Monday, December 28, 2009

The Lonely War excerpt by Alan Chin

Like most war novels, The Lonely War envelops all that is unique to war, the horror of battle, overcoming fear, the cruelty of soldiers, the loyalty and camaraderie of men caught in a desperate situation. Yet, it stands alone in two important ways. First, it is a passionate story about a tender love developing between an officer and an enlisted man, revealing a rare and dignified portrait of a couple struggling to satisfy desire within the confines of the military code of conduct. Even more importantly however, it describes the heart-wrenching measures of how much one man will sacrifice to save the life and reputation of the man he loves.

The Lonely War
Publisher: Zumaya Publications, LLC (November 12, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1934841447
ISBN-13: 978-1934841440

April 29th, 1942
0200 hours

On the fourth night out from Bora Bora, Andrew's exhaustion catapulted him into a deep and dreamless sleep that restored his strength. At 0200 hours, Lt. Hurlburt tugged on his shoulder and told him it was time to gear up. He stirred and, opening his eyes, had the most peculiar sensation--his bunk gently rocked back and forth. The compartment rode comparatively smooth, and the only sound was the rumble of the engines.

He untied the ropes holding him to the mattress and bounded out of bed. He pulled on his borrowed marine outfit--green T-shirt and skivvies, fatigues and combat boots. But before pulling on his over-gear, he removed the shoestrings from his navy boondockers and tied them together, then tied the shoestrings to both ends of his flute and slung it across his shoulder, carrying it under his green jacket like a hunting bow.

His loose-fitting clothes felt awkward. He took a moment to reconsider his decision then chased the thought away with a shake of his head. He climbed into a life-vest, cinched the straps tight and covered his head with a metal helmet. The helmet, like his borrowed fatigues, was too big--the front edge dropped down over his eyes. He had to tilt his head back in order to see.

On deck, he saw the sea running slightly rough, with long ground-swells. The sky pressed low, a blanket of gray clouds. He felt a peculiar quality in the blackness that surrounded him.

Now that the storm had passed, most of the men were again sleeping topside, their cots spread across the deck. Chief Baker ambled among them, shaking them to consciousness.

Andrew joined the marines for a breakfast of eggs laid over rare beefsteak, fried potatoes and mountains of crispy toast. He had no taste for red meat, but he chowed down, knowing this would be his last real meal for months. He ate his fill, sopped up the egg yolks with a piece of toast and washed it down with strong coffee.

Hurlburt entered. "I want everyone to leave their brain buckets behind. I don't want anyone jeopardizing this operation with a clank of a chin strap or your helmet thudding against a tree branch."

Andrew was only too happy to shed his helmet. He wished he could shed the whole mission and stay with Mitchell, but that was not an option.

At 0300 hours, they filed out of the mess hall and geared up. The marines lined up on the quarterdeck for debarkation while Baker supervised the lowering of the black whaleboat. Mitchell walked up to Andrew, who stood at the end of the line.

"Well, sir, I guess this is it," Andrew said.

"Wish you'd change your mind."

Andrew gave him a nervous grin. "'In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility/But when the blast of war blows in our ears/Then initiate the actions of a tiger/stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood/disguise fair nature with hard-favor's rage.'"

At that moment, he didn't know where the words were coming from, but he tried to gain strength from them, if only for long enough to climb into the boat and leave Mitchell behind.

Mitchell blinked once, looking like the entire world had imploded before his eyes.

"I'll miss your Shakespeare," he said with a slight tremble in his voice. "Well, then, do what you're told and keep your head down. I'll do everything I can to bring you back."

"Thank you, sir." He shrugged, smiled weakly. He reached into his pocket and extracted a string of prayer beads, all bunched into a ball. He pressed them into Mitchell's hand. "Something to remember me by."

Mitchell unballed the beads, took off his hat and slipped them over his head, letting them fall around his neck. As their cool smoothness pressed against his throat, he seemed embarrassed, as if he realized he should have brought something to give Andrew.

Silence. A thousand luminous thoughts raced through Andrew's head, but he couldn't make himself voice a single one.

Mitchell also seemed to stall for time, as if fearful of his own ineptness, even more of the approaching separation.

Andrew imagined himself leaning into Mitchell's solid mass, kissing him right on the mouth with all the tenderness and love he could muster. The thought made him feel wildly alive, breathless. The tips of his ears burned, and his head spun. He couldn't restrain himself any longer. He leaned towards the officer, lips pursed.

Mitchell quickly held out his hand, stopping him cold. Andrew grasped that hand, clung to it as the marines moved forward and clambered down the debarkation net two at a time.

They stayed together all the way to the net, and Mitchell stood on the quarterdeck to watch him slip aboard the whaleboat. The six oarsmen manned their stations on the thwarts. Ogden, acting as coxswain, stood at the tiller. Andrew was the last man into the boat. He sat next to recently freed Hudson, who was one of the oarsmen.

"Let fall."

The oars came down to a foot above the surface.

"Give way together, boys."

The oars dug into the water, and the boat slid into the blackness. Working with sharp, sweeping movements, the rowers strained to haul the boat across a mile and a half of water. The marines sat with rigid backs. Black shoe polish covered their faces; their M1 rifles pointed skyward, and their ammunition belts hugged their waists. They all peered forward, trying to see through the inky night.
Only Andrew looked at the ship. He knew Mitchell was standing on the bridge, binoculars pressed to his face, following their progress. He tried to imagine how the officer looked as he strained to see him. He stared at the ship, gray superimposed on the night sky, until it merged with the blackness and he could no longer distinguish its outline.

He wished more than anything he had brushed passed that outstretched hand and kissed the officer on the mouth like he'd meant to, even with everyone watching. He'd had that one last opportunity to show Mitchell how deeply in love he was, to share a loving gesture he could carry to his grave, but he'd let fear snatch it from him. Coward, he thought. I'm such a coward.

* * * *

The roar of surf grew progressively louder, until the whaleboat reached the area beyond where the waves swelled up and toppled over as they raced towards shore. Ogden signaled, and the oars were lifted out of the water to hang in mid-air while he studied the beach for the best possible landing site.

Beaching the boat in heavy surf was hazardous, even in daylight. If the boat should lean sideways to the wave even a smidgen, they would do a loop-the-loop and jettison the men from the boat. If they capsized, every man would have a hell of a time swimming through the breakers. The marines would have an especially difficult time, weighed down as they were by their weapons and packs.

Beads of sweat ran down Ogden's face. After two minutes of straining to see the topography, he took hold of the tiller. The oarsmen, all facing the stern, collectively braced their legs and took a firm grip on their oars.

"We'll take her straight in from here, boys," he whispered. He turned to see a wall of water speeding at them that was tall enough to block his view of the sea behind it. "Give way together and give it everything you've got."

Six backs bent, and six bodies stretched towards the bow, away from the oncoming wave. The boat drove smartly towards the beach. The stern rose on a gargantuan wave, and the boat went perpendicular as it crawled up the concave front of the monster. It seemed to hang there, cresting the immaculate white foam. The crew rowed at a frenzied pace as they flew towards shore.

Water sprayed Ogden's face, and the salty mist blinded him. Maneuvering on instinct alone, he deftly guided the whaleboat through the surf. He blinked until his vision returned, just as another liquid monster was about to thunder down on them.

"Put your backs to it--Christ! I'm out here with a bunch of fucking pussies."

The boat gained momentum, and by the time the next wave scooped down, they were far enough in front of it to keep from being swamped. Once again the boat lifted above the raging foam and was thrown towards shore like a spider being flushed down a toilet.

When the boat scraped sand, Ogden ordered, "Trail oars!" in his normal voice. The six oarsmen hauled their paddles in and jumped over the side into waist-deep water. They seized the gunwales and hauled the boat high onto the beach. The marines leaped overboard, and spread out with rifles drawn to form a perimeter.

Unexpectedly, the night shattered with the sound of a shot. The noise echoed from above, at the top of the cliff. Everyone froze. They waited crouched, anticipating a second, but only the waves pounding onto shore and the wind whistling up the cliff face disturbed the silence.

Ogden signaled Hudson, and the big man passed the communications gear to waiting hands. The sound of two more shots reverberated down the cliff. It was time to move out, and Hurlburt signaled his men. They heaved the communications equipment to the base of the cliff, leaving Andrew and the other sailors to push the whaleboat into the surf.

Before they could move the boat, a red flash lit up the sky several miles east of the island.

Ogden hissed, "What the fuck?"

A roar grew louder and louder until an explosion ripped open the Pilgrim's superstructure. More flashes lit the night sky. Funnels of water erupted all round the ship. The men on the beach watched, each holding his breath. Another shell blasted into the Pilgrim, and a huge fireball billowed above the ship.

The Pilgrim began to cut through the water. Her five-inch guns belched return fire.

Hurlburt raced towards the sailors, shouting, "Get that boat out of the water and follow me. We've got to take cover. This will bring every Jap on the island down on us. Move it!"

A fiery blast shredded the Pilgrim's bridge and conning tower. Another shell sheared off a section of the bow, and a tremendous explosion cleaved the forecastle apart. A second fireball soared skyward. A heartbeat later, the Pilgrim nosedived into the churning sea.

The sailors on the beach watched as their ship began to go down with little hope for the hands aboard.

"We've got to help them," Andrew screamed. He tried to push the whaleboat into the surf, but Hurlburt grabbed him by the shoulder and hurled him backwards onto the sand.

"We have to save ourselves before we're spotted."

A marine ran up with his weapon at the ready. Again, Hurlburt ordered the crew to beach the boat and follow him inland. The sailors all glared at Ogden, who stood petrified, gazing out to sea where the submerging Pilgrim blazed.

Panic seized Andrew. He leaped to his feet and tackled the marine with the Tommy gun. In a desperate rage, he wrestled weapon away from the marine and aimed it at Hurlburt's chest. His hands trembled, and beads of sweat erupted across his brow.

"Lieutenant, take your men and get the hell lost. We're saving what's left of our crew."

Hurlburt rested his hand on the Browning .45 holstered to his hip. "And if I don't?"

"I'll kill you, and anybody who tries to stop us."

"You're a pacifist. You won't hurt anyone."

Andrew lowered the Thompson's muzzle and squeezed off a short burst. The sand flew up inches from Hurlburt's boots. The sound rang in his ears as he pointed the muzzle at the Marine commander's chest again.

"Are you willing to bet your life on my convictions?" He said this so flatly he was sure nobody would detect the terror hiding beneath the words.

The color drained from Hurlburt's face; his mouth twitched. He searched Andrew's face intently. What he found apparently convinced him Andrew was serious, because he took his hand off his weapon and signaled his men to disperse.

Before he left, he said, "Waters, if we both survive this, I'm going to see you courtmartialed. You're looking at twenty to life." He raced after his squad. As soon as he reached the cliff, he began to climb.

The sailors hauled the whaleboat into the surf and manned the oars. Andrew jumped in at the last moment and sat in the center of the boat, trembling.

Hudson patted him on the shoulder. "Guts! That took a ton of guts! You're a better man than the rest of us pussies put together! That's two I owe you."

Fighting down the acid bile at the back of his throat, Andrew glanced at the Thompson still clutched in his hand and tossed it overboard. ( articles)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Secret Keeper excerpt by Dorien Grey

In Dorien Grey's The Secret Keeper, PI Dick Hardesty returns! He listens with polite interest to his partner Jonathan's stories of his days working for 90-year-old multimillionaire Clarence Bement, helping the old man tend his garden. But when Bement is found dead, an apparent suicide, Jonathan is adamant that the old man would never have killed himself, a theory also held by Bement's grandson, Mel Fowler.

When Mel hires him to investigate, Dick learns Bement's lawyer also died mysteriously barely a week before Bement. He finds himself immersed in a world of greed and familial dysfunction, searching for a missing new will, and Jonathan becomes the target for someone who believes the old man entrusted him with a secret Jonathan is not aware he has.

The Secret Keeper
Zumaya Publications, LLC (December 10, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1934841420
ISBN-13: 978-1934841426


“You know, I’ve been thinking. Maybe now’s a good time to make a trip back to Wisconsin to see your dad and your sisters.”
We’d talked several times about his desire to take Joshua back to visit family. He hadn’t been back since he came to us, and while he spoke to his grandfather and/or aunts every month or so, Jonathan didn’t want them to become just voices on the phone.
“You deserve a little time off,” I said. “You said the other day that work was a little slow at Evergreen. Your boss would probably be willing to have you take some time off. You’ve got some vacation time coming, and now would be a perfect time to go, while you don’t have any freelance jobs.”
He was quiet for a few moments, thinking. “It would be nice to go back home for a while,” he said at last. “I’d like you to meet my family.”
I smiled. “I’d like that, but I think I’d better stay around and hold down the fort. Besides, this is a family thing.”
“You’re family,” he said.
“I appreciate that,” I said, “but this will be your first trip home with Joshua, and I’d just be a distraction. I’ll go with you next time.”
“But it won’t be a vacation without you,” he objected.
“You’ll have another week coming,” I said. “We can all go somewhere together then.”
“Well, I don’t know. I just don’t like going anywhere without you.”
“I know, and I’ll miss you, too. But I definitely think you should go.”
The program resumed, and we went back to watching.
At the next commercial, he said, “Yeah, I suppose now would be a good time to go home. When do you think we should go?”
“The sooner the better,” I said. “How about this Thursday?”
He looked at me suspiciously. “The day after tomorrow? Are you serious? No way I could leave that soon! I have to clear it with my boss, see if Dad will be able to pick us up, pack, let the gang know. All sorts of stuff. Maybe Saturday, that way I won’t miss more work than I have to.” He turned
to face me full-on. “Something else is going on here. Tell me.”
He deserved the truth. My trying to protect him with evasions and half-truths hadn’t worked, and he was right to resent my trying.
So, I told him.
“Look,” I said, trying to appear as casual about it as I could, “if—and that’s a big if—you’re right about Clarence Bement’s not having committed suicide, that means somebody killed him. And if whoever did it knows you and Mr. Bement talked a lot, it’s not impossible he may think Mr.
Bement told you something he shouldn’t have.”
“But he didn’t!”
“You and I may know that, but the guy who called you to come out to a deserted stretch of road doesn’t.”
“So, it wasn’t a stone that broke my windshield.” It was more a statement than a question.
I shook my head. “Afraid not.”
“And if I hadn’t swerved to avoid that pothole—”
I reached over to take his hand, entwining our fingers.
“But you did,” I said, “and that’s what matters.” I squeezed his hand. “Look, we can’t be sure about any of this. The window could have been an accident and your being followed a coincidence.”
“But you don’t think so.”
“Hey, I’m a private investigator. I see bad guys lurking behind every tree whether they’re there or not. But just to be safe, I want to look into it further, and I’ll be able to do that a lot easier if I don’t have to worry about you while I’m doing it.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?”
“Trying to protect me. I do appreciate it, but I really can take care of myself.”
“I know you can, Babe, and that’s not the issue. It’s not even a question of just you and me. We have Joshua to think about now, too. Just in case there is a real problem here, we can’t let him be involved. I can’t help but worry about you and try to protect you—that’s what I’m here for. So humor
me. Look on it as my being selfish—by protecting you, I’m protecting myself. You’d do the same for me.”
He smiled. “Of course I would. But I’d try not to be so obvious about it.”
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Dirty Words excerpt by M. Christian

In this story, Casey, the Bat from the collection Dirty Words, M. Christian displays his gift of erotica. With more than 300 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites, he is also the editor of 20 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, and others. He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, Licks & Promises, Filthy, Love Without Gun Control, and Rude Mechanicals; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, and Painted Doll.

Dirty Words
Publisher: Lethe Press (Reprint edition January 3, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1590211243
ISBN-13: 978-1590211243


Casey, the Bat

The ballpark was a riot of sensoria. Nothing would stay fixed, would stick in the mind--there was just too much. Overload. A picture a thousand words? Try a thousand pictures, a hundred thousand pictures. Not enough words, anywhere, ever written, to describe the park that day.

Till, that is, Barrows was tagged at first. Then, just one word would suffice--a singular word that hovered, heavy and absolute ... at least in the confines of the park: Like the sweet stink of lemonade, the buttery crispness of popcorn, the meaty tang of hot dogs, the bitter mists of fresh beers hissing open on that afternoon, failure was in the air.

A scattered few, having lost the faith, bowed their heads and slipped away, as if sneaking out of church when the Vicar started reading hellfire--not wanting to see Mudville’s shame roared from the stands.

The crowd roared its disappointment as Flynn let drive a single, then Blake tore the cover off the ball and they ran down the white lines. But when the dust had settled, and everyone saw what had occurred, there was Johnnie safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Cataclysm! A bellowing roar from the beast of hope, a throaty call from 5,000--an echoing rumble that bounced up the hilltops and down into the dells. The sound broke, forming sounds the ear could hear, the mind comprehend, a chanting cry: “Casey! Casey! Casey! Casey!”

But then the sound died down, fading into the dying afternoon. The batter’s box lay empty, the team looked confused: Casey, where was Casey? Now that it was almost his turn at the plate--

The sound bounced and warped and turned and flew--but down it couldn’t quite reach, down it couldn’t quite go. Casey ... see Casey, he was otherwise detained. Down in the Mudville locker room, the sound couldn’t reach--but even if it had, even if it could, it was doubtful whether Casey, the Mighty Casey, would have heard those voices.

For Casey, Mighty Casey, was down there--and at bat.

Rogers was at second, his great member enflamed and hard--stroking it slow and steady in and out of Casey’s mouth; and Martin was at home, tremendous dick pumping hard, pumping fast in Casey’s so-tight ass.

Fernandez was on first, cock pulsing in Casey’s mighty fist; and Jones was at third--his own long, thin member wrapped tight in Casey’s mitt.

Casey, Mighty Casey, the pride of the Mudville nine, moaned a fright train’s dirge as if lumbering up some insane hill--a bellowing of pleasure, a bull’s roar of staining pleasure as cocks slid in and out, pistons hammering from fleshy engines, from his mouth, his ass. In accompaniment, in perfect balancing performance, two great members were also in his sweaty palms, and he stroked them--did Mighty Casey--as he was fucked from in front, and behind.

Fans, yes, they would have been stricken--shocked and ashamed--but this side of their Mighty Casey, uniform around his ankles, asshole all inflamed. But not for his activity would they be so disappointed, not for his mouth-sucking, asshole-fucking, would they be outraged. No, their curses, their anger, their fear wouldn’t be for the man-love of their Mighty Casey--for many such things were simple Saturday nights, ways of passing the country hours, something to do that was as much a pastime as sitting in the stands watching their beloved Mudville nine--but rather they would be displeased not in the activity taking place that summer day, but because Casey--yes, Mighty Casey--was doing so with the other team.

“CASEY, CASEY, CASEY --” their cheers increased, now echoing down the concrete tunnels, making a perfect music for the sucking and fucking there. “CASEY!” As dick slid down Casey’s throat, hairy balls smacking into his drool-slick chin, fat cock-head tickling the back of his throat, whispering “gag” to him, but ignored in the joy of dick-in-mouth. “CASEY” As cock hammered back and forth, in and out, to and fro in his puckered asshole, nether lips wrapped around long muscle, milking come from a so-hard member. “CASEY” as the mighty pulled, stroked, twisted, pulled, yanked, at the cock in his right hand. “CASEY” as he did the same to the other in his left, feeling it jump and throb in his hand with each motion, each action.

“CASEY” The Coach, the dear Coach, of the Mudville nine was wont to say, that a team is not just men, together, but men, together, acting as one man. Casey, the star of the team, the man to whom the other Mudville players looked up to with respect and awe, would have agreed--a team working well is one man, and that day, in that room, Casey and those men were one man: a man with a great throbbing dick; a man with a pulsing, gripping asshole; a man with lips straining around cockflesh, swallowing meat; a man with his cock in his hand; a man with his hands on many cocks. They were a squirming, fucking, sucking unit down there in the Mudville locker room that day--the coach would have been proud of their unity, their grace of movement, their passion for the game ... though he, too would have been distressed over Casey’s choice in playmates.

In and out, in and out, the machine of men worked--fluids of pleasure dropping with heavy weight to the tough concrete floor. Come and sweat, spit and other stuff slicked the floor, made it gleam as their perspiration made their tight, hard bodies gleam. A well-oiled machine, at that, a slick and salty engine of pumping and being pumped, an athletic performance of the highest caliber.


As a single mechanism they moved, they worked, they played. As a single unit they plunged, stroked, sucked, licked, and all of that, together, combined. To the pounding chorus of a stadium demanding, hammering, and cheering for their mighty hero, the gleaming Casey and his rivals churned and rocked, moved and moaned. Cocks in hand, cocks in mouth, cock in ass--fucking, getting fucked, the locker room rang with the meaty slap of flesh in, and on, flesh. To that thunderous cheer of hope and praise, Casey--the Mighty Casey--got reamed and sucked, fucked and done by the dreaded, and very hard, bats of the other team.

Then, there, with his name on all those lips and his cock in a single set, the coming came. Jets, splurts and sprays. Quakes, quivers and gushers. Geysers, splashes, and earthquakes. Sweet, sticky ejaculate erupted from a half-dozen iron dicks, cascading onto Casey’s--Mighty Casey’s--perfectly honed muscles, shaking as his own brilliant orgasm blasted fireworks, and rang loud gongs in his ears.

Coming, coming, coming, they came--jizz and sweat, salt and sweet, mixed in their valleys and creases. It leaked from firm lips, trickled from puckered assholes, dropped from between shivering fingers.


The thunder above mixed with their thunder below--a booming applause to the power of man juice, the blasting eruption of orgasm.

Sleep reached up and grabbed hold of Casey--a heavy, soft weight, promising rest, promising dreams. But something intruded, and despite his aching muscles, his draining strength, the great man pushed--ah, but gently--his playmates aside, listening with half an ear to the exhausted, meaty impacts of their tired bodies hitting the too-hard floor.


Into his garments he struggled, arms into sleeves, legs into legs. As the other team slipped, collapsed down into a Goya tableau of exhaustion, their trained muscles sprung by the rapid release of joy, the legend climbed a small, personal mountain--by climbing into his uniform.

“CASEY! CASEY!” came their prayer, their chant, their worship--a thousand feet stamping, a thousand hands clapping, a thousand Mudvillians screaming for their baseball savior, their batting messiah to appear.

Then, emerging after what seemed like three days--and certainly felt like resurrection--he came: a smile, broad and true, on his lips, a swagger in his mighty hips, a great bat resting on his shoulder, up from the darkness and into the light.

A riot before, revival after. The crowd rose in salute to Casey, Mighty Casey, stepped out onto the field. True, the bases were against them, the game looked lost, but their hope was magic, their love for Casey all. Their cheer at his arrival to the plate was the joyous noise of hope.

Casey allowed their adoration to drum around him, humbly doffing his cap in a return salute, turning to see them all and allow them to see, before raising a great hand, to bring the sound down, down, down to the softness of sounds: the subtle whispers of confidence.

Confidence, yes, because while the bases were against them and the game all but lost, Casey, Mighty Casey had stepped up to the plate.

Swinging his bat--no, gentle reader not the one just minutes before had been serviced by the other team--he glanced cool intent at the pitcher on the mound, as if daring him to throw anything his way, let alone the ball.

“Strike!” came the umpire’s call as the catcher caught the throw. The crowd was stunned, aghast, but Casey was still strong. They saw this in their hero, the legend of their town, and still they cheered him, rooted him on.

“Strike two!” was the second cry as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt. What is this, the fans seemed to say, what could this mean? Was Casey, their Mighty Casey, going to let them down?

Ah, but faith is a powerful thing, and their hope only wavered, but did not fall. As the pitcher spun his arm, took deadly aim, the crowd bellowed out the crack, the screaming hit, long before their great Casey swung his bat. They saw the ball go flying, they saw it sail away. They knew their hero, the Great and Noble Casey, had saved the day--and the game--again.

“Strike three!” What was this--their aghast and denial a thunderous cry--Casey had missed again. Slowly, so very slowly, they realized this for truth, that their Mighty Casey had fallen to the pitcher’s throw.

For the Mudville fans that day, the game was over--a winners joy not theirs. Slowly they walked with sorrowful steps into the chilly night, sadness anchoring them down to the harsh, cruel world. No smiles on their lips, no cheer from their throats, for Casey--their once-Mighty Casey, had let them down at the plate.

But what of their once-hero, the legend of the bat? He, you see dear reader, was no where to be found. Not in the club, not on the street, not in the bars, and not at his home.

Their Casey had gone, vanished without a trace--and his absence, with the loss of the game, weighed heavily on Mudville that day.

Sadness, though, was not completely the order of the day. For Casey, their Mighty Casey, was back in that locker room--smiling broad and wide, at bat once again: taking and delivering in asshole, mouth and hand. One game over, maybe a defeat, but another just starting--where everyone would win.

For there was--at least for the Mighty Casey--some joy in Mudville that day.
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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Phoenix excerpt by Ruth Sims

The setting for The Phoenix by Ruth Sims is London, mid-1890’s.

Brought up in a strict faith in which theatre was only one of many evils, Nick Stuart, a young doctor dedicated to helping the poor, is dragged by friends to see “Hamlet.” He goes reluctantly, prepared to recoil in disgust at the playacting decadence. Instead, he finds something he could never have imagined—a man who takes his breath away and steals his heart: the intensely charismatic actor, Kit St. Denys. Nick’s first step into a theatre is an event that will soon change many lives and lead to tragedy and sacrifice.

The Phoenix
Lethe Press (2009)
ISBN: 978-1590210468


For several days Nick tried to put the experience out of his mind, tried to feel contempt for the shallow, imaginary world of theatre. He dealt with reality, with sickness and injuries, births and death. There was no room in his life for the frivolity of make-believe. And then, in his mind, there would come the image from the theatre poster.

He returned to the theatre night after night, sitting in the cheapest seats, paying for admittance with money that ought to have gone for food. It was more important to be there in the dark and absorb the beauty and power of Kit St. Denys, even though he was so far from the stage it was like watching moving dolls. He was astonished that, even so far away, he could hear every word. Every night he thrilled to the same lines delivered by the same voice but always with some slight difference in inflection or emotion. He watched no one else on the stage. If Hamlet were offstage Nick was impatient until he returned.

The theatre might well be an abomination. He no longer cared. He sat there in the dark and spun fantasies. Without knowing he was doing it, he prayed for a miracle: that he might speak to St. Denys. On closing night the miracle happened.

The last act this time was more lifelike than ever when Hamlet’s foot slipped and he felt on his back. He was up again in an instant, battling for his life, not missing a word or a step. Even from so far away, Nick thought he saw blood darkening the back of Hamlet’s fair head.

By the time the last curtain call had been made it was obvious he was injured. Every time he straightened from a deep bow there were red, shiny streaks on his face. Finally, St. Denys said calmly, “Ladies and gentlemen, we achieved an usual level of realism tonight. I have need of a physician. If one will come to the dressing room…”

While the chattering crowd streamed toward the doors, Nick pushed against the flow to find his way backstage, praying he got there before any other doctor who had been in the audience. He was guided to a dressing room where St. Denys sat, pale even through the stage makeup. It was almost shocking to see him up close—a tall, living, breathing man and not a child’s doll. A wizened little man held a red-soaked folded cloth against the back of his head.

“I’m—I’m a doctor,” Nick said, and heard the old man say unnecessarily, “The doctor is here, Mr. Kit.”

Nick took a deep breath and leaned close to the bleeding wound. “I need water,” he said. “A lot of it. I don’t think it’s as serious as it looks.” The little man quickly produced water and more cloths. Nick gently cleansed the wound and was relieved to find it was as he suspected—a minor injury but producing a great deal of blood. One side of the actor’s face was bloody as was the back of his neck. Nick concentrated on the injury itself, seeing it as a disembodied entity and not as something that was part of this creature who had disturbed his thoughts. Briskly, he said, “I need to send for my medical bag. This wants a stitch or two.”

“No time,” St. Denys said. “I’ve a wrap party to attend. I had the wardrobe mistress bring needles and thread.”

“Mr. St. Denys, with all due respect, that’s asking for infection.”

“Sew it.”

Nick hesitated. The needle could be sterilized in a candle flame but not much could be done about the thread. Reluctantly, he sterilized the needle, washed the thread and his hands in the basin the old man produced, and made the three stitches that closed the wound. Throughout the procedure St. Denys uttered not one sound. “There,” Nick said. “Finished. Rest for a day and if you find yourself with a severe headache or dizziness contact your own physician as soon as possible.”

St. Denys winced and smiled slightly as he turned his head and looked up at Nick. “I already have a headache,” he said. “Does that count?”

Nick looked down into dark eyes that saw into his soul. Something stopped in that instant. Time? His heartbeat? He didn’t know. He knew only that something stopped and something began.

St. Denys’ gaze held Nick’s. His lips parted as if to say something important, and then he said, “I no longer have a physician on call. I dismissed the last one this morning. Perhaps I could persuade you to join us at the cast party, and then you should be there in case I fall on my arse again, Dr. …”

Nick hesitated. “I think you should not go, yourself. You really should rest.”

“I shall rest when I am dead. Please come.”

Nick felt himself weakening. He prayed St. Denys did not notice his general shabbiness. “I couldn’t. Thank you. I begin work early.” But wouldn’t it be worth losing sleep to spend another hour or two in this man’s presence? And of course, he would be there in case St. Denys had a problem as a result of the fall…

St. Denys rose from the chair, weaving slightly on his feet for an instant. “I must speak with the theatre manager before he leaves. Give some thought to the party while I am gone. You know you’d never forgive yourself if you read in the newspaper that I collapsed during my wrap party.” He grinned and Nick dissolved inside. St. Denys left the room without waiting for an answer.

I can’t go, Nick thought. I can’t. Neither was he going to sit there like a smitten serving girl and wait for St. Denys to return. He could leave. He would leave. Immediately. Yes. Walk through that doorway. He glanced down and noticed a blond hair lying curled on his black sleeve. Slowly he pulled it off. It had a life of its own. He straightened it out and when released, it sprang back to its former shape. A single thread of gold in the form of a question mark.

A voice from a long ago act of sin spoke in his mind. “The apple’s off the tree now, Stuart. You can’t put it back.”

The terrible thing was, he didn’t want to

A large bathtub dominated one corner of the dressing room. The old servant filled it with hot water and ignored Nick.

The door flew open and a tall young woman swept into the room, her red hair flying in all directions. “Kit, are you—Where’s Kit?” She stopped, staring at Nick. “Who are you?”

“I’m the doctor.”

“You took care of his head? I almost fainted when I saw real blood. Will he be all right? Our company doctor was drunk again; Kit almost killed the worthless sot.” She smiled and stuck out her hand like a man. “Thank God you were here. I’m Rama Weisberg. I played the queen.” When he did not take her hand she withdrew it. “Didn’t you like the production? Or was it just me you didn’t like?”

Nick stammered, “I—oh—nothing of the kind. You’re very talented. It’s just that my friends accused me of being in love with you.”

“‘Accused’ you? It’s hardly the same as being in love with a piece of three-day-old mutton!” She flounced from the room and disappeared into the hallway. St. Denys returned a moment later. “What did you say to my leading lady?” he asked. “She’s almost sputtering.”

“I’m not really sure. She seems to think I called her a mutton, but I didn’t.”

“Ah, well,” Kit said, laughing. “She has a redhead’s temper.”

“Your bath is ready, Mr. Kit,” the old man said, and helped him unlace and remove the black sleeveless jerkin and the full-sleeved black blouse.

St. Denys thanked the old man, then asked, “Dr. Stuart, have you decided about the party? You will go, won’t you?” As St. Denys talked, he sat down at the makeup table with its boxes and bottles, and removed the blood and sweat-streaked makeup. The tips of his blood-stained fair mane lay in waves against the nape of his neck and hid his ears; the downward curve of his jaw was strong.

Nick was near enough to notice the light brown freckles on his shoulders. The words “No, I don’t think so” died unspoken. Nick gazed at the actor’s naked back and muscular arms. Sinful thoughts and feelings flew like ravens through his mind and his body. How would it be to lay his hands on St. Denys? Was his skin coarse or fine? Nick shoved his hands into his coat pockets, lest he reach out and actually touch him. He wished he could put his eyes in his pockets as well.

A peculiar lattice of faded, jagged white lines marred the actor’s back. They looked like scars, but how could that be? A small dark mole resided on his lower back, just above the waist of the black tights. Just then Nick realized St. Denys, with a slight smile, was watching him in the mirror. Even the tops of Nick’s ears turned crimson.

“If your wife is with you, she is more than welcome to join us,” St. Denys said, as the last trace of makeup vanished.

“I don’t have a wife,” Nick croaked. He did not realize that the way he said it told Kit St. Denys a great deal. “Mr. St. Denys—”

“Please. Call me Kit; everyone does.”

“Mr. St. Denys, I wouldn’t fit in at your party. I don’t enjoy that sort of thing.”

“I assure you, Mr. Stuart, it’s but a late dinner, a bit of the grape, laughter, and dancing. It is not a Bacchanalian orgy.”

“I didn’t mean that.”

“Then you will come.” Kit turned toward him. Nick’s good resolves sank out of sight. Nick had hoped that the glamour and sensuality were all an illusion created by stage art and costume. Then he could go home, ask God to forgive his wicked thoughts, and forget he had ever spoken to the man. But that was not to be. The Devil himself had conspired to make St. Denys younger and more handsome than he had been with the makeup.

With complete unconcern, St. Denys stood up and let the old man help him finish undressing. Nick broke into a sweat and clenched his fists tighter in his coat pockets. How would it feel to spread his hands on that firm arse? Or see him erect and ready? Oh, dear God, he had to leave that room! But the same Devil who had made St. Denys beautiful had also nailed Nick’s feet to the floor.

St. Denys stepped into the high-backed tub of hot water and exhaled a gusty sigh of pleasure as the old man fussed over him with scented soap and a sea sponge… .

…Like a young Neptune rising from the sea St. Denys stood up in his tub and
stepped out. He grinned as if he knew the evil in Nick’s mind. Nick’s eyes sought a fascinating blank corner on the ceiling.

“Only a few more minutes, Dr. Stuart. Then we can leave.” The old man helped him into his clothing. As he started to do up the buttons on the shirt, St. Denys said, “I can manage from here, Nathaniel. Thank you. You go freshen up for the party.”

“Very good, Mr. Kit.” Nathaniel favored Nick with one more disapproving glare and was gone.

“I’m surprised,” Nick said, still looking at the corner. “You socialize with your servants?”

“Nathaniel is not a servant. He’s my dresser and has been for a long time. I’ve had several valets and servants, but Nathaniel never felt they did it properly. He feels only he can do it; he’s right. That I always have the right costume for any given scene is due to Nathaniel.”

Nick wondered how any man who had just been nude in front of a stranger could answer with such dignity. He was surprised when St. Denys said softly, “You’ll have to learn the ways of the theatre if you’re to be around me.” The actor’s dark eyes seemed to pull secrets from Nick’s soul.

At the assumption, Nick was dazed by a ferocious desire; he forlornly hoped St. Denys had not noticed the obvious, but the actor’s left eyebrow lifted quizzically and he said, “I knew the moment I looked into your eyes you that you were one of my kind. I’m never wrong.”

Nick’s lust was replaced by fear. ‘One of my kind.’ If St. Denys could recognize his demon so did God….

“After the party,” St. Denys said, “you will go with me to my hotel.” It was not a question. He did not touch Nick, and yet Nick felt as if he had been caressed.


“You’ll stay the night.” Still not a question.

“Yes.” With those two yeses he accepted everything and questioned nothing, and the knowledge made him afraid.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Lynx Woods excerpt by P A Brown

In P A Brown's Lynx Woods, Charlie Reid is a world-class wildlife artist who captures the heart of his subjects, revealing them to the world. But he is also desperate to keep his deeply hidden sexual desires secret from everyone, including himself. He never counts on meeting a man like Tyler McKay, however, an environmental engineer who transforms wastelands into viable bio communities that are not only beautiful but functional. Tyler is also the only man who might be able to penetrate Charlie's solid wall of denial and make him admit to yearnings to which he has never surrendered. Can the men build a bond strong enough to withstand everything the world throws at them? But how far, and to what lengths, will Tyler push Charlie to make him admit who he truly is? When two stubborn alpha males put their desires and needs to the test, will they discover that "surrender" isn't necessarily a bad thing and that, in the game of love, there are sometimes no losers, but only winners?

Lynx Woods
Amber Allure (December, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1-60272-595-9 (Electronic)
ISBN-13: 978-1-60272-825-7 (Paperback)



The whole area looked like it had been ravaged by a dirty bomb. I stood on the running board of my ancient Land Rover and squinted toward the distant line of the river, visible through a screen of beech and Manitoba maple trees. This entire section of what should have been prime Ontario forest was a wasteland. What little grew, looked pathetic even by weed standards.

Make that two bombs. Small nuclear ones.

The ground was mostly hard pack. A few sunken pits and depressions had collected oily puddles of water, and I'd already jarred my teeth on a few driving into the site. I was surrounded by piles of garbage bags, a broken bed frame, and a haphazard pile of tires. This was far worse than I'd expected.

I knew there was a lot more I hadn't seen yet.

Nearer the river, a few trees struggled to take hold, their thin, bent trunks competing with thick clusters of pig's weed and purple loosestrife. The only decent-looking thing on the entire site was a massive weeping willow tree that stood near the curved banks of the river on the right-hand corner of the fifty-acre lot. How it had managed to survive this long was a total mystery. I was surprised Thurlow's grandfather hadn't whacked it down when he put his first paper mill on the property back in the late 1800s. Of course, it had been a tiny sapling back then. Maybe he'd overlooked it in his zeal to rape the bigger stuff.

I knew I shouldn't have been so cynical. Industry built Canada. Back then, no one had had any real concept of the impact humans made on the planet. Even today, some people seemed to miss the point of global warming. I could hardly fault Bartholomew Thurlow's grandfather for his lack of foresight. Indeed, he had known enough to make his family wealthy for generations to come. Now, that wealth was going to fix what it had screwed up so long ago.

Bringing back this piece of land to its pre-industrial state was going to be a major job…a major job that was now sitting squarely on my not-so-broad shoulders.

From inside my Land Rover came the sound of an impatient throat clearing. "Are you done yet, Tyler? I thought we were going to lunch?"

I glanced at Michael. The angle afforded me a view of my lover's tight, jean-clad crotch and delectable bottom. Normally an arresting site -- even a stirring one -- today it did nothing for me. In fact, it was fast reaching the point where Michael, himself, did nothing for me. I tried to remember what had moved me to bring the boy along this morning. The desire for company on the ninety-minute trip? Whatever had triggered the gesture, I was now regretting my impetuousness.


What had I been thinking?

"I heard you the first time, Michael." I hopped off the running board. Acrid dust puffed up under my Merrell Explorers. "I'll be back in five."

I shut the door over Michael's startled complaints and stomped across a blasted peak of clay and brutalized soil to something I had spotted just before Michael's initial whine.

A tiny dribble of water confirmed my suspicion. A spring. Weak, and probably from a polluted ground source, but running water all the same. A few waist-high milkweed plants and vetch grew around it. I felt buoyed by the sight of a monarch butterfly sniffing out the milkweed as a potential nursery. A shadow crossed my path, and I looked up to see a Red-tailed Hawk soar over the river, hunting for game.

Feeling remarkably upbeat, I doubled back to the Land Rover and popped open the door. Michael started in even before I got my butt planted on the duct-taped seat covers.

I zoned him out while tapping my fingers on the wheel for several seconds, then cranked on the engine. It growled, and the Land Rover shook and shuddered before it roared to life. Then I spotted the shack. It was tucked out of the way, maybe a hundred yards from the gorgeous willow, hemmed in by a heavy cloak of sumac and a few sickly looking white cedars.

I didn't remember seeing the structure listed as an asset. And from where it sat, it most definitely was on the property. I'd have to go back and double-check the papers since I did not want to be responsible for tearing down old Aunt Becky's birthplace by mistake. That would be a public relations gaffe I could do without. And if it wasn't listed, I'd have to contact Thurlow to find out what it was.

"Are we going, or what?" Michael was in full I-can-be-such-a-bitch mode. "First I miss my luncheon at Azure, and now it's like you can't tear yourself away from this Godforsaken place. I don't understand what's going on."

"Michael," I said with as much as patience as I could muster, which at this point in time, wasn't much. "Shut up."

"Tyler!" Michael flounced his pretty butt on the worn seat under him. "Well, I never -- "

"Man, if I thought that was true, I'd buy you a diamond ring and marry you."

I dropped off a fuming Michael at Domo's on Yorkville in the heart of Toronto, wincing at the thought of the damage he'd inflict on my credit card. I was really going to have to do something about Michael soon. His mercurial temper and gift for spending money -- especially my money -- were rapidly outweighing his talents in bed.

I drove out to Mississauga and pulled into Thurlow Industries around four. I parked in a spot marked for visitors and approached the towering blue, steel-and-glass structure. A 767, coming in for a landing at Pearson International Airport across the 401, roared overhead, runner lights blinking.

Ears numb, I entered the cool lobby and hooked a right toward the elevators.

The sound of running water worked through my overwrought senses. I paused to study the fountain cascading down the living wall that stretched across the entire north rampart. It soared three stories to where the first of a set of hidden pipes fed a perpetual stream. The plants I had personally selected and attached to the wall were growing nicely, several looking like they had tripled in size.

The air was filled with the fresh scent of clean water and the rich oxygen given off by the wall of plants after filtering the crap that the building had produced. This had been my first major success as an ecological engineer, and one I was proud of to this day. Companies still sent representatives from all over the world to study what I had accomplished in the hope of reproducing it. I'd won some fat contracts as a result of those visits.

When Thurlow had first approached me with his "little" problem nearly three years before, I hadn't been sure what the industrialist wanted. He'd told me he had a sick building and was losing hundreds of man-hours each year as employees called in sick. He needed someone to fix the problem immediately. He'd heard about my company, Emerald Biolife, and suspected I could help.

I hadn't had to spend more than half a day in the stale, trapped air of the hermetically sealed box to know what the problem was. It had taken nearly two months of research, working with a top-notch botanist at Toronto's U of T, to come up with a solution. Which had been a real pain in the butt to implement, including a very steep learning curve and even some new technologies picked up on the run. But we had unveiled the project eighteen months before. The living wall, in particular, had been an instant hit.

Bioengineering the interior of a structure is always an ever-evolving process. So the system within Thurlow's building worked even better now than it had when it had gone online. And I envisioned it would grow increasingly more efficient with time.

Thurlow had paid me well for that job, and had helped me launch a new phase of my career. Now, he wanted another miracle.

I announced my arrival to Jeannie, Thurlow's long-suffering secretary, then I strolled over to the nearest window and looked out. I couldn't see much. An industrial fog obscured the distant shoreline of Lake Ontario, and several other buildings on the same scale as Thurlow's hid whatever the smog didn't.

Finally, Jeannie told me I could go in.

I passed through the double oak doors into Thurlow's inner sanctum. His office was the size of some middling banana republic country; his desk was as big as the third-floor bedroom I shared with the volatile Michael. In sharp contrast, Thurlow, himself, was a small, rotund man of indeterminate years who occupied a chair two sizes too large for him.

He indicated one of two padded leather chairs facing his desk. "Sit, Tyler. What brings you out here? I thought you had planned to survey the site today."

"Did." I dropped into the chair across from him. "Something came up -- "

Only then did I notice the other man in the room.

He stood with his back to the desk, looking out at the view through the polarized glass. His hands were held behind his back, and I noted their size and obvious roughness. This guy was no desk jockey, not with calluses like that. I couldn't see his face, only the pitch black hair that had been drawn into a ponytail and hung past his shoulder blades. He had broad shoulders and a tight ass not quite covered by a black leather bomber jacket.

"Ah, yes," Thurlow said. "I'm actually glad you did come up, Tyler. I'd like you meet someone. He's going to be working on the site, too, but in a different capacity."

The figure by the window turned, and I found myself holding my breath. Would this stranger measure up to what I had already seen of his impressive back?

I wouldn't have described the man as drop-dead gorgeous. His face was too unusual for that. It was obvious he had First Nation's blood running through his veins. His high cheekbones looked sculptured in his tight, dark face, and his eyes were two black orbs staring into mine as Thurlow introduced us.

"Tyler, I'd like you to meet Charlie Reid. Charlie, this is Tyler McKay, our ecological engineer."
Charlie Reid. That sounded familiar.

Thurlow continued, "I've commissioned Charlie to create a piece of art commemorating this project and all it will mean for the world."
Thurlow had a pretty high opinion of himself and his place in the scheme of things. I guess when you have the kind of money he had, you could afford to.

I realized why I had heard Reid's name. The man was a rising talent in the art world. His paintings of animals in their natural habitat were giving Robert Bateman a run for his money. I said to him, "I've seen your pieces. I remember one, in particular. Some kind of bird on the deck of a boat in the Arctic?"

"An Arctic Skua on the deck of an oil rig in the North Atlantic, but you're close." Charlie smiled and some of the tension in his dark face dissolved. "That was my first sale."

"It was good. What were you doing in the North Atlantic?"

"Working. I was one of the onboard rig technicians."

"And you spent your spare time painting? Strange hobby for a roughneck."

"I ran out of chewing tobacco, and my guns fell overboard." He shrugged his broad shoulders, and his eyes hardened into ice chips. "You stereotype everybody that way?"

I felt heat flood my face. I fingered my goatee and tried to figure out a way to word my apology. "Sorry, bad choice of words. I am puzzled, though. Have you seen the site, yet…where I'm going to be working?"

"Yes, I was up there yesterday. Why?"

"What exactly do you intend to paint?"

If Charlie was taken aback by my words, he didn't show it. Instead, he rolled his big shoulders in a shrug and said, "I intend to paint what once was and what will be again."

Oh great, a mystic.

I tried to place his accent, which wasn't strong, but was definitely present. American South…but where, exactly?

Charlie added, "Unless, of course, you don't think you can do what you claim you can, and you are unable to restore Lynx Woods."

"Lynx Woods?" That was a new one. "Is that what your people used to call it?"

"My people? Nah, my great-grandfather was a North Carolina Cherokee. Don't think he ever got north of Richmond."

Feeling like I'd been had, I raised one eyebrow at the taller man. "I assure you, I can and will do what I've said. This isn't the first time I've reconstructed a damaged wetland site."

Thurlow choose that moment to interject. "Good, good. Now, I'm sure you both have lots to do." He stood -- all five-foot, four-inches of him -- and ushered us toward the door. "Unless there was something else, Tyler? Charlie?"

"As a matter of fact, there was, Mr. Thurlow," I said. "There's a building on the property that wasn't listed in my original specs."

"A building?"

"Not much more than a shack, but I need to have formal dispensation to take it down, if that's your intention. Or we'll have to put a keep-away order on it so it's left alone during the work."

"Could it be used for anything? Storage? Tools? While you're working there, that is?"

"I didn't examine it too closely, but from my first impression, I would say no. Do I have your leave to raze it?"

"Yes, by all means. If that's what you think best."

Thurlow seemed very distracted now. Busy man. All those billions to occupy the mind. I persisted, though. I didn't want to have to come back later to take care of this. "I'll need that in writing."

I couldn't help but notice Charlie smirking at the exchange. Did he think I was a sniveling coward trying to cover his ass? Let him. His opinions meant squat to me. The man knew how to fill out a pair of jeans, though. I couldn't help it, my gaze kept dropping down below Charlie's waist.

"Fine," Thurlow said, completely oblivious. "I'll fax that to you by end of business day today."

"Very good, sir."

I followed Charlie to the door. He held it open and swept his arm in a half circle to indicate I should go through first. He sauntered after me.

We waited for the elevator in silence. When it arrived, I couldn't resist asking, "How'd you hook up with Thurlow, anyway?"

"Mutual acquaintance. Another client."

"And you think you'll actually find something to paint out there?"

"I'll find something. Just don't know what it is right now. That's why I need to spend time at the site."

"Creative juices?"

His face closed. Had I touched a nerve of some kind?

"You might say that. At this point, all I know is that I will be creating a panel of four paintings in acrylic. Probably featuring some concurring theme." He shrugged, his broad shoulders rolling loosely under his dark leather jacket. I could see the muscles of his chest flex and wished I could see more. "Maybe that willow."

"You noticed that, too? Quite an impressive tree."

"And strong. It's survived a lot of abuse."

"How so?"

"On that site? How could it not?" Suddenly Charlie seemed bored with the topic. "I'll be heading out first thing in the morning. To catch the early light and see what it inspires. What exactly is involved at your end? Will you be spending a lot of time out there?" He smiled dryly. "I don't believe I've ever met an ecological engineer before."

"That's me. One of a kind." I stroked my goatee while I thought of what to say. "My job is to understand what the land can sustain and try to take it to that place. It involves a lot of complex issues related to hydrology, geology, and the like. First thing I have to do is a detailed study of the entire site."

"All fifty acres? How detailed?" Charlie seemed interested, despite his pretense at boredom.

"My crew and I will be taking core samples from at least a dozen key locations within the site. We'll determine basalt structure and identify the watershed…basically try to figure out how water is going to move within those fifty acres."

"Move. What do you mean? Water moves the same everywhere. It's water. It doesn't suddenly start flowing uphill just because the ground underneath it is different."

"But water on porous, sandy ground moves much differently than water on solid clay or granite. Subtle variations in the way the land, itself, is structured can make a big difference in where the water goes and how fast it gets there. You have to plant accordingly, to get the most out of the terrain. Nature will do it automatically, if given the chance. My role is to give it that chance once more."

Charlie suddenly laughed. It changed his harsh face completely, leaving me mesmerized. "Okay, you got me. I think I'll stick to painting. Those kinds of subtleties I can understand."

I grinned. "It's less complicated than it sounds."

"Oh, I doubt that. I doubt that very much."

The elevator door opened, releasing us into the cool, air-fresh lobby.

Charlie waited until I followed him out, then extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, Tyler. Maybe I'll see you out there sometime."

"Pleasure, Charlie. What did you call it? Lynx Woods?" I felt his larger hand swallow up mine, his rough skin caressing mine. His flesh felt warm and dry. "I like it. Encourage Mr. Thurlow to keep the name."

"It'll be listed in the catalog with the panel once it's completed. Does that make it official enough?"

"That ought to do it."

I reluctantly dropped his hand. Charlie saluted me and sauntered out into the bright sun. Slipping on a pair of Ray Bans, he walked across the patch of lawn that had been given over to benches and a picnic table for employees. He was a vision in black, his narrow hips swinging from side to side.

I remained mesmerized.

Now the question was: which way did sexy Charlie swing?
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Superstar excerpt by Rick R Reed

Superstar is the story of a groupie and the rock star he loves. It’s the tale of a man on the edge, both literally and figuratively...and it’s a timeless story of love found and love lost, all set to a driving rock beat.

Amber Quill Press (2009)
ISBN: 978-1-60272-605-5


“You said you loved me. You told me you’d come back.”

I lean forward and an updraft of wind catches at my hair and flirts with stealing my breath away. I am looking down at a straight drop of almost two hundred feet. Behind me, cars rush by, oblivious to my intentions, concerned only with making their way south to downtown Seattle, or north to neighborhoods like Fremont or Wallingford.

I push my chest forward, so I am hanging over the edge of the George Washington Bridge, better known here in Seattle as the Aurora Bridge.

AKA Route 99. AKA the “suicide bridge.”

One look down and I’m dizzy, the vertigo possessing me like a demon, filling me with a giddiness that makes my heart thud and nearly steals my breath. It’s quite a view from up here: I can see the distant mountain ranges of the Olympics, the pine-covered hills and neighborhoods dotting Seattle, and the sparkling blue of Lake Union. Unlike the common “rain city” conception of Seattle, this July day is a stunning one, clear, sunny, low humidity and a temperature in the mid 70s.

It’s a lovely day to commit suicide.

I glance down again at the plunge before me. I have read that it will take only 2.2 seconds for me to cover the 180 feet or so I would drop if I were to attempt to take flight. Flight? Gravity is a demanding bitch…hungry.

I close my eyes for just a moment, because the vertigo of standing here at the edge of one of the tallest bridges in the country is pulling me forward, making me want to make the leap before I’m even ready. But I have things to think about before I take that quick, exhilarating exit and before everything goes dark.

I have read extensively about this bridge upon which my black Converse shoes are now firmly grounded. Since it was built, more than 230 people have committed suicide by jumping. Hey, a shoe salesman made the leap first back in 1932, before they even had a chance to get the thing completed. Is life that bad for shoe salesmen?

I have learned that I will reach a speed of about 55 miles per hour before I abruptly come to a halt. The force at impact is 28,000 foot-pounds, equal to being blasted by twenty-five 30-30 Winchester rifles.

I guess I won’t be leaving a pretty corpse.

But then you never really did appreciate how pretty I was, did you? If you had, maybe I wouldn’t be standing here right now.

“You said you loved me. You told me you’d come back.”

Ah, but I bet you say that to all the boys. I wonder how many of them fell for it as I did? I wonder how many of them fall—big time—for you, just as I am about to do in a few minutes here?

* * *

The first time I met you, you were playing in a little dive bar in Ballard. This was before you got famous, before the Rolling Stone cover, the Grammy, and the two platinum records. I had planned an evening out in Seattle’s equivalent of Boy’s Town: the area known as Capitol Hill. Park once, and you had a ton of bars you could walk to, and later, stagger from. And if you didn’t get lucky at the bars and got desperate enough, there were always a couple of bathhouses you could sneak into. I had ducked furtively into Club Z or Basic Plumbing myself a time or two, not that I would admit that to any of the group of friends I had planned to go out carousing with that October night so close to Halloween.

But Fate, that irascible, mischievous little bitch, had other things in mind for me that night. One by one, my friends called and canceled. One was dating a new guy and he wanted to stay in and cook for him. This from a man who thought Paula Deen was a gourmet chef. Another was still hung over from starting the weekend early…on Tuesday. And the third, Greg, had come down with an outbreak of herpes. I tried to be sympathetic. But that one bathhouse I mentioned earlier? Basic Plumbing? The front desk knew Greg by name there. They greeted him much the same as the patrons of Cheers once greeted Norm.

So I found myself alone and without wheels. I relied on the kindness of friends for auto transportation and that night, after everything fell through, I just did not feel like taking a bus from Ballard, the neighborhood where my apartment was, all the way downtown, then transferring to get up on the “hill.”

Ballard had been a Scandinavian fishing village before—like some undulating blob—the city of Seattle absorbed it. There were still fishing boats moored at its shores and here and there, the occasional trace of Nordic culture, but Ballard had become more of a trendy place to live…and to eat, drink, and be merry. Merry. I said “merry,” not “Mary.” One still needs to go to Capitol Hill to eat, drink, and be Mary.

I digress. I do that. A lot. See? I’m doing it now.

Anyway, my thought that October night was to head over to Olive’s, a little dive bar and restaurant on Ballard Avenue, where Kurt Cobain was once rumored to have played. No, there most likely would not be any potential love connections there (although that’s not saying it couldn’t happen; just because a bar is labeled “gay” doesn’t mean you’ll always get lucky…and the inverse can often be true; hey I can attest!), but there would be Rainier beer, a dark, crowded room that might contain some grungy, nerdy, cute straight boys who may or may not be amenable to expanding their sexual horizons, and—I hoped—some good music to just float away on.

I threw on black jeans, a black T-shirt that read “Scum of the Earth,” my Cons, and a leather band for my wrist. I glanced at myself in the mirror, making sure the tribal armband tattoo stood out beneath the form-fitting arm of my T-shirt and decided I looked good enough to be going out solo. I ran my fingers through my dark hair, enjoying the way it stood on end, a calculated mess. I looked good.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Baby Doll excerpt by Mykola Dementiuk

In Baby Doll, Mykola Dementiuk has again brought us an unusual story of a youth growing up in New York City. Skipping school as a daily routine, the main character of Baby Doll finds himself spending time at the East River Park, looking for girls. Instead he finds a pair of pink underwear which take him on an adventure that shapes his future.

Baby Doll gives us a literary look at the complicated psychodynamics of love and sex between a boy and a man in America in the early ‘80s (the beginning era of AIDS, sex-offender witch-hunts, and gay/transvestite visibility). Like a good movie, Baby Doll is definitely worth giving a second (or third) read. Mykola’s mastery at storytelling and excellent writing will keep you engaged the first time through, but subsequent readings will help you understand the complex forces that unfold between the characters. You may question his opinions on femininity and relationships, but you won’t be able to ignore Mykola’s love for words as well as his understanding of a boy’s feelings and behavior.

Sexual counselor Sally Miller (who edited Baby Doll) provides some insight into the story in the afterword.

Baby Doll
Publisher: Synergy Press (2006)
ISBN: 0-9758581-2-2


At first he couldn’t believe they were an actual pair of panties, but they were the color – pink, what else? – and the size – almost palm size – of a real pair. Except for the soiled hardness at the crotch they were satiny and enticing, but too new-looking to be lying discarded on the grass. Another swatch of nearby pink caught his eye, and he was almost afraid to believe it, like some kind of miracle or gift from the Universe: a bra, a pink bra to match the pink panty!

Where was the girl that went with them? Also lying somewhere about? He looked at the two articles of clothing, his penis stiff, and snatched up the panty. He shuddered at the feel of satin – the first time he had ever touched panty-satin – almost blinded by the sensation spinning up his arm and through his body. Like a thief suppressing his greedy enjoyment and victory for later, he quickly shoved the panty in his pocket. But the bra he lingered over, stealthily walking around it, examining it from each angle, gingerly nudging it with his foot as if scared something might jump at him from under the crushed satiny cups. . . . What? A mouse? A spider? A tit?. . . He snatched up the bra.

He clutched the underclothes in his fists, one in each pocket, pulsing his fingers in and out of the material, and walked quickly to the nearby restroom. It wasn’t so much that the bra and panties reminded him of a woman, a girl, a female, but of things feminine, that is, of stereotypes of the feminine: of softness and gentleness, of lolling about on satin sheets, caressing oneself in powders and creams, in bubble-baths and perfumes, of being taken care of and loved, and all because of one’s natural birthright of having been born female. . . .

Where did these skewed images of the feminine come from? A mother who nightly cleaned Wall Street offices? A drunken father who catered to 3rd Avenue addict/prostitutes, then came home to beat his wife? Teachers and nuns in a grade school who periodically ejected him as unfit for class participation? Too many television shows with beautiful actresses playing roles they could never be in real life?

Or perhaps each of us is born with an innate hatred of the other gender, a hatred that in some, borders on jealousy and regret that one has been cheated in being born different, being born male, or being born female, and striving to correct that ‘error’ of the commonplace with exaggerations of one’s unique difference. Dykes bullying like males, queens softening into females, and each in a ‘new’ gender role as grotesquely facile as the one they’ve rejected. . . .

The boy couldn’t wait to try on his new garments. The restroom was cold, its brown wall and floor tiles doing little to instill a sense of warmth or comfort. The name – comfort station – was a misnomer, as there was no comfort here. It was strictly utilitarian: you entered to pee, to shit, to wash your hands, and you left. Even the toilet stalls were doorless – why have privacy for a natural bodily function everyone had to do? – the toilet bowls open and exposed, and though he had never been interrupted while taking a shit, it was always a hurried roosting lest someone did enter.

Even his chronic masturbations at the upright urinals, sometimes six or seven times a day (not counting his evening ones at home) were also hurried for fear of interruption, but he was always left alone. On rainy days he stayed in the restroom for hours at a time until the boring sameness of the urinals and stall and his own repetitive jerk-off images drove him back out into the desolate park.

There was nothing, or anyone, to be afraid would interrupt him, but public places are just that, public. Just as he had often unobtrusively watched lovers on benches, so he, too, often felt himself being watched and observed, and would turn to catch someone, usually a man, eyeing him from across the baseball fields or on a pathway leading from the river promenade.

Thus it was a nervous and hurried disrobing. He wanted the garments on him since he had first spotted them, disbelieving his good fortune at their unexpected appearance in the dirt. But the enigma of the girl who had worn them intrigued him: did she run off naked in the night, pursued by someone equally naked, like satyrs and nymphs gadding about in forests and woods, free and uncaring of who saw or condemned or even joined in?

Perhaps he should have explored further, perhaps she had discarded a garter belt nearby, or dark nylons, a skirt, a blouse . . . but he shook his head, his breathing deepening, forcing him to slow down, relax, take it easy . . . put them on one at a time . . . the bra first. . . . He held it to his face, the bra surging into his mouth, his nose and eyes into each curved cup, imaging he smelled flesh, stiff nipples,soft tits, hungry lust and passion aching to be touched, clasped, caressed, licked, sucked, fucked. . . .

How did he naturally seem to know the complicated logic of putting on a bra? It seemed like the most natural thing in the world, at least for a girl. . . . He had once seen his mother do it, and wanting to do the same, he tugged a spare bra around his chest. She pulled it away, chiding him that when a boy puts on a girl’s clothes his mother will die. . . . Mother was another elusive word he played with, a word filled with so many meaningful definitions and conjectures, so many threatening ones, so many forgiving ones, so many worthless and meaningless ones too. . . .

He held the panties to his face, his eyes and mouth an expression of fear and lust, his penis more stiff than he had ever been able to rouse himself. With the first touch of the satiny material on his legs the panties seemed to rise up his flesh on their own, shimmering up his thighs and into the crook of his ass. Only his erection proved a hindrance, the panty straining to cover, to clutch, to smother the unfamiliar protrusion. . . . Then he heard the footstep and saw the man. His face went white and his eyes widened in fear. One arm automatically crossed his chest as the other tried to shield his crotch.

With one more step the man was on him, tugging the boy’s cock out of the panty, groping the flat brassiere cups, and the boy’s ejaculation was immediate: sudden, shuddering, devastating. For the first time in his life he had been sexually touched by another. The satisfaction of that touching was unlike anything he had ever experienced in touching himself. Strange hands on his penis and body, especially dressed as he was, and his destiny opened up to immediate fulfillment, his eruption like a last and final release of his solitary boyhood – an oozing, lubricating liquid that spilled not only out of his penis and scrotum but from every pore and sensate fiber of his body and soul. There was no buckling or shooting, only a desperate clutching of the man, holding his shoulders and wrapping his legs around the man’s as he was lifted off the ground and pounded against the bathroom stall wall. There was no penetration, yet the boy felt himself fucked as hard and deep as any girl.; (
Synergy Press
Flemington NJ 08822
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Monday, November 9, 2009

Pyromancer excerpt by Amanda Young

One desperate night, a rent boy hot enough to scorch the motel sheets, and Christian is doomed to burn for love. Christian Ryder is rich and lonely. When the people around him keep dying, Christian forgoes personal attachments. The thought of his Pyromancy hurting anyone else, isn't something he's willing to risk. Tanner O'Bannon is broke and desperate. The recent loss of his father has thrown Tanner into a tailspin of debt he can't afford to pay. Working as a rent boy allows him to pay the mortgage and his college tuition, but it's eroding his soul in the process. Through the machinations of Male Companions - the escort agency for which Tanner works - the men are thrown together. Through a series of startling revelations and danger, Tanner and Christian both face changes. Smoldering embers of desire fan the flames of love, but will it be enough to make Christian overcome his fear of love, or to save Tanner from the fire? Only one thing is certain; both men will burn.

Publisher: CreateSpace (September 26, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1449527795
ISBN-13: 978-1449527792


Christian Ryder sat in the dark, slowly stroking his fist up and down the length of his swollen cock. His gaze was locked on the flickering television screen, where two men were in the final throes of orgasm. The brunet top -- his body heavily laden with muscle -- gripped his thick prick around the base and took aim, spraying cum all over the younger blond man’s upturned face. It was a hot scene, one that never failed to get him off.

Until tonight.

As the ending movie credits began to roll across the screen, Christian exhaled a disgusted huff and released his semihard shaft. He reached for the remote control lying next to him on the bed and hit stop on the DVD player. Turning off the TV, he plunged his bedroom into darkness. His frustration mounted as the hollow sound of his pulse pounded in his ears.

It’d been over six months since he’d gotten laid. The last time he’d taken a chance and risked being with someone else, it hadn’t gone so well -- a fucking disaster, really. The end result testing his rigid self-control almost past the limits of his endurance.

The guy he’d picked up and brought home had taken offense at being asked to leave right after they’d screwed, and had thrown a temper tantrum. Not something he’d expected from a six-feet-tall body builder who’d claimed he was only interested in a good time. By the time Christian forcibly removed the man from the property, his body temperature had been dangerously high and his head was spinning.

After that close call, he’d decided it was too dangerous to indulge in one night stands, which left him with little options other than his own left hand. Especially since he already had a self-imposed rule against developing anything long-term or risking the emotional attachment that came with it.

Mixing emotions and sex fucked with even the most normal person’s head. For the people around him, it could mean much more than a broken heart -- it could be deadly.

Security lights from outside filtered through the miniblinds covering his bedroom window in sporadic spurts of light, briefly illuminating his damp and sweaty body lying atop tangled, white cotton sheets. He kicked at them, unraveling himself.

Irritated, Christian sat up. He leaned back against the cool brass headboard and flipped on the bedside lamp. His gaze flittered down to the big, red numbers on his alarm clock. Almost midnight.

Restless and exasperated, he picked yesterday’s newspaper up off the side table and spread it out over his lap. Since jerking off wasn’t going to work for him, maybe he could bore himself to death by reading the paper. It was worth a shot. Losing sleep made control over his curse temperamental.

Page by page, Christian skimmed over the paper until he reached the personal ads. Those babies were like the funny pages to him. Why someone would put an ad in the newspaper, hoping for a good outcome, was beyond his comprehension. Only the ugly and desperate sunk to that level.

He read over a few ads, laughing, until a small square down on the bottom, right-hand corner caught his eye. It was an advert for an escort agency. One that claimed to cater to men of his persuasion: gay men looking for nothing more than a hot body to warm their lonely beds. The agency, Male Companions, promised anonymity and, more importantly, clean bills of health for all their available staff. He never fucked anyone without a rubber, so it was a bit of a moot point, but the words comforted him somehow.

Before Christian realized his intent, the cordless phone was in his hand, his fingers tapping out the number. A feminized male voice answered, saying, “Thank you for calling Male Companions. Nigel speaking. How may I help you?”

Christian opened his mouth to speak and froze. What the hell was he doing? He didn’t want to pay for sex; doing so went against every moral he had. He clicked the off button, hanging up.

He exhaled, relieved he’d come to his senses before doing something he knew he would later regret. His gaze wandered over his bedroom, hovering on the fifty-two--inch plasma TV, the only other thing in there besides his bed and nightstand. Not a single picture or piece of artwork marred the clean lines of the bare, white walls. Whereas the stark sterility of his room usually appeared simple and clean, it now felt barren and depressing, not unlike his personal life.

His hands shook as he picked up the phone and redialed the number.

* * * * *

Tanner O’Bannon sat slumped over his kitchen table, trying to balance his checkbook. Money was tight, his balance down to just above two bucks, but at least he wasn’t in the negative anymore. He couldn’t afford the outrageous overdraft fees the bank charged. The last two charges had forced him to eat ramen noodles for a month. If he never saw another pasta dish in his life, it would be too soon.

Tanner’s eyes blurred as he ran through the figures once last time before flipping the checkbook closed. He folded his arms and laid his head on the cool surface of the mahogany table. He was exhausted, but needed to stay awake for just a little longer. On call for work until three a.m., he couldn’t afford to fall asleep or miss a single phone call. He needed the money too badly to risk losing his job, even if it was one he was ashamed of. Necessity overruled pride.

With heavy-lidded eyes, Tanner jerked his head up and shook it, trying to force himself to stay alert. He rose to his feet, walked over to the sink, and splashed icy water on his cheeks. As he mopped his face with a clean dishtowel, the phone rang. Only one person would be calling this late. Work.

He didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. On the one hand, it meant money; on the other, degradation. His father would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what his only son was doing to pay the debts he’d left behind.

Tanner crossed the room and picked up the phone. He listened for a moment then set it back in the cradle before jogging up the stairs. Upstairs, he hopped into the shower and quickly scrubbed himself from head to toe with citrus-scented body wash. He stepped out and yanked a dry towel off the rack, briskly rubbing it over his hair and skin while he fumbled through a drawer under the sink for lube and a butt plug.

He squeezed a dollop of lube into his hand and ran it over the plug, liberally coating its short length. He reached behind to swipe the remaining moisture through the crease of his ass. The toy in his right hand, he leaned over the toilet and braced his left hand on the back of the commode. He spread his legs shoulder width apart and took a deep breath, trying to relax his muscles as he pressed the blunt rubber tip against his asshole. Due at the motel in thirty minutes, there was no time for finesse. He exhaled and shoved it home, wincing at the sharp burn of his anal ring stretching around the plug.

The things you have to do to make a buck, Tanner thought, as he grabbed the washcloth he’d used in the shower and wiped off the excess lube around the wide base of the plug. He dropped it in the sink and headed into his bedroom to dress.

It was time to go to work.

* * * * *

Waiting inside the modest motel room he’d rented for the night, Christian glanced at his watch for the umpteenth time. Perched on the end of the bed, his sock-clad toes tapped an unsteady rhythm on the cheaply carpeted floor, his body practically vibrating from anxious anticipation.

He was nervously trying to figure out what would happen once the escort showed up. Payment for the guy’s services had already been rendered over the phone -- apparently even hookers took American Express these days -- so at least he didn’t have to worry about having that conversation. Things would be awkward enough as it was.

More pertinent was how things would play out. Was he supposed to strip and get right down to business as soon as the guy got there, or make small talk first? Would he inadvertently break some kind of silent rule if he asked the man anything personal? Could they even exchange more than first names? How would they decide who did what to whom?

He wasn’t stupid enough to think the escort would turn down anything he asked for, but would it be possible for him to tell if the guy really wanted to do it or not? Was it just a job for him, a way to make a buck, or would he really enjoy it? The thought of fucking someone who just laid there and went through the motions repulsed him.

So many unanswered questions floated around in his head he was beginning to get a headache. Sweat beaded his brow, and his knees cantered up and down. Maybe it wasn’t too late to cancel. He could call. Whether they refunded him his money was of little concern. They could keep it; he had more than he’d ever be able to spend anyway.

He didn’t think he could go through with this after all. It seemed too cold, too impersonal. A little voice in the back of his mind screamed, “That’s the point, jackass. You need cold and impersonal. Do you want to be responsible for someone else’s death?”

That thought chilled him. Christian forcibly shut down his memories before they transported him back to a time he didn’t want to visit. He pushed away his reservations and tried to consider why he’d called Male Companions in the first place.

He was lonely. Though he didn’t like to admit it, even to himself, it was the truth. The acquaintances he’d made over the years, at work, on the rare occasions he deigned to go in and check up on things, and at the firehouse where he volunteered, only went so far. During the day, he was fine. It was at night, after a long day at work or returning from an emergency fire call, that the loneliness crept in and haunted him.

He realized that this wasn’t even about sex, not solely. Sure, he wanted to get off, but what he really needed most was simple human contact, companionship. Sadly, that was the one thing he could never allow himself to possess. Attachments meant caring about someone, making himself vulnerable. In essence, losing control of himself. That was something he could never allow.

Christian took several deep, calming breaths. He could do this. He had to. There weren’t any other options left for him. It was anonymous sex or nothing. Though he doubted it, all he could do was hope it would be enough to sustain him.

* * * * *

Tanner arrived at the motel with five minutes to spare. Town had been dead, not a car in sight on his way over. A good thing since old Bessie -- his ten-year-old Mazda -- had sputtered and died twice during the trip across town. It was only a matter of time before the old clunker finally gave out for good.

Part of him wished he’d hung onto his dad’s car instead of selling it when his father was killed six months prior, but at the time he’d needed the money even more desperately than he did now. The debts his father had left behind were astronomical. Even after he’d sold off everything of value besides the house itself, he still hadn’t brought in enough to cover half of what was owed. Hence, the reason for his shady new career.

For the last four months, he’d been working nights for Male Companions as an escort. Selling his body to the highest bidder wasn’t the most respectable line of work, but he hadn’t known what else to do. It wasn’t like he could make enough to cover his college tuition and pay the mortgage, along with making payments on all of the other debts his father had left on his shoulders. He supposed he could have sold drugs; he knew enough small-time dealers. He could have easily bought a little pot and divided it up for resale. Unfortunately, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to do that. Drugs killed people, and no matter how often his buddies tried to convince him marijuana never hurt anyone, he just couldn’t quite believe them. A drug was a drug, plain and simple. Having sex for money, degrading as it was, didn’t hurt anyone besides himself. Besides, it wasn’t like he hadn’t had his share of casual sex along the way, just like everyone else. The only difference was now that he got paid for doing it.

Or so he tried to convince himself as he hustled through the motel lobby toward the service desk.

Though he’d been told which motel to go to and given a name, he hadn’t been given a room number. Which meant he had to go to the desk and ask, something he dreaded every time he was forced to do it. He always imagined the clerk knew exactly who he was and why he was there. It was humiliating.

He rang the bell and waited, tapping his fingers on the hard surface of the beige counter. A bored looking blonde, somewhere around his own age of twenty, sauntered out the back room, long, blood red fingernails plastered over her widely yawning mouth. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. “Oh, hello.” She smiled. “Can I help you?”

Tanner groaned inwardly. He was used to being hit on by women, but that didn’t make him any more comfortable with it. “I’m supposed to meet a friend here.” Damn, what was the name he been told to ask for? Chris…or Christian? “His name is, um, Christian, Christian Smith.” God, he hoped that was right. The last name was easy. It was always Smith. People had no imagination.

The smile on the girl’s face dimmed a bit as she turned to the computer and began to type. Silently, he watched her, wondering how she could type at all with those god-awful nails in her way.

She nodded down at the computer screen and then glanced over at him. “I’ll have to call up and ask permission before I can give you any information.” She turned away from him and picked up the phone. From over her shoulder, she said, “It’ll be just a moment.”

“Sure,” he mumbled, his eyes scanning everywhere and nowhere. He just wanted to get to the room, do what he was being paid for, and go home. Afterward, he would be one day closer to financial solvency. One trick closer to owning the home he’d grown up in, free and clear.

He listened as she quietly spoke with someone, her side of the conversation consisting of mainly “yes, sir” and “uh-huh.” Finally, she hung up and faced him.

“Mr. Smith says to send you up. He’s in room 204.”

“Thank you,” he uttered, already striding away from the desk. There was an elevator, but he bypassed it, choosing the stairs instead. He jogged up them quickly, without breaking a sweat, and shoved through the entrance door onto the second-floor hallway.

The walls were adorned in hunter green wallpaper with a burgundy trim. The floor was carpeted in the same deep shade of green. The minute details were absorbed as he hustled to the end of the hall, glancing at room numbers along the way. Room 204 was on the right, near the end.

He stopped outside it and took a breath, giving himself a mental pep talk. You can do this. Just keep your eyes on the prize and get through it, same as always. It was no different than picking someone up at a club. No different at all.

He raised his clenched fist and knocked, his gaze dropping to his feet. Beginnings were strange. Some men wanted him to come in and bend over, take it up the ass like a good little whore and leave, while others wanted to make polite chitchat first. Out of the two, he wasn’t sure which he liked best. Probably the fuck-and-run guys -- at least those assignments were faster.

He was still wondering what tonight’s call would be like when the door swung inward. Tanner looked up, and higher still, craning his neck back to gaze into the eyes of his client for the night. The standard greeting he recited to each of his johns died in his throat.

Saliva pooled in Tanner’s mouth. Fuck. The man was easily six and a half feet of yummy muscle and lean, bottled sex, dwarfing his own five feet eight stature.

Tanner’s brain turned to mush as all the blood in his body drained south and squeezed into his cock, making his balls draw tight inside his Levi’s. His gaze cruised from the man’s tousled, short black hair to his socked feet and back up, absorbing all the details in between. Brooding eyes, square jaw, broad shoulders, and trim hips -- every inch sex incarnate and designed to entice a man like Tanner to his knees in supplication.

The man was exactly the sort of guy who got Tanner’s motor running in overdrive. The kind of hunk he would’ve tried to pick up in any one of the bars he used to frequent, back when he actually had a life. A man he would’ve happily fucked for free, under other circumstances.

Except this was business.

A sheet of ice fell over Tanner, cooling his ardor, easily putting him back in his place. He wasn’t here on a social call. He was here to fuck for money.

Tanner schooled his features into a smile he’d carefully rehearsed in front of the mirror at home. It was supposed to look seductive, but something about the tight feel of his skin stretching out over his cheekbones told him it fell flat tonight. Oh well, he thought ruefully, another night, another dollar.

He met the big man’s gaze and held it. “I’m Tanner. The agency sent me.”

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