Hello and Happy Friday Before Halloween! This week, I'm reading to you from a new paranormal noir from Kim Fielding - rather appropriate to the season. Camouflage is #8 in the Bureau series, and you had me at "dragon stuck in human form." :D Come have a listen!
The Bureau #8
by Kim Fielding
Life isn’t always easy for a Bureau agent who’s also a dragon.
Ever since Ralph Crespo was trapped in human form, he’s been going through the motions at a job he once loved. Maybe that’s why the Bureau chief seems to have demoted him to messenger. But this time a letter delivery allows Ralph to meet Anton Steinmann, and Ralph’s life takes a turn toward the unexpected.
Anton loves his remote home with its extensive caves. He’s less fond of his leadership position, however, and definitely doesn’t want the offer Agent Crespo hands him. Then Anton is kidnapped and tortured. Someone wants him dead and he doesn’t know why.
How can anyone be true to himself in a world where he doesn’t really belong? Perhaps Ralph and Anton can find the answer together—if they survive long enough.
Kim Fielding is the bestselling, award-winning author of over 60 novels and novellas. Like Kim herself, her work is eclectic, spanning genres such as contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, horror, and historical. Her stories are set in alternate worlds, in 15th century Bosnia, in modern-day Oregon. Her heroes are hipster architect werewolves, housekeepers, maimed giants, and conflicted graduate students. They’re usually flawed, they often encounter terrible obstacles, but they always find love.
Having migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States, Kim calls California home. She lives there with her family, her cat, and her day job as a university professor, but escapes as often as possible via car, train, plane, or boat. This may explain why her characters often seem to be in transit as well. She dreams of traveling and writing full-time.
The sun was rude enough to wake Zie the next morning by shining directly into his eyes, which made him sneeze. Then he froze. There was a warm body in the bed at his back. He couldn’t recall what bed.
Slowly, slowly. Piece it back together.
“You’re awake,” a sleepy-soft voice murmured against his shoulder.
The voice conjured a face. Essenin. Falling asleep in a cradle of strong arms. The room at the Blue Goblet.
You’re safe. It’s fine.
He rolled over to meet half-lidded dark eyes. “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Essenin smiled for him and stretched, letting the covers slide to their waist, but seduction was apparently not the goal. “Are you hungry? I’m starved.”
“Where’s your Davitts?”
“Our Davitts is one of those horrible morning people, up at the crack of dawn.” Essenin rubbed both hands over their face. “Something about a list of supplies.”
Zie considered that, drawing one-fingered circles around one of Essenin’s dark nipples. Hope was dangerous and stupid. This sort of hope ember flickering in his chest was even worse. “You’ve taken a job, then?”
“Not officially.” Essenin stopped Zie’s wandering hand and kissed the tip of his finger. “We’re going to take Captain Unav up on her offer. It’s not a lot of work for good pay, and I get out on the waves for a bit.”
Several responses occurred to him, among them, No, you can’t. It still might not be safe, and Is this to look after me? Because I don’t need anyone to. He pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth for a moment, cowardice keeping those words inside. “I suppose it’s no hardship to be able to have you both a little longer.”
“We hoped you’d say that.” The gentle kindness in Essenin’s smile squeezed at Zie’s heart—so beautiful, he came close to believing everything would be all right.
Zie poked them in the ribs, making them squirm. “You two were talking while I slept.”
“A bit, perhaps. A smidge. You wouldn’t have woken if the inn collapsed.”
A braver person would’ve told them no. A braver person would’ve recoiled at the thought of these two bright souls putting themselves at risk for someone who didn’t in any way deserve it. But all Zie felt was relief over not being quite so alone.
Boots clattered on the stairs, followed by Davitts shouldering the door open to drop sacks and a stack of crates on the floor. “Are you two sea slugs still in bed?”
“Some of us are civilized and don’t get up with the chockas.” Essenin burrowed against Zie’s side, pretending to go back to sleep.
“Some of us are responsible people who know how much work goes into getting ready for a journey.”
The teasing flowed around Zie, warm and comfortable in the way of people who loved each other and knew each other well. There wasn’t any anger in it, no real annoyance. They each knew perfectly well how the other handled any given situation. Zie wasn’t sure he wanted to face how much it all strengthened the illusion of safety.
Essenin suddenly bounced upright as if they’d remembered something. They scooted up to lean against the headboard and cocked their head at Zie. “Who’s Hest?”
Just like that, the illusion ripped at the seams. Heart hammering, Zie edged away, panicking as he cast about desperately for his pants. Who are they really? Who did they speak to? What do they know? The words snarled out of him, “Why would you ask that?”
“Ess…” Davitts hissed a warning, but Essenin seemed determined.
“You cried out in your sleep. Just that one word.” Essenin spoke gently, as if Zie were a feral kit. “I thought it sounded like a name. Is that who’s hunting you? And why do you think this person can’t cross the water?”
Davitts smacked Essenin’s foot. “Mother of storms, Ess! Shut. Up.”
Oh. With an effort that didn’t do anything to calm his racing heart, Zie stopped edging away. “I see… I…” He shook his head and finally spotted his pants across the room on the floor. Stop panicking. It was a question, not an accusation. Stop. Stop. “No. No, it’s nothing like that. Hest was…”
He caught the change in both their expressions as they interpreted that was. Perceptive, the pair of them.
“You don’t have to tell us,” Davitts said, as he had the first night. “If this isn’t about who’s after you, it doesn’t concern us.”
His voice hitched and broke as Zie allowed himself to say it. “He was my brother. My…” He hesitated again, certain that brother didn’t even explain it halfway. “Have you ever even met any sylvas?”
Davitts came to sit at the foot of the bed, mouth tugged down in a concerned frown. Essenin held a hand out and didn’t answer until Zie had let his fingers settle on their palm. “Only in trader situations. Met, yes, but not ever gotten to know any.”
“All right.” Zie nodded, eyes squeezed shut. “Sylvas children are multiple births. Two to five, usually. A solitary baby is considered a tragedy. Birthmates are...close. More than close. They have connections that I don’t have the words in your language to describe. Hest… We were a creche of two.”
“You lost him. It was something terrible. I’m sorry.” Davitts gave his ankle a gentle shake. “Ess won’t ask anything else about it.”
Essenin made a noise that sounded like dissent, but they snapped their mouth shut and nodded, giving Zie’s fingers a squeeze.
The remainder of the day. Zie made certain to focus on what was immediately in front of him—the extra clothes Davitts had picked up for him along with an extra pair of boots, a pack and a few necessities for living outdoors. Not that they would be aboard a ship, but there was no predicting what would happen after.
Acute embarrassment skirmished with gratitude in Zie’s head over these gifts, not only freely given, but thoughtfully since Davitts had quietly taken measurements of his worn clothes. He kept waiting for the terrible reveal, for his new friends to suddenly show their bad intentions, but aside from Essenin being too nosy and Davitts being too reticent, nothing happened to tweak Zie’s paranoia.
The whole day of sorting and packing, snacking and snuggling, had a hazy golden glow to it, as if it were a dream of a day, a cocoon of wishful thinking. They had dinner in the room again and turned in before the sun had even set. They needed to be up in the dark of the morning to make Captain Unav’s deadline.
When they did rise in the chill hours before dawn with Essenin grumbling pitiably about being shoved out of the lovely warm bed, Zie found himself seized by a strange energy where his limbs felt lighter, his chest unburdened. He was...cheerful. Imagine that. They would be on the water soon, and there had been no sign, no whiff at all, that his pursuers were near.
He was going to get away. Finally. A laugh nearly escaped him to have desperation exchanged for hope.
Essenin wrapped his ankle tight—much better that morning with the swelling receding—and they set off at a brisk pace for the spit of beach outside the harbor where a launch would be dragged up on the sand, waiting for them. Davitts whistled softly as he walked, the light from his lantern bobbing with each stride. The cozy yellow light reminded Zie of the day before and he smiled, watching the lantern cut through the shadows.
From one breath to the next, all his cheer vanished. Cold swept up his back in dreadful certainty. The beach was in sight now, the launch a dark lump a few hundred yards away, but Zie’s eyes were drawn to the copse of trees that crowded up close to the beach. The trees. Shifting in a wind that defied the direction of the sea breeze. The trees, with their restless, skittering shadows.
“No. Not now,” Zie whispered. He grabbed his companions by their arms, his heart banging against his chest. “Don’t talk, no questions. Just run.”
Hello and happy Friday, everyone! This week, I'm reading to you from the first book in Layla Dorine's brand new Comet Lake Chronicles series - Waiting for Raine! Wolf shifters, m/m/m, and rebelling against the dictates of wolf society. :D Come have a listen!
Waiting for Raine
Comet Lake Chronicles 1
by Layla Dorine
Nine Star Press
Barnes and Noble
Every Gathering, Raine hides from potential mates, knowing that in a society where tri-bonds were the expectation, a wolf wanting a mate all to themselves was an anomaly.
Enter Gabriel. They’d met two years before, both left disappointed when no bondmark appeared on their wrists at that time. Gabriel’s been hunting, but there’s been no sign of Raine, outside of the one brief visit that didn’t end the way he’d hoped for.
Fast forward to the present Gathering. He’s stumbled onto Aiden, a wolf miserable in his own pack due to the way he’s treated. Born with a disability, he knows he can’t keep up, but no one has taken the time to teach him where his true potential lies—until Gabriel that is. Gabriel’s protective instincts kick in almost immediately.
Now Gabriel has one wolf he desperately wants to care for and another who has been hiding from him. Unfortunately, it might not be a challenge Gabriel is up for.
LAYLA DORINE lives among the sprawling prairies of Midwestern America, in a house with more cats than people. She loves hiking, fishing, swimming, martial arts, camping out, photography, cooking, and dabbling with several artistic mediums. In addition, she loves to travel and visit museums, historic, and haunted places. Currently, she has seen forty-nine of the fifty states, with plans to visit her final one, Alaska, in the upcoming year. Every journey is an inspiration and every shred of inspiration gets sprinkled into her tales.
Layla got hooked on writing as a child, starting with poetry and then branching out, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs, and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters and all the other folks that she’s met and fallen in love with over the years. Sometimes she writes urban romance and sometimes it’s aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, or wandering somewhere outdoors, she can often be found curled up with a good book, a kitty on her lap, and her dog, Jinxx, by her side.
It would take a bit for Davs to join them on the bed. Essenin knew him well enough that they could almost time it to the exact moment, and they loved their Davs for that, for the deliberate care he put into his actions, for the need to be certain others’ needs were met.
Also, he’s just a bit shy.
Essenin decided to take the first shot across the bows and reached over to run a finger across Zie’s knuckles. The skin was fireside warm and smooth. It made them wonder how old Zie was or rather, how young. The scars were odd ones, and not so old that they’d paled to white yet - three parallel lines on the back of each hand from wrists to knuckles. When Zie didn’t draw away, Essenin grew bolder and picked up that hand to kiss his fingers, first the backs, then the pads on the undersides.
“Careful,” Zie murmured. “Don’t press there. You’ll get claws.”
“Good to know.” Essenin offered a smile and flicked open the top three buttons on their shirt. Just a tease of skin for the moment. No rushing anyone. Just offering.
Zie took his hand back and completely ignored things like buttons to pull his shirt off over his head. The black pelt of chest hair was both shocking and beautiful against his frost-pale skin, while the hair on his forearms was less dense, but an equally sharp contrast. It only made Essenin more curious about the distribution of hair on the rest of him. They did have a definite weakness for furry males.
Unexpectedly, Davs cleared his throat from across the room. “Ess. Be fair.”
Ah, yes. Someone’s very interested. “Terrible of me,” Ess murmured as they made short work of buttons and flailed out of their shirt in record time. The hair on their own chest was sparse and downy, nothing like the forest on Zie’s or—a rush of heat climbed from Ess’s groin at the thought—Dav’s. The heat only increased as Zie prowled closer and reached a hand toward Essenin’s gill slits.
“Yes.” Essenin swallowed against a suddenly dry throat, the smolder in those purple eyes pinning them in place. “Gently.”
“Always gently.” Zie’s smile held sharp teeth, but that alone didn’t make it any fiercer to Essenin. His beloved grandmother’s teeth had been sharper.
The pads of Zie’s fingers were cushioned velvet, his touch the barest kiss. Essenin’s head fell back on a sighing moan, which tipped his gaze right at Davs standing stiff and trembling like a hunting courser straining at the leash. Essenin ran his eyes down Davs body. Something else is quite stiff already, too.
Knowing it would display every sleek muscle, Essenin stretched, arching their back, and locked their eyes with Davs honey amber ones, reaching a hand out to him. Open invitation, Davs didn’t have to accept, though Essenin couldn’t help a chuckle when he heaved an unsteady breath and crossed the room in two hurried strides to take Essenin’s hand.
Zie’s hands sliding down their chest distracted them from their campaign of Davitts seduction. Essenin hissed and squirmed as those lovely pads glided over their nipples, sliding down to hook fingers under the top of their kilt until Zie found and unfastened the kilt pins. Essenin nearly purred at the exquisite sensation of being unwrapped under the gaze of two such lovely men.
“Beautiful,” Zie whispered, running his hands up and down the outsides of Essenin’s now-naked thighs.
“They are, and they know it.” The hint of reverence in Davs’ voice sent a pool of warmth spreading around Essenin’s heart. Teasing, yes, but their Davs’ love shivered in those words.
The mattress depressed as Davs put a knee on it and bent to kiss Essenin, his lips starting out gentle and slow, but gaining heated urgency as Essenin began to drag Davs’ shirt up his back. They broke the kiss to pull the shirt off over his head, and Essenin sighed in appreciation as they ran their fingers through the thick brown thatch of Davs’ chest hair and reached out to pet the silky black of Zie’s.
“I feel so spoiled. All this wonderful fur.”
“You are spoiled. Brat.” Davs grinned as he planted a kiss on Essenin’s forehead.
Purple eyes devoured them both through all this, the trail of Zie’s gaze a near-physical heat. Their new sylvan friend had removed his belt and was in the process of unlacing his trousers as he watched, his hunger even more evident in the growing bulge behind the laces. And, oh, he was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once as he shimmied out of his tight trousers. Milk-pale skin peppered with dark hair, his compact frame made for sleek muscle, but he was far too thin, the bones in his wrists too prominent, his ribs too visible. A long scar trailed from his right hip to knee, perhaps the same age as or a little newer than the ones on his hands.
He needs rest and feeding and someone to look after him. And that’s you and Davs, is it? Essenin had to smile at his presumption. Zie probably didn’t want looking after, even if he seemed so terribly alone. Still, the thought had taken hold and was growing, that he shouldn’t be alone, no matter what his pride might say.
Davs smoothed their braids back, a tiny smile tugging at his mouth. “And you’re being selfish.”
“Wha—?” Essenin cut off the question before it could properly start, following Davs’ gaze and thoughts with ease. “Oh, of course. Zie is the guest. He should be the filling in our two-crust pie.”
“Filling.” Zie let out a snort that might have stood for a laugh. “What sort am I then? Sweet, savory or spiced?”
“Wellll…” Essenin pretended to think as he took Zie’s arm and pulled him down beside them. “We won’t really know until we’ve had a taste, will we? You could be all three.”
“Sensible.” Zie reached up to tangle his fingers in Davs’ hair and pulled him down for a lingering kiss.
Davs wrinkled his forehead as he pulled back. “That part’s sweet, anyway. But it’s just one part.”
“What would you like, lovely filling?” Essenin tipped Zie’s chin up and claimed a kiss of their own. Zie’s lips were full and soft, his tongue gently requesting rather than demanding.
“I’d like this one to fuck me.” He pointed a claw at Davs, then swung it to point it at Essenin. “While I devour you.” The mischievously heated expression faltered, Zie’s bottom lip caught between sharp teeth. “If that’s all right. I’m making assumptions, and I shouldn’t.”
A blush colored Davs’ cheeks, but he slid out of his own trousers and dug through his pockets until he produced a vial of oil. “More than all right with me. Ess?”
Essenin disentangled themself from Zie’s arms and scooted up to lean against the carved headboard. “Fancy being devoured by a filling. But I’m happy to give it a try.”
That wasn’t really a laugh either, though Zie’s eyes crinkled at the corners. Did he have a laugh? Essenin had the feeling it would be graceful and beautiful like the rest of him. Thoughts of laughs or the lack thereof flew out of their mind, though, when Zie urged their thighs apart and settled on his stomach between, his breath teasing at Essenin’s prick, the warmth of his mouth achingly close, the rumbling of his purring vibrating the mattress beneath Essenin’s naked ass.
The purrs broke off in a startled gasp when Davs seized Zie by the hips and yanked him up onto his knees. Davs didn’t go at it right away, though, rubbing Zie’s back in long, sure strokes.
“Been a while?”
Zie nodded against Essenin’s thigh. “Yes, but I won’t break.”
“I’d never even try to.”
He met Essenin’s gaze, a little smile curling his lips as he poured oil into his hand and stroked his cock, that thick, gorgeous cock. Essenin had to lick his lips and swallow hard to keep from drooling. Their eyes remained locked while Davs teased at the ass so willingly offered him, though he turned his attention to Zie when he started to ease inside. Zie’s head jerked up on a strangled huff when Davs thrust inside, but the huff rolled over into a purring moan and Zie buried his head in Essenin’s crotch, licking and sucking for all he was worth.
Essenin’s eyes crossed and they buried both hands in the wild mass of Zie’s black hair, pulling their knees up to give Zie a better angle, for deeper, closer, more. Zie moaned and squirmed as Davs thrust into him, a steady, hard rhythm now, Davs cheeks flushed and his eyes glassy. The sight only sent harder spears of pleasure into Essenin’s groin.
Just as Zie’s moans had turned into panting cries and Essenin was squirming desperately for release, Zie thrust a velvet-padded finger inside and Essenin thumped their head back against the headboard, hips thrusting as they cried out, climax crashing over them in heavy surges. Still fastened on tight, Zie let out a muffled howl, hips bucking against Davs’ tight hold, the extra thumping against Essenin sending aftershocks crashing through them.
Bent over Zie’s back, Davs eyes were squeezed shut, one of his hands wrapped tight around Zie’s cock. Zie let out one more strangled cry, followed a moment after by Davs bellow, then Essenin had a lapful of tangled lovers, all three of them panting and gasping.
There were some grunts and apologies, elbows and knees catching places they shouldn’t as Zie and Davs shifted and cleaned up. Essenin didn’t bother moving. Didn’t bother opening their eyes. They simply lay still and floated until their lovers came back to bed, Zie snuggled up against their side, Davs putting Zie between the two of them with one muscular arm thrown over top.
“Mmm. That was fast, dirty and exquisite,” Essenin murmured against Zie’s hair.
Zie mumbled something in response but his breathing indicated that he’d already fallen asleep. Davs pulled the covers up over all three of them, twined fingers with Essenin, and the two of them whispered over Zie’s head for another hour before they both drifted off as well, warm and sated.
Happy Friday, everyone! This week, I'm reading to you from Edale Lane's new F/F historical fantasy, Viking Quest. (Such a cool cover.) Secrets, betrayals, women with swords! :D Come have a listen.
by Edale Lane
The toughest battles are fought within.
Viking Warrior Princess Lena craves revenge. Hunting a killer after her husband is brutally slain, she discovers a shadowy traitor is at play behind the scenes, working to disrupt the balance of power. Placing her need for vengeance on hold when the king falls gravely ill, Lena leads an expedition to locate a fabled healer across a treacherous sea.
Caitlin had been snatched from her home in Eire and sold into slavery. She prayed for a means of escape, and in storms Lena to her rescue. She is grateful, but realizes her feelings for Lena run far deeper.
Mighty warrior Gunnar is loyal to the core. But when his lord orders him to sabotage the princess’s royal mission, he’s plagued by doubt, uncertain he’s fighting for the right side.
Beset by a plethora of dangers and delays, Lena battles foes on every front, even within her own heart as her love for Caitlin grows. Gunnar must choose between honor and fealty, but in the end, will a traitor’s blade end all their lives?
Viking Quest is a breathtaking historical fantasy novel. If you like principled characters, battles of conscience, and tender F/F romance, then you’ll love Edale Lane’s action-packed epic.
Edale Lane is an award-winning author (Rainbow Awards, Imaginarium Awards, Lesfic Bard Awards) who also drives a truck. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Tribute in Blood, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in History and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication regarding research. A native of Vicksburg, MS, Edale (or Melodie) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature. When not driving around North America, she resides with her partner in beautiful Chilliwack, B.C. Canada.
Amazon author page:
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Hey, everyone! I'm still a little disoriented by the whirlwind that is GRL, but we had a great time. I can't tell you how nice it was to talk books in person and see familiar faces again. :)
Author lounges and signings had the tables social distanced, which was lovely, since there were fewer authors in each session. Makes for less loud and crazy for everyone. <3
Nicole Dennis and Kaje Harper joined me for our Writing the Rainbow panel (writing identities in addition to cis gay men), which went very well. Lots of good questions! If you'd like our list of book recs for various things that we talked about in the panel, I can post that in the FB group.
Up next is Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle - December 2-5, Washington State Convention Center.
I'll be there for Mischief Corner Books with the lovely Catherine Dair assisting. :D
Davitts pulled Essenin by the arm so they walked behind the cart on the way back. “What in blazing, thunderous weather were you thinking?”
“I didn’t say yes.” Essenin didn’t look at all contrite. They looked surprised that he was angry.
“The one thing you promised me about working together, Ess. The one thing.”
Ess dropped his voice to a stricken whisper, “I didn’t say yes.”
“You didn’t say it, but you...the way you…” Davitts ran down, his anger draining. He couldn’t really tell Ess he’d missed the hope in Zie’s eyes when they didn’t say no. It wasn’t something he could prove and it wasn’t even his business. “Just consult next time.”
“I’ll just let you speak for me, is that it?” Ess narrowed their eyes, braids clicking like an accusation as they swung to face Davitts.
“Like you did for me?”
Davitts might have huffed. Possibly. It was an old argument about Ess being impulsive and Davitts being too cautious, but he also knew he was more concerned than angry.
Something he couldn’t see yet was worrying at the back of his mind, something that tasted like danger and change.
Being a real seer would’ve been nice sometimes. He knew that the gift drove some humans mad, but he could’ve inherited something better from his taur ancestry than vague, ominous feelings.
Ess still frowned, but their shoulders slumped. “Right. Sorry. Consult first.”
“Would you want to…?”
“I’m not sure yet.” The frown smoothed, though puzzlement clouded those beautiful dark eyes. “Keeping our paths open for now seems best.”
“Fair. Not like it takes us long to pack for any job.”
By the time they’d gotten Bluey unharnessed and fed, and the cart put away—in the same condition as they’d found it that morning, thank you very much—Zie had vanished.
Aunt Lana nodded to the stairs from where she was setting a log on the fire. “He hobbled up to his room.” She straightened and stretched her back. “Why don’t you boys take lunch up?”
“Excellent suggestion!” Ess bounded to the kitchen before Davitts could open his mouth to agree, Aunt Lana watching them with that too-placid expression that meant she was trying not to laugh.
Davitts shot her a mock glare and followed Ess to make up a tray of the wonderfully rich smelling mushroom soup Aunt Lana had simmering over the fire and some of the new baked bread. He took the tray, Ess snagged a water pitcher and cups, and they made their way up to the second floor, one of them at a dignified pace. That person wasn’t Ess, their kilt flying and showing enticing glimpses of strong thighs as they bounded up the steps.
The room to the right overlooking the stableyard was one of the better ones—bigger bed, windows protected from cold winds—and this was where Aunt Lana had installed Zie. She really had felt bad for him, though it didn’t hurt that this was a slow season and the inn was nearly empty.
Zie sat cross-legged in a nest of blankets coming out his black hair. It shimmered, more iridescent with each stroke of the carved antler comb. Beautiful. Davitts blinked and forced himself to stop staring.
“Um, lunch. We brought...lunch,” he managed to force out through a closing throat.
“Kind of you.” Zie put down the comb, his voice dry as salt as he went on, “Though even the smell of that wonderful soup can’t cover the scent of why you really came upstairs.”
“I should’ve realized you can scent interest.” Ess flipped their braids over their shoulder with a cascading clatter of beads as he settled on the edge of the mattress. “I want to be clear, it’s just interest. If you’re not also interested right now, please say.”
Zie gave him a sideways glance, but he was smiling. “Lunch first, I think. Before it gets cold. Then we’ll see how active all of our other interests might be.”
“All...you’d want me to stay?” Davitts’ voice squeaked and he was certain his face would burst into flames.
“Yes.” Zie’s brows drew together, concern in his eyes. “I didn’t make that clear before? Both of you. As a set.”
Yes, he’d implied it, but Davitts hadn’t been certain. Most people tended to be interested in Ess, not that Ess had more than an occasional fling and never without both of them discussing it first. They had no secrets, but it was still unusual for them to share the same fling.
“I find you both…” Zie stared at his hands. He’d taken his gloves off and was flexing and retracting his claws. “Achingly attractive.”
Nothing coherent or clever was going to come out of his mouth, so Davitts said nothing and handed out food instead while Ess leaned in to stage whisper to Zie, “That’s how Davs flirts. Giving you food. Bringing you blankets. Stuff like that.”
Though Zie offered a smile in response, he scooted away from them to the far end of the bed as soon as he had his lunch, curled over it while he ate as if he feared someone would steal his food. It was a telling response, one that made Davitts heart ache. What little he knew about the sylvas could fill a teacup, but he did know they lived in close-knit clans. How long had Zie been alone?
Ess gave him space and didn’t rush through their own food. Good. They were being patient and weren’t pushing. Yet.
Finally, Zie set his bowl and cup aside on the bedside table, scrupulously picking the last remaining crumbs off his black wool shirt one by one. “Please reiterate to your aunt that her food is wonderful. I’ve told her so, but it bears repeating.”
“I’ll be sure to tell her.” Davitts couldn’t help a smile as he said it. Aunt Lana took great pride in her cooking. Her own children, her siblings’ children, all said she should have help, but she refused. Not in the kitchen. She didn’t trust anyone else to do things right.
Suddenly and not subtly, Zie’s body language shifted. He stretched, arms behind his head, shirt riding up enough to hint at the dark trail of hair on his stomach. The sweep of his lashes nearly covered his eyes as he let his gaze sweep over First Davitts, then Ess. “Are we still...interested?”
Ess looked over and Davitts gave a short nod since he couldn’t remember how words worked just then. With a bright grin, Ess crawled up the bed and sprawled on their side next to Zie. “Oh, yes. So very much interested.”
They make such a gorgeous picture together. And as soon as I figure out how my legs work, I’ll join them.
Happy Friday, everyone! This week, I have an excerpt for you from Holly Day's new short, The Dragon Next Door, and yes, this is a contemporary romance. "Dragon" in the spirit of "bear" as a descriptor for a man rather than actual fire and wings and such. :D Grumpy, stubborn neighbor meets cheerful, equally stubborn neighbor. Come have a listen!
The Dragon Next Door
by Holly Day
Adrian Green’s new next-door neighbor isn’t really a dragon, but he does snarl an awful lot.
The first time Adrian saw Lorcan Walsh, he knew he needed Adrian’s help. Lorcan has a fractured leg and an empty apartment. Luckily, Adrian doesn’t mind helping him fill his lair with gems, and Doris’s second-hand shop has everything a dragon could possibly want.
The problem is, Lorcan doesn’t seem to want his apartment decorated, and sneaking presents past a grumpy dragon isn’t easy.
All Adrian wants is to cheer Lorcan up, but when Lorcan’s ex appears at the door, Adrian fears not even vintage coffee cups will get them their fairy-tale ending. What if the way to a dragon’s heart isn’t lined with treasures?
According to Holly Day, no day should go by uncelebrated and all of them deserve a story. If she’ll have the time to write them remains to be seen. She lives in rural Sweden with a husband, four children, more pets than most, and wouldn’t last a day without coffee.
Holly gets up at the crack of dawn most days of the week to write gay romance stories. She believes in equality in fiction and in real life. Diversity matters. Representation matters. Visibility matters. We can change the world one story at the time.
Connect with Holly on social media:
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Just for this week, anyway. I'm currently in St. Louis for GRL (the Gay Romance Literature Retreat) and will be here through Monday.
Blog posts will publish on their usual schedule since I was a good author and actually, er, scheduled them.
If you're in the St. Louis area and would like to stop by and say hello, please come to the author signing on Saturday, October 9, starting at 10:00 am, Hilton at the Ballpark. You do not need to be registered for the event - the signings are open to the public.
If you're looking for photos from the event, I'll do my best to post them to the FB group:
Angel Martinez: Building Worlds, Constructing Fantasies
Essenin didn't need to see the expression under the broad-brimmed hat to understand that Zie had gone rigid. His fingers clutched the seat tight enough to leave dents in the leather cushion. They stopped the gossta with a hand on her harness and crouched beside the cart.
"Have you spotted someone you'd rather not?"
"I…" Zie shook his head, fingers twitching. "No. Nothing like that. I simply don't know…there are so many."
Davitts leaned on the other side of the cart. "Where do you want to go? Tissia Islands? Cau Senis? That'll help narrow it down."
"Across." Zie waved a hand at the harbor. "It doesn't matter so much where as long as it's across the sea."
That was disturbing. Essenin shot Davitts a look, but he just shrugged. They cleared their throat. "All right, we'll say Cau Senis, since that's all the way across. Captains are going to look a bit sideways at you if your destination's just away from here."
"We don't want them thinking you’re a fugitive criminal," Davitts added, leaving a clear and unambiguous opening for Zie to say, I'm not, or something of the sort.
Zie only nodded, murmuring, "Of course."
It had been a long time since Essenin had exchanged so many looks with Davitts in a single morning. Still, Davitts trotted off to the harbormaster's office to check on ships departing soon for Cau Senis, leaving Essenin to stand about awkwardly and try not to blurt out things like, so, just out of curiosity, what are you running from?
Instead Essenin sniffed at the chill in the wind whipping off the water. Snow soon. "Are you warm enough?"
"Yes, it's fine. I'm used to much colder." Zie tipped his hat back to meet Essenin's eyes, his expression weary to the bone. "If this is awkward for you… Maybe you have suspicions. Maybe you regret the offer. I won't hold you to your promises if this feels wrong to you."
The old cart gossta turned her head and honked loudly. Essenin couldn't help a laugh. "Bluey says don't be absurd and I agree. We promised we'd help you and keep you company. As long as you don't intend to hurt the people I love, I don't need to hear about where you've been or what's behind you."
Something in their words caused Zie to wince, but he covered it quickly. "Thank you. Though you may, at some point, reconsider." He might have followed that with a muttered and no one would blame you, but Essenin couldn't be certain.
They settled for a brief squeeze to Zie's shoulder and waved to Davitts as he came trotting back.
“The Golden Runner leaves for Cau Senis in two days.” Davitts pointed out into the harbor where the larger ships anchored. “That’s the soonest. You want to talk to the captain?”
Zie’s brow furrowed. “Do we have to row out to the ship?”
“No, no.” Essenin did their best not to laugh. They really did. “The officers come to shore when they’re in port.”
“Captain’s working out of The Hollow Anchor, harbormaster said.” Davitts pointed down the quay toward a section of inns and warehouses. “Said we could speak to her there.”
Davitts took hold of Bluey’s headstall and got her moving in the right direction, toward the inn with the crisply painted sign of an anchor made of glass. The Anchor was one of the better harborside inns, owned by one of Davitts’ second or third cousins—Essenin had difficulty keeping track of his sprawling family. The common room was well-kept, polished dark woods and brass, with wonderful scents of fresh-baked bread and roasting meat competing with the scents of kelver and liquor.
A quick exchange of hand signs between Davitts and the owner behind the bar had them seated at a table with cups and a pot of tea while Davitts’ cousin tromped up the stairs, probably to tell the captain she had company or petitioners or whatever one told a captain.
Typical. No words spoken. The family was mostly like that. For the Damils, Auntie Lana was positively chatty.
Essenin stretched their legs out under the table, settled their long knives more comfortably at their waist and leaned back to wait while Davitts glowered at the stairs and Zie sat perfectly, quiveringly still. A predatory stillness, maybe. More anticipatory than anxious.
Not five minutes later, the captain appeared at the top of the stairs wearing crisp gray trousers with mirror-shined boots and an equally crisp white shirt. Even without her captain’s coat, the way she held herself and scanned the room as if she could set everyone on fire with her eyes all screamed captain.
That, and Essenin recognized her. They’d worked for Captain Unav before, though they hadn’t heard she’d taken command of the Runner.
“Ah, you two.” Captain Unav adjusted her cuffs and strode down the steps. “At least this won’t be completely irresponsible nonsense.”
“No nonsense, Captain.” Davitts stood to offer her a polite bow. “We’ve brought you someone who needs passage and who may be helpful to you.”
“And congratulations on the new commission,” Essenin offered a smile as they poured everyone tea. “The last we saw you was in command of Wave Sprite.”
“A good little ship she was.” Captain Unav raised her teacup in acknowledgment and took the seat to Davitt’s left. “Went down in a late winter storm off the coast. Most of the crew were saved, but there was no saving her, my poor little Sprite. The company had the need to replace a retiring captain and I was available. So. What brings you to me toda—”
She cut off as Zie removed his hat, purple eyes meeting storm gray. In his soft, even voice, Zie said, “I hoped you might have need of a sail impeller.”
“How are you…” The captain shook her head, her long, white braid waving behind her. “No. No, that would be a rude and stupid question. You are here and not a revenant. Were you away from home when the disaster occurred?”
Zie’s gaze slid sideways, his gloved hands curling into fists. “I was at home. I outran the catastrophe.”
“Did you?” Captain Unav drummed her fingers on the table, her gaze speculative. Then she let out a huff. “As it happens, the Golden Runner does not have a sail impeller, and I’d prefer one going across. A calm of a few days will kill a ship out there as surely as a tempest. Is your goal to run farther, young sir?”
“That’s not really fair, Captain,” Davitts broke in before Zie could answer. “Do you ask all your sailors why they want to go to sea?”
Captain Unav let out a dark chuckle. “The ones who look like trouble, yes. But never mind. Davitts apparently vouches for you. Show me.”
“You claim you can control wind. Show me, without making a mess of the place, how fine your control of the wind is.”
The nervous tension running through Zie slowly bled out of him and he sagged back in his chair. Essenin wasn’t certain if he was that confident or if he was giving into despair.
Zie pulled off his gloves, flexed his fingers to unsheath and retract his claws, then raised both hands. A soft breeze riffled through Essenin’s braids, rattling his beads. The wind toyed with the carved wood and whalebone before moving on to Davitts to ruffle his finger-length, brown hair. After tugging at his collar, the breeze whipped around the table and nudged Captain Unav’s braid, first over her right shoulder, then over her left.
Her laugh this time was all delighted surprise and she held up a hand. “Enough. You’re very good. We sail morning after next with the early tide. You make your way out to the ship at least two hours before that. I don’t have men to spare to lower a launch and come fetch you. If you’re there, you’re hired.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Zie drew his gloves back on, though not before Essenin had a good glimpse at the scars on the backs of his hands.
“Excellent.” Captain Unav smacked the table with both palms as she rose. “If you boys want to come along, you’d be welcome. I’m always in need of a couple more swords.”
“We’ll consider it, Captain,” Essenin rushed to answer before Davitts could say no.
She took her leave and the three of them sat quietly sipping their tea after she’d gone back upstairs. Zie finally broke the silence.
“Why would a seafaring ship need fighters?”
“Pirates, mostly. Not that every voyage is plagued by pirates, of course.” Essenin considered a moment. “And sometimes things go wrong in a foreign port.”
“Ah.” Zie hissed in a breath, hunching in on himself. “Our river boats had...different issues. But you won’t accept her offer, will you?”
“Eh. It’s not like we have another job lined up right now.” Essenin shrugged, ignoring the glares from Davitts. Mostly ignoring. “We’ll talk about it.”
Davitts muttered something into his teacup that sounded like you’d best believe we will and Essenin blew him a kiss across the table.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.