Monday, October 25, 2010

Anagama Fires excerpt by Sarah Black

Lucien Durand and Colin Ferguson have lived and loved as partners in life and art for more than twenty years. But happily ever after is never easy. Over time, Lucien begins to resent how Colin's work overshadows his own art, and their relationship falls apart. Colin leaves with nothing but a backpack, and Lucien goes on alone, getting some counseling, developing a practice in raku pottery, and waiting for what would happen next. He never expects that Colin will send his nephew James to train as a potter. With James staying in Lucien's home, a door will open between the former lovers, firing their hearts.

Anagama Fires
Dreamspinner Press (2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61581-577-7


Heap logs, and let the blaze laugh out! Robert Browning

Lucien dreamed of fire. They were in the last night of a five-night firing of the anagama kiln. Colin pulled the brick out of the spy hole, studied the bending cones. “Come on, boyo, put those young muscles to work. You think you can keep up with an old man like me?” And they were laughing, shoving splits of wood into the firebox with both hands. Then he was the fire, roaring though the kiln like a hungry dragon, reaching down to lick the pots, laying fire kisses on the melted glaze. He saw one of Colin’s big angels in the back of the kiln, the last piece before the flue. It looked ancient, rough, powerful, and he fled into its arms, touched the glaze with his fiery kiss, left ash on the edge of the wings, on the cheek. Then the angel was cracking, the glaze wildly crazed, the ceramic crumbling under the fire like shattered glass, and he tried to pull back, but it was too late, too late, and the angel fell to dust in his arms.

He opened his eyes, and the lingering traces of the dream disappeared in the gold and green warmth of a summer’s evening in the northern Rockies. Lucien brushed a trace of salt from his cheeks. Even after all this time, he cried when he dreamed of Colin.

He sat up in the porch swing and watched the man walking down the long dirt road toward his house. From the distance he looked like Colin, or maybe those were just memories stirred like dust from the dream. This was a young man with a backpack over one shoulder, wearing a worn denim jacket. A dog walked next to him, a golden retriever mix. Was he coming for the weekend Raku workshop? Lucien stood up, pulled on his boots. He hadn’t said anything about not bringing dogs to the workshop. It had never really come up before.

He stepped off the porch, walked out to meet him, and something in the way the man moved had anticipation and dread tightening the pit of his stomach. The man pulled off his ball cap, ran his fingers through a mop of black curls, and Lucien stopped in his tracks. “Who are you?”

“I’m sorry,” the man said, tucking his ball cap into the back pocket of his jeans. “About the dog, I mean. I couldn’t leave her alone right now.”

Lucien looked down at the golden. She was either very fat or close to…. “Is she about to have puppies?”

“I think so. I’m James. James Ferguson.”

Lucien held out his hand. James was young, and he didn’t have the hands of a potter, no rough callus or cracks on the palm from working with clay. “Who are you?”

“I’m his nephew.”

Lucien would have guessed nephew or son, though Colin had never been with a woman as far as he knew. This boy, James Ferguson, looked so much like Colin that Lucien found his eyes burning with unshed tears. Like him, but young. Black curls, pale skin with a sunburned nose, light blue eyes. He was taller than Colin, tall and broad across the chest, and very young. Colin had been forty-five when he left. This boy was probably twenty-five.

“What are you doing here, James?”

“I came for the raku workshop. I don’t have the money for the tuition. I thought I would ask you if I could work it off. Dishes or cutting wood or something.”

They both stared down at the dog. Lucien studied the long dirt road James had walked to get to the house. “Did you catch the bus into town?”

“Yeah. I just came off a fire lookout job up in the Cascades.”

“You don’t have any place to go, James?”

Lucien watched the muscles in his jaw tighten.

“I have a letter.”

They looked at each other for a moment, and Lucien could see, under the sun-touched skin and young muscles, that James looked tired and thirsty. Dusty and worn and frail. “Come on into the house,” he said. “Of course you’re welcome here.” He looked down at the dog, who was panting slightly but stayed at James’s side. “And the dog. We can probably find her a box or a blanket or something. What do they need?”

James shrugged, hitched the backpack over his shoulder again, and followed Lucien up the steps to the porch. “I’m not sure. I’ve never had puppies before. She can stay outside.” He pointed to the worn boards, and the dog curled up, her head on her paws. “Can we get her some water?”

“Of course.” He led the way into the kitchen, and James set his backpack down on one of the wooden kitchen chairs. Lucien reached into a cabinet and pulled out a big wide bowl with a bright blue and white glaze.

“We can just use plastic or something,” James said, watching him fill it with water at the sink.

Lucien handed him the bowl. “Plastic? In a potter’s house, there’re always lots of clay bowls. This will be fine.”

He pulled open the door to the fridge when James took the bowl of water out to the front porch. He was well stocked with food, because part of the weekend Raku workshop was lunch on Saturday and Sunday. He had a pot of beef stew too, left over from the day before. He pulled that out and dumped the cold stew into a pan, set it to heat over a low flame. When James came back into the kitchen, he said, “I think there’s enough stew here for you and the dog. What’s her name, by the way?”

“I don’t know. She’s not really my dog.” He pulled out a seat and sat down at the table. “Well, I guess she’s my dog now, but somebody dumped her. She was hanging around the campground. Waiting for her people to come back for her. I think they dumped her when she got pregnant.”

Lucien spooned stew into a bowl, put it in front of James, and then got the bread out of the fridge and spread butter over a couple of slices. He set those down on a paper towel, poured a glass of milk. James turned to look at him. “Are you having anything?”

Lucien shook his head. “No, you go ahead. I’m not hungry.” His stomach was in knots. He fixed a small bowl of stew for the dog and took it out to her on the front porch. She raised her head and looked at him, soft golden brown eyes, and ran a pink tongue over his hand when he set the food down next to her.

When he went back into the house, James had finished eating and was washing his bowl in the sink. “There’s a spare bedroom down the hall on the left,” Lucien said. "We’ll have to share the bathroom.”

“I really appreciate it,” James said. “Just for the weekend, for the workshop. Then I’ll push on.”

“Are you a potter?”

He shook his head. “I studied printmaking in school, but I ran out of money, joined the Army. I got out seven months ago. I’ve been thinking about being a potter for a long time, but I wasn’t sure…. I mean, Uncle Colin’s a big deal, you know?”

“Yes, I know.”

“I wanted to see what I could do on my own. I talked to him about it. He told me to come to you.”

Lucien took a deep breath, felt his stomach knot up just a bit tighter. “Did he really? Where is he?”


“How nice for him.” James gave him a cautious look. “I think we should make a bed for the dog. She looks very close. I’ve got some straw out in the barn. You want to give me a hand?”

James nodded, followed him out the front door and around the back of the house to the old barn. The dog came along, and they walked together into the cool evening. The barn had clean straw in a couple of stalls, and the dog nosed around, went into one corner, and pushed some straw with her paws until she had a pile. She curled up on the straw, set her head on her paws. She was panting just a little still.

Lucien studied her. “This might be a safe place for her and the puppies. It won’t be long now. I’ve only got an old horse that stays in the back pasture and a goat. They won’t bother the puppies.” He looked at James, a quick smile lighting up his face. “They came with the place. The goat belongs to your Uncle Colin.”

A longhaired Angora goat peeked around the corner of the barn, then came in and sniffed at James’s leg. His long fleece was tangled with bits of grass and straw. Lucien tugged on one of his ears, and the goat nibbled on the edge of his belt. “I call him Dickhead,” he said, and James laughed out loud.

They walked back up to the house. The dog stayed in her little stall in the barn, but Dickhead followed them, looking for a snack. Lucien ignored him.

“What can I do to help you get ready?”

Lucien shrugged. “Most everything is done. People who come out for the workshops usually drive home or stay in town. Do you want to see the studio?”

“Very much,” James said. “And the anagama. Uncle Colin said it was the best kiln you ever built. How often do you fire it?”

“I don’t,” Lucien said, stuffing his hands down in the pockets of his jeans. “You can’t fire a wood-burning anagama kiln with just one person. I haven’t fired it since Colin left.”

James studied him. “That’s been over five years, right?”

“Yes. I have a raku kiln, gas fired. That’s what I do now. I guess Colin is still wood firing. Did he build a kiln in Thailand?”

“I’m not sure,” James said. “But I don’t think so.”

They walked back to the studio. It was a simple square building with a metal roof, and the raku kiln was in a semi-enclosed space next to it, covered with the same metal roof as the studio. The kiln was set at the front, with a couple of sooty metal trashcans with lids next to it. In the back, behind the barn, the anagama lay quietly, massive, covered in earth, the mound looking like a sleeping dragon. The door was bricked up and covered in adobe. Lucien hadn’t looked at it in a long time, but he could feel James’s interest in it, noticed some pieces of mud were flaking off the door, revealing the old rose firebrick underneath.

“The trashcans are for the workshop,” he said, lifting the lid on one of the cans. It was filled with sweet-smelling sawdust. “I get bags of this from the sawmills.” There were four black plastic trash bags along the wall. “We’ll use all of that this weekend.”

The raku kiln was round, with a ceramic fiber blanket sandwiched between metal mesh. Lucien reached for the overhead crank, turned it so the top half of the kiln lifted off the base. “You see how it works? We pull the pieces out at glaze melt, use the fire tongs to put them into reduction. I’m set up for sawdust or water. We can collect other material as well, like leaves and twigs from the forest.”

He pushed open the door to the studio. It was quiet inside, with the filtered soft gray light of early evening. “There’re a couple of kick wheels, and the glazing station is over here.” He pointed against the wall. The metal ware racks looked like they belonged in a bakery, but instead of loaves of bread, small cups and bowls were resting on the shelves. “Those are already bisqued and glazed. I’ll use them for demonstration this weekend. You know how the workshop goes?”

James shook his head.

“We’ll make some pots and practice firing the ones that are ready to go. Then Sunday we’ll bisque, glaze, and fire. Any pots that aren’t dry can be glazed and fired next weekend.”

“Is it okay for me to stay?”

Lucien turned to look at him. He looked so tired he was weaving on his feet. “Of course you can stay. James, your Uncle Colin and I bought this place together. When he left, he didn’t take anything with him other than a couple of pots. You can stay as long as you like.”

“I just wasn’t sure if there were any, you know, bad feelings.”

Lucien shook his head. “Not really, and nothing to do with you. Why don’t we go back to the house, and you can turn in early. You look dead on your feet.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ve got your letter in my backpack. I should have given it to you before.” James looked at him, ran a hand through his hair, and rubbed hard over his eyes. “So you know who I am.”

“You look just like him. I knew who you were as soon as I saw you walking up the road.”

James took a thick envelope out of his backpack, went yawning off to the shower. Lucien set it down on the dining room table, stared at it like it was a poison bug. He needed to make cobbler tonight. He had five firefighters from Sandpoint coming for the workshop tomorrow. Firefighters were raku fanatics, and they ate like horses. Now with James here, who also looked like he could put away some food, Lucien thought he ought to get a couple of pie pans full of fresh berry cobbler in the freezer. He could make up some hamburger patties too, make things simpler tomorrow. Oh, potato salad. He needed to get the potato salad made. He looked back at the letter on the table, then went to the cabinet over the sink and took down the bottle of tequila.

He had some orange juice in the fridge, and he poured a tall glass and added a healthy slug of tequila. Then he sat down at the table and opened the letter. It was two pages, and the second page was a legal document of some kind with an embossed seal at the bottom. Lucien felt his heart sink. Oh no. What now? He unfolded the letter.

Lucien, what do you think of this young boy I’ve sent your way? Has he grown up fine and strong? He wants to be a potter, so of course I thought to send him to you. I saw David Archer a couple of months ago. He said you’d had several pots bought by the museum in San Francisco, and some went to Minneapolis and some to New York! You have the hands of an angel, Lucien. But he also told me you’re still alone on your mountain. Why don’t you have a lover? Some strong and brave young potter to warm your bed? Maybe you and James will fall in love, like you and I did so long ago, with our hands in wet clay together, and you can stay on your mountain and not be lonely. Lucien, why haven’t you unpacked the kiln? It’s been five years. Don’t you think that’s long enough? I miss you very much some days. Colin

The second page was a legal document, sealed and notarized, saying that the sale of any pots and sculpture made by Colin Ferguson that were currently in the anagama kiln at Salmon River Pottery could be sold and the proceeds split equally between Lucien Durand and James Ferguson. Colin’s address, phone number, and e-mail were on the bottom of this page.

I miss you very much some days. He drank the glass of orange juice and tequila down. Yeah, and I miss you very much some days, too, you shit.

Four casseroles full of cobbler went into the freezer and about a gallon of potato salad into the fridge. He reminded himself that this was Colin’s usual game, and he did not have to play. Colin had thrown a line into the river? He was not going to rise to the bait. He was a clever trout, and would stay hidden in the rocks. Lucien took a couple of clean towels and put them on the dresser in the spare bedroom.

James was asleep, sprawled on his back with one arm flung out. He had ginger freckles on his nose and wicked-looking black whiskers coming up on his chin. His bare chest was covered in thick black hair. He was bigger than Colin by a couple of inches. And so young, so tender and young. Lucien wondered if he was in trouble. Was there something other than the urge to be a potter that had brought him out here? He had come from a fire lookout job, four months alone in a little cabin on a mountaintop in the Cascades. What had he done in the Army? Was he running from something?

And why would anyone bother to tell him? This was just like Colin, to decide to fix someone without bothering to check that anyone wanted to be fixed. Living with Colin was like living with a wasp loose in the house. He picked up the phone. The legal document Colin sent contained a phone number in Thailand. Colin sounded sleepy. Of course he had caller ID.

“Is this my dear Lucien, or does James need rescuing? I don’t know anyone else in the wilds of northern Idaho.”

“James is fine,” Lucien said. “He’s sleeping in the spare bedroom. And I ought to kick your butt.”

Colin laughed, and the warm sweet sound of it ran like honey down his spine. “What do you think of him, Lucien? Is he very handsome?”

“He looks just like you. But very young and very tired. What’s wrong? Is he in trouble? Do I have to guess?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong! He won’t tell me. You figure it out. Maybe he just needs a handsome older lover to guide his hands into clay.”

“Colin, for crying out loud….”

“It’s not like you have another lover. Why not, Lucien? What’s wrong?”

“How do you know I don’t have a lover? Did you bug the bedroom before you left?” Colin laughed again. “And you? Have a handsome young Thai houseboy to tend to your every need?”

“Yes, two houseboys. Their skin is so sweet, brown and fragrant as lemongrass. But they sleep with each other, not with an old man like me.” Lucien listened to him breathe. “Have you unpacked the kiln?”


“Why not?”

“I don’t want….”

“You don’t want my pots? Or anything I can give you? Then sell them and give James the money. He’s hungry, Lucien. He needs a stake. Not like you. You’ve made your name now, right? You don’t need anything from me?”

Lucien looked up. James was standing at the kitchen door in jeans and bare feet, watching him. He held out the phone. “It’s your uncle. He wants to talk to you.”

James took the phone, giving him a look that clearly said he knew he was being thrown to the wolves. “Hey, Uncle Colin. Yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, yeah, he looks fine, just….”

Lucien raised his eyebrows, watching James’s cheeks flush bright red.

“No, Uncle, I just meant…. Okay. Okay. Listen, I need to go check on the dog.” James gave him a pleading look, and Lucien took the phone back.

“What dog?”

“He brought a very pregnant dog with him. I left her out in the barn with the goat.”

There was a silence that stretched all the way to Thailand. “You still have the goat?”


“I thought you told me you killed my goat and roasted it in the backyard and ate it.”

“I might have exaggerated.”

Then Colin was whispering French in his ear, words of love that tickled like butterflies touching down on overheated skin. James stuck his head in the back door. “Hey, um, Lucien? Do you have some old towels or something?” His eyes looked ready to pop out of his head.

“How many puppies?”

“Six so far, but I don’t think she’s done.”

“I’ll be right there.” He turned back to the phone. “Did you hear that? You’re a grandfather.” And he hung up on Colin laughing in his ear.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Between Darkness and Light excerpt by P.A. Brown

Downtown Los Angeles' old financial distrinct is the heart of this thrilling murder mystery and the unwanted love that grows between a cop with a dark secret in his troubled past and an up and coming world class artist. LAPD homicide detective Russell Hunter. A shadow man, an enigma. He is a man who has purpose but no goal. A figure who walks between the darkness and the light in search of salvation from the terrible mistakes of his past

Between Darkness and Light
MLR Press: October, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60820-069-6 (print)
978-1-60820-070-2 (ebook)


Chapter 1

Monday, South Spring Street, Old Financial District, Los Angeles, 3:00 am

The woman was dead.

I could see that even before I laid my fingers along her cool throat to feel for a pulse that was no longer there.

Even before I saw the surprisingly small, almost bloodless hole nearly hidden behind the screen of the blood matted bottle-blond hair hiding her face.

Behind me Danny shouted at the 911 operator who must have been wishing this was the night she called in sick and stayed home with the kids.

He was hyperventilating and gasping out words like "Body! Blood! Oh my God, she's dead! She's dead. Oh, God, you have to come--"

I took the iPhone from him and clamped my hand down over his slender shoulder, forcing him to look at me. The blue eyes that met mine were nearly as empty as the dead woman's. I was tempted to slap him, but knew that would only put him over the edge, a place I didn't want to go. Instead I squeezed his shoulder gently, stroking his collar bone.

"I've got it, Daniel," I said, wondering as I did how I could stay so calm when Danny was freaking out. Didn't I feel anything except annoyance this would happen tonight, after such a successful gallery showing? The night spent schmoozing up art patrons on the Art Walk suddenly seemed so distant. Maybe even unimportant.

"Take a deep breath. You're going to be okay." I stroked his back, all too aware of the tension riddling his slim body. "Breathe, baby, breathe."

Danny moaned, but did as he was told. Always such an obedient boy, my Daniel Ordstrom. It made him so wonderful in my bed.

I turned away and gave the 911 operator my name and address. She said a patrol car was on its way. Would I stay on the line until they arrived? Ignoring her, I disconnected and shoved the phone back into Danny's cold hand.

"Put that away." He obeyed again and huddled close to me. I put my arm around his shaking shoulders, patting his still rigid back, wishing I could take him away from this place. Danny was too fragile to endure much more of this, but there was nothing I could do. This was a matter that had to take its course now.

I knew we'd only get into trouble if we entered my loft penthouse. I studied the dead woman who had made it to my front door before being gunned down. I didn't recognize her... wait. I stepped up beside her and crouched down, ignoring the squeak of my new Italian leather shoes on the marble foyer. I stared past the screen of hair, at the face so curiously devoid of life. Her eyes were open and her mouth gaped as though protesting the misfortune of her current state. She reminded me of a figure in a macabre wax museum. Hard to believe this had ever been human, breathing life.

Behind me, Danny still gasped for breath.

I bent down to look at the woman, and he moaned. "Oh God, Steve, please don't..."

I ignored him and peered more closely at the woman's face, trying to see beyond the mass of brassy hair. I refrained from the temptation to brush it off her face, knowing that would totally freak Danny out. I studied the pale skin and wattled flesh under her chin. The fire-stop red lips and garish blue eye shadow. Then I realized what I had thought was blood in her hair was in fact some other red liquid that had partially dried there. I had seen that combination earlier this evening, hadn't I? I sat back on my heels. Shit, I did know her. And I knew where that stain on her hair came from, too. Not blood. Alcohol and cranberry juice. The remnants of Danny's Cosmo. Shit.

"It can't be," I muttered. But I knew I was right. It was Stella Gold, the vitriolic art critic for the Silver Lake rag, The Lake. She'd been at my show, hadn't she? I remembered her poison tongue going on about how I had sold out and couldn't be trusted to give an honest showing any more. "This is just peachy," I muttered.

After her verbal assault had gone on what seemed like forever Danny had flipped on her and thrown his Cosmo in her face. I could still see the sticky strands of cranberry and alcohol in her hair she clearly hadn't bothered cleaning off before she'd stormed out of the gallery swearing she was going to get both of us. Well I guess not any more. Someone had got to her first. But here? That made no sense at all. Stella had no reason to visit me here, or anywhere, for that matter.

Did she come here right after the show, looking for me? Not even stopping to clean herself up. She must have. But why? What had brought her here? Stella and I were hardly on friendly speaking terms. I'd never seen her outside of the few shows we attended at the same time. I couldn't believe she had meant to continue the fight on my home turf. Even Stella couldn't be that stubbornly obtuse, could she? What more could she have said that she couldn't put into the scathing review I knew she was going to write?

The press was going to have a field day with this. One of their own gets snuffed: news at ten. What a fucking sorry mess.

As though in response to that thought, the ancient elevator clanked and groaned into life. I knew even before the copper doors screeched open it would be a pair of uniformed LAPD cops, with their suspicious eyes and nosy, probing questions.

I sighed and pulled my bomber jacket closer around my shoulders, otherwise ignoring the sudden chill that flashed through me, raising goose bumps all over my flesh. Any way you looked at it, it was going to be a long, miserable night.

Mutt and Jeff clearly thought we were up to no good being out of bed at this time of night, standing over a dead woman. The dynamic duo separated us. I was led over to the far wall, by the mullioned window overlooking downtown L.A., awash with lights. The officer I was with asked a lot of pointed questions about where we'd been that night and why we were stumbling home at one in the morning smelling of booze and sushi.

From across the lobby Danny's voice rose until we could all hear his answers to the same questions. Neither cop seemed impressed when Danny informed them haughtily that I was Stephen J. Fischer, up and coming rising star in the Los Angeles art world, just recently off a whirlwind tour of Chicago and points east where I had sold out every show and netted enough money to pay for my new digs back home in L.A. Clearly they weren't art aficionados.

"What happens now?" I asked when the older of the two snapped his report book closed and eyed me with disdain, while I tried to sooth Danny's fragile nerves. Poor Danny. He had made a special effort to impress tonight. New suit, blush and even some mascara. It had been a sweet gesture, but now with his bloodless skin, it just made him look like a clown. It was obvious Mutt and Jeff thought so.

"Detectives will be along to ask you some more questions. It will be up to them to decide the next course of action."

Oh good, we were a course of action now. I wanted to take Danny someplace where people weren't going to stare at him like he was a freak. I sighed. "Can we at least wait for them inside?"

"I'm sorry sir. You need to wait here for the detectives."

"Of course I do."

Once the cops finished their questioning, Danny rushed back to my side. I hugged his shoulder to let him know I was with him and he threw me a sad, lost soul look. The older of the two cops threw us a stern look and I knew they wouldn't tolerate us talking about what had happened. So neither Danny or I spoke. We just took comfort in each other's presence, wishing this mess was over. Knowing it was never going to be over. Not really.

Cops must be like larks, they travel in pairs and they wake up way too early. Probably bonded for life. The first detective off the elevator was a pasty-faced fat man who wheezed and grunted as though he'd walked up the twelve stories to my loft penthouse. I wondered if I knew enough CPR to save him when he went into cardiac arrest.

Detective Lark number two was another ball game. And I wasn't talking baseball.

He strode off the elevator after his partner like he'd been coming here for years. His dark, piercing eyes took in everything in the crowded foyer in one sweeping all-encompassing glance, glancing over the potted ficus and single stalk of phalaenopsis orchid, nodding at the uniformed officers and dismissing them at the same time. Then his gaze turned toward me and I swear every evil deed I had ever committed or even thought about flashed before me. He could see each one of them and was not impressed.

Mutt and Jeff gave their report then went their merry way, leaving Danny and me to face the larks. The pair introduced themselves: pasty face was Detective Doug McBride, and his dark, observant partner was Detective Russell Hunter.

Interestingly enough, they both ignored the body on the floor, focusing their attention on Danny and me. I wondered if that was a calculated move to unnerve us. If it was, it worked. I wanted to tell one of them to have the decency to cover her up or something, but I knew my words would be ignored. They were in charge tonight. We were witnesses, maybe even suspects. I watched enough Law and Order to know the person who found the body was always seen as a likely suspect. Knowing the victim would also make them more suspicious. And the circumstances of our last meeting were not going to go over with this pair. I scrubbed my hand over my face, smoothing my fingers over my goatee. Wishing I could be anywhere but here. McBride led a shivering Danny back over to the elevators and glanced at Hunter who took me to the other side, opposite from where the body lay. I did my best not to look down at Stella.

I watched Danny, hoping he wasn't going to fall apart in front of these two. So far he had held on by his manicured fingernails, but I knew how close he was to the edge of hysteria. And an hysterical Danny would be a handful for anyone. I couldn't imagine what these two would make of it.

Then I was pulled back to the moment by my interrogator. "I need to ask you a few questions. Let's start with the basics, Mr..." Hunter pulled out a small spiral notebook and a pen, glanced at his watch and wrote something down, then waited for me to answer. I'd already told the other officers this, but I knew I had to answer anyway. God knows how many times we would have to go through this before this nightmare day ended.

"Stephen Fischer."

Pen poised. "Is that your full name?"

"Stephen Jeremy Fischer." I grimaced at my hated middle name, cursing my father who had carried the name and forced it and his memory on me.

Hunter went on to ask all my personal information: address, where I worked, phone, who was my next of kin, my mother's name, my father's name, my height, eye color and weight. He left the door open on my latest tax return and underwear size.

"Well, Mr. Fischer, what time did you discover the body?"

I rubbed my chin and tried not to look at Stella sprawled untidily on my front step.

"We left the show around twelve-thirty."

"What show was that?" He wrote something on the first page.

"Art Slave on Spring Street held a showing of my latest work over the weekend."

"You're an artist?"

"Six years now."

By the time Hunter's partner returned with a still upset Danny whose mascara had by now smeared into a raccoon mask, the coroner had arrived and a host of other people filled my outer foyer. They crowded us in and I found myself next to Danny, who was shivering uncontrollably.

I took his hand, trying to let him know everything was going to be okay. That earned us a couple of glances from the two detectives. McBride looked contemptuous. Hunter seemed torn between bemusement and disgust, most of it aimed at Danny. I was used to that. Even guys who didn't have a problem with gay men had serious issues with the overtly effeminate ones.

Under the curve of my eyelashes I studied Hunter. He was tall, but not as tall as my six-two. Maybe six even and one-eighty and not an ounce looked like fat. He wasn't what I would call handsome in any conventional sense, but he had a ruggedness about him. Black Irish, I thought. Short, black military-cut hair, almost black eyes, an incipient beard told me he shaved a couple of times a day at least. He had a strong chin and full red lips that hadn't smiled the whole time he'd been in my building. Occasionally, when his hounds-tooth jacket would flip open I would get a glimpse of his gun in a holster under his left arm. A chilling reminder these guys weren't here on a social call.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

33, A Gay Love Story excerpt by Justin South

33, A Gay Love Story by Justin Smith is the story of two mid-20 year olds, Rick and Justin, who meet in a heated encounter in a crowded elevator in Sydney. Their love blazes from the first chapter to the last page. Along the way they fight issues of self doubts and fidelity, explore faith and courage, re-live past fragilities, and probe the anxieties and trials of common gay life issues.

Rick and Justin meet and match twelve other lonely, sex and love starved guys, aged 18 to 30. These introductions add to Rick and Justin’s uber-hot sexy scenes that run from the first to closing chapters. The stories of these characters enrich the book’s themes, particularly those of Lou and the 18 year olds, Shorty, and Polynesian French boy, Damien. Shorty is the sad product of an abusive, loveless and directionless upbringing, resulting in his 18 year old body living more in the mindset of a friendship seeking 15/16 year old. His and his lover’s inexperience and blossoming romance embellishes the story with the charm and quaintness of innocent, virginal teenagers embarking on the path of love.

33 is a story of loneliness, hardships, abuses, insecurities, denial, curiosity, desire and love, found in everyday situations that touch feelings and tug at memories. It is a story of deprived love; of the heart’s desperation to find a mate, of the body’s innate needs to find fulfilment from companionship. It speaks of the beauty and bounties realised by guys meeting guys, of ending the abyss of loneliness, of guys falling in love, of gay fellowship and partnership. Balancing these emotions are humour, enlightenment and happiness, the outcomes of considerations, cordiality and honour, as shown by easy going Rick and love-struck, Justin towards each other, and their newfound friends.

33 chronicles the paths of these two hot characters through tender to fearless emotions, peaceful domesticity, and through sadness and trauma caused by dreadful, life-threatening experiences. It reveals their inner strengths of character and feelings, their beliefs, their traits and emotional disturbances. Added to these fabrics are the rich perspectives, wisdoms, personalities and emotions of the other characters. John, a beautiful shy neighbour and product of a dysfunctional family, desperately seeking human touch and acknowledgement, tests Justin’s resolve. Luca tempts Justin at a beach, his handsome Italian allure later swamps Justin’s reasoning. A stressful encounter with Scott turns into unexpected modelling opportunities. When Shorty meets Damien, instant love develops, soaring to high adventures. Rick risks business ties by introducing the Chief’s grandson to a lonely mining worker. Justin becomes a legend in aboriginal lore. Who joins the Mile High Club, and how?

These and many other characters combine to create a colourful tapestry; tales of pacey adventure, heat, fun and excitement, touching nerves, engaging senses and massaging one’s mind. Sinister international corporate intrigue, greed, crime and murder set a background of discovery of personal integrity, and tests Rick and Justin’s dedication towards each other. In gripping life or death outcomes at a diamond mine in Australia’s remote north west, and in the miner’s boardroom in Perth, Justin’s courage and love for his mate are put to extreme tests. Following post trauma recuperation, Rick’s demure character explodes into carefree bandonment. His new found attitude to life is exemplified during a modelling assignment for a Spanish manufacturer of swim, beach and party wear. Risking his new career opportunity, he turns the tour’s shows on four continents into riotous, bacchanalian romps.

Sex, love, intrigue and murder, what could be better? For readers who like hot and graphically described male to male sex scenes, 33 is sure to please you. Scenes are portrayed vividly and differently. Similarly, if you also like riveting jigsaw intrigues of corporate mischief and a mysterious murder, 33 will pleasantly surprise you. Gripping, gun-smoking descriptions of callousness, cowardice, greed, maliciousness and madness by the perpetrators, should add to your reading pleasure.

33, A Gay Love Story


Small waves swell and roll and froth to and fro over the rippled sand, their quiet chorus joining in splendid harmony with gentle rustlings of palm fronds on the fitful rushes of soft breezes. Occasional splashes of disturbed baitfish sound distantly, fluttering the water’s surface with moon-speckled ripples. Farther out, lying to the breeze, the yacht rides at anchor, bathed in the silvery sheen of the moon glow shimmering across the surface of the lagoon. Sweet aromas of frangipanis and wild orchids and poincianas and magnolias float on the breezes, such symphony of nature reaching us thrashing and writhing in our wild, passionate, romantic embraces on the lustrous talcum sand.

Bathed in the brilliant moon glow of the warm tropical night, our bodies appear painted in monotones of silvers, grays, greens and black, of brilliant glosses and intense contrasting shadows. Their patterns and tones change violently to the chaos of our love moves, to the devouring, uncontrollable intoxications of our passions. We clench in an orgy of fervent desires and ferocious overpowering emotions. Our lips ram our faces, our tongues scrimmage in the ruckus of our superheated ardor. Amid our wild scrambling gropes and parched deep breathing, we squeeze our bodies brutally, clinching our torsos in breath-crushing bear hugs. Amid our musky sweat and other rich aromas of our manliness, we entwine our legs and arms in ecstatic responses to the chemistry of our love potions. We wrestle and squirm in sublime torture in our attempts to reach, what I consider, the impossible: Nirvana, that plinth of love, that unattainable Paradise of complete, everlasting emotional fulfillment, that Eldorado of sublime, idyllic bliss. Our groins collide in angry Nirvanic desire, our eyes blaze to the savagery of our fiery torment. Our bodies madly lunge and crunch to the furor of the approaching pinnacle of our love, of approaching sex, to the expectations of our super-heated excitement.

I tremble violently in my burning anticipation. My mind is consumed, boiling in the blazing eroticism of our love. Emotions are overwhelmed in the tumultuous whirlpools of wild chemicals and charging electricity. As if possible, I clench my lover tighter, rolling and twisting in ever escalating spirals of explosive love. Cradling his head, I scramble kisses over his lips and cheeks and chin and nose and forehead and ears and neck in frantic outpourings of my rampant passions. We gasp between our noisy, panting kisses, his frenzied legs flay mine, his wild arms roam my back, sharp fingernails leaving trails marking his Utopian ecstasy. We batter our engorged cocks into our bellies, sliding, rubbing and humping them in orgiastic delight. The mounting pleasurable flushes, those exotic sensations, intensify in my cock as our smoldering hot love rods touch. My brain jolts to the thrill of that unbelievable male phenomenon, to that singularly exceptional male pleasure when the velvet soft flesh of one hot quivering cock touches and rubs and lies against a similar rampant cock.

That distinct, beyond-blissful sensation is only surpassed by the sudden surges that whip my body in furies of agitated excitement when I vice-grip both cocks together. The feelings from these unique experiences send our sensory systems into fireballs, cause us to buck our heads, wince our eyes and howl in wild ecstatic glee. Oh god, I’m in heaven riding a cyclone of delicious, voluptuous emotions. I hold his face in both hands as I smash a kiss to his lips and seek his tongue. He touches me; he touches my super sensitive dick, grappling it in his hand, making me lurch, making me hump as more unexpected divine pleasures course through me. I yelp to the delights. His other hand engrosses my chest, roams over my tweaked nups, then his lips covet them in his indulgent desires. When I open my eyes I see vague visions of the moon overhead, filtered in a morass of kaleidoscopic colors. Silvered tones of reds and greens and blues and yellows parade across my eyes.

I know I've been to the doorstep of nirvana before, been to the threshold of absolute love. I’ve been close to that feeling of total fulfillment at times, but never as close as I am with Rick at this moment on this beach, bathed in the romantic charm of the moon’s silver glow. I can’t love him any more than I do yet my heart feels an earnest desire to love him more; I can’t give more yet my body yearns to. He consumes my life, my will and passion. I live with the constant thoughts of him in my mind; he is like a god in my life, a god I constantly worship.

I want him in me. My mind is ruled by a demanding need to have our love and bodies combine into the union of one. I need his love tool in me, need him making glorious love to me, to feel bonded in the wonder of the union of sex, to have my love tunnel filled with his supreme gift, to eventually feel his hot sperm spurt deep within me. All night I've wanted him but now it’s a matter of urgent demand. I want to feel the motions of his love contenting me, making me adequate, making me worthy of his love, making me know he loves me, that our sexual coupling is the zenith of our passions. I want him to take me to Nirvana.

My trembling hands fidget on his shoulders, my head again arches to the starless night sky, my eyes filter the moon’s glare, as his tongue continues driving me crazy. I face him, words forming in my parched throat.

“Rick, do it,” I croak, “now.” I demand.

It’s a simple request, frank and to the point; but it carries the meaning of my burning, frustrated emotions. He responds. His eyes tell me. His nimble gentle hands tell me. His passionate tongue and kisses tell me. He makes gentle, exquisite love to me; I’m in heaven.

Chemicals boil in my brain. Electrical currents pulse my nerves. My heart pumps chaotically as my head thumps to the raging energies circuiting my body’s systems. I become a demented, love charged, hormonally haywire basket case. Goosebumps ripple my flesh in erotic tingling reaction to the effects the tip of his roaming tongue and lips have on me as they wind their way along the defines of my acutely sensitive belly and groin. His tongue courses beside my fiery red love pole lying flat against my abdomen, then meanders its scintillating way to torture my scrotum. He licks my balls, sending new floods of spasms through my over-heated senses.

He sucks one ball into his mouth, playing his tongue over and around the sac. Tremors of sheer delight cascade through my groin as he twirls the ball in his mouth. Then he licks the other ball and sucks it into his mouth, causing more quivers to my body as his tongue discovers more highly sensitive membranes. Without warning, he devours my scrotum. He squeezes and suctions my bloated ball sac in a cushion of saliva in his hot mouth, teasing both balls with his tongue while his nose nuzzles the prominent urethra of my steel hard dick. I gulp and shiver.

“Ooohhh Rick,” I groan. His saliva-slicked tongue feels like the faintest caresses of duck down feathering the contours of my sensitive sac.

“Rick,” I yell amid the loud mutterings of animal grunts. He’s causing a storm of hot rushes of exquisite ecstasy in my groin. My legs scissor-grip his body, trembling hands violently clench and slap the blanket while my arched head tosses wildly in a rapturous, sweaty state of bliss.

His nose slides lightly along my twitching love pole. Then his tongue reaches and darts over the base of the shaft, his delicate touch further inflaming the furnace blazing my nerves. In quick reflex, my dick jerks wildly into his face, splattering precum into his hair. It slams back against my groin, flicking precum onto my belly that glosses in the moonlight. His tongue slides along the full length of my semen tract. Its tip reaches and skims sensuously around the almost unbearably sensitive underside of the glans causing hysteria to my senses. Black spots appear before my eyes. He’s tormenting me into unconsciousness as he licks my over-bloated cock head.

Kneeling over me, he uses his bottom lip and chin to steady my vibrating shaft as he stretches his tongue around my head, smearing precum and saliva over it, super sensitizing it in the smooth lubricating ambrosial liqueur. Then he licks my shaft again and again, starting at the base and ending at the knob. Each time he tickles the knob his tongue picks up a string of the ambrosia which he stretches to the base, letting the cum line fall and slick my shaft. He repeatedly licks my pole like an all-day sucker. He licks the sides, alternating from one to the other, licking the head each stroke, causing precum to puddle in my navel, glimmering silver under the moon. Every time he licks he picks up a strand of precum on his tongue and stretches it to my pubes. It looks funny and odd. My dick feels ready to explode. It feels sore from the prolonged love games and highly pressurized blood. I can’t believe it; it feels over extended, super swollen, stiff for too long. It needs relief, but I don’t want to cum, not yet.

“Rick,” I croak. I clear my throat. “Rick,” I repeat, my plea more convincing, mussing his hair with trembling hand. “Please, Rick, please,” grappling his arms and pulling him to me. “No more, please no more. I can’t take it, my beautiful man,” whispering hoarsely into his ear. “Rick. Please. Now, baby,” I beg him.

He nods. His gorgeous smile consumes his face. I see his teeth flashing, starkly contrasting against his otherwise silver sheen and dark monotones cast on his face. His eyes glint as if stunning pools of fire flashes. I’m mesmerized. I dab shaking fingers of both hands against his cheeks, run my thumbs over his strong chin and lips, peer at the new moonlit perspectives of his beauty as the background sounds swarm about us; wavelets lapping the shore, insects singing their choruses, bats squabbling in the distance, trees fluttering in the pleasant breezes. All these murmurings grace my ears as I hold the featured face of my lover in my hands, drawing him to me, to a slow, long embracing kiss, loaded with passion, filled with love; to a kiss meant only for a god.

Moving between my splayed legs, he dips some fingers in the gleaming silver puddle of lubricant in my navel and smears the potion over his hot love piston. His hardened, quaking love spear points towards me, its engorged, magnified head and shaft shining in the stark moonlight. He dips again, spreads my butt cheeks, and locates and strokes his cum coated fingers over my love bud, making me writhe in exotic pleasures to his caressing touches. He raises my left leg above his body, moves into a lying position beside me, then presses his steel hard pole to my love door and smoothly pushes in. I welcome his sex piston, adjusting myself to ease its entry into my fiery tunnel of tormented love and tumultuous lust. His slicked dick slides into me, rubbing along membranes as it progresses deeper. I devour all of him, soon feeling his pelvis and pubes pushing against me. His dick feels like a hot poker in me, its heat inflaming my linings, warming me, adding a pleasant sensation to our intercourse. I love the feeling.

At last we are at one. Finally, I feel that dimension of wholeness I've eagerly sought, of feeling him fill my love grotto, of feeling complete in the mystery and magic of love’s ultimate act. My hand combs his ruffled hair, rubs his neck and shoulders. I mutter, I coo, I encourage him to take us to the door of Nirvana. Slowly he begins his piston actions, thrusting backwards and forwards, sliding his hot poker along my side lining, sending myriads of furious signals throughout my sex system. He tingles my groin most opulently. I gasp and fling my head back, exposing my Adam’s apple to the moon. I wriggle to his touches, intensifying the extreme feelings within me, sending more streaks of passion to my brain. God, don’t let this ever end, I pray.

After he settles into his thrusting action, he roams a hand over my chest, pinching and circling and rubbing each nup. His fingertips amble down between my abdomen muscles to the cum puddle of my belly button and the stretched engorged knob of my love muscle; his fingers circle the knob, then grip my shaft. Feeling his hand holding me sets off a new wave of goose bumps. He squeezes and flexes his finger grip, sliding upwards to let his thumb rub over the knob, then slowly starts stroking, rubbing and twisting his palm and fingers over it on each upward stroke. His technique triggers rushes of heady sensations, bringing on the early tingles of approaching orgasm, most pleasant but too early to enjoy. I clench his hand forcing him to stop his stroking but not wanting him to remove it.

Rick changes position, fluidly swinging under my raised leg, careful to leave his hot love poker in me. He lies on me propping on his elbows either side of my chest. The missionary position lets him thrust more of his love tool into me, lets him reach deeper into the recesses of my love cavern. His new angle and thrusting rhythm now crunches my prostate causing a new tide of flutters to sweep my senses. My engorged sensitive dick wedges between our bellies. The subtle movements of his hot flesh caused by his thrusting motions further thrill my hot cock, rushing its exalted pre-orgasm feelings to new heights of excruciating frustration, of barely controllable containment.

I’m panting in wild bliss, wanting to cum simultaneously with Rick, waiting for his warning, to explode in unison. Yet he keeps thrusting into me. He keeps sensitizing my aching muscle trapped between our bellies. We scrunch our chests, feeling the raised hard nipples rasping our flesh; feeling our lips battering, flattened against each other in utopian desire. Deep breaths filter through my clenched teeth, eyes are rammed shut, my head is clamped beside his as I desperately try to withhold my orgasm. I'm despairing in my attempts, crooking my knees towards my shoulders, wrapping my calves around his waist in a futile attempt to divert attention from my dilemma.

Finally, I crack. “Rick, I can’t hold any longer.”

He breaks my head grip and rubs his lips to mine then arches his back as he rises on his elbows. His signature smile engulfs his face, looking strangely eerie in the filtered light cast by a thin cloud veiling the moon. His eyes twinkle as they look at me while the softened luminescence captures his tongue flicking his open silver tinted lips. He appears in a state of sheer rapturous pleasure, as if hypnotized from the effects of our love feast. He changes rhythm, almost stops, and withdraws to my inner sphincter walls. His hands flex their grips on my arms as he presses his groin towards me, pushing his love stick further into me, deliberately sliding his turgid cock head over my prostate, then back, then over again and again. I distinctly feel his knob rubbing my tingling gland as if it had a special attraction.

He rubs his swollen cock head along a membrane wall till his thick piston is embedded in me. He stops then slowly retreats in similar manner, sliding the head along another part of my lining, sensitizing another sector of his knob, and me. He again repeats the gentle plunging motion, rubbing a different side of his cock head along my membranes, each time fastidiously massaging my prostate, all in all magnifying his and my pleasures to extreme heights. He stops again, inhales deeply and flings his head back. He commences to pump me furiously, plunging and plowing wildly into me. No need to warn me now. I know he is about to cum. He grunts some noises on his harsh breathing. I hold his trembling arms. Finally, my will power deserts me.

“Rick, I’m cuming.”

In an instant my super-charged glans succumb to the acute pleasures of my dynamic, intense orgasm as the relieving release of my cum flows from my balls, floods my sperm tube and squirts out of me in a welcome torrent.

“Uuuhhh,” I exclaim, flinging my head sideways, clamping my eyes shut, grasping and digging my shaking hands into his shoulder flesh. I lurch as the burst of cum from my prone dick, lying against my belly, splatters a thick line over my chest to my neck.

Then Rick shouts those words I love to hear; “Aaahhh...Jus...Jus...JUSTIN!” as his hot cum ravishes the linings of my love cavern. I gaze at my lover, now arched high on his hands either side of me. His face is tossed back, but I momentarily glimpse the look of sheer voluptuous pleasure when he drops his panting head to his chest.

My tumescent dick twitches upwards, released from the clamp of his belly. It releases another volley, this time arching through the air, the pearly string appearing like a comet tail in the moonlight. “Aaahhhh,” I shout, clawing his arms in squirming delight.

“Jus...Jus...JUSTIN!” He repeats in his entranced state, continuing to slash his juices into me, thrusting relentlessly, firing one volley after another. “Jus, Jus. Oh god, Jus,” he stammers in his trembling, rapturous delight.

I fire another comet. Then a smaller one, and another. “Rick,” I croak concurrently as he jabbers his favorite saying to me again.

“Oh god, Justin,” he wheezes as he continues thrusting into me, treating me with his inflamed member, hot cum and happy words. The heat of his juices spreads through my body, sending acute twinges that enhance the already beatific, splendorous feelings, enthralling every nerve in me. He keeps thrusting into me but I know the pinnacle moment of our love bout has passed, know we are sharing the moments of post orgasmic bliss. He slows his piston movements as the flow of his hot cum reduces to a sporadic ooze, as his trembling subsides and he leisurely relaxes to his naturally graceful composure. His coarse breathing gradually abates, his wide blazing eyes return to their smiling gaze. He lowers to rest on his elbows, and rubs his finger tips on my shoulders.

My prostate works overtime as I spend the last of my cum, ejaculating every drop my balls have produced, feeling it ooze to my belly as my dick softens. In the lunar glow my chest appears patterned haphazardly with gleaming specks and globs and trails of my man juice. I’m too buggered to talk, too buggered to think. The enormity of our love fest has drained me leaving my mind incoherent, a deep well devoid of abilities yet overcome with stratospheric satisfaction. My muscles almost feel they lack power and motor control. I’m able to re-grip my legs around his thighs, preventing him from moving and retaining him in me; and I'm able to fold my arms around his neck. In our post orgasm silence I draw his face to mine, brushing my lips to his as he also hugs me, as his belly and chest lower onto the cushion of my love juices. In the prevailing ambience, I reflect: tonight we opened the doors to Nirvana.

We reached Paradise.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

On Days Like These excerpt by Christiane France

In the novella On Days Like These by Christiane France, burned-out mystery writer, Mark Salvatore, asked to borrow the old family home in the hills near Genoa, Italy for some much needed R&R. He envisioned a blissful summer enjoying the warm Italian sun, hanging out with the villagers, eating good home made Italian food, and drinking the local wine.

However, after a frustrating trip via Paris and Nice, Mark finally arrives in Santa Fiori in the rain to find the house has been trashed. Chickens and ducks from a nearby farm have taken possession of the living room, and there’s a naked man asleep under a pile of blankets in the bedroom.

Tony Wheeler is English and says he’s in Italy on business. He also tells Mark that his car has been stolen, and he’s waiting for his clothes to dry and the weather to clear before he can walk to the village to inform the police. For all Mark knows, he could be a drifter, a drunk, or just about anything. However, Mark’s just heard about a bank robbery in Milan just a few hours ago. The thieves got away with the loot and immediately Mark’s creative processes go into high gear. Milan is less than a hundred miles north, and Santa Fiori is just off the main Milan-Genoa highway. What if Tony Wheeler is just an alias? What if he’s one of the thieves, hiding out in the hills until the heat is off?

On Days Like These
Amber Allure
ISBN-13: 978-1-60272-717-5 (Ebook)


While Mark was inside, talking to the DiNini rep, Tony had taken the opportunity to change into a black tank top and black, skintight jeans that emphasized both his tan and his lean, nicely muscled physique. In one hand, he now held what appeared to be his still-damp clothes; in the other, Mark’s rolled up jogging pants and sweatshirt. Except for his hair, which was straight rather than curly, he reminded Mark of one of those god-like dudes he’d seen on the back of old coins.

“Ready to hit the road?” Mark asked, irritated when he realized his normal speaking voice had dropped a couple of octaves. He had no idea why his voice always sounded husky whenever he had a hard-on—the two weren’t connected as far as he knew—but it was always a dead giveaway for anyone who knew him well. Fortunately, Tony didn’t. At least, not yet. “Trunk’s open if you want to put your stuff in there.”

Tony’s dark eyebrows drew together in a frown as he stowed his luggage and closed the lid. “Sounds like you’ve picked up a cold?”

“No, it’s nothing.” Mark turned away and got in the car.

But as Tony got in beside him, and Mark turned the key in the ignition, he was unable to repress a shiver as Tony ran the tip of a finger up his arm from wrist to elbow.

“It sometimes gets me that way, too.”

“What does? You mean lack of sleep?” Mark pushed his sunglasses up on top of his head and allowed Tony to capture his gaze. While he wasn’t usually one to play games like this, he didn’t want to walk in blind either. If Tony was in love with someone else, as his restless behavior during the night seemed to indicate, then Mark wanted to know what the situation was before he got involved, not after.

“No. You know.”

“I do?”

“Stop playing silly buggers, Mark.” Tony smiled, a long, slow, delicious smile that captured Mark’s complete attention. It also included Tony rimming his lips with the tip of his tongue and once again revealing that goddamn dimple. “I lose my voice, then my muscles feel weak, and it’s like all my strength and energy has been relocated to one very sensitive spot. But why am I explaining this to you? I’m quite sure you know exactly what I mean.”

“Who’s Pete?” Mark asked.

The smile disappeared and Tony’s mouth tightened. “Someone I used to know. Why?”

“Used to?”

“As in once upon a time, past history, over and done with. No one you need worry about. It was over months ago when he found another job and moved to the States.”

“But you still dream about him?”

Tony sighed and glanced away. “Sometimes. Sorry if I woke you up.”

“No problem. You still in love with him?”

“Obsessed is probably a better word.”

Mark thought that was all Tony intended to say. But then he chewed on his thumb for a moment and said, “It was all so fucking stupid and one-sided. I loved him, and he loved himself. He didn’t care who he hurt, or who he screwed, literally or figuratively. I can’t believe it’s been so damn hard letting go. You ever known anyone like that?”

“Sure I have. Hasn’t everyone?” Actually, Mark had had one or two similar experiences of his own, the kind that had left a few scars, but for Tony it sounded like a first. His first experience of finding out that it took a whole lot more than being used, abused and screwed over before the heart really understood what the head had known all along. “It’s not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad. And, as you said, it can be damn hard letting go.”

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