Monday, September 21, 2015

To Love a Traitor excerpt by JL Merrow

According to JL Merrow in To Love a Traitor, wounds of the heart take the longest to heal.

When solicitor’s clerk George Johnson moves into a rented London room in the winter of 1920, it’s with a secret goal: to find out if his fellow lodger, Matthew Connaught, is the wartime traitor who cost George’s adored older brother his life.

Yet as he gets to know Matthew—an irrepressibly cheerful ad man whose missing arm hasn’t dimmed his smile—George begins to lose sight of his mission.

As Matthew’s advances become ever harder to resist, George tries to convince himself his brother’s death was just the luck of the draw, and to forget he’s hiding a secret of his own - his true identity - and an act of conscience that shamed his family.

But as their mutual attraction grows, so does George’s desperation to know the truth about what happened that day in Ypres. If only to prove Matthew innocent - even if it means losing the man he’s come to love.

[Warning: Contains larks in the snow, stiff upper lips, shadows of the Great War, and one man working undercover while another tries to lure him under the covers. LOL]

    To Love a Traitor
    SamhainNow (September 15, 2015)
ISBN:  9781619229921


December, 1920; two young men with rooms in the same lodging-house

Later that week the weather was still bitterly cold. Nevertheless, George found himself staying up late with his books, reading up on tort by candlelight with a blanket wrapped around him for warmth. It was extraordinary how fascinating the English legal system could be, built as it was in the main upon individual cases.

But even George’s interest in larrikins (who or whatever they might be) throwing squibs into crowds couldn’t sustain him long past midnight, given that he’d been up at six that morning and would have to do the same on the morrow. Yawning, he closed his books and shed his clothes, shivering as the chilly air struck his bare flesh. As he hastily pulled on his pyjamas, he was startled to hear someone speaking. The words were indistinct, but George was almost certain they came from Matthew’s room. Quietly opening the door, he could see no one there, which rather settled the matter—unless they were on the street? A quick glance out of the window confirmed that the street was empty, all good citizens presently tucked up in their beds, and the bad ones gone for richer pickings than could be had in Allen Street. But who on earth could Matthew be talking to at this time of night?

Perhaps he always talked in his sleep, and George had simply never been awake to hear him before? Listening with guilty avidity, George realised it sounded as though Matthew were distressed. A nightmare, then, poor fellow. George had had his share of those.

He was certain Matthew wouldn’t thank him for poking his nose in—he’d probably be mortified to know that his night-time woes were audible to others. Having snuffed his candle and climbed into bed, George stuck his head under his pillow and tried to ignore the noises from next door—but a vigorous thump on the wall right by his ear, followed by the unmistakeable sound of a sob was too much for him to endure. Matthew might hate him for it, but George just couldn’t leave the man in such distress. Flinging off the blankets, he pulled on his dressing gown and padded to Matthew’s door in his slippers.

Uncertain whether to knock, George stood on the landing for a moment, irresolute. A further cry from within prompted him to pull himself together and open the door.

He hadn’t thought to re-light his candle, but like his own, Matthew’s room looked out on the front of the house, and a faint glow from the streetlamps filtered through the curtains. It was enough to make out Matthew’s form, writhing in the bedclothes which had wrapped themselves around him like a shroud. “Matthew,” George whispered, laying a hand on his shoulder. Matthew started violently. “It’s all right,” George reassured him. “It’s just a dream.”

George started to unwind the sheets from the sweating form. It seemed to help—as Matthew’s limbs were freed, the thrashing eased. “Hush,” George kept repeating. “It’s all right. Just a bad dream.”

“George?” Matthew’s voice was hoarse. “George, what are you doing here?”

“I heard you cry out. I think you had a nightmare.”

“God, George… I was back there in the dugout, when that wretched shell landed and it collapsed… Oh Lord—you don’t want to hear about this. I’m sorry, George. Just being a bit of an idiot. Sorry to have woken you.”

“You didn’t wake me—I’ve only just finished studying. Now, will you be all right, or would you like me to stay for a while?”

“I… Would you mind, awfully, staying for just a little while? I’m being a wretched nuisance, I know.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” George said a little more sharply than he meant to. “And is there anything else you need?” he asked in a softer tone.

“Do you think you could light the candle? It’s on the bedside table, and the matches are in the drawer.”

Feeling more than seeing his way, George managed to locate the matches and lit one with a blinding flare that left him blinking for a moment before he could find the candle. Once lit, the candle showed him Matthew’s pale face, his hair plastered to his forehead in little curls. He was sitting up, his right pyjama sleeve flopping forlornly where he hadn’t bothered to pin it up. George’s chest felt curiously tight at the sight of him. “It must be a wretched place to go back to in your dreams,” he said.

“Do you know, it’s the only time I remember anything about it at all? In my dreams. If it even is a memory and not something my beastly mind has cooked up all by itself.”

“Does it happen often?” George asked before he could stop himself.

“Lord, no. Hardly at all, these days. I must have had too much cheese for supper or something,” Matthew said with a ghost of a grin. “Or possibly Sherlock Holmes is a little too racy for bedtime reading for one of my advanced years.”

“Advanced years?” George asked in a light tone. “You can’t be older than twenty-five.”

“I can, you know. I’m twenty-five and six—no, seven months, now.” Matthew’s smile seemed much more genuine, and his colour was returning.

George felt horribly torn and confused. It was such an intimate situation—he in his dressing gown, and Matthew in bed not six inches away from him. George knew he should be thinking of a way to use the situation to his advantage, to find out more about Matthew’s time in the trenches, but all he felt was a fierce yearning to close the gap between them, to hold his friend tight—and did he only imagine that Matthew’s lips had parted, his eyes half-closed, ready to welcome his embrace…?

He couldn’t do it. If he was mistaken, then the best that could happen would be Matthew never speaking to him again. He’d have failed utterly in his task—and in any case, it would be the act of a scoundrel to take such a step whilst concealing so much from Matthew. But if he told the truth—the whole truth, so help him God—it would be the end of everything. A wave of grief washing over him for what he could never have, George stood. “Well, you’ll be all right now, won’t you? I’d best get to bed—work in the morning, you know how it is.”

He didn’t look behind him as he left the room. If Matthew was watching him go with an air of disappointment, it would do him no good to see it—and if he had only imagined that Matthew returned his feelings, he was too much of a coward to want to know.

*   *   *

 JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea.  She read Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where she learned many things, chief amongst which was that she never wanted to see the inside of a lab ever again.  Her one regret is that she never mastered the ability of punting one-handed whilst holding a glass of champagne.

To purchase the ebook or paperback, click here

Monday, September 14, 2015

Children of Noah excerpt by Neil S Plakcy

In this the second excerpt from Neil S Plakcy’s Children of Noah, Kimo’s partner Mike Riccardi is investigating an arson in Kahuku, at the northern tip of O’ahu, and he spots some racially-charged graffiti on the premises. He’s called Kimo and Ray to check it out.  (See also excerpt for August 17, 2015)

Children of Noah
MLR Press (August 17, 2015)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-9910 (print)
           MLR1-02015-0437 (ebook)


The wind picked up as Ray and I drove along the tree-lined Likelike Highway, which went through the center of the island. The tops of the Ko’olaus were shrouded in mist and I was glad we had the hot coffee to counter the chilly damp.

The divided highway followed the contours of the Ko’olau mountains, and verdant slopes and craggy cliffs loomed beside us. It was a wilder part of O’ahu, and it was almost like going back in time. People lived up there in the mountains, off the grid, but they had modern conveniences like solar panels and water purifiers. And some of them were growing pakalolo and manufacturing ice, which were distinctly modern problems.

As we approached the Wilson tunnel under the mountains, I noticed some graffiti scrawled on rocks beside the road, and recognized one tag, the letters FTP, with an X over the stem of the T, a reference to an LA-based gang call the Fruit Town Pirus. Beside it was a scrawl of the Nazi swastika.

I knew that some of the mainland gangs were trying to make inroads in Hawaii, but that was the first physical evidence I’d seen. And the fact that someone had painted a swastika nearby wasn’t a good indicator of racial harmony.

When we came out of the tunnel we drove right into a downpour, and I had to slow down and turn my wipers on high because of the slick roadway and the slow-moving tourists. We rounded a bend and head of us on the right the town of Kaneohe nestled against a cove along the Pacific shore. No gleaming glass high-rises like downtown Honolulu; just a spread of houses and low buildings, with only occasional buildings of more than four or five stories.

We passed a standard suburban sprawl of houses and fast-food chains as well as the Honolulu Church of Light, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, the St. Anthony Retreat, and the Central Samoan Assembly of God, testimony to the religious diversity of the island.

The sun came out as we passed the signs for Brigham Young University and the Mormon temple. Early Mormon missionaries had come to Hawaii in the early 1900s to begin converting the locals. We passed a couple of different with chain link fencing around them, and signs for several different churches that sounded fundamentalist, but beyond that, I was disappointed to see that Laie was as mixed as the rest of the island, though I did notice a higher proportion of the kind of white, clean-cut people I associated with those Mormon missionaries on bicycles.

Further evidence of the religious character of the area was that local supermarkets wouldn’t sell alcohol on Sunday in deference to Mormon beliefs. Like Kaneohe, the streets were lined with single-story bungalows and small stores. I kept an eye out for graffiti but didn’t see much more than the occasional scrawl.

Kahuku was at the very tip of the island, in an area that tourists don’t generally frequent; the big waves of the North Shore crash around the other side of Kahuku Point, and usually the farthest that visitors get on the Windward Shore was the Islands of History theme park in Laie, where I’d gone many times as a kid.

You could drive for miles up the twisting Kamehameha Highway, paralleling the coast, and see spectacular cliffs and water views, and not much else. It was near the northernmost point on the island, Kahuku Point; in Hawaiian, ka huku means ‘the projection.’

It was nearly ten o’clock by the time we approached the day care center. There was only one fire engine remaining, though the police still had the street blocked and were directing traffic away.

I parked behind Mike’s truck with its distinctive flames painted down the side, and Ray and I flashed our IDs to the uniform keeping people away from the site.

From the charred foundation that remained, we could see that the day care center was a free-standing building, probably once a single-family house. There wasn’t much around it – no immediate neighbors, and a screen of trees around the back and sides.

The scene reminded me of damage I’d seen after Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai just before I left for college, the way you could look right into someone’s home or office and witness the devastation first-hand. In this case, I could see a cluster of half-burned tables and chairs piled in the center of the front room. The front wall of a bathroom was gone, but the toilet and sink looked untouched.

We stopped in the parking lot, a few feet from the front wall, and looked around. Two of the four walls remained intact – the rear and the right side – and part of the roof. An interior wall that looked like it separated an office from the main area had been reduced to a tangle of half-melted studs; behind it was a desk and a file cabinet and the rear wall of the building. Children’s drawings had been posted there, brown edges curling around colorful scrawls of houses and flowers.

The front door was long gone, but just inside was a misshapen coat rack with a single sweater hanging on it, miraculously untouched. Below it were a pair of pink rubber Crocs in an impossibly tiny size—one of them intact down to the tiny charms in the holes, the other a melted lump.

To purchase, click on MLR or Amazon.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Aviophobia (Flight HA1710) excerpt by Serena Yates

Publisher: Diversity Novels ( July 17, 2017)
ISBN: 9781909630

In Serena Yates’ Aviophobia (Flight HA1710), Richard Abbott finally overcomes his debilitating fear of flying, boards Flight HA1710 bound for Chicago, and when it crashes, discovers that aviophobia isn’t the worst of it...

All his life Richard has been afraid of flying. He has no idea what caused it, but nothing and no one will convince him to get on a plane of any size. His job as a member of a major bank’s IT department in
London does not require him to fly—until he gets promoted. If he wants to keep his job, he has no choice but to deal with his worst nightmare.

Camden Marsh is a certified life coach who enjoys helping people redefine their priorities and their life. He is on his way to
Chicago to attend an international conference for coaches and trainers when he begins a discussion with the extremely nervous man sitting next to him.

They have barely begun to explore their mutual interest when Flight HA1710 crashes and everything comes to a screeching stop. 

Excerpt - Chapter 1:

“Certainly, sir. I’ll be there in five minutes.” Richard Abbott replaced the receiver on his desk phone with slightly shaky hands. Shit! His boss’s boss never called anyone to his tenth-floor office unless it was extremely bad news like a critical comment about a project, an official reprimand, or possibly getting fired. Each scenario in Richard’s head was worse than the last, and he clenched his teeth with the effort to stop himself from screaming in frustrated anger. What had he done wrong now? Why could nothing ever go his way?

Richard might not be exposed to the frontline of global economic combat like his colleagues in trading or investment banking, but even working in IT for a major international bank like KR Aventus
PLC held certain risks. After all he and his coworkers in network security were responsible for the speed and impenetrability of Aventus’s proprietary computer network. If anything went wrong with the trading software, it was a real issue, since the loss of even half a second of functionality due to some glitch or bug could cost the bank millions. Getting hacked by a competitor, some criminal, or a terrorist would be even worse and didn’t bear thinking about.
Receiving a call to see the big boss? Bad news any way Richard looked at it.

He mentally ran over a list of the projects he’d completed in the last few days trying to find any mistakes he might have made as he rose from his chair, grabbed a notebook, and made his way to the bank of elevators at the center of the office building. The few colleagues who noticed him walk past gave him curious glances, but nobody made a comment. Worker bees were not encouraged to engage in “unnecessary social exchanges,” and with more people than jobs in the current economy, nobody wanted to stand out as breaking even an unwritten rule.

The elevator ride from the seventh to the tenth floor didn’t take much time. When Richard exited on the executive level with its plush carpets, expensive artwork on the walls, and well-dressed personal assistants, he had not made any progress toward identifying what could possibly be wrong with his work. He refused to consider any other reason for upper management getting involved in his life. By the time he made it to the VP’s office, his palms were sweaty and he had to force himself to breathe slowly.

“There you are.” Melissa was one of the friendliest personal assistants in the building, and her smile calmed Richard down a little. She pointed at the heavy wooden door to her left. “Mr. Harrington is ready for you, so you can go right in.”

“Thank you.” Richard did his best to return her smile, took a deep breath for courage, and knocked on the door. Once a barked “Enter” sounded, he turned the doorknob and walked into the lion’s den.

Peter Harrington—VP Technology and Innovation,
Europe—didn’t look dangerous at first glance. Of average height, he preferred dark suits and conservative ties in line with official bankers’ uniform. He was only a few years older than Richard but far more politically astute. He’d been sent to London from Aventus’s head office in Chicago, and as a consequence his actual position was less important than the fact that he was one of the up-and-coming managers being groomed for a main board position. The real problem was that Mr. Harrington had only a passing acquaintance with anything resembling IT—he was a manager, an administrator, above all else. He excelled at risk assessment and the art of managing his own career. Richard could only hope whatever he wanted to discuss was not too technical; Peter Harrington hated to feel stupid, and anything “too techie” fell in that category.

“Glad to see you’re on time.” Peter nodded briefly and pointed at the visitor’s chair in front of his imposing mahogany desk. “Please take a seat.”

“Thank you.” Richard sat, forcing himself not to fidget.

“You know I’m not a man of many words.” Peter’s grin looked artificial, not reaching his eyes. Richard suspected Peter regarded it as a “tool” some management course or HR guideline had taught him to use to make employees feel at ease. “So I’ll come right to the point.”

Richard swallowed and nodded. He still had no idea what this was all about, and he felt more nervous by the second.

“We like your work. All your evaluations since you joined us three years ago have been stellar, and your performance on the recently completed design stages of Project Maroon has caught
Chicago’s attention.” Peter even managed a real smile this time.

What the hell? Someone in head office noticed me? That can’t be good. All Richard was able to drag up was a timid smile in return, a little unsure what this effusive praise was leading up to and more worried than ever.

“Let me be the first to congratulate you.” Peter rose and held out his hand across the appropriately busy-looking desk. “Effective immediately, you are promoted to team leader level with a focus on implementing Maroon globally.”

“I-I…. Promoted?” Richard shook Peter’s hand on autopilot while his mind went a hundred miles an hour trying to comprehend what this meant for him. More money—check. Focus on his work rather than being a jack-of-all-trades—check. International responsibility—oh shit!

“Well done.” Peter retracted his hand and sat on his executive throne. “The kickoff meeting is in two weeks, at head office of course, and representatives from all the major offices will attend. You have plenty of time to prepare, and I expect nothing less than a perfect result. I know you can do it.”

Richard opened his mouth to reply, but what was he going to say? This was a brilliant opportunity. He knew Project Maroon inside out, and he’d wanted to be involved in the implementation phase of a major project as long as he could remember. There was only one problem.
Chicago meant air travel—and probably not just for the kickoff meeting. And if there was one thing Richard hated…. The mere thought of getting on an airplane made him shudder. He’d only ever told one person about his biggest fear. At the end of his degree course, his best friend from uni, Theo Rayder, had suggested they take a holiday on a tropical island to celebrate. Richard had been forced to admit the truth to get Theo to give up, but had sworn him to secrecy. So far Richard had managed to avoid any and all air travel.

There was a name for his condition.


He could easily avoid flying for pleasure—as if!—since there were plenty of nice holiday spots in
Britain. And with no need to fly for job-related reasons, his “condition” hadn’t seemed like a problem he needed to worry about. But now? What the hell was he going to do? Jeopardize his career by admitting he had a mental condition most people either didn’t know existed or would laugh about? Aside from not wanting to admit he was a coward in front of his colleagues, any sort of weakness like that would disqualify him from further advancement with his employer. Not officially, of course, they were too clever for that. But there were ways of getting rid of “unwanted” employees….

“Richard?” Peter was frowning at him.

“Yes.” Richard forced the abject terror he could feel rising into a back corner of his mind for now. “Thank you. I’ll get right on it.”

“That’s the spirit.” Peter cast a longing glance at the papers on his desk.

Richard knew a dismissal when he saw one and rose.

“I look forward to your first status report. Be sure to tell your boss to let me have a copy. I’m taking a personal interest in this one.” Peter nodded briskly.

“I’ll remember that.” Richard refused to let more panic into his thoughts. He could have a meltdown later. To have a VP interested in his work added another level of stress to an already horrible situation. “Thank you again.”

Before Peter could say anything else, Richard raced out of his office, barely nodded at Melissa on his way to the elevators, and entered the next available car. He kept telling himself to keep calm, but it was an uphill struggle. He sagged against the wall as the elevator’s doors swished shut and closed his eyes. He needed to find a solution to his problem, and fast. Rather than admit defeat and look for a different job, maybe he’d better man up and follow Theo’s advice.

It was time to get help.

To purchase, click Spring Romance or Amazon

Monday, August 31, 2015

Blood and Dirt , by Lloyd A Meeker,  is the second entry in the Russ Morgan investigative series (the first volume, Enigma, is included bundled with the print version  Blood and Dirt). Family squabbles can be murder.

Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that's escalating in a hurry.   Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation.  Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point.

Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as  he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age.  His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane and good. Now, that's really dangerous ...

Blood and Dirt
Wilde City Press  (August 19th, 2015)
ISBN: 978-1-925313-33-8



[From Chapter Two of Blood and Dirt. Russ has gone on a hike in the Flatirons outside Boulder with Colin. They’ve flirted, but Russ has resisted Colin’s more direct signals. This is where they finally have The Talk.]

I turned to face him. “We should talk.”

Colin grinned and shook his head in mock amazement. “I was beginning to think you’d never say that.” He pointed to a flat rock at the edge of the lookout and shrugged out of his backpack. “Let’s eat while we do.” It was a little intimidating to see how patient and together Colin was. How mature. I followed him to the ledge, feeling like I was the one who needed extra care.

“So,” I said as he spread out the sandwiches. “I should start by saying that I’m really flattered by your interest in me.”

“But,” Colin said quietly.

“No but. Full stop. I can’t describe how good it feels to be desired by someone as young, smart, and beautiful as you.” I stared into his elfin green eyes, fascinated at their almond shape and hypnotic depth. I felt naked—and not in a good way. I looked away. “It’s also terrifying. I need to tell you a little story.”

I put down my sandwich, knowing I couldn’t eat until I got this out. “Almost fifteen years ago, shortly after I got sober, I met a beautiful young man. I was pushing forty, he was in his twenties. We liked each other. A lot. We dated. We had great sex, we shared a lot of interests in spite of our age difference. I fell hard.”

The memory hurt so much I had to close my eyes. “Fell so damn hard.” My voice cracked, so I took a drink of water and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I felt Colin watching me, but I couldn’t look at him.

“One day, a few weeks into our affair...” My throat stopped working. In a moment, I tried again. “He’d stayed over, we were having breakfast. I pushed a set of keys to my house across the table to him, and asked him to move in with me. He put down his coffee cup, looked at me, and said, ‘I’ve thought about that, and realized that in twenty years I don’t want to wake up next to a sixty-year-old man.’ Then he got up from the table, kissed the top of my head, gathered up his things and left. We never spoke again.” As painful as it was, it felt good to have said it aloud.

“Jesus, Russ.”

“I felt so incredibly ashamed. I might have been able to change my behavior, or my work, or any number of other things to keep us together, but I could do absolutely nothing about my age. My ‘best used by’ date had long passed, apparently, even though I was so sure it hadn’t.” I laughed because I didn’t want to cry. “And now it’s over a dozen years past that.”

I shifted to face him square on. “It sounds melodramatic, but it nearly killed me. I came within a cat’s whisker of picking up a drink again, and for me to drink is to die. I can’t risk getting drunk again, I don’t think I’m strong enough to survive it.”

I stared at him, cherishing the way the sun lit the sheen of sweat on his ruddy cheeks. “I wish to hell it weren’t so, but I’m just too old for you, Colin. A relationship with you would be wonderful, I’m certain. But I’m not resilient enough to survive another breakup like that, just because I’m too old.”

 “But I—”
“No, let me finish. You’re twenty-five—”


“Twenty-six. You’ve got your whole life in front of you. I’ve lived most of mine. As wonderful as our life together might be, a moment would come when you looked at me with disgust. You’d ask yourself what the hell you were thinking when you took up with me.” I hoped my smile didn’t show my pain at saying good-bye to something precious. “I’m sorry. But thank you just the same. Your interest makes me feel young, even if I’m not.”

Colin didn’t say anything, just stared out at the prairie as he chewed on his sandwich. I tucked into mine, grateful to have something nonverbal to do. Halfway through my sandwich, I saw him put his down.

“I know how old you are, Russ. I like how old you are. Maybe you think there’s something wrong with me for wanting you, some psychological kink that makes me a freak.” He took a deep breath, sighed it out, and shrugged. “It sure would be more convenient if I could find partnership material in younger men. Believe me, I’ve tried, and I never have.”

He smiled at me, looking sad. “I have a story for you, too. About two men in Ireland. I want you to listen with an open mind. Really open.” He patted the back of my hand like a patient teacher encouraging a struggling child.

“Their names are Patrick Scott and Eric Pearce. Eric was twenty when he met Patrick. Patrick was fifty-six. They were partners for thirty-seven years. Do you know the statistics for any couple staying together that long, regardless of age? They did pretty well. When they got married in October of 2013, Patrick was ninety-three, and Eric was fifty-seven. Patrick died in February of last year. Maybe they knew that was coming, or maybe they just decided to get married because they finally could. Whatever the reason, they did. They had a long and wonderful life together.”

He looked at me, as if checking my face for a sign of agreement, or at least comprehension. “So, don’t tell me it’s impossible. Sure, it’s rare, and maybe we don’t go the distance like they did. All I’m saying is, don’t rule me out just because of our age difference. I’m sorry someone else hit you over the head with that, but I can promise you I will never say what he said to you.”

He gave me his devilish grin again. His teeth were a little crooked, and to me, they made him even more adorable. Mischievous. He patted my bare knee this time, and his warm hand was an angel’s touch.

“There are plenty of other reasons out there for parting ways, that’s for sure. If we break up, it will be for one of them.” He threw his head back and laughed, wild and free. “Here we are talking about breaking up, and we haven’t even started yet. How crazy is that?”

I nodded, forced to agree. “It’s crazy, all right.” His logic was impeccable, even if it didn’t do much to change the knot in my guts. That was the trouble with logic. It can peel away the most rational arguments and still never touch the heart. Below the neck, logic is the flimsiest form of persuasion.

Unpersuaded, my heart was walking along a precipice without so much as a path to follow. One sudden gust of wind, one misplaced foot, and I could be dead. I hated that the beauty of the view from this deadly cliff was so exhilarating.

“I’ll have to go slow,” I said, feeling strangely liberated at giving in. “I can’t... In spite of your story, I’m still scared. I’ll need all your patience. Lots of it.”

His smile was glorious as a sunrise and every bit as triumphant. Without another word, he took out his phone and took a selfie of us sitting side by side on that rocky ledge above a chasm. Our first photo, I thought, as if we were starting a scrapbook. Don’t say that, I scolded myself. That’s way too fast.


By the time we got back to Denver, it was late afternoon. We were happily tired, dusty, sweaty, and hungry.
“Thank you for today,” Colin said as soon as we were inside my apartment. “For everything.”
He stepped into my space and wrapped his arms around me, tentative and warm. Our first hug, I thought as my arms hauled him in. He lifted his face to me, asking silently for a kiss. Our first kiss. Sweet and fresh as a tree-ripe peach.
“Let me take a shower here, and I’ll make you dinner out of whatever you have in your fridge.” He wriggled in my arms. “Or maybe take a shower with me?”
I shook my head. “Too soon” was all I could croak out, even though I knew he could feel my erection through our clothes.
“Can I shower here, though? I have fresh clothes in my pack.”
“Sure,” I said, feeling cornered. “I’ll get you a towel.”
While Colin showered, I rummaged around in the kitchen for what we could eat, finding enough for a decent omelet and salad. I was arranging things on the counter when I heard the floorboards creak behind me. I turned and stopped breathing.
He stood wrapped in my towel and nothing else—wide-eyed, vulnerable, lips parted, his blond hair spiked damp and wild, his creamy lean body graceful and glowing. Without taking my eyes from his, I let my loaf of bread land somewhere on the counter behind me.
“My god, you’re... so beautiful.” It was all I could say. I could hear the awe in my voice, but I wasn’t embarrassed by it. It was the truth.
He walked to where I stood paralyzed, put his arms around my neck. His towel fell, bunching around his feet.
My hands found his waist, and the smooth small of his back. Then some dam inside me crumbled, and the crashing flood from behind it seized me. My mouth was on his neck, on his forehead, lips, eyelids. My hands caressed everything they could touch, frantic to discover. He began pulling my shirt out of my cargo shorts.
“I should shower first,” I muttered.
“Don’t you dare,” he said, breathing hard. “I want you just the way you are. Let’s go upstairs.”
Significantly delayed, the omelets and salad turned out pretty well. We made them together, navigating in my tiny kitchen with only minor collisions. We laughed at where I’d decided to put spices, staples, and utensils in my kitchen, bantered about how illogical my choices had been.
Dinner itself was quiet, comfortable. It was clear neither of us wanted to be anywhere else. Eventually, we agreed to do the dishes.
“I have to be at work early tomorrow,” Colin said as he stretched plastic wrap over the leftover salad. “Is it okay if I stay here tonight? You’re a lot closer to downtown than I am.”
“Ah,” I joked. “A relationship of convenience. Now it all comes clear.”
He stuck his tongue out at me. “Sure. It’s taken me months of dogged pursuit to run you to ground, just so I wouldn’t have to go home tonight. That was my evil plan all along.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Well, I have to go to work tomorrow, too, for a new client over on the Western slope. I’ll have to be out of here by nine and gone for four or five days. Strange business. I probably shouldn’t say more.” His face hardened, and I hurried to head off any misunderstanding. “I’m not holding out on you. I just... I feel protective of you. I didn’t think you really wanted to be burdened with the details of my work, which are seldom pretty.”
I watched his face and aura soften again. He smiled. “I know. It’s sweet of you, really, but eventually you’ll realize I’m not made of glass. Anyway, I’ll be long gone by the time you leave. I have to be at work by seven. Big trial coming up, and all us paralegals will be going through discovery documents for at least a week.”
A fear niggled at me. “Do you think I was a jerk for not talking about my assignment?”
Colin shrugged. “I hope we get to share parts of our work life, too. I want that, whenever you’re ready to do it.”
So the answer was yes, or at least probably. Was my reticence mere habit or real discretion? It wasn’t really a virtue to keep secrets just because I’d had no one to talk to for so long. I’d have to relearn how and what to share.
When we’d finished tidying, I fired up the dishwasher. “Do you want to watch a movie? I have Netflix on my TV. Or the Rockies game is playing on Altitude tonight, I think.”
“We’d have to sit on the bed to watch, right? Is that your only TV?”
I could feel my neck and face heat up. From guilt, mostly, because although I was looking forward to cuddling, I hadn’t tried to arrange it. “Yup, that’s the only one.”
“Good,” he said, running his tongue along his upper lip. “No place I’d rather be right now.”
We locked up, pulled the blinds, turned out the lights, and climbed the stairs. Doing those things with him felt... comfortable, familiar. Was that prophetic? Wishful thinking? I had no idea.
After the third inning, Colin stood up and shucked his clothes, folding them on an armchair. “I can’t stay awake any longer,” he said, yawning. He looked over his shoulder at me, caught me staring at his sweet tan lines, and twerked his perfect little ass at me. “No more of that tonight. Hope you don’t mind. Gotta save my energy for tomorrow.”
In a swirl of lust and relief, I tried to decide if I minded. I didn’t.
“So do I,” I said, feeling stupidly happy. I got up and found a new toothbrush for him.
After I turned out the light, Colin curled himself into my side. I don’t think I’d ever held anything so angelic. I kissed the soft-spiky top of his head, feeling my solitary life ready to scatter into chaos.
Maybe it was a mistake to have him in my bed. What if it was? I wanted him there anyway. I watched over him until his breathing shifted into the languid waves of sleep.
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Monday, August 24, 2015

Enigma excerpt by Lloyd A Meeker

In Enigma, a Russ Morgan Mystery by Lloyd A Meeker, who’s blackmailing the high-profile televangelist whose son was famously cured of his homosexuality fifteen years ago? Now in 2009, that ought to be ancient history.

It seems there’s no secret to protect, no crime, not even a clear demand for money—just four threatening letters using old Enigma songs from the 90′s. But they’ve got  Reverend Howard Richardson spooked.

Proudly fifty and unhappily single, gay PI Russ Morgan has made peace with being a psychic empath, and he’s managed to build a decent life since getting sober. As he uncovers obscene secrets shrouded in seeming righteousness he might have to make peace with a sword of justice that cuts the innocent as deeply as the guilty.

Wilde City Press (August 28, 2013)
ISBN: 978-1-925031-40-9


[The Setup: Russ Morgan interviews James Richardson, who apparently emerged from reparative therapy in 1994 completely cured of his same-sex attraction. Since that time James has assisted his father Howard in his evangelical outreach through The Abundant Life and Gospel Ministry Church.]

I got back to Kommen’s office in time to cool off a bit in their air-conditioned foyer while waiting for Colin to appear. He did, radiating his rosy-cheeked sincerity, precisely at one-thirty.

He’d already collected the contact info for the courier, Rocky Mountain Mercury, and their tracking number for the fourth letter. He was quick—a smart, decent gay kid trying to do his job right in what was undoubtedly a very precarious environment, and more power to him.

Colin didn’t lead me back to the big suite off Kommen’s office, but to a smaller, still well-appointed conference room down the hall. He parked me in one of the upholstered armchairs and scurried off, I assumed to fetch James. I wondered if Kommen was always this obvious in his messages about status difference between father and son. Given how he’d behaved toward me, I figured it likely.

In a moment, Colin opened the door and Kommen appeared with Richardson beside him. James sat down opposite me, but Kommen stayed at the door.

“I have a meeting,” he announced, glaring at me like it was my fault. “No recording this. I’ve instructed James to refuse to answer any question he feels uncomfortable with. Afterward, he’ll be reporting to me on your conduct. In detail.” He wheeled and was gone.

As he closed the door, I caught Colin’s eye. He knew his boss was an asshole, too. I watched him through the glass wall as he scooted down the hall. I could see that some days, he’d have to work hard at being cheerful.

I wanted the atmosphere to settle a bit before I got started, so I took my time pulling out my pen and notebook and getting set up. When I looked up, Richardson was sitting back, waiting with his arms on the chair and his knees wide apart. He had big thighs, and not from fat. Very fit.

He was an attractive guy in a button-down collar, perfect teeth, only slightly weathered, collegiate kind of way. Solid intelligence in the eyes, but I saw more pain than kindness there. Good jaw, but also hard, somehow. Dark hair like his father’s in the old press photos I’d looked up. James had a bigger, more athletic frame, though. He obviously worked out, but not obsessively. His features reminded me more of his mother, although I’d seen only one photo of her. Pretty nice overall, but not gut-grabbing sexy.

I gave him a conciliatory smile. “I can’t promise to ask you only comfortable questions, but my goal here is certainly not to harass you.”

He shrugged dismissively. “I know. Kommen is a martinet, and it gets old in a hurry. I’m a big boy and can take care of myself.”

“I have no doubt of that,” I said, grinning.

I shifted my focus to watch his energy. “I’ve learned a lot about the Enigma album containing the lyrics used in these letters,” I said, pen at the ready. “Do you think there’s any significance to the fact that it was released while you were in therapy?”

“No, I don’t,” Richardson said. Big lie—his aura blazed with it, plus anger. I made a note as slowly as if I were just learning to print block letters. I was half tempted to stick my tongue part way out with the effort.
“Do you have any idea at all as to who might be behind these letters, even just a wild guess?”

“None at all.” Again, a big lie, highly charged. Instead of anger, this time I saw searing pain. He had an idea, for sure. And now so did I.

“Your father believes that these letters are an attack on him, using you and your background as the point of attack. Do you think that idea is at all valid?”

“It could be. Leaders of some other churches would love to see my father disgraced. The math says donation dollars that go to one church don’t go to another, and our draw for members and donations is growing fast.”

“Is it possible that this is an attack on your father directly? Church funds, moral misconduct?”

“No.” Big lie. “Our books are rigorously audited and summarized annually for our members.” True.
I waited for him to address the moral misconduct part of my question. He didn’t. If his first answer was a lie, but the second was true, then moral misconduct sat big and broad in the equation somewhere. I’d gotten my answer from his silence.

“Your dad also says that you’ve been instrumental in expanding your ministry into Latin America. Do you think the threat comes from there?”

James shook his head. “I really don’t think so. Our membership there doesn’t care much about the competition between churches in the US. On top of that, our presence in Latin America extends back only a few years, probably no more than about 2002. Long after my experiences as a teenager.”

“Do you think they would know about those experiences?”

“Certainly. It’s a story worth repeating as often as possible.” He gave me a smile radiant with the Gospel’s glory, but his aura swirled up dark and angry. “My personal salvation is a testament to my father's faith, and the invincible power of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“I’m glad for you.” I wanted to sound sincere, but I don’t think I made it. “Has any spark of that old temptation ever presented itself since those days?”

“No, thank the Lord.” His lie spiked out, even bigger than the others. James sighed a deep breath and gazed out the window, as if savoring his God-given liberation for the first time. Poor guy. What kind of hell was he living in, pretending the hand of God had fixed him, living a straight man’s life?

“Were the methods of your therapy harsh? I’ve heard they often are.”

Richardson’s aura boiled up with pain, grief, and rage, but his face remained an angelic mask. “I don’t have to answer that, but I will. Yes, they were harsh. But they were warranted. My very soul was at stake.” He paused, his eyes opaque with the flat stare of a bouncer. “And that’s a closed chapter you and I will not be visiting.”

I nodded. “Got it,” I said, making my note. “Is there any other light you can shine on this business right now?”

“Not at the moment.” To my amazement, he was telling the truth. He knew a lot about this, but he couldn’t shed light on it now. James Richardson was in this up to his neck. But how? Why?
I leaned forward, caught his eye and held it for a few heartbeats. I wanted him to know that I knew he knew something else. I pulled out one of my cards and offered it to him. As he took it I said, “In case anything else comes to you, I’d really appreciate a call. I promise not to badger you or anyone in your family. I’m just trying to solve this.”

“I will do that, Mr. Morgan,” he said, sounding thoughtful. “Something else may come to mind, and if it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.” He pulled out one of his cards and wrote on the back before he gave it to me.
I must have looked as surprised as I actually was, because he gave me a little smile, aura welling up in sadness. “My cell. In case you think of other questions for me,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, tucking the card in my shirt pocket, pretending I didn’t understand the gesture was a significant invitation, maybe even a request. We shook hands. I tried not to wince. James Richardson was a man in serious pain, and some of it burned in my knuckles. We headed down the hall.

Colin appeared before we’d taken half a dozen steps, steering Richardson away on some vector that didn’t include me.

I headed on to the elevator.

As I walked down the 16th Street Mall, I called Rocky Mountain Mercury and set up an appointment with the dispatcher in an hour. It was Friday afternoon, and they were already slowing down. I gave them the document number so they could be ready. I promised to be in and out in just a few minutes.

The dispatcher at Rocky Mountain didn’t hand me a case-solver, but I did get a couple of interesting pieces of information.

Delivery of the fourth letter had been charged to the account of Stelnach, Kommen and Breyer. It had been picked up at the front desk, only to be delivered back to the same location an hour later. The same receptionist had signed off on the pickup as for the delivery.

That seemed strange, but when I asked the dispatcher about it he just shrugged. The courier’s pay was a low hourly base with a per-item delivery count determining the remainder. Even if the courier noticed that the letter was to be delivered to the same place where it was picked up, and he probably did when he scanned it into his handheld, he’d do it anyway. The rationale behind the letter’s origin wasn’t his problem, and the delivery meant another dollar in his pocket.

On my walk home, I pondered the varied nature of the deliveries—inter-office mail, regular post, taped to a shower door, and courier using Kommen’s own account number. Two things became clear.
First, Enigma had at-will access to the innermost workings of Richardson’s life. I’d got that already, but using Kommen’s corporate account number for this delivery and having it physically picked up at the law office showed significantly broader access than I’d imagined. There weren’t many with access to both Richardson’s shower door and his attorney’s office downtown.

Second, Enigma was bedeviling Richardson with item one. The deliveries had been orchestrated to that end. There was no other reason to use such a variety. Enigma was toying with the good reverend like a cat torments the mouse it will eventually kill.

No wonder Richardson’s aura had fried with panic. He could feel hot cat breath in his whiskers, but he couldn’t squirm out from under its paw. Howard Richardson was being punished.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Children of Noah excerpt by Neil Plakcy

In Neil Plakcy'sChildren of Noah, number 9 in the Mahu series, openly gay Honolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka and his HPD partner Ray Donne have gone on assignment to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.  They’re investigating threats to a U.S. Senator with a mixed-race family, including daughter Jessica, who’s had a water balloon filled with white paint tossed at her.

Children of Noah
MLR Press (August 2015)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-9910 (print)
          MLR-1-02015-0437 (ebook)


We finally made it onto the highway. Ray leaned back in his seat. “You or Mike ever experience anything like what happened to Jessica? Anybody bother you because you’re mixed race?”

I shrugged. “A couple of times when I was a kid, but nothing that scarred me. For a couple of days after my mom came to our elementary school once, this one kid started saying ‘sayonara’ to me and pulling his eyes up at the corners.”

“What did you do?”

“I was taking karate back then,” I said. “Not in a serious way, just something to keep me from bouncing off the walls and bothering my brothers. I wanted to be able to do one of those high-jumping kicks, and I practiced on him.”

Ray laughed so hard he snorted. “I can just see you. What happened?”

“He fell backwards, and I landed on my butt. We both had to stay after school and clean the blackboards.”

When we got back to Kapolei, we unpacked the boxes that had been left for us and filled out more paperwork. We had to watch an online video about sexual harassment in the workplace, and another on the history of the FBI. Ray took the folders down to the fingerprint lab and then emailed myself copies of the letter and the envelope, which I added to the case file I was developing on my iPad.

While Ray looked for churches who used the kind of rhetoric in the letters, I did a search through the police database for pickup trucks with KTF as the first three letters of the plate, and got about three dozen matches. None of them on the Windward Shore, though, so I put that information aside in case it matched something in the future.

When I got home, our golden retriever Roby tackled me as soon as I walked in. I scratched behind his ears and then followed him to the kitchen, where Mike was foraging through the freezer.

Until you get up close to him, Mike looks completely haole and distinctly Italian, from his dark curly hair to his swarthy skin. His Korean heritage is only visible in the slight epicanthic fold of his eyes—though it was distinctive enough to make him uncomfortable when he was a kid growing up in Long Island, around his dad’s Italian-American family.

Mike looked up from the freezer. “When was the last time we went grocery shopping? There’s nothing in here but ice packs, half a bag of meatballs and two boxes of creamed spinach.”

“Can’t be,” I said. “Dakota and I filled a grocery cart last weekend. Could he have eaten everything?” I looked over Mike’s shoulder and saw he was telling the truth.

“The kid must have a tapeworm,” Mike grumbled. “Oh, crap.”


“I’m starting to talk like my father. When you hear me do that, slap me, all right?”

“Can I spank you?” I asked, with a smile.

TMI!” Dakota said. I looked around to see him standing in the kitchen doorway. “What’s for dinner?”

“I guess we’ll order a pizza,” I said.

“Two?” Dakota asked. “One for you guys and one for me?”

Mike and I groaned in unison. I called the pizza place at the bottom of the hill and put in our order, and Dakota went into the living room to play with Roby.

Mike sat at the kitchen table with a bottle of Fire Rock Pale Ale. “How was your first day as a special agent?” he asked.

“Ray and I have our first case. Our newest senator has gotten some hate mail.” I got a bottle for myself and told Mike about Senator Haberman’s wife and the threats her family had received. “Peggy Kaneahe and Sarah Byrne told me that they’ve both gotten similar harassment.” I looked at him. “You had problems on Long Island when you were a kid, being mixed race,” I said. “Anything once you moved here?”

“Not specifically that. But I remember we were studying the Korean war in middle school and I said that’s how my parents had met, when my dad was a soldier and my mom was a nurse. One of the kids got confused between South and North Korea and accused my mom of being a Communist.”

“What did you do?”

“I stuffed him in a locker.”
I laughed and told him about my own experience. “I’d better get a move on,” I said. “There’s a grocery by the pizza parlor. I’ll get Dakota to go with me and buy some food."

When I parked in the grocery lot, Dakota took a picture of my Jeep, and then another of the storefront. He kept taking photos of aisles and products and our cart as we grabbed enough food to carry us through the next day. When we were in the checkout line, I finally had to ask. “What is so fascinating about this store?” I asked.

“I’m posting to my Instagram account,” he said. “Dylan and I are competing to see who can take the most different pictures.”

“Who’s Dylan?”

“Just a guy. He’s in my English class.” Dakota slouched against the rack of tabloid magazines, his head down.

Hmm, I wondered. Just a guy. Back home, Dakota took photos of his pizza as he ate each slice, but I resisted the urge to say anything.