The table was the kind of molded plastic some inventor on crack must have thought resembled real wood.

Scanning the menu, he was almost certain it exceeded the abilities of any one cook. Eight pages long, the extensive volume listed everything from a thick steak to poached eggs. He couldn’t even imagine the cost of keeping so many ingredients on hand.

“Have you decided, hon?” the waitress asked. She pulled a cheap ballpoint pen out from behind her ear and a pad of paper from her apron pocket. Pinning him with a surprisingly clear gaze, she waited for his order as if he were going to reveal the secrets to the universe in six easy steps.

“I’ll have a burger, medium rare.”

Even an inept cook could make a decent burger.

She nodded, quietly applauding his choice as waiters sometimes did. “Potato salad or fries?”

“Are they thin or thick?”

“Steak fries.” Her tone implied disapproval of anything less.

Will reflectively nodded along with her like one of those bobble-headed dolls before he caught himself. “I’ll have those with ranch dressing.”

“Anything to drink? We make a nice milkshake.”

He shook his head. “Too heavy. I’ll have to jog at least ten miles to burn off the burger calories.”

The waitress looked him over again. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, hon.”

“Not if I jog,” Will agreed. Although he had a reputation in his family for laziness, he took care of his body with weights and running regularly. “I’ll take a diet soda.”

As she scribbled down his order, Will wondered if her mother had had a premonition at her birth. Why else would you look at your newborn infant and think I’ll name her Hazel?

As the waitress turned away, Will grabbed her wrist.

“Sorry,” he said, letting go at her surprised look. “Could you tell me who’s good at fixing things around here?” Every town had one. A Mr Fix-it who could drive by your house and tell you your water heater was set too high and your air conditioner would die next month.

“What kinds of things?” Her suspicious gaze made him sigh.

Thinking over the condition of his house, Will flashed a self-conscious smile. “Someone who’s good with plumbing, flooring, painting, drywall, roofing…that sort of thing.”

“Good lord, what house did you buy?”

“The painted lady on Mulberry Street.” Another reason he’d bought the house. Who could resist living on Mulberry Street? And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street had been his favorite Dr Seuss book as a child.

“You bought that!” The waitress’s voice scraped like rough sandpaper across his senses.

“Yes,” Will admitted.

“You are either the richest man I ever met, or the dumbest.”

He couldn’t help laughing. “I’m probably a mixture of the two.”

A considering look entered Hazel’s eyes. “Let me put in your order and I’ll be right back,” she said before hurrying off as quickly as her orthopedic sneakers could carry her.

Not five minutes later she returned, sliding into the seat across from him.

“I have a nephew who has a knack for fixing things,” Hazel stated in a low, confidential tone. “He’s been laid off, but he worked for a homebuilder before the housing crash. I know he’d do a good job for you.” She twisted her fingers together as she spoke. “If you could hire him to help around your house and let him rent one of your rooms, I’d be mighty grateful. His landlord just sold the place he was renting, and I live in a one-bedroom apartment.”

Will thought about the situation for a moment. Having another person in the enormous house would be comforting. “Is he likely to kill me in my sleep and steal my china set?”

Hazel laughed—a low, smoke-roughened sound. “No. He’s a good boy, but he’s big and some people find him scary.” She frowned for a moment, looking concerned. “That isn’t a problem for you, is it, mister?”

“Call me Will,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure everything will work out fine.” Will found the situation touching. With an aunt this sweet, how bad could the guy be? “Tell your nephew he can come see me. I’ll give him a few jobs around the house and see how things work out. What’s his name?” If the guy turned out to be a creep, Will could call a few of his cousins and have the jerk evicted.

“Cassius, but everyone calls him Cash.”

Of course they do.

“Order up,” the cook called from the pass-through window.

Hazel got to her feet. “Thank you, Will. I’ll tell Cash to come see you. When is a good time?”

“Whenever,” Will said, shrugging. “As long as it’s after noon.” He didn’t do mornings.

“Thanks. The burger is on me.”

He would’ve objected, but he could see her pride was on the line after she had all but begged a total stranger to hire her nephew.

“Thank you, Hazel.”

She gave him a nicotine-stained smile, even more charming for the faded dimples and the sparkle in her eyes.

Moments later she put a burger in front of him, and Will found a new respect for the little diner. After polishing off the entire thing, including the steak fries, he tossed a twenty on the table for her tip and waddled to the register.

Hazel looked up from counting the cash drawer. “What did you think?”

“I think your cook is a genius. That was the best damn burger I ever ate,” he said honestly.

Will wasn’t exaggerating either. The man was magic in the kitchen.

“Good. I’ll send Cash by your house later today.”

“Thanks, Hazel,” Will said, flashing her a smile. With a nod, he left the restaurant.

Welcome Birthday Guest Julia Talbot!

Hey y’all!

I’m Julia Talbot, and I’m here to celebrate Amber Kell’s birthday!

So, what sort of birthday party would I love to have? Hmm. I was never big on birthday parties, just because as a kid and a teenager, they were so… political. Who do you invite? The whole class? Just your good friends?

So I would want to do like a Vegas trip. Maybe a cruise.

I would take the crew from the Dead and Breakfast Inn, I think. I love the idea of a paranormal vacation. I would nap with Tanner, the werebear, and bounce around to all the historical sites with Carter, the were cougar. I would tell stories with Fallon, the vampire writer. Tanner and Ed, the were raven, would also share cake with me. As long as I wasn’t on the menu, I would be tickled to death.

In real life, take me out for Italian food, feed me German chocolate cake, and give me a card. I’m old fashioned, and I love paper cards…

Hugs all around, and happy Birthday, Amber!

XXOO

Julia Talbot

http://www.juliatalbot.com

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Amazon | Dreamspinner

Giveaway: Fangs and Catnip, D&B book one, paperback for US, ebook for workldwide

Welcome to Day 12!

I think this is one of those books that I liked more than my readers. LOL!

My Shining Star 200x300

Grab your copy here!

Chapter One

Augustus Griffin, known as Gus to his friends, sat on his bed and strummed his guitar. Arthritis inflamed his joints, making the song more difficult to play than it used to be. Despite the pain, he still enjoyed the feel of the strings moving beneath his fingers. Their reassuring vibrations reminded him of younger days when he used to draw small crowds in the park with his music.

At seventy-five, he would never be the great musician he once dreamed about, but those same hands had played lullabies for his children and later his grandchildren. Good times, sad memories. He’d outlived his family. Now he only had his bittersweet memories to bring them back to life.

This particular song reminded him of his happy childhood in Louisiana and playing with his best friend Basilio Downs. His fingers stumbled across the chord as his past heartbreak threatened to tear away his moment of calm. With his dark hair and warm bedroom eyes, Bas had captured Gus’s heart at their first meeting. They attended high school together, became roommates in college, and were each other’s first sexual experience with men.

Except back then, men didn’t stay together.

One night, using the excuse of a beer run, Bas left and never returned. Even fifty years later, that one event remained the single most painful moment in Gus’s life. The death of his wife and the plane crash that killed his children and grandchildren were tough times, but Bas leaving had broken something inside Gus and he’d never recovered from.

A man’s scream, high and panicked, reached him through his open window and chilled him to the bone. Setting down his guitar, Gus walked over to check out the noise. Peering through the glass, he spotted three big guys ganging up on a smaller man in the narrow alley between Gus’s building and its neighbor.

Gus gritted his teeth, and his hands shook with anger. He marched over to his door and snatched the baseball bat from where he had it propped by the entrance.

Enough!

Over the past year, crime had increased on the streets near Gus’s apartment. Thugs had moved into the area, terrorizing the locals. He was sick of it all.

Anger fueled Gus as he left his apartment and shuffled down two flights as quickly as he could, hoping to reach the screaming man before it was too late. If he’d had any sense, he’d have called the police, but he was tired of punks roughing up people in his neighborhood. This time, he would do something about it. Fury kept him going to the ground floor. He stopped, winded, at the base of the stairwell to catch his breath before he could continue.

Straightening his shoulders as much as he still could, Gus pushed open the heavy door that exited out to the alley. The punks had already left, and a man lay still as death on the ground.

“Poor kid,” Gus muttered. The victim didn’t so much as twitch when Gus approached. Damn, Gus hoped he wasn’t dead! The young man couldn’t have been much older than his mid-twenties.

Using his bat to balance himself, Gus kneeled beside the battered male, his arthritic knees screaming with pain as they hit the rough asphalt and bits of stone dug into his skin through his thin cotton pants.

Damn, he wished he’d grabbed his phone. In his hurry to rescue the guy, he had foolishly left his cell phone on his coffee table. Gus brushed the victim’s hair back from his face. To his surprise, the young man’s eyelids snapped open, and dark, liquid, pain-filled eyes stared back at him.

“Hey, buddy, you all right? Do you think you can stand?” Gus asked in his gentlest tone. He didn’t know if the man should be moved or not, but he couldn’t abandon an injured person in the middle of a filthy alley. What if the assailants returned? Unfortunately, he also wasn’t strong enough to lift the guy up the stairs either. Being old sucked.

“Help me,” the man whispered.

“I’m trying to, but I need to get you upstairs. I don’t have my phone,” Gus explained.

When the young man didn’t speak again, Gus crouched down to slide his right arm beneath the stranger’s shoulders while using his left hand to balance himself with the bat.

The man struck like a viper. Sharp teeth pierced Gus’s skin and sank into his jugular. With a cry, Gus dropped the bat. It hit the ground with a hollow thud, then rolled away.

Why did it never pay to be a Good Samaritan these days?

As he futilely tried to pull the man off him, Gus’s heart stuttered in his chest and the world went black.

 

The world had become a brighter place while he slept. Gus blinked against the blinding sunlight blazing through his living room. His head pounded like a street full of marching bands, and he suspected someone had dumped the Sahara down his throat while he slept. Crap! He usually handled his alcohol better.

“What the hell?” he groaned. His head pulsed with each word.

Gus sat up, his body moving easily, as if someone had lifted an oppressive weight off his bones and joints.

Weird.

Rubbing his eyes, Gus tried to focus his vision against the glaring light. Everything still seemed too bright, but at least his sight had become clearer—much clearer. Touching his face, he jerked in surprise.

Where are my glasses?

Why was the world in focus without his lenses? He’d worn them since his twenties and had needed progressively stronger prescriptions. His current ones were almost the thickness of glass bottles.

“Oh, you woke up. I was starting to think I’d done the conversion wrong. You’re my first, you know. Well, I guess you don’t know, but I couldn’t let you die, not after you came to my rescue. That was really brave. I mean, considering how old you were. Kind of stupid, but mostly brave.” The stranger kept babbling as if Gus would regain his equilibrium if his visitor talked enough.

Gus never had guests. After the death of his family, it had become easier to keep to himself. It hurt less when you didn’t know anyone who might die. He’d already lost everyone important to him.

“You’re a bit of a magpie, aren’t you?” Gus asked. He froze at the unfamiliar sound of his voice. Instead of rough and raspy with age, it held the smooth, stronger tones he’d had as a young man. Touching his throat, he encountered smooth skin instead of the loose folds he’d had before. Maybe he was still dreaming?

The pretty stranger blinked at him with wide dark eyes. He must’ve been in his early twenties. He had a smooth Asian look to his features, possibly Japanese. Gus had never been good at figuring out ethnicity, and it would probably be rude to ask.

Recognition hit him. “Y-you’re the guy from the alley.” Upon lifting his hand to point, Gus gasped. His age spots and wrinkles had vanished. Instead, his fingers were smooth and flawless. His arthritic hands no longer had swollen knobs for joints, but flowed into elegant tapered lines.

They were the hands he’d had as a young man. Gus hoped this dream didn’t end soon. He couldn’t remember a time in the past twenty years when his hands hadn’t ached.

“What happened to me?” Fear made his beautifully smooth hands shake. Stupid, because this was no doubt a dream.

“Um, I sort of made you into a vampire like me.” The kid sounded nervous, as if Gus could get mad over such a ridiculous statement.

Gus laughed. He swung his legs to the side of the couch so he could sit up properly and face the nutcase who’d wandered into his apartment. The lack of aches and pains distracted him for a moment. Nice. He tilted his head back and forth, but the usual cartilage cracking didn’t occur.

“A vampire, huh?” Might as well humor his dream companion.

“Yep. I’m really sorry if you didn’t want to be converted, but if I didn’t act, you could’ve died.” His apologetic expression tugged at Gus’s sympathy.

“I’m sure you did what you had to,” Gus reassured him.

The vampire wannabe nodded. “I did. I’m sorry I lost control, but for an old guy, you have amazing blood, like a great Shiraz. I had an amazing bottle the other night.”

Gus wondered if the kid had fake identification. He had judged the youth to be about eighteen or nineteen, but he’d never been that great at figuring out ages.

“Thanks…I think.” Gus interrupted the kid’s babbling. He didn’t know what else to say to the obviously insane young man sitting on his coffee table and comparing his blood to wine. It took him a minute to realize the problem niggling at his subconscious. “You aren’t hurt anymore.”

He received a wry smile. “Yes. Thanks for that, man. I mean, thanks for saving me. Even a vampire can only do so much against three other vampires, especially when they’re stronger than me. The prince will be furious with them when I give my report. I’ll need you to come with me as a witness. Besides, now that you’re a vampire, you’ll have to report to the prince so he knows you’re in his territory. He’s going to be pissed I transformed you.”

Gus sighed. As fun as this dream had been, he needed to return to reality. Hopefully he hadn’t fallen in that damn alley and would wake up in a hospital bed. Morphine could explain this dream quite well.

“I think it’s time for you to go.”

The ease with which Gus got to his feet startled him for a moment. His joints didn’t creak or groan, and no pain accompanied his movement. He paused for a moment, enjoying the pain-free sensation. Too bad he knew it wouldn’t last.

The self-proclaimed vampire stood along with Gus, but made no motion toward the door. “No, I need to take you to the prince and let him know what happened. I can’t abandon you to fend for yourself. It’s against our laws. By the way, my name is Akeno, and I’m a member of the northwest coven. The three who attacked me are older members. They’re going to be in tons of trouble when I report them to the prince. I just moved here a few months ago, and the prince had assigned them to be my mentors.”

“They were vampires, too?” Gus asked. He glanced around for his cell phone, hoping he didn’t need to call the police. Maybe he was dreaming? Of course he was. Gus relaxed at his conclusion. People didn’t just make other people vampires except in horror movies and badly written novels.

“The prince will be angry when I return with the news.” Akeno licked his lips nervously as his eyes flitted over Gus. “He might also be angry with me for changing someone without his permission. Hopefully he’ll consider the circumstances.”

Gus frowned. “What do you mean, changing?” Akeno’s anxious expression worried him. He could almost guarantee he wasn’t going to like what the man had to say.

Akeno laughed. “I told you I had to change you into a vampire. Weren’t you listening?”

“I figured I’m having a dream.” Gus shrugged. “Anything can happen in a dream.”

A weird-ass dream, but a dream nevertheless.

Akeno reached over and lightly pinched Gus’s cheek. “I’m sorry, but you’re not dreaming, my hero.” He opened his mouth and a pair of honest-to-god fangs slid down from his gums. They returned to their hiding spot before Akeno spoke again. “I really am a vampire, and now you are, too.”

Gus stepped back from the strange young man.

Vampire.

He had a crazy man in his house. How Akeno pulled off the fang bit, he didn’t know, but they couldn’t be real.

“Relax, Gus. I already bit you. In fact, I bit you too much, which is why I had to convert you.”

Gus pinched his arm. “Ouch.”

Akeno smirked. “Now do you believe me?”

Panicked, Gus ran down the hall, purposely ignoring the fact that his limbs moved with an ease he hadn’t experienced in decades.

He needed a mirror. He ran into the bathroom and slid to a stop in front of the medicine cabinet.

Gus caught his first glimpse of his reflection. The world stilled as he stared at the person looking back at him. The old Gus with rheumy eyes, white hair and spotted skin had vanished, and in his place was twenty-five-year-old Gus, or at least how he’d looked back then.

Bas had always claimed Gus’s eyes were the color of the Mediterranean Sea. Gus called them turquoise. Whatever the color, they had faded with age, but were now back to their original vibrancy. He watched as mirror-Gus touched his face. He couldn’t believe what his reflection and fingers revealed.

Firm, smooth skin had replaced the wrinkled tapestry of age, and he’d regained the natural golden tint his complexion had lost over time. He opened his mouth and his bright white teeth gleamed back at him while a quick smile exposed a set of dimples he’d lost with age. Everything had changed back, but it was his hair Gus touched with wonder. Thinning white strands had transformed into a thick head of platinum hair, glossier and richer than he remembered.

He had no words.

“You’re a beautiful man,” Akeno said behind him.

“I was once,” Gus agreed. With age came the experience to know inner beauty lasted far longer than lush hair and a winning smile. He cared a lot less for his appearance now than he had at twenty-five. Time had taken everything of value away from him—his looks had been a minor casualty.

Akeno admired Gus’s reflection. “And you are gorgeous again. Come, let’s go talk to the prince so I can tell him my side of the story before the others poison his mind against me. They probably think I’m dead. They should’ve stuck around to finish the job properly.” The look in Akeno’s dark eyes told Gus that if the situation were reversed, Akeno would’ve made sure his victim was dead.

“All right.” Gus still didn’t quite believe in vampires, but he couldn’t deny something had happened to him. The dream idea wasn’t holding up, not when he could feel the cold marble sink beneath his hands. “Let’s go see this prince of yours.”

Maybe then he could get some answers or wake up from his dream.

“And yours.” Akeno’s face fell into serious lines. “I made you, so by default he’s your prince, too.”

Gus shrugged. “Sure, okay.” He could agree to any ridiculous thing. After all, he woke young again.

“No, really. You have to do what he says.”

“I’m over seventy-five years old, Akeno. I don’t do what anybody says.” It helped that he had no one to be responsible to. With all of his loved ones dead, no one cared what Guy did anymore.

“I’m a hundred and fifty,” Akeno confessed. “I do what my prince tells me. Come on. We need to find you some blood anyway.”

That sounded awful. Gus wrinkled his nose. He decided to wait and see how the reality of it all went. He didn’t think drinking blood would be his new favorite thing.

 

Gus examined the mansion warily. “How did I not know this was here?”

The building consisted of several stories and sat surrounded by an iron gate not two blocks from Gus’s apartment. It must’ve taken up almost a city block of land in an area he’d passed many times. Not once had he seen this.

“Magic,” Akeno said, his tone practical, as if Gus were a not-to-bright child. “You never noticed it because the spell keeps all humans from seeing it.”

“Oh.” Gus gave a nervous laugh. “That makes sense.”

He didn’t know which was worse, that he’d never seen it before or that now he could.

“When we get inside, don’t talk to anyone. We need to see the prince first,” Akeno warned. “The others might try to pull you aside to figure out where you come from. Stick close to me. I need you to be a witness.”

“Okay.” He doubted he’d feel a sudden urge to chatter to a bunch of fanged fiends, but he never knew. Nothing had gone how he’d expected since he’d woken up.

Gus’s cane tapped lightly against the sidewalk with his every step. After carrying a walking stick for twenty years, Gus refused to go without it. Walking without his cane would be like going outside naked. Not to mention it had a sword hidden inside. His twenty-five-year-old grandson had given it to him for Gus’s birthday after reading a spy novel where the hero had a swordstick.

Gus could still remember Nicholas’s mischievous smile as he’d handed it over to him. Little did Gus know he wouldn’t see his grandson again. The plane had gone down two days after Gus’s birthday, killing Gus’s son, daughter and both of their families. They’d been on their way home after flying to visit Gus for his birthday.

Swallowing back the tears, Gus followed Akeno toward the mansion.

A doorman leapt forward to open the front door for them. “Good evening, sirs,” he said, bowing.

“Good evening,” Gus replied.

The doorman shot him a startled look, then smiled. “It is a good evening, sir,” he agreed.

“Shhh, you don’t talk to him,” Akeno hissed.

“Why not?” Gus thought it rude to ignore a guy who opened your door. If he’d been at a hotel, he’d have tipped him.

“It isn’t done. He’s considered beneath notice,” Akeno growled at him.

“So I should cancel the flowers and chocolates?” Gus rolled his eyes. “You know manners are free. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”

Akeno sighed as if his patience had worn out a while ago. “This way.”

Gus grinned at Akeno’s frustration. Poor vamp. He had no idea what he was getting into when he transformed Gus.

His amusement faded when Akeno led him through a long corridor and into large room with a huge throne set in the middle. Dozens of people milled about, but it was the man on the throne that caught Gus’s attention.

Bas!

His Bas sat on the elaborate chair, looking as if time hadn’t touched him. “You bastard!” Gus shouted.

Years of grief and anger surged through him as Gus marched up to the throne. Bas jumped to his feet in time to meet Gus’s fist as he punched his ex-lover in the face. Bas stumbled back, holding his cheek and barely avoided falling back against the throne.

“All these years, I’ve mourned for you, and you’ve been living here!” Gus lifted his fist and reached back to hit Bas again only to have his arms grabbed on either side. Fingers bit into his arms as they held him back from attacking his ex-lover.

“Release him,” Bas thundered, his handsome face contorted in rage. “Never touch him again!”

The hands on his body were snatched away as if Gus had caught fire.

Bas stood again and approached Gus. “I figure I had that one coming,” he said. A tender smile flirted around Bas’s lips. “I missed you, Gussy Boy.”

“You’ve been a vampire this entire time? What? You couldn’t tell me?” Hurt knifed through Gus’s chest. He took a long, deep breath to hold back a sob.

“When I went out to get beer, a vampire attacked me,” Bas confessed.

Gus gritted his teeth. “So you thought it would be better to leave me? You just abandoned me, Bas.” Damn his voice for cracking at the end.

Bas cupped Gus’s face, looking so much like the boy Gus had given his heart to that he had to resist the urge to kiss him.

“I couldn’t let you become a vampire, my love.” Bas’s expression, so fucking brokenhearted, punched a hole in Gus’s chest.

“Well, I guess it’s too late now. I am one,” Gus argued.

“Yes, you are.” Bas gave him a twisted smile. “I need to talk to Akeno about that. He never should’ve turned you.”

Anger at his ex-lover had Gus clenching his teeth. “Akeno insisted I come here to learn the vampy ways. I’m just as happy to take my ass elsewhere if I’m not good enough to belong to your little vampire collective.”

He stepped away from bass then snatched up his cane from where he’d dropped it on the floor and started back toward the door.

“Where are you going?”

Gus recognized that tone. Bas only used it when he was getting ready to demand his way.

“Back home. Maybe if I’m lucky, I can grab a wino to snack on during my walk.”

“Get your ass back here!”

“Screw you, Bas. I’ve spent the past fifty years mourning you, and now I kind of wish you were dead,” Gus growled.

He only took a few steps before someone tackled him from behind. He grunted out his last breath of air as he crashed to the floor, a body lying on top of him. Bas’s scent stopped him from fighting back. No matter how much he wished to punch his ex-lover, the need for retaliation had dulled to a constant pain.

“Don’t be like that, mi Amado, you know I worship every gorgeous inch of you.” Soft kisses rained down his neck. Bas got to his feet, pulling Gus along with him as he stood. “Fetch my Gus someone to snack on. He’s newly born and probably famished,” he snapped to one of the men standing around.

Gus rubbed his stomach. “I’m actually quite well.”

Bas wrapped an arm around Gus’s shoulders. “Trust me.”

“I did that once, and you dumped me to come and be king vamp.” Years of abandonment didn’t get erased with one tackle and some kisses.

Bas kissed Gus’s cheek. “I’m only a prince, and I’ll never abandon you again.”

His heart pattered at those words. Could he trust Bas to keep him this time, or would Bas completely destroy him?

“Trust will have to be earned,” Gus warned. A sound surprisingly like laughter came from the soldier to Bas’s right.

“You have something to say, Fredrick?” Bas growled.

“No, Your Highness.” The soldier stared straight ahead.

“Good. Now go clear my rooms. I want them ready for Gus to get a proper meal.”

“But what about Nathan?” Fredrick asked.

“What about him?” Bas’s expression didn’t leave room for discussion. Gus felt a flash of pity for the displaced Nathan. He knew the pain of being abandoned by Bas.

Welcome Birthday Guest Ana Raine!

Any birthday party I would throw would undeniably have to include magic. After all, if we’re able to draw characters from literary realms into our lives, even if only for mere moments, we have not completely lost magic. Rather, we have re-imagined it.

Who better to invite, than those who were born into magic?

Without a doubt, Gandalf the Grey or White, whichever he feels is more sporting would be in attendance. As would Radagast the Brown. Undeniably, Saruman the White would try to make an appearance. But Treebeard and his forest gang, my hired guard for the evening, would viciously face slap him and make it impossible for him to gain entry. After all, orcs are the worst party crashers and anyone associating with them, is to be expelled from parties, mine and otherwise.

Hobbits are rather experienced in the enlightenment of parties, so I suppose I shall invite a few as well. How could I dare to throw an outdoor party without a grand display of fireworks? I am certain quite a few will be caught stealing food, but none so scandalous as catching Samwise and Frodo in the storage room together. Their flustered demeanor will only serve as more of a reason to invite them.

One, or maybe thirteen dwarves will most obtrusively come knocking, seeking drinks and food I have neither of at this point. But all the same, I invited wizards and they know how to procure the things I demand.

It is my birthday and if I want hedgehogs recovering from near-death experiences, you better believe that’s what I am receiving.

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Blurb:

Liberation from one master might mean enslavement to another.

For centuries, the Kuro swan shifters have been the unwilling servants of the Dryma faeries. That changed when Prince Tristan of the Dryma attempted to sacrifice himself for Royal Kuro Kanji—his lover and mate.

The Sidhee, seeing Tristan’s actions to free the swans as a betrayal, launch a devastating attack that leaves most of the Kuro and Dryma dead or imprisoned. The fate of the swans rests entirely on Kanji’s shoulders, and he must somehow devise a plan that will protect both his partner and his tribe as the war with the Sidhee rages. It won’t be easy for mortal enemies to become allies, and Kanji is beginning to despair of ever waking Tristan from his deathlike slumber. And neither the Kuro nor the Dryma can compete with the Sidhee when it comes to brutal violence.

When Kanji finds a small boy asleep at the bottom of a lake, his hope for reuniting with Tristan is rekindled. But what is the boy, and can his magic turn the tide against a seemingly unstoppable enemy?

 

Excerpt:

I gnawed at the inside of my cheek, my steps heavy as I entered the cabin and shut away the outside world. The scent of my mate was everywhere. There was the lingering smell of flowers and wood in the bathroom, detailed footprints dusted with snow across the floor and breathing I would recognize anywhere.

I kicked off my boots and started on my sweater, but stopped. So much time had passed since I’d last seen my mate, since I’d felt his touch upon my skin. Was that the reason I was nervous enough to hesitate?

The floor was hard beneath my knees as I dropped beside the bed. Tristan had his face turned away as though he were sleeping and I had a terrible sense of dread he’d gone back under.

“Tristan.” My voice came out as a whimper. “Tristan, please, I’m here.”

“Kanji.”

A heavy hand was in my hair, tangling my long dark strands around his fingers. Even though he had been in a coma, Tristan still felt as strong as he had before. As if his deep sleep had merely been a passing dream.

His fingers twitched as he gently caressed the base of my skull. His other hand lay limply on the bed, so I pressed my face against his palm. Just inhaling his scent would’ve been enough to bring me to my knees if I hadn’t been already.

“Kanji,” he repeated, his voice thick with emotion. I felt his body shudder as he touched my hair, my neck, my shoulder…everywhere he wanted. “You saved me.”

I released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. Cold tears burst from my eyes, but I was powerless to stop them.

“Baby, why are you crying?” he sounded alarmed.

“I’ve missed you,” I admitted, keeping my hands firmly on my jeaned thighs. The urge to touch him was overwhelming and just his little circles on my neck filled my cock. “It wasn’t me.”

“What do you mean?”

“It wasn’t me who saved you.”

Welcome to Day 11!

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I’ve always enjoyed this story. I’m tempted to add onto it but I’m still thinking it over. I’ll finish some more projects then think about it some more 🙂

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Grab your copy today!

Chapter One

Shaun McKellan stood before his wall of memories and examined his collection. Photos covered the entire north side of his studio, a tribute to one boy’s evolution. Baby pictures, young boy pictures, teenage pictures, all of the same child were displayed in a dizzying array of frames. They’d documented every important moment of Kerry’s life in brilliant color for the father who couldn’t be there for him. Blue eyes, perfect duplicates of Shaun’s own, peered back at him from the wall their gaze accusatory or maybe he was projecting.

Damn shifter rules.

“I can’t wait to meet you,” Shaun whispered to the latest picture of his son. Even after a dizzying number of phone calls and signing paperwork in triplicate, he still struggled to believe Kerry would be living with him soon. He’d had waited fifteen years to meet his son again and his heart ached at this new reality. A tragedy had resulted in him getting his heartfelt wish. Guilt nibbled away a bit of his joy.

Shaun had only been able to hold his baby for a few minutes before his wife took Kerry away. Violet had met her mate while pregnant with Shaun’s baby and with shifters, mates trumped husbands every time. He could’ve taken the divorce in stride—Violet had never truly loved him, but the loss of his son had been a wound from which he’d never recovered. He’d missed Kerry every day they’d been apart.

After Kerry’s birth Violet had insisted Shaun stay away to prevent Shaun from imprinting on their baby. If Kerry had bonded with his genetic father it would’ve been impossible for Shaun to live apart from their son. For the sake of everyone’s peace, he’d kept his distance from his son, but that hadn’t stopped Shaun from loving him.

He’d kept track of Kerry’s life through a series of photographs and emails. Whatever anger he felt toward the situation depriving him of his son, Shaun couldn’t say Violet or her mate, Dale, hadn’t kept him informed. Weekly updates, monthly pictures, and a flood of emails told him of his son’s soccer games and school grades. Over the years Shaun had sent Kerry presents, pictures, and little mementos so he wouldn’t think his father had abandoned him. Over email Shaun shared details of his latest art exhibit, and Kerry wrote about his sport scores or the bad jokes he’d heard from his friends. They’d made tentative plans for Kerry to come visit Shaun after he graduated high school in a few more years. That one hope had carried Shaun through more than one bad night. Shaun had once asked about seeing Kerry once he reached his teenage years, but Violet had told him it might trigger Kerry’s aggressive tendencies since Shaun was virtually a stranger.

Last month a drunk driver had killed Violet in a head-on car collision even a shifter couldn’t survive. After much reflection and several phone calls from Shaun, Dale decided to allow Kerry to live with Shaun. Apparently Kerry’s hormonal surges were too much for him to handle.

Shaun didn’t blame Dale for wanting to hand Kerry off to him. At fifteen years of age Kerry was entering the Changing Years, or at least that was what his ex-wife, Violet, used to call them. Dale didn’t have the time or energy to deal with a boy who, according to Dale, had never bonded with him despite Shaun stepping aside. As much as Shaun had wished Violet a long and happy life, excitement bubbled through his veins like he was mainlining joy. He could barely believe the time had finally come.

Tires crunching to a stop on the gravel driveway outside pulled Shaun’s attention away from the wall. His heart skipped and pounded in an alternate rhythm as he swung between excitement and anxiety. Stepping over to the window, he pulled back the curtain. A silver sedan sat in his driveway. The exact type of car he’d expect a lawyer to drive.

“He’s here!” Shaun shouted. He slapped a hand over his mouth. Werewolves had amazing hearing. He would have to learn to keep his voice down or deafen his son.

He dropped the curtain with shaking hands. Old insecurities twisted through him in a dark and anxiety-ridden path. What if Kerry decided he didn’t want his father after all? He took a deep steadying breath before running down the steps to reach his front door, then one more inhale and exhale before yanking it open. He barely had time to brace himself before a tall, skinny boy raced up Shaun’s front steps and slammed into his arms.

“Oof,” he gasped, in his son’s surprisingly tight hold. Kerry’s left shoulder slid under Shaun’s chin, giving his son a few inches over him. Kerry had the gangly build of a young man with the strength of a shifter. Shaggy curls tickled Shaun’s nose as Kerry bent his head and sniffed at him. A low rumble vibrated Kerry’s chest.

Refusing to be put off by his son’s odd behavior, Shaun squeezed him tight. The missing piece of his life seamlessly clicked into place and for the first time in years he didn’t feel the holes peppered through his soul. He didn’t even try to stop the tears from dripping down his face and dampening Kerry’s shirt. A soundless sob burst from his chest. He gripped Kerry tighter.

“I missed you.” Kerry’s soft voice barely reached his ears.

“I missed you too,” Shaun choked out. Days and nights of dreaming hadn’t prepared him for the emotional reality of holding his son after all this time. He squeezed a bit tighter until Kerry laughed.

“Maybe I got my strength from you after all.” Kerry groaned and hugged him back.

Shaun’s laughter had a few sobs mixed in. He blinked back the rest of the tears. Kerry didn’t need a lake pooling on his shoulder. They stayed wrapped around each other until the sound of a throat clearing broke up the reunion.

Shaun looked over Kerry’s shoulder to find Dale Marin, watching them with an uncomfortable expression on his face. Shaun gently pried Kerry off him. Trying to regain a semblance of control he swiped at the wetness on his cheeks and awkwardly slid his damp palms across his jeans to dry them off. “Kerry, why don’t you go inside and get yourself something to drink out of the refrigerator while I talk to Dale? The kitchen is down the hall and to the right.”

“Okay.” After a long, considering look Kerry went into the house without bidding Dale goodbye or sparing a glance in his direction.

Shaun didn’t know what to make of his son’s actions, but he couldn’t miss the longing in Dale’s eyes as Kerry walked away. The reason behind Dale bringing Kerry to Shaun had nothing to do with the lack of love.

“It’s nice to meet you in person.” Violet only had good things to say about Dale over the years. Although Shaun hadn’t been able see his son, he’d never lost touch of what was happening in his life. If there had been any hint of abuse he would’ve gone and retrieved Kerry, imprinting be damned.

Dale offered a hand to shake. The man looked uneasy in his designer suit while standing in Shaun’s working-class neighborhood. It wasn’t a bad area but the residents in this part of town generally didn’t wear expensive wool suits that cost more than their mortgages either.

“For what it’s worth I never agreed with Violet about you. I thought you should be able to see your son. It’s obvious you care about him a great deal or you wouldn’t have kept in touch over the years.” Dale shrugged. “But I’m not a wolf, so I followed her rules.”

Shaun wished he could argue about how they’d handled things but they’d made the best decision they could at the time. “I talked to a werewolf consultant once and he verified what she said. It didn’t make it hurt any less though.”

Shaun had wanted to double-check the imprinting story. When he’d found it to be true it had hurt worse than if she’d lied to him.

Dale’s half-smile carried a world of regret. “I know. I checked on it too. I didn’t want to keep a father away from his son. It doesn’t matter now, I guess. He doesn’t want me. He’s never wanted me. I think he’s always resented that I’m not his father. Maybe at some level I’ve resented it too. Violet was never able to have another baby after Kerry. We tried, but it never worked out.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Shaun didn’t share the late-night conversations he’d had with Violet. How she’d cried over the phone at what she saw as her failing. No sense in bringing up the past. Dale seemed like a nice guy who got a bad deal with a kid who didn’t want him, and a dead wife. Shaun blinked back tears as memories of better times threatened to crush him. They might have lived miles apart but Violet remained dear to him.

“I’ve got his bags in the back.” Dale nodded toward his expensive sedan. He shoved his hands into his pockets, his attention remained on the ground as he spoke “Violet left Kerry a trust fund. It’ll pay for college and help him some when he graduates. If you need anything else please call. I want to remain in Kerry’s life if possible.”

“You don’t need to pay to have me keep you updated. You and Violet were amazing about making sure I still felt involved in Kerry’s life and I’m happy to do the same thing for you. You’re welcome to stop by whenever you’d like. I might not make buckets of money, but I make enough to support us. Tomorrow I have an appointment with the alpha of the local pack to see if I can get Kerry into the neighborhood shifter school. Since Kerry isn’t a member of his pack we need permission to be in his territory and join the pack school. As a half wolf I don’t know if Kerry will ever be able to shift, but maybe they can help him deal with the aggression problems you told me about.”

Dale’s shoulders relaxed and a long sigh spilled out of him like a deflating balloon. “Good. That’s good. We didn’t have a shifter school near us. Violet would’ve liked that. Let me know if you need money for school expenses. I don’t know how these shifter schools work, but I’d be happy to pay for it or at least for half. Violet would’ve wanted that for him.”

Shaun nodded. “I’ll let you know how it goes. You’re welcome to visit any time. I have no intention of trying to keep him from you.”

“We’ll see. Now that he has you…” Dale let his voice trail away. They both knew Kerry might not want anything more to do with the man who helped raise him. After all, he wasn’t a blood relative and to wolves, blood was everything.

“I’ll keep you updated and you’re welcome to remain involved. There’s always room for more people to love Kerry.” Shaun couldn’t make any other promises that might involve Kerry without first discussing it with his son. Maybe Kerry could spend the summer with Dale or go on a vacation.

They worked together, emptying Dale’s car and dragging the suitcases containing all of Kerry’s belongings up to his bedroom. It wasn’t a huge space but it had a wide window to let in natural light with a nice view of the garden out back. Shaun had painted the walls a bright blue and drawn a mural with stars and a pack of wolves running beneath them.

“Violet said you were an artist. Did you draw this?” Dale pointed to the picture.

Shaun nodded. “Last week.”

There hadn’t been a lot of notice before he took custody of Kerry but Shaun had known what he wanted to draw.

“It’s very good.” Dale pulled a business card out of his suit pocket. “Here are all of my contact numbers. I know you have the house number but I’ll be traveling a lot since there’s no one left at home. If you need anything, anything at all, don’t hesitate to contact me. Violet would want me to make sure he’s taken care of.”

Shaun’s heart ached for Dale. To go from a family of three to being all alone had to be difficult. He took the card and slid it into his shirt pocket. He patted Dale on the shoulder. “I’ll take good care of him and I’ll make sure he knows you’re there if he needs anything. I’m sure right now he’s overwhelmed by the loss of his mother. Maybe you can take him for a few weeks in the summer?”

Dale’s twisted his lips into a rueful smile. “We’ll see. I know you are trying to pin this on a grieving son and it might be easier if that were the case. Kerry and Violet were never really close despite the werewolf belief that blood will bond. I’ve always thought he’s been pining for you all these years. Before Violet died, I was going to suggest he come live here with you. Violet couldn’t control him either. She was a strong wolf but as a mother she never could put her foot down. He walked all over her.”

“I hear that’s not uncommon for teens.” It eased some of his pain to think Kerry might’ve missed him too, but he refused to show Dale his inner joy. Dale’s grief over the death of his wife was obvious in the new hard lines on his face that hadn’t been there in the picture Shaun received only a month ago. “Give him some time.”

Dale rocked back and forth on his heels and looked everywhere but at Shaun. Shaun could tell Dale wasn’t comfortable showing his emotions.  He spotted a bit of moisture shimmering in Dale’s eyes before he spoke next, his words spilling over each other like a flooding river of vowels and syllables. “I had best tell Kerry goodbye. I’ve got a client dinner meeting tonight and a few hours on the road to get there.”

“Drive carefully and if you ever want to take Kerry for the weekend or on vacation or anything give me a call. I can’t imagine how hard this must be.” Dale’s entire world had spun out of control with the turn of a drunk driver’s wheel.

“I will. Thanks.” Dale shook Shaun’s hand then turned and walked out of the room without another word leaving behind a wave of despair Shaun could almost taste. A shifter would’ve howled from the pain the broken man emitted with his every motion.

Shaun went upstairs to his attic studio to give Dale and Kerry some privacy to say their goodbyes. After several minutes where Shaun did nothing more engaging than check out the condition of his paintbrushes, the front door slammed shut. He hadn’t heard it open but he definitely heard it close.

Not wanting to leave his son alone in a strange house, Shaun hurried back downstairs eager to talk to the son he’d always wanted.

“Hey, Dad.” Kerry’s shy smile warmed his heart and wrapped ropes of affection around his soul.

“Hi. I didn’t know if you’d be comfortable calling me dad.” But damn he’d dreamed about it.

Kerry’s eyes darkened. “I wasn’t going to call Dale dad, he didn’t smell right. I’ve never had anyone who smelled like family, until you.”

Shaun stepped further into the room. Unsure of what to say, he tried to rally. “Surely your mother—”

Kerry interrupted. “No. She always smelled like she was hiding something. I’ve wanted to come live with you my entire life. Even Mom said I could once I hit my Changing. She thought it would be too dangerous for Dale since we didn’t get along. She suggested sending me away to a shifter boarding school but I told her if she planned to ship me off she might as well send me to you.”

“I would’ve taken you.” He never wanted Kerry to feel unwanted.

“I know.” Kerry’s tone, strong and steady, swept away Shaun’s unease. He hadn’t failed. Kerry had known he was wanted.

Shaun searched for another topic. “Dale seems like a nice guy.”

“For a human.” Kerry wrinkled his nose as if he’d smelled spoiled milk.

Shaun laughed. “I’m human.”

Kerry inhaled deeply. “Yeah, but you smell like home.”

Interesting. Maybe he’d made a mistake staying away from Kerry all those years. When he’d held infant Kerry he must’ve made a bigger impression than anyone had suspected.

“Your mother did what she thought was best. When your DNA test proved you had shifter characteristics we both thought you’d do better with a shifter parent.” Shaun tried to keep his voice neutral, no sense blaming a dead woman for mistakes they’d both made. “Tomorrow I’m going to try to enroll you in the local shifter school. I don’t know if you’ll be able to shift or not, but you’ll have a lot of the same hormonal fluctuations as full shifters and it’ll be better if you’re among others going through the same thing.” Shaun had done enough research about adolescent shifters to write his own library worth of books.

“Cool.” Kerry smiled broadly. “I hope I can shift. I’d love to be a wolf.”

“We’ll see. I’m sorry to say your blood is diluted with my humanness.” Shaun hated to bring up the fact Kerry might not being able to shift, but it was a real possibility.

Kerry shrugged. “That’s cool.” Shaun could tell from his son’s expression that Kerry would be terribly disappointed if he couldn’t transform. Shaun didn’t blame him. Shifting into a completely different animal was an amazing ability.

“What do you say we order some pizza and get to know each other?” Shaun didn’t know many teens that would turn down pizza.

Kerry grinned. “Extra meat?”

“Is there any other way?” Shaun pretended offense.

“No, there really isn’t.”

Shaun pushed speed dial to get his favorite pizza place on the line. After ordering an extra large pizza with double meat he sat on the couch and lived the dream he’d always wished for of spending the night eating pizza and talking with his son.

Welcome Birthday Guest Amy Lane!

So I know this is usually a “birthday” or a “gift” theme, but in this case, the story is the gift. I wrote Racing for the Sun a while ago, and I kept getting asked for Jai’s story. Jai is a six-foot-six-inch Russian bear with a truly disturbing smile.

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I never did get to Jai’s story—but the main characters of Racing for the Sun recently appeared in A Few Good Fish and Hiding the MoonAnd poor Jai—he seemed to just… just need something. So this is an installment of Jai’s story, which will be done mostly on my blog, and you can find the first two installments HERE.

So this really is a gift for Jai’s fans, who have waited over six years to see about his sex life, and are about to get a nice glimpse into his love interest, George.

George Gets Ideas

After literally falling at Jai’s feet as he fished and throwing up stuff he hadn’t eaten yet and wouldn’t eat for another ten years, George slept all Saturday, so grateful for Jai’s cozy tent and egg crate and the water by his elbow that he could have cried if he wasn’t so dehydrated.

Sunday morning he woke up and managed to make it to the portajohn to take a leak and brush his teeth—thanks Jai for the toothbrush, actually. When he got back he collapsed on his sleeping bag, winded and shivering, and Jai wrapped him up in the sleeping bag again.

“More sleep? I am going to have to take you home and I’m not sure what to do with your shitty vehicle.”

George groaned. As much as he loved the way Jai’s big hands felt on his body, tucking him into the warmth of the sleeping bag, he needed to get home. For one thing, Annaliese was only planning to watch his cat, Jingle, until that night. If George wasn’t home by about eight o’clock his cat would have barfed in all his shoes and he might not have a job.

“Let me nap this morning. If I can drink some more broth this afternoon, maybe I can drive home.”

“Going to meet with Harvey and Gary?” Jai asked mockingly, folding his long legs underneath him and pulling out a deck of cards.

“No.” George smirked, because the story of the threesome he wanted no part of was much funnier when Jai put it that way. “But I have a cat who will need me, and I should at least call in sick to my job tomorrow.” Every bone and joint in his body ached. Even if he got home okay, he wasn’t going to be good for work.

Jai grunted and reached into the pocket of his fleece jacket. “Here. I found it in your car and charged it while you slept. You make arrangements for tomorrow, and I can stay with you until around five in the morning. We can break camp and you might not crash your shitty truck and die on the way home.”

George looked at the phone, feeling dumb. “That’s a good idea. Do you have to be somewhere tomorrow?”

Jai grimaced. “Sadly, yes. I was supposed to be back last night, but I called my boss and said I would be late. He told me to take my time, but he and Sonny do not take enough days off as it is.”

George paused in the middle of texting Annaliese about the cat. “That’s sweet. That they’d give you time off, and you don’t want to take it. Doesn’t sound like a boss, it sounds like… you know. A friend.”

Jai shrugged. “Da. I was supposed to be on loan, you see. From my original boss. Ace was racing, and he almost died not killing my boss’s young niece. So I was Ace and Sonny’s reward—I could work on cars, I could help Sonny until Ace was back up. But…” He looked away. “Ace and Sonny were kind. My old boss was not. They couldn’t really pay me, but my old boss… he asked me if I wanted to stay and I said yes.”

“But how do you make a living?” George frowned. Jai wasn’t rich—he drove an old Toyota and his clothes looked second hand or really well worn. But he didn’t seem destitute either.

Another shrug rocked those massive shoulders. “Ace did things—racing mostly—that were not strictly legal to pay me better. He is a good man.”

Fine—I’ll watch your cat and call in sick for you. Are you going to live?

The relief at having a little more time was staggering.

Maybe. I’ll tell you about the stomach flu when I get home.

 “Your friend?” Jai asked, taking the phone away from him and setting it down by his pillow. “She said you don’t have to wreck your shitty truck?”

“Yeah.”  Sleep was weighing on George’s eyes and he was pissed. Talking to Jai was about the most interesting thing he’d done outside of work for years. “Apparently he’s good enough to know one when he sees one,” he mumbled.

“Know what?”  Jai sounded puzzled. George didn’t blame him.

“A good man.”

Jai’s laugh rocked the little tent.  “You are very funny. When you do not feel like death, you will see what a comedian you are.”

But I don’t feel like death. I’m just tired. Maybe when I wake up…

 And sleep.

He woke up a couple hours later feeling like he might be able to stand up, and maybe peek outside the tent. Jai was working at the small camp stove, and as George stumbled up, wearing the moccasins Jai had pulled from the George’s truck and one of the fleece blankets over his shoulders, Jai put a mug of hot chicken broth on the table in front of him without comment.

“God! Afternoon already?”

“Yes. I am sorry—this was not a great vacation for you.”

George took a sip of chicken broth and shuddered in appreciation. “Well, maybe not. But it did help me reassess my priorities,” he said with decision.

“Like making sure someone knows where you are in case you get sick again?” Jai asked, the concern on his broad, stoic face touching.

George took another sip of the broth. “Well… you know. I was thinking.” He tried to smile winningly, although he was aware his blond sandy hair was probably sticking up in sixty-eleven places and Jai was probably sorry he’d ever gone fishing so George could come throw up practically at his feet.

“I am waiting,” Jai said gravely. George looked to see what he was doing for a moment and realized he was making a grilled cheese sandwich.

“That actually looks good,” George said, thinking about it.

“Toast. I shall give you toast. You keep that down, there can be grilled cheese later.”

George smiled a little. As a nurse, that’s exactly what he would have done, but as a patient, he wanted that grilled cheese sandwich now. “You are very wise,” is what he said. “But that has nothing to do with what I was thinking.”

“Which is…”

George took another sip of broth and barreled ahead. “I, uh, I’d like to go camping with you again. Not next weekend—maybe in three weeks? I’ll give you my phone number, you can text and tell me you can make it. We can, you know, aim for this campground, or first one there tells the other one where we are—you know. Like friends.”

Jai’s eyebrows had crept up to where his hairline would be, if he didn’t shave it. “Like friends?”

George started to feel less certain about this whole idea. “Yes.”

“In the same tent.”

George’s heart sank. “Well, if we’re sharing the same campground.”

Jai scowled, and studied the grilled cheese sandwich with undue attention. “Nyet.”

Ouch. “I swear, I’ll look better next time.” George sort of begged him with his eyes to look up. And hoped he had the eyes of someone who could give a really good blowjob, if prompted.

“You look fine now.” Jai waved that concern away like a mosquito. “No, you are very pleasing to look at, and very kind. But if we were to share the same tent, I would want to sleep in the same sleeping bag. And if we shared the same sleeping bag and you did not feel like death, I would want to touch you, and I don’t think that’s what you’re asking.”

George frowned. “That’s funny. I thought that was exactly what I was asking. You bring rubbers, I bring lube—”

“I am on PReP,” Jai said bluntly. “I will bring my latest screening.”

“Me too!” Oh, that was good news. No rubbers! Who didn’t like no rubbers? “Well, I’ll still bring lube—”

“Stop talking.” Jai plopped a nicely grilled piece of toast onto a napkin in front of him, and dished up the grilled cheese for himself. After pouring water for hot chocolate into his own mug, Jai sat down and started stirring the chocolate ruminatively. “You do not have to have sex with me just to thank me,” he said after the chocolate was well and truly dead.

“I don’t want to have sex with you to thank you!” George burst out, thinking this was harder than it had to be. “I want to have sex with you because you are funny and kind and you have these ginormous hands, and I think they’d feel good on my body!”

Jai didn’t say anything but he did roll his eyes.

“And if you were a douchebag, you could have banged me while I felt like death, but you kept me warm instead, and that ticks pretty much all my boxes for ‘Better than any boyfriend I’ve had previously.’”

A tiny smile started at the corner of Jai’s lean mouth. “You have shitty taste in boyfriends. Stop looking at people named Harvey.”

George took an experimental nibble on the toast. “I could do that. Maybe if, I don’t know, I had someone to look forward to, I could leave guys named Harvey and Gary in the dust.”

Jai sighed and took a perfunctory bite of what looked to be a truly awesome grilled cheese. “I am… I am a poor substitute for a real boyfriend.”

Oh. Well, this wasn’t insurmountable. “Well, let’s… you know. Go camping in a month. And… you know. See how it goes. Maybe we can ease into the boyfriend thing. Maybe we can be… camping buddies.”  He really did try for his best smile here, and Jai met his eyes, and his lips curled up a little more so it was worth the effort.

 “Camping buddies,” Jai repeated.

“Yes. Who bring cards and fishing tackle and soup.”

“And lube.”

George bit his lip, thinking he might have won. “And lube.”

Jai rolled his eyes and then concentrated on his grilled cheese. “I will think about it,” he said softly. “But I won’t believe it until you meet me back here.”

George took another bite of toast. “Trust me with your number,” he said, his stomach settling from the nervousness of even making the proposal. “I’ll show you how reliable I can be.”

Jai didn’t answer, but he took another bite of his grilled cheese, and they ate quietly.

Jai cleaned up when they were done and kept the pan of hot water on the burner, in case. “Here,” he said. “I will go get a camp chair for you—”

“Sit next to me,” George said softly. He gestured with his chin. “Look. I’ve got an amazing view of the sunset over the lake from here.

To his great pleasure, Jai did just that, sitting a respectful distance away.

George scooted a little closer, stopping when their thighs touched.

Then he put his head on Jai’s shoulder.

When Jai didn’t do anything, he reached into the big man’s lap and took his ginormous hand into his own two hands, and held it, rubbing the back softly with his thumbs.

The sun went down over the lake in a springtime explosion of lavender and poppy, and both of them caught their breath as the whole thing faded to blue.

George shivered in the cold of the approaching night, and Jai gently disengaged their hands to drape his arm over George’s back.

Oh.

Oh my God.

George melted into his body heat, almost weeping with the joy of the warmth and the comfort and the solid male smell of this nice man who claimed to be an ex-mobster but should have been a nurse.

“This is good?” Jai asked hesitantly.

“This is perfect,” George sighed. “Please meet me again, so we can do this some more.

Jai shifted, pulling away, and for a moment George was disappointed. Then he turned George a little and George looked into his face, dark against the lingering light of the sky.

“What?” George breathed, but he knew what, and it totally made brushing his teeth that morning worth it.

“Testing,” Jai breathed back, and leaned forward, brushing his lips against George’s. George gave a happy little moan and pushed into the kiss, gently, because he was still sore, and Jai was so big.

Just a little more pressure, and George opened his lips, letting Jai in.

His tongue was nothing much—just a little exploratory, gently questing.

George rubbed it a little with his own, and Jai pulled back, ending the kiss.

“How was it?” George asked, every pulse in his body fluttering with “Please stand by.”

“It was worth coming back for,” Jai whispered, and George went limp against him.

“Good,” he said softly. “Give me your phone. Right now. Before you change your mind.”

Jai chuckled softly but he did what George asked.

George typed in his number with growing excitement in his stomach (which was the best thing his stomach had felt in three days.)  It didn’t matter that they had to wait a month. Waiting a month for a date that George knew was going to be great was so much better than the few shitty dates he would have had in the meantime. As he input his number into Jai’s phone—and then called himself so he would have Jai’s number too—he thought wistfully of the night they’d have together now.

He’d probably sleep the whole time—he was already wiped out.

But maybe, after that kiss, he could sleep in Jai’s arms.

That alone was worth waiting for.