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GUEST POST: Sexy to Go Anthology

Sexy to Go Sexy to Go started back in December of 2014 as a VCI or very crazy idea. It was inspired by a freebie collection of stories called Stories on the Go and meant to take advantage of reader’s preference for shorter works. While the original short story box set didn’t focus on romance or erotic romance, Sexy to Go did.

As many of the writers for Sexy to Go write M/F, M/M, F/F, and ménage, and skip around from genre to genre, there was plenty of gay romance mixed into in our 2015 box sets. But the ongoing mix always gave Sexy to Go a little bit of an identity crises. Which genre and which pairing to tout became a problem that wasn’t easily solvable. Enter the idea of themed boxed sets. Yes, others were already doing them, and in a sense Sexy to Go was tardy to the party, but we never for an instant thought we wouldn’t jump on that band wagon.

With so many great authors on board for Sexy to Go Gay Romance, it’s our very best volume to date!

Blurb

Sexy to Go Gay Romance features nine scorching hot MM romances to make your blood sing. Whether finding love at a Jewish singles dance or while crossing the River Styx, these men remind us that love is always worth fighting for, no matter what the cost. Meet a handyman who’s an ace with his tools, a king who kindles the passion of a Greek god, and an architect who erects more than buildings. From the everyday to the fantastical, these stories explore male-male love in all its simmering intensity.

Matzo Ball by Avery Duran

When Jacob’s outgoing best friend talks him into attending a party for Jewish singles, neither man realizes that it’s not a gay event. Things go from bad to worse when Jacob’s friend doesn’t show up. The night turns around when Jacob befriends Ian, a sexy bartender. After a spectacular kiss good night, they go their separate ways. But Jacob can’t forget the chemistry he shared with Ian, and hungers for more. In a city the size of New York, will these men be able to find their way back to each other?

Styx & Stone by Leigh Ellwood

What’s the afterlife really like? Charon the ferryman knows the River Styx like the back of his hand, and he enjoys giving newly departed Stone the full tour.

First Swallow of Spring by Asta Idonea

The first swallow of spring draws Seanán back to the fae circle each year, where he dances with the handsome fae lord, Iorweth. He knows the four rules he must follow if he wishes to be free to leave at the end of the night; however, Iorweth is growing ever more inventive in his attempts to trick Seanán into breaking them.

How Hercules Got His Bruise by Eva Lefoy

Hercules might have completed his 12 labors and become immortal, but he’s still not out to himself. Until he meets Sisyphus, a man who turns him on in ways not even a goddess can compete with. When Zeus threatens to destroy their new bond, Hercules must again rise to the challenge, this time to protect his right to love a man.

Loggerhead by Dale Lowry

Soon after they fall in love, Jake makes Eric a promise inspired by an old track uniform. But demanding work schedules at Jake’s four-star restaurant and Eric’s newspaper keep them from following through. Six years later, they take the honeymoon they never had, heading to the Florida coast in search of sea turtles – and rekindling their passion for each other in the process.

Handyman by Jodi Payne

Danny is haunted by memories of his ex, Peter, who moved out six months ago. He recognizes just how bad off he is when he wakes up to a flood in his condo, a problem Peter would have adeptly handled. Danny can’t find the insurance paperwork, he doesn’t know who he should call first, and he’s about ready to strangle his stoner neighbors. His day starts looking up, though, when the workmen arrive to deal with the water, replace his breaker box and demolish the soaked ceiling. Ken, a handyman, shows up to handle the drywall, but can Danny handle Ken?

Clipped Wings by Shiloh Saddler

When a male swan shifter is captured by a cruel master he develops feelings for another male slave. The master has plans for the shifter that go against every fiber of his being. Will the two men bow down to their station in life or take flight to keep their love alive?

Rebuilding the Future by Sam Thorne

Allen’s peace has been seriously disturbed. As the shy architect takes on the task of extending the home he inherited from his late aunt, his life becomes a battle. The building work is going fine, but he can barely contain his one-way lust for sexy foreman Declan, who’s a one-man generator of testosterone and mixed messages. As the build completion approaches, Allen’s ready to do just about anything to keep Declan around a little longer…

Man in the Mirror by A.E. Wasp

A companion story to the Paper Hearts novel, Man in the Mirror is the first short in a new erotic series set in the world of the Veterans Affairs books.

Benny hasn’t let Mikey see him naked in a week, will barely let Mikey touch him. Mikey’s going to get to the bottom of the issue if it takes all night.

Where to Buy

Universal link (includes Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, B&N, and Google in every country):

Individual links:

Author Links

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GUEST POST: Coming Out Twice by Sydney Presley

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Coming Out Twice is a mixture of a few things that have been sitting in my brain for a long time. Vampires—I kind of dig them quite a bit, no idea why. It’s not the blood, because that gives me the creeps, but just the whole living-throughout-the-night thing and being alive for a really long time. The idea of seeing several centuries firsthand and how the world has evolved over that many years must be fascinating to experience. And it brings a whole new level when a vampire says, “Back in my day, lad…”

The other thing is not crossdressing per se but being able to go onto the stage of life dressed in whatever you want and feeling comfortable doing so. I’ve always struggled with the way I look, and there are times when I see something in a shop and wish I had the guts to wear it. With Ruby in the story…there’s a bit of me in him, where I live through him in order to get on that stage and wear a lovely dress. There are quite a few echoes of me in Ruby, actually, but we won’t go there…

Of course, I had to have my baddies in the story, people I can thwart—ahem, I mean, people my characters can thwart—and know that the day was saved in the end. I do so like a happy ever after, don’t you? And being able to get the naughty folks caught and dealt with is immensely satisfying. Besides, who doesn’t like to see Beastly Bob or Repugnant Rita getting their just desserts? Plus, the sigh at the end when the characters have come out tops and go off into the sunset together—or in a vampire’s case, into the darkness, muhahaha—is one of the best things about writing romance.

I have a different story involving vampires coming out soon with Pride. That’s a novel, and it swept me away. I dealt with another issue close to my heart in that book, but that’s a separate article altogether. But the vampires…I like to give them a break, you know? They’re seen as bad sometimes, but I like to think everyone can redeem themselves if they really want to—and those who don’t or can’t, well, I just kill them off in my books, as you do. So, yeah, I like to create a good vampire, and along with them always comes my descriptions of the moon—for some reason they go hand in hand for me. Mist, fog, murky shadows, they all feature in my head alongside a vampire. And to have vampire-wolves like I have in Coming Out Twice was just Heaven for me, because I do love a shifter. They’re my main focus, my wolfies, and I love them.

Last but not least, we have love. I’m a massive supporter of people loving who they want. Life is too short not to fall for someone who knocks your socks off, and for those who feel they can’t do that, my heart breaks for them. So I create worlds where love always wins the day no matter what. Oh. Crafty. Did you see what I did there? I said No Matter What. Just happens to be another new story of mine coming out with Pride soon. The other one involving vampires is called No More Pocket Change. Dear me, would you look at that? I just did it again. I’ll just sidle off now for name dropping titles. Gosh, I’m so bad… Wink!

Have a great day! 🙂

Blurb:

Trapped in their closets, the only thing to do is come out twice.

Salford and Ruby, vampire-wolves, have been born into The Clan, into the Level where killing is expected. Hating their jobs eliminating humans who have discovered vampire-wolves exist, they long for better times, where bloodshed isn’t the order of the day. But that isn’t about to happen any time soon—not while Albert, one of The Clan’s twelve Leaders, oversees everything they do.

Ruby, a cross-dresser, has spent many of his previous centuries trapped in the closet. Lately, though, he’s been able to wear what he wants and can express his love for Salford in public. Knowing how freeing that has been, he wishes The Clan laws were different and that he and Salford didn’t have to kill, freeing them from that dreadful closet, too. But it would take a strong person to ask The Clan to consider a vote that would allow Ruby and Salford to be exempt from having to kill, and Ruby isn’t sure he’s the right man for the job.

With a London gang discovering vampire-wolves exist, and Salford having dreams that tell him what they must face next, Salford and Ruby must eliminate the men who are after them. But someone else is also a danger—someone closer to home. Someone who should have vampire-wolves’ best interests at heart, but doesn’t…

Link:

https://www.pride-publishing.com/book/coming-out-twice

About the author:

Sydney has always enjoyed writing. “There’s something about losing yourself in another world, where the real one ceases to exist and all your dreams and wishes can be placed on the page—dreams for a better planet where love isn’t questioned but accepted by all.”

When Sydney isn’t writing, there’s plenty of reading to be done. “I can’t imagine not reading every day. It would be weird not to have a book to hand because I’ve always had one nearby. Life without reading isn’t something I’d like to contemplate. The thought brings me out in hives.”

Sydney lives in a peaceful area where the hustle and bustle of the city doesn’t figure. “I left city life years ago. Too stressful for me. I prefer listening to the swish of leaves on the trees instead of tyres on tarmac. The twittering of birds instead of the chatter of people. Alone time to reflect and ponder is a must. A small portion of every day spent by myself is vital to my sanity and soul.”

 

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Wee Angus – Available FREE for a Limited Time Only!

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Fancy a Scotsman who wears a kilt like no other?

 

Crave a cute Aussie bloke whose life has yet to begin?

 

What about a mischievous ghost who decides to do more than rattle a few chains?

 

The Haunting of Angus Macgregor, an M/M paranormal romance, will be available FREE for a limited time only!

So if you’re in the mood for a ghostly, erotic tale about two men who find their way to one another under the most unusual of circumstances, why not check it out.

This promotion will run from 17-21 February, and is exclusive to Amazon only, so get in quick!

Make sure you double check the price to make sure the promotion is live at the time you are buying.

Amazon

 

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GUEST POST: Coming Back Home by Megan Linden

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You can never go back home, they say. I think about it from time to time—both in my personal life and while I’m writing. Is it really impossible to go back?

In literal sense it isn’t, of course. If you traveled one way, you can turn around and take the same way back. Connor, one of the main characters in Coming Back Home, left Harrington Hills and then came back. That’s the starting point of the story—his return.

But I would argue—and I’m pretty sure that’s what the author of the saying at the start of this post meant—that you can never go back home the same. We can never go back to the same “home” we remember, either. We change, and the people we left behind change, as well.

Most of us have experienced this at least once—I know I’ve had. I left home to study in another city, half the country away. And the changes weren’t easy to spot as they were happening, but after a year or so, I realized that they were there. They happened. I remember in my second or third year at the Uni, my grandfather said something about how he couldn’t wait for me to go back home after I got my diploma, and that’s when I realized that I wouldn’t be going back. Home had become something else for me at some point along the way. These days I still live in the city I’d come to study in, and my hometown is a place where I go to visit my family. I left, and I stayed away.

But some people do go back, more or less willingly, more or less according to their previous plans. Connor had never intended to come back to Harrington Hills. As a young boy, he couldn’t wait to leave, and once he’d left it behind, he’d thought it was for good.

Circumstances lead him back to his hometown, but he’s not the same person he once was. His life isn’t the same it once was. And Jack—the person Connor hadn’t let himself think about too much when he was away—had changed, too.

We can never go back home, but it’s on us to decide what that means. And that’s what Coming Back Home is about. Who are these young men now? What’s home to them? Can they find their way to each other—or, perhaps, find another path?

What I’ve come to realize is that, in a way, coming back home is at least partially building a home once again (that title was taken by the previous book in the series, though, heh). It’s building on the existing fundaments, but what we build after we’ve come back can vary from what it once was. Or it can be pretty similar to the original. There’s no wrong answer here.

Coming Back Home

Harrington Hills #3

Jack Harrington told everyone who asked that he got over Connor long time ago. And while he still hasn’t managed to convince himself, he moves on with his life. He doesn’t have a choice. Connor is gone for good.

Or is he?

Connor Warden didn’t plan to ever come back to Harrington Hills, but with an infant in tow, that is exactly what he does. His daughter needs a pack and he is going to give it to her.

When Jack and Connor’s lives literally collide again, will they be able to go back to what have been and find their connection once more? Or is the divide between them too deep to ever fully get over?

Buy links:

Pride Publishing | Amazon

Find the author:

www.meganlinden.com

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His Heart’s Desire by Penny Brandon

pb_lg3_hisheartsdesireMagic is not dead, it’s just hiding in a mirror

A magic mirror, a resentful keeper, and a punk-assed kid with ripped jeans and rainbow colored hair.

His Heart’s Desire is Simon and Alex’s story, and the third instalment of the Looking Glass series. It’s a stand-alone story, but Simon was first introduced to us as the mirror’s keeper in Choices. It’s Simon’s job to tell those who look into the mirror that they’re seeing their one true love.

In Choices we met Marc and Liam, but Marc wasn’t gay.

In First Kiss, Brenn saw Joey in the mirror, but Joey was dying.

Not everything runs smoothly for those who look into the mirror and see their one true love, but surely as the mirror’s keeper Simon won’t have that problem, right?

To celebrate the release of His Heart’s Desire, I’m giving away an e-book copy.

Just follow the following blog to get e-mail notifications of new posts, and leave a comment.

www.pennybrandon.blogspot.com.au

BLURB:

As the keeper of a magic mirror that shows those lucky few their one true love, Simon dreams of the day it will show him his, but he never dreamt of a punk-assed kid with ripped jeans and rainbow colored hair. Devastated, Simon tries to push Alex away, refusing to tell him they were fated, but Alex keeps coming back, showing all the signs of a man drawn to his soulmate. Realizing he’s made a terrible mistake, Simon figures the only way to ever have a future is to be the man Alex wants because Alex is the man Simon needs.

Never before has Alex fallen so hard for a man who obviously doesn’t like him, but Alex is sure there’s a passionate man beneath Simon’s prickly exterior. Peeling away Simon’s layers is like ripping off a bandaid, but it’s worth it when Alex finally has Simon in his arms. The problem is, though he may have Simon’s body, he doesn’t have his heart, and that’s the part Alex wants most. Until he finds out Simon has lied to him.

EXCERPT:

“That’s a neat trick. How does it work?”

At the sound of the unexpected voice behind him, Simon whirled, hand at his throat, eyes wide, pulse racing.

A man leaned casually on the corner of the antique desk that Simon used as his service counter. That in itself ruffled Simon’s feathers because the man obviously didn’t seem to appreciate the age and beauty of the piece, and he also didn’t seem the least bit contrite at nearly giving Simon a heart attack. In fact the man was smiling. A bold, bright smile that was so inappropriate right then Simon felt indignation bite deep.

“How does what work?” Simon asked, striving for politeness even as he felt like ordering the man out.

The man’s smile widened, showing complete nonchalance as if he didn’t have a care in the world, which ruffled Simon’s feathers even further.

“The mirror. I looked into it and—”

“The mirror?”

“Yeah. It’s quite fascinating. I couldn’t see any wires, and though I assume the image is on a loop of some sort, there’s no obvious—”

“You looked into the mirror?” Simon glanced toward the rear of the shop where the mirror was housed, and he scowled. He used to love enlightening those drawn to the mirror. He used to love telling them the image they saw was of their one true love. But now… Shaking his head, Simon turned back to the young man still leaning on the desk and scowled even more.

No matter how much Simon knew it was wrong, he couldn’t help wondering what it was about this man that made him better than Simon. Why was he special? Why was he getting a chance to find that happily ever after? Studying him, Simon cynically observed the well-worn jeans, the scruffy black T-shirt, the scuffed shoes, the statement colored hair, and couldn’t find a damn thing.

As if sensing Simon’s resentment, the man eased off the edge of the desk. “Um, so how does it work?” he asked.

As the mirror’s keeper, that was a question Simon had asked himself over and over. “I don’t have any answers,” he said. “I’m just here to show you.”

“I don’t understand.”

Simon gritted his teeth. Neither did he, but it was his duty to try to explain, so he grudgingly headed toward the back of the shop, assuming the man would follow.

“I’m Alex, by the way, and you’re Simon, right?”

Turning to see Alex holding a small white business card he’d obviously picked up from the desk, Simon merely nodded, not wishing to engage in polite conversation. As soon as he told Alex what the image in the mirror meant to him, that would be the end of their association. Simon would never have to see Alex again, never have to look into those vivid blue eyes and feel a bitterness he could no longer repress.

Sighing, Simon continued to the back of the shop, maneuvering through a labyrinth of furniture before finally coming to stand in front of the mirror.

As usual, to him the mirror reflected nothing. Its impenetrable black surface seemed to mock him, as if it knew there was nothing in his future, nothing to look forward to, nothing to live for. A large part of him was beginning to hate the mirror, and he no longer truly believed the promise and potential it supposedly offered. He went through the motions of course, but during the last few months, each time he’d told others they were seeing their heart’s desire, he’d felt a little part of his own heart die.

“It doesn’t look like it belongs here, does it?”

“Pardon?” Simon turned to face Alex who was gazing at the dusty, plain-looking mirror. Its oval shape could have given it a timeless elegance, but it appeared shabby rather than refined and neglected instead of cherished.

“Well, I mean everything else here is beautiful and obviously of high quality. That looks like it came from a bric-a-brac store. No offense.”

“None taken. I didn’t pick it. It was already here, but regardless of its appearance, it’s actually priceless.”

“Really?”

The look of astonishment on Alex’s face made Simon smile despite the pain he knew was going to come. He took a sustaining breath, his gaze fixed on Alex’s smiling mouth. Alex might be unkempt, young, and a tad idealistic, but he must be worthy, and it wasn’t Simon’s right to judge. “Yes, really. It’s what it does that makes its worth immeasurable.”

“You mean showing me an image of you?”

****

Follow Penny:

www.pennybrandon.blogspot.com.au

https://www.amazon.com/Penny-Brandon/e/B00J625INM/

https://web.facebook.com/myheartschoice/

https://web.facebook.com/penny.brandon.3

https://twitter.com/PennyBrandon

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4589999.Penny_Brandon?from_search=true

Author Bio

Penny is a complete romantic who believes everyone can fall in love if only they’ll open their heart to the possibility, which is why she writes those hot, erotic stories that will always have a happily ever after. However, it doesn’t mean she’ll necessarily make it easy for her men to get there. A lover of things that go bump in the night, Penny’s imagination can sometimes run riot, so magic mirrors and evil dolls is only the beginning.

 

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RELEASE BLITZ: Lord of Ravens by Amelia Faulkner

Lord Of Ravens (Inheritance Series #3) 

 Amelia Faulkner

 
Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Inheritance Series
Jack of Thorns (Book #1) Amazon US | Amazon UK
Knight of Flames (Book #2) Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb

Lover. Predator. Killer.

Laurence Riley’s inheritance comes with a price – one he’s not at all sure he can pay. When his urge to hunt grows out of control, he sends a desperate prayer to his ancestor for guidance. But he never expected that Herne the Hunter would answer.

Scion. Target. Victim.

There are horrors lurking in Quentin d’Arcy’s past, but they won’t hide there forever. Something ancient is coming to take him home: a creature of nightmare who feasts on the flesh of children. When the choice is between his own life and the lives of innocents, there is no choice at all.

Honesty is the worst policy.

A legendary horror comes to San Diego, but it’s merely an emissary. Laurence has seen the real monster, and it’s a darkness which will destroy everything he loves – especially if Quentin ever finds out what it did to him as a child.

It’s down to Laurence to prepare for war against a force which far outmatches him. The enemy has the most powerful weapon of all at his disposal, and if they’re to stand a chance, Laurence must master the same power.

He must learn magic.

Lord of Ravens is the third book in the Rainbow Award winning Inheritance series and contains mature themes and events which may be distressing to some readers. It has a moderate heat rating and an HFN ending

Author Bio

Amelia Faulkner was born in Thame, Oxfordshire, and sprouted upward in short order. The ground around Thame is reasonably mucky, especially in the winter, and she can’t be blamed for wanting to get away from it.

Raised on a steady diet of Star Trek and Doctor Who, Amelia stood no chance in not becoming a grade-A geek. She has sat on the board of the British Fantasy Society, contributed fiction and fluff to various published roleplaying games, and written non-fiction for SciFiNow and SFX Magazines. For every positive there is an equal and opposite negative, and Amelia is forced to admit that she loves Wild Wild West.

In her spare time she enjoys travel, photography, walking her Corgi, and trying to convince her friends to replay the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game with all the Goblins decks.

 
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GUEST POST: Wild Rose, Silent Snow by Angel Martinez

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Communicating with Animals in Fiction

Angel Martinez

Humans have communicated with animals in one way or another since before the last Ice Age. Most often, the exchange of information comes with repetition and practice, verbal or physical signals given to result in a specific behavior. We tell our dogs to sit. We communicate direction and speed to horses with our knees and hands. Our cats learn that they should come for food by associating feeding with certain sounds.

Sometimes, though, communication with non-humans is far more complicated. Animal behaviorists have proven over the last century that several species are capable not only of mimicry where human speech is concerned but of language acquisition. That is to say, these species understand words and can use them in unique patterns to communicate thoughts, both concrete and abstract. When a car struck and killed the kitten who had been Koko the gorilla’s companion, Koko conveyed not only sorrow in sign language but also an understanding that the kitten had died. Alex, the African gray parrot, had a vocabulary of over a hundred words and used them in a sort of code to communicate with humans. Beluga whales have been documented learning how to use their vestibular sacs to mimic human speech in what appears to be a genuine and spontaneous attempt to communicate with us.

In fiction we often get to use different rules—talking animals in Oz and Narnia, telepathic ones on Pern and so on—but the easy route isn’t always one that fits the story. In Wild Rose, Silent Snow, one of the questions I had to ask myself was if a human intelligence were trapped in an animal body, one without the proper larynx to make human sounds or opposable thumbs to make human letters, how would that person communicate? Beyond the most basic types of communication such as nodding or shaking the head, pushing toward or away from an object, leading or refusing to follow, how would such a person communicate ideas that are more complex?

Alex the parrot actually provided inspiration on that front. Dr. Pepperdine, who had been working with Alex in her avian language project, had decided to teach Alex to spell short words by using letter blocks. I’m uncertain whether any African gray might eventually be taught this with enough work and patience or if Alex was simply a linguistic genius, but he did understand the letters represented certain sounds. He was a bit of a contrary soul, though, and refused to show visitors this skill once, demanding a nut instead, and eventually sounded out the word nut (N-U-T) to emphasize his displeasure rather than using the spelling blocks. (You can read about Alex and Dr. Pepperdine in Alex and Me, if you’re so inclined.)

Which is all a rather long-winded way to say that I ended up using plastic letters, the magnetic backed sort, as a means for a character without hands to communicate. While I don’t want to give too much away, it seems to have worked.

 

About Wild Rose, Silent Snow

A huge bear at the door, a handsome, naked stranger in the snow, magic fish, enchanted beards—and Rowan thought his life was odd before.

Content with the quiet isolation of their lake house, Snowden and Rowan Hadley survive on summer jobs and winter hunting, unable to move on since their parents died. Their peace is shattered by a strange, human-acclimated bear who insists on following Rowan like a giant hunting dog and again by the discovery of a naked, surly stranger in the snow.

Both bear and man lead the Hadley brothers into a strange, surreal world where sorcery and RPG software intertwine. Curses and magical traps lie in wait around every turn. Rowan and Snowden will need to adjust their view of how the world works, and quickly, if they want to live through rescuing their enchanted princes.

 

About Angel Martinez

The unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, Angel Martinez has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for almost twenty-four years) gave birth to one amazing son, (now in college) and realized at some point that she could get paid for writing.

Published since 2006, Angel’s cynical heart cloaks a desperate romantic. You’ll find drama and humor given equal weight in her writing and don’t expect sad endings. Life is sad enough.

She currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.

 

Wild Rose, Silent Snow Excerpt:

After the storm, their little island wood had taken on fairyland qualities, the sun sparking off frost jewels on stone and turning the trees’ icicle banners to cold fire. Rowan loved the winter, despite the hardships it brought now. He took a moment at the back door to pull in a deep, biting breath. A pristine blanket overlay the mud and detritus of the back of the property. Only the lonely beanpoles sticking up from Snowden’s garden plot gave any signs of domestication.

Snow’s garden… He hoped they’d be able to scrape together some money in early spring for seeds and a few little plants. When their parents had been alive, the vegetable garden had been a glorious achievement. Every plant Snow touched seemed eager to grow and produce for him. Each year his garden expanded in yield and sheer beauty, rosemary, marigolds, and geraniums blooming alongside the vegetable and fruit plants as guardians against pests.

This year… Something has to change. We can’t keep living like this.

But what? And how? Rowan trudged toward the woods in his snowshoes, mindful of hummocks in the snow that indicated downed branches.

He’d teased Snow once that if they went into a job interview as one person, someone might actually hire them with Rowan to speak for them and Snowden to fill out the application. If only they could somehow merge into one person and be whole again.

Familiar trees marked his route. He took his time, checking and resetting each empty snare. Anything would be welcome, of course—a squirrel, a pheasant—but with so much of the wildlife hunkered down for the winter, all the snares were empty.

With a disappointed huff, he reset the last one, turned back toward the house, and froze, his heart slamming against his ribs. Not more than ten feet away, his coat dusted in snow, stood a brown bear the size of a compact car.

How the hell does something that big make no sound?

Rowan backed a careful, slow step. The bear watched him silently, his only movement a shift of weight from one front paw to the other and the dragon steam of his breath on the morning air. He tried to remember everything he had heard about bears. Did you stand still and hope it went away? Did you run like hell and hope it wasn’t interested?

Running seemed foolish with the bear watching him so intently. Another step back…another…then his snowshoe caught on a log to send him flailing backward. The air rushed from his lungs as his back hit hard pack. The impact jarred his grip on his rifle, the weapon skittering across the clearing.

A heavy weight settled on his chest. The bear gazed down at him, pinning him with one huge paw. He lay as still as his trembling allowed, gulping for air that felt suddenly too thick to breathe.

I’m going to die. Snow, I’m so sorry… Oh, God, I don’t want to die like this…

Images of his poor twin coming out into the snow to find him and discovering only the blood and gore of his remains haunted him. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the pain to start.

And waited. And waited.

He cracked an eye open, hoping the pressure on his chest was just anxiety and the bear had wandered off. No such luck. Bear. Still very much looming over him, head cocked to one side. Damn if he doesn’t look…puzzled.

“Mr. Bear,” he ventured softly, knowing it was just a hair shy of idiotic, but too nervous to keep quiet any longer. “Think you could let me up, maybe?”

The huge head lowered. Rowan’s heart lurched hard as if it recognized its last beat. Please make it quick. Tear the jugular. Still, no pain followed the bear’s movements. Even with all of Rowan’s personal proximity alarms screaming, his body urging him to kick out, yell, do something, he lay still, mesmerized as the bear snuffled at his hair and face.

A grunt in his ear sent shivers down his back, but the bear finished his inspection by nuzzling at his jaw. The heavy paw lifted and the bear sat with an odd, mournful moan.

Rowan sat up slowly, easing back to gain a few feet between them. Jump up, grab the rifle and run? But the bear sat squarely in his path to his Remington, staring at him solemnly.

That regard somehow struck him as alien intelligence rather than ursine, something both sad and curious in that steady gaze, if one could assign emotions to a bear’s strange, white-less eyes. The bear sat back, human-wise, on his butt, back legs stuck out in front. Definitely ‘he’ from that angle. The pose seemed an assurance of non-aggression.

“I’m getting up now,” Rowan said in that same soft, reasonable tone, uncertain of his sanity as he tried to negotiate with an ursine intellect who couldn’t possibly understand what he said.

The bear grunted and gave a resigned huff, but he didn’t move.

“Don’t have anything for you. And humans taste pretty awful…”

A snort from the bear.

“So I’m just going to go back home now if that’s all right with you.” He backed a step, risked turning when the bear still didn’t move, and started slowly through the ice-laden trees toward the house.

When he glanced back, his breath caught. The bear was following. He stopped. The bear stopped. He took another step. The bear echoed him, step for step, always keeping a few feet behind him.

 

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