Thursday, October 27, 2016

Random Paranormal Tales 2016 Part 10

The Flowers of St. Aloysius by Hayden Thorne
A dying young mother’s desperate hope for her child leads her to a fateful meeting in the clearing of an old wood. A meeting whose otherworldly purpose quietly and gradually takes shape as the child matures. A meeting that has left the wood under a dark spell, unable to rise up in fury to undo what it sees as a violation of natural laws.

Two families from old aristocratic lines agree to end the century-long and bloody feud that has left one side fading and the other flourishing. To achieve such an end, Laurent Veilleux, the youngest of his family, and Brys Lajoie, the last of his bloodline, are forced to marry though still strangers to each other. Marriages of convenience and political marriages are common among the upper-crust, and despite their initial reluctance and disdain, Laurent and Brys slowly allow themselves to open their hearts and minds to each other in hopes that somehow, by some miracle, love would eventually bloom between them.

But their union has awakened something, a fragrant and deadly shadow that leaves a trail of bodies in its wake. Healthy people suddenly fall ill and die after suffering long, excruciating declines marked by symptoms of poison. Plants and flowers wilt, butterflies and birds tumble to the ground dead, and it appears as though this murderous shadow follows the young couple everywhere.

To make matters worse, this threat seems to gather more strength when Laurent and Brys develop the emotional connection they’ve always hoped for. And somewhere in the French countryside, the woodlands finally emerge from the dark spell, unleash their fury, and seek justice for a past wrong, the trees’ reach spanning distances in search of the unsuspecting pair.

Inspired by the poison maiden legend from India, which Nathaniel Hawthorne also adapted in “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, 'The Flowers of St. Aloysius' is a gothic gay fairy tale set in an alternate universe nineteenth century France.

This interesting blend of fantasy and history makes for a very intriguing, terrifying at times, alternate universe.  I always enjoy AU historicals, they give the author such unique leeway with facts, letting them put their own brand of storytelling into the tale.  The Flowers of St. Aloysius is my first Hayden Thorne book, but it most certainly won't be my last.  I will say that if you have a deathly fear or phobia of nature then this is one you should probably approach with caution but otherwise, I highly recommend Flowers especially with October and Halloween just around the corner.  Brys and Laurent's story is what I imagine a book would be if Nathanial Hawthorne and the Grimm Brothers had collaborated, all kinds of gothic romance, magic, and mystery with a good old fashioned helping of creepy.  This is a definite must read and I can't wait to check out the author's other work and if they happen to only be half as good as Flowers I'll be a happy reader but something tells me they'll be way more than half as good.

Lars by Aleksandr Voinov
Some problems you can’t solve with magick—and some you can.

After a homophobic pagan group rejected him, Lars Kendall is a solitary heathen on the Northern Path, loyal to the gods of the Norse pantheon. But being on his own sucks. So when he finally meets a mixed group of other queer witches and magick-users, it’s like finding family. If family involved exploring past lives and casting spells.

Rhys Turner quit a stressful job in the City after his high-strung boyfriend of six years walked out. He sold the expensive flat in central London and bought a run-down house out in the suburbs. Never mind that it needs walls knocked down, its garden landscaped, and what the hell is up with that carpet?

With his health failing, Rhys is desperate for a clean slate and a new start. He isn’t ready to fall in love with anybody, least of all the hunky builder who looks like he’s stepped out of a TV show about Vikings—tattoos, long hair, and all. But as strong and loyal as Lars is, he also has a very soft heart, which might be the hardest thing for Rhys to resist.

Royal Line by Sean Michael
Where’s the common ground between a tiger shifter foot soldier and his prince?

Grio has one job—find dormant tiger shifters and introduce them to the world of Saffron Tigers. When he finds Professor Phoenix Lamoure, he discovers that Headquarters got a couple of key points wrong. Phoenix isn’t actually a professor but Saffron Tiger royalty…a member of the lost royal line.

Phoenix didn’t have things easy growing up. His mother spent most of her life in a mental institution, and he spent his formative years in foster care. When a stranger approaches to learn about his family history, he’s wary. When said stranger actually kidnaps him, all bets are off!

Can he ever believe what Grio says? Or will he be forever convinced that he’s as crazy as his mother was?

Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton
A Love for the Holidays charity novel

Jason Walker is a child star turned teen heartthrob turned reluctant B-movie regular who’s sick of his failing career. So he gives up Hollywood for northern Idaho, far away from the press, the drama of LA, and the best friend he’s secretly been in love with for years.

There’s only one problem with his new life: a strange young man only he can see is haunting his guesthouse. Except Benjamin Ward isn’t a ghost. He’s a man caught out of time, trapped since the Civil War in a magical prison where he can only watch the lives of those around him. He’s also sweet, funny, and cute as hell, with an affinity for cheesy ’80s TV shows. And he’s thrilled to finally have someone to talk to.

But Jason quickly discovers that spending all his time with a man nobody else can see or hear isn’t without its problems—especially when the tabloids find him again and make him front-page news. The local sheriff thinks he’s on drugs, and his best friend thinks he’s crazy. But Jason knows he hasn’t lost his mind. Too bad he can’t say the same thing about his heart.

* * * * * * *

Twenty percent of the proceeds from this title will be donated to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) National Help Center. 

Founded in 1996, the GLBT National Help Center is a non-profit organization that provides vital peer-support, community connections and resource information to people with questions regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Utilizing a diverse group of GLBT volunteers, they operate two national hotlines, the GLBT National Hotline and the GLBT National Youth Talkline, as well as private, volunteer one-to-one online chat, that help both youth and adults with coming-out issues, safer-sex information, school bullying, family concerns, relationship problems and a lot more. 

To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit their website.

Such a unique idea.  I've read stories where a building is haunted or a spirit is attached to an object and exists in the home it comes into but to live in the snowglobe and can only be so far from it was intriguing.  Jason and Ben quickly burrowed it's way into my heart and it'll definitely be in my re-reading pile.  Winter Oranges may be a Christmas story but it fits perfectly onto my paranormal shelf too.


The Tutor by Bonnie Dee
Gothic romance with a twist.

Elements of The Sound of Music, The Enchanted Garden, Jane Eyre, and “true” ghost hunting shows make this story feel familiar. Gay love makes it unique.

Seeing an ad for a position at a Yorkshire estate, typesetter Graham Cowrie decides to make an upward career move by passing himself off as a tutor. How hard can it be to teach a few subjects to a pair of nine-year-old boys? But on his arrival at the ancient house, he finds the staff creepy, the twins odd, and the widowed master temporarily absent.

His first meeting with brooding, stern, but oh-so-attractive, Sir Richard doesn’t go well, but with no other prospects vying for the teaching position, Graham manages to keep it. His mission soon becomes clear, break down the walls of reserve both father and sons have erected and attempt to bridge the gap between them.

But strange sounds, sights and experiences keep Graham on edge until he finally admits the Hall is haunted by two entities with very different agendas. Graham works to appease one and combat the other while protecting the broken family he’s grown to care for.

This is a perfect blend of paranormal, historical, and romance.  Watching Graham Cowrie become the man he invented to better his life is heartwarming as his growing relationship with the twin boys he's hired to tutor.  His attraction to the boys' distant father is immediate even with the unanswered questions Graham has piling up in his mind.  The chilling addition of the menacing ghost and the equally loving spirit of the boys' mother is a perfect addition to this tale of second chances.  If you're like me and love to read some stories "seasonally",with Halloween upon us this is definitely one to keep on your radar but it's an intriguing and eerie read any day of the year.


Random Paranormal Tales 2016 Parts

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
Part 5  /  Part 6  /  Part 7  /  Part 8
Part 9

The Flowers of St. Aloysius
The Veilleux-Lajoie union was specifically designed to be a quiet yet dignified affair befitting two old families with aristocratic blood in their veins. The church was no grand cathedral meant to inspire awe and perhaps even terror in the hearts of the congregation. No—a small church in a small town north of Florismart had been chosen, but the presiding holy dignitaries elevated the proceedings from a modest wedding to one truly witnessed and approved by the Church of Rome.

No less than three bishops were in attendance, and as he solemnly walked to the altar, his hand resting atop Laurent’s raised palm, Brys’s earlier confidence wavered terribly. He couldn’t keep his gaze ahead, succumbing to the temptation of letting it dart left and right to take in the immensity of the moment. The bishops standing in silent and somber watchfulness intimidated him with their grand ecclesiastical robes, and their elaborate mitres made him shrink inwardly while also wondering how in heaven’s name both families had managed to pull such important, magnificent strings where the church was involved. He could only guess old connections between the families and Rome were responsible for this remarkable display.

In attendance were families—unfortunately almost all coming from the Veilleux side, the Lajoies represented by none else but Brys’s parents. They, along with Mme Veilleux, sat in front, everyone else filling up space behind them.

As he and Laurent finally reached the apse, Brys dared a glance in his parents’ direction and noted the coldness on their features—a vastly different look from Mme Veilleux, who watched him and Laurent with a faint, indulgent smile on her face. But that meant little, really, and shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The Lajoies were a doomed clan. This union meant everything to them as a dying bloodline. Whether or not Brys and Laurent decided to sire offspring down the line, there was still that uncertainty shadowing Brys’s steps, and the tension evident in his parents was testament to the desperation propelling this shocking move to unite the families.

When he met his parents’ gaze, in fact, Brys saw no affection or reassurance in either of them. Just a stony, unreadable light in their eyes, their pale faces fixed in an expression devoid of life. He had to suck in a deep, rattling breath to comfort himself instead.

When he felt his hand lightly squeezed, he turned his attention back to the altar and the priest who stood solemnly before them.

“Are you all right?” Laurent whispered, his words barely heard even in the tomb-like silence of the church.

“I am, thank you. Just nervous.”

“As am I. But we’ll pull through this.”

Laurent gently squeezed his hand again, and Brys’s earlier anxiety eased. At a cue from the priest, the two knelt rather stiffly, and if Brys weren’t still on edge, he’d have laughed at the ridiculousness of the moment, particularly the formal attire he and Laurent were obliged to wear for the occasion. Not having worn the ensemble before, Brys felt his movements hampered by the stiff fabric and the elaborate embroidery and embellishments up and down his person. It certainly didn’t help that the outfits he and Laurent wore were ornamental silk and lace costumes from a century prior—perhaps a symbolic reminder of the beginning of the two families’ deadly enmity. Shirt, cravat, waistcoat, jacket, breeches, stockings, and even buckled shoes—both young men were also, much to Brys’s dismay, forced to top things off with simple bag wigs, but at least the hair color matched their own. It was all too much, really, and Brys didn’t care a jot for it, but this wedding was proving to be a great deal more significant then he’d expected. The only thing that lightened his mood was the look of horror on Laurent’s face as he glanced at himself and then at Brys just before they traversed the nave, their hands together.

He even thought he’d heard his soon-to-be-husband mutter, “I’ll never live this one down” before the doors swung open to welcome them into the church.

The ceremony itself was quite simple despite the superficial pomp, and again, perhaps it was intentional, shedding all the unnecessary layers where it counted the most: the joining of two lives forever. The only extra touches involved the visiting bishops taking turns blessing the union with prayers and exhortations, etc. Before he knew it, Brys was pronounced Laurent’s husband and vice versa then encouraged to stand and turn around to face their families and friends as spouses.

Deferential but cheerful applause followed their presentation, and Brys took advantage of this moment to glance at his parents.

Both appeared to be pleased with the proceedings, but they still had an air of gravity about them. At the very least, they offered Brys brief little smiles before their expressions settled back to icy calm. And Brys wondered if their behavior stemmed from the fact that this move toward a reconciliation—clearly a necessity in their eyes—had also been a severe blow to their pride. Brys could never really gauge their true feelings on the matter as they’d always been guarded about their thoughts and their hearts. Yes, there might be some relief in there somewhere, knowing their one and only child and the last of the bloodline had been easily welcomed by a stronger, more fruitful family who also happened to be their antagonists for a century. There was a hint of defeat somewhere in there as well, the realization that their family couldn’t be sustained anymore, the risk of Brys succumbing to an illness only grounding home the need for a reconciliation and a clear conscience before it was too late.

So many reasons and justifications could have made up the present moment, but Brys had never been—and perhaps never would be—privy to his parents’ closely guarded thoughts and feelings on the matter. He only hoped he’d do them justice in the end, that he’d fulfill his purpose or role in a manner that would make them proud and pleased with the sacrifice of their son in this semi-political game.

“Let’s go,” Laurent whispered, leaning close. “I’m dying to change my clothes. This is madness.”

Brys blinked and turned to him, startled at first, but the grumpy scowl on his husband’s face finally broke the ice, and he laughed softly. “Yes, let’s go. I don’t understand all this, myself. And these ugly shoes are absurdly stiff. I’m sure my feet are black and blue by now.”

Laurent’s scowl melted then, and their gazes met while applause continued around them. “Welcome to my life, Brys Veilleux-Lajoie.”

Brys at first wasn’t sure if Laurent was teasing him, but the somber, earnest light in his husband’s eyes told him otherwise. He didn’t quite know what to say to that other than a stammered, “Welcome to mine, Laurent.”

And then they were walking back down the aisle toward the doors.

A carriage awaited them, and they clambered inside, settling down in the stiff, uncomfortable seats with groans of pain and fatigue.

“God, I can’t wait to walk around in normal shoes again,” Laurent blurted out, now that they were on their way to the wedding banquet. He immediately bent down and struggled with his shoes, eventually pulling them off and sighing loudly when his stockinged feet were finally free of their awful prison. He glanced at Brys, who sat across from him. “Aren’t you going to take your shoes off?”

Brys didn’t answer right away. If anything, he found that he couldn’t. The realization of his being now really, truly married had finally sunk in, and he was at a loss. From a life spent in isolation, deprived of friends his age, to being married to a stranger—and this marriage carrying far greater baggage than any other marriage ever could—Brys suddenly felt not only confused as to what was now expected of him, but also unnerved by his shifting role.

How did betrothed couples go about getting comfortable enough with each other? What were the chances of love—real, deep love—growing from a connection that had been forced on them? Would he and Laurent end up resenting each other instead for the rest of their lives? Brys had heard of mistresses and lovers on the side, apparently considered a necessary evil to those in the same situation he and Laurent now found themselves in. If a loveless marriage was all he had to look forward to from this day forward, would Brys eventually succumb to the temptation of finding a devoted lover on the side as well? Laurent was obviously a great deal more knowledgeable and worldly, having traveled and experienced growing up in a big family and also expensive boarding schools. Would he be more likely to tire of Brys and enjoy a string of bed partners to satisfy his needs and make his marriage more endurable?

“It’s been my experience,” Laurent continued, breaking up Brys’s dour thoughts, “that overthinking things can only make the situation worse.”

Brys sighed and looked up, suddenly feeling exhausted by everything. “We don’t love each other,” he simply replied. “How does something like this work?”

Laurent regarded him in thoughtful silence for a moment. “One day at a time, I suppose.”

Brys didn’t know if he’d struck a nerve because Laurent didn’t speak again for the duration of the trip, and Brys’s spirits wilted at the thought. He fought against a well of emotions and pulled himself together, turning his attention to the gorgeous day and the idyllic countryside. Perhaps he was overthinking things, as Laurent noted. But he couldn’t find it in himself to feel awful about it, seeing as how he felt awful enough like this.

A butterfly suddenly appeared, having flown inside one window, only to find itself trapped inside a moving vehicle. It fluttered past Brys’s face at first before frantically flying around for an escape, and it was really impossible to somehow show where it needed to go when the wind rushing through the open carriage windows kept the poor little creature from getting over its frantic confusion.

Seeing a butterfly so close like this was a first. Back in Cheney, the Lajoie garden didn’t seem to invite birds or even butterflies and all other manner of small wildlife of one species or another. Brys had never even seen earthworms or caterpillars. Such animals were always spotted outside, well beyond the thick stone walls surrounding his home, and whatever knowledge he’d had regarding these creatures came strictly from his books. In fact, the more Brys thought about it, the more he realized the flowers he’d been so used to seeing around him weren’t the usual varieties so plentiful in Laurent’s mother’s garden. Perhaps, he told himself with a mental shrug, the plants his parents grew were strictly only from that region. It certainly made a great deal of sense when regarded as such.

Brys sighed, taking pity on the trapped butterfly, and lifted both hands to try to somehow nudge it in the direction of a window. Wind and movement brought the butterfly close to his face, forcing Brys to blow gently at it before it touched his mouth, and it fluttered around for a bit before attempting another escape. In another moment, however, the creature seemed to have lost coordination, and it clumsily fluttered in a downward spiral to settle on the cushion, just an inch or two from Brys.

There it lay for another moment, its beating wings turning erratic and sluggish, until the butterfly went still, its little body jarred by the carriage’s movements and thrown about by the rushing winds.

Royal Line by Sean Michael
Grio sat in his SUV, splitting his attention between the students walking across the quad and the file in his hand.

Professor Phoenix Lamoure. Actually, the guy was a TA, not a professor.

He was going to have to ride Danny next time he spoke to the man. It wasn’t often that the office sent out incorrect information, and he made the most of it when they did. Of course he’d rib Danny privately. No need to get him in trouble with the boss. Nigel didn’t have much of a sense of humor.

Phoenix Lamoure was a tiger shifter like himself, even if the man didn’t know it yet. A lot of shifters remained dormant and died never knowing what they really were.

The Saffron Tigers, though, they were nearly extinct, so they didn’t have the luxury of letting their kind discover themselves, or not. Headquarters searched out potential weres and Grio—or Janey or Tuplo—were sent to flush them out.

Grio looked at the file again, examining the black-and-white image closely to make sure he’d recognize Phoenix when he saw the man.

There were only one hundred and nineteen Saffron Tigers left and they needed numbers, needed safety. Needed each other.

Phoenix wasn’t your typical Saffron Tiger. Instead of bulk and broadness, he was slender, the little wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose adding an air of fragility or delicateness that Grio imagined was quite false. Knowing it or not, if Phoenix had tiger blood in him, he would be fierce when he had to be.

A small group of students walked by, a shock of unmistakable bright red hair hitting his eyes. Jesus. This one wasn’t just a Saffron. He was descended from the royal line.

How had he missed that? He checked the file again. Grainy black-and-white photo from some old high school yearbook. No wonder. Not only that, the file made no mention that this one was a royal.

Slipping out of the SUV, Grio closed the door silently, then quietly stalked his prey.

The two girls in the group of six headed off toward the parking lot, and he heard, “Nixie? You want to grab a pizza and a beer?”

“I don’t know. I have papers to grade…”

Grio considered his options. He could follow Phoenix to somewhere quiet, or he could “bump into” the man now.

“Come on, man. All you do is work,” wheedled the young man.

Phoenix gave a snort. “If you were Dr. Lee’s TA, you’d work, too.”

Dr. Lee. That was more information than Grio’d had a moment ago. He decided to wing it.

“Excuse me, did you say you were Dr. Lee’s TA?”

“I did, yeah.” Eyes that were pure gold met his, warm behind the wire-rimmed glasses. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I had a few questions for you. Is there somewhere we could go and talk?” Grio gave Phoenix his best and most earnest smile.

Winter Oranges by Marie Sexton
Chapter One
It was easy to believe the house was haunted. After acting for most of his life, Jason Walker’s first thought upon seeing the home he’d purchased virtually sight unseen was that it would have been a perfect place to film an Amityville remake.

A little far from Amity, but hey, Hollywood had never been a stickler for rules.

Or honesty.

Jason put his car in park and killed the engine. Gravel crunched as his friend Dylan’s rental car rolled to a stop next to him. They climbed out of their vehicles and stood side by side, leaning against Jason’s front bumper, staring up at his new abode.

Dylan whistled, long and low, then shook his head. “This place is creepy as hell.”

“It’s just the light.” Even a washed-up actor like Jason knew lighting could make or break a scene. The pictures he’d seen online of the house had been taken in full sunlight in October, with the majestic glory of autumn on all sides, the gold- and scarlet-leaved trees nearer the house backed by the evergreens of the surrounding forest. But now, only a week into November, the eerie orange glow of twilight fell on bare branches, and the pines seemed droopy and forlorn. None of it was doing this house any favors.

Still, Dylan had a point. The house was creepy. Something about the lone, low window over the second floor’s covered patio. Something about the house’s quiet isolation, and the thin white curtains hanging uniformly in every window. Or maybe it was the detached garage with its guesthouse on top, sitting like a forgotten toy off to the left.

“How old is it?” Dylan asked.

“It was built in the ’90s.”

“The 1890s?” Dylan was incredulous. The idea of spending money on anything so old was obviously beyond his comprehension.

“No. The 1990s.”

“It looks older.”

“It’s supposed to.” His real estate agent, Sydney Bell, had called the house an American foursquare revival. Jason didn’t know what that meant and didn’t care. The price was right, the house was fully furnished, and its relative seclusion in the mountainous region of Idaho’s panhandle would make it harder for tabloid photographers to find him.

“They intentionally made it look old?” Dylan asked, as if it was the most absurd thing he’d heard all day.

“They copied an older style of architecture.”

“Huh.” Dylan scratched his chin and threw Jason a smart-assed grin. “Retro. Like you.”

Jason laughed, because that’s what Dylan expected. “Fuck you.” He pushed off the bumper of his car, rattling his keys in his hand. “Let’s see what it’s like inside.”

The second story extended out over the first like an overbite, creating a covered front porch that ran the length of the house. “A veranda,” Sydney had called it. The front door opened into a hallway, although Jason suspected Sydney would have said it was a foyer. Or maybe a vestibule. To the right lay a large living room, furnished in what could only be called cozy-grandma style, with lots of flowers and overstuffed cushions. A stack of moving boxes stood in the center of the floor, having been left there the previous day by the moving company, working under Sydney’s direction. To the left of the foyer sat the dining room, through which they could see the kitchen. Jason knew a mudroom and pantry made up the back half of the area. Directly ahead of where they stood by the front door, a bathroom and the staircase leading up completed the ground floor.

No ghosts, though. Not so far, at least.

“Who the hell picked out that couch?” Dylan asked.

“The previous owner, I guess.” In truth, Jason hadn’t cared much what the furniture looked like. Sydney had promised him it was all in decent condition. Jason was just happy he didn’t have to go wandering around town searching for a damn table to eat at, or a chair to sit in while he watched TV. He’d had Sydney stock the kitchen with a few essentials too, assuring he wouldn’t have to go grocery shopping for a few days at least. The last thing he needed was for somebody in Coeur d’Alene to discover the child star turned B-list actor known to the public as Jadon Walker Buttermore had moved in to their small community. The longer he remained anonymous, the better.

Dylan scowled at the couch as if it had personally offended him. Knowing Dylan and his neo-minimalist style, it probably had. “It’s like something my grandma would have bought.”

Jason laughed. “What? You have something against giant pink roses?”

“On a couch? Yeah, I do. And so should you.”

Jason sat down on the sofa and leaned back. He searched with his left hand and found the lever to extend the footrest. He reclined the backrest and smiled up at Dylan. “It’s not bad, actually.”

“You should have let me furnish it for you.”

“Yeah, right.” Jason sat upright again, shoving the footrest closed with his heels. “I’d have ended up with one designer chair that cost more than my car. And it wouldn’t even have been comfortable.”

Dylan’s laugh was sudden and loud in the confines of the quiet house. “Boy, you don’t think much of me, do you?”

That wasn’t true. That wasn’t true at all, and he suspected Dylan knew it, but Dylan always did this to him, asking questions that seemed to dare Jason to blurt out how he really felt. Jason chose to ignore most of them, this one included. “Come on. Let’s check out the rest.”

Although the house was more than twenty years old, the kitchen had been updated and included all new chrome appliances and a trash compactor that Sydney swore was top-of-the-line and quiet as a whisper. Jason didn’t bother to test the claim.

The second floor held a tiny bathroom and four bedrooms, one in each corner, which Jason supposed was what gave the foursquare its name. A stairway led to a long, slope-ceilinged attic bedroom. At the far end, the single narrow window Jason had noticed upon arrival allowed a bit of light to creep inside. It was a sad, empty room, and they didn’t linger.

“Whoever lived here sure did love flowers,” Dylan said as they scoped out the first couple of bedrooms on the second floor. “Wallpaper, bedspreads, pictures. Even the rug in the bathroom has roses on it. And they’re all pink.”

“It could be worse.”


“Uh . . .” Jason stopped, considering. “I’m not sure, to be honest.”

They ended their tour, by some unspoken agreement, in the master bedroom. It was the one room Jason’d had refurnished before his arrival. He’d chosen the furniture himself—online, of course—and Sydney had made sure everything would be ready when he arrived. His new room held a large oak dresser, a chest of drawers, and a love seat, which he knew would end up a depository for not-quite-dirty laundry. A king-sized bed covered with a thick down comforter sat against the wall, between two nightstands.

Dylan pointed to the glass-paned door in the corner of the room. “This goes to that patio we could see from the front yard?”

“It does.”

The two front bedrooms shared a covered porch that sat dead center of the front of the house, directly below the attic window. It was a strange setup, a throwback to when husbands and wives had separate quarters. The porch would have allowed them to cross to each other’s room without alerting the children, except this house had been built at the end of the twentieth century, making the floor plan an anachronism.

Dylan opened the door, and Jason followed him outside. They still wore their jackets, but now the sun had set and the November evening felt cooler than before.

“There’s a room over the garage too?” Dylan asked.

“Yep, bed and bath.” They stood surveying the building in question from their vantage point on the porch. It was eerily silent.

“Well, is it everything you dreamed?”

Yes. Standing there with Dylan, out of sight of everybody else in the world was exactly what he dreamed about, nearly every night.

Not that he’d ever admit it out loud.

Instead, Jason nodded, then asked, as casually as he could, “You’re staying the night, right?”

Dylan grinned and stepped closer to slide his arm around Jason’s waist. “I didn’t come all this way to see your house.”

Jason’s relief felt almost tangible, so sudden and strong he wondered if Dylan sensed it. He hoped not. He hoped the darkness hid his pathetic happiness at knowing Dylan was staying. They’d been friends for more than ten years. They’d shared a bed more times than Jason could count. Dylan may have suspected Jason’s true feelings, but Jason did his best to never confirm them, especially since Dylan avoided genuine emotions and commitment the way Jason avoided anybody with a press badge hanging around their neck.

Still, Jason rejoiced as Dylan pulled him close. He sank gratefully into the warmth of Dylan’s kiss, comfortable in his friend’s arms. He grew breathless as Dylan began fighting with the buttons of Jason’s jeans.

“Let’s do it here,” Dylan whispered.

Jason glanced around in alarm, searching for the telltale wink of light reflecting off a camera lens. “Somebody will see.”

“There’s nobody around. That’s why we’re in the wilds of Idaho, remember?”

Jason’s protests dwindled as Dylan sank to his knees, pulling Jason’s pants halfway down his hips as he did. He traced his tongue up Jason’s erection. “God, Jase. It’s been too long.”

“I know.” Way too long since he’d had Dylan to himself. Too many lonely nights since he’d felt Dylan’s touch. He’d been in love with his friend for longer than he cared to admit, but this was the first time in months they’d been alone together. Still, he was hesitant to do anything out in the open. “Dylan, wait. I—” His words died as Dylan wrapped his lips around Jason’s glans. “Oh God.”

Dylan sucked him in deep, stalling for moment with his nose pressed against Jason’s pubic bone. Then, finally, he began to move, sliding his warm mouth up and down Jason’s length. Jason gripped the cold porch railing with one hand, tangled the fingers of the other into Dylan’s heavily moussed hair, and tried to lose himself to the pleasure of being sucked by the man he loved. He breathed deep, willing the tension away. Doing his best to banish the pressure of trying to make it in Hollywood and failing, of never living up to what was expected. He tried to forget it all. To simply revel in the pure joy of being with Dylan here and now, knowing they had one full night together, just the two of them. No other struggling actors or desperate starlets. No two-bit directors or double-crossing producers. And above all, no media waiting to catch them with their pants down.


But as good as it was being with Dylan, the real world always intruded. His house was set back half an acre from the road, but anybody who came up the drive would be able to see them. The No Trespassing signs wouldn’t mean a thing to a photographer hoping for a scoop.

Jason moaned—part pleasure, part disappointment that even now he couldn’t relax—and opened his eyes. He kept his hand on Dylan’s head as he surveyed the tree line, his chest tight with anxiety at what he might find.

But the grounds around the house—his house, he had to remind himself—were dark and still and silent. Nobody lingered there.

Yes, this could really happen. Jason almost laughed at the realization. He imagined being fucked by Dylan right there on the porch. The thought thrilled him, and his throaty moan made Dylan speed up, his ministrations gaining a new urgency as he sucked Jason’s cock. In the low light on the porch, Jason could barely make out the movement of Dylan’s hand between his legs as he stroked himself.

Did they have any lube handy? Or condoms?

Fuck it. Just this for now. I’ll let him suck me here, where only the moon can see. We’ll have time for the rest later.

He surveyed the yard again, his eyes half-closed, his breath quick and labored as his orgasm neared. He peered past their parked cars. Found the garage. Followed its lines up toward the second-story guesthouse and its single window—

“Holy shit!” Jason jumped back, away from the porch railing, away from Dylan, trying to clumsily pull his pants up and hide himself against the wall.

“What the hell, Jase?” Dylan’s voice was low and hoarse.

“There was somebody—” But there wasn’t. Jason swore he’d seen a face in the window of the apartment over the garage, but now it stood empty except for the unmoving curtains. Jason swallowed hard, willing his heart to stop pounding. He pointed with a shaking hand toward the garage. “I thought I saw somebody in the guesthouse.”

“I’ve never met anybody as paranoid as you.” Dylan pushed himself up from his knees, his pants still hanging open, his erect cock sticking into the night air like some kind of ridiculous talisman. “Not that it isn’t justified, but . . .” He gestured to the empty lawn. “There’s nobody there.”

“I thought I saw—”

“What? A photographer?”

Jason shook his head, holding his pants closed around his waning erection, trying to sort through his thoughts. Had he imagined it? “It was a man.”

“Did he have a camera?”

The question took him aback. “No,” he said, almost surprised at his own answer. He’d seen only a face. Not even a full face, to be honest. Only the pale suggestion of eyes and a chin, and lips held in a comical O of surprise.

But now, the window was empty. The curtains weren’t even swaying. The room over the garage was pitch dark.

“Do you want me to go check?” Dylan asked with the accommodating condescension of a father offering to check for monsters under his teenage daughter’s bed.

“No.” Jason took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, feigning a bravado he didn’t feel. “You’re right. There’s nobody there. I must have been seeing things.”

Dylan grinned and moved closer, wrapping his arms around him. “You need to relax, JayWalk.”

It was the press’s nickname for Jason. He hated it, although it didn’t sound quite so ridiculous when Dylan said it. “I’m trying.”

“You want a drink?”

“That won’t help.”

“Some weed?” He kissed Jason’s neck, pushing his erection insistently against him. “Poppers? A Valium? I have some in my bag. Tell me what you need, baby, and I’ll get it. You know that. Anything for you.”


As long as it was only for tonight.

Anything he needed, but only until morning.

“Let’s go inside,” Jason said. “I have a brand-new bed in there, you know.”

Dylan’s laugh was throaty and gratifying. “Then let’s go break it in.”

Jason followed him inside, glancing once toward the guesthouse over the garage.

Nobody there.


Jason woke to birds chirping happily outside the window. Sunlight was streaming through the thin white curtains, making the entire room feel like a midmorning dream. Dylan slept next to him, his bare back rising and falling with his soft snores. For a while, Jason simply watched him, remembering the night before. Reliving how good it felt to fall asleep next to the man he loved.

If only it could be like this every day.

But no. Dylan would go back to California, and Jason would be left alone in a house that was way too big for him.

He was looking forward to it. Not to Dylan leaving, of course. That’d break his heart, like it always did. But after that, there’d be only him, the house, and the bliss of seclusion. People often said privacy was the last luxury. Jason knew it was true. After a lifetime in the limelight—or chasing the limelight, at any rate—he’d learned that privacy was a commodity more precious than gold, as unattainable as stardom and fame, rarer than real breasts in porn. Privacy was the great white whale, and Jason was determined to harpoon that beast and make it his.

Buying the house had been the first step.

He climbed out of bed and considered what to wear. Of course, the closet and all the drawers were empty. They’d never gotten around to bringing his suitcases in from the car. Some of the boxes in the living room held clothes, but he’d didn’t relish the idea of digging through them naked. He put on the jeans he’d worn the day before and went barefoot down the stairs in search of coffee. He waited until it was brewing to check his cell phone. No messages from Natalie Reuben, his agent. That meant no pictures had surfaced of him and Dylan on the porch.

Not yet, at least.

He took his coffee out onto the veranda. Movement flashed in his peripheral vision, but when he turned, he caught only the unmistakable white tale of a deer bounding into the trees.

“Hey, you can stay,” he called after it. “As long as you don’t have a camera.”

The deer kept running, clearly unimpressed by Jason’s concession.

Jason rested his hip against the railing and searched in vain for more wildlife. Sydney had mentioned deer, caribou, bighorn sheep, and lemmings, although Jason wouldn’t know a lemming if it popped up and said hello. She’d also mentioned foxes, wolves, wolverines, and grizzlies, although she’d assured him those were more elusive. Jason had jokingly told her he’d rather face a grizzly than a photographer. Now, staring out into the woods that surrounded him, he wasn’t so sure.

His eyes fell at last on the garage. It’d been built in the style of an old barn, with a tall, rounded roof. The big doors meant for cars were on the far side of the building. On the near side, there was only a single, person-sized doorway, with a cobblestone path leading to the mudroom off the kitchen. Jason eyed the window on the second floor. Had he really seen somebody in it?

He left his coffee cup on the porch and descended the front steps, angling off the path toward the garage, the frosty grass crunching under his bare feet. It was colder than he expected, each step worse than the one before, and he ended up doing an ungraceful skip-hop-hop across the frozen ground, trying to walk without letting his feet touch the ground any longer than necessary. He imagined he looked like those idiots who walked across coals, so he stopped when he reached the cobblestones and glanced around, hoping no photographers had shown up to capture it on film. No matter how innocuous the activity, the tabloids always managed to put a tantalizing spin on things. He imagined the headlines.

Jadon Walker Buttermore on Drugs! Thinks the Ground Is Hot Lava!

JayWalk in the Throes of Drug-Induced Hallucination!

JayWalking His Way to the Loony Bin!

Not as sensational as a sex tape, but still enough to sell a few copies.

His paranoia proved unwarranted. He saw no sign of trespassers. Then again, he hadn’t seen the photographer who’d taken the pictures of him and Dylan eight months earlier, either. He hadn’t known until Natalie called him the next morning that he’d made StarWatch’s cover once again. In some ways, it had been a relief. He’d been debating the best way to come out for ages. But being outed in such a sensational way hadn’t been part of the plan.

He glanced toward his bedroom, and the second-floor porch, where he and Dylan had made out the night before. He shuddered, thinking how careless he’d been. Some people said there was no such thing as bad press, but those people had clearly never been caught in a tabloid’s crosshairs.

“Can’t let that happen again,” he mumbled as he turned toward the garage.

The door was nothing special. A four-paned window up top, solid wood below. He tried the knob, but found it locked. Nothing of interest when he peered inside, either. Empty spaces where cars belonged and empty shelves along the walls. He knew from viewing the floor plans that the staircase to the guesthouse lay directly to his right, along the same interior wall that held the door, but he couldn’t see it.

He tried the knob a second time, for no good reason whatsoever. Still locked. Not that he’d expected that to change.

If a photographer had found their way inside, would they have thought to lock the door behind them? Would they still be up there, or had they snuck out during the night?

Jason crouched and inspected the cobblestones at his feet, searching for footprints, or—

Well, to be honest, he didn’t know what exactly. Maybe a note written in chalk, “The paparazzi was here”?

He found nothing but dirt and damp cobblestones.

He crossed back over to the house, confident that he looked less ridiculous than he had the first time. He went quietly up the stairs, wondering if Dylan was still asleep. He imagined crawling under his new down comforter, snuggling into the familiar warmth of Dylan’s arms, maybe making love one more time before saying good-bye. It disappointed him to find Dylan already up and half-dressed.

“Hey, there you are,” Dylan said as he buttoned his shirt. His jeans were on too, although his feet were still bare.

Jason settled on the bed and crossed his legs. “Are you leaving already?”

“I have a flight to catch.”

“I see.” Jason had driven his car full of belongings to Idaho and checked into a motel in nearby Coeur d’Alene a few days before the closing. He’d been thrilled when Dylan had called at the last minute and told him he’d booked a flight to Spokane and would be there in time to help Jason with the move. And now here they were: Jason’s bags still sitting in his car in the driveway, and Dylan already with one foot out the door.

Jason fiddled with the ragged hem of his jeans, debating. He wanted to ask what was so urgent that Dylan had to rush out before breakfast. He wanted to suggest that Dylan stay, if not another night, at least a few more hours. But he couldn’t figure out how to say any of it without sounding desperate.

“I have an appointment for new head shots at four,” Dylan went on. “And then later tonight . . .” He grinned mischievously. “I have a hot date.”

Jason’s heart sank. “Oh?”

“Remember Tryss?”

“Victim Number Five, from Summer Camp Nightmare 3?”

“That’s the one. Poor girl has daddy issues from here to the moon, a failed acting career, and a boob job she’s still paying off. It’s like the desperation trifecta.” He winked. “Even you couldn’t turn that down.”

“I have turned that down.”

Dylan laughed and perched on the edge of the love seat to pull on his shoes. When he glanced up again, Jason was surprised to find his expression somber. “It was good seeing you, Jase.”

Jason did his best to keep his tone casual when he answered. “You too."

“I had a great time last night.”

“So did I.” But those words didn't sound casual at all. Jason knew his heartache had crept into his voice, but Dylan showed no sign of having heard it as he crossed the room and put a hand on either side of Jason’s face, leaning close to peer into his eyes.

“You know I love you, right?”

Jason’s heart leapt. He swallowed hard. “You do?”

“Of course. You’re like a brother to me. You know that.”

Jason was pretty sure most brothers didn’t do what they’d done the night before, but he didn’t argue. He only hoped Dylan couldn’t see how much those words hurt him. “I love you too.” He was proud that he managed to keep his voice steady.

And casual.

“You’ll call me if you need anything, right?” Dylan asked.

Jason nodded. “Right,” he lied.

“Good.” Dylan kissed him—not like a brother, certainly, but not quite like a lover either.

Like a friend.

“Take care, JayWalk.”

“You too.”

And then Dylan walked down the stairs. Out the front door. Jason refused to watch. He only listened as Dylan’s car crunched over the gravel drive toward the main road.

And then there was only Jason, and the solitude he’d longed for so desperately.

Funny how solitude and loneliness felt so much alike.

Chapter Two
It wasn’t an auspicious beginning to the day. For a while, he simply lay in bed, listening to the birds, imagining how it would feel to have Dylan with him all the time. But his melancholy didn’t linger. For better or worse, he was used to saying good-bye to the man he loved, not knowing when he’d see him again.

Besides, the sun was shining, and the mystery of his new home beckoned. Jason had looked forward to this day for months now, longing for the moment when the world would disappear and he could begin his new life. Not Jadon Walker Buttermore, child star of a long-defunct family sitcom. Not JayWalk, teenage heartthrob of yesteryear, now pushing thirty, all grown up with nowhere to go.

No. Now he was just Jason Walker, regular guy.

He finished unloading his car, showered, then made himself breakfast—a bagel with lox and cream cheese, which he took to the veranda to eat—before facing the task of unpacking. The stack of boxes in the living room seemed daunting at first, but he hadn’t actually brought much. What wasn’t clothing was electronics: television, stereo, Xbox, and the accoutrements that went with them. Everything else, including all the mementos of his years in Hollywood, he left in boxes that he stacked in the narrow attic with its creepy lone window. Finally, he pulled his car into the garage, glancing around as he did for any evidence of the man he’d seen the night before. He saw no signs of habitation, and the guesthouse door at the top of the stairs was still closed.

He was halfway across the lawn to his front porch, thinking what a gorgeous day it was for November, when his cell phone rang. He glanced at the screen: Natalie. He took a deep breath before answering, steeling himself for bad news. “Hello?”

“Jason! How’s my favorite client?”

Jason winced. He’d hired Natalie three years earlier, and she had potential, but she was still an up-and-coming agent in a town where agents of any variety were more common than rats and pigeons and granted approximately the same amount of respect. Most of the actors and actresses she represented were completely unknown, happy to land a toothpaste commercial. As dreadful as Jason’s career had been the last few years, she considered him one of her big-ticket stars. And now he was leaving it all behind to hide himself away in the mountains of Idaho.

It was pathetic, any way you sliced it.

Still, Natalie’s upbeat opener eased his mind. She wouldn’t be so chipper if she was calling to tell him StarWatch had published pictures of him having his cock sucked.

“I’m fine.” He plopped down on the steps of the shaded porch, glancing proudly around at his property. “The house is great. It’s exactly what I need.”

“I’m glad. You’re all settled in, then?”

“Getting there.”

“Good.” But she hadn’t called to chat. She was clearly anxious to get down to business. “Listen, Jason, I have some great news for you. I got you an offer. In fact, I got you two!”

Jason’s heart clenched. Those words no longer excited him as they once had. Now, they only caused anxiety. “What kind of offer?”

“Well, now, hear me out.”

“That good, huh?”

“They’re both horror movies.”

The coolness of the wooden steps seeped through his jeans, and he stretched his legs out, reaching for the line where the shadow of the porch ended, letting the sunlight play over the toes of his shoes. “Of course they are.”

“The first one . . . I have a feeling you’ll pass without even seeing the script.”

“Is it a ‘found footage’ film?”

“As a matter of fact, it is.”

He shook his head, even though she couldn’t see him. “No way.”

“Don’t you at least want to—”

“There’s no point. Everybody thinks they can make ‘found footage’ work, and almost nobody can. They don’t seem to understand that it may give you a pass on cinematography, but not on writing. And you can’t skimp on both. You get Peter Jackson’s budget and Industrial Light & Magic doing the visual effects, you can have the shittiest script in the world. But when you’re filming an entire movie on somebody’s iPhone, you better have some goddamn compelling shit happening on screen or it falls utterly flat.” He stopped, a bit embarrassed by his outburst, but knowing he was right. He scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Did you read it?”

“I glanced at it.” Her hesitant tone told him all he needed to know.

“It’s complete crap, isn’t it?”

She sighed. “It isn’t great, I admit. But maybe with your star power—”

“Ha!” His laugh was so sudden and loud, it startled two birds off the porch railing. He felt a bit guilty for having disturbed them. “Forget it.”

“Okay. I expected you to say no to that one, anyway. That’s why I pitched it first.”

“Fine.” He leaned back and stared up at the blue sky, hardly daring to hope. At least she’d saved the best for last. '”What’s the second offer?”

“It isn’t found footage!”

“Uh-huh. Is that its only redeeming quality?”

“It’s a sequel.”

“Oh God,” he groaned, covering his eyes as if it would save him from whatever was coming next.

“Summer Camp Nightmare 4. Subtitle: Blood Bath at Sea.”

Jason waited for the punchline. Finally decided that was the punchline. “A summer camp at sea?”

“It’s set on a small cruise ship.”

“But my character died at the end of the third movie.”

“Apparently, it was all a dream.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“This one starts with you waking up. I’ve read the script—the whole script, this time—and I’m telling you, Jason, it’s not bad.”

Jason picked at a wedge of wood that was trying to peel away from the porch step. “It’s a slasher flick.”

“But it’s one of the stronger franchises, and they’ve given you some great scenes. I think it has potential. They have a new director, and he’s good. I’m not talking Syfy channel here. This guy has directed big-budget thrillers before.”

“Then what’s he doing making Summer Camp Nightmare 4?”

“Well, his last couple of movies flopped, but I don’t think it was because of his directing. There was a problem on the last film with the lead actor—”

“Stop.” He’d asked the question, but he found he wasn’t interested in the answer. He tossed the released sliver of wood toward the driveway and began worrying at another crack in the worn steps. “I wasn’t planning on acting again.”

“I know.” But he knew she’d never quite believed his resignation. When he was being completely honest with himself, neither had he. “For what it’s worth, Jason, they want you. This whole thing that happened last year—”

“You mean me being outed by StarWatch?”

“There are plenty of gay actors in Hollywood. There always have been. And right now, it’s more acceptable than ever. Neil Patrick Harris and Zachary Quinto are household names, and it doesn’t matter that they’re gay. So yeah, some rag of a magazine published a photo of you in a lip-lock with Dylan Frasier, but you could have denied it. You could have done a lot of things, but you didn’t. You stepped up and you owned it. You didn’t act ashamed or sorry—”

He slammed his hand against the porch railing. “Why would I be?”

“Exactly. And the Summer Camp Nightmare writers love it, Jason. They want to use it. They’ve seen a huge uptick in DVD sales and requests for television rights on the third movie since you came out. And for what it’s worth, this script has a spot for a love interest, and they’ve left it vague. They say it’s up to you if you want a woman or a man playing that role.”

Jason swallowed, his head reeling. Yes, it was a shitty part in a B movie. They’d be lucky if it spent a week at the box office before going directly to DVD and television syndication, but it was the first time in ten years a part had been written for him.

“What’s the pay?”

“Still negotiable, but they’re offering nearly double what they paid you for the third movie.”

He gulped. “Double?” It wasn’t a lot of money, especially by Hollywood standards, but for the fourth movie in a run-down horror series, it was damn good. “Are you serious?”

“They’re calling it a series reboot. They have high hopes.”

Jason closed his eyes, shutting out the beautiful Idaho day. The blue sky and warm sun. The chirping birds and the almost imperceptible creak of the trees, swaying slightly in the soft breeze. He considered how it might feel to be in front of the camera again. “When would filming start?”


At least it wasn’t right away. He'd have plenty of time to settle into his house. Hell, maybe by then he’d have cabin fever and be ready for something new. “For how long?”

“They think they can wrap in three months.”

“So, I should plan on five.”

“Probably.” He could hear the excitement in her voice. “Does that mean you’ll consider it?”

“How soon do they need an answer?”

“By the first of January.”

He sighed, wishing he had the willpower to say no. And yet, acting was all he’d ever known, and he found it hard to let go. “I’ll think about it.”

“Oh, Jason! I’m so glad to hear that. I’ll send the script right over.”

“Great.” He clicked off without saying good-bye. Rude, he knew, but he was annoyed both at her and at himself. He tapped his cell phone against his leg, thinking.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. A few months filming and a decent paycheck at the end. And Dylan had been in Summer Camp Nightmare 3 with him. Was his character scripted for a return as well? Jason wished he’d thought to ask Natalie, but he wasn’t about to call her back just for that.

The garage caught his eye again as he pushed himself to his feet. He glanced up at the guesthouse window and froze, his heart bursting into high speed.

Somebody was there!

It was the same person he’d seen the day before, he was certain—a man, although only barely. Jason guessed him to be only a year or two out of his teens. He had a narrow jaw, high, sculpted cheekbones, and thick black hair over shockingly pale skin. Jason expected him to dart out of sight now that he’d been seen, but he didn’t. On the contrary, he seemed utterly delighted. He bounced up and down in glee, waving excitedly.

A deranged fan? Jason didn’t have many these days, but Hollywood was full of alarming tales involving insane stalkers.

“I’m calling the cops!” Jason yelled, shaking his fist ineffectually toward the window.

The man’s lips moved as he spoke, but Jason couldn’t hear him. Not that he was interested in whatever the lunatic had to say anyway. Jason went inside, slamming the door behind him and locking the dead bolt. He called nine-one-one to report an intruder on his property.

“Somebody from the sheriff’s office will arrive right away,” the dispatcher told him.

“Good.” With any luck, it’d be somebody who’d never heard of Jadon Walker Buttermore.

Jason systematically checked every lock on every door, making sure his unwanted guest couldn’t get in. Not that he needed to bother. When he peeked out the window, the man was still right where Jason had left him, staring hopefully down at Jason’s front door. They stood there—Jason watching the boy, the boy watching the house—until a car from the sheriff’s department rolled up the driveway.


The word “sheriff” wasn’t without its glamour. In Hollywood, a cop could be whip-smart or stereotypically donut-obsessed, but a sheriff? He had machismo. Whether a slimy dirtball, or a charismatic ladies’ man, he’d have a pronounced swagger and a healthy appreciation for the absurd. Jason imagined a burly gentleman with a handlebar mustache and a bit of a paunch hanging over his belt, probably with a toothpick jutting from the corner of his mouth.

He was surprised when a black woman in her early thirties stepped out of the sheriff’s car.

“Well, well, well,” she said, shaking her head as she came toward him. Jason came down from the veranda to meet her, feeling a bit vindicated in his assessment: she definitely had a swagger. “I heard the infamous JayWalk had moved into my jurisdiction, but I didn’t expect to meet you so soon.”

“It’s Jason.”

She stopped and rocked back onto her heels, wrinkling her brow in confusion. “I thought your first name was Jadon.”

“The agent my parents hired when I was eight thought Jadon was better. He said it was edgy and hip.”

She stuck her thumbs into her belt in true sheriff style and smiled at him. “My little sister thought you were edgy and hip, all right. She had your face plastered all over her bedroom walls. Told everybody who’d listen she was gonna marry you someday.”

“I assume she’s moved on.”

“Several times. She’s set her sights on Chris Hemsworth now, I think.”

“Can’t blame her for that.” He didn’t want to talk about his career, though. He never did. “You’re the sheriff?”

She held out her hand and he shook it. “Regina Ross.”

“Thanks for coming.” He suddenly realized what else she’d said in her opening statement. “Wait. Somebody told you I’d moved here?”

“Your agent. Natalie something?”

Jason’s heart fell. “Natalie Reuben. She wasn’t supposed to tell anybody.”

“Well, she asked us to keep it quiet, but she said the paparazzi might find you eventually.” She glanced around, quickly assessing the house and the circle of trees around them. “And now here it is, only your second day as a resident of Idaho, and I get a report of an intruder.”

Jason pointed to the window of the guesthouse and the young man who even now stood staring down at them. He waved enthusiastically when Jason’s eyes fell on him again. “He’s up there.”

She followed his finger, holding one hand to the sky to block the sun from her eyes. “Where?”

“In that window.”

“In the garage?”

Was she blind? Jason glowered at his unwanted guest, still waving like the homecoming queen on parade day. “In the guest room,” he said, trying not to be impatient. “Right there!”

“What exactly did you see?”

“Last night, I was . . . well, I was out on that balcony.” He pointed to the place he and Dylan had been. “And I thought I saw somebody, but then he disappeared. But then half an hour ago, I looked up, and there he was.”

“In the window?”

“Yes, in the window!” It was harder to hide his aggravation now, with the boy still standing in plain sight. The sun was bright, shining into their eyes and reflecting off the glass. Still . . . “Can’t you see him?”

She rocked onto the balls of her feet, then dropped both her hand and her gaze. “Mr. Buttermore—”

“Jason. My name is Jason Walker.”

“Mr. Walker, I have to ask you: have you been drinking?”


“Any drugs?”


Her eyes were dark with disbelief. “Didn’t you have some kind of breakdown last year? Smoked some bad weed or something and ended up in the hospital?”

“That’s not what happened. And that has nothing to do with it. I’m telling you—”

She held up her hands. “Look, Mr. Walker. I’m not here to judge you for your lifestyle.”

“What the hell does me being gay have to do with anything?”

He’d spoken too loud. He’d let his anger show, and she reacted. She leveled her eyes at him and squared her shoulders. Her hand snuck toward the heavy stick hanging at her belt. “I’m not talking about you being gay. I’m talking about being famous. I’m talking about Hollywood and Betty Ford and the way you all pass narcotics around like candy. I don’t even know what the latest designer drug is, but I’m sure it isn’t good, and I’m guessing it has mild hallucinogenic properties.”

He took a deep breath and did his best to keep his voice calm and level. “I’m telling you, I’m not on any drugs. There’s a man in my guesthouse.” He didn’t bother to point to the window again. “He’s probably a reporter. If you could just take him off my property, I’d appreciate it.”

“You think there’s a reporter camping out in your garage?”

“You think it hasn’t happened before?”

“No offense, but you aren’t exactly the most sought-after actor in Hollywood.”

“No kidding.”

She arched her eyebrows expectantly, as if waiting for an explanation. He suspected she was enjoying herself.

“You obviously read the tabloids,” he said, remembering her comment about the bad weed.

“Only the headlines, while I wait in the checkout line.”

“Then you know they don’t bother confining themselves to the A-list.”

She cocked her head, thinking. A grin spread slowly across her face. “They do spend an awful lot of time on John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.”

“Yes, they do.”

“And Lindsay Lohan,” she went on, apparently warming to the subject. “Miley Cyrus.”

“Right. And Jadon Walker Buttermore.”

She rocked back on her heels again, thinking. “Yeah, they do like you too, don’t they?” She glanced toward the garage, although she still gave no sign of seeing the man in the window.

“Just go up there and see for yourself,” Jason said. “Please.”

She shook her head, but her smile remained. “I’ll go check it out. I suppose it’s the least I can do, seeing as how it’s my job and all.”

He realized that meant she’d need the keys, and went to get them for her, relieved that now, at least, she’d see he wasn’t crazy.

She took the keys and turned toward the garage. “You stay here.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. He sat on the veranda steps and imagined her climbing the stairs and unlocking the door at the top. The boy in the window turned away, apparently retreating back into the room. A moment later, the sheriff’s face appeared in that gap between the curtains. Her expression was unreadable. She disappeared too, and Jason waited impatiently for her to come out with the man in tow. He hoped she’d apologize for doubting him, then felt guilty for being petty. But the seconds stretched into minutes. The minutes became three-quarters of an hour. Finally, Sheriff Ross emerged.


Jason stood, his stomach tight with dread as she crossed the grass from the garage.

“I searched everywhere. Checked the whole guest room, and the closet. Even under the bed.” He thought he heard a note of apology in her voice. “Searched the garage too, in case he’d snuck down the staircase. I assume you didn’t see him come out?”

“No, I—” Jason glanced up at the window. At the face that had reappeared there. Not waving happily this time, but frowning.

“Mr. Walker?”

Jason swallowed, reeling. He sank slowly back to the wooden step, which suddenly seemed ice-cold under his backside. The lawn fell into shadow as the sun passed behind a cloud. A breeze rattled through the trees, tossing dried leaves across the grass and sending goose bumps up his arms.

Either Sheriff Ross was lying—and Jason didn’t think that was the case—or she really couldn’t see his intruder. That meant . . .

That meant . . .

He wasn’t ready to think about what that meant quite yet. But he sure as hell wasn’t going to continue acting like an ass in front of her, either. “I don’t know what to say.” His voice didn’t sound right, not even to him. He cleared his throat. Clenched his hands between his knees. “I must have been seeing things.”

But what? A ghost? He didn’t believe in ghosts.

“Maybe he snuck out while you were waiting for me to arrive?”

She was offering him an easy out, and he took it. “Maybe.” Except the young man was still there, watching from the guesthouse as this ridiculous drama played out. Jason cleared his throat. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“It’s not a problem. You can call anytime. But . . .” She hesitated. “Stay off the drugs, okay? It’ll help.”

“Yeah,” he agreed weakly. “I’ll do that.”

And he watched her swagger back to her car. She gave one tiny wave from the driver’s seat before driving away, leaving Jason on his veranda, his world spinning around him.

Just him, his brand-new house, and a ghost Regina Ross couldn’t see.

The Tutor by Bonnie Dee
For the next ten minutes or so, I engaged the boys in my silly game. They raced around chasing the ball with intense fervor. Whit spoke for both of them, asking and answering questions that ranged from history to astronomy to folklore. In very short order, I learned he was smart and surprisingly well-read for a young boy who’d not yet had formal schooling. I wondered who had taught him to read.

Just as I was patting myself on the back for how I’d been able to coax them out of their shyness, both boys suddenly froze. Red-faced and puffing, they stared beyond me. I turned to see what had drawn their attention, and my own body went rigid.

A figure straight out of a gothic novel approached us, striding like a nightmare vision. Tall, broad-shouldered, wearing a black greatcoat and knee-high boots, the man could have easily played the role of a dastardly villain in an operetta. As he drew nearer and I studied the hard planes of his handsome face, I changed my mind. He was definitely the brooding hero of the story, a man mired in personal misery and darkness and just waiting for the heroine to lead him to the light with her love. Sigh.

That was my flight of fancy as I regarded my new employer. My heart pitter-pattered, and other parts of my anatomy went hard as I smiled in greeting. “Good day. Sir Richard, I presume?”

Then the man spoke, and I landed on earth with a sharp thud.

“What is going on here? I don’t believe I hired you to run amok with my children. They should be in the schoolroom this time of day, learning their times tables and Latin.”

Black slashes of eyebrows drew together over deep brown eyes that glittered as they caught the sunlight. Gorgeous and gloomy, dark and dangerous looking—just the sort of man who featured in my fantasies. A wave of powerful attraction surged through me, and I could hardly collect my wits to form a sentence.

“This being my first day, sir, I thought it would be worthwhile to create a rapport with the boys while learning a little about their level of knowledge. The modern approach is for students to learn organically rather than recite by rote,” I lied. Let him think this was some progressive technique all the best people were using rather than simply me flying by the seat of my pants.

Not wanting Whit and Clive to overhear and think I’d manipulated them, I lowered my voice a little. “Once trust is built, I’ve found my pupils are much more willing and eager to learn.”

I needn’t have worried about revealing my intentions to the twins. When I glanced over my shoulder, they’d both evaporated like steam.
The master of the house raked a hot glare over me from head to toe, leaving my flesh scored and burning.

His lips compressed. “Modern approach. It appears more as if you’ve fallen in with the savages. From now on, I expect to find my sons learning their lessons in the schoolroom. They’ve had free rein for far too long.”

Another scathing glance flicked over me like a lash. “Take the boys in hand, set yourself to rights, and come to my study, where we will review my expectations for your employment.”

Sir Richard turned to walk away, and I—governed by too little sense and too well developed a sense of humor—called after him, “You might consider joining the savages for a while yourself, sir. They’re an entertaining lot.”

He stopped walking, and I caught my breath. I’d gone and done it, got myself sacked on the very first day. I’d be on a train back to London before the hour was up.

Sir Richard slowly turned to stare at me with those sizzling eyes. I could’ve crumpled like a cheap suit under the onslaught of his gaze, but forced myself to straighten my spine and smile back at him.
The man blinked. He didn’t say another word, simply faced forward and continued on toward the house.

I exhaled loudly and shook my head at my own foolishness. Bowing and scraping simply weren’t my strong suit, and this wouldn’t be the first position I’d lost by letting my tongue wag at its will.

I searched the area for the twins. We’d been playing ball in an open field. They couldn’t have returned to the gardens without passing their father, and there weren’t that many hiding places. A quick scan revealed a splash of blue squatting behind a stump and a green coat belly down to the earth.

I frowned. Did their father discipline the boys with beatings? I couldn’t imagine why else they’d have gone to ground at his appearance rather than, at the very least, greeting him politely. It was odd Sir Richard hadn’t seemed surprised by their rude behavior or called them to come to him. What sort of strange family was this?
Not my place to worry about it, I realized. For likely I’d be gone soon.

“Whitney. Clive,” I called. “Come here, please.” I spoke as if I expected to be obeyed, and damned if it didn’t work. Whitney rose from the grass, and Clive emerged from behind the stump. They trudged slowly toward me through the long grass.

“Seems we’ll need to resume our game indoors, lads. Will you come to the schoolroom with me?” I tossed the ball from hand to hand.

The brothers exchanged another long silent communication, then looked at me.

Whitney nodded. “All right.”

I felt as if I’d won a small victory as my new charges meekly fell in step with me. I shot the ball to Clive, who tossed it to Whit, who threw it back to me, and we continued to play together as we marched toward whatever punishment Sir Richard had in store.

Author Bios:
Hayden Thorne
I've lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats, am a cycling nut (go Garmin!), and my day job involves artwork, crazy (read: incomprehensibly fun) coworkers who specialize in all kinds of media, and the occasional strange customer requests involving papier mache fish with sparkly scales.

I’m a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books range from a superhero fantasy series to reworked folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. My themes are coming-of-age, with very little focus on romance (most of the time) and more on individual growth with some adventure thrown in.

Aleksandr Voinov
Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London where he makes his living as a financial journalist, freelance editor and creative writing teacher. He has published five novels and many short stories in his native language. His genres range from horror, science fiction, cyberpunk and fantasy, contemporary, to thriller and historical erotic gay novels.

In his spare time, he goes weight-lifting, explores historical sites or meets other writers. He single-handedly sustains three London bookstores with his ever-changing research projects and interests. His current interests include bonsais, tailored suits, chess competitions, World War II, Afghan history, Roman emperors and Russian oligarchs. He loves traveling, action movies, spy novels and ponders taking up boxing.

Sean Michael
Often referred to as "Space Cowboy" and "Gangsta of Love" while still striving for the moniker of "Maurice," Sean Michael spends his days surfing, smutting, organizing his immense gourd collection and fantasizing about one day retiring on a small secluded island peopled entirely by horseshoe crabs. While collecting vast amounts of vintage gay pulp novels and mood rings, Sean whiles away the hours between dropping the f-bomb and persuing the kama sutra by channeling the long lost spirit of John Wayne and singing along with the soundtrack to "Chicago."

A long-time writer of complicated haiku, currently Sean is attempting to learn the advanced arts of plate spinning and soap carving sex toys.

Barring any of that? He'll stick with writing his stories, thanks, and rubbing pretty bodies together to see if they spark.

Marie Sexton
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.
Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

Hayden Thorne

Aleksandr Voinov 

Sean Michael

Marie Sexton

Bonnie Dee

The Flowers of St. Aloysius


Royal Line

Winter Oranges

The Tutor