“Blue Notes” Musical Soundtrack

December 30, 2011

So, if you haven’t figured it out already, “Blue Notes” is about music and musicians, among other things. While I was writing the book, I listened to a lot of different music, mostly classical.  There are three pieces that formed the basic soundtrack for the book:

1)  Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118, no. 2.   The American protagonist in the story, Jason, is a former classical pianist whose favorite piece of music is the Brahms.  It’s a totally romantic, angsty piece which I can listen to a million times and still turns me to Jell-O!  I can’t even count how many times I listened to it while writing the book (until my husband and kids finally told me to stop!).

2) Sibelius Violin Concerto This concerto is the first piece that appears in “Symphony,” one of the other books in the Blue Notes series (co-authored with my buddy, Venona Keyes).  And, good lord, that first movement is SOOOO romantic!

3) Tenor/Baritone duet from Bizet’s “The Pearlfishers”:   This is the “theme” for “Aria,” a WIP and another music-themed novel (about an opera singer), and is sung by the two male leads in the opera, who are best friends and rivals for the same woman’s love (talk about the closest thing to M/M sex in opera!)  Bromance at its best! They should just have ditched the girl and walked off into the sunset together…

All the links are to recordings you can listen to for free. And don’t forget that you can win enter a download of my favorite Brahms recording from Amazon by leaving a message on the blog.  Enjoy! -Shira

“Blue Notes,” by Shira Anthony, Excerpt #1

December 30, 2011

Here’s an excerpt – Chapter One in its entirety.  Pre-publication, of course – the final version may differ slightly.  Enjoy!

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

Chapter One

HE LEANED back against the headrest and watched the clouds beneath the wing of the airplane. Used to traveling business class, with all six foot three of him now wedged into the narrow coach seat, he cursed every aeronautical engineer who had ever suggested refitting wide-bodied jets to accommodate more passengers.

He eyed the center section of the cabin with longing, regretting that he had chosen a window seat. College students, clearly with more foresight than he, were already stretched out over three or four seats to sleep during the long flight from Philadelphia to Paris. In the final analysis, however (and, exceptional lawyer that he was, he always analyzed), he knew it was his fault alone that he should suffer the indignities of traveling like an eighteen-year-old again; it was his last minute, foolhardy decision that had landed him here.

What the hell were you thinking?

The thought had run like an endless loop through his exhausted mind for the past three hours. He knew the answer, of course: he hadn’t thought at all, he had just reacted. He’d done a lot of that lately.

A female flight attendant—blonde, attractive, and in her midthirties—stopped at his row with a stack of plastic cups and a pitcher of water. “Something to drink?” she offered, her voice a sensual undertone. No doubt she appreciated the lone, well-dressed man amidst the myriad students wired to iPods, iPads, and other devices.

He had come to dismiss such attention; he had long engendered this kind of response from women. With his wavy auburn hair, strong jaw, and bright green eyes, he was, as his grandmother often reminded him, “Quite a catch.” Add to that a salary well into the six-figure range and his job as an equity partner in a large Philadelphia law firm, and Jason Greene was a man any mother would die to have her daughter bring home. Except that he hadn’t quite managed to keep the one woman he had fallen in love with happy.

“Yes—some water, please,” he replied, offering the flight attendant the same pleasant, reassuring smile that he had offered his clients for the past ten years. The same smile that he had offered Diane upon his return home to their high-rise apartment each night, having missed dinner yet again. The smile was far more effective with the flight attendant.

She handed him a cup of water. “Business or pleasure?” she asked, mistaking his politeness for something more like interest. (He wasn’t interested—he’d had enough of women to last him a lifetime, he reminded himself.)

“Neither,” he answered, foreclosing any further discussion. She responded with a slight chuckle, then moved on to the next row back.

He closed his eyes and pressed the button to recline his seat. It only moved about an inch. He looked around. He hadn’t noticed that his seat was right in front of an exit row. Figures, he thought with a snort and a shake of the head. Resigned to his fate, he grabbed the extra pillow off the empty seat next to his and pushed up the armrest to give himself more room. Pulling the slippery blue polyester blanket over himself, he shifted on an angle to tuck his long legs under the aisle seat in front of him. It was not comfortable, but it would do.

He looked out the window once more. It was dark now, and here, above the clouds, he could see stars. He closed his eyes and rearranged the pillows so that his head rested against the cool bulkhead. A few minutes later, he drifted off into an uneasy sleep with the drone of the engines in his ears.

ONLY a day before, he had been dressed in a charcoal-gray Armani suit with a yellow striped Brooks Brothers tie, looking out a wall of windows at the thickening gray clouds over the city of Philadelphia. The forecast was for snow. Again.

“You want what?” Scott Reston, the managing partner of Halwell, Richardson & Dailey, leaned back in his chair and gaped at Jason as though he were an alien.

“I’m taking a leave of absence,” Jason repeated calmly. “Starting tomorrow.”

Tomorrow?” The other man’s voice resonated with shock. “Jason, I know you’re pissed that Diane—”

“I’ve worked my ass off for this firm, Scott,” he countered before the other man could complete his sentence, all the while maintaining his calm resolve. In spite of his control, his jaw tightened. “I’ve been pulling in enough billables to more than cover a few months off.”

Months?” The word came in a half-strangled gasp. “You want months? Look, Jaz, if you need help, I can put the new kid—what’s his name, Sanderson?—on some of your cases.”

“It’s not about the caseload. I haven’t taken time off in years, except the trip with Diane to her sister’s wedding. I need—”

“Then take a few weeks,” Scott interrupted, hoping this settled the matter. “Go somewhere warm. You can use our apartment in Cancun, if you want. Maybe you can pick up some cute Mexican babe while you’re—”

“Two months, Scott,” Jason insisted as he lapsed into his commanding courtroom voice without a second thought. “The other partners won’t question it if you’re on board. Hell, if you want, I’ll take a smaller draw this year.” One of the paperweights on Scott’s desk vibrated with the resonant baritone.

“Hell, Jaz Man. It’s me, remember? The guy you pulled all-nighters with in law school? That lawyer shit won’t work here. And since when do you let a bitch like Diane—”

“Drop it,” Jason responded, his tone colder than the icicles that hung on the eaves outside of the building. “This wasn’t her fault.”

“The fuck! She cheated on you.”

“I said, drop it. Whatever she did, she had her reasons.”

Reason one: too many hours spent at the office. Reason two: too few hours spent at home. Both my fault.

“Jaz Man….” Scott groaned, leaning back in his chair with the same party-boy look that Jason remembered from law school. “Jaz, you’re killing me. I’m up to my neck in depos in the Alvarez case, and TransAllied just sent me a class-action complaint in a race case out of Cleveland. You’re the only one licensed up there.”

“Nothing’ll happen in the next two months on the Cleveland case, and you know it,” he shot back. “I’ll remove it to federal court, and one of your new hires can start on a motion for summary judgment and getting documents together for discovery. And if the judge wants a local guy in on the scheduling conference, you can call my buddy Phil Lane up there to handle it. He owes me one.”

Scott’s frown deepened. “I can’t convince you that you’re a crazy asshole, can I, Jaz Man?”

“Unlikely,” he replied with a self-deprecating laugh. “You’ve had more than ten years to try.” He took a deep breath, allowing his shoulders to relax a bit and softening his expression. “Look, Scotty… I need this. It’ll only be for two months. I promise I’ll come back and make it up to you. Just two months.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Scott acknowledged after a pause. He exhaled, sounding a bit like a pipe releasing steam. “Fine. You got it. I’ll take the heat from the big guns. With all the money you’ve been pulling in for the past few years, they’ll squawk a little, but they’ll be more worried about losing you for good.”

“Thanks,” Jason answered, turning to leave.

“So, where’re you going? Backpacking in South America? Some desert island in the Caribbean?” Scott asked. “Buddhist retreat in Tibet?”

“Paris,” Jason responded, stopping at the door with his fingers curled around the handle.

“Paris in January?”

“Yeah.”

“Cold as hell, I hear.”

“Yeah. Something like that.”

THE plane touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport on time in a misting rain. Pulling his small suitcase behind him and heading for the line of taxis, Jason laughed to himself—it was considerably warmer here than in Philly. It had snowed in this part of France a few weeks before, but nothing remained of the drifts that had paralyzed the region.

A taxi pulled to the curb, and the driver got out, putting Jason’s bag in the trunk. “À 146 rue d’Assas,” he told the driver in unaccented French.

“Oui, monsieur,” came the curt response.

He leaned forward, elbow on one knee, and watched the dull procession of warehouses that stretched between the airport and the city. It didn’t look all that much different than the outskirts of Philly except for the tiny cars and road signs in French announcing various autoroutes. It wasn’t until he saw the white stone basilica of Sacré- Cœur perched high atop Montmartre that he relaxed back into the seat.

It’s been too long.

The rain picked up as the taxi turned the corner onto rue d’Assas, affording a quick view of the grand fountain at the end of the Jardins du Luxembourg with its immense horses. The park looked gray, lifeless. He handed the driver a fifty euro bill, pulled up the door code on his smartphone, and entered it into the silver keypad, then walked into the tiled vestibule when the wooden door clicked open. Rummaging briefly in his pockets, he pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the door to the courtyard, his suitcase clattering across the uneven flagstones toward yet another doorway. Tiny vines of delicate yellow flowers climbed the side of the building in spite of the cold. In spring, the entire courtyard would be full of colorful blooms tended by the building’s various residents.

The second door opened without a key, and he walked a few more feet to an apartment door painted a bright shade of blue, almost turquoise. He tapped the automatic lights, illuminating the corridor, and plunged his key into the lock. The apartment was cold—colder even than outside. It had been unoccupied for months, and the frigid air from the courtyard leaked in through the ancient windows.

He left his suitcase by the front door and flipped a switch to light the entryway. A burst of color on the dining room table caught his eye as he turned up the thermostat. Rosie, he thought with a smile. She must have asked the building superintendent to set the flowers there for him.

The edges of his mouth turned up as he inhaled the sweet scent of the bouquet. Freesia and irises. There was an envelope propped against the vase, with a typewritten message inside:

Jason—

Looks like I’ll be in Milan until late March. Call me on my cell when you get in. I’ll take the TGV up for a weekend when you’re ready for visitors. I’ve had Rémy stock the fridge for a few days. The place is yours for as long as you need it. Remember to relax!

Love you,

Rosalie

Three years older than he, Rosalie had purchased the Paris apartment years ago, having done quite well in her work as a fashion designer. Jason had stayed here once, more than ten years before, in between law school and his first job as an attorney.

She’s right—you need to relax. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? he thought as he showered a short time later. But he knew that this trip was about more than just needing time off to relax. He was running—running from everything that was wrong with his life: the long hours, the loving relationship that had slipped through his hands, the pain of betrayal, and the desire to do something with his life other than earn more money than he could ever find the time to spend. Toweling off a few minutes later, he clicked the remote on Rosalie’s sound system. Fifties jazz filled the apartment and, for the first time in weeks, he smiled.

For a half an hour he lay on the couch, just letting the music wash over him. At last, drawing inspiration from the music, he threw on a pair of jeans and a warm sweater, shoved his wallet and phone into his pocket, and grabbed his jacket and umbrella. With thoughts of a long walk, something to eat, and perhaps even listening to some live music later on, he was out the door minutes later, damp hair and all.
“OY! HENRI!” the dark-haired young man shouted over the din of clattering dishes. “You said you’d get your drums set up before you started working.”

Henri, blond hair flopping into his eyes and up to his arms in soapsuds, shouted back, “You can do it for a change, you lazy ass! You want to get me fired, Jules? If I lose my job, you lose a place to sleep, remember?”

Jules Bardon scowled, walking over to the sinks and planting himself behind the lanky blond. “And whose fault is it that you’re so late getting to work? You spent the night with Pascal again, didn’t you?”

“Is that a problem?” Henri retorted without looking up from his task. “Maybe you’re just jealous. Since you dumped”—he paused for effect—“what’s his name…?”

“Philippe,” Jules supplied.

“Right. Since you dumped Philippe, you haven’t gotten any.”

“Philippe was a shit,” Jules countered, only half joking.

“I’m sure I could convince Pascal to let you join us, if you’d like,” Henri added, smirking. A soap bubble rose from the sink and Jules flicked an angry finger by his friend’s face to pop it.

“Not interested,” said Jules. “But if you’re going to spend the whole night fucking, the least you could do is set an alarm. What the hell do I know about putting together a drum set?”

“You’ve watched me do it a hundred times,” the other young man shot back, laughing and plunking several plates down on the side of the sink. Tiny rivers of water ran from the counter down to the drain. More bubbles floated up toward the ceiling. The place reeked of grease, cigarette smoke, and soap.

“Maurice doesn’t let us play here very often,” Jules retorted, half tempted to throttle his roommate. “You have to take this seriously. You never know who might be listening.”

Henri turned and put a soapy hand on Jules’s shoulder, ignoring the look of irritation on the other man’s face. “Dreamer,” he said. Then, biting his cheek, he added, “Fine. I’ll set up my drums if you finish the dishes.”

“You got gloves somewhere?”

“Gloves?” Henri held up his bare hands and smirked. His fingers were puckered and white.

“If I do the dishes, my calluses will—” protested Jules.

“You’re a fucking prima donna, Jules,” Henri grumbled. He shrugged, turned back to the sink, and laughed again. “It’s all right. There are gloves on the shelf to your left.” He looked over his shoulder and winked.

Jules shook his head, reaching for the gloves. He snapped the rubber menacingly at Henri before giving him a shove in the direction of the nightclub’s stage, just beyond the kitchen.

THE night sky had begun to clear as Jason left the small café where he had eaten dinner, and he wandered up toward Île de la Cité, hoping to catch a view of the Eiffel Tower. Crossing the Seine at ten o’clock, he watched as the tower was illuminated in a shower of sparkles. His sister had told him that the Parisians had so enjoyed the lighting for the millennium that they had insisted the special effects continue for the foreseeable future. Leaning against the wall that ran along the river’s edge, Jason sat back and thought of nothing but the lights, ignoring the damp chill of the evening.

When the light show ended, he headed back down boulevard Saint-Michel in search of some of the jazz clubs that he had discovered in this area years ago, hidden amongst the tiny streets.

Why not?

He had nowhere to go, nobody waiting for him, no deadlines to meet. He could sleep later. A few drinks and some good music would help him sleep a lot better too. With a roguish grin he walked onward, cold hands shoved into his pockets.

Why the hell not?

He spotted a club as he turned the corner—a small, grayish-looking dive with a purple neon sign above the entrance, nestled between a bakery and a store that sold Japanese manga. Inhaling the fragrance of baking bread from the boulangerie, he walked over to peer inside. He couldn’t see anything, but the sounds of modern jazz wafted onto the street. He glanced up and read the sign: “Le Loup-Garou.” The Werewolf.

A fitting name for a hole like this, he thought with a chuckle. And just the kind of place where you’d expect to hear great music.

JULES glanced over at Henri and their pianist, David. David grinned and nodded, caressing the keys of the upright piano, his touch so delicate that Jules could hear the man breathe with each phrase. David complained that the instrument was out of tune and a “piece of shit,” but the sound he managed to coax from it was astonishingly sweet. Henri’s mellow brush strokes over the surface of the snare drum joined the soft piano, much like the sound of the rain on the city streets—understated, yet insistent. Sexy.

Jules gripped the neck of his violin, placing the instrument under his chin and against the rough patch of skin there, much like the mark of a lover. He drew his bow above the strings, allowing it to hover there for an instant before lightly catching the D string. The sound of the violin flickered like a candle flame blown by an unseen breeze, then grew and melded with the muted piano, sultry and inviting. Jules closed his eyes, letting the sound wash over him, responding to the slow harmonic progression on the piano weaving the ghostly melody.

IN A dim alcove only a dozen feet or so from the musicians, Jason sat nursing his drink, transported by the sound of the violin. It wasn’t jazz in the purest of forms—it was more of a hybrid, combining the traditional jazz rhythms of the fifties with a modern, yet classical approach. But whatever you might call the music, he found it transcendent. In between pieces, Jason glanced around the room to discover the group’s name, but found no mention of it anywhere.

The set ended, and the club erupted in applause. The musicians nodded, their manner casual, aloof, even a bit embarrassed. The violinist’s eyes met Jason’s and, for a brief instant, lingered there. Jason’s mouth parted slightly, his cheeks flushed. Breaking their eye contact to look down at his empty glass, he told himself that the heat in his cheeks was from the alcohol and the lack of sleep. He motioned to the lone waiter for a refill. When he turned back toward the stage, he found himself sitting face to face with the violinist.

“May I join you?” the violinist asked, a coy grin on his delicate lips. Jason figured that he might be nineteen, tops. As his companion brushed a stray lock of shoulder-length black hair from his eyes, Jason realized that he had one brown eye and one green. He was a waif of a kid, barely taller than Jason’s own sister. His face was uniquely French, from the slightly pronounced nose to the sharper edge of his jaw, and his body swam in a large pair of jeans that hung low on his hips, exposing blue plaid boxers. On top, he wore a body-hugging black T-shirt with the word “Quoi?” splashed across the front in bright red.

“Be my guest,” Jason replied in French, still unsure of what to think about the boy.

“Seems as though you’ve already invited yourself.”

“You’re French Canadian?” the newcomer inquired, grin widening.

“American,” came the gruff answer. Jason noted the homemade tattoo on the boy’s right forearm.

“Really? Your French is excellent,” the young man replied.

“Your music’s good,” Jason countered playfully. “What’s your trio called?”

“Dunno. We haven’t named it yet—we just don’t play that much. Wouldn’t have played tonight, except the group Maurice had booked canceled, and he couldn’t find a replacement. My roommate’s the dishwasher here.” He gestured at the drummer, who was watching them with interest from the edge of the small stage. “So, do you live in Paris?” he added after a moment’s pause.

“Visiting.”

The waiter deposited two drinks on the table and winked at the violinist.

“My name’s Jules,” the boy said. “Jules Bardon.”

“Jason Greene.”

“Enchanté.” Jules took Jason’s hand across the table. The gesture was far too friendly. Flirtatious. Jason pulled his hand away and raised an eyebrow. Jules was unfazed. “Here on business?”

“No.”

“Pleasure, then?”

“No.”

Jules laughed—a soft, almost girlish laugh. “Do I make you uncomfortable?” he asked, his eyes fixed on Jason’s.

“No,” lied Jason, finding the boy’s gaze a bit too intense.

“I could make this a pleasure visit for you,” Jules said as he absentmindedly traced a long finger across his own lips.

“I don’t bat for that team,” Jason said, borrowing the American expression wholesale as his high school French failed him at last. It was not the first time that he had spoken the words, although it was the first time he had spoken them in French. They were also not entirely true; it was simply that the right opportunity had never presented itself.

The dark-haired young man looked at him for a moment, uncomprehending, then laughed again.

“What’s so funny?” Jason demanded, noting a hint of licorice on the air as his companion replaced his drink on the table.

“Oh,” he said, “I understand.” He laughed again. “Sorry. I’ve just never heard it put that way before. At first I thought you were asking me about baseball.” He took a swig of his drink and shrugged. “Too bad. You looked like you could use a good—”

“Jules!”

“I have to go,” Jules sighed, disappointed. “Time for the next set. It was nice to meet you, Jason.” He tripped over the name, and it came out sounding something like “Jah-sohn.” Jason chuckled in spite of himself, reminded of the various ways in which his name had been mangled by French speakers through the years.

Jules sucked down the rest of his drink in one swallow and stood up. “If you change your mind…,” he began, but the blond-haired drummer grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back toward the stage.

Not likely, kid, Jason thought, chuckling again. He had enough shit to deal with.

IT WAS nearly two in the morning when Jason left the club—a full twenty-four hours since he had really slept well. The rain had begun to fall again, this time in torrents. In spite of the downpour, Jason decided against taking the Métro. He liked the rain; it helped clear his mind.

He headed down boulevard Saint-Germain toward boulevard Saint-Michel, past the darkened storefronts and the few cafés that were still open. He crossed a side street, glancing to his left to see the impressive Panthéon with its white stone surface still lit. In that moment, he realized that he had never taken the time to explore Paris as an adult—he had chosen instead to get wasted and hang out in clubs rather than do any serious sightseeing. No, most of his memories of the city were those from his childhood when his parents had dragged him and Rosalie around to all the museums and tourist destinations.

He reached the corner of Saint-Michel and waited for the light to turn. On the other side of Saint-Germain, he spotted a lone figure waiting at a bus stop. “Jules?” he called out as he stepped onto the other curb.

“Jason,” the boy replied, looking surprised but pleased nonetheless. Jason noticed that he was shouldering a neon-green violin case with a few peeling Rolling Stones stickers. He had no umbrella and no jacket, and was soaked to the skin, his dark hair plastered to his pale cheeks as he shivered. His lips were already slightly blue.

“I enjoyed the music,” was all Jason said. Damn, but the kid looks young. He reminded Jason of a street kid. How do you know he’s not?

“Thanks,” Jules mumbled as he wiped the rain from his cheeks.

“Missed your bus?”

“Yeah,” Jules answered. “There’s another in about an hour. They don’t run often this time of night.”

“You can spend the night at my apartment,” Jason heard himself offer. “I’ve got a place nearby.” He immediately regretted these words—what the hell was he doing, asking a kid who had been hitting on him just hours before to spend the night? But he was too tired to think straight, and the kid looked terrible. “In the guest bedroom,” he added quickly to clarify the sleeping arrangements.

Jules’s expression turned to one of astonishment. “I… I…,” he stammered. “Sure.” Then, “Hey, I thought you were visiting.”

“It’s a long story,” Jason replied, motioning Jules under his umbrella. “Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.”

“I’d like that, Jason.” Jules pushed the hair out of his face. Jason said nothing, but kept on walking. “Oh, and Jason?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

“Yeah.”

“Blue Notes” Release Day Contests!

December 30, 2011

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the release day blog for “Blue Notes!”  All day long, I’ll be taking names for three contests: 1) to win an ebook copy of the book, 2) to win an Amazon gift card for $10.00 to purchase your own music (or whatever), and 3) to win an mp3 download of “My Favorite Brahms,” a fabulous recording of Brahms piano music by Van Cliburn.  All you need to do to enter is post on the DSP blog, on my own blog, or on my Goodreads blog.  Winners will be chosen at random on January 31st from all of those entered.  And if you would like a shot at winning a paperback copy of the book, there’s an ongoing contest on Goodreads you can sign up for (that one is only open to residents of the U.S.).

I’ll be posting excerpts throughout the day, and giving you an idea of what inspired the novel, as well as some of the background for the story.  Since “Blue Notes” is the first in a series of interrelated (spinoff) novels with music themes, I’ll be posting a preview of the next novel in the series, “The Melody Thief.”  And if you have questions or comments, please feel free to ask them – I’ll be checking in regularly.

So don’t forget to sign up for contests and check back from time to time!  Until next time,

Shira

Shira Anthony – Coming soon…

September 26, 2011

Thanks again for checking in throughout the day here on Dreamspinner Press’ blog!  Before I sign off from the blogosphere, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about what I have in the pipeline.

Of course, a writer is full of stories waiting to be written, and there are plenty more in my head, some already completed, and others still works in progress.  My next Dreamspinner publication, “Blue Notes,” is scheduled to be released sometime in December, 2011 or January, 2012.  Unlike “The Dream of a Thousand Nights,” “Blue Notes” is a modern romance set mainly in Paris and is loosely based on my own experiences growing up in France.

Here’s the blurb:  Blame it on jet-lag. Jason Greene thought he had everything: a dream job as a partner in a large Philadelphia law firm, a beautiful fiancé, and more money than he could ever hope to spend. But when he finds his future wife in bed with another man, he’s forced to rethink his life and his choices. On a moment’s notice, he runs away to Paris, hoping to make peace with his life. But Jason’s leave of absence becomes a true journey of the heart when he meets Jules, a struggling jazz violinist with his own pain to shoulder. And when Jason wakes up in the young Frenchman’s arms, will he take a chance and follow his heart?

I’m also working on several other books with musical themes that are interrelated to the “Blue Notes” characters, including the story of a conductor and a violinist (working title, “Symphony”), as well as an opera singer and a lawyer (working title, “Aria”).

And I haven’t forgotten about “Dream,” either.  I’ve just started work on a new story in the same universe (working title, “The Jinn and the Thief”) that features one of the secondary characters from “Dream,” Amir, and a twink of a half-human/half-Jinn named Rafiel, who causes a great deal of trouble for the Jinn (not to mention the powerful Amir!). 

I look forward to sharing all of these with you in the future.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” as much as I enjoyed writing it! 

Peace,

Shira

Cover by Anne Cain

Excerpts: “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” and “The Prince and the Jinn”

September 26, 2011

Here’s a short excerpt from “The Prince and the Jinn,” the story which inspired “The Dream of a Thousand Nights.”  That excerpt is followed by a very short excerpt from “The Dream of a Thousand Nights.”  You’ll see a great deal of similarities between the two, I think!

Excerpt:  The Prince and the Jinn

Once upon a time, in a rose-scented garden in the shadow of the Zagros Mountains, the Prince of Isfahan sat on the grass, his eyes closed in meditation.  His long, dark hair blew gently in the breeze that wafted through the fragrant orange groves.  Dressed in fine purple silks, his skin shone like the surface of the moon, and his broad chest rose and fell with each deliberate breath.  But despite the beautiful evening and the lush cocoon of the trees and flowers, the Prince’s heart was heavy and his soul was lonely, for this day marked the fifth anniversary of his wife, the Princess’ death.

Each night since her death he had let his dreams wash over him, allowing them to lift the fog of sorrow for just a short time.  In his dreams he was no longer alone, and his heart was alive with joy and peace.  But each morning he would awaken and the dreams would fade, replaced once more by pain and emptiness.

I wish to die, he thought.  I wish to leave this world of pain and lie beside her once more. 

“Is death truly your wish?” said a voice from nearby.

“Who are you, that you dare interrupt my solitude?” the Prince demanded.

The stranger smiled at him: a man with hair the color of fire, a face both handsome and defiant, with brown eyes full of challenge.   The Prince thought him vaguely familiar, although he could not remember when or where they might have met before.

“I am Jinn,” the man replied, unmoved by the Prince’s wrath.  “I am called Tamir, and I will grant your wishes.”

“Wishes?” the Prince inquired.  “What need have I of wishes?  I have everything a man could possibly desire.”

“And yet you asked for death a moment ago, my Prince,” the Jinn responded.  “For a man with everything, your heart is quite tumultuous.”

Excerpt: The Dream of a Thousand Nights

As he had done so often in the two years since he had become king, Neriah sat on the grass in the rose-scented garden in the shadow of the mountains, his eyes closed in meditation. His long, dark hair blew in the soft breeze that wafted through the fragrant orange groves. Dressed in fine purple silks, his pale skin shone like the surface of the moon, and his broad chest rose and fell with each slow, deliberate breath. But despite the beautiful evening and the lush cocoon of the trees and flowers, his heart was heavy, and his soul was lonely.

I hope you enjoyed the excerpts.  By the way, a version of “The Prince and the Jinn” will appear as part Dreamspinner Press’ Halloween promotion in October.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about the promotion soon!

Peace,

Shira

The Dream of a Thousand Nights: Genesis

September 26, 2011

The Dream of a Thousand Nights” was inspired by a short story I co-authored with my friend and fellow author, Venona Keyes.  “The Prince and the Jinn” was about 6,000 words long, and was a middle-eastern take on the “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” theme (what would the world be like if you weren’t around).  While the plots of “The Prince and the Jinn” and “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” are very different (there is no wife/princess in “Dream,” since the prince and the Jinn meet as young men), the feelings the stories evoke are similar and the dreams are the same.

In “The Prince and the Jinn,” the prince is still mourning the death of his beloved princess, years later.  Surrounded by a beautiful garden and the generous gifts of his people, his grief is so great that he wishes to die.  He bemoans the fact that he didn’t take his own life when the princess died.  He dreams at night of a lover with whom he is at peace and happy, but when he awakens in the morning, the lover is gone, and he is lonely once more.

Tamir, a male Jinn, appears before the prince and shows him what the world would be like if he had, indeed died.  The prince sees his sister unhappy because she is to be married to a man she does not love.  He sees his land and his people suffer because he is not there to protect them.  The Jinn grants him three wishes, and the prince wishes that his sister will marry the man she loves, that his kingdom will prosper, and that he will no longer be lonely. 

The Jinn tells the prince that he has no need to grant any of these wishes, because the prince himself will see to it that his sister finds happiness and his kingdom will prosper.  And when the prince challenges the Jinn to explain how he has no need to grant the last wish, the Jinn explains that he, himself, will remain at the prince’s side so that he will never be alone again.  The Jinn then explains that it was he who held the prince’s hand to stop the prince from plunging a dagger into his heart after his wife’s death, and that he was the prince’s dream lover.

Stay tuned for excerpts from both The Prince and the Jinn” and “The Dream of a Thousand Nights.” 

Peace,

Shira

Excerpt: The Dream of a Thousand Nights, by Shira Anthony

September 26, 2011

Here’s a sneak preview of the first of the dreams in “The Dream of a Thousand Nights!”  By the way, if you read the excerpt from “The Prince and the Jinn,” from the previous posts, you’ll probably recognize some of this, too.

Excerpt from Chapter Two (pre-publication, final content may change):

A soft breeze blew through the palace windows. Neriah inhaled the delicate fragrance of orange blossoms and stretched his arms over his head. “Are you content?” came a man’s voice from beside him.

“I…,” Neriah hesitated, unsure of his response. Warm lips pressed against his own; the taste was familiar and intoxicating. He was not unhappy, and yet….

“What is it you desire?” his companion inquired.

Neriah hesitated once more.

“I can give you anything you wish. Diamonds, rubies, land, women….”

“I have no need for those things,” Neriah answered, claiming the lips that had spoken those words.

“What, then? What do you desire, beloved prince?”

“I want to know your name.”

Neriah sat up in his bed and shivered. It had been the same dream now for weeks, although he had come to wonder if he hadn’t dreamed it long before and forgotten it. Each time, he would awaken out of breath, aroused, and with an emptiness that pierced his soul to its core. He could remember the intense passion his dream companion had awakened in his soul, but he could never remember the face of the lover in his dreams, nor did he ever learn his lover’s name.

“My lord,” came a soft female voice from the entrance to his tent, interrupting his thoughts. “May I bring you something to drink? Should I send your manservant to help you dress?”

“I need nothing,” he replied as he dismissed the servant girl. “Leave me.” She bowed low and backed away from his tent.

It was always like this—those who knew who he was would insist on doing everything for him—and he despised it. Despite his royal blood, he was more than capable of attending to his own needs. Years of living by himself on the run from his father’s men had taught him to guard his independence. He knew that the servants found him cold and unreachable, but he cared little. His place was to lead them, not to befriend them. In truth, he had few people whom he could call “friends” at all, and he preferred it that way.

He stood up, covering his naked body in a silk shalvar kameez of the deepest blue, edged with delicate gold embroidery, and stepped into a pair of red velvet slippers. He walked over to a low-slung chair in the center of the tent and sat, frowning and rubbing his chin. He had heard the men return from their night raid on the enemy encampment. He would wait for a report before deciding what his next move should be.

“My lord.”

“You may enter, Uryon,” Neriah said with a nod to the captain of his personal guard.

A tall, broad-shouldered man with short, dark hair and bright green eyes walked into the tent, bowing low. He wore a deep purple shalvar kameez and a red scarf wrapped around his head. At his waist was a broad sword with an inlaid hilt, along with a small, jeweled dagger. Neriah himself had given Uryon the dagger as a symbol of the trust he placed in his officer, and Uryon had not disappointed him—Uryon had, countless times, protected Neriah at great peril to his own life. The prince knew that he was fortunate to have men such as Uryon under his command.

“We were successful,” Uryon announced as he kneeled before Neriah. “Sheik Karana’s men are either dead or have fled into the hills. We have brought back the spoils of the raid.”

“Spoils?” Neriah ventured a slight frown playing upon his lips. “I have no need for spoils.”

“Nevertheless,” Uryon replied, “there were several women taken in the battle, along with a male slave, and three chests of gold. Your Highness must—”

“Make arrangements for the women to be returned to their villages,” Neriah interrupted. “You may send them back with enough gold that they will be provided for.”

“And the slave?”

“Is he friend or foe? What are his origins?” Neriah asked. Another loyal, able-bodied soldier would be a welcome addition to their ranks. Several of Neriah’s best men had been won in battles with the enemy. He had earned their gratitude and their loyalty in freeing them.

“He won’t reveal from whence he comes,” Uryon replied. “He refuses to speak to anyone but you, Your Majesty.”

“He knows who I am?” Neriah asked, surprised at this turn of events. His identity as Neriah, the banished Crown Prince of Tazier, was a secret known only to his closest followers and loyal servants. To others, he was known as Sheva, a wealthy sheik who opposed the rule of the current King of Tazier.

“No,” Uryon explained, “but he will not speak unless it is to our leader, Lord Sheva.”

“A spy, then,” Neriah said, his face darkening, “perhaps in my father’s employ?”

“It is possible,” the other man replied, “although if he is a spy, he is a crafty one.”

“How so?” asked Neriah.

“He had been kept to pleasure his captors,” Uryon answered, looking uncomfortable now. “Or so the women have told us. They appeared”—Uryon hesitated for a moment—“quite jealous of his charms.”

Hope you liked that! 

Shira

Release Day: “The Dream of a Thousand Nights,” by Shira Anthony

September 26, 2011

It’s finally here!  Release day!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally see “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” on the Dreamspinner Press “New Releases” page!  It’s been a three-year journey from the first bit of inspiration to publication, and I’m so happy to see the finished product at last.  The editors here have been fabulous to work with, and, oh what a cover from Anne Cain!  I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect image to capture the essence of the story of Prince Neriah and the Jinn, Tamir.

Cover by Anne Cain

Throughout the day today, I’ll be posting excerpts and writing about the inspiration for “Dream”  under the “excerpts” and “virtual book signing” areas of the DSP blog.  I’ll also tell you a little bit about the origin of the Jinn (a.k.a. “genies” or “Djinn”) and how their myth has evolved since ancient times.  I’ll tell you about my own version of the Jinn in both “Dream” and its predecessor, “The Prince and the Jinn.”

I’ll also be letting you know what I’m currently working on, and about my next book, “Blue Notes,” which will be published late this year by Dreamspinner.  And of course, don’t forget to purchase and download your copy of “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” here on Dreamspinner Press! 

Feel free to ask me questions of comment on the blog entries – I’ll be checking in throughout the day!

Peace,

Shira

Excerpt: Luki and Sonny——Hot and Sweet and Sexy (MATURE content—this post only. If you’re under 18 skip this and scroll down!)

June 20, 2011

Leaning back on the low balcony wall Luki gazed through the glass. Inside, an electric fireplace threw orange light and blue shadows over the room, casting Sonny’s shoulders in bronze. Luki found himself imagining the rest of Sonny’s bare skin glorified in that light. He went back inside and stood at the foot of the bed, couldn’t help it, stared at Sonny’s sleeping form, chewing his lip.

“What are you looking at?” Sonny asked, apparently not sleeping and always the jester. Luki almost laughed. Sonny seemed to be trying to find some moisture in his drug-dried mouth, so he took him a glass of water. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he watched him swallow.

Sonny managed to deposit the water glass on the night table without a major spill, then met Luki’s eyes again, more serious this time. “What are you thinking about?”

Luki waited, feeling his breath go scarce, his heart insisting on heating his blood. “You,” he said. After his treatment of Sonny that morning, speaking his mind now felt like a frightening plunge. “I’m thinking about putting my mouth all over you.”

Sonny returned his gaze. Faint, sober smile. No jokes, no words.

Luki leaned over and kissed his mouth, sweet and soft. “Yes?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Luki started with another kiss, sucking honey from Sonny’s lips. He visited tender, fleshy earlobes, dusted the lightest of kisses over fluttering eyelids. He feathered his lips and tongue over the line of Sonny’s jaw and down to the dip at the base of his throat. Sonny moved as if to participate. Luki held him back, gently pushed him down. With tongue and teeth and lips he paid tribute to every beautiful curve and hollow and rise of Sonny’s body he could reach without causing his wound to hurt. He kissed the hollows behind his collarbone, gently nipped taut nipples, poked his tongue into the dip of his navel. Then, the miraculous valley inside each hip—there he started at the fold of Sonny’s thigh and blazed a trail of kisses to the place that made Sonny dig his hands into Luki’s hair.

Once more, on the other side.

Sonny shifted again as if to participate, but Luki took hold of his hands and paused to meet his eyes. “No,” he said. “Be still.” Sonny’s belly clenched and he gasped, as if he thought the words, all by themselves, were sex play. His prick had hardened to the point that the tight skin pulled it almost flat against his belly. Luki ignored it, except to run his tongue beneath to collect the pool of pre-cum that had gathered there, brushing across the head of Sonny’s penis in the process. Downward again, inside the thighs, behind the knees, the sensitive toes and arches. Slowly, then up again, until he came once more to the center of Sonny’s excitement, pleasure, and despair, and began to address the heat arising there. He spread Sonny’s legs, burrowed his hands beneath his ass to hold him still.

Sonny grabbed at his hair again, said, “Luki, please.”

“No,” Luki said. “Wait.” Thick, wet lips, the flat of his tongue, a long, light kiss. He teased at the small, diamond-shaped tenderness just behind the head of Sonny’s penis, circled the smooth coronal ridge with his tongue, closed his mouth over the taut, curved head. Pleasuring. Or perhaps, judging from Sonny’s struggling breath, torturing.

“God, Luki, please,” he panted.

“Wait,” Luki said. He stroked the length of Sonny’s cock, squeezing, and with thumbs gathered the lubricant that emerged. Again cupping Sonny’s ass in his strong hands, he used the now slick thumbs to massage the sensitive rim of Sonny’s anus, sucking at his firm testes before moving his mouth once again to his erection. Sonny felt good to him, tasted sweet. Luki rejoiced in every touch he applied to Sonny’s gorgeous skin. But what drove him on his quest was a deep, unfamiliar desire to please at all costs. Luki applied all his experience and skill, relentless, merciless, demanding, but slow and sweet. Sonny’s breathing became ragged and his grip on Luki’s hair turned desperate, insistent, almost violent.

Luki dropped his mouth over Sonny’s shaft, opening his throat, and then sucked upward, slow and hard, at the same time pushing his two thumbs just inside, just past the pliant opening.

To Luki’s overwhelming pleasure, Sonny responded just as intended. He moaned long and low, almost silent, and the first hard pulse of orgasm shook him, splashing semen against Luki’s swollen lips.

After a while Sonny’s breathing calmed. Luki flared his nostrils to draw in the smell of Sonny’s sex, like saving it up.

Another Excerpt—Meet Luki and Sonny

June 20, 2011

Straits of Juan de Fuca (Where Sonny Lives)

Washington State, 2010

BRIGHT clothes, sunburns. Summer had arrived, and Port Clifton was awash in tourists. Since Juan de Fuca Boulevard constituted most of the town, they had nowhere else to go. They chattered and milled about, and Sonny Bly James wasn’t in the mood for chatter or milling because he was worried about his nephew, Delsyn, who always stayed gone for days, but who should have come home by now. Sonny quickened his long-legged strides and slid through the crush, trying to disturb the air as little as possible on the way to his truck.

Then he saw a man.

Which in itself wasn’t unusual, but this man, an islander, maybe Hawaiian, by the look of him, lounged cool and beautiful in loose summer whites, half-sitting on the fender of an ice-blue Mercedes, a strip of sand beach and the blue straits for a backdrop. Dark chestnut curls shining; straight, white teeth softly teasing a lush, plum-red bottom lip. His eyes, startling pale blue against brown skin, roved all over Sonny; the islander made no effort to pretend otherwise, and besides, Sonny could feel them. Their touch trickled over him like ice water, exciting every nerve he had, even those he’d never heard from before.

Which scared Sonny, a recluse by choice—and, he knew, because he’d always managed to be socially… well, clumsy. So, he turned to the weapon that had been his first line of defense since adolescence, when all the reservation had noticed that their star young grass dancer didn’t mind being gay: a smart mouth.

“What are you looking at?”

Even though the islander had responded by looking away, Sonny knew he hadn’t—couldn’t have—intimidated him. The stranger might have been a few inches shorter than him, but judging by his physique, and despite his laid-back manner, Sonny guessed the man could have dropped him with a cold look and a slap. It would have been less of a blow if he had. Instead, he freed his lower lip from his teeth and spoke.

“I beg your pardon.”

Sonny wanted to let a whole raft of words spill out, starting with “I didn’t mean it,” and ending with “so kiss me, now.” But the man’s attention had turned away. A baby in a stroller dropped a floppy brown bear at his feet. The young mother looked frazzled, at her wit’s end, carrying another child and trying to keep a third from making a dash down the boulevard. The islander squatted down—a graceful move—and picked up the bear. Right before Sonny’s eyes, his icy exterior melted, and though he didn’t smile and couldn’t pass for cheerful, he somehow seemed kind. He handed the stuffed creature back to the baby, who seemed to like him. She expressed her gratitude by spouting a number of syllables that all sounded a lot like “da.”

Sonny, angry with himself for blowing his chance to meet this chill but beautiful stranger—who might be trying to hide a kind heart—pretended he hadn’t seen. He turned his faux-stoic shoulder and walked away. A little shaky, perhaps; already sorry. Three strides and he heard a voice, unexpectedly scratchy, even hoarse.

“Hey.”

Sonny turned.

The man took a deep, lovely breath, flashed his cold-fire eyes at Sonny, and said, “I have coffee most mornings at Margie’s. In case you’re interested.”

MARGIE’S it was, then, the very next day. Sonny had weighed the wisdom of that, thinking it might be better if he didn’t seem so anxious. But hell, he thought, I am anxious. Nothing about me is un-anxious.

He took the truck—which his Uncle Melvern had left him when he died a year ago and which functioned as a good luck charm. After he pulled over to the curb a half-block from Margie’s, he forced the clutch to cooperate, wrestled the column shift into first, and shut the engine down. Sort of. It kicked and spluttered, backfired, and groaned to death. He really, really hoped that the man he had come to meet had not heard that. He wanted to make a good impression. He crashed his shoulder into the door to get out, slammed the door twice to shut it, then paused to look in the side-view mirror. Some other person spoke out of his mouth—or at least that’s how it felt. “Sonny,” it said, “here’s your chance. Don’t blow it.”

Great. A confidence builder.

The wooden sign attached over the arched brick entry said “Margie’s Cup O’ Gold,” but nobody ever called the cafe anything but just plain Margie’s. The elegant door—leaded glass set in oak panels—had been pushed open and held there with a shoe. All that stood between Sonny and whatever fate awaited him inside was a wooden screen door, the old-fashioned kind; it might have been there since the block was built in the 1890’s. He crossed the threshold wearing a smile for Margie, then reached back just in time to stop the screen from slamming behind him. “Hey, Marge,” he said, maybe not quite as loud as usual. He glanced around lazily, as if he weren’t looking for the man he’d come to think of as “the islander.” He didn’t see him. He let out a long breath that he must have been holding, wondering if he felt disappointed or relieved. He walked, casually he hoped, across the expanse of black and white parquet floor.

“Well,” Margie said, hand on hip and scolding in ringing tones. “Hello, Sonny. You’re here awfully early.”

“Margie, usually people don’t give other people a hard time for being early.”

“Shush, Sonny Bly. So what do you want? Never mind, I already know. You and your fancy coffees. What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned cuppa, eh? Now that young man that came in a little earlier—real nice looking fella; I think you’d like him—now he just ordered coffee, black and sweet. There’s a man that knows what he likes, I say.”

She’d nearly finished making the latte by the time she stopped. That was one thing about a conversation with Margie. Sonny never worried about what to say, because he was pretty sure he’d never get a chance to say it. But this time she had him a little dumbfounded. She’d said, “that nice fella” with a sly glance out of the corner of her eye. Sonny figured she was on to him, but he couldn’t decide whether that was good or bad.

She cleared up those muddy waters as soon as she handed over his latte. “He’s around the corner, dear. The last table. Don’t worry, you look fine.”

Which left Sonny absolutely certain he should have worried more about how he looked.

There he was, the islander. Same skin, same lips, eyes, even hair. Of course. But the rest of him was dressed in a posh business suit, a light gray, summer fabric so finely tailored that he might have been born in it. “So why the getup?” Sonny asked.

“Ah,” the stranger remarked. “A way with words.”

He didn’t have to say that. Sonny was already giving his forehead a mental smack. He stared at his coffee for what seemed like, maybe, a hundred and twenty-four years. He’d all but decided to bid an embarrassed farewell and beat a retreat, when the islander spoke.

“I have to go to work in a while,” he said. When Sonny looked up he added, “That’s why the getup.” No smile went with the words, but his eyes danced, like they were laughing—or maybe teasing. He reached halfway across the tile-topped table, holding out his long-fingered, manicured hand.

Sonny stared at it.

The islander said, “I thought maybe introductions would be a good place to start. I’m Luki. Luki Vasquez.”

Embarrassed again, Sonny blushed, which—he knew from experience—made his off-brown skin look purple. But in an act of sheer bravery, he put his own dye-stained and calloused hand out and took hold of Luki’s. Somehow, what felt like gibberish came out sounding like his name. “Sonny James.”

Luki leaned back when the handshake was done, draped his left arm casually over the back of the chair… revealing a bit of leather strap that might be part of a shoulder holster and something sort of gun-shaped half-hidden under his jacket.

“Is that what I think it is?”

Luki pulled his jacket back and showed him what was under there. Or some of what was under there, and not necessarily what Sonny wanted to see.

“Is that what you thought it was?”

“I’m afraid so. Police?”

Luki shook his head. “Used to be, sort of—ATF. Not anymore.”

“ATF?”

“Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.”

Sonny said, “Oh.” Thinking he’d probably heard of such an organization, sometime. “What now?”

“Security.”

Security? Sonny’s mind raced. Luki couldn’t possibly have meant he was one of those people that walk around the factory at night. That wouldn’t make enough money for a man to feed himself, never mind buy a suit handmade by the angels of heaven. What kind of security work might be so lucrative? He imagined Luki running alongside royalty as they headed for the limo, staving off the paparazzi.”What, like bodyguard?”

Luki’s voice, low and raspy but sweet, tightened a bit. Apparently he hadn’t expected to be quizzed about how he paid the bills. “Yes, from time to time. And property—gems and what not. Investigations, sometimes. What about you? What do you do?” The look he shot Sonny was almost a glare.

The most honest response would have been, “Please, don’t look at me like that,” but belligerence is a tough habit to break. “I play with yarn.”

“Yarn?”

“And string.”

“String.”
“Yep,” Sonny said aloud. Silently, he told himself he’d probably gone too far. He wasn’t sorry that Luki’s cell phone, attached to his belt in a stylishly businesslike manner, buzzed just then.

Luki glanced at the number, looked up, and caught Sonny’s eyes with an entirely unreadable gaze. He set his hand on the table, preparing to rise. “Sorry,” he said, “I’d better go.”

“Alright,” Sonny responded, his voice faint. A wish that he’d spent this time with Luki getting to know him a little, rather than engaging in subtle verbal warfare hit him so hard that it took his breath. Heart pounding, acting on either bravery or desperation, he put his hand on Luki’s where it lay on the table. Luki’s hand turned and grabbed hold. His thumb washed across Sonny’s knuckles; his fingers promised Sonny’s palm a kiss, which struck remote bits of anatomy like lightning. Sonny tried to put some of his chagrin into a smile. His lips had gone dry, and he licked them. “Luki—” He stopped, surprised at how the name filled his mouth with something sweet. He laughed a little and went on. “Maybe we can try this again?”

Luki stayed silent, worrying softly at his bottom lip—again.

Sonny stopped breathing.

“Yeah,” Luki said, with that already familiar something in his eyes. “I’d like that. Tomorrow?”

Sonny’s confidence underwent significant restoration as a result of that promising end. He smiled a farewell to Luki and sat a few minutes longer to contemplate and sip the last of his tepid, but still delicious, raspberry latte. Getting ready to leave, he stood, slid his feet more firmly into his flip-flops, and patted his back pocket, as always, to make sure that indeed his wallet was still there. He took a step toward the door, but stopped when he heard conversation around the corner. He’d thought Luki must have gone out the back door to the parking lot, but there was no mistaking his voice.

“The man plays with string, Margie.”

Step one, Sonny thought, deflate ego.

“Oh, yes he does,” Margie said. “And he does it better than anyone I know. Would you like to see?”

Step two: remember who your friends are.

“Not today, Margie. I have to go. Some other day, maybe. I’m sure it’s spectacular.”

Step three: write off potential romance as a loss for tax purposes.

Footsteps. The back door opened, closed. Sonny came out of hiding to find Margie standing with arms crossed and a raised eyebrow.

“Well?” Margie made words like that into whole dissertations, having a talent for saying more when she spoke less.

“The man plays with guns,” he mumbled.

“Quite competently, so I’ve heard. Any word from Delsyn?”

Sonny didn’t mind changing the subject, but thoughts of his too-long-absent nephew hardly cheered him up. He shook his head.

“Don’t worry so, dear. He’ll come home.”

This time Sonny nodded, wished Margie a good day, and started for the door.

“He wants to see your work sometime.” Which, of course, did not refer to Delsyn.

“Don’t bother, Marge.” Hoping to convince himself that he didn’t care, he added, “He wouldn’t know crimson from scarlet if they jumped up and shouted their names.”

THE next day, Sonny talked himself through some considerable misgivings and went to Margie’s as arranged. Luki didn’t show. After an hour and 2.8 lattes, he left. He didn’t say a word, but Margie did. Of course.

“His work is unpredictable, Sonny. He should have told you that.”

“No big deal, Marge.”

“He doesn’t live here, you know. Leases one of those condos up the street, temporarily.”

“Luxury, I’m sure.”

Margie raised her eyebrows. “I expect so. Anyway, he said he lives in Chicago, has a business there, but he can run it from anywhere. It takes him all over the world, I guess, and right now, he has a job here.”

Sonny remembered how closemouthed Luki seemed. “You got him to say all that?” But of course Margie could get a signpost talking if she had a few minutes to spend. She didn’t answer, but she did keep talking.

“He likes it here, said he’s tired of Chicago, tired of always being on edge. Decided he’d stay a while, maybe not work so hard.”

“Why are you telling me all this, Margie?

“Because you want to know.”

LUKI glanced in the mirror for a minimal look before leaving his condo. He’d dressed more casually than he generally did when working—which in the past had been always—but today his face looked even more grim than usual. He didn’t like to see it, anyway. The scar that ran straight down the left side of his face from scalp to chin made him ugly, and he knew it. And he knew that, try as he might to distract people with perfect clothes and beautiful curls, that scar scared people and turned them away. Everyone except kids.

And Sonny James, maybe.

Which explained the grimmer look.

He’d been working, a nasty job that involved a wife trying to get her jewels back from a former trophy husband who, it turned out, had full access to a lowlife but dangerous security force of his own—exactly the kind of job he hated the most, though it paid well. He couldn’t help missing his date… sort of date with Sonny, but Sonny had no way of knowing that. He’d called Margie late that first day and asked for Sonny’s cell. She didn’t think he had one, she said, for practical reasons. That left Luki baffled, and then before he could ask for his landline, things started happening outside. “Tell him I called,” he’d said. Three days ago.

“Maybe I’ll be lucky and have a chance to explain,” he told his reflection.

He walked the four miles to Margie’s for exercise. And because he didn’t think Margie’s would be open this early anyway. Not being someone who could remotely be called a “morning person,” he’d never paid much attention to what time things opened. They were always open before he got there, except when he had to get up for work, in which case he didn’t go have leisurely coffee with a beautiful… exceptionally beautiful man.

I can’t believe it, he thought. I’ve got freaking butterflies in my stomach. Cigarette.

He had one in the first mile and hoped the next three would blow away the smell of smoke. I should quit. Not knowing why he thought St. Christopher might help in a situation like this, he touched the medal he always wore on its chain. Let him be there.

Right. Because I’d certainly be there if someone stood me up without a word and didn’t show up for three days….

Sonny didn’t appear at Margie’s that day, nor the next, nor the next, despite Luki getting there early—though admittedly later each day. Margie said he hadn’t been in after that first day, and when he asked where Sonny lived, she laughed. He hadn’t expected a laugh, but he hadn’t really expected an answer, either—other than the usual, “It’s not my business to tell you that.”

Instead: “You’d never find it, Luki.”

“I’m a detective.”

“Well, if you can detect yourself around the forest, through the bog, and over the back roads, then you’ll do fine. He lives about an hour out of town—not because of distance, because of the roads. Hardly ever comes to town, to tell the truth. One of those reclusive artist types, you know?”

No. He didn’t know. When would he have had a chance to know what “artist types” do with their off time? “What about his phone, then?”

“Well, I don’t know….”

“I’m sure you have it.”

“I do, and I’ve got your phone number too. Do you want me to just hand it out to any looker that asks?”

“If the looker is Sonny James, yes.” He meant it, but it didn’t look like Margie even heard it. She’d already walked away, heading for a table newly filled with four tourists.

Luki left, resolving not to come back with his hopes in the air again. Why he had done it in the first place mystified him. He never pursued relationships. Went out of his way to avoid them, in fact. He liked a tryst as well as the next guy, had honed his skills at sex the same way he perfected his marksmanship and tai chi. But relationships? No; single instances, adding just enough class to keep them from being sordid. He found the idea of a relationship dangerous.

Sonny James threatened his well-being. Better left alone. So he told himself, but after he walked out Margie’s door, he turned around and walked back in.

“You said you’d show me some of his work sometime. Can you do that now?”