Welcome Birthday Guest Mary Calmes!

As always, thank you for having me Amber.

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The Further Adventures of Cael & Frank

He wasn’t wrong, per say, and so the continual griping, though annoying, was actually warranted.

“What if you die,” he growled at me, and I felt it more than heard it as I was sitting behind him on one of those Budweiser draft horses with my arms wrapped around his waist. “Did that even cross your mind when you ran in after me?!”

He was getting worked up again and I felt bad, I did, but there was no way when the portal opened that I wasn’t following.

It was his birthday after all. I had to be with him on his birthday. Though, in his defense, celebrating in limbo was not where I saw my weekend going. I thought we’d be doing some Black Friday shopping but instead there had been an angel in our living room at 4 am telling Cael—born Caelenh in the pit of hell and now, from falling in love with me, had been elevated to that of heavenly host—that Eae, a fellow angel, was stuck in purgatory. Well, more precisely, limbo, which never scared me because I pictured people holding a pole all day that others had to bend over backwards to get under while everyone stood around drinking Mai Tais and Pina Coladas. Hard for that to inspire fear. But it was a big deal because Eae, the angel, they guy who had showed up to give Cael the news that his pitchfork had been traded in for a halo, had apparently been jumped and taken there.  It was not the place for an angel.

“How can that happen?” I asked the angel, Jericho, standing in my living room. It was just like in Supernatural, the TV show, except there was no flutter of wings. Angels just popped in and poof, were there in front of you. It annoyed the crap out of Cael.

When it was just me being a courier for all manner of paranormal creatures, my home was warded and nothing could just pop in. And once I first lived with, and then later married Cael, as a demon lord, nothing could ever manifest in his home so there was no worry over that. But when he went from demon to angel—which happened through love—the house was protected from all evil, yes, but fellow angels could just show up unannounced.

Cael was not amused.

“You know limbo,” Jericho had been saying when I woke up from the yelling and came stumbling out of our bedroom, bleary and squinting. “You can find him quickly without causing a disturbance and bring him out.”

“It’s his birthday,” I protested even before I knew what was going on.

Both Cael and Jericho turned to me.

“What, it is,” I griped at the angel. “We made it Thanksgiving and then we moved it and finally settled on the day after because that made more sense.”

“I—don’t know what that has to do with anything,” Jericho snapped at me. “We have a dire situation. None of us have ever been to hell or purgatory or limbo and would have no idea where to find Eae but Cael has and Chamuel said that Cael could find Eae once he was there.”

“And this Chamuel knows this how?”

Cael scowled at me and Jericho looked horrified.

Clearly I’d missed something about the angel Chamuel and what he knew for certain. “Whatever,” I grunted. “Just—you want Cael to go to limbo just because he used to be a demon? That’s no fair.”

“Nothing is fair,” Jericho said, and gestured at the air between our living room and kitchen and suddenly there was a portal there and through it, clear as day, I saw a town out of every Robin Hood movie I’d ever seen. Apparently limbo looked like the middle ages.

“Holy crap,” I murmured, watching people walk around in peasant garb.

“Cael,” Jericho pleaded. “Please, I would go in a heartbeat if I knew where to look and would not be detected so quickly. As you were made and not born, we hope that the knights of the pit will not find you so easily.”

“So this is a suicide mission?” I choked out, my throat dry, the lump there suddenly huge.

“It could be,” Jericho whispered. “But our hope is that the second Cael takes Eae’s hand that they both will be transported back here to the earthly plane.”

“And if you’re wrong?” I barely got out.

“Then they will both perish,” Jericho rushed out and even managed to sound a bit sad.

“No,” I rasped, clutching Cael’s hand in mine. “No.”

“Only Cael may go as his presence will not be as bright as ours.”

I wanted to argue that the ex-demon, now angel that I loved, glowed like a super-charged night light.

“You will protect my mate for all time,” Cael said resolutely, staring at Jericho.

He put his hand over his heart. “I will and my word is my bond. An angel cannot lie, as well you know.”

“I do know,” he said, turning to face me so I had to let go as he took my face in his hands. “You know what lives in my heart and that you are my every breath—I will return to you in one form or another.”

He meant in body or in spirit and that would not do. I wanted his body with his spirit intact; I wasn’t ready for anything else.

Yanking free, I bolted toward the portal at a dead heat in my sleep shorts and the old threadbare Foo Fighter tee I had on and it hurt when I hit it and found myself gasping for breath on the other side, standing on rocky ground and wrapping my arms around myself because it had to be in the thirties.

The growl behind me would have been scary but it was a frustrated one, not a scary one. Instantly, Cael was in front of me, hands on my shoulders as he shook me. Hard.

I wasn’t small, I’d always been heavy set, but I’d been dropping weight the last few years. I would never be thin though so the fact that he could shake me, rattle my brain, showed his strength and power. He was taller than me, but built long and lean, like a swimmer, with those great shoulders. His platinum blond hair that fell to the middle of his back was blowing forward into his face, and mine, and I closed my eyes loving the feel and smell of it.

“I’m going to murder you,” he threatened me.

I sighed and lifted for the kiss.

The snarl made me smile as his lips touched mine. I was where I belonged, no doubt in my mind. For better or worse and what could be worse than hell?

An hour or so later, he’d used some snazzy spell work to get him and I both outfitted in early serf-chic and we were ready to start on our journey.

Now, as we rode across a field of long dead grass under a dirty dishwater sky, I was eaten up with questions.

“No,” he said as I opened my mouth.

“But I want to know everything about where we are.”

“You’re not supposed to be here,” he reminded me. “Humans don’t get to cross over to limbo with the bodies they had in life and as soon as one of the demons realizes that you’re actually in your own skin, we’ll be in for the fight of our life.”

“But if it’s never happened before, doesn’t it stand to reason that no one will notice?”

He made a noise of pure annoyance. “It’s fortunate you were born pretty because you’re not very bright.”

All my life people had seen me as fat and funny until Cael. I’d taken our first encounter wrong, as though I were not desirable. I’d been corrected. And no, it; wasn’t up to someone else to give you your confidence, but having the most beautiful man I’d ever laid eyes on look at me daily with a tangible mixture of lust and love that was bone meltingly hot, was a continual source of amazement for me.

When we stopped, I was expecting a castle with a moat and the whole nine yards, what I got was like an old western stop on a stagecoach route. There were a few horses in a make-shift corral and everything was muddy and broken down. Cael dismounted first and I followed and I noticed as I stood there that the sky, as far as the eye could see, was now the color of clay. Everything was in shades of brown, nothing vibrant or clear.

“So in limbo everything is just sort of washed out and sepia?” I asked him.

“It is. The point is to know that you are not in Kansas anymore,” he told me as the door opened and eight…men…came out.

I didn’t even have time to appreciate his Wizard of Oz reference because of the demons, or demon knights. The wings and the red armor were a dead giveaway as were the yellow-gold snake eyes, the curse that went back to the garden.

The last two that came out threw Eae down in front of the others. He was bruised and beaten, lips cracked, eyes swollen, wings broken, those, like the rest of him, covered in blood.

“How did you know where he was?” One of the demons asked Cael. “You’re not one of us anymore; the suffering of the pure no longer draws you.”

He pointed at Eae. “He is my brother; all angels can find their own.”

There was laughing. They were a bad B movie so of course they did that but I forgot everything but going to Eae. Rushing to his side, I dropped down into the dirt and put my hands on him gently, lifting him up.

He squinted at me. “Frank?”

I smiled at him.

“You cannot be here. A human cannot pass into this realm.”

Not so great with the keeping of the secret that one but funny thing happened when the demon closest to me lunged—he hit an invisible shield.

It was interesting. He sort of bounced off, shrieked loudly, and…incinerated.

I was surprised.

Eae’s mouth dropped open as he looked over at Cael.

For his part, Cael looked a bit shocked as well.

That didn’t stop the demons and they acted like every guy in every Friday night Kung-Fu theatre movie I’d ever seen. They rushed us. I never understood. If you saw a guy beat the holy shit out of a hundred of your buddies  right in front of you, why didn’t running ever enter your mind? But instead of bolting after they saw their friends literally turn to ash…they came at me.

They hurled themselves forward and like a scene out of Avengers Infinity War, they crumbled. Some of them got wise and charged Cael instead only to get within five feet of him—further away than they got to me—and go super nova and disappear. No ash, just poof, gone after burning from the inside out. It looked way more painful than when they came after me.

When the last guy turned and ran—which made good sense to me—Cael moved like he was going to go after him.

“No, please,” I called to him. “Come here and heal Eae.”

He wasn’t happy about it, and glowered all the way over, dropping to one knee beside me and then smoothing his hands over Eae who caught his breath and trembled.

Poor guy, he looked terrible and I wondered how long he’d actually been there. Hard to say how time moved in limbo and I knew that what to me had been two, maybe three hours, to Eae could have been weeks

“How are you both here?” He asked when Cael was done and he looked great again, standing easily under his own power in white armor with this jet black wings. People thought all angels had white wings but I’d been told that only archangels got gold or white. It was a hierarchy thing.

“I’m here because of Jericho,” Cael told him, gesturing at our mount. “Frank is here because he doesn’t let me traipse across dimensions without him and had I known that bringing him meant protection from all creatures of perdition, I wouldn’t have worried in the first place and this could have all happened without any drama.”

“Well, I assure you, a rescue mission to limbo is normally a life and death undertaking, and not for the faint of heart.”

“I think heart is the point,” Cael told him, taking my hand in his. “Clearly the sacrament of love exists here.”

“The bond of love exists across all planes,” Eae apprised him. “There is no limit.”

“But most mortals cross into limbo with only their souls and the form they take here is merely an affect like that of my mount.”

I pointed at the horse. “That’s not a Clydesdale?”

Cael was back to scowling at me. “Why would there be horses in limbo? All animal souls rise, they have no sin.”

I nodded. “That makes sense.”

He let out an exasperated sigh.

“So what is it really?” I wanted to know.

“It’s a cross between a komodo dragon and a—what—a tarantula would be the closest thing I believe.”

I was really glad I couldn’t see it.

Eae turned to me. “May I ask what you saw when you looked at the demons?”

“Fallen angels. They have wings and armor just like you.”

He smiled at me. “I wish I could see myself as you do. Human eyes are so blessed to see what they perceive and not as we truly are.”

“You have that wrong,” I said, taking hold of his shoulder. “I had a demon for a mate and now I have an angel—I’ve always seen things crystal clear.”

He looked quickly at Cael who gave him a slow shrug. “I think he sees the truth.”

“Yes,” he rasped, nodding fast, choked up, I could tell. “Yes.”

I watched then as Cael took Eae’s hand and the portal Jericho had suspected would be there, suddenly was.  We were all though it and back in our living room, in moments.

Cael didn’t love it when first Eae, and then Jericho, hugged him. Apparently Jericho had remained in our home, watching Netflix for the two weeks that we were gone. He’d held down the fort and talked to my best friend, James Castile, or Charming, who co-owned Covenant with me, a rehabilitation shelter in downtown Long Beach. He was a werewolf without a pack and I was the mate of an angel so—we were weird together.

“Thank you for staying,” I said to Jericho.

“Thank you for saving my brother,” he said, tears in his eyes as he looked at Eae before lunging at Cael again.

“Oh could you just leave?” My mate groused, the annoyance rolling off of him. “It was supposed to be my birthday and all I wanted was a nice meal, maybe some cake and lots of sex. Is that too much to ask?”

Apparently not because the angels were both suddenly gone and in their place was what looked like pasta carbonara and an antipasto salad and a small chocolate cake.

“I used to be impressed with how well angels got blood out of clothes but it turns out they can cater too,” I teased him, grinning.

He grabbed me then, hands on the side of my neck. “You will never scare me like that again do you understand me? I may take chances but you may not.” He finished, putting a little thunder in his voice like he could do lately, the big voice an actual thing.

“No,” I argued, not backing down, my own hands on his hips. “I go with you always. We won’t ever be apart and that goes for your birthday and every other day. You’re stuck with me,” I said, lifting my left hand into his line of vision. “With this ring, you did wed.”

“Yes,” he murmured as he bent and kissed me.

It seared through me, and I moaned into his mouth.

“Perhaps the food can wait,” he husked before he kissed me again.

I was betting it could.

Welcome to Day 28!

From Pack to Pride 400

Grab your copy today! Only .99!

Chapter One

“I can’t believe you did that.” Adrian stared at his brother as if he’d never seen him before. He looked around Kade’s office, his head spinning as he absorbed this sudden shift in reality.

Nothing was out of place in the masculine wood panelled room. Same soft throw rugs, same desk their father had used before Kade. No changes because his brother was a fanatic about traditions. Traditions he was breaking by sending his wolf shifter brother to go live with the lions.

Maybe he fell asleep after his heavy meal and he was dreaming. Yes, that must be it. Surely his brother wouldn’t sell him off to a bunch of fur balls. He could see maybe another canine pack, wolves or coyotes¼hell, he’d even take the group of dog shifters that lived in the alley behind the ice cream shop downtown.

But cats!

He was in hell.

Adrian examined Kade carefully hoping to see some external sign that his brother and alpha had completely lost his fucking mind.

Nope, the man still looked the same. Dark hair, green eyes identical to Adrian’s, and a dimpled smile, but he’d obviously lost his marbles.

Adrian sighed.

His day had started out so marvellously too with a nice run with his fellow pack mates that resulted in taking down a wounded deer. He couldn’t think of a nicer way to start the day.

Now his evil brother had ruined it.

“What? It makes perfect sense.” Kade looked innocently back at him. A look the powerful alpha wolf totally couldn’t pull off.

“You sold me to the pussycats!”

“You’re exaggerating,” Kade protested. “I made a peace agreement between two packs.”

“Well Mr. Peacekeeper. Lions packs are called prides,” Adrian sneered. “If you’re going to sell me out at least know something about the creatures you’re sacrificing me to.”

“Sacrificing is such a strong word,” Kade said with an infuriating smile.

“Who’s sacrificing?” Helen, Kade’s mate, asked walking into the room.

As usual the alpha mate was dressed in a pair of paint splattered denim capris and a loose white smock top. Adrian always thought of that outfit as her work uniform. As an artist Helen almost always wore some version of the same outfit. She said in order to create she had to be comfortable. Before she mated with Kade she used to work in the nude, but the protective alpha had put an end to that practice. A fact she complained about daily just to give Kade a hard time.

“Brain trust here made a pact to give me to the lion pride in exchange for peace between the lions and the wolves.”

“Have some respect for your alpha,” Helen snapped. Her golden brows formed a frown on her smooth forehead as she looked from brother to brother.

Kade flashed him a smug smile. The impact was lost when his mate smacked him across the back of the head.

“What were you thinking?” Helen demanded.

“I was thinking I could get my brother out of danger and find him a mate to protect him from Olson. That wolf has it in for you, bro. He won’t be happy until you’re belly up beneath his fangs.”

“I can take care of myself,” Adrian said through gritted teeth. “I do know some self-defence.”

“Olson is twice your size and three times as vicious,” Kade said. “I’m not going to stand by and let that bastard rip you apart. After you turn twenty-five, pack rules say you’ll have to fight him if he challenges you and there will be nothing I can do. Nothing. Next week you turn twenty-five! If I get you out of here before then, he can’t challenge you.”

“Oddly enough I know both the pack rules and when I turn twenty-five. I can take this guy,” Adrian insisted.

“He’s right, Adrian,” Helen said. “I might not agree with my wonderful husband’s technique, but I have to admit I am worried about Olson. Besides, the lion alpha is completely gorgeous,” she added with a wicked smile.

“Hey! I’m right here!”

“I know, honey.” Helen patted his chest, but her eyes were focused on Adrian. “I know it will be hard being away from the pack, but your brother made this pact out of love and concern for you.” She turned back to her mate. “What exactly was your agreement?”

“That I would give them Adrian and in exchange Adrian would be able to mate with the lion of his choice, barring previous mating agreements between lions.”

“What, didn’t they reach their quota of lion/wolf hybrid freaks? What would you call that combination anyway? Liowolf? Wolfli?” Adrian asked.

“You did tell them Adrian is gay, didn’t you?” Helen interrupted. “I mean you wouldn’t really sell your brother as a stud wolf or something. I might be only human here, but that’s all kinds of wrong.”

“Hah,” Adrian said, pointing a finger at Kade. “At least you had the good sense to pick a reasonable mate. Couldn’t you at least send me to some other wolves?”

“My reasonable mate can stay out of this,” Kade growled.

Adrian could see his brother was reaching the end of his limited patience. The fangs were starting to come out, literally.

“As much as I’m enjoying the tarring and feathering process, I would appreciate a moment to defend myself. First, I did explain that my brother was gay and apparently that was a selling point. They are looking for a companion for their alpha who is also gay, but having problems finding a mate. After giving them the entire catalogue of pack members, the alpha insisted on Adrian. I saw a chance to save my little brother from Olson and took it. Sorry if that makes me the bad guy. Second, I only agreed if they promised to let Adrian leave in six months if he was unhappy or didn’t find his mate. Since you are gay I think we can rule out the wolf/lion mutant hybrids you’re so anxious to create. Any questions?”

“Nope. Not for me,” Helen said, turning to her brother-in-law, “Adrian?”

Adrian sighed. “Fine. You’re the best brother ever. I’ll go play nice-nice with the kitties. Maybe I’ll bring a basket of yarn and some radio controlled mice as an offering.”

At least there was time limit on this thing. He’d rather go feral and live life as a wolf than stay with the damn kitties forever. Snooty cats didn’t know anything about having a good howl.

Kade rolled his eyes and was about to speak when knocking on his office door interrupted him.

Adrian sniffed the air, letting out a low growl.

“Behave, Adrian. Pack your bags and go play with the big kitties. Shifters need to start banding together if we’re going to survive against the humans.”

Adrian nodded, biting back the comments he yearned to make. His brother was right about that at least. Humans were starting to encroach on pack and pride lands. It benefitted everyone if shifters learned to work together instead of tying up their resources fighting over territory disputes. Even though Adrian knew he could handle Olson, he didn’t want to cause his brother any further problems.

It was hard enough being the alpha of a large pack; Kade didn’t need the added burden of his gay brother causing difficulties. As much as it hurt to leave his family behind, Adrian was willing to give the lions a try. He wasn’t finding a mate among the wolves. Maybe it was time for him to expand his horizons. Besides it wasn’t that he hated cats, he just didn’t understand them. Not to mention the lions were known to be particularly vicious.

Adrian decided to look at it as if he was going on a vacation. He’d just finished a large project and could use some time away. When he got back, he’d start circulating to the other wolf packs. A gay wolf wasn’t unheard of, you just had to find a pack that didn’t rip them open and leave them for the vultures.

Pleased with his plan, Adrian gave his brother a reassuring smile knowing it would freak Kade out more than any amount arguing.

With a cautioning glance at Adrian, Helen opened the door. “Good evening, Olson.”

“Evening, alpha mate,” Olson said.

Olson’s voice was properly respectful, but Adrian knew he would rip out her jugular in a second if he thought it would get him one step closer to the alpha position.

The shifter walked into the room, stopping when he saw Adrian. His eyes glowed a bright yellow as his wolf peeked out from behind his polite human façade. After a moment of staring, he gave Adrian a stiff nod. Adrian had to admire the other man’s control even as he disliked him.

Olson was biding his time, but Adrian had seen that look before when pack members were culling the weakest animal in the herd. The older wolf wanted him dead and Olson wouldn’t be too particular about how it happened.

“Evening, Olson,” Adrian said. He made sure to look Olson straight in the eyes, knowing it would make Olson want to slash Adrian open with his bare claws.

“Adrian,” Olson sneered.

Pleased with his night’s work Adrian left the room with a spring in his step. A bounce he quickly lost as he realised he was leaving behind everything he’d ever known to go live with a bunch of cats.

“I bet they get fur balls,” he said, morosely.

* * * *

Talan sprawled on his massive couch staring at the picture in his hand. His eyes faithfully traced the glossy black hair and piercing green eyes of the man in the photo.

Damn, he was beautiful.

It wasn’t a word he usually attributed to men, but there was no other word for the wolf that would be his mate. He longed to bite the tender junction between neck and shoulder and claim the man as his.

Talan’s cock responded to the vision in his head. He wondered if his mate would taste salty or sweet when he sucked him down.

“Still mooning over that wolf?” Talla asked as she walked into the room. Not bothering to wait for an invitation, she plopped down beside her brother and looked at the picture with him. “For a puppy he sure is pretty.”

“Pretty?” Talan tilted his head as he examined the picture closer. “Nope. He’s beautiful and he’s all mine,” he said with satisfaction.

“He does have an out, you know,” Talla reminded him. “The alpha was quite clear that if his brother was unhappy he would call him back home.”

“Sneaky wolf.” Talan frowned. “I’ve got to get Adrian to commit before the six months are over because there’s no way I’m letting him go once he gets here. He’s mine and no one is going to take him away from me.”

“The wolf alpha is just looking out for his brother.”

Talan nodded. He got that, he did, but he didn’t have to like it. “I also don’t like what he told us about that Olson guy. Adrian turned twenty-five yesterday, he can now be legally challenged. If that wolf comes around here, I’ll kill him. I won’t have him touching my mate.” Talan let his displeasure show with a low rumbling growl.

“He still has to pick you to be his mate.”

“Did you come here to ruin my day? Because I was happy all by myself.”

Talla smirked. “You and your picture?”

“That’s right and we’ll be very happy together until tomorrow.” Talan gave her a wide smile. “Then I can play with the real thing.”

“Pitiful.” Talla shook her head as she looked at her brother. “There are others who are going to be interested in him, you know.”

Talan’s fangs popped out. “They’d best keep their interest to themselves.”

“You’re going to be difficult about this, aren’t you? It won’t be easy getting a pride of lions to accept a wolf as your mate.”

“Anyone who doesn’t like it can leave,” Talan said, indifferently.

Talla sighed. “Some might try to battle to be your mate.”

Talan shook his head. “You don’t understand, Talla. He’s my fated mate. I felt it as soon as I saw his picture. No one can argue with my mate choice once we are bound.”

There were all kinds of mating combinations, but only the Gods chose a fated mate. It was a rare event and Talan knew as soon as he saw the picture of the slim wolf shifter that Adrian was the one chosen for him.

“Fine, I’ll let the others know. It will prevent them from trying to lure him away or kill him.”

Talan let out a roar. “Anyone who touches a hair on his head will lose theirs. Make sure you spread that around.”

“Yes, oh king of the jungle,” Talla said standing up to leave. “I’ll go share the news that you are unreasonable about our new resident wolf and for everyone to mind their manners.”

“Great.” Talan went back to his picture, stroking the dimple he spotted on his future mate’s cheek.

“He could be an asshole. Looks aren’t everything. I’ve dated enough men to know that for a fact,” she said with a rueful grin.

“He’s not. I asked around. He’s a genius, with advanced degrees in mathematics and computer science, has a family that adores him and,” Talan said, waving a finger in the air, “he teaches little girls self-defence in his spare time.”

“Is he getting ready for sainthood?”

“Not when I’m done with him,” Talan said with a wicked smile.

“Yuck. I’m sorry I asked.”

The door slammed behind her as she left.

“Sometimes it’s too easy,” Talan said, smiling at the picture. “We’ll have to freak her out in person when you come tomorrow. It will be great fun,” he promised his future mate.

Welcome Birthday Guest Rory Ni Coileain!

At first, when I sat down to try to come up with a guest list of fictional characters for my own birthday party, I have to admit I had just a tiny little panic attack. See, my favorite fictional characters tend to be a tad… well, demonstrative. Flamboyant, even. And despite what y’all might think of me based on the bad boys I love to write, I’m a stone introvert. Well, on my good days I’m an ambivert, but when I’m done peopling, I’m outies. And the last thing in the world someone like me wants is to be the center of attention in a room full of people like my favorite fictional characters!

But then it dawned on me that if I could actually fill a room with my favorites, there’s about zero chance I’d be the center of attention – they’d all be way too busy entertaining/being entertained by/possibly getting into fistfights with one another. Panic attack over.

So here’s the list, chosen expressly to be so interesting that all I have to do is sit back and watch:

Rocky Jones and Gaby Plauget, from John Varley’s Titan trilogy

Lucien Vaudrey and Stephen Day, from KJ Charles’ The Magpie Lord

James Bolivar diGriz, a/k/a the Stainless Steel Rat, and his lovely and lethal wife Angelina, courtesy of Harry Harrison

Toby Prentiss and Rain Engel, from Susan MacNicol’s Waiting for Rain

From movies:  Deadpool, Indiana Jones (from before he survived a nuclear explosion inside a lead-lined refrigerator, pleaseandthankyou), Iron Man (although Tony Stark would be welcome too), Wonder Woman, StarLord, Gandalf (the movie one rather than the book one because that way I get Sir Ian McKellen), and any fictional character Liam Neeson has ever played, in fact all of them

From television: Jean-Luc Picard, Q, Captain Jack Harkness, and the Fourth and Tenth Doctors

And no party would be complete without some of my Fae, but if I don’t pare the list down a little, I’m not sure we could get special event insurance. Let’s go with Mac, amputee Vietnam veteran and bartender par excellence, his human husband Lucien, a fuzzy muscle bear who looks like the love child of a bulldog and his favorite fire hydrant, and their Fae husband Rhoann, a half-water elemental who has to keep being reminded to wear clothes. (Shhhh…)

Check out her most recent release Stone Cold

Stone Cold final

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In Stone Cold, the eighth title in the Rainbow-Award-nominated M/M paranormal Soulshares series, Maelduin Guaire is a Fae with a mission. An obsession, really. He’s trained his entire life to become the greatest scian-damhsa, blade-dancer, the Fae have ever known, for the sole purpose of killing the blade-dancer who murdered his father and gave House Guaire its reputation as the Cursed House. Now he’s followed Tiernan Guaire through the Pattern to the human world, to fulfill his oath or die trying… but the passage has cost him all his skill with a blade.

Terry Miller, Josh LaFontaine’s business partner at the Raging Art-on Tattoo and Piercing Parlor, has the worst luck with men since… well, since ever, as far as he’s concerned. Years ago, he walked out on a great thing with Josh, when Bryce Newhouse offered to play sugar daddy for Terry’s ballet company; then Bryce kicked him to the curb, and Terry ended up relying on big-hearted Josh to help him get back on his feet. And now a too-good-to-be-true stranger has turned up in Terry’s half-built dance studio, with a beautiful sword and a bloody nose.

In order to regain the grace and skill he needs to keep his vow, a Fae cursed with the inability to love must SoulShare with a human convinced that love runs screaming when it sees him coming. All with the Marfach looking over their shoulders. No pressure…

Giveaway: Rory is giving away a kindle ecopy of the first book in her SoulShares series, Hard as Stone!

Hard as Stone Final

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Tiernan Guaire was exiled from the Fae Realm a century and a half ago for his brother’s murder. His soul torn in half, he lives by his vows — never to trust, never to love. And if he can only be whole by finding and loving the human with the other half of his soul? He’s content to live broken and half-souled.

Kevin Almstead’s future, the career he’s worked for as long as he can remember, has been taken away by a vote of the partners at his law firm. Chance brings him to Purgatory, the hottest all-male nightclub in Washington, D.C., to a meeting with a Fae, with long blond hair, ice-blue eyes, and a smile promising pleasures he’s never dreamed of. But there’s no such thing as chance.

But Tiernan isn’t the only one to find Kevin in Purgatory. The most ancient enemy of the Fae race sees in the handsome lawyer a way to destroy the world from which it, too, was exiled. And only the strength of a true SoulShare bond can keep it from what it seeks.

Welcome to Day 27!

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Chapter One

Elijah Trenton watched as the professor’s assistant held up cards that broke down Professor Kalvin’s long-winded speeches into short, memorable paragraphs and timelines. He didn’t know her name since the professor had never introduced her—one more strike against the pompous ass in Eli’s opinion. Eli appreciated all her help because History of Spell Casting definitely wasn’t one of his strengths.

His father would say that Eli didn’t have strengths of any kind.

Eli wrote down her shortcuts quickly, his hand flying across the paper. He could review them later when he had more time, but from experience he knew her notes would make a great deal more sense than the professor’s rambling lecture. Professor Kalvin took great delight in testing students on the minutest details instead of the broader scope of important history. Eli didn’t know a single student who enjoyed the class. Unfortunately it was a prerequisite to anything more interesting. He could’ve pushed it off a few more years, but Eli was of the rip-the-bandage-off train of thought. He’d rather finish it now than have to postpone it a few years down the road.

Besides, there was a perk to the class, in the form of Devin Stewartson. The sexy man sat two rows ahead of Eli and to the right. Eli spent a great deal of time ignoring the professor and staring at the gorgeous triplet. It just wasn’t fair that there were three of them. He’d heard around campus that Dan had bonded with a fire wizard and Dean was straight—that left Devin as his only option. Not that it mattered—he’d always been attracted to Devin more than his brothers. Devin’s upbeat personality pulled at Eli. Maybe because Eli didn’t have a bubbly personality, Devin’s charm called to him.

“If you stare at him any harder, he’s going to get a hole in the back of his head,” Porter whispered.

“Shut up.” Eli shoved his friend on the shoulder good-naturedly. The professor gave them a strange look but carried on with his boring lecture.

Eli returned his attention to the assistant. She hadn’t moved on to the next card. Instead, she froze as if listening to something no one else could hear. Her eyes widened, and she pinned Eli with a frightened look.

“Duck!” she shouted.

She’d never spoken before, but her terror transmitted to Eli as if she’d injected it directly into his veins. Without hesitation, he dropped his pen and slid beneath his desk.

“What are you doing?” whispered Porter.

Porter peered at Eli hiding beneath his desk, his blond hair flopping across his curious brown eyes. Porter was Eli’s best friend and generally tended to follow Eli’s lead even if he didn’t know where he was going.

Eli grabbed Porter’s jacket, yanked him beneath the desk and shouted, “Everyone, get down!”

“Shit!” Porter yelled as he tumbled to the floor. “You’re going to get into trouble.”

He tried to get up, but Eli kept a tight hold on his friend’s shirt, keeping him by Eli’s side. “Stay.” He didn’t know what was going on, but something was coming, something bad. He could feel it in his bones.

“Mr. Trenton, is there a reason you’re underneath your desk?” the professor asked in his slow, dry voice. The sound always brought to Eli’s mind the image of crispy fall leaves and zombies. A strange combination, but he refused to claim responsibility for his bizarre daydreams. Sometimes his brain went off on tangents.

Eli didn’t get out from beneath the desk to respond, even if it was completely unfair that the teacher didn’t even ask about Porter. Porter got away with everything, while the professor commented on Eli’s every action. He wondered if his father had talked to the professor. Any teacher’s evil fixation on Eli was usually the result of his father’s interference. Conrad Trenton had a way of bulldozing over people and not considering anyone’s concerns but his own and sometimes those of Eli’s older brother.

The pressure in the air raised the hair on Eli’s arms in tingly bursts of electricity. “Don’t you feel that? Everyone get under your desks!” he yelled. He kept his white-knuckled grip on Porter’s shirt, refusing to let his friend even lift his head. Eli relaxed a bit when he saw that Devin had taken his advice. He didn’t know what was coming, but he couldn’t stand it if his crush became injured.

Eli gritted his teeth as wild magic flooded the room. Electricity snapped and crackled through the air, slamming into desks and people with equal fervor. Screams pierced the air and a low hum vibrated down Eli’s spine.

Unable to stand to look, Eli squeezed his eyes shut. The combined stench of burning flesh and ozone singed his nose and had his stomach threatening to revolt. Students continued to scream as wicked pops of energy found new places to land. Not daring to peek, Eli and Porter remained frozen on the floor until the only sounds were the moans of the injured and the frantic whimpers of the other students.

When all electrical sounds had faded, Eli opened his eyes. The students in the row ahead of him peered at him from beneath their desks.

“Stay down!” Eli raised his head to take a quick look around the room. Professor Kalvin lay still on the floor, and many students were crying brokenly as they cradled their injuries.

The blonde assistant motioned to Eli that it was safe to stand. He wondered how she’d escaped injury. She hadn’t hidden at all, yet miraculously she didn’t have any damage. Many others hadn’t been so lucky.

“Porter, you can get up now,” Eli said, releasing his hold.

Porter cautiously scooted out from under the desk. Eli’s gaze slid over to Devin, who smiled at him and gave him two thumbs up. Eli’s heartbeat smoothed from a frantic thundering to its usual steady rhythm. No one he cared about had been injured. Tension eased along his spine as he walked to the front of the room to check out the professor.

The teacher lay on the floor, his face serene, but lightning had punched a hole through his shirt and burned out a spot where Professor Kalvin’s heart used to be. He wouldn’t be sharing his boring lectures ever again. Guilt swamped Eli. The poor professor hadn’t done him any true harm, and yet he wasn’t the least bit upset over his death. Eli vowed to be a better person. He’d hate to be the one zapped with no one caring if he passed.

No one spoke again for a while until Devin’s voice broke through the heavy silence. “What in the ten hells was that all about?”

Eli shrugged. “Someone’s magic probably got away from them.”

It happened sometimes if a young prodigy lost control. The wards were beginning to fade on a lot of the older buildings. The headmaster had improved the protection on some parts of campus but must not have gotten to this one yet, probably because there weren’t supposed to be any active magic classes scheduled there.

“I thought there weren’t any practice classes here,” Devin said, echoing Eli’s thoughts.

Eli shrugged. He didn’t know all the classes that went on in the building, but something had gotten loose. “I didn’t think so either, but someone’s magic got away from its caster.”

Walking over to the professor’s desk, Eli reached beneath the lip and pressed the emergency button. Each class was equipped with one in case of the school being taken over or a student becoming more than the teacher could handle. Eli knew pressing it would bring help. Some students needed medical assistance and a few of them were obviously in shock, not to mention that something had to be done with the professor’s body. Luckily it didn’t appear as if any of the students had suffered fatal injuries.

Within seconds, a soft pop of air displacement preceded two men in red robes teleporting into the room. They did a quick analysis, then called for more backup. For the next several minutes, medics and campus police continually flashed in and out of the room as they gathered information and samples to determine the cause of the traumatic event.

The campus police requested all students to stay until they got everyone’s statement. The last person to arrive was Headmaster Candine. After consulting with the medics, she beckoned Eli and Porter out of the room.

Eli sighed. He longed for his bed, and to start the day over. If only there were a magical rewind switch.

“What happened here?” the headmaster asked. She stared directly at Eli as if he had had something to do with the electrical attack.

Eli pointed at the door. “Lightning came through there, then shot around the room before vanishing. Ask anyone. I don’t know why it happened, but it did.”

The others were watching him as if he were guilty in some manner. Used to being blamed for pretty much everything, Eli refused to take responsibility for this one. He wasn’t a killer.

He folded his arms across his chest. Eli had nothing to hide, but he wouldn’t be bullied either. Headmaster Candine had a reputation for being fair—why was she staring at him as though he’d done something wrong?

“The other students say you were the one who told them to duck.” She narrowed her eyes as if trying to read his mind.

“Yes.” No point in denying it—there were a dozen other students who would point him out.

“How did you know to do that? Are you clairvoyant?”

Any other school and he would’ve thought the headmaster was being sarcastic. At this university, it could be a genuine condition.

“No, ma’am,” Eli replied. “I only knew because the teaching assistant told me to get down.”

Why didn’t she ask Porter these questions? Instead she kept her gaze on Eli as if he were the only one there. Porter could’ve just as easily told her about the incident. Neither of them knew much.

“What assistant?” Candine asked.

“I don’t know her name. She stands at the front for every lecture and breaks down the lessons so we know what the hell the professor is talking about.”

Candine looked at him as though she’d never seen Eli before in his life. “Eli, Professor Kalvin didn’t have an assistant.”

“Sure, she’s right there.” Eli pointed to where the assistant stood. She looked lost, clutching her signs. Her eyes swept the room as if checking over the students, yet she hadn’t stepped forward and talked to any of them directly. Strange.

“I don’t see anyone,” the headmaster argued.

A shimmering glow appeared beside the assistant and Eli watched as his dead professor introduced himself to her. The two shook hands and exchanged words too quietly for Eli to overhear.

Oh fuck.

Eli just figured out why no one else had seen his helpful lady.

“Never mind. I think she’s a ghost.” Eli’s entire perspective had changed. He could see ghosts. When had that started happening?

Shocked at this new ability, he didn’t even glance at Devin when the triplet patted him on the back on the way out of the door. His head spun with the consequences of his sight. He had necromancer magic. The ability to see spirits was a rare ability. He knew no one else who had the skill. Eli shivered as shock set in.

The headmaster’s mouth dropped open, but she immediately snapped it shut. Her quick recovery earned her some points in Eli’s esteem.

“I think we need to reevaluate your training, young man.”

Eli’s stomach sank. Just as he was becoming used to his schedule, everything would change. But how could he refuse? She was right. If he truly had necromancer powers, he would need extra training. Different training.

Crap!

 

* * * *

 

“I can’t believe you never figured this out before,” Porter said later when they had finally been allowed to return to their dorm room. “I mean, that’s a major power.”

Eli lay on his bed across from his roommate but didn’t comment. The ceiling had turned into a sight of great importance as Eli struggled to deal with his new worldview. Porter was right. What kind of person didn’t know they could communicate with the dead? He guessed his father was right—he really was a moron, but at least now he was a moron with a rare skill. Communicating with the dead took a great deal of magical ability. Eli had never thought of himself as particularly powerful and neither did the rest of his family. He couldn’t remember any other necromancers in his family tree.

Eli started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Porter asked, smiling.

“Father is going to have kittens. I have a bigger power than Frederick.”

Eli’s older brother was the typical overachieving firstborn. He always rubbed it in Eli’s face that Eli had less magic than anyone else in the family. Frederick didn’t have a specialty, but his magical abilities were strong. Father had plans for Frederick to take a political position when he got older. Their father had never made plans of any kind for Eli except for him to go to the school. He probably figured Eli would flunk out, and then he could tell all his powerful friends that at least he’d tried to help his younger son. For Eli’s father, perception was more important than reality.

“You might have ghost mojo, but you still have problems with basic spells,” Porter reminded him.

“I know.” Eli lost some of his enthusiasm. “You’d think if seeing ghosts was a sign of stronger magic, I would have better skills in other areas.”

Eli had never really excelled at his studies. He’d only come to the magical university because his father refused to pay for any other college education. His sons went to his alma mater or not at all. Eli probably would’ve done better studying something nonmagical like computer science or basket weaving or maybe taking up slam poetry.

Porter laughed. “Remember when you made that fireball and almost burned down the potions classroom? Lucky they have a good fire retardant system.”

Eli glared at his friend. “How was I supposed to know that the monkey hair was extremely fresh or that I should’ve used ape instead of chimpanzee? Isn’t monkey hair monkey hair? They should’ve been labeled properly!”

“Uh-huh,” Porter said dryly. “I’m not certain apes are considered monkeys.”

Eli groaned. “I don’t care. I’m too busy freaking out right now.”

Panicky thoughts spun through his head with dizzying speed. How was this going to affect his training? His current educational schedule was created for those who either planned to teach or do research for more powerful wizards. It was often true in magical communities that those who couldn’t perform strong magic taught.

A knock had both of them jerking upright.

“Are you expecting anyone?” Porter asked.

Eli shook his head. Unwilling to admit to his unease, Eli slid off his bed, then walked over and pulled open the door. Eli’s heart tried to leap into his throat like a hyperactive frog.

“Afternoon, Headmaster, Father.” Eli took a step back to let the pair in. What he really wanted to do was slam the door closed and barricade it shut, but he resisted that urge—barely. Seeing his father had never heralded positive things in Eli’s life.

Headmaster Candine entered the dorm room and glanced around. “Afternoon, Elijah, I wanted to check in with you about how you’re doing after your revelation this afternoon. It must’ve been shocking to discover you’re a necromancer.”

“Yes, it was, but I’m fine.” He’d already had a private freak-out, but he didn’t plan on sharing the details with anyone, especially not his father. His parent never appreciated the fact that normal people had feelings.

His father frowned at Eli. Anything other than a stiff upper lip and calm acceptance of his superiority wouldn’t be allowed by a Trenton. Asshole.

“You’ll be changing your schedule right away. I’ve discussed your new classes with the headmaster and we are in agreement.”

A guilty expression flashed across the headmaster’s face as she glanced over at Eli. He bit back the angry reply hovering on his lips. Of course it would never occur to his father to possibly include Eli in any planning over his future. Eli was to do whatever his father decided. For once he felt a pang of sympathy for Frederick… except, as far as Eli could tell, his brother appreciated having their father telling him what to do. After all, it meant less thinking on his part. Frederick couldn’t put a step wrong if their father told him how to take every one.

Eli’s stomach sank. “I’ll still need my History of Magical Studies class,” he pointed out. He refused to give up the one class he shared with Devin. He didn’t know if they would ever get together, but he desperately needed to keep something familiar while everything else about his life changed.

“Yes, yes.” His father waved his hand as if banishing such trivial matters. “But you will be taking enhanced magic classes along with your basics. I’ve called in a specialist to deal with your necromancy.”

“Deal with it?” Sounded like he had a disease rather than a power. Eli rubbed his forehead. He could already feel his temples pulsing. Contact with his father often triggered migraines.

His father beamed with approval at Eli, the first time Eli could recall that happening. “There are only a handful of necromancers in the world, Eli. We want you trained by the best. Alstair Gorman is the leader in your field. He’ll be here tomorrow. He’s going to stay and personally train you for a month. You will have your afternoons free to train with him.”

“Thank you, sir.” Eli knew better than to show anything but enthusiasm. He didn’t know if he’d like these classes or this fancy-ass necromancer, but at least the one bright spot on his schedule of seeing Devin wouldn’t be erased. If he didn’t get that bit of eye candy three times a week, university life wasn’t worthwhile.

“Come by my office in the morning and we can go over your schedule,” the headmaster said.

“I will.” If he didn’t like the classes, he’d be certain to change them again. If he left everything up to his father, he’d end up in all prodigy classes… and flunk out within months.

Candine wasn’t a bad sort. She genuinely seemed to care about the students. Too bad Eli heard she was only an acting headmaster—she didn’t want the job full-time.

“I thought about moving your lodgings to a better location, but it’s too hard to get another private room,” Eli’s father said, eyeing the dorm room with distaste.

Eli wondered what his father thought about Porter. It wasn’t as if he had the room all to himself. Porter sat silently watching the exchanges as if they had nothing to do with him.

The headmaster jumped back in the conversation. “You will be taking Beginning Necromancy along with your private tutor. Maybe we can get some tips from Alstair in case this comes up again. Congratulations on your abilities.” The headmaster rubbed her hands together with glee.

“Um, thank you.” Eli didn’t know if he liked the idea of being so special or not. He didn’t want the attention. He’d learned growing up that being noticed wasn’t always a good thing.

“You’re very welcome, young man. Now I’ll leave you to talk to your father,” she said, as if that were something Eli should look forward to. On her way out, she patted him on the back as if he’d done something brilliant by having necromancy skills.

His father eyed Eli, approval in his cold gaze. After years of seeking his dad’s attention, he now wished the man would just go away. He certainly had no desire to supplant his brother’s spot in his father’s affections. Those two deserved each other. Power-seeking and ruthless, the two men had the same goals in life—taking whatever they could get and stepping on as many people as necessary to get there. Eli wanted nothing to do with them.

“Thank you for coming, Father.” He dredged up his manners but couldn’t put any enthusiasm into his words. After years of neglect, Eli preferred his father’s absence.

His father shrugged. “I was already here to visit Frederick. Good thing, too, or they might have completely mismanaged your magic.”

Eli bit his lip. He probably would have a scar from his teeth marks if his father visited very often. Unmentioned was the fact that Eli would never have known his father was on campus because he certainly didn’t drop in to visit his youngest son.

Porter snorted his disgust on the other side of the room. Eli turned in time to catch his friend rolling his eyes.

“Well, thank you for coming by. I’ll be interested to see what the headmaster has for me tomorrow.”

His father nodded. “I’ll expect a full report of your new classes. I’ve told Alstair where to find you. If there are any problems, he’ll let me know.”

Without bothering with good-byes, Eli’s father turned on his heel and left.

“Wow, he’s a fun guy,” Porter said. “I see he doesn’t care if you’re the one with problems. I don’t know how you turned out to be such a great guy with a father like that.”

Eli shrugged. He’d long ago stopped trying to decipher his father’s behavior. If the man were a proper parent, he’d be more concerned about his child’s mental health. “It would never occur to him to care. If Alstair has a good reputation, my opinion wouldn’t matter anyway.” Resignation filled Eli’s voice. His father had never tried to hide his opinion of Eli. Eli was to do as told and bother his father as little as possible. If Eli ever had kids, he’d make sure they knew they were loved and not a bother.

“What are you going to do?”

Eli shrugged. “I guess I’m going to try out my new classes tomorrow, meet this necromancer, and hope I don’t get myself killed. We both know my other magic is lacking. I’ll get my butt handed to me if they put me in any advanced classes.”

He might not have wanted to go to this school, but he wanted to flunk out of it even less.

Porter put a hand on each of Eli’s shoulders and looked him square in the eyes. “You’ll be fine. If anyone messes with you, you can call upon your legion of dead.”

Eli laughed. “So far my legion consists of a single dead assistant teacher who I don’t think is going to do anything other than help me with my studies.”

“Well, legions should be functional,” Porter said in a practical tone. “Maybe you can build them up as soon as you can figure out which ones are dead.”

“Yes, that would be the tricky part.” Some of the despair always brought on by his father’s presence began to lift. Porter always eased Eli’s concerns. If left to his own devices, he’d be wallowing in self-pity for the rest of the day. “Thanks.”

He knew he didn’t have to say what he was thanking him for when Porter nodded.

“That’s my job as your friend,” Porter assured him. “Your father is an ass—you shouldn’t listen to anything the man has to say.”

“Devin talked to me,” Eli confessed. He plopped down on the bed, smiling. Any contact with the triplet always cheered him up. The more he observed Devin, the more things he found to like about him.

“Of course he did. You just saved his pretty face from a brutal electrical storm. He’d have to be a jerk to ignore you after that. One thing I’ve noticed about the triplets—they’re good guys.”

“I probably need to stop daydreaming about him and concentrate on my studies.” He might do better in his classes if he didn’t spend them thinking about a certain triplet. Now he’d have to work harder than ever. Keeping up would be a full-time job.

Porter smirked. “What fun would that be? You need to get out there and experiment. Sow your wild oats and all that.”

“I’ve always heard that saying. What does it really mean?”

“Um, you know, go out and get crazy because before you know it you’ll be wed and popping out babies.” Porter waved his hand in the air to indicate the vast amount of offspring Eli would be birthing.

A shout of laughter escaped Eli. He held his sides and giggled until tears dripped down his face. He wiped them with the palms of his hands. Damn, he’d needed the release. “I’m pretty sure I won’t be popping out babies with anyone, ever.”

“You don’t know that. You might get a surrogate to do it. There are all kinds of things you can do now. In fact, I would be careful not to mention anything to your father—he might have dreams of you impregnating some girl and having super-necromancers.”

Eli shuddered. “I’d like to have kids one day, but I certainly wouldn’t treat them like my dad treated me.”

Memories of the cold mansion he grew up in sent shivers down his spine. He wouldn’t be returning home. After school, he’d strike out on his own. He didn’t care if he had to work fast-food and live off of burgers and fries. The idea of children with Devin’s gorgeous face flashed through his mind.

Eli shook his head over the stupidity of his thoughts. He had to get Devin to talk to him before he could start planning their future together. They might not even turn out to be compatible.

“Hey, you’ll be great. You’re a mighty necromancer. I think a lot of your problem before was lack of will. You were told your entire life that you didn’t have enough magic to be important. Now we know that’s a lie. You should see what you can do, now that you know you are strong.”

Eli rolled that idea around in his head a bit. A lot of magic involved a wizard imposing his will on whatever spell he cast. “You might be onto something. Maybe if I hone my skills, I can find employment after school. I’d love to have an ability I can make a living at.” Eli hadn’t dared to hope he could find a job in the magical community, but now it could be possible. There were more needs for necromancers than existed true wizards who could talk to the dead. For many reasons, people wanted to talk to the dearly departed, and if Eli could become a bridge between them, he’d be in high demand.

“I think you should strike while the iron’s hot and go ask Devin out.” Porter nodded knowingly.

Eli’s mouth dropped open. “Really?” He couldn’t do it. Devin was a few years ahead of him in school and he exuded confidence. “Are we certain he’s gay? I mean I’ve heard rumors that he’s bi, but I’m not positive. I’ve never seen him with a guy before.” He’d certainly watched Devin enough.

“He is. I heard him talking to his brothers once. I knew you were interested, so I gathered intel.”

“Thanks, Spy Boy, I appreciate that.”

Porter always had the dish on everybody on campus—a bigger gossip Eli didn’t know. Strange since he never saw Porter talking to anyone. Porter might be outgoing with Eli, but he was shy with everyone else.

“You think he’d go out with me?”

“Why not? You’re cute. I mean I’m not partial to redheads, but you have that fresh-faced appeal some guys want to mess up.”

“Um, thanks, I think. I just hope I’m attractive to Devin. It’s not like he’s ever asked me out and I haven’t heard the triplets are shy.”

Porter grabbed Eli’s wrist and pulled him up and off the bed. “Go. Do it now while he’s still thinking of you as the guy who stopped him from being electrocuted. Besides, what’s the worst thing he could do? Say no?”

Eli ran a shaky hand through his hair. “Besides crush me completely? Nothing.”

Welcome Birthday Guest Sean Michael!

First of all – Happy Birthday to Amber Kell!

It’s always fun to participate in Amber’s birthday bash in November and this year we’ve been asked to describe a fantasy party along with what fictional characters we’d like have to accept our invitation. I always hate choosing favorites, but as this is my fantasy party, I guess I can have as many as I want there and maybe that’ll make it easier.

My party would take place in the winter – not only my favorite season, but my birthday is in January, so it suits it too! There would be lots of snow on the ground and it would still be snowing – those big fat flakes that seem to drift down at half the speed of the little ones, and that blanket the world in this quiet that doesn’t exist in any other type of weather. There would be a fire going, great big comfy chairs for everyone to curl up in and lots of white hot chocolate with whip cream on it – and maybe some salted butterscotch in it as well. Oh, and lots of yummy munchies served by beautiful men.

Now who to invite? I’m thinking Thor should be there, along with Bruce Banner from the Marvel Universe – beauty and brains! Robin Hood would be there, too, and he could bring Will Scarlet with him. I’d invite Owen from Jurassic World, and he could even bring Blue as long as she was in a good mood and not feeling hungry! Wesley from The Princess Bride, and Merlin from Le Morte d’Arthur.

To round out the fictional guests – Cade from Ari McKay’s Herc’s Mercs, Galen and Shane from BA Tortuga’s Rain and Whiskey, and my Rock, Rig and Dick from the Jarheads series.

I also reserve the right to add more people as I think of them or encounter them 😉

I have a book that is currently available for pre-order. It’s available for download on December 25 – pre-order it up now, then curl up and read it on Christmas Day! It’s a sweet, kinky story about a man who gets a second chance at love. (And yes, sweet and kinky can co-exist!)

HomeandHeartFS_v1.jpg

Home and Heart

Is it possible to find the heart’s home twice in a lifetime?

Six years ago, Sawyer Burroughs’s life fell apart. His soul mate and husband of four years died of cancer, and he fell into depression… and a bottle. It’s taken six years, but he’s turned his life around and is ready to start again on the other side of the country.

In his new apartment, he’s welcomed by his young and carefree neighbor, Derek, from across the hall. Derek is eager to make Sawyer feel welcome and even offers him a place to stay when Sawyer arrives ahead of his furniture.

The upstairs neighbors are just as friendly, and soon Sawyer finds a place with the friends-with-benefits threesome. He’s not the shy, vanilla lover they think he is, though, and he’s hiding more than a pair of nipple rings. As it happens, the guys have kinky secrets of their own, but for four men to make a BDSM relationship last, they’ll have to figure some things out.

Available for pre-order in ebook and print formats at Dreamspinner Press:

https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/home-and-heart-by-sean-michael-10058-b

In honor of Amber’s birthday, I’d like to give away an ebook of the winner’s choice from my backlist.

Bio:

Best-selling author Sean Michael is a maple leaf–loving Canadian who spends hours hiding out in used book stores. With far more ideas than time, Sean keeps several documents open at all times. From romance to fantasy, paranormal and sci-fi, Sean is limited only by the need for sleep—and the periodic Beaver Tail.

Sean fantasizes about one day retiring on a secluded island populated entirely by horseshoe crabs after inventing a brain-to-computer dictation system. Until then, Sean will continue to write the old-fashioned way.

Sean Michael on the web:

WEBSITE: http://www.seanmichaelwrites.com

BLOG: http://seanmichaelwrites.blogspot.ca

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/SeanMichaelWrites/

TWITTER: seanmichael09

INSTAGRAM:  https://www.instagram.com/seanmichaelpics/

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Day 26!

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Get your copy today! 

Chapter One

Lying in bed, Randall Stewart watched his lover, Sasha Baros, slide on a pair of sexy leather pants.

“Are you sure we have to go?” He winced at the whine in his voice even before Sasha flashed Randy a glare, his light blue eyes expressing his disapproval.

“I thought you’d enjoy receiving my collar on what is considered our most sacred day. There couldn’t be a more perfect time for us to proclaim our bond.”

“I-I do. I mean, I am. I mean, I do want to celebrate our bond,” Randy said, stumbling over his answer. Never had he expected Sasha to see his reluctance to go to the ceremony as a reflection of Randy’s feelings about being collared. How could he explain to this supremely confident man that being the focus of a room full of supernatural creatures made him extremely nervous? He doubted Sasha ever had a single attack of nerves in his long life.

Sasha climbed back onto the bed and crawled across the mattress until he crouched above Randy. Randy gave a moan as his cock hardened from Sasha’s proximity. Damn thing practically performed on command these days.

“No matter what happens, I’m not letting you go.” The rock hard confidence in Sasha’s voice settled Randy’s jangling nerves. “I don’t care what any other vampire, human or werekin says. You are the one for me.”

Randy melted beneath his lover’s certainty. Deep down he knew he belonged to Sasha, even if some days he worried he wouldn’t be able to keep the vampire satisfied through centuries of life. Hell, before meeting the dominating man, he’d barely been able to keep a guy interested in a second date.

A hard kiss from Sasha’s hot, possessive mouth provided the further reassurance he needed.

“Don’t be foolish, my sun. There is nothing to worry about. This is Samhain, the most sacred day for vampires. The only day of the year we can communicate with our dead to receive advice and prophecy.” Sasha made it sound like a positive thing, but frankly, the whole idea creeped Randy out.

He couldn’t think of a single reason he wanted to talk to the dead, but one look at his lover’s expression, and he knew he had to go. It would look bad if Sasha’s pet didn’t attend, especially since the vampire had announced the upcoming ceremony to give Randy his collar. As it was, Sasha choosing a mere human as his permanent mate had more than one vampire doubting the wisdom of their leader’s choice.

“Having the opportunity to talk to ghosts doesn’t really make me want to go,” Randy confessed.

Sasha’s pale eyes glowed with amusement. “Am I going to have to drag you to the ceremony naked?” He slid off the bed and flipped back the covers. “I don’t have any objection to your bare skin, however all the people I’ll have to kill for seeing your naked body might bother you. As a future doctor, aren’t you supposed to do your best to save lives?”

Randy shrugged. “It would give you more people to talk to on the other side. I’m just doing my part for the ceremony.” He gave Sasha an innocent look through his lashes, knowing that particular expression excited his lover.

With a growl, the vampire crawled back up on the bed and pressed his larger frame onto Randy’s. Sasha hadn’t put on a shirt, and Randy gasped as their bare chests brushed together.

Bingo!

Sasha nipped at Randy’s neck. He barely paid attention to his lover’s words as the vampire nuzzled and nipped at his flesh.

“Oh, right there,” he murmured.

Sasha chuckled against Randy’s throat, sending shivers throughout Randy’s body. A second later, a smacking kiss on his lips told Randy their interlude was over. Sasha slid off the bed again.

“You worry too much, my love. It’s not as if you have to speak to the spirits yourself. You don’t have that skill. It takes many years of training and an inherent ability for magic to talk to the dead. I’ve invited a well-known necromancer to act as the facilitator. She’s the only one who will actually be able to communicate with the spirits. Now get your cute ass dressed in the outfit I bought you.“

Randy sighed and climbed off the bed to stand next to Sasha. His new outfit was one of the many reasons he didn’t want to go. He couldn’t seem to find the right words to convince Sasha that he wasn’t the type to successfully pull off the leather pants look. Unlike the gorgeous vampire standing before him, he didn’t exude sex appeal. He was just Randall Stewart, an awkward medical student lucky enough to have the sexiest man on the planet as his mate.

“That’s not true, my love.” Sasha leaned forward and placed a soft kiss behind Randy’s ear, which immediately sent tingles up and down his spine. He made a soft sound as he melted against his vampire. Sasha wrapped his arms around Randy, easily supporting his weight. “I think you are the sexiest man on the planet.”

Randy sighed. He craved Sasha like a drug. Every morning, he forced himself to get out of bed and leave Sasha’s side. Each time the act took more effort. If he didn’t want to be a doctor so badly, he’d stay snuggled next to his vampire mate, forever.

“Tempting, but then we’d miss the ceremony,” Sasha responded.

“That was kind of the point.” Randy smiled.

Sasha smacked Randy’s ass. “Get dressed.”

He made sure Sasha saw his pout before he crammed his body into the tight leather pants and slid the zipper up with special care. The unforgiving fit didn’t allow space for underwear.

Looking up, he caught Sasha licking his lips. “Forget about it,” he warned. “I’m not getting out of these pants until after the ceremony, and even then, it might take a shoe horn and two of your strongest guards.”

Sasha laughed. The vampire smiled more these days, especially after Randy had permanently moved in with him. Sasha claimed it was because he’d found his mate. Smooth talker.

The ruby flashed on Randy’s finger as he slipped on his shirt and fiddled with the buttons. He paused to admire the thick chunky jewelry. He’d tried to return it several times after finding out it had belonged to Sasha’s father. However, his lover only took it back to have it resized before sliding it onto Randy’s finger again.

He’d given up. He realized he couldn’t out-stubborn a vampire. They had all the time in the world to argue. He yanked on his favorite boots. They were comfortable and turned Sasha on whenever he wore them. Something about giving him a badass edge.

“Come, pet, let’s show everyone how beautiful you are.”

Randy rolled his eyes as he followed his mate out of their rooms.

Yeah, he was the beautiful one. He shook his head at Sasha’s blindness.

“I can hear your thoughts, my sun.”

Randy resisted the urge to laugh. As long as Sasha found him attractive, that was the important thing.

“I am the envy of my clan,” Sasha insisted. “No one has a lover as smart and as wonderful as mine.”

“Not that you’re biased or anything.” Randy gave a snort of laughter. No one could persuade Sasha that Randy was less than perfect, even though several people had tried. He’d heard them in the club as they pretended he didn’t exist and tried to sweet talk their way into his lover’s bed. Although it annoyed Randy, he didn’t feel threatened. If Sasha didn’t want Randy anymore, he’d tell him, but he wouldn’t do it by taking someone else to his bed.

As they stepped out into the hall, Randy’s shoulders started to itch. “Do they have to follow me everywhere?”

“Who?” Sasha didn’t even turn to acknowledge his sulky question.

“The fae you have stalking me. Just because they’re invisible doesn’t mean I can’t feel them.”

Sasha stopped and turned to stare at Randy. Randy shifted uncomfortably beneath his searching gaze.

“Have you always been able to sense your guards?”

Randy shook his head. “Only the past few weeks.” Believing it was his connection with Sasha that heightened his senses, Randy hadn’t bothered mentioning it before. Based on Sasha’s expression, perhaps he’d been wrong.

“We didn’t know you could feel us.”

The fae materialized in the hallway and gave Randy the same searching gaze his mate had just gifted him with. The fae guards, Rael and Vallin, towered over Randy as their transparent wings glowed under the dim lights.

“I didn’t used to be able to, but the last few weeks I can tell if you’re around.”

“We will revisit this development after the ceremony,” Sasha said. He wrapped an arm around Randy, pulled him closer and away from the fae, only to have a white wolf trot up to them.

“Hey, Dustin, you coming to the ceremony?” Randy asked the shifter.

The wolf barked.

“Cute.” Sasha glared at the wolf. “You know the only reason I’m letting you attend is because you are the protector of my sun.” He turned to the fae. “You two might as well go home. You won’t be needed. There are enough vampires to protect my lover without your help.”

“As you wish.” Vallin bowed before vanishing, as did Rael. Randy frowned at the empty space. His back still twitched madly. The fae hadn’t left despite their agreement, but if they wanted to attend the Samhain spooky celebration, who was he to rat them out? Sasha had made an agreement with the Unseelie to watch over Randy, but the vampire couldn’t really control them. The fae were a wild breed and always did as they wished. As long as they stayed within the guidelines of their contract, Sasha didn’t complain.

Shaking his head at the two men so they knew he was aware of their presence, Randy followed Sasha out of the club and into the building next door. Apparently, really big ceremonies now took place there. This was Randy’s first time at the warehouse Sasha had renovated. His lover had wanted it to be a surprise. The construction crew had barely finished two days before the scheduled ceremony. They cut the timeline so close Randy thought Sasha was going to have kittens—big saber-toothed ones that spit flames and possibly bit off the heads of tardy construction workers.

Sasha opened the door for Randy and Dustin to pass through, taking the lead again once they all entered. Randy’s booted feet immediately sank into the soft wool rugs covering the floor. Dozens of elegant chairs, couches and tables littered the cavernous interior, and most of them contained a vampire or two. Some sat with their human pets by their chairs, others sat alone.

All the furniture looked antique, as did the elaborate chandeliers hanging from the rafters. Only the open beams above him and the sheer size of the space told Randy this had once been a warehouse. The entire building looked rich, elegant and over-the-top luxurious. It suited Sasha perfectly. Randy played with the ruby on his finger as he followed his mate across the floor.

Looking around, he noticed someone had pulled a group of chairs into a circle leaving an exposed piece of flooring in the middle. Within that circle was another one created with what looked like salt.

Why salt?

Sasha turned to Randy, wrapped his arm around Randy’s waist, and pulled him closer. “We need to contain the spirits once we call them. With the salt circle, we can communicate with the dead without setting them free.”

Randy nodded as if it was perfectly acceptable to want to talk to dead people. He preferred his dead to stay dead and gone, thank you very much. He stuck by his initial assessment of the ceremony—creepy.

Sasha greeted people as they passed, never letting go of Randy the entire time. Randy jumped when a brush of fur slid across his fingers, startling him for a moment. He’d forgotten the shifter had tagged along. With a relieved sigh, he sank his fingers into the wolf’s thick coat. Being kidnapped together had made them close friends. Randy knew Dustin had only come to the ceremony to calm Randy’s nerves and for support, not because the shifter really wanted or needed to attend.

Randy scanned the room quickly, careful to avoid meeting any vampire’s eyes and risk offending someone. He didn’t see Dustin’s mate, Lewis. Since their abduction, the beta of Dustin’s pack had made it his goal to stick close to the smaller wolf shifter. It made for some interesting encounters. Dustin wasn’t particularly happy with the attention, or at least, he pretended not to be. However, Randy had caught Dustin giving Lewis wistful glances when the other man wasn’t looking. He still hadn’t asked Dustin the details of their history. From the few encounters he’d witnessed between them, he could see Dustin couldn’t or wouldn’t get past it to pursue their relationship.

Sasha took his seat in the largest chair in the circle and pointed to the purple velvet-covered pillow by his side. That was one thing Randy still hadn’t gotten used to yet. Vampires considered humans pets, and, as such, seated them on pillows on the floor. Although Randy knew Sasha considered him more of a partner than a possession, it would reflect poorly on Sasha to break tradition and have a human sit beside him in a chair.

Randy didn’t mind too much, and he hated to make waves. Besides, they rarely attended formal events, and when they were alone, Randy sat on the furniture like anyone else. Randy settled on his knees beside Sasha’s chair without comment. He let out a sigh when Sasha sank his fingers into his hair and stroked his head.

“Is everything prepared?” Sasha asked Tian, his right-hand man, as he approached. Dressed entirely in black with his silver hair pulled up and away from his face, the elegant vampire looked sterner than usual. Tian was one of the few vampires, besides Liam, Randy felt comfortable around. The others always looked at him as if wondering if he could become their next meal. Sasha’s bragging about the divine flavor of Randy’s blood didn’t help his nervousness either. He missed Liam. The man’s sense of humor would’ve helped settle Randy’s nerves, but the vampire had gone out of town to visit friends and was celebrating Samhain with them.

Tian raised a brow. “The necromancer is already here.” He beckoned to someone behind him. A figure in black separated from the shadows on the wall and approached. Randy hadn’t seen her when they first entered the building, and from her appearance, he could see why.

Her entire outfit was as black as the night sky while her shadow-colored hair fell to her waist and emphasized her ghost-pale skin. The gaze she turned toward Randy made his stomach churn. Her eyes were entirely black with no whites at all. Spooky. So far, nothing had changed his expectations about this night. It had all the hallmarks of a horror story.

Sasha stood and slid a hand beneath Randy’s arm to help him up also. After making sure Randy was steady on his feet, Sasha faced the necromancer.

With a graceful bow, Sasha took her hand and lifted it to his lips.

“So nice to see you again, Stella.”

The necromancer gave him a cool smile. “Always a delight, Sasha.”

Sasha released her hand and wrapped an arm around Randy’s waist in a show of possessiveness. “This is my mate, Randall Stewart. Randy, this is Stella Nallen, one of the foremost necromancers in the country.”

“Nice to meet you.” Randy gave a polite smile but didn’t offer his hand. Sasha didn’t like it when strangers touched him.

The necromancer took in Sasha’s protective stance and gave Randy a short bow of acknowledgement before turning back to Sasha. “I am ready whenever you are.”

“Excellent.”

Sasha lifted a hand, and the crowd fell silent. “Welcome, everyone, and thank you for coming to celebrate Samhain with us. We are delighted to have Stella Nallen to assist with our celebration this evening. If you want to speak to a particular spirit, please come sit in one of the chairs by the salt circle, and Stella will take your requests when she is ready. We will begin soon.”

Randy peeked at the necromancer from beneath his lashes. He’d learned not to look at vampires directly. They either took direct eye contact as a challenge or an invitation. Were necromancers vampires? He didn’t know anything about necromancers, and from her appearance, he didn’t wish to learn more.

She fiddled with something in her hand as she moved around the circle. Randy noticed her sending him looks from time to time. Finally, Sasha spoke up.

“Is there a problem?” Sasha asked, his voice cool and firm.

“I was looking at your pet. He’s a vibrant creature, isn’t he?”

“Yes. Randy is my sun.”

“Oh, I hadn’t heard.” Surprise laced the necromancer’s voice along with something else, maybe a touch of envy.

“I am very lucky,” Sasha purred. Sasha never resisted the temptation to point out how wonderful he found Randy. Sometimes, it became embarrassing.

“I had hoped you’d share your boy, but I see now that is out of the question.” Randy hoped he hid his relief. He didn’t want to offend, but the thought of her touching him made Randy want to throw up.

“No. I don’t share Randy, ever.” Sasha’s tone left no room for any misunderstanding.

The necromancer sighed. “I figured not. Never mind. I’ll find someone else to help open the ceremony.”

Confused, Randy spoke up. “What did you need me for?”

“I use a drop of human blood to spark the circle and activate the protection shield. Vampire blood doesn’t have enough life essence.”

“How do you get at it?” He shuddered at the thought of her mouth coming anywhere near him.

She held up a pocketknife she’d concealed in her hand.

Randy took a deep breath. “I can do that.” By volunteering, he hoped Sasha would at least feel Randy wanted to participate in the ceremony. Well, the leather pants should’ve really been concession enough, but Samhain was important to Sasha, and Randy didn’t want to put a damper on his vampire’s spooky bonding with spirits. He had years of enduring this day ahead of him. He’d best begin how he planned to continue. Even though vampires as a whole considered Randy the lesser of their pairing, he knew Sasha wanted them to be as equal as possible. Part of that equality consisted of Randy manning up and taking on some responsibility. This looked like a good place to start.

“Are you sure?” Sasha gripped Randy’s chin and forced him to look into the vampire’s eyes. “You don’t have to, my love.”

Sasha’s concerned expression melted Randy’s heart.

“I want to do this for you,” he insisted.

The brilliant smile he received told Randy he’d made the right decision. “Very well, but I will be the one who deprives you of your drop of blood.”

Randy looked down quickly so Sasha didn’t see his smile. Although he donated blood to Sasha all the time, his vampire lover obsessed over every drop.

Sasha looked over at Nallen. “Are you ready?”

Nallen pulled a long red crystal out of her pocket. Randy whimsically thought it looked like a wand. Muttering some sort of gibberish he didn’t understand, Stella held the crystal above the salt circle. The stone made a soft hum and glowed like trapped fire.

“I’m ready when you are.”

Sasha took Randy’s hand and held it to his mouth. A fang slid out of the vampire’s gums and sliced through Randy’s fingertip. He sucked in his breath at the sting. When Sasha bit his neck, it was all pheromones, sex, and orgasm. Biting his finger actually hurt. Holding Randy’s hand over the circle, Sasha squeezed until two drops fell upon the salt.

Ouch!

Nallen muttered a few more words, and a soft whooshing sound filled the air. Red flames lit the circle, flashing up six feet before settling down to a low two-foot barrier.

“Wow,” he whispered, looking at the glowing lights. If he didn’t know they’d made it to keep spirits inside, Randy would’ve thought it a pretty sight. As it was, he tensed at the thought of a circle filled with ghosts.

“Easy, my lover. You’ll be perfectly safe,” Sasha said in a low voice right into Randy’s ear. He doubted anyone else could hear the vampire.

Nallen gave Randy an appraising look. “I should take you with me everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong circle before.”

Sasha held up Randy’s finger and licked the wound. It stopped bleeding immediately as the wound vanished. He wrapped a protective arm around Randy before addressing the necromancer.

“Then consider yourself lucky to have this one time. My lover isn’t available for lease.”

Randy turned his head again to hide his smile. Sasha didn’t know the meaning of subtle. Looking around, he noticed Dustin had settled at the back of the room to guard the door. No one was going to sneak into the warehouse with the guard wolf on duty. Not to mention, the itching hadn’t left Randy’s back. The fae had to be close. He wondered if they’d come to speak to one of their own. After all, he didn’t know much about Unseelie beliefs in the afterlife. He turned his attention back to the necromancer as she spoke to the empty circle.

“People of the Otherworld, I beseech you to come and speak with us. To communicate with the ones you’ve left behind. To share with us your knowledge and answer the questions that plague the living.”

Randy’s mouth dried in terror as misty forms drifted out of the floor. The spirits oozed from its depths like a monster rising out of the sea. Randy forgot how to breathe.

Oh, fuck.

Sasha pulled him closer. “Be calm, my sun. They mean you no harm.”

“Uh huh.” Why did he not believe that? He needed to get the hell out of there, but his feet were frozen to the floor like heavy blocks of ice. As the mist started to separate and form into bodies, Randy’s fear escalated. His hands trembled, and his spine turned to a mass of jelly.

Surely, no one would notice if he broke free and slunk out of the warehouse. Well, no one besides Sasha. He was almost positive his lover would eventually relent and give him his collar anyway, probably, maybe. Hell, he wasn’t sure he even cared at this point if it meant getting away from the spirits forming in the circle.

One face in particular caught his attention, probably because of its eerie resemblance to Randy’s father. For a brief moment, he felt an insane urge to call his mother to find out if his father was still among the living. Surely, she would’ve called Randy if he’d died. He might not see eye to eye on everything with his parents, but they hadn’t completely abandoned him. It wasn’t until the man became clearer and wings formed on his back that Randy realized this wasn’t his farmer dad. The man stood proud and strong, his body growing more and more real before Randy’s fascinated gaze until only a faint silver glow identified him as a spirit instead of one of the living. A crown perched on the man’s head, a subtle circlet proclaiming him someone important. Someone used to having others do his bidding.

Only the wings stopped Randy from proclaiming the man kin. Well, the wings and the fact that the dead king scared the piss out of him. When their eyes met, he gave a gasp, letting out the breath he’d unintentionally held in when the spirits began to arrive.

Randy heard people muttering around him, but it sounded more like a sea of noise than identifiable words. The room spun slightly but steadied when Sasha pulled Randy closer to his side.

“Easy, love.”

Randy straightened. He wasn’t a too-stupid-to-live heroine who needed her strong man to rescue her. Shaking his head at his idiocy, he pulled slightly away from his lover, giving Sasha a reassuring nod he didn’t entirely feel. He also emptied his thoughts so his friendly neighborhood vampire mind reader wouldn’t know he was completely freaked out. Sasha had enough to deal with without his lover having a meltdown. Like he kept telling his parents, Randy was now an adult, and it was time to act like one.

His gaze dragged back to the spirit of the king, oddly fascinated by the dead man. Even though dozens of others floated past, Randy didn’t pay them any attention. His analytical mind tried to determine who the man might have been while living, and how long ago he’d died. The fae lived for centuries, but according to his bodyguards, they weren’t always the most current dressers at court. That placed the man’s death anywhere between hundreds of years to today.

Sasha spoke, breaking into his thoughts. “I’ve got to go deal with idiots fighting over who goes first. Will you be all right by yourself?”

“Of course.”

Nope. Not in the least.

As Sasha smiled at him, Randy realized how far he’d come in blocking his lover’s mind reading.

“I’ll be fine,” he insisted when it looked as if Sasha wasn’t going to move from his side.

He watched with amusement as Sasha beckoned Dustin from his post by the door. The wolf walked up and gave Sasha a puppy dog head tilt. Randy snickered. Dustin could speak into a person’s mind if he felt inclined, but most of the time, he made other people work for it.

“Watch my mate!” Sasha demanded. With a kiss on Randy’s forehead and a nod to the shifter, Sasha left the pair.

“I guess it’s you and me. You can guard me against psycho spirits, and I’ll keep an eye out for Lewis.”

Dustin gave a soft disparaging snort, quite expressive for a canine.

The wolf pack’s beta made a habit out of surprising Dustin with his presence, whether Dustin wanted him around or not. They were supposedly mates, but Dustin fought the bonding to keep his autonomy. Randy sort of understood the stubborn werekin’s point of view, but he never said it out loud. He didn’t want to be fodder for one of the shifters’ famous arguments.

The house vamps had a pool going on how long it would take Dustin to give in. So far, Randy had refused all offers to enter his stake. He thought it was bad karma to bet on other people’s relationships, and negative energy had a way of biting you in the ass. He gave Dustin a friendly pat before looking back toward the circle.

“Damn, I have to remember to stop doing that,” he muttered.

Since Dustin had acted as Randy’s pet when they’d first met, he still had the tendency to pet the shifter or scratch him behind the ears. Dustin didn’t mind, but Randy knew both of their mates certainly did. Although it was Sasha’s fault Randy occasionally still thought of Dustin as a pet, he didn’t want to anger Lewis and start a shifter-vampire war.

Randy gave a start as he looked back to find the spirit king’s eyes on him. With an eerie smile, the king brushed past the others and floated to stand in front of Randy. Only the glowing circle gave Randy any sense of protection against the ghost who stood as close as possible to the bordering flames.

Good evening, child of mine.”

Randy jerked back, startled at the voice in his head. “I’m not your child,” Randy replied stepping away from the circle, certain it was the man before him talking.

“Not directly, but you are definitely one of my descendants.” He tilted his head as he examined Randy. “Mostly watered-down human, but not without redemption.”

Randy took a step back, almost certain he didn’t wish to be redeemed, especially not if it meant coming to the attention of the crowned spirit. Looking around, he saw the necromancer on the other side of the circle, paying no attention to him. She’d be no help.

He turned to seek out Sasha.

His lover stood between two vamps who glared at each other, each looking ready to rip the other’s throat out. Randy sighed. His mate would be no help.

“Is there a problem?” The necromancer drifted forward, her feet hidden by the long dress she wore. For a moment, he felt a mad urge to see if she actually had feet.

“You’re sure they can’t get out of there?” Randy asked with an eye on the spirits.

“Of course, I’m sure.” She turned to the spirits with a proud expression on her face. Randy could tell she liked her job, but then if your job entailed raising the dead, there were probably few perks. She gave Randy what she probably thought was a friendly smile, but it made an iceberg lodge in his chest. “If you tell me your question, I can pose it to the spirits.”

“Um, why can’t I talk to them myself?” Randy wondered if he’d committed some sort of supernatural faux pas by talking to the king. Was it bad manners to talk to them directly?

Stella laughed, a surprisingly appealing sound from such a scary-looking woman. “Because only necromancers can talk to spirits.” She patted him on the shoulder like a not-too-bright child. Dustin growled and bared his teeth.

The necromancer snatched her hand back. “Sasha does keep you on a tight leash, doesn’t he?”

“Yep.”

Randy had no problem being watched over. He’d already been captured once, and Ustin, Sasha’s psychotic brother, still hadn’t been found. If Sasha wanted Randy guarded, he didn’t have any objections at all.

“She’s an idiot.” The fae king’s dry voice made Randy hold back a snort of laughter. There really wasn’t anything funny about the situation, since apparently, he wasn’t supposed to understand the ghosts.

The necromancer turned her freaky eyes toward the spirits. She must have said something to the king telepathically, but Randall only heard the king’s reply.

“Or what?” the fae king taunted.

Randy didn’t particularly like the king’s spirit, but the ghost did have a point. What could she do?

The king laughed at something the necromancer said. Randy thought the spirit was going to rat him out as the ghost glanced over at him.

At that moment, Sasha returned to Randy’s side.

“Miss me?” he asked.

“Of course.” Usually Randy would’ve teased Sasha, but with the ghost and necromancer looking on, he really had missed the presence of his lover. Sasha made him feel safe.

Stella broke into Randy’s thoughts. “Are you ready to speak to the spirits, dear Sasha?”

Sasha nodded and, with his arm around Randy, turned to address the crowd. “Thank you to everyone for coming today. After you’ve had a chance to commune with your spirits, I hope you’ll stay and watch the bonding between my pet and myself.”

A warm glow filled Randy as he saw the adoration in Sasha’s eyes.

“Aww, isn’t he cute?” Randy ignored the dead king’s sarcastic tone and smiled at his lover. As much as he wanted to receive Sasha’s collar, he really wanted to get the hell out of the freaky building with its scary ghost circle.

Sasha rubbed Randy’s back as if he knew Randy’s nerves were shot. “In a few hours, we can be out of here and enjoy our newly sanctioned relationship together.”

Randy knew he would clutch onto those words to get through the evening.