Monday, January 30, 2012

Faithful Service, Silent Hearts excerpt by Lynette Mae

Faithful Service, Silent Hearts by Lynette Mae is the story of Devon James, a bright young military officer, dedicated to serving her country. She soon learns that finding love under any circumstances is difficult, but when your love is forbidden by military regulations and a relentless zealot pursues you, it can seem impossible. Following an investigation that destroyed her first lover's career and their relationship, Devon hopes her new assignment will allow her a fresh start.

Devon is reunited with an old college friend, and together, they form an impressive intelligence team and red-hot couple. When their assignments take them to the war-torn Middle East in the early days of terrorists targeting Americans, then things really get interesting. She returns home a decorated veteran with numerous physical and emotional scars. Devon soon discovers that the battle for her own integrity and faithful service has only begun.

Faithful Service, Silent Hearts
Regal Crest Enterprises (7/10/2011)
ISBN: 978-1-935053-49-1


Chapter One

March, 1982

THE ARMY DRILL instructors stalked across the blacktop toward the formation of thirty women all dressed in camouflage fatigues and standing stiffly at attention. Twenty-one-year-old Devon James watched their approach from her position on the end of the first row. The DI team was a study in contrasts. Senior Drill Sergeant Jackson, a towering man of six foot six, possessed dark chocolate skin and black granite eyes. Staff Sergeant Collins was a fierce woman whose fair features reminded Devon of a Viking warrior. Her hard blue eyes were nearly translucent and she wore a constant scowl.

Devon cringed inwardly. That woman hates me, she thought.

The sun had not even broken the horizon; the faint promise of light was just beginning to soften the dark edge of the night behind the DIs’ imposing forms. Devon blinked back tears brought on by the cold morning wind that was noisily snapping the flag overhead.

The instructors moved with mechanical precision and clicked their heels to a stop, casting a familiar glare on the group. Devon felt Staff Sergeant Collins’s icy stare on her, knowing the day was already looking bleak. She couldn’t fathom why Collins didn’t like her. Devon tried to achieve every goal the DI set for the group and for Devon individually, but no matter what she did, it never seemed to be enough. She pulled in a deep breath, focusing on the male sergeant. Only two more days.

Devon’s position at the end of the first row made her stand out. When they marched, she was either the “guide on” for the straight lines or the pivot point when the formation swung into a turn. She stood five feet ten inches tall and weighed in at one hundred and forty pounds of pure muscular power. She didn’t mind the responsibility of her position in the formation. In fact, she relished the leadership role. She wasn’t sure when that had happened, mentoring her peers in the platoon. Somewhere along the way, she had started helping the other women with their marching and achieving the best spit shine on their boots. To her surprise, she found she enjoyed it.

“Private James.” Jackson said her name flatly, without a hint of feeling, although they had been together for nearly three months and the platoon was set for graduation in days. He looked her up and down and, apparently satisfied, snapped a left face and moved to the next recruit in line.

Staff Sergeant Collins now stood directly in front of her. They were about the same height and her glacial eyes bored into Devon. Holding her neutral expression firmly in place, Devon kept her eyes trained straight ahead, looking at nothing and praying Collins would move on. No such luck. She reached out to pull at the corner of Devon’s outer shirt pocket.

“What the fuck is this, James?” she held up an imaginary string. Devon knew it was imaginary because she had meticulously checked her uniform, as always. She knew there was no string. Before she could catch herself, her eyes slid to the sergeant’s empty hand and then to her eyes. Big mistake.

“Are you eyeballing me, Private?” Collins bellowed.

“No, Drill Sergeant.” Devon stared at the horizon beyond her.

“Drop and give me twenty, James! Twenty for the string…and twenty for eyeballing me.”

Devon hit the ground and counted aloud as she shoved herself repeatedly off the blacktop, grinding out her unwarranted discipline with swift, jerking movements while the rest of the platoon stood solidly in line. The near-freezing overnight temperatures made the pavement feel like ice against the bare skin of her palms, and little bits of gravel dug in painfully. Stubborn pride was always her weakness, and she tried to corral her emotion, but Collins stood close enough that the tips of her boots were in Devon’s peripheral vision. When she reached thirty, the sergeant squatted next to her.

“James? Are you pissed off?” Devon continued counting. Concentrating on the push-ups was the only thing keeping her from spouting off. Which would only make things worse. How many times had she gotten an extra lash with her mother’s belt for failing to shut her mouth?

“Did you hear me, James? You are, aren’t you? You want to take me on?”

“Forty,” Devon growled. She remained in the plank position, balancing on her hands and toes, waiting for the DI’s next instruction. Collins squatted only a couple of inches away. Knowing that the sergeant couldn’t see her face, Devon flicked her eyes in that direction, only to realize the vee of Collins’s crotch was dangerously close. Without warning, the scent of the sergeant’s cologne registered in Devon’s consciousness, and an odd tingle spread through her gut. She forced her eyes back to the ground.

“Recover, Private,” Collins snapped, her face so near that Devon felt her breath on her cheek. She struggled for air and prayed the sergeant would assume it was only from the push-ups. When she swallowed, it was so loud in her own ears, she was certain the whole platoon heard it. Collins stood but didn’t back away.

“I should’ve made it forty for each transgression. You made that look too easy.” The warmth in Collins’s voice took Devon by surprise, prompting her to steal a glance at the sergeant before she had time to think about it. Collins was smiling. Not sneering. Genuinely smiling at her, and the effect was disorienting. Heat burned in Devon’s cheeks. She returned her eyes forward at once, bracing for the rebuke she knew was coming for the eye contact. Instead, the agonizing silent appraisal dragged on.

Mercifully, Collins looked away, and her next command pierced the air. “Everyone get your asses upstairs and put your PT clothes on. You’re down to two days but you can still fuck this up. Be back down here in five minutes. We’re gonna see just who’s ready to call themselves a soldier.”

THE DRILL INSTRUCTORS marched them out to the grassy field, and Devon had a feeling that today was going to be all about the survival of the fittest. They stood in formation awaiting instruction with a brisk wind swirling around them, stubbornly reasserting winter’s chill. Devon shivered. The brilliant sunrise in the cloudless sky promised to warm the day considerably, but for now the wind cut easily through her cotton t-shirt, raising goose bumps on every area of exposed flesh.

Collins stood several feet in front of the formation, conferring with the other sergeant. Devon wondered about her. The brief glimpse of humanity that had slipped through earlier was so stunning she couldn’t help replaying the scene in her mind. Collins had definitely smiled at her in a genuinely kind way, as though she had lifted away her mask to allow Devon to see her, if only for a moment. Now, she couldn’t stop trying to envision what the woman was like behind the cadre persona.

Sergeant Jackson spoke. “I was going to take it easy on you today, but Drill Sergeant Collins says James challenged her this morning. It seems James believes Sergeant Collins’s record time in the O course is slow.”

Devon prayed a hole would open in the ground and swallow her up. The DIs loved to dig at someone in the platoon, just to screw with them and create dissension in the ranks. Getting recruits fired up over some manufactured bullshit they blamed on another recruit was entertainment for the DIs. Devon couldn’t help but feel that she was one of their favorite targets.

Someone in the formation grumbled, “Thanks for pissing her off, James.” Collins, standing next to the senior DI, stared at Devon with an expectant look on her face.

Fuck me, Devon thought.

“Move out,” Jackson ordered.

They marched around the next bend to the obstacle course, “O” course for short. As the sun began to coax a hint of warmth into the day, the platoon broke formation and gathered at the start of the course. This exercise required each platoon member to complete two rounds. Today’s first score counted toward a combined team total, and the second run for individual times.

Having come into this in better physical condition than most of the women, Devon enjoyed the physicality of the O course. She liked being challenged to overcome the beliefs regarding limitations. Devon ran the first leg for the platoon. She worked her way methodically through each obstacle and sprinted the last fifty yards to the finish. Staff Sergeant Collins waited at the finish line with a stopwatch to capture individual times.

When Devon crossed the finish line, Sergeant Jackson looked over Collins’s shoulder and chuckled. “Better watch out, Collins, she might smash your record today.”

Collins glared at him. “Then, we’ll just run it head to head. Nobody is beating my time.” Devon moved away, trying to pretend she didn’t hear them, but Collins called out, “James?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” She hustled over and snapped to parade rest.

Amusement played across Collins’s features and the hint of a smile touched the corner of her mouth. “Hell of an effort, but don’t count on that time being enough today.” Devon watched the sergeant’s eyes sparkling with challenge in the morning sun. Without waiting for an answer, the DI spun on her heels and shouted at the next recruit attempting to scale the wall.

Devon couldn’t keep the grin from sliding over her face. A compliment from Collins was like a rare jewel, and she savored the swell of pride she felt inside. Collins’s reputation was that of the taskmaster, always pushing, demanding, forcing the recruits in her charge to improve by the sheer force of her will. Only one other time had Devon heard the sergeant praise anyone, and she certainly never expected to be on the receiving end of a kind word from the woman the platoon nicknamed The Terminator.

Someone yelled, and she shook off her momentary bliss. Her bunkmate, Sharon, was struggling at the wall. Sharon, in her late twenties, had three kids back home in Kentucky. She carried a few extra pounds and was a bit out of shape, but she had heart, and Devon had become extremely fond of her.

Devon ran to help, not wanting her friend to complete basic without accomplishing this task. Hesitating, she stopped at the sideline with the others to shout encouragement, wishing she could enter the course to assist. Hell, she’d run the course in Sharon’s place if she could. When it became painfully apparent Sharon was not going to make it over the wall, Devon became desperate to help her. She ran to Collins, who was peppering the poor woman with expletives about her inadequacies.

“Excuse me, Drill Sergeant.”

“What, James?”

“Permission to assist Private Smith, Drill Sergeant.” Devon watched Sharon’s hapless effort. She didn’t possess the upper body strength to pull herself up the rope, and each time she tried, it only resulted in making her swing side to side in a slow, awkward arc.

“Permission?” Sergeant Collins turned her critical stare to Devon. “Private, was the instruction not that this is a team exercise?”

Devon looked at her in confusion.

“If you were on a battlefield, James, and a member of your platoon needed help, what would you do?”

Devon sprinted to the wall past the other platoon onlookers. She braced her back against the wood and laced her hands together in front of her. “Sharon, put your foot here. I’m gonna boost you up.”

“But Devon, I don’t think we’re allowed—”

“Yeah, James,” someone yelled from the group, “you’re gonna get us all in trouble again. I ain’t running no extra miles for your ass today.”

“No shit!” another voice called out. “The last time you decided it was okay to do things your way, we all got killed in the training exercise and had to hump back to the barracks in freezing rain, while Charlie Company got a lift back in the cattle cars.”

Devon ignored them. It didn’t matter that she’d overheard the team of drill sergeants laughing about how they used the drill corporals to find out which direction the platoon was heading and, if not for that, the band of privates would have beaten the cadre team. She already understood that basic training was about persevering against all odds, no matter the outcome. In fact, Sharon was the one who had told her that. Now it was time to remind her friend.

“Sharon, just do it and don’t argue. If we get into trouble, I’ll take the punishment, but you’re going over this wall today.”

Sharon stepped into her hands. Devon pressed herself into a standing position, effectively lifting the woman high enough to grasp the top of the wall. “Now, step up onto my shoulder and climb over the top. You can do this, Sharon.” And, miraculously, she did. After that, Devon completed the rest of the course with her friend, yelling verbal support to keep her moving until they crossed the finish line.

Sergeant Collins clicked the stopwatch. “No team record today, ladies.”

When Sharon hung her head, Devon hugged her shoulder. “Hey, the important thing is that everyone finished. Remember? It’s about not giving up.” Looking past Sharon, she saw Collins favoring her with a pleased smile.

Eight weeks ago, this moment wouldn’t have been possible. Oh, Devon would have wanted to help Sharon, but she would have stood on the sideline, feeling helpless, stubbornly clinging to her childhood fears. She had always been this odd combination of brash tomboy and timid little girl who no one ever understood, and that made her mostly withdraw from people. Somehow, this experience was changing her, making her a doer, awakening some long-repressed desire to test her boundaries, to let loose the real Devon, the one who smiled at Sharon the first day of basic training and made a friend instantly. She was now determined to silence every ridiculing, teasing, taunting voice that had ever taken up space in a child’s head and show them all what she was really made of.

Devon was still shaking herself free of her meandering mental journey when Sergeant Jackson approached.

She quickly readied herself for her turn at the individual O course run. The rest of the platoon had already finished, and she was the last one to have a go at it.

“Do your best, James.” His eyes were full of challenge as he held up the stopwatch.

“I will, Sergeant.” Devon stepped up to the starting line. She drew several deep breaths and toed the ground to ensure good traction for a fast start. Her concentration was already focused on the first wall.

“Hold up.” Sergeant Collins dropped her outer uniform shirt and hat a few feet away. She jogged over to stand next to Devon at the line. Jackson nodded at her as though he had expected her to join Devon.

“I figured you and I should just get this over with, James.” Her lips curved into an evil smile that was arrogant and disturbingly sexy at the same time. “Ready to get your ass kicked?”

The whistle sounded and they were off. Devon hit the ten-foot wall first. Attacking the thick, coarse rope, she ignored the small tears she could feel in her palms from her previous climb and charged up the vertical face. The wood was slick from years of weather and thousands of soldiers’ feet wearing the surface to a shine. She nearly lost her footing midway. At the top, she threw her legs over and dropped to the ground on the other side. Collins landed next to her a second later. They ran side by side through the tires, zigzagging past the pylons to the low crawl beneath the razor wire. Devon stole a quick glance sideways. She caught sand in her eyes as it flew up from the churning of their arms and legs in the pit.

On the other side, they ran to the low rails. Devon’s lack of balance cost her, and Collins nimbly crossed the narrow poles to take a slight lead. The rope climb was next, and Devon’s upper body strength served her well. She shimmied up the rope with precision-like movements, pulling with her arms and pushing with her legs. She reached the top a second ahead of the sergeant and descended with the rope wrapped loosely around her ankle. Her foot controlled the speed as she descended. She had Collins by a full body length at the bottom of the cargo net. They both scrambled skyward, the nylon netting swaying and shifting with each woman’s movements.

Collins took a chance and leapt from the netting only halfway down the climb on the opposite side. This gave her a head start on the final fifty-yard dash to the finish. The entire platoon was yelling. Some encouraged the sergeant, but most were shouting at Devon not to let her get away.

Devon jumped, stumbling slightly in the soft sand at the base of the obstacle. Recovering quickly, she broke into a full sprint toward the finish, intent on overtaking the sergeant. Arms and legs pumping furiously, muscles straining, both women pushed their bodies to the limit. Devon’s field of vision narrowed to nothing but the flag marking the finish line. In the final ten yards, she kicked in her last boost of reserve adrenaline and crossed the line half a step ahead of Collins.

The platoon erupted into a chorus of cheers from the sidelines.

Devon slowed to a walk and kept moving so her overtaxed muscles wouldn’t cramp. She ignored the screaming agony in her chest. As she reversed direction, she saw Collins doing the same. They circled one another like proud lionesses protecting their territory, assessing each other, chests heaving, sweating, and watching each other’s every movement. The sergeant finally bent and put her hands on her knees, breathing hard. She looked up, met Devon’s eyes, and held them fiercely for a moment before breaking into a wide, admiring grin. “Outfuckingstanding, Private James. Outstanding!”

To purchase, click here

Monday, January 23, 2012

Transcend excerpt by West Thornhill

In Transcend by West Thornhill, Gael Astley escapes life spent as a sadist's sex slave. His rescuer introduces him to a world he never knew existed. He quickly discovers he has the powers of telepathy and telekinesis, but is confused about what this means for this life. With the help of the one person he knows he can trust, Gael embarks on an intense training regime that ultimately leads to a new career as an agent for Fillmore, a top-secret paranormal group.

Jason Phillips, a member of the Fillmore team, has secrets of his own. Though he tries to keep his distance from Gael, the two men are drawn together like moths to flame. Will Gael overcome his own insecurities and see the possibilities offered or will his past come back to destroy him?

Silver Publishing (January 21, 2012)
ISBN: 9781920502041


Chapter 3
May 2011
Another year gone by

Gael stared at himself in the mirror. Hair newly shorn showed off the myriad of piercings in both ears. He grimaced before he remembered that Uncle wouldn't be stupid enough to look for Gael in a government agency, even one as obscure as Fillmore, so it didn't matter that his waist length braid was gone.

"At least this will be cooler once the humidity sets in," he said to his reflection as he ran his fingers through his hair. "Maybe with it this short the odd color won't be as noticeable."

At least he could hope. He also hoped that the shorter, shaggier cut made him look more like a man than teenage girl.

He knew his appearance had always been more pretty than manly. It wasn't his fault. He blamed it on the unknown genetic benefactors who had created him. He didn't remember anything before the orphanage and him. He had taken Gael from the orphanage when Gael was ten. He had claimed to be a long-lost uncle who'd only recently discovered his nephew had survived a plane crash that had killed his sister and brother-in-law. Five short years later Gael figured out the real reason he had created the ruse. Gael shuddered as his mind wandered back to that day.

He was sitting at his desk hurriedly trying to get his homework completed. He desperately wanted to be asleep or at least pretend to be asleep before Uncle came home. For the past few weeks, since his fifteenth birthday, Uncle had been watching him differently. It felt like he was a carcass the vultures were waiting to devour. He released the breath he'd been holding as soon as the last problem was completed, quickly turned out the lamp and dove for the bed. He'd made it.

His breathing had just returned to normal when he heard footsteps. He knew that slow, measured gait well. Uncle was home and headed to his room. He rolled to his side, facing away from the door, seconds before it opened. Uncle walked into the room and closed the door behind him. He was already more than a little unnerved. Uncle never closed the door when he checked on him at night, and he almost gave himself away when he felt the bed shift as Uncle's weight settled behind. He wanted to cringe when he felt Uncle's callused fingers trailed up his arms.

"Finally, finally you are to be mine."

His eyes flew open wide. He almost jumped when he felt Uncle's hand slide over his ass. He could feel the heat from Uncle's hand through the two layers of cotton covering him.

He didn't remember falling asleep. So he didn't know how long Uncle had actually stayed in his room, touching him and watching him sleep. He wanted to think it had all been a bad dream. That idea was jerked away when he joined Uncle for breakfast.

"You won't be attending that school any longer. We are leaving today," Uncle said. There was something in his voice that he had never heard before—complete satisfaction. The statement had been made with such authority that he knew arguing wouldn't have been advisable.

He looked down at his plate before drinking the tea Uncle handed him. "May I ask where we are going?"

Uncle smiled. "We are moving to Italy for the next few years."

He looked at Uncle unsure really of what to do or say. "Italy?" He tried to ask but what came out sounded like 'Iahe.' Why did he feel so sleepy all of a sudden?

"Don't fight it, pretty. Just let the drug do its job."

His head lolled back on his shoulders. He tried again to speak but Uncle placed a finger over his lips. "Shhh… you will have the answers soon."

"Gael? You okay in there?" A deep voice asked through the door.

Gael looked in the mirror again. He winced as he took in how pale he'd become in the space of just a few minutes. It was times like this that he wished he could bleach his memories and make the stains go away.

"Yeah, Rick, I'll be out in a sec."

"Okay. Just remember, Tink and Jason will be here soon."

He heard Rick walk away. Rick was his lifeline. The only person he trusted because Rick had saved his life two years ago. He shook his head. He didn't have time to dwell on the past. He had to look forward, so he could keep moving forward. Rick had decided that it was time for him to join an established team. Asteria was the only team with an opening. They had lost a member six months after Rick had brought Gael into Fillmore, and Rick thought they would be a good place for him to start. Gael didn't know what had happened and that made him nervous about meeting these people.

He looked at himself one last time before dropping the towel held tightly in his hands and leaving the bathroom. They were coming to pick him up and take him to his new home in Richmond. At least it was only an hour away from Rick's home in Williamsburg. If things didn't work out, he could always call Rick to come and get him. He stopped when he heard voices coming from the kitchen.

"So, where is he? I'm surprised you're ready to give him up." There was a teasing note in the melodious voice.

"You're so funny, Tink. He'll be down in a few minutes." Gael could hear the warmth and concern in Rick's voice. "This is a big deal for him."

"Fine. I'll behave for now."

Gael could hear the teasing in her laugh. A laugh that reminded him of the wind chimes in Hawaii.

Gael sighed and slowly edged away from the wall he'd been leaning against. Determined not to trip over his own feet, he strode into the kitchen feigning confidence. Nervous as hell, he wasn't prepared for his first view of Jason and it stopped him dead in his tracks. Jason had the longest legs he'd ever seen. They were encased in well-worn black denim that hugged them perfectly. Gael's eyes traveled up over the fitted black T-shirt to the strong, square jaw. He gasped. It felt like the air he sucked in couldn't reach his lungs, making him lightheaded and dizzy. He'd known from listening to Rick that Jason was good looking but he wasn't prepared for breathtaking. On any other man Jason's slightly tilted, hooded eyes, full lips, high cheek bones, and square jaw would just be wrong. But on him it was perfect; like the Titan god Prometheus had sculpted him out of the earth to be a living testament of male beauty. His cock hardened just looking at the man.

Gael took a deep breath before continuing, trying to control his awakened libido. He knew Rick had picked up on his presence even though no one would have seen him standing in the hall. Rick, being an awesome empath, was always aware when someone was nearby, and he didn't want to see the teasing gleam in Rick's eye because of his reaction to Jason.

"Tink, your wait is over." Rick nodded to the doorway just as Gael stepped through.

Gael forced himself to smile as he walked toward them. He spoke softly. "Hey."

Rick draped an arm across his shoulders, arching a brow as he looked Gael over. Gael's brows drew together in confusion, and before he could ask, Rick smiled.

"Tink, Jason, this is Gael."

Gael wanted to cringe at the bright, almost glaring, smile that flashed across Tink's face. It reminded him of some scary horror movie clown, making her words seem ominous.

"I have a feeling he's going to fit in just fine."

That's when he noticed that Tink was dressed like a poster child for the Goth movement—a short, plaid school-girl skirt, over the knee black and white striped socks, platform Mary Jane's, and a black tee with the Wicked Witch of the West on it.

All the moment lacked was flying monkeys.

Gael felt the tension leave his body at his thoughts, shaking his head at the absurdity of them. She wasn't what he expected dressed as she was with platinum blonde hair separated into pigtails on top of her head, deep brown eyes, and clear, pale complexion. The way Rick talked about her he expected her to be wearing thick, nerdy glasses and a lab coat. With her unconventional beauty and over-the-top style, Gael could see her on America's Next Top Model with Tyra and the Js exclaiming over her "fierceness." Adding Jason's pure, raw, seductive Alpha-male vibe left him feeling almost ugly standing near them.

Her response confused him and he must have been wearing it on his face because Rick started laughing.

"G, were you paying attention when you got dressed this morning?"

Gael looked down. Black jeans, Jack Skellington T-shirt… His face flushed red when he realized, with his Disney character tee, he looked like an adolescent, wanna-be nerd compared to Tink's goth chic.

"Apparently not."

He blushed thanks to Rick's teasing but he gave a tentative smile when he caught the sexy half-smile on Jason's face. He grinned when he caught the subtle gleam of amusement in Jason's pale green eyes.

Gael listened to Tink's exuberant description of the house in Richmond. He didn't know what the Fan district was but he was positive she would introduce him to it. The desire to crawl up Jason's big body, like the man was a tree, forced Gael to ignore him. The man was just too appealing. He was turning back to respond to something Tink asked when the world went black.

The next thing Gael knew he was gasping for air and lying limply in Jason’s strong arms.

"What the hell was that?"

He tried to scramble out of Jason's lap but the steel bands the bigger man had for arms wouldn't let him move.

"Sit still," Jason said quietly. "Can you tell us what happened?"

"It was strange. One minute I was listening to Tink and the next I was looking at some guy who looked like me."

The gauntlet of emotions was overwhelming. Being in Jason's arms and smelling the fresh, woodsy scent of the man caused Gael's cock stir into wakefulness. His uneasiness from passing out was made worse by the attraction he was feeling for Jason.

Tink was staring at him like he was an oddity at a carnival. She blinked, owlishly, when Rick lightly touched her arm.


"I think Gael has a new ability." She grinned. "Luckily for you I can help you learn how to use it."

When her gaze met Gael's, he understood why she was the leader of Asteria. Her rich brown eyes had darkened to an intense black that commanded respect.

Gael looked up. "New ability?"

Tink smiled. "Tell us what you saw."

"I was standing next to a bed looking at a guy sitting at a desk. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that he had the same color hair. I moved closer to him and he looked like me. That's when I wo-came back here."

He was already embarrassed by what had happened and being in Jason's lap wasn't helping any.

"Do you remember what he was doing?" Rick asked.

"He was writing in a journal I think. Why? What's this new ability?" He looked around and stopped when he was caught in Jason's gaze.

Jason's eyes softened slightly. "Tink's right she will be able to help you."

Gael felt heat suffuse his cheeks at Jason's all too-knowing smile. Completely caught up in Jason's gaze, he jumped when Rick answered.

"That was astral projection. An ability very few actives actually develop and only one has recall like you."

"But I thought…"

Confusion swarmed over him as he tried to figure out who and what they were talking about. Then he saw the grimace on Tink's face.

"Yeah, that's what everyone thinks. Just because I'm a diviner doesn't mean that I don't have any active abilities. Telepathy, telekinesis, and astral projection tend to travel together."

Smirking, Tink turned toward Rick. Apparently there was more going on between them than just Rick being division chief but Gael wasn't sure he wanted to know. Between his uncontrollable reaction to Jason, meeting the woman Rick thought of as an equal, and discovering a new ability, Gael wasn't sure he could handle any more surprises. Sensory overload didn't even begin to describe how he felt.

"Well, I think it's time you guys hit the road."

He wanted to come back with a smart reply and in his head it sounded great. But he knew the second it came out of his mouth it would lose its impact. Rick's practicality could be annoying on a good day, which Gael had figured out not long after moving into Rick's house. He understood it was one of Rick's little OCDs, but it was still irritating.

"But I think you are well on your way to forming the bonds of a good team."

Gael glared up at Rick. "I'd get up if the gorilla would loosen his grip."

Jason laughed as he stood effortlessly with Gael in his arms. He sat Gael on the bar stool Tink had vacated when Gael fell.

"Good thing for you, this gorilla has quick reflexes. Ready to go?"

Gael wasn't sure what to say or if he should say anything; so he nodded in response. Everything he owned fit into one large duffle bag, a single small backpack, and a slim messenger bag for his laptop. He was sad he was leaving Rick's, but at the same time, he felt the anticipation of a new beginning.

* * * *

Driving back to Richmond, Jason only half listened to the conversation between Gael and Tink. He was more concerned with his intense, almost painful, attraction to the slight young man. When Gael had walked into the room he'd felt his entire being shift. Gods, the man was stunning and didn't even realize it. Jason sensed that something in Gael's past had hurt him, badly. He desperately wanted to protect him from whatever had gouged those wounds into Gael's soul. He wanted to know what had made Gael appear to think so little of himself, and he wanted desperately to protect him from whatever or whoever had hurt him.

Rick told them that Gael had waist length hair but the new shorter style showed off his creamy complexion and silver eyes perfectly. But Rick had left out a lot. Gael's copper colored hair and silver eyes were just a small piece of the beautiful package sitting uncomfortably in the back of the SUV. Jason was totally captivated by Gael's slightly feminine appearance. He was even slimmer than Tink who at five six wore a size two without trying.

Jason’s thoughts were focused completely on the moments he'd held the smaller man. The slight figure overshadowed by loose fitting clothing belied the toned, hard body he'd felt. His lion stretched and chuffed at the thought of cradling Gael against him. He'd never really been interested in men as small as Gael but for some reason Gael brought out every protective instinct he shared with his cat. He didn't want to think too much about what that could mean to him and his future. He wanted his mate but wasn't prepared for all that Gael represented.
To purchase, click here

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kaleidoscope: Gay Portraits in Shifting Focus excerpts by Anel Viz

In the seven stories in the collection Kaleidoscope: Gay Portraits in Shifting Focus, the author Anel Viz explores people’s shifting views of each other, of the images they project, and of themselves. Individuals fragment, the pieces fall into ever-changing patterns like bright confetti in the base of a kaleidoscope, and our ideas about sexuality color what we see.

The following four short excerpts are from four of the short stories included in the collection Kaleidoscope.

Kaleidoscope: Gay Portraits in Shifting Focus
Silver Publishing
ISBN: 9781920501037 (ebook)
(print edition to be released soon)


(Dr. Krone puzzles over the real persona of a student whose dress, body language and opinions change from one class to the next.)

Every few years one will have a class joker among one's students. This is often an advantage. Not a class clown, whose very presence is disruptive, but a joker, a young man, less often a woman, whose witty remarks are to the point and lighten the atmosphere so that sitting in class becomes a more pleasant experience for the other students and their professor as well. That spring his name was Roy Bramson.

Edmund didn't pick up on Bramson's game until halfway into the first unit; until then he took everything he said at face value. Bramson had perfected the technique of innocently asking a question that seemed naive on the surface, but which when followed through brought out complexities and led their discussion in surprising directions on topics Edmund had covered so often they had become second nature to him. He asked them with an expression of absolute deadpan and wide-eyed curiosity, like one of those students who have such ingrained opinions that they assume everyone thinks exactly as they do and require a long, overly simplified explanation before they can grasp an unfamiliar idea. What finally gave him away was that where he seemed to be coming from was constantly

Edmund always had his students fill out a small information sheet the first day of class. After three or four class sessions, he took note of Bramson's participation and looked through them again to see what he had written. Except for the last item, his answers were unremarkable.

Major: undecided—economics? computer science? biology?

Why you chose this course: I need it for my humanities requirement & it fits in with my schedule (nearly everyone put something like that)

1 to 3 things you know about Ancient Greece and/or Rome: they ate olives, they had orgies, they conquered the world

When he handed out the syllabus, Bramson had raised his hand and asked if the creation myths they studied would include Darwin's theory of evolution. A couple of students guffawed; others looked embarrassed. It was impossible to tell whether he was a wise guy or a creationist.

Edmund answered noncommittally, explaining that the course did not deal with truth, but with stories different cultures invented to help them make sense of the world.

Thanks to Bramson's question, that first day was unlike any other. Instead of outlining the course, clarifying his expectations, giving his little "Why study mythology?" speech and letting them go early, they talked about subjects he always reserved for the last week of class—if the expression "modern myths" was accurate or figurative, how entertainment and the media perpetuate what we take for granted, to what extent globalization had homogenized the modern view of the world, what national legends persisted in different countries and how they affected international politics—vital questions that they would turn to again and again during the course of the semester.

Nearly the whole class participated in the discussion, and by the end of the hour, Edmund knew things about his students that might have come out later in their papers or an off-hand remark, or which he might never have found out at all.

Photographic Memories
(A witness at a trial for a gay killing harbors some doubts that the accused is the man he saw leave with the victim.)

In the days before they started sealing adult magazines in cellophane, he used to flip through them and their contents would imprint themselves on his brain before anyone could see where his prurient interests lay. Then he would go home, open his pants, and idly stroke himself while his mind read through them, seeing the color photos in all their glory and imagining the models were the characters he was reading about, though back then the magazines didn't show full frontal nudity.

Kyle was younger then, and perpetually horny. Now he no longer cared if people knew he was gay and would have had no qualms standing in front of the racks if they still held any attraction for him. He'd seen thousands of naked men and with his eyes shut could see them again; he didn't need to stare. His partner, Nathan, once asked how he could be sure he wasn't looking at someone else when they made love. He answered that while looking at a beautiful body still gave him pleasure, voyeurism per se had lost its glamour.

Other tastes had changed as well. Instead of porn, he liked less graphic, tastefully written erotica, good stories about real people with real feelings involved in plausible sexual situations, and though he could have taken an entire page in at a glance, he read slowly, savoring as he went along.

He had forgotten the stories he used to read from memory as a kid, but sometimes one would come back to him, recalled by he knew not what event in his present life. He couldn't be sure he remembered it exactly. Even a photographic mind can play tricks on you. Though he could glance at a newspaper and rattle it off word for word, with the stories there was not only the time interval to consider. A certain amount of elaboration might also come into play, as the models he had imagined cinematically acting the stories no doubt colored his vision. Also, the stories seemed much better written than he remembered them, so his literary sensibilities must have interfered in an editorial capacity.

For that reason, at the trial Kyle refused to swear he was absolutely certain the man he had identified without hesitation in the line-up was the same person he had seen at Cassidy's. The prosecutor asked to redirect. She gave him five seconds to look at a printed page she took from the court stenographer and had him recite it back. He took two seconds and reeled it off without a mistake.

"Yet you say you cannot swear that the accused is the man you saw.

"If you asked me to recite that page again a week from now, I'd have to struggle and some of the words would be different. The crime was five months ago."

"But you've seen him or his pictures numerous times since then to keep him fresh in your memory."

"All the more reason to distrust myself. I could be remembering the photos and not the man. And I'd been drinking."

(A popular high school student befriends a gay classmate.)

The teller looked at my deposit slip and asked, "Are you related to Arthur?" Not a far-fetched question in a town of under sixty thousand—ours is not a common last name.

"I'm his father," I said. "You know him?"

"Oh, yes, I remember him fondly. He was such a good friend to Kevin. I'm Mrs. Bates."

The name didn't ring a bell. "I didn't know all of Arthur's friends. Didn't really know any of them well."

"They weren't close friends, really, but Kevin talked a lot about him. Thought the world of him. The things he did for him!"

"To be perfectly honest, it's hard to imagine Arthur doing things for people when he was a kid." Little things, maybe. Not that he was selfish or anything. He just had this idea that people ought to fend for themselves.

"Then you didn't know your son as well as you think you did. I wouldn't call the things he did for Kevin little. How's he doing?"

"Well… very well, in fact. He's getting married next month. The whole family's flying to Belgium for the wedding. He's been working in Brussels the past two years."

"How exciting! I've never been out of the country myself. His wife… the girl… she's Belgian?" I nodded. "Will he be settling there?"

"For a couple more years, I think, and then wherever his company sends him. And your son? Does he still live here?"

"Are you kidding? Kevin got out as soon as he could. He's in San Francisco now and happily partnered—"

Mrs. Bates broke off in mid-sentence, seeing the look on my face. She must have mistaken it for disapproval. It wasn't, though; it was remembrance.

"You're Kevvy's mom," I said. "It's come back to me now. So Kevvy's in San Francisco and has a permanent boyfriend. I'm glad for him. They get on well?"

She beamed and nodded.

It had been more than ten years, but I remembered Kevvy Bates, all right. I'd met him several times, a skinny seventeen-year-old, not particularly remarkable, blond, very round brown eyes, about five foot eight, with a shy smile and awkward in his movements. He was always polite and had a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. It was hard to tell if he was joking or serious. I liked him, though, which is more than I can say for his friend Mitchell, who was by far the more colorful of the two.

Since the Reunion
(“Spouses and significant others welcome.” How many will attend? How have they changed over the past 25 years?)

About twenty of my old classmates had arrived before me. It was hard to tell with them scattered around the lobby, mixed in with alumni of other years divisible by five. More people kept trickling in. I assumed ours would be the largest group, twenty-five being a special number.

Phil was the first one I saw, sitting at a table by the window with a half-dozen others from our class, including Alyssa. He didn't look at all shy, but totally at ease and very voluble, otherwise very much the same, as thin as he was in his teens, a middle-aged man with graying hair and stubble and a kid's build. Another difference: my gay-dar clicked on as soon as I laid eyes on him, not that his mannerisms were in any way effeminate. He recognized me immediately and waved for me to come join them.

Alyssa gave me a big hug and fell to reminiscing about the prom. Her speech was labored, her words slurred. She had survived two strokes and walked with a cane.

"I had a feeling you'd be here," Phil said.

I asked, "Freelance what?" Freelance everything, it seemed. He earned most of his spotty income as a "freelance office worker"—who knew there were such things?—and a freelance research assistant for such a wide variety of projects I thought he must have become one of those generalists who specialize in everything. But his great passion was photography. He freelanced in that capacity, too, but it didn't bring in much.

It appeared that Phil, of all people, had kept tabs on just about everyone he'd known, either directly or through others he'd stayed in touch with. When I asked about someone, he usually had the answers. Pam had dropped out of sight, vanished without a trace. Connie thought she'd seen her once on the news, in a crowd of people at a Free Angela Davis rally in Chicago. She'd cut her hair—beautiful, red-blond hair that reached below her waist. As I said, I lusted after her in high school.

"And Cora?"

Hadn't I heard? Cora had developed schizophrenia a year or two after she graduated from college and had to be institutionalized. Ellie had made it a point to visit her there whenever she was in town, but at the last class reunion, the hospital told her Cora had been discharged, the result of one of the city's painless money-saving cutbacks that affected those who needed help most. They had a phone number on file, but it had been disconnected. She was living on the streets now, for all Ellie knew.
To purchase, click here

Monday, January 9, 2012

Swan Cloud - Southern Swallow Book III excerpt by Edward C. Patterson

In Swan Cloud - Southern Swallow Book III by Edward C. Patterson, ten years has passed since The Nan Tu, Book II of the Southern Swallow series. "We were like Swan Clouds, or so my master Li K'ai-men said, because for ten years we drifted from place to place - city to city - one temporary capital after another." The Sung court and government has settled at the great city of Lin-an and peace is sought with the invading Jurchen. The stage is set for one of the most infamous incidents in Chinese history, known as The Yueh Fei Affair - an intrigue, which casts our adventurers into the perils of the times.

Book III of the Southern Swallow series, Swan Cloud, like its predecessors (The Academician and The Nan Tu) is told by K'u Ko-ling, servant to the Grand Tutor, Li K'ai-men, who must forgo his obligated mourning period and set out on a diplomatic mission for the Emperor Kao - a mission fraught with political intrigue and treachery. Set on the broad canvas of Sung Dynasty China (12th Century), Swan Cloud is a tale of separation and sacrifice - injustice and intrigue. It represents a turning point in this saga for our hero and his band of spiritual warriors.

Swan Cloud-Southern Swallow Book III
Publisher: CreateSpace (November 3, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1466499591
ISBN-13: 978-1466499591


Chapter One -Honey Cakes


We were like Swan Clouds, or so my master Li K’ai-men said, because for ten years we drifted from place to place — city to city — one temporary capital after another. However, we inevitably returned to Hang-chou, the Emperor’s favorite place. It wasn’t always his favorite. After our flight southward and along the coast, the Jurchen enemy was embroiled in their own political quagmire, allowing us to return to the battle scarred earth we called the Motherland.

His Majesty had learned well — learned well from my master, his Grand Tutor and the Custodian of the Yellow Door. Under my master’s influence, the Emperor Kao became energetic, seeking talent and resources. He even moved north in an attempt to retake our lost lands. We had four brave generals — Chang Chun, Han Shr-chung, Lu Kuang-shr and Yueh Fei. Things appeared promising, but what do I know, K’u Ko-ling, piss-ant servant that I am. I only parrot my master’s words. Fortunately for you, he has told me much.

The Jurchen didn’t slacken when we Sung attacked them. They had bolstered their puppet buffer state under Liu Yu, who had ennobled many outlaws to join him, including Yueh Fei’s brother-in-law, Li Ch’eng. Still, the Sung generals perceived they had the upper hand; so much so, His Majesty went to the city of Ch’ien-ning to direct the campaign personally. Unfortunately, he was not a strategist. He meddled with the assignments and promotions, placing rival commanders in the field. This led to mutiny and the defection of the popular general Liu Ch’i-fei who took two-hundred thousand soldiers with him, joining the enemy’s camp. His Majesty’s appetite for war waned. He withdrew south to Hang-chou, renaming the city Lin-an — Pacified Forest — and declared it the Temporary Capital of Temporary Capitals. The grand offense now had become a grand defense, and stood thus for ten years.

My master, his ch’i-t’ang and the family went wherever his Majesty went. So did I, because I am ch’i-t’ang. Our growing family stumbled along from place to place living in mud daub dwellings and dank dells until finally we settled into a spacious compound just east of Lin-an’s West Lake. My master named the place The Pavilion of the Gentle Zephyrs, because he had hoped the wind would keep us steady there — that our travels might be at an end. In that, he was wrong.

We were privileged. Many officials still squalored in muck houses and sties. It didn’t much matter to me. Life had become a steady work in motion — a Swan Cloud, as my master said. But for me, it was more a Crow’s Bucket filled with the handy tasks that I was born to perform. I couldn’t complain. I was sinewy and had free access to every fan-tan game in town, not to mention every whore. I had my own horse — Water Dragon, and I was married — say yes. But my fat-ass wife and brawling craphound son were not worth a fart. I did my duty. I gave the world one son . . . well, two, but . . . when I think of the secret one, I lose my good humor and drift toward melancholy. So I won’t think about him. Instead, I will tell you about the events that shaped the world as it became — events turning my three and thirty years at the time upon their head.


Lu Ting crossed his arms as he rode in the sedan chair, the curtains drawn, protecting him from the rising sun. The mornings were still chilly in the north. He had been traveling for nineteen days and was a long distance from Lin-an. He worried how his colleagues would fare in his absence. Still, his mission was important — a blunt one and worthy of the journey’s hardships.

As the chair bounced unsteady along the road, his porters lost their grip. Lu Ting held fast to the lacquered canopy. In his youth, he would have ridden a grand steed, but in his dotage, the chair would do, if these damned porters could hold it steady. Suddenly, the vehicle wavered and shook and then crashed to the ground, the minister clutching the side poles to avert serious injury. The curtains wrapped around his head.

“Help me,” he shouted, twisting about in the crimson cloth.

The porters recovered the chair, but not the Director of the Left. That task fell to the steward.

“My lord,” said the steward.

“Fei P’ing,” Lu Ting shouted. “Help me. Who’s responsible? This is unforgivable.”

“It could not be helped, my Lord,” Fei P’ing stammered.

He extricated his master from the curtains, righting him, and then immediately knelt in supplication. Lu Ting whirled around scowling at the porters, who also knelt. The entire entourage, twenty-five in all, knelt, heads bowed low. However, Lu Ting softened as he scanned the surroundings.

“It could not be helped,” Fei P’ing murmured, weeping.

Lu Ting stepped over the curtain to the road’s edge. He trembled.

“What has happened here? What is this place, Fei P’ing?”

“It is Yao Ch’ing.”

On both sides of the road — death and carnage — bodies clad in sullied leather and sodden silk. Bodies stacked haphazardly where they had fallen. The ground oozed blood — rivulets of crimson pooled beside shattered corpses. Dead horses were decayed and strewn across the landscape. Lu Ting choked.

“So much death,” he muttered. “The earth will yield nothing but weeds beneath such fodder.” He sighed. “Up with you, Fei P’ing. Up! Up! All of you. I can’t be cross before the ghosts. Of course, it couldn’t be helped. I haven’t sustained injury, except to my eyes, looking out upon this terrible . . .”

Carrion birds feasted, scarcely stirring at the grand minister’s presence. Lu Ting shaded his eyes, straining to see the distant hills, where the battle fires still smoldered. Nothing moved except the occasional banner angled to catch the stinking breeze.

The entourage slowly stirred — the carts refastened, the sedan set right, the curtains reattached, although Minister Lu Ting refused to draw them again. In fact, he refused to take his seat again. He trudged past the road’s edge, exploring the marks of battle. His slippers raised the dust. He kicked hands that had lost their owners and legs, now mere debris. Fei P’ing followed him at a distance.

“This is a victory, no doubt,” Lu Ting said. “I see more leather than silk. But how much more can the earth sustain under the warrior’s hand.”

“My lord,” Fei P’ing called. “We are a half day from the place. We should not linger here.”

Lu Ting halted, his travel robes feeling twice their weight. He allowed his eyes to settle on a head — a Jurchen head, one not unlike his own, except that it was loosed from its owners neck and may have belonged to one of several of the nearby fallen. This trunkless head seemed to laugh at him. It said Fool. You wish to continue this unending state of things — this war of ten years. And what have you gained?

Lu Ting scanned the distant hills again.

“Yes,” he muttered. “We’ve recaptured Lo-yang. It’s a good thing to have one of our jewels back, despite the cost.”

He sighed, and then raised his collar to block the noxious odor.

“My Lord.”

“Yes, Yes. We’ll hasten to Lo-yang, Fei P’ing. We must speak to the butcher in his lair.”

Lu Ting trundled back to the road, the entourage anxious to leave this place. The porters attended once again. Lu Ting climbed into his chair.

“Have better care with my old bones,” he told them. “Make haste.”

However, even at an increased pace, Lu Ting would not lose sight of the carnage for a full watch. He refused to draw the curtains as he pondered the evidence of his policies. As for the stench of rotting flesh and the spectacle of bloated torsos, he would take those to his grave. They would follow him like the blowflies and the carrion crows.


From the West, a fast horse approached Lo-yang, the rising sun blinding the rider. His mission — important. His cargo — an imperative, tucked within two parcels in the depths of his saddlebag. The dust flew about in the beast’s wake.

“Ai-ya,” the rider shouted, striking with his boot heels and snapping the whip-like reins.

The horse whickered, charging forward as if the world depended on his delivery.

“Ai-ya and go. Stop complaining. He is waiting for it.”

The walls loomed before the rider who steered toward the gates. A city of tents now emerged before the fortress — a sea of color shivering in the wind. Soldiers awoke to their morning duties and piss. They noted the rider and he noted them, but nothing slowed his course. In fact, the gate opened at his approach, as if the world expected him.

“Ai-ya,” he shouted as he raced past the guards, who held their helmets fast as if the steed would blow them off. Only the ancient streets in the Western Market slowed the animal’s course.

The rider called for a canter, reining in — directing hooves toward the old Imperial compound, which now served as the Ya-men and headquarters for the Great Commander of the Western Forces — General Yueh Fei. As the horse and its cargo trotted through the market and then passed the artisan guilds, the night lanterns were extinguished, apprentices waving to the soldier, who ignored them. He kept to his course.

The Ya-men gates opened and he spun into the courtyard. Two grooms cuffed the steed, and then the rider dismounted, snatching the saddlebags in a single motion.

“He waits,” shouted an officer, who stood nearby. “Haste.”

The rider followed the officer into the darkness.


General Yueh Fei paced in the Pavilion of the Copious Harvest, his staff watching his every move. Captain Tzu Ma-lin listened, cocking his head attentively for the expected footsteps. He had already made his report to his commander — that an entourage from the Capital was approaching from the southeast and had crossed the Yao Ch’ing battlefield. However, nothing could commence — no planning, agenda or even the reception for the Director of the Left until the General’s morning ritual had reached its completion. That could not commence until the rider rode the distance from the General’s lady-wife.

“I hear them,” Tzu Ma-lin said.

The other officers — six leaders of stature who had been pouring over maps, stirred.

“As it should be,” Yueh Fei said.

He stared at his staff, particularly Tzu Ma-lin, until they gathered around their maps, their strategic conference drawing away from the General’s business. Another Captain, Go Xin, marched smartly into the chamber, followed by the rider, who toted the saddlebag.

“We are here, sir,” Go Xin said, clasping his right fist to his breastplate, and then bowing.

The rider knelt, bowed his head and raised the saddlebag high above his noggin. Yueh Fei, a giant by anyone’s measurement, loomed over the man. He snatched the bag, the rider prostrating.

“Are they intact?” he asked.

“Yes, my lord. Untouched by any one but my mistress.”

“Just so.”

“Any word back, my lord?”

“Linger in the kitchens. Don’t leave unless I tell you. I’ll send her a token, but I must consider it first.”

“Yes, my lord.”

The rider regained his footing, saluted and then shuffled toward the door.

“Go Xin,” Yueh Fei said. “Walk with me.”

The captain followed Yueh Fei to a corner, where the general retrieved the parcels. Go Xin took the saddlebag.

“Lu Ting has been sighted at Yao Ch’ing,” Yueh Fei said. “How long do you think it will take him to reach Lo-yang?”

“He’s old, sir. He might take a day.”

Yueh Fei turned and grinned.

“No one lingers on that battlefield, Go Xin, especially a man of dainty qualities. If he hadn’t turned about and rushed back to Lin-an by now, then I would say he’s running his ass to Lo-yang and will be enjoying our hospitality by the eighth watch.”

“I shall prepare.”

“Prepare well. His presence disturbs me.”

Go Xin shrugged.

“He’s friendly to the cause,” Go Xin said.

“Yes. A dangerous cause. He might be old and genteel, but he has had the balls to oppose Ch’in Gwei.”

Go Xin opened his mouth to comment, but closed it, commentary enough having been expended on the subject of Ch’in Gwei — commentary too often spouted — too often unproductive. Captain Tzu Ma-lin approached, coming to attention, and then nodding.

“Your orders, sir.”

Yueh Fei gathered the parcels into the crook of his arm, and then grinned.

“Well, Tzu Ma-lin, it isn’t every day the Emperor sends an emissary to piss ants like us. We fight for the nation and His Majesty, now that he chooses to embrace his southern whore house.”

His captains grinned.

“Ignore me, comrades,” Yueh Fei said. “I’m a gruff man and have known our Imperial Lord since he was a boy.

He gave me my commission . . . personally . . . and in the field . . . and before he ascended the dragon throne.”

Yueh Fei’s grin melted away as he thought of that day on the road to meet the Jurchen lord, Nien-ho. General Yueh escorted the Emperor, at the time Prince Kang, through the lands of the outlaw Li Ch’eng, who was the brother of the woman who sent the parcels now tucked under Yueh Fei’s arm.

“His Majesty is diligent, brave and worthy of our devotion, gentleman,” Yueh Fei said. “But gruff men will be gruff men.”

“We share your gruffness, sir,” Go Xin said.

“No. You share my battlefield and are therefore my heart — the pulse of my existence. You know me well and serve me better. So, greet the Director of the Left with respect and comfort. Billet him in the Phoenix Pavilion and set his entourage in our best rooms. Lo-yang is the seat of Emperors. Let the best of tradition be served in Lu Ting’s honor and remember he’s a friendly voice in that shit hole we call the court.”

He closed his eyes, knowing that any speech dishonoring the Imperial regime was not befitting his position as Commander of the Western Forces. Still, these men were his right and left hands. They needed to hear his true thoughts. He trusted them not to transmit these notions to their subordinates and thence through the rank and file.

“It shall be done, sir,” Tzu Ma-lin said.

“Good. It is well. K’ai-feng is within our grasp. There are times when politics rule us and I believe this is one of those times.” He raised the parcels. “But now I must spend time with these. Any one who dares interrupt me during the next watch, his balls will be impaled on the Western Gate.”

The captains laughed.

“What if General Han Shr-chung should be that man?” Go Xin asked.

“He would be the exception having nothing for me to impale.” Yuen Fei laughed. “But he’s far away in the East and shall not be calling today.”

His men bowed, departing to fulfill their orders. Yueh Fei glanced at the parcels, and then drifted out of the Pavilion of the Copious Harvest, roaming through the courtyard to a small enclosure that he called his billet. Simple, cold and soldierly, it reminded him that as lofty as his responsibilities had grown, he was a warrior still — one of many.


“Sir,” said the steward as Yueh Fei entered his quarters.

“It’s here, Pan La.”

“I’m going, sir.”

“Guard against all comers, Pan La.”

The steward, young and bright eyed, smiled at his commander, devotion radiating from his eyes. He bowed, and then disappeared into the courtyard.

Yueh Fei set the parcels on a table near the window, and then knelt at a portable temple that enshrined his ancestral tablets. He bowed, his top knot whisking the shrine’s edge. He reached for a joss stick, stuck it in a sand pot and then, taking a fire inch-stick, he struck it on the side of the pot, the stick bursting into flame. He touched it to the incense, igniting it — a thin smoky stream yielding jasmine perfume. He clapped three times.

“Father,” he intoned. “I know you wanted me to be a pot-maker and marry a seamstress, but the world has turned and I’ve become the enemy’s devil, hacking my way northward in service to the Son of Heaven. My wife is the sister of an outlaw, whom I have compromised, and she sews nothing more than tent hems and flag trim. But she can bake and steam cake like no other woman to my acquaintance.” He clapped again. “So, as your greatest disappointment, I beg you to indulge me a bit longer. There may be a time when I shall do naught but make pots. Meanwhile, I prefer the enemy’s blood on my boots and his wail in my ears and his wounds within sight.” He clapped again, and bowed. “If you see fit to speak on my behalf to the spirits who guide mapmakers, tell them to be more accurate with their fucking landmarks, so I might strike truer at the enemy’s heart.”

He reached for another joss stick, lit it and then clapped again. This done, he went to the table and unwrapped the first parcel. His fingers breached the strings carefully, unrolling the stiff paper, revealing an object wrapped in yellow silk, a red string fastened at each end. Again, Yueh Fei liberated the wrapping, pressing the cloth flat. In its center was the prize — a pastry of golden quality, rectangular and glistening in the filtered light. He sighed.

“She loves me still,” he muttered.

He pressed his hand in the cake’s side, breaking off a goodly piece. He chuckled in anticipation, and then raised the crumbled victual to his eye.

“She loves me still.”

His wife had sent him these honey cakes, and it was more than a gentle wifely gesture from a faithful woman. She was the sister of the outlaw Li Ch’eng and had married Yueh Fei when he was a member of the cutthroat’s band. She too was skilled with the sword and had seen her share of freebooting. However, when Yueh Fei threw his lot in with the Sung Army, she dutifully abandoned the bandits and followed her husband into respectability. Now her loyalty was tested. Her brother had been driven out of the north and had infested Lake Tung-t’ing, where he led a rebellion. Yueh Fei, however, crushed that rebellion, Li Ch’eng retreating to serve the Jurchen. They declared Li Ch’eng their champion and commanding general.

Now, Li Ch’eng was dead, slain in battle at Yao Ch’ing along with his army, defeated by . . . his brother-in-law, Yueh Fei. Victory was sweet to the Sung, despite the prevalent court policy to sue for peace. Victory was sweet to the Generals of the North — Han Shr-chung and Chang Chun. However, it held bitterness for Yueh Fei, who had sent a dispatch to his lady-wife to say that he was safe, but her brother was dead and slain by her husband’s hand.

I shall deliver myself to your wrath, he wrote to her, and I will retreat to the mountains at Kun-ming, exiling myself from your weeping. If you despise me, send me a knife and I shall dispatch it into my heart. If you share in my victory, send me a sweeter sign of your love.

She sent him both — a honey cake and a knife, and, at first, he wasn’t sure she meant for him to live. However, after consideration, he used the knife to cut the cake, and then sent his thanks. Another cake arrived and then another, and since it was not poisoned and he thrived, he was blessed by the daily arrival of his lady-wife’s forgiveness and loyalty.

Yueh Fei smiled as the crumbs moistened his lips and showered his beard.

“Who needs a recalcitrant father, when I have such an abiding wife?”

He glanced back toward the tablets, the joss sticks still fumigating the corner of the room. He swallowed hard, and then called Pan La for drink. The steward, never more than a shout away, popped his head in. He already had the flask.

“Take this other parcel to my staff room. Let the mapmakers enjoy it.”

“Honey cake again, sir?”

“Indeed. And this portion I leave for you.”

“I’m not worthy.”

“I’ll determine your worthiness, Pan La. I command here and no other. When I say you’re to eat honey cake, you’ll eat it.”

“Thank you, sir.” He poured some wine. “Go Xin and Tzu Ma-lin are hovering, sir.”

“They dare not come in.” He laughed. “It’s good that they keep their distance when I’m cavorting with my ancestors. My captains value their balls, Pan La. Did they say what they wanted?”

“Yes, sir. The commissioner from the Capital has arrived.”

“That would be Lu Ting — the Director of the Left, Pan La, and it is the Temporary Capital not the Capital. We mean to retake the real Capital and enthrone His Majesty there again.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Well, drift their way and mention that I said for them to prepare the Hall of Virtuous Peace in two watches. I might be found there and ready for a conversation with the Director of the Left.”

“Are those orders, sir?”

“They are, but . . . do not frame them as such. You’re not me. You overheard my thoughts and hoped my captains will be engines of anticipation. Then, return here, snuff out the incense and lay out my court attire.”

“Just so, sir.”

“Don’t look so puzzled. I must be a politician today and put the warrior away . . . at least for now.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pan La snatched the unopened parcel, bowed and then scurried over the threshold.

“He’s a good lad,” Yueh Fei muttered.

He pawed at more honey cake. He ate no more, but hoped that Pan La would leave some morsels for a late night indulgence. Yueh Fei closed his eyes. He had at least one watch to rest and to prepare for this meeting of state.


Yueh Fei was the savior of the Empire, or so every one who bellowed his name proclaimed. The other generals had shown brave measures, but also false steps. Yueh Fei never wavered. At Yao Ch’ing — his finest hour, he clobbered Li Ch’eng’s army, and they weren’t a weakling group of invested farmers and salt miners. No. These were seasoned soldiers, mostly Han who were now comfortable under their Jurchen overlords. They were content with the swagger of Li Ch’eng. However, Yueh Fei knew his brother-in-law well — knew his stratagems and anticipated the lethal blow reserved for the seventy-seven swords. So, Yueh Fei trained warriors to match those swords, blade for blade, and assigned each soldier to an individual outlaw. On the battlefield, distinctive emblems and devices were worn by each, a stupid move on Li Ch’eng’s part marking all seventy-seven. Yueh Fei’s strike force targeted each, easily finding them in the heat of battle, drowning them in metal, fire and blood. None survived. Yueh Fei himself met the antlered Li Ch’eng in a contest that would be legendary — told in local inns for years to come.

Still, the great Hero of the Nation had overstretched his authority. The court was negotiating for peace even as the battle raged. Although the victory was lauded, there were those who urged the Emperor to halt it at once. There was much at stake. Now, for me, I had had my fill of battle, so peace and quiet would be nice for a change. However, those who think lofty thoughts and form opinions of worth are constantly debating the issue as a matter of political gain. It’s easy to hold such opinions if you strut in silvery chambers and scrawl pretty characters on clean silken sheets. But if you just want a full belly, a woman and a good night’s sleep, war or peace is a matter of outcome and on which side you’ve eaten, humped and slept.

See also excerpts dated 4/13/09 and 1/18/10
To purchase, click here

Monday, January 2, 2012

Buyer’s Remorse excerpt by Lori L. Lake

In Lori L. Lake's Buyer's Remorse: Book 1 in The Public Eye Mystery Series, the debut of mystery fiction's newest lesbian detective, Leona (Leo) Reese, Lake "takes us on a twisted ride through sinister secrets and lies and gives us a story that promises to keep everyone up way past bedtime." (Ellen Hart, author of The Jane Lawless Mystery Series)

Leona “Leo” Reese is a 33-year-old police patrol sergeant with over ten years of law enforcement experience. After she fails her bi-yearly shooting qualification due to a vision problem, Leo is temporarily assigned to the investigations division of the state’s Department of Human Services. She’s shell-shocked by her vision impairment and frustrated to be reassigned to another department, even temporarily. On her first day on the new job, she’s assigned a case where a woman at an independent living facility for elders has been murdered by an apparent burglar. But all is not as it seems, and it will take all her smarts to outwit a dangerous criminal. Will she uncover the murderer before other people are robbed and killed?

Buyer's Remorse
Publisher: Regal Crest/Lori L. Lake Enterprises (November 10, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61929-002-0


Chapter One

THE SUN HID behind a cloud as Sergeant Leona “Leo” Reese walked across the parking lot to the Saint Paul Police Station. She was dismayed to see Bob Hannen near the door, a cigarette burning between his fingers. She hated cigarettes—not quite as much as she despised Hannen, but close. Cops weren’t supposed to smoke in the squad cars, but the minute Hannen made sergeant, he’d started doing whatever he wanted.

She hoped he’d go back inside before she arrived, but no such luck. He caught sight of her and broke into a wide smile, his bright-white dentures gleaming in the sunlight. He’d just turned forty, but he had the body of a sixty-year-old and the brains of a teenage boy. A teenage boy with hidden ’Roid Rage. The guy loved to manhandle suspects.

“Well,” he said, “if it isn’t Little Miss Can’t Shoot Straight.”

The double meaning was clear, and Leo choked back a reply replete with curse words and references to his parentage. “Get out of my way, Hannen.”

“I’m glad to catch up with you, Blondie. I wanted to thank you for your kindness.”

She wrenched the door open and hesitated. She hated looking back. The gloating expression sure to be on his face made her feel homicidal.

He dropped his cigarette and ground it into the cement with his heel. “Thanks to your incompetence, I’m the new FTO coordinator.”

“Screw you, Hannen.”

“You wish,” he said, laughing. He followed her inside, the smell of sweat and stale smoke wafting around him.

Leo concentrated on breathing. If she didn’t, she was afraid she’d pull out her sidearm, aim at his foot, and show him what a straight shooter she was. Of course the guy’s foot was usually in his mouth, so she’d get the delightful experience of also blowing his head off.

“Have fun talking to the commander,” he said in a mocking voice. “I’m sure he’ll have some sweet nothings to whisper into your queer ear.” With a cackle, he peeled off and went toward the Roll Call Room. She headed to the women’s lockers.

Leo had always gotten along well with men. Some of the cops may have had reservations about her at first, but she was persistent. Little time passed before she learned the names of wives and kids, the hobbies her coworkers enjoyed, the quirks and prejudices they possessed. Dad Wallace had taught her that one of the biggest compliments you could pay a fellow cop was to listen and be respectful, offering calm support and no judgments.

The tactic worked on the street, too. She kept track of people whose houses had been vandalized, ministers whose churches had been broken into, businesses with robbery and shoplifting calls, and she stopped by periodically to touch base with those victims—even now when her role was supervisory.

But none of this worked with the Bob Hannens of the world. He was all about power: who had it, how they got it, how he could snatch it away. He wasn’t particularly smooth, either. In Leo’s opinion, Bob’s name had one too few O’s in it. Her competence was a threat to his ascension, and when she made sergeant two years before he did, Hannen declared war, a silent, festering sort of war characterized by snide comments and constant needling. The man gossiped and passed on lies and inaccurate information more than any neighborhood busybody she’d ever met.

She hated him for it, and today her anger was so close to the surface that she worried she’d say something she’d regret to the commander. Breathe, she reminded herself again. Just keep breathing.

She changed from the casual apparel she’d worn at the shooting range into her uniform, all the while wondering how Hannen had found out about her situation so quickly. She’d left the range less than an hour earlier. Had the range master called in her scores so quickly?

As she holstered her sidearm, she rethought her shooting performance. Her first few rounds at the target always went fine. After six or eight shots, though, her vision went fuzzy, and despite wearing hearing protection, the gunshots gave her a headache. By the time she was a few minutes into a relay, she felt physically shaky, sometimes even dizzy.

Today she’d clearly seen the irregular pattern of pockmarks in the safety berm behind the target area. Every line, every dent in the dirt, every crease in the wood frame around the box was defined. The color gradations were unmistakable. So her sight—her vision—was fine. Up until she fired her weapon a few times, her vision was always crisp.

After she failed three times to score the required eighty percent, the range master suggested it might be an emotional reaction. Her face flamed now as it had then. Emotional reaction? Who was he to bring that up? She’d been an expert marksman her entire career, and there was no possibility that her failure to pass the shooting qualification was psychological.

“It’s probably something easy,” he’d said, “a visual problem. Go get squared away, then call me for an appointment. We’ll work through a remedial program to get you back on rotation.”

Remedial! How embarrassing. In a decade of being a cop, she’d never failed her shooting quals. She couldn’t report for roll call and let anyone know she couldn’t shoot reliably. Her authority as sergeant in charge of a team depended upon her skills. She currently supervised two rookies, six veteran cops, and two Field Training Officers. How could she show her face to them if she failed routine shooting quals they’d all handily passed?

She closed her locker and concentrated on her breath as she headed up to see the commander.

“Sergeant Reese!”

Startled, she looked up to find Commander Malcolm down the hall in the doorway to his office, the late afternoon shadows pooling around him so that she couldn’t make out his face. “In my office,” he said. “Now!”

“Yes, sir.” She hustled toward him, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Sit down.” He slammed the door and stood over her, his normally calm face pink with anger.

“When were you going to come see me about your shooting quals?” He paused, but she didn’t answer. “Is there any reason why you’ve withheld this vital information?”

“No, sir.”

“How long were you going to go on before informing somebody in command?”

“I thought last time was a fluke. I honestly thought I’d pass today, sir. I’m as surprised and concerned as you are.”

He slipped around the other side of his desk and sat heavily in his chair. “You didn’t, though, and now I have to make special arrangements for you.”

“Commander, I spent all afternoon at the range. I’m doing much better.”

“Good for you.” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “You should have done much better a helluva lot sooner because now you’re reassigned.”

She groaned. Hannen hadn’t been kidding. She was going to get stuck with the dreaded desk duty. Hours of boredom. “I’ll shoot another relay Friday, boss. I’ll pass. I promise.”

“Should’ve done that while you had the chance. You’ll need to take the remedial course, and in the meantime, you’re off rotation.” He ran a hand from his forehead across the top of his balding head.

“You’re not really going to let Hannen supervise my team, are you?”

“Who else have I got? You’ve left me no choice.”

“Damn,” she muttered.

“Damn it all is right.”

Hannen wasn’t just a power-hungry jerk. He was a hotshot showoff who bragged about every angle of his work and sex life. A few nights with him in charge of her rookies could be detrimental to their training. She needed to get to her FTOs as soon as possible and give them instructions to counteract Hannen’s attitudes.

“Isn’t there anyone else who can cover for me?”

“No, Reese, there isn’t. You know we’re short-staffed, and I’ve got another paternity leave coming up next week. I don’t take too kindly to being put in this situation. With some foresight on your part, this could have been avoided. Why the hell didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”

A cold chill passed through her, and she could no longer meet his gaze. Leo had always liked Commander Malcolm and enjoyed working for him. He was fair. Very strict, but he usually stuck up for his officers. She’d never been in this sort of situation with him before, and she felt like a traitor, an idiot, and a huge disappointment.

“Do you have an answer? Why did you fail to report this?”

She fumbled for words. “I guess I—I couldn’t believe it, sir.”

“You didn’t pass in July and completely tanked today. I can’t believe you didn’t think you had a problem.”

Her face and neck flared with heat, and for a moment she felt like she might cry. Instead, she said evenly, “That’s why I’ve spent a couple of afternoons at a private range on my own dime. I’m highly motivated. You know that, sir.”

“Are you feeling any aftereffects from the Littlefield shooting?”

“No, sir, I’m not. You know the shrink cleared me for work. Littlefield is not an issue.”

“You’re not having any dreams or flashbacks or anxiety?”

She shook her head.

“You’re sleeping well?”

“Yes, sir, I am.” She waited while he peered at her, eyes sharp, but she calmly met his gaze.

He sighed and picked up a pencil, tapped its eraser on the desk. “This is alarming judgment on the part of a sergeant, and I’m disappointed. Listen to me, Leo.” He met her eyes, and now she knew he spoke not only as her superior, but also as a man concerned for her personally. “I’m forced to take drastic measures. Please understand that this isn’t meant as punishment, but it’s the only way to adequately police the community.”

She stared at him, suddenly fearful that he was going to fire her. But he couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

Would he?

She had the right to a union representative. And a chance to go before a board of professional responsibility.

“I need bodies,” he said. “I need you guys out on the street getting the job done. Since I’ve got to pull you indefinitely, I’m bringing up two rookies. While you’re gone, we can afford to pay them.”

Gone? What did he mean “gone”?

“At the rate we’re losing officers, by the time you get back, I’ll have a place in the rotation for the two new staff.”

She forced herself to speak calmly. “Where am I going, sir?”

“Department of Human Services.”


He continued to tap the desk with the pencil. “They’re even more shorthanded than we are. You’ll continue to be employed by SPPD, but DHS will reimburse us for your salary.”

DHS? She was instantly filled with visions of destitute welfare clients, the Dorothy Day Center, homeless men with mental problems. “I don’t understand.”

“You’ll work in their Investigations Division and report to them.”

“You’re suspending me?”

“No, no, no. We’re lending you, Reese, that’s all. You’re still an officer in good standing.”

“This isn’t right, sir.”
He narrowed his eyes, but his expression wasn’t angry, and he let out a sigh that showed how tired and deflated he felt. “Your only other choice is unpaid leave of absence. I didn’t think that would fly with you. Go to DHS, work on the remedial shooting course, and we’ll get you back here in about twelve weeks.”

She exploded up from her chair. “Twelve weeks!”


Leo leaned over his desk, her palms pressing on the edge. “No way. You can’t do that, Commander.”

“Oh, yes, I can. Your only choices are to go to DHS on special assignment or take leave without pay. If you do it my way, DHS gets help, I get to train two new staff, and you come back after a little career enrichment.” He tossed down the pencil. “In the meantime, you get your shooting skills in order and fulfill the obligation to DHS, and you’ll be back on duty before you know it. That’s the deal.”

She sank back in her chair, hardly able to process this news. She’d be off duty until nearly the end of the year, and she couldn’t quite imagine it. Three months working at what? “What in the world would DHS need me for?”

“Their Investigations Division is shorthanded. Couple of medical leaves, somebody had a baby. They’re not meeting their mandates. I golf with Ralph Sorenson, the division director. He and I cooked this up over the phone earlier today.” Commander Malcolm looked at his watch. “It’s 1800 hours, Reese. Don’t clock in. You better go home and get some rest. You’ve got exactly fourteen hours before you report to the DHS building.”

Leo cleared nearly everything out of her locker. She whisked the last items off the top shelf into a duffel bag and sat down for a moment on the bench, head in hands. In a couple brief hours, her life had turned upside down. Why the hell was this happening to her? She didn’t deserve it.

She glanced over her shoulder when the locker room door opened. Her fellow FTO, Dez Reilly, strode in. Reilly drew near, and Leo rose so her colleague’s six-foot height didn’t loom over her quite so much.

“Leo, I just heard the news.”

“I hope it was from someone more reliable than that asshole Bob Hannen.”

“Unfortunately, the asshole speaks. Way too much.”

Leo let out a peeved sigh. “I hope you can keep him in line.”

Reilly crossed her arms over her blue uniform shirt. “Not much anybody can do about that guy. He’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

“Yeah, I know. I can’t say enough bad things about him. I hope he doesn’t make your life too miserable while I’m gone.”

“There’s something else,” Reilly said. “I know what it’s like to have a critical incident, and I—”

“Oh, God, not you, too? Dez, there’s nothing wrong with me that a little ibuprofen won’t cure. Really! This is not about PTSD.”

“That’s the same thing I told myself when I—”

“No.” Leo held up a hand. “Don’t go there. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m not having any psychological issues.”

“I didn’t say that. I just want you to know you’re not alone if you do.”

Dez Reilly’s blue gaze, sincere and honest, drilled into Leo’s eyes. She knew Dez was just trying to help, and she let go of the angry tirade at the tip of her tongue. “Okay, thank you.”

“Let me just say one more thing before you go. If you change your mind and want to explore anything at all about the Littlefield shooting, give me a call. There’s a few of us who get together once a month and talk about this stuff. It’s a good thing, Leo. If you need any support, you know I’m there for you.”

“Thanks. I mean that. I appreciate your concern.” She picked up her duffel. “Now if I can just get out of here without running into Hannen again.”

“He’s holding court in the front. Take the back stairs and you’ll probably miss him.”

Leo knew what the cliché writers meant about having a heavy heart. Between that and the piercing headache stabbing between her eyes, she wanted to hit something. She only had to make it to the parking lot. Buck up, she thought. I can do it.

To purchase paperback from BellaBooks, click here
To purchase ebook from BellaBooks, click here, or from RainbowEbooks, click here