Breaking the Habit by Heidi Champa

May 8, 2010

Hello, my name is Heidi Champa and I’m very pleased to be a part of the Necking Anthology with my story, Breaking the Habit. It’s about three friends and their unusual method to get through nicotine withdrawal. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this collection and in such great company!!

Here is a short excerpt of the story. Please to enjoy!!

I sat on the couch, feeling like I was coming out of my skin. Cam and Joel were next to me, both of their heads resting on my shoulders. Five days into our torture and we were all struggling. The television talked to itself, all of us too bitchy to bother changing the channel or even pay attention. I looked down and noticed Cam’s hand twitching slightly. I put mine on top of it to calm him down. His fingers laced through mine, but I still felt the slight jittery charge running through his skin. Joel was tracing the pattern of the couch mindlessly with his pinkie, his knee rising and falling in a rapid tempo. I tried to be the strong one, but my mind was racing so fast I could barely control where it was going. Before my logical mind could catch up, I opened my mouth with a suggestion.

“We need something to take our minds off this.”

Joel was first to react, his voice still sounded gravely, despite all the fresh air we were getting

“What do you suggest, Tom? There isn’t anything we can do. Except the one thing we can’t do. We agreed, no exceptions, no matter what.”

 Joel jumped up, startling us both with his energy. He paced a small track back and forth in front of us, his hands air drumming out a crazy rhythm. He wasn’t done telling me off, either.

“Come off it Tom, there isn’t anything that can make us feel better. We’ve been to the cinema, we’ve gone for walks, we’ve chewed so much bloody gum, our teeth are going to fall out. What the fuck do you want us to do? I mean, seriously. What the fuck do you suggest?”

My thoughts continued to spin, wildly, like a slot machine with a fresh coin inside. The wheels of my mind kept going until all the pieces clicked into place; three cherries in a row. I stood up, releasing Cam’s hand in the process. I stepped in front of Joel, stopping his manic motion. I grabbed his head in my hands, and before he could say another crazy word, I kissed him hard on the lips. At first he stiffened, his body resisting my solution. But, after a few seconds, he relaxed into me, his hands going around my back on pure instinct. His tongue dove into my mouth, my hands gripping his ratty t-shirt for dear life. Pulling apart, Joel was panting and I was feeling calmer than I had in days.

“Shit, Tom. That was unexpected.”

“Do you feel better?”

“Yeah.”

We stood looking at each other in silence, until Cam cleared his throat and brought us back to reality. He smiled at me, his hand patting the cushion next to him.

“You know, Tom. I’m freaking out over here too.”

By this time, it was beyond me to think about how stupid or wrong it might be to continue. All I knew is that we needed it. We needed each other.

You can find me online at heidichampa.blogspot.com. Thanks for stopping by the Necking virtual release party!!

Snowbound by Jana Denardo

May 8, 2010

This is my second launch party with Dreamspinner press and yet in many ways, it’s my first. Unfortunate circumstances arose during my first one and I accomplished little more than my opening blurb. I have high hopes for this launch.

I was just over on Goodreads and I saw how many people already have the Necking anthology on their ‘to-read’ list and I can’t tell you how thrilling that is. I haven’t had a chance to read all the stories myself yet but I can’t wait until I have the time. What I’ve read so far is exciting stuff. I really love working with the editors at Dreamspinner.

My story Snowbound was just so much fun to write. I was a little worried about it because for the second time in a row, I wrote a story for a Dreamspinner open call that was both historical and a fantasy. That requires research and I was quite ill when I wrote it. I kept thinking I would run out of steam before I could get the required research done and translate it into something people would want to read.

I think I managed it nicely, though. My first readers were so fired up for this story. They kept prodding and poking me to finish it and I owe a lot to them, so thank you very much ladies. It’s appreciated more than you know. In fact they were so excited about these young demon hunters they’re asking me to write more stories for them.

So, historical fantasy you say? Tell me more (or at least that’s what I’m hoping people are thinking right now). It’s set back where I grew up, Pittsburgh, PA. After trying to decide when would the best time period for this would be, I wavered for a while before setting it in the 1930’s. There was just so much going on then, prohibition, the Depression, jazz, the birth of horror movies, it was easy to start finding the setting. However, getting enough historical elements into it without overwhelming the plot wasn’t easy and took a few rewrites but you probably don’t want to hear all the mechanics.

The plot is Caleb, Temple and Agni are demon hunters in an alternative history 1930’s, where demons and monster walk the earth and organizations like the Knights Templars and the Soldiers of the Sun fight to keep humanity safe. These three young men can see and fight the demons and after dealing with a nasty set of demons, they find themselves in a blizzard while on Mount Washington. Snowbound in a Soldiers of the Sun safe house, they found themselves with idle time on their hands. Agni might want to spend it reading and training. Temple has far better plans for them. Unfortunately so do the demons.

 Excerpt

His arm ached. Caleb fought to drag his old-fashioned sword around in time to fend off the demon’s razor claws. He and his team mates hadn’t imagined there would be quite this many of the beasts when they had been asked to help. They were already a man down and trying to get back to their base. Li had died three weeks ago, leaving Temple without a partner.

A gun roared, turning the demon’s head into a fine, bluish mist that sprayed wetly over Caleb. As the beast fell, Caleb saw Temple smirk at him. He was doing just fine without a partner, a real product of their time when it came to using his Tommy gun.

Hearing a subtle whoosh of air, Caleb turned in time to see his own partner’s chakram whip by, taking off the arm of the last of the demons. It would help if the demons looked as monstrous as everyone thought they did. Some, in fact, did, but this last one looked like a young lady shrieking in pain. Caleb ended it for her. 

“I hate it when they look human,” Caleb muttered, his eyes scanning the dilapidated one-time miners’ bar for any lingering demons. The tables, mostly broken to kindling now, had remained in the place. The alcohol was long gone, thanks to prohibition. He wondered what the demons were doing in the bar in the first place. Deserted buildings did make for good places to hide, he supposed.

“Won’t have to worry about it long,” Agni, his partner, muttered, retrieving one of his chakrams. Caleb never could figure out how the young Indian managed to whirl those edged discs without removing his own head by accident.

At Agni’s fatalistic pronouncement, Caleb glanced down at his feet. The female demon he had killed had begun her quick putrescence. With a sickly, organic smell, she dissolved into a slick, reddish-brown ooze that promptly dried up into a powder. Caleb knew he should be grateful for it. At least they didn’t have to hide the bodies. Turning from the sight, Caleb pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and swabbed off his sword. Demon blood was the devil’s own to get off once it dried.

“I’d like to know why so many demons have been cropping up lately.” Temple leaned on the bar that now bore signs of his Tommy gun blasts. He pretended to be unaffected, but the way his chest jerked and heaved gave him away. “What next?” Temple slung back his auburn hair. Unlike most men their age, he rarely wore it oiled. He swore it made him look too much like a popular marionette in Barnum’s Circus.

Caleb had to admit Temple was right. On the other hand, unoiled, the color and appearance of Temple’s hair would fit right in on an Irish Setter. Temple’s overly friendly, enthusiastic personality completed the image. “We should be done here,” Caleb said. “We cleaned the nest.”

“We hope.” Agni huffed. “Regulars never know how many demons are around. They just know people are acting strangely or ‘bad things’ are happening.”

Sheathing his sword, Caleb nodded. If everyone could see the demons, there would be no need for their Order. The trouble was, the very people who called them fearing ghosts or demons or fae folk couldn’t provide much in the way of useful data. They could tell the Soldiers of the Sun the phenomenon they witnessed and whom they might suspect but more often than not, the demons weren’t the strange old woman in the falling down house at the end of the block. No, they were the upstanding men whose place was in perfect order, hiding in plain view. “I guess we should get to a phone and call headquarters. They might have something else for us to do in this area before we head back.”

“At least we’re not far from headquarters now.” Temple reloaded his Tommy gun, just in case.

“So, where do we find a telephone up here?” Agni headed for the door, which hung now by one bent hinge.  He stopped to scoop up his fedora, lost in the fight.  “And just where is the safe house from here?”

“How should I know?” Caleb shrugged. “Though, you would think we would know since headquarters is over by the college.”

“That’s Oakland, this is Mount Washington,” Temple reminded him. They were both suburbs of Pittsburgh but hills and rivers divided the land like a pie cut by a shaky hand. “They barely speak English up here.”

“True. Guess we’d better go find the safe house. Who speaks German?” Caleb knew the question’s answer already. None of them.

“We don’t need to talk to too many people,” Agni said, not that he ever actually did. “Just enough to get to a phone. General Taglioferro can tell us where the safe house is up here on the hill.”

Temple paused on the street, canting his face skywards. Fat wet flakes slapped his cheeks. “Hey, snow. I love snow.”

Agni huffed, rolling his eyes at the young soldier. “I’ve never understood how anyone could possibly like the cold.”

“That’s because you have a stunted sense of fun,” Temple replied.

“You’re a child.”

Caleb ignored them as they fell back into their usual pattern of bickering

WHERE TO FIND IT

You can find the whole story and many more at the following links:

NECKING - 
ebook and paperback release

And you can find my guardian spirit story set in ancient Pompeii, In the Hands of the Gods at the following links in the Dreamspinner anthology A Brush of Wings

And if you like what you see, you can find a nap-sized dream from me  as well. Mysterious Spirit  is a fantasy story with a heavy bondage, submissive/dominance theme.

As you can see, I love talking about myself and my writing and I’m not shy about a little of self promotion. Feel free to ask me anything. I’d love to talk to you and I hope you enjoy this anthology. you can find me at http://jana_denardo.livejournal.com/ (sorry for the raw url. the Linking system fought me. After six times it was time to throw in the towel

1+1+1 is 3 by Evan Gilbert

May 8, 2010

Welcome to the Necking virtual release party.  This is my first story to be published with Dreamspinner Press, and I’m very excited to become a part of the Dreamspinner family.  As with most of my stories, the main character came to me first.  In this instance, it was a shy, isolated, insecure young man who’s letting life pass him by.   What would it be like if he were to suddenly become lucky in love, twice over?  Here’s an excerpt.  Hope you enjoy!

                                                                                                        Evan Gilbert

Tavian arrived at the bookstore fifteen minutes later, pushing his way through the door. The place was unusually crowded, even for a Saturday afternoon. Probably overflow from the Taste of Chicago festival, he decided. Tavian went straight to the fiction section, got the book he wanted, and started making his way to the back of the store, where he hoped—but doubted— he would find his favorite chair waiting unoccupied.

He turned his shoulders sideways as a guy slid past him, walking in the opposite direction. The nearness of the other male made Tavian’s breath catch in his lungs. Tavian looked back. The guy was just about six feet tall, his body a bit thicker with muscle than Tavian’s. He wore loose blue jeans, a red T-shirt, black sneakers with big, red laces, and a watch on his left wrist with a wide, studded black band. The guy came to a halt and turned to look back at Tavian. His thick, straight white blond hair lay in long bangs over his forehead. His face, dominated by dark green eyes, was attractive.

Tavian stopped, too, fully turning to face the guy, whom he had seen a few times before on the University of Chicago campus. On campus, the guy never made eye contact, never seemed to register Tavian’s existence in any way, and Tavian had dubbed him Ice Blond. Tavian was therefore stunned that Ice Blond was now standing barely ten feet away from him and gazing into his eyes. Even more stunning was the unmistakable rush of desire that abruptly passed between them.

Frozen in place, they stared at each other for what seemed like minutes, but the situation never made either young man feel awkward or self-conscious. Tavian knew, however, that if one of them did not make a move, they would lose this moment, this chance. Pick-up lines were not his specialty. He had, in fact, never picked up another guy before. His one and only semi-relationship had grown unexpectedly out of a yearlong friendship. What could he say to Ice Blond that would pull the guy in?

The rest of the world had ceased to exist the moment their eyes made contact. Part of it came suddenly back into focus as movement just beyond a table of discounted books caught their attention. Both Tavian and Ice Blond turned to see a young black guy step closer to them, his attention riveted by their charged aura. Like them, he was roughly six feet tall. His skin was the color of chocolate. He had a slender, handsome face with dark brown eyes, and he wore two tiny gold studs in his right ear lobe. His close-trimmed hair looked as if it had been painted on his shapely head. He wore stonewashed jeans and a long-sleeved light blue T-shirt with denim swirls sweeping diagonally across the front. The shirt hugged broad shoulders and nicely rounded pectorals.

From the corner of his eye, Tavian caught the subtle shift in Ice Blond’s attention. Ice Blond was just as intrigued as Tavian by the entry of Dark Stranger (as Tavian’s whirling mind immediately tagged him) into what had been a two-way glamour.

Tavian could feel his heart quickening in his chest. He looked again at Ice Blond. Ice Blond looked at him. They both turned their eyes back to Dark Stranger.

Dark Stranger’s gaze shifted from Tavian to Ice Blond. He nodded his head toward the door, then turned and walked outside. Ice Blond followed. 

Tavian tossed For Whom the Bell Tolls onto the table and went after them.

Getting a Filling, by JL Merrow

May 8, 2010

Hi, I’m JL Merrow.  It’s great to be here today, talking about my contribution to the Necking anthology that’s due out on May 10th.

When I saw the call for the anthology, I didn’t have to think twice about whether I’d submit to it! I’d recently stretched myself by writing a couple of m/m/f ménage stories, and was very keen to try writing an m/m/m ménage.  Hence “Getting a Filling”, a tale about a visit to the dentist that ends up being a lot more fun than Ivo and his partner Colin were expecting!  Why did I set my story at a dentist’s surgery?  Well, having just had my six-monthly check-up, that was kind of a no-brainer too.  It was great fun imagining three hot guys using the chair for activities the manufacturers had never intended, and I’m sure the fact that my own dentist is rather easy on the eyes, even in a surgical mask, didn’t hurt, either!

You might think from all this that I’m a big fan of going to the dentist.  Sadly, um, no.  I have to admit that there’s a fair bit of me in Ivo, whose partner Colin describes him as “the world’s biggest wuss.”  I remember last time I had to have a filling—my kids were with me, which was actually a relief as it meant I’d have to keep my abject fear and total drill-phobia under control, so as not to give them a complex too.  I thought I was doing rather well.

Then my daughter, who at the time was all of six years old, came and held my hand as I lay rigid in the chair, and said confidently, “Don’t worry, Mummy.  It’ll be all right.”

Apparently, as well as being the world’s biggest wuss, I am also the world’s worst actor.

Oh, well.  At least I’ve raised considerate kids!

And now here’s the excerpt from “Getting a Filling”

As Ivo walked into the surgery, the smell hit him.  A mix of antiseptic and that horrid pink stuff they made you rinse your mouth out with after they’d finished their sadistic little round of torture.  And a faint whiff of mint.  Uniquely dentist, it transported Ivo back to his childhood and his mother’s harassed voice, promising him a whole box of Smarties if he’d only, please, just try to be good at the dentist’s this time.

“Ivo, you’re hurting my hand,” Colin hissed in his ear.  Ivo let go hurriedly.

And then he looked at the dentist, and all his anxiety seemed to drain away.  Right along with most of the blood in the upper portions of his body.  That seemed to be heading south so fast Ivo was vaguely surprised he didn’t keel straight over on the floor, leaving just his dick standing up and waving enthusiastically.  The dentist was absolutely bloody gorgeous.  Well, what could be seen of him was, at any rate.  Green eyes twinkled above his surgical mask, and dark, almost black curls poked out from under his cap.  The whole effect was Pan, gone middle-class professional.  Ivo found himself wondering if there might be two tiny horns nestling in those curls under the cap.  And as for the rest of him… His tight white tunic (and how come Ivo had never realised just how sexy a tunic could be?) seemed to strain to contain his muscular chest, and his trousers clung lovingly to rock-hard thighs.

Ivo heard Colin’s sharp intake of breath and knew his lover was just as affected by the sight as he was.  It was one of the many reasons he felt so lucky having Colin; they had very similar tastes in men.

“Ah, Mr Eccles?  If you’d like to take a seat.”  The dentist waved politely at the chair, which looked more like a couch in its present semi-reclined state.  Really, you could get up to all sorts of things in a chair like that…

“Ivo,” Ivo told him as he moved forward, drawn by the lure of that mellow voice.  “Please, call me Ivo.”

The green eyes crinkled up at the corners.  “Ivo, then.  And you’d better call me Ted.”  As Ivo sat down, Ted set the chair in motion, reclining it even further.  Ivo swallowed, feeling a sudden urge to cover his groin with his hands just in case he might be, ah, showing his appreciation a little inappropriately.  “Now, have we had any particular problems, Ivo?”

Firmly pushing aside all thoughts of one particular problem in his trousers, Ivo nodded, the motion a little awkward from his recumbent position.  “Yes.  Back right, at the top—there’s a tooth that’s been bothering me lately.” He felt himself blushing, and reflected that at least that meant not all of his blood was collected where it shouldn’t be.  “I’m afraid I haven’t been to the dentist for about a decade.”

Black eyebrows drew together in reproach.  “Well, you should realise that might mean there’ll be a fair bit of work to do.  But let’s take a look, shall we?”

He leaned over Ivo, the heat of his body a tangible thing.  “Open wide, please.”

Oh, I’d love to open wide for you, Ted, Ivo thought.  Green eyes widened, and in the corner Colin made a sort of spluttering sound.  Ivo felt a sudden chill. “Did I say that aloud?”

Heart’s Salvation, by Réve Garrison

March 21, 2010

I’ve never posted to the blog before, so hopefully I’ve done it correctly! I’m VERY excited to have my first ‘in print’ book with Dreamspinner Press, and be listed among other talented authors in the ‘A Brush of Wings’ anthology.

Blurb

After losing his wife and daughter in a car accident, a distraught Nathaniel approaches the church for comfort, seeking the statue that is said to heal emotional distress. When the angel embodied in the statue feels the depth of Nathaniel’s pain, he makes the unusual decision to assume human form and comfort the grieving widower. But soon the angel must decide between returning to the statue to comfort others and retaining his humanity for the hope of love.

Excerpt

DAYS passed, and Nathaniel carried on as best he could after burying his wife and child. In the times when he felt the deepest despair, his heart was lightened by a happy memory. Sometimes a comforting presence filled the air, as if a guardian angel was watching out for him. It was during those moments that he thought of the handsome, dark-haired stranger with the kind eyes that seemed to see inside his very soul.

For all the shortness of their meeting, Nathaniel was enraptured with the being who had saved him. On the nights when he lay in bed unable to sleep, he tried to remember how the young man had come to be with him that night. All he could remember was looking up into placid eyes and the feeling of being safe. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten home, though he assumed he’d walked, but he remembered that he’d awoken from a terrible nightmare with the man at his side. Some of the pieces just didn’t fit, and if he dwelt upon them too long, his head began to reel.

Days turned into weeks, which quickly turned into months, and Nathaniel’s hopes of seeing his savior angel again diminished until all that was left was a dull throbbing ache in his soul.

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‘The Angel Blues’ by Cornelia Grey, in ‘A Brush of Wings’ anthology

March 21, 2010

Hello, dear readers and fellow authors. I am thrilled to be part of this anthology: the theme of guardian spirits is endlessly fascinating, and I am pleased to have my personal take on the matter included in this intriguing selection.

Angels always evoke in me a feeling of mild melancholy and soothing light; I love to think of celestial beings as good natured, ironic, with the little imperfections and quirks that make humankind interesting. The angel of ‘The Angel Blues’ is a conflicted being, unable to distance himself from the doubts and emotions and little pleasures that belong to mortals – such as listening to a good ol’ blues song, or the company of a certain human that makes his heart flutter just so…

I hope you will enjoy accompanying my two characters in their journey, which, whether they want it or not, will permanently transform their lives; here’s a glimpse of their story.

The Angel Blues: an excerpt

“HONESTLY. Haven’t you got anything better to do than hang around in my living room?”

Morgan leaned against the doorframe and popped the cap of the beer he’d just taken out of the fridge, slowly shaking his head. He’d walked back from the kitchen to find his favorite chair occupied by a familiar figure, sitting cross-legged, with messy hair and an oversized ugly sweater, and he couldn’t even bring himself to be surprised anymore.

“Yeah. Well, I rather enjoy your living room,” the stranger said, his head bent over the pile of CDs scattered on his lap. He picked one up and hummed in approval. “’The original blues legend’. One of my favorites,” he said, his blinding smile blossoming. Morgan took a sip and chuckled, then dropped onto the couch, stretching his legs.

“So, I’ve come up with a few options,” he began conversationally. “About you. And why you seem to pop up all over the place.”

The stranger lifted his gaze, still holding onto the CD. “By all means, let’s hear them, then,” he said, one eyebrow raised in kind curiosity.

Morgan slumped more comfortably into the cushions. “First, chances are you are just a figment of my imagination. I’m still pretty sure I made you up. You’re a hallucination.”

“Is that so?” the stranger commented, his smile unreadable. Strangely, Morgan could not remember the last time he had felt so… at peace.

“Yeah. And since I’m not on drugs, you may well be the sign of a deadly brain tumor or that my brain’s simply given up and is circling the drain. And remember,” he added, pointing his Beck’s toward the stranger, “if I end my days in an asylum because of you, I’ll be holding one serious grudge.”

The stranger just leaned back in the armchair, head cocked slightly to the side, that Mona Lisa smile still ghosting on his lips. Morgan sort of wondered if hallucinations could flirt…

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REDEMPTION by Clare London

March 21, 2010

Hello to today’s visitors and I hope we’re tempting you well with our glimpses into the new Dreamspinner Press anthology, “A Brush of Wings”.

My story is called REDEMPTION and was inspired by thoughts of Purgatory, and how men might linger between worlds while they waited for their eventual fate to be judged.  And then, how much worse would that situation be for Angels? 

BLURB:
Ziba is a fallen Angel, working as a sponsor of lost men, helping them find genuine repentance after a life of sin.  Banished to the Arrivals Hall between worlds, he offers them work during their journey back to a better afterlife.  But for him, personally, that option is closed.  His position was so exalted, and his sin so great, that he is imprisoned in Arrivals for ever.  Until he meets Abdiel, a new arrival: an angel who was also exalted, and also fell from grace – but whose love and self-sacrifice offers both of them a new hope of redemption.

EXCERPT:

We walked to the back of the room until I stood only a foot away from the kneeling man.  I didn’t listen to any of the other voices, didn’t smell any of the other flesh.  I waited for the required response.

None came.  He remained with his head bowed and his hands held loosely behind his back.  I stared down at the crown of his head.  His hair was dark with sweat, but I could see it was dark auburn, thick and curled where it nestled against his neck.  His skin was almost hairless, but his shoulders were broad and his arms and legs muscled.  He was far from a boy.

“Tell me his story,” I said, speaking above him.  For the first time, I saw a flicker of acknowledgment in the pulse below his ear, though he didn’t lift his head.  Of course, I hadn’t given permission, but I didn’t think that was the only reason.

The caretaker’s throat bobbed with a heavy swallow.  “What can I say?  We haven’t been given all the paperwork yet.  They dropped him off a while ago.”  He glared at the bowed head as if it had caused him more grief than the combined workload of all the other Arrivals he’d ever handled.  “But it must have been a grade eight offence at the least. There’s no recommended holding period, or even a listing of mitigation.”

I glanced along the sweep of his bony torso.  “No mark?”

“No, sir.  Not yet.  He must have come straight from Transition.  It’s just another sign as to the severity of his case.”

“You said he wasn’t available.”

The caretaker’s eyes looked as if they’d roll up into his head.  The fear dripped from him in his sweat.  “That was the only paper he did have on him.  A yellow slip.”  His voice sank to a whisper.  “Don’t think I’ve seen more than three of those in all my time here.”

I felt an unusual shiver across the back of my neck.  The caretaker was staring down at my hands.  An unimaginative man at best, with a tendency to casual cruelty if not checked, he knew enough to watch for warning signs of punishment.  It took me an effort to uncurl my fingers and relax the palm. 

A yellow slip

“Outcast,” I said.  The body at my feet seemed to shiver as well.  “Indefinite confinement, subject only to divine review.  Not to be issued a ledger.”

The caretaker was silent.

“No opportunity for redemption,” I added, my voice sounding low and, disturbingly, bleak.

“No, sir,” the man at my side whispered.  His tone was dejected.  He, personally, had arrived with a medium high grade offence, but even so, his ledger was gradually filling with credit. Every one of my visits added to that, if the Arrivals I took had been properly cared for.

But he also knew I’d arrived with a yellow slip, myself.

I took a step back.  “Look at me,” I said to the man on his knees.

The caretaker tensed up beside me, his hand gripping his whip in case of resistance.  It happened.  This man wasn’t available for general service, but he was still subject to Arrival Hall rules.  As, indeed, had I been.  That was, until I had learned to use my unique powers to ease my way through the system.

After all, I had many years both behind and ahead of me to practice.

He stirred, the man who wasn’t bound and yet met me in the traditional submissive pose.  I didn’t know if he were brave or foolish—or even if he fully understood his status.  I couldn’t take him with me against his will.  Nor would it benefit him to indenture himself to me, as it would the others.  But I could still demand his attention.

He looked up at me.  I felt nauseous.

“This is a mistake,” I said.

“Sir?” The caretaker looked aghast.

“This man shouldn’t be here.”

*************

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Herbal Tea by H.J. Brues in A Brush of Wings

March 21, 2010

I’m on a little vacation right now, traveling with a group of friends who forced me to leave my laptop at home before allowing me to climb into the car. So, yeah, you guessed right: I had to post these words in advance, but I didn’t want to miss the chance to join the party and tell you a little about my story in the Dreamspinner Press A Brush of Wings anthology.

 I found the idea of writing about guardian spirits very appealing—I can hear my fellow authors thinking get in line—and I had one of those what-if moments when I was preparing a cup of herbal tea. I love the slow, calming ritual of making tea, love the powerful scent of most herbal teas—and if you’ve ever smelled an infusion of valerian root you’ll  understand why I say most—love mixing flavors and drinking the hot, colorful liquid while I let my mind drift.  I thought I could put all those feelings in a story, and so I chose to write about an herbalist, someone who would know everything about medicinal plants and their uses.

Original that I am, I called the result Herbal tea. Since I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, here’s a little sip:

 I looked at the rainbow flag and tried not to clench my fists. Maybe I was being my usual paranoid self and it was just one of those equal opportunity things, but I had the impression they were laughing themselves sick back at headquarters.

The place looked harmless enough on the outside, with its potted geraniums and clear windows, the stenciled sign reading “The Ancient Herbalist” in simple, blue cursive. At least it wasn’t a sex shop or one of those sleazy bookstores, though it reeked of alternative bullshit; that, I could bear for one day—or so I told myself as I pushed the door open to the chime of a dozen little bells and almost gagged on the overpowering scent of herbs. Jesus. “Herbalist” was right, by the smell of it.

There were no patrons sitting at the white, wrought-iron tables yet, so I walked over to study the prints on the nearest wall. They were all renderings of plants—medicinal, I guessed—with a sure hand for detail and sedate backgrounds that emphasized the almost botanical textbook air to them. As I moved closer, I noticed a few smaller frames holding something that looked like… tea bags? Yeah, several tea bags, the front of two cardboard tea boxes, and a row of teabag labels. Weird, the things people choose to hang on a wall.

“Welcome.”

I turned around to meet the most amazing violet eyes I’d ever seen on a man. My old neighbor Wallace used to have a cat with those eyes, though they weren’t as full of healthy curiosity as the pair holding my gaze in the herbal-scented room.

“Would you care for a cup of tea?” he asked, his voice a little too much on the amused side for my comfort. I was glad he didn’t wait for my answer, because I might have blurted out the wrong thing—considering I only drink black coffee—and it gave me time to study his retreating form as he walked back to the counter.

He was wearing drawstring pants that hung loosely on his lean hips, two layers of oversized T-shirts blurring the contours of his light frame. I felt overdressed in my black suit, almost the cartoon image of an FBI agent trying to get some answers from a skater punk.

“You don’t look ancient to me,” I said, surprising a laugh out of him.

“I don’t look like an herbalist either,” he replied with a smile. A very nice smile—of the sexy-nice kind. Definitely someone was having a ball back at headquarters.

 ******************

 Want to taste some more? If you do, I know you will also enjoy the wonderful stories the other authors have written for this Dreamspinner Press anthology (congratulations you all, and great job, Anne!):

 To buy the paperback

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 I will be very happy to read your comments, questions or herbal tea recipes, and will answer them as soon as I can get my hands on my laptop.

A to Z

March 5, 2010

A quick excerpt from A to Z.

*****

Jared brought a six-pack of Dr. Pepper and a couple of fans, and we started painting. Even with the doors open and the fans on, it was hot. Angelo had his shirt off, and I was surprised by how distracting it was. As the hours crept past, I found my eyes drawn to him over and over again. When we first met, I had simply thought he was a punk. That had changed as we became friends. Still, I wondered why it had never occurred to me to really look at him.

He was rail-thin, but his arms were roped with taut muscles. His skin was dark and he had very little hair on his body. He had a starburst pattern tattooed around his navel and another one between his shoulder blades. His pants hung low on his hips. If they were even an inch lower, I was sure I would have been able to see pubic hair. He was painting the top of a doorframe, his head tipped back, and he was laughing at something Jared had just said.

He was beautiful.

A drop of paint fell and landed on his chest. I watched it slide down his chest, over his ribs, and onto the flat plain of his stomach. I could see the soft, downy hairs there and that white paint against his dark skin, and I had a sudden and ridiculous urge to lick it off of him. I was sure that it would taste just like vanilla ice cream. I knew his skin would be soft against my tongue, salty and delicious. I imagined kneeling in front of him, running my tongue over his ribs, sliding my hands up his thighs to grip his ass. I imagined seeing him with his head thrown back in passion. I felt myself growing hard at the thought.

“Zach?” he said suddenly.

I ripped my eyes away from that drop of paint, looked up at his face. Jesus, could he tell I had a fucking hard-on? He was staring at me with that lopsided grin, looking incredibly amused, but I didn’t think it was over the embarrassing bulge in my pants. Jared, on the other hand, was grinning at me like he knew exactly what was going on.

“What?” I sounded defensive, although I hadn’t meant to.

“Did you even hear me?” Angelo asked.

Had I heard him? Had he been talking? All I could remember was the way the paint had rolled over his stomach, and I had to resist the urge to look down at it again.

“Zach, what’s up with you, man?” he asked jokingly.

Jared made a choking sound, and I knew he was trying not to laugh at me. I needed Angelo to put his shirt back on.

“Aren’t you cold?” I asked him.

“No.” He had spotted the paint and was trying to wipe it off. Now he had a white smear across his stomach. At least it didn’t look like ice cream anymore. “Why?”

“It’s cold in here.” In my defense it had finally dropped below eighty-five.

Angelo looked at me like I was crazy. “Then why you sweatin’?”

Jared really did start laughing now. Angelo turned and looked at him in confusion. I did my best to glare daggers at him. He clamped his mouth shut and started putting his brush away.

“What’s so funny?” Angelo asked him.

“Nothing.” But he was obviously struggling to get himself under control. “Listen, it is definitely hot in here. Way too hot for all three of us. I think I better go.”

“Already?” Angelo asked. “Why?”

Jared laughed again. “I gotta go tell Matt he won our bet.” He looked over at Angelo. “Ang, I was listening even if Zach wasn’t, and it’s a great idea.”

Angelo looked extremely pleased, and I was irrationally annoyed that it was Jared who had caused it. “Cool,” Angelo said to him. “We still on for dinner?”

“Sure. Just come on by when you guys are ready.” He was still smiling. He had to walk past me to get to the door, and as he passed me, he said very quietly, “Not blind anymore, are you?” I felt my whole face turn red. “See you later.”

Once Jared was gone, I looked back over at Angelo. He had gone back to painting the top of the door jamb. His skin was moving over the thin, taut muscles in his arms. His head was back. There was a drop of sweat in the little hollow at the base of his throat.

I was getting hard again.

I really needed him to put his shirt back on.

“Hey, it’s almost dinner time anyway,” I said to him. “Let’s go back to the motel and get cleaned up. I could use a shower.” A really, really cold shower.

He shrugged. “Okay.”

First we had to clean the brushes, or they’d be worthless by the time we got back from dinner. We crowded into the mop room and stood next to each other at the utility sink, rinsing out brushes and pans and rollers. There wasn’t much room, and his arm kept brushing mine. At least he had put his shirt back on. Still, I could smell him. He smelled like sweat and shampoo, and paint, and it was sexy as hell. Just standing next to him had me hard all over again. Had he rolled in pheromones that morning or something?

He was talking again and I was finding it very difficult to pay attention.

“The thing I never got ’bout Gone with the Wind was why Scarlett was so crazy over Ashley anyway, you know? Here she’s got Rhett on the line, and all she can think ’bout is Ashley, who’s a total fuckin’ pansy.”

“I never watched it.” I was watching his hands. He was washing out his paint brush, his long, thin fingers working through the bristles, and I thought about what it would feel like to have those fingers tangled in my hair. While I licked paint off of his stomach.

Seriously, this was getting weird.


“Jack and Dave”

February 26, 2010

Here’s a taste of what to expect in “Jack and Dave.”

Dave headed down the street and turned right at the corner headed toward one of Reading‟s oldest gay bars. The Purple Door had been around for at least thirty years and stood as the symbol of the gay community in the city, and as Dave approached, he had an odd tension in his stomach.

Somehow he felt that once he crossed the threshold of the bar, he was identified to the community at large as a homosexual. Considering this was something he had fought against so hard in the military, crossing through the door was like breaking a curse.

When he walked in, all the heads in the place turned to check out who was coming in. The club had a bar formed in a big oval in the middle of the room with a small dance floor off to one side. There was no band, just pre-recorded music played on loop. The light was low, and it took Dave a minute for his vision to adjust to the atmosphere. As he took a seat at the bar, all eyes were still focused on him as the bartender headed his way.

“What‟ll be?” the cute bartender asked. Weren’t all gay bartenders cute?

“Rum and Coke, please.”

“Sure thing. New around here? I don‟t remember seeing you before.”

“New? Not really. New in here, yes. I just got out of the Marines, and this is my first month home.”

“Ah, that would explain the high and tight,” the bartender said, referring to Dave‟s hair.

“Yeah, I kinda like it, though,” Dave replied.

“Don‟t get me wrong, I like it too. Dan‟s my name,” the bartender said, holding out his hand.

“Hi, Dave, glad to meet you.” “Ah, forgive me for asking, but you are twenty-one or older, right?”

“Yep, wanna see ID?”

“Nah, I‟ll take your word for it. First drink is on the house, Marine,” Dan said.

“Thanks, nice of you,” Dave replied with a smile that seemed to light up the bar. As Dave looked around, he found most of the men in the bar were still staring at him. He nodded a few times, and the guys nodded back or waved. It was obvious that more than one man was intensely interested in Dave, but none approached him directly.

As he finished his drink, Dan brought another and set it down. “This is from Nick over there at the end of the bar,” Dan said and smiled again. “I don‟t think you‟ll be paying for any drinks in here tonight,” he continued with a laugh.

Dave nodded to Nick and smiled. Dan reached down below the bar and did something that turned up the music slightly. As a good song came on, one young man girded his loins and came up to Dave. “Care to dance?”

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Excerpt One