Friday, October 13, 2017

Random Paranormal Tales of 2017 Part 4

Waiting for Patrick by Brynn Stein
Architect Elliot Graham has bought and restored dozens of historic homes to their original splendor. As in his personal life, he loves them and leaves them, selling them off without looking back. But there’s something about the old plantation house he finds in South Carolina—a connection he can’t explain. He feels as though he recognizes the house, as if within its crumbling walls he might find something he doesn’t even realize he’s lost.

Ben Myers had promised his lover and soul mate, Patrick, that he would wait for his return. Ben has kept his word ever since Patrick left him to wait at the plantation house—during the Civil War. For the first time in many long years, Ben is no longer alone, and he reaches out to Elliot in dreams. Elliot tries to convince Ben that Patrick isn’t coming back, and Ben’s devotion is about to change not only his lonely existence, but Elliot’s life as well.

I just absolutely adored Waiting for Patrick!  I think one of the things I love about ghost stories of any sub-genre is that you get a blend of contemporary and historical along with the paranormal.  Waiting is no different.  For the contemporary you have Elliot who buys run down properties, restores them, and resells them.  With his latest purchase he finds a home that speaks to him, in a way quite literally.  He begins to dream but are these only dreams? You'll have to discover that for yourself.

As for the historical side, you have Ben, the resident ghost who is waiting for his lost love and has been doing so for over 150 years.  Of course, Ben is stuck in the home so his travel is limited but then Elliot shows up and maybe his waiting is over.  Again, for that you'll have to read the story yourself.

Waiting for Patrick is not only a great blend of contemporary, historical, and paranormal but it also has a small but very eclectic cast of characters that on the surface probably shouldn't work but the author makes them not only work but makes them family.  I really hated to see the last page turn but as the saying goes "all good things must end" and whether it ends how you expected or not doesn't really matter because the feelings Waiting gave me will linger and gives one a bit of hope for "love everlasting". I've never read Brynn Stein before but I can unequivocally say that Waiting is not the only one I will read, definitely an author that I'll be keeping my eye on.


Courting Treason by Helena Maeve
Charlie Estes moved back home to heal a broken heart, but one chance encounter is enough to catapult him into a whirlwind of intrigue, desire, and age-old feuds.

When high school math teacher Charles Estes meets a tall, dark stranger at an exclusive event, he can barely believe his luck. He’s almost reluctant to go home with him for fear of disturbing the mirage. But rather than worry about could-have-beens, Charlie opts to bite the bullet. He has no idea that he’s about to be bitten in return.

Micah is not like other men. He hails from the nearby town of Freeburn—a forbidden enclave populated by vampires and their serfs. Charlie really ought to know better than to get involved with someone like that. If only Micah didn’t keep cropping up all over Charlie’s town like a bad penny. He’s everywhere, in the nearby woods, at the high school where Charlie teaches, even in his dreams.

One night of passion changes everything.

Faced with a murderer on the loose and the resurgent turmoil between their worlds, Charles must soon choose between the life he knows and the promise of a future with Micah.

P.S. I Spook You by SE Harmon
SSA Rain Christiansen used to be the agency’s golden boy. It just takes one moment of weakness, one slight, tiny, itty-bitty paranormal sighting, and all of a sudden he’s the agency’s embarrassment. His boss gives him one last chance to redeem himself—go down to Brickell Bay, play nice with the local police, and leave the ghost sightings behind. Rain is determined to do exactly that, even if it kills him.

Cold-case detective Daniel McKenna’s latest investigation is going nowhere fast. Five years earlier, high school student Amy Greene went missing after leaving her part-time job and was never seen again. Daniel is glad to finally have the FBI help that his department requested, even if it does come in the form of his ex.

It doesn’t help that Rain is pretty sure he’s falling in love with Danny all over again—if he ever stopped. Add to that the frustration of seeing ghosts at every turn while he works a case that’s stalled in its tracks, and Rain is starting to wonder if second chances and happy endings are just for fairy tales.

Paranormal, mystery, romance, ghosts, past love.  PS I Spook You has a little bit of everything and ticked all my boxes from the first page to the last.  No matter what mood I'm in and what I "feel" like reading I can always be in the mood for a good mystery and that's exactly what I got with PS.

Rain Christiansen comes from an interesting family but it's the ghosts he sees that has put his career in jeopardy.  Given one chance to go home and put it right by assisting the locals in a cold case may not be his ideal choice but its what he faces.  Daniel McKenna has to work with a former lover on the current cold case on his desk but when Rain walks in nothing will ever be the same for either man.

As much as I enjoyed Rain fighting his ghost visitors, I really loved watching him finally accept his fate.  I loved both men but that doesn't mean I didn't want to give either of them a good shaking and a solid whack to the back of the head to make them open up and talk to each other.  Truth is, even when they do talk they always seem to be leaving a little something out of the conversation but as frustrating as their push-and-pull attitudes are at times, its actually quite fitting for the characters and the story and wouldn't want them any other way.

I haven't really touched on the mystery part because I don't want to give anything away but I will say this: it may be cliche but PS I Spook You had me at the edge of my seat till the very end.  SE Harmon is another new author for me and as scary as that can be it can also be exhilarating.  I know I'll definitely be keeping my eye on SE Harmon's work and I look forward to more, truth is I hope we'll be hearing from Rain and Dan again in the not-so-far future.


Boots by Angel Martinez
Willem’s lost his job and his boyfriend, and now possibly his mind when his cat calls him a nitwit.

Willem’s father never approved of his artistic talents, his choices in life, or the fact that he’s gay. When the only thing Horst leaves to Willem is the family cat, he thinks it’s his father’s last insult from the grave. That is, until the cat starts talking to him.

Though Willem’s lost his boyfriend, his home, and his job, Kasha, who claims to be a magic cat, reassures him that all will be well. All he needs is Willem’s trust and a good pair of boots. But giving boots to a talking cat has unexpected consequences when odd events ambush Willem at every turn, such as the appearance of a handsome stranger in his arms at night. While he begins to suspect Kasha’s plans might be dangerous for all involved, how can he distrust such a charming kitty in cowboy boots?

Reader Advisory: This book contains a scene of flexible autoerotica.

Publisher's Note: This book has previously been released elsewhere. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

A Ghost Story by JP Bowie
Past and present exist side by side as the ghost of a young poet seeks to protect the family living in the house he haunts.

Robert ‘Robbie’ Clavell, a young Victorian poet, is murdered by a jealous competitor, but his murderer, not content with ending Robbie’s life, also invokes an ancient curse that forces his spirit to remain earthbound.

When Jamie Barrett, a dancer in London’s West End, receives a phone call from his mother telling him of strange knocking noises and furniture moving about, he travels home to Manchester to investigate and give support to his mother and his twelve year old niece, Laura.

Advised to contact a psychic for help, Jamie meets Kevin Singleton, and despite the seriousness of what they discover, the two men find a mutual attraction. Kevin explains to Jamie and his mother that their recent family tragedies had opened a portal allowing base spirits to enter and feed off of Laura’s youthful and vibrant energy.

Kevin is able to make a psychic connection with Robbie who tells him that George Russell, his murderer, is the one responsible for the upheaval in the Barrett household. But when Robbie tries to help Kevin exorcise Russell’s spirit, Russell summons up an even darker force - one that could not only destroy the house and everyone in it, but ensure Robbie’s spirit will never find his way home.

Reader Advisory: This story contains one dubious consent scene.

Waiting for Patrick by Brynn Stein
Chapter 1
ELLIOT GRAHAM pulled his Audi into the semicircular drive of his newly acquired, old plantation home and parked just in front of the entryway. Throwing open the car’s back door, he grabbed his suitcase and overnight bag and started toward the porch, noticing as he went some of the improvements he wanted to make to the outside. The shrubs and small flower beds to either side of the steps were no doubt once manicured but now needed someone’s loving attention. Dying plants, grass, and weeds threatened to choke the purple flowers currently receiving the attention of dutiful butterflies. The boughs of the shrubbery drooped tiredly, and the landscaping bricks bordering the flower beds seemed to have given up, since they were now lying flat on the grass and were sunning themselves around the perimeter.

Elliot trudged up the five wooden stairs, all of which would need replacing, and took in the veranda. Adding that to the mental list of projects he wanted to start as soon as possible, he used his newly obtained key and pushed open the front door. The ornamental glass panes to either side of it were cracked, but the door itself was solid.

He peeked into the living room off to the left of the foyer and took in the furniture that came with the house—the furniture that had sold him on the idea of living here rather than getting a hotel room for the extent of his stay. There were two large windows on the front wall and one on the side which looked out onto a large lawn. Elliot didn’t linger there now. He reentered the foyer and passed the stairs to pop his head in the kitchen.

Nice, it has a coffee pot. That’s all a good kitchen needs.

Finally he climbed the relatively well-preserved staircase to the second floor, trailing the fingers of one hand along the nicked wooden banister.

He turned left at the top of the stairs and passed the small bathroom on the right before coming to the master bedroom just beyond. This room also had a window opening to that large yard at the side of the house. As he threw his suitcase on the dresser next to the old Civil War–era bed, he noticed that the real estate agent had put on sheets and blankets, as promised. He was grateful that he wouldn’t have to find linens first thing. That was the last thing he wanted to do after traveling here from Chicago.

As he glanced around the room, an overwhelming sense of peace settled over him. He watched specks of dust play tag with an aged ottoman sitting under the window. The motes kissed the vintage leather, then darted away as unseen air currents aided their escape. He couldn’t help but drift over to the large bedroom window to join in the game. Elliot felt again that sense of rightness, of belonging, that he’d experienced when he first viewed the house. He’d been looking out over the spacious yard then too.

Elliot owned a thriving architectural design business that dealt with everything from restoring period homes to designing new high-rises, but he’d always had a soft spot for anything concerning the nineteenth century. Usually when he made an acquisition, he mapped out all the changes needed to restore it to period-perfect condition, did some of the work himself, if he was in the mood, but hired most of it out, and then sold it for enough profit to buy the next project. He had a CEO to take care of the day-to-day business of the three branches in various states, including the head office in Illinois. He stayed as involved as he had to, but mostly he managed from afar and worked on the projects that caught his fancy. This one certainly had.

He ran the pads of his fingers over the various scars and gashes on the windowsill. They felt comforting… familiar, somehow. As he looked out onto the manicured lawn, he felt there should be an old oak tree in the center of the large patch of grass to the right. Somehow the space looked empty without one.

He had great plans for this house. He walked around the bedroom, still trying to decide whether to sell the furniture to collectors or let it go with the house if he resold it. He didn’t know why the if crept into his thoughts—he always sold the houses he restored. But there was something about this one….

Time to resolve that issue later. First things first.

He dug his cell phone from the back pocket of his tight jeans, scrolled down the contacts list, and dialed the number.

“Ellie!” The female voice squealed from the other end of the line as Elliot made his way back toward the bed, since that was the only place to sit, besides the ottoman. He didn’t want to disturb the game the dust motes were playing. “You never call. It’s always either text or e-mail with you. So this is either really good news or really bad.”

He had to chuckle. Sheri knew him so well. “Good, I think.” He paused, mostly to tease her, and plopped his six-foot frame down on the bed. “I’m in SC. Only about twenty minutes from your house, actually. I wondered if you wanted to get together.”

He had to pull the phone from his ear to keep the resulting screech from bursting his eardrum. Elliot could count his true friends on one hand, but those few, he would trust with his life. Sheryl Ross was one of his oldest and dearest allies.

“That’s terrific!” Sheri said in only a slightly quieter voice. “How long will you be here?”

“Not sure,” he answered honestly. “I bought an old plantation house on the west side of town. It’s gorgeous and in pretty good shape—” He took in the small parts of floorboard crumbling away in the corner and the damp patches on the ceiling making a halfhearted attempt at a dot-to-dot pattern. “—for its age.” He spied the room’s one-and-only electrical outlet underneath the window. “The biggest problem will be bringing it up to code. If I contract out the whole job, I’ll probably only be here a couple of days, maybe a week, but I’m not sure I’m―”

“Well.” Sheri sounded disappointed. “That’s better than nothing, I guess.”

Elliot chuckled and bounced a little on the bed, listening to the squeaking joints. He didn’t expect much luxury from furniture sold with the house. “I was going to say, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to do that this time.’ I might decide to stick around longer and do a lot of the work myself.” He immediately pulled the phone away from his ear again and spread out on the deceptively comfortable mattress. He decided not to even broach the subject of possibly making this his base of operations. He didn’t think his hearing could tolerate much more.

When she finished shrieking her delight, Sheri begged, “Come out to the club with me tonight.”

“What about what’s-his-name? Won’t he mind me tagging along?”

“Who? Malcolm? He doesn’t go to clubs with me, but he says he doesn’t mind me going and doing whatever I want.” She chuckled. “He doesn’t even mind me doing whomever I want.”

Elliot decided to let that comment go for now. “Malcolm? Who’s he? I thought you were dating Jerry or Terry or something.” He stretched his legs this way and that, trying to gauge how much room the antique, three-quarter-sized bed might provide someone weighing two hundred pounds.

“Gary? That was four boyfriends ago! Keep up.” Elliot found it difficult to remember the ever-growing list of Sheri’s partners. He turned on his side and held the phone to his exposed ear.
“Was there a Joe in there somewhere?”

“Joey was before Gary.”

“How about Taco?”

“Nacho. He was two after Gary.”

“What kind of name is Nacho anyway?” Elliot picked at a loose thread on the gaudy, worn bedspread currently covering the old mattress, and made a mental note to buy a new one. Large yellow, gold, and green flowers on a red background just wasn’t going to cut it for him. At least it was clean. The scent of laundry detergent wafted up from it and teased Elliot’s nose.

“We had that discussion already, Ellie. I’m not getting into it again. Besides. He’s gone now, so it doesn’t matter.”

“So, what was wrong with him?”

“Not a thing. He simply decided I didn’t have the right parts for a long-term relationship. If you had been around then, I would have introduced him to you.”

“I don’t do long-term relationships any more than you do,” Elliot said absently as he got to his feet and walked back over to the window. He loved the view, and this seemed destined to be a longer conversation than he’d originally planned. He was so tired, he was almost afraid to lie down much longer. It felt too good. He was sure he’d drift off to sleep.

“Don’t I know it?” Sheri chuckled. “You never answered me about the club tonight.”

“Why doesn’t Mason go to the club with you?” Elliot watched a couple of stray leaves chase each other around the yard.

“Malcolm. Because he doesn’t do clubs,” she said, and then in an affected tone of superiority, “He’s too sophisticated and refined for clubs.”

“No offense, Cher, but what the hell is he doing with you, then?” Elliot could hear a dog bark in the distance, and wondered how far away the nearest neighbor might be. He hadn’t passed another house for at least five minutes by car on the way in. Maybe the dog was running loose.

Sheri laughed again, as Elliot knew she would. “Well, I’d never tried sophisticated before so… there’s the novelty factor.”

“How did you even meet someone named Malcolm?”

“Really? Elliot?” She said his name in as geeky a tone of voice as humanly possible. “You’re going to make fun of someone’s name?”

“Well, I didn’t really get a say in mine, so….” A loose piece of grille between two of the windowpanes caught his eye, and he poked at it with his index finger.

“I doubt he did either,” Sheri said, but then chuckled and added, “Though, as much of a control freak as Malcolm seems to be, if anyone could have chosen his own name as an infant, it would have been him.”

“Ooooh. You’re after the control, huh?” Elliot laughed, catching the aged piece of wood as it fell toward the floor. “BDSM now, Cher?”

“Stuff it, Elle.” She returned to the original topic. “Are you coming to the club with me tonight or not?”

“Don’t you have an event to cater or something?” Elliot still tried to distract her. Sheri had a significant trust fund left to her by her grandfather but wasn’t one to sit around and do nothing at all. So she had started her own catering service. She’d always loved to cook and had built up a pretty good business over the last several years. The best part about the job, she always told Elliot, was that she could choose her own hours. She loved her work, so it was usually easy to sidetrack her if he got her talking about her culinary art.

“I know what you’re doing, Ellie,” Sheri snapped. “And you’re not going to divert me from this. Come on. Go clubbing with me.”

He sighed and leaned both hands on the large windowsill, calculating how much it was going to cost to restore the windows if they were all in the same condition as this one. He was truly exhausted and didn’t feel like going out. But he hadn’t seen Sheri for a while and… well… it was Sheri, so he knew he didn’t have a prayer of saying no and having it stick. “I haven’t been clubbing in ages. You and I are both getting a little long in the tooth for such things, don’t you think?”

“Who uses ‘long in the tooth’ anymore? I mean it, Elliot. Sometimes you are so old-fashioned.” He could almost hear her shake her head to get herself back onto the original topic. “But, I’ll have you know, late thirties for me, early forties for you? Not that old, Ellie,” she said sternly. “Besides. I plan to be taken directly to the funeral home in my club clothes at the ripe old age of 103, thank you very much.”

Elliot chuckled. “Somehow I can see that working for you. But I’m not the clubbing kind anymore.” He never was as into it as Sheri was.

“You’re not the clubbing kind. You’re not the relationship kind. What kind are you?”

“The ‘going out with a friend, then coming home to sleep before calling a contractor tomorrow’ kind.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll be over at seven to pick you up for the club. Be ready.” She hung up.

Elliot counted to himself as he headed back toward his suitcase. If he was going to have to go out, he would at least need a different shirt. One, two, three, four—.

The phone rang.

“What’s your address?” Sheri asked as Elliot laughed into the phone.

ELLIOT HAD time to unpack, make a list of things he wanted to buy, and generally get ready to live in the house for at least the next couple of days. Then, true to her word, Sheri showed up at seven sharp.

“Looking good, Cher.” Elliot swept her into his arms as soon as she stepped through the ornate door and into the foyer, his muscled arms enveloping her petite figure.

Even though he hadn’t seen her in a while, she hadn’t changed much. She still wore her stick-straight black hair long and loose, flowing down her back to stop at the ample swell of her hips. Sheri always said her hair was one of her favorite features, a toast to her long-ago Asian ancestor. In fact, her hair was one reason that, when Elliot wrote her nickname, he used a c instead of an s. He had always thought her hair looked like that of the singer by the same name, back in the seventies before she experimented with curls. He was surprised by Sheri’s reasonably sedate outfit, however. She wore a pullover, angora sweater and a wraparound skirt. The wild print of the skirt was the only thing about the outfit that was typical Sheri.

They went out to dinner at her favorite restaurant and caught up on personal news they hadn’t shared by e-mail or text. Then she took Elliot to a new nightclub that had opened up downtown several months before. It wasn’t a gay bar, per se, but apparently had a large representation from the LGBT community among its regular clientele.

Once they were in the parking lot, the real Sheri finally emerged. She pulled off the sweater to reveal a turquoise dress that left very little to the imagination. It left one shoulder bare and had strategically placed slits running up and down one side. As she undid the wraparound skirt and threw it in the back of the car with the discarded sweater, Elliot had serious doubts Sheri could even walk without revealing her underwear—if she was even wearing any. One never knew with her.

She laughed at Elliot when she saw him gaping. “What? You didn’t think I was going to wear my granny clothes to go clubbing, did you?”

He shook his head. He had no idea why he was even surprised. Changing the subject, he asked, “So, you were telling me this is a new club? You’ve been here before, I’m betting.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course I have. I was here opening night. And several times since then. I like it so far. It does a good business, but it’s not overly crowded. It seems to cater to all ages. There are twinks, of course, but it’s not only twinks. You should be able to find someone you like.”

“I’m not looking for anyone, Sheri,” Elliot insisted for the millionth time that night, as they walked to the unassuming door of the nightclub. “I just want to spend some time with you, get the work on the house started, then head out to the next town.”

“And where might that be?”

Elliot shrugged and kicked a stray piece of gravel, watching it reluctantly roll away. It didn’t matter where the next project might be. It was never about the destination for him. He enjoyed the journey. Even if he didn’t sell this house, he doubted he’d stay there for long. He was never comfortable in one place. It was almost as if he was looking for something he never thought he’d find.

All conversation stopped short as they stepped into the darkened nightclub. Loud music assaulted Elliot’s ears. Strobe-light and laser-light shows emphasized writhing bodies on the main dance floor as well as on an upper level. Young men with oiled chests wriggled against each other and against middle-aged men dressed in polo shirts. Women paired off with each other or with one or more men as bodies ground together in time to the music. Women sat on men’s laps, getting cozy at the tables around the walls and at the bar, and no one seemed too bothered by the actions of anyone else.

“This really isn’t my scene anymore, Cher.” Elliot wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but he didn’t find the atmosphere nearly as appealing as Sheri seemed to.

“We’ll get a table toward the back,” she called over her shoulder as she led the way through the squirming masses of admittedly beautiful flesh. “Easier to talk back there.”

Elliot decided “easier to talk” was a bit optimistic once they reached an empty table in the corner, but he was more comfortable since they were farther away from the main throng. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do now. It was far too loud to talk to Sheri very easily. He ordered a beer and nursed it for as long as he could. When it was finally empty, Sheri flagged down a scantily dressed man who apparently worked there, and ordered them each another drink.

Not long after the second drink arrived, a young man, mid- to late-twenties, sashayed over to the table and draped himself over Elliot’s shoulder. His blond hair was short on the sides and stuck up on top in the “I just got out of bed and didn’t do a thing with my hair” style he’d probably spent forever on. A mixture of beer, cologne, and sweat overpowered Elliot before the man even spoke.

“Hi, gorgeous,” he slurred. “I’ve been watching you all night.” Elliot wondered how an hour or so could possibly be considered all night. The man continued. “Let’s dance.” He grasped Elliot’s wrist and pulled.

The kid was probably two or three inches shorter than Elliot and slightly built. He wasn’t going to be able to move Elliot unless Elliot allowed him to.

Elliot used his thumb and forefinger to encircle the younger man’s wrist and lifted it off his chest and away from him. Between the bare minimum contact and what Elliot was hoping was a look of disgust on his face, he wasn’t sure why the kid didn’t run away screaming. “I don’t dance,” he snarled.

It didn’t deter the guy, though. He clung even tighter and whispered into Elliot’s ear. “How about we go to the bathroom, then? We can do a different kind of dancing,” As he listened to the slur in his voice get heavier with each word, Elliot tried to estimate how many beers the man might have had.

“Maybe later.” Elliot regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. Why was he offering any hope? He had no intention of going anywhere with this guy.

“That sounds promising.” The young man somehow managed to ooze into a chair beside Elliot without loosening his grip at all. “I can do later.”

Sheri was all but dissolving into laughter across the table from them. Elliot kicked her.

“Shut up, you.” He glared, but she giggled even more.

“Your drapery is still talking, Ellie.” She laughed, gesturing toward the twentysomething blond leech. Elliot tried to move away enough to look the kid in the eye but couldn’t manage it, so he simply listened.

“I’m Daniel,” he was saying. “What’s your name?”

Elliot wasn’t inclined to answer, so Sheri answered for him. “Oh, that’s Ellie.”

“Ellie?” The kid was definitely drunk or stoned or both, and was having a hard time wrapping his mind around the female name attached to the decidedly male body he was draped over. He seemed to feel the need to assure himself of the gender of said body and ran his hands down Elliot’s chest and into his groin. He smiled insanely when he found what he was after, and Sheri laughed uproariously as Elliot squealed in surprise at the personal intrusion.

“Darrell!” Elliot screaked. “Do you mind?”

“Name’s Daniel. And no. I don’t mind at all.”

“I did not invite you to put your hand there. Could you kindly move it, please?”

Daniel started doing exactly that.

Elliot groaned. “I didn’t mean like that.” He tried not to let his voice get husky as his body responded to the way Daniel rubbed his palm firmly into Elliot’s crotch. It had been a long time since anyone but himself had massaged that particular part of his body. “I meant move it away from….” Elliot moaned again and unconsciously scooted down in his chair to provide room in his rapidly tightening jeans. “Oh God.”

“Where would be the fun in moving it away?” Daniel leered, and Elliot suddenly wondered if the young man was as wasted as he had first assumed. “You seem to like what I’m doing now.”

“Stop that.” Elliot tried to be forceful. He really did. But at that moment, not even he was convinced that he wanted Daniel to stop. It had been a long, long time. “Shit. We’ll be right back,” he told Sheri as he grabbed Daniel’s hand and practically sprinted toward the bathroom, dodging writhing bodies and waiters bearing trays of drinks.

ELLIOT HIT the bathroom door with such force that it bounced off the inside wall. He virtually dragged Daniel into one of the stalls on the far side of the room. No sooner had Elliot closed and locked the stall door than Daniel had slipped to his knees and exposed Elliot’s considerable erection.

“Been a while, huh?” He smirked up at Elliot.

Elliot didn’t bother to answer as he stared at the graffiti-covered door of the john and willed himself to stay in control at least long enough for the kid to start the blowjob. He put his hand on the back of Daniel’s head and pulled him forward. “Stop talking, Darrell.” Elliot kicked a stray piece of toilet paper out of the way and spread his legs a little wider, dropping his pants to the red and gold tiled floor.

“It’s Dan−”

Elliot rammed his hips forward and Daniel got busy with the sudden mouthful, not bothering to correct Elliot on the name, or much of anything else.

Courting Treason by Helena Maeve
Sixth period math was an all-round terrible idea. Charlie had been doubtful of the scheduling from the beginning of the term and, two weeks in, he was sad to say that every suspicion had been warranted. His students lunged for the door on the first chime of the bell. By the third, they were already in the hallway, leaving nothing but papers fluttering in their wake. Recess was salvation when you were sixteen and forced to suffer through fifty long minutes of dreaded calculus.

A voice echoed through the din, familiar and sweet, reaching its tendrils into Charlie’s classroom. “Slow down, there, Mr LeBeau. Hallways aren’t for running.”

“Sorry, Ms King!” rang out from the other side of the hall in a croaky, adolescent voice. Students generally applied a policy of ‘ask forgiveness rather than permission,’ so it was no surprise to see Merriell LeBeau speed past the open classroom door like a very pale, very blond Flash Gordon.

Val King, the woman whose voice Charlie would’ve recognized with his ears blocked, had already turned her back to him. She parked herself in the doorway like a particularly insurmountable obstacle, her five foot nothing height easily filling out the space. She didn’t look in a mood to go toe-to-toe with the sprinting high schoolers outside, but if she was stopping by Charlie’s classroom at this hour on a Friday afternoon, she must’ve had some ulterior motive.

“I know that everyone’s excited for the weekend,” Charlie said, grumbling, “but your grin is freaking me out.” He tossed his blackboard marker onto the desk and started the tedious task of gathering up textbooks and test papers. “I was going to give them homework. Fun homework.”

“There’s no such thing,” Val scoffed.

Val’s own classroom was on the second floor, in the other wing of the school—and no one expected her to teach AP mathematics at the end of the school day on a Friday.

Jealousy sparked and died just as quickly in Charlie’s breast. She was a friend, and Charlie didn’t have many of those. He had seen her etchings once, way back in college when she had still been confused enough to date men and he hadn’t had the guts to admit he preferred them to women.

Val had more than made up her mind by the time she’d strutted into Charlie’ cramped little office, red-stamped envelope in hand. She was holding it so tightly that Charlie almost thought it might contain a piece of the Holy Grail.

 “I mean, it’s hard enough teaching a subject that gets such a bad rep, but when they run off like that, it hurts my feelings,” Charlie went on, affecting a pout. “It’s a miracle they didn’t trample you in their haste.”

“I’m sure you would’ve written me a pretty obit and mourned in all the appropriate ways. Now shut up for a minute, okay?” A loyal devotee of all things high tech, Val rarely wandered the halls with her arms laden with papers. Seeing her work around the stack now as she opened the envelope had Charlie wondering what she was up to. He came up with two possible reasons—one, she had, at long last, booked herself that cruise she’d been talking about since they were in college.

Or two, she had finally produced irrefutable evidence that Principal Geller was seeing Ingrid from the history department.

He was hoping for the latter when Val triumphantly produced a hand-scrawled letter from the envelope.

“Do you know what this is?”

Charlie noted Val’s flushed cheeks and bright, liquid eyes. She was happy about something. If the above weren’t true, then surely she had finally gone and tendered her resignation like she’d been threatening to do for the past year and a half.

Not knowing the right answer was no viable reason to keep his peace. “Your Hogwarts letter?” he suggested.

“Alas, no.” Val snickered, blowing a strand of ginger hair from her cheek. “It’s an invitation and two tickets to a one-night exclusive performance of La Bohème at the Wellport Concert Hall. And guess what? The Grace is singing!”

What might have been excitement took on an edge of apprehension. Charlie balked. “The Grace, as in…the Grace? The, um, vampire?” There were other words for what she was, but none that Charlie would ever use in polite company.

Val rolled her eyes. “How many others do you know? Yes, the vampire. Don’t worry, she’ll be on stage, you’ll be—oh, let me see”—she plucked the tickets out of the envelope with a hurried hand—“three tiers up. Somewhat obstructed view. Well, who goes to the opera for the visual experience, right? That’s what the movie theatre is for.” Val was practically bubbling with excitement as she turned to him. “Well? If you need to sit down, I understand.”

He didn’t sit. “How…um, how did you get the tickets?”

As far as Charlie knew, The Grace didn’t perform for cheap. It was rumored that she had a suite of some fifty humans and vampire roadies, and security to boot, all of whom needed to be paid. She got away with exorbitant prices by being a damn good soprano, though her popularity had as much to do with her singing as the fact that she was one of those rare and dangerous creatures whom Wellport had long confined to living outside town limits.

It didn’t hurt that The Grace had become something of a pop culture darling in Hollywood—her good looks and old-world charm attracted admirers like honey. Here in the north, purportedly where The Grace drew her origins, the public was a little more circumspect. Suspicion still ran high when someone spoke too loudly about integration or vampire rights—and she never shut up. The wound was still too fresh after fifty short years. Charlie’s parents still recalled the reconstruction.

But that was neither here nor there. Val had the tickets and Val was like a dog with a bone when she refused to see reason. “You should blame Ingrid Aldenberg for our luck. Go figure, right? I guess she knows someone in The Grace’s retinue…” There was the potential of yield for the rumor mill in that, but Val seemed too animated to dwell on it for long.

Charlie wiped down the board and locked his desk drawers, the equivalent of closing up shop for the weekend when one’s daily bread was won in a school. “You’re actually thinking of going?”

“Duh,” Val said, scoffing. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Literally. How many times do you think she’ll sing in front of a human crowd once the censors get their way?” It was no secret that the anti-vampire lobby was making great strides in Washington—or that The Grace had pissed them off one too many times—but it was going to be some time before the ripple effect was felt in Wellport. Charlie was mostly sure of that.

P.S. I Spook You by SE Harmon
Chapter 1
THE GHOST in the elevator was back.

He was a surly teen with a dark sheaf of hair that flopped into equally dark eyes. If there was a space on his face that wasn’t pierced, I couldn’t find it—eyebrows, mouth, stretched lobes, and a strangely tasteful stud in his nose. His smooth white skin was eerily pale and probably had been pale even in life. His crossed arms and protruding lower lip signaled his mood. He was pissed. No surprise there. He was always pissed.

“Not again,” I whispered.

I could feel the difference in temperature even before I stepped foot on the elevator. Freezing fucking cold. I stepped on and faced forward with a grim expression. I tried not to shiver as I jabbed the rounded button for the sixth floor, BAU. I let out a quiet breath that misted and dissipated like cigarette smoke.

“Come on, Christiansen. You gonna talk to me?”

Not if I can help it. The floors ticked by. I checked my watch. The Rolex Daytona had been a gift from an ex, and I hadn’t felt bad enough about the breakup to give it back. My steel reflection shimmered in the mirrored elevator. Nothing strange there.

Just a man in a black cashmere sweater and tailored black trousers. A gray-checked Burberry scarf and coat. Well-polished, Apron toe-tie oxfords. Honey-blond hair that could use a trim. Widely spaced hazel eyes. Anxious hazel eyes.

I’d been at an outdoor market, hemming over fruit I had no idea how to pick, when Graycie left me one of his short, cryptic messages. Even though it had been a “get your ass here now” kind of message, I took the time to go home and change. Spruce myself up a bit. I smoothed back my hair. You should look snazzy when you’re getting fired.

“You ought to know by now that I’m not going anywhere,” elevator ghost said. I knew his name of course, but because he was an annoying little beast, he had lost that privilege. He was just elevator ghost now. Sofa ghost. Kitchen ghost, sometimes. And wherever the hell else he felt like popping up.

“I told you my parents wouldn’t like the message.”

Bit of an understatement there. His father hadn’t been pleased to get a message from the afterlife and nearly broke my nose.

“You can’t blame me,” he went on. He usually did. It didn’t seem to matter that I didn’t respond anymore.

The hell I can’t. I like my nose right where it is. I’d broken my own rule and listened to the ghost, and I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Three floors left. “This elevator is so slow today,” I murmured.

“It’s slow every day.”

As expected, the spirit cast no reflection in the mirrored doors. I looked like exactly what I was—a crazy man talking to himself.

“Do you have office hours or something? I can come back.”

I gritted my teeth. How about the first of never at kiss my ass o’clock?

“Oh come on.” Was it possible for a ghost to be annoyed? Apparently so, judging from his peevish expression. “You can’t keep ignoring me.”

“How can I ignore someone who’s not here?” I snapped and then winced. The wince wasn’t enough. I wanted to slap myself good. I’d managed to ignore him for over two months. Now he’d never go away.

“Aha.” Ethan was triumphant. “I knew you saw me.”

I pressed the sixth-floor button again.

“I’ll make you a deal. You listen to me this once, and you’ll never see me again.” At my stubborn silence, he pressed the issue. “Or maybe you’d like me to tell my friends where they can find a bridge to the living world.”

As far as trump cards went, that was, well… devastating. I could either deal with one annoying ghost or a platoon of them. I exhaled heavily. “You have until this elevator reaches the sixth floor. So I’d hurry if I were you.”

“I need you to get another message to my parents.”

“Well, that was easy.” I folded my arms. “Hell to the no.”

“Come on,” he whined. “You’re a medium. I’m a ghost. I tell you my unfinished business. You fix it. Then I can get the hell out of here. That’s the way these things go.”

Yeah. Tell that to Shawna Paul’s parents, otherwise known as the reason everyone thought I was unstable. She was the first ghost I tried to deliver a message for. Her father pulled out a shotgun on me. Ordered me off their property. The mother called and reported me to the bureau. Then I got some nice quiet time in the departmental psychologist’s office to think about what I’d done.

I shook my head. “No. Absolutely not. And I’m not a medium,” I added for good measure.

“Obviously not,” Ethan grumbled. “Because I’m still here.” Underneath all that attitude, he sounded confused. Sad. “Why am I still fucking here?”

“I don’t know. You’re the ghost, not me.”

“I need to tell them I’m at peace.”

I sighed and turned to face my ghostly stalker. That ought to make scintillating footage for security later on. “Ethan. You’re going to have to trust me on this. They probably wouldn’t even believe me.”

He slid down the elevator wall until he was sitting, legs pulled up close to his chest. He wrapped his arms around skinny-jean-clad legs and stared at the floor. It was another moment before he could speak again. When he did, his voice was flat, controlled, matter-of-fact.

“I’ve been the good son my whole life, you know. Or at least my parents thought. Having them think I just up and ran off….”

“You’re the one who decided hiking alone was a good idea.”

“Like I knew there would be a bear?” he snapped. “It wasn’t exactly an easy death, you know.” He let out a deep breath and rubbed his eyes hard. He looked older than seventeen in that moment. A lot older.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

“I can’t fix what happened. But I can’t have them looking for me for the next ten years. They need to move on. Use my college fund and get that cabin in Alaska they were always talking about and stop wasting it on private detectives. It’s the last thing I can really give them.”

“Ethan, I—”

“It’s just a stupid message. Why the hell did you get this gift if you’re not going to use it to help us? It’s not like I have a lot of choices of people to talk to. I really am… dead.” He swallowed, as though processing it all over again. “I’m dead,” he repeated.

“I’m sorry,” I said again, a little helplessly. If he was a figment of my imagination, he was a pretty vivid one. “I’m sorry for what happened to you—that you don’t have a chance to do it all over again. But this is where it ends for you and me, Ethan. I cannot go back to those people, face them, and tell them I saw your ghost.”

I shuddered just thinking about it. “Do you know what size boots I’d need for that kind of shitstorm? It would be the end of my career.”

“Fuck your career,” Ethan said, his voice hard. “In fact, fuck you.”

“Fuck you too,” I snapped. My tether was fraying super thin. The last thing I needed was to get reamed out by a flippin’ ghost. If there was really a ghost. The elevator doors soundlessly slid open on the muted hub of activity that was the BAU, and I stalked through.

Of course Ethan followed, paced me as I walked, and sent the temperature of the room plummeting. I was proud of myself. I didn’t scream as I made my way across the floor… mostly because getting tased in a federal building held no appeal. Neither did being left twitching on the floor in front of my coworkers. With that in mind, I even managed to accept a few nods and waves directed my way.

There are no ghosts. It’s anxiety. I just needed to take my pills and rest. The pills would only keep the visions away for so long, but I’d take any reprieve I could get. As Graycie’s office came into view, I poured on speed. As though I could outwalk a ghost.

“Running away?” Ethan hissed.

“If necessary.” I paused, one hand on the knob of Graycie’s office door. I could not come into my supervisor’s office, fresh off a two-month administrative leave—psychiatric leave—and be caught talking to a ghost. Or myself. That made me desperate. Desperate people did desperate things. And if that meant threatening a ghost who might or might not actually be a figment of my imagination, then so be it.

I looked around to see if anyone was watching. Coast clear. I leaned down and pretended to brush something off my shoe. “If you ever want me to help you deliver a message, and I do mean ever, then you had better keep quiet,” I said quietly, barely moving my lips a scintilla of a centimeter.

“I’m not trying to cause you any trouble,” Ethan said, clearly insulted.

“Well, then shut your ghostly yap,” I responded.

I yanked open the door and slipped inside. I shut it on Ethan’s face, as though that would protect me.

“I’ll see you around,” Ethan called through the tempered glass. It wasn’t a friendly sounding promise.

“If you don’t get wiped out by a ghost bus,” I mouthed. Judging from the expression on Ethan’s face, he’d heard just fine.

Chapter 2
I CAN’T pinpoint when, exactly, I’d begun to see ghosts, but I’d certainly seen my fair share. I generally did a good job of ignoring them, but in terms of annoying me to death, the one in Graycie’s office was an unexpected front-runner.

He was standing by the window, staring out. His clothes seemed dated, maybe even a little old-fashioned—suspenders holding up a pair of midnight trousers. He had pushed his glasses up on his forehead, which seemed about right. The jumpers never wanted to see the end. He looked sad. Regretful. I’d regret taking a header out of a sixth story window too.

It didn’t seem like a good time to tell Graycie there was a ghost at his window. Instead I watched Graycie turn a page of his newspaper with one hand and absently stir the cream in his coffee with the other. As head chief of the BAU-3 unit, he was good at making people squirm.

To the casual observer, he appeared relaxed. Not a care in the world. I knew him a little better than that. Graycie was pissed. He didn’t suffer fuckups lightly, and at that moment, I was first-draft pick for the Ultimate Fuckup League.

“Thanks for agreeing to meet with me this morning.” Graycie flipped a page of his newspaper. “I’m not going to beat around the bush.”

Well, good. Bushes are full of all kinds of nasty critters. “Sir?”

“I spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Paul. They had quite a bit to say about you.”

“All good, I hope.” Probably not a good idea to get smart with him. But I’m pretty sure I’m 70 percent blueberries and blackberries, because sarcasm is my jam.

He took off his glasses, laid them on the desk, and rubbed temples rife with silver. It wasn’t a bad look. He was about twenty pounds and a haircut from true silver-fox material, Sean Connery–style. His salt-and-pepper hair was still thick, and the lines around his eyes only added character to an already interesting mélange of features. Right then, those features were pulled downward as he sighed heavily.

“Christiansen, you’re a damn good agent, but I’m having a real problem with this. I’m still trying to understand why, on God’s green earth, you would give them a message from their dead daughter.”

Because her ghost wouldn’t fucking leave me alone, that’s why.

“I didn’t give them a message,” I said. “I simply told them that she was at peace. I was just… trying to give them a bit of closure.”

Sometimes I thought Graycie’s eyes were pretty. When he chose to pin me down with an unblinking stare? Not so much. Then those round light green orbs were a bit unnerving—like being stared to death by a pair of hostile seedless grapes.

“Shawna Paul’s abduction is still an open investigation. We haven’t located a body.” Graycie spoke carefully. Slowly. “We don’t, in fact, know if she’s dead. So how would you know if she’s at peace or not?”

“Look, what do you want from me?” I asked tiredly. “I felt bad. Okay? Mr. Paul has kept on a porch light for seven years, just so his daughter can find her way home in the dark. They won’t even sell the house in case Shawna comes back, so she’ll know where to find them. They can’t move on.”

“So you made up a story about their daughter being dead?”

“I didn’t make—”

I stopped short. There was no need to make things worse. That wasn’t the time to admit that, not only had I seen her spirit, but she’d been kind of chatty as well. It’d probably go much better for me if I were a liar, rather than certifiable.

I rubbed my eyes. Frankly I was tired of the whole mess. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“You think?” Graycie looked like he wanted to deck me. “If you weren’t the agent you are, I wouldn’t hesitate to can your ass. You do know that, don’t you?”

I sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“You are that,” he snapped. “If I hear of you going within fifty feet of even the Pauls’ flea-bitten beagle, I’ll make you into one of those ghosts you love so much.”

“Got it,” I said through gritted teeth. “Can I go?”

“No. That’s not why I called you down here.” Graycie pulled out a thick manila folder from the stack of crap on his desk. “I’ve reviewed the report from the departmental psychiatrist.”

“Oh yeah?” The mild words couldn’t quite begin to cover what I felt about that. Embarrassed about my two-month administrative leave. Nervous about what Ryder, the departmental psychiatrist from hell, had concluded about my mental state. As far as I knew, the man never answered a question unless it was with another question. And how does that make you feel?

Angry. Really fucking angry.

“Most of it seems to be in order.”

Most? I nodded and wondered about the one emotion that remained absent. Relief. I felt no relief. I would’ve felt the same if he’d said I couldn’t come back. Nothing. Flatline. I frowned at my thoughts. I’d worked hard to get where I was. I wasn’t about to give it all up because I suddenly had the emotional range of a tomato.

I cleared my throat. “I’m ready to get back to work.”

“Are you?”

“You have the report,” I said defensively. “Where is everyone? Fox? Scout? Angela?”

“I’m already sending the rest of the BAU-3 to Texas. They have a series of abducted children there.”

“I can be ready in an hour.”

“They left two hours ago.”

“Then I can meet them in Texas,” I gritted out. His silence spoke volumes, and I scowled. “You don’t think I’m ready.”

“No,” he agreed, and his simple agreement sent my brows sky high. He wasn’t even going to bullshit me? Must be serious.

“Several members of the team have expressed… concern. And you know how much we have to depend on one another in this job.”

It was true. Sometimes we spent more time with one another than with our families. Holidays, birthdays. Hell, when we traveled, even breakfast and dinner. It was a demanding job and one that required that you trusted everyone on your team. Apparently that was no longer the case. I was trying not to be bitter, but I’m genetically wired that way. It’s in my DNA, right next to punctuality and a love of chocolate.

“If you’re going to fire me, you could’ve done it over the phone. I was getting a good deal on some blood oranges.”

“I’m not firing anyone,” Graycie said, clearly exasperated. “But I do have something different in mind for you.”

“Yeah? I have no desire to fold shirts at the Gap.”

He ignored my flippancy with effort, but the left corner of one eye did twitch. “I want you to work on one of these outstanding cold cases. We’ve had requests from all of these departments, some dating back several years. You know our department is stretched paper-thin, so cases like these don’t really get the attention they deserve.”

Graycie picked up a stack of yellow color-coded files and held them out. After a moment of hesitation, I took them.

“What’re these?”

“Options. Ryan Markisson from Brighton, Michigan. He went missing from a basketball court. Tavis Ward, a six-year-old from Charleston.” Another yellow folder joined the stack. “Found dead in the woods behind his home. Carly Woodward. Sixteen-year-old from Chicago. They found her car in a parking lot behind her high school. From the amount of blood in her trunk, it doesn’t look good.”

It was times like these that the nature of the job really struck home. Each one of those yellow folders—some thin, some thick—represented someone’s life. Someone who was missing, maybe dead, possibly murdered. It was sobering. And it might not be the high-profile serial murders in Texas that the rest of the team was working on, but it was important. I picked up one of the yellow folders. They were important.

“I like the Tavis Ward case,” Ethan said near my ear. I barely caught my groan. I’d been so intent on the folders that I hadn’t even heard him come in. “I’ve never been to Charleston, you know.”

You should go. Like right now. I tried to project the message with a glare toward the nosy ghost, but Ethan only took a seat in the chair next to me.

“I’m going to need a moment to review the files,” I said.

“Take all the time you need.” Graycie’s phone vibrated on the desk, and he picked it up. I watched his thumbs awkwardly paw at the screen. He looked like a museum display as he searched for the next letter, brow furrowed. Cro-Magnon Man Meets Samsung Galaxy.

I bit my lip. That was my cue. I should probably get up and leave and let Graycie respond to whatever text had just winged in from God knows where. Probably from one of his nonfuckup agents telling him that he or she’d helped close the murder case of the century.

Instead I thumbed through the files and familiarized myself with the cases. I flipped open the Tavis Ward case file and began reading. It wasn’t long before I shook my head. “1965? The first forty-eight is usually in reference to hours, not years.”

“They recently found a witness who remembers seeing him in an ice cream shop. He’d been crying and carrying on, but she just thought he was giving his father a hard time.”

“What made her come forward now?”

He shrugged. “Who knows? What makes any of them come forward? Sometimes those kinds of people only care when it becomes personal for them. Maybe she suffered a recent loss in the family. With the new information, they’re filming a special for them on that missing people show? The Forgotten?”

“I haven’t heard of it.”

“You haven’t heard of anything on television, Christiansen.”

I shrugged. No, I wasn’t an expert on pop culture, but I had a TV. Apparently when you flubbed one game of charades, you were blackballed for life. “We lost fair and square, Grace.”

“We had that game in the bag.” Graycie sighed and shook his head at the misery of it all. “It was Harry freaking Potter. How do you miss something like that?”

“You drew a flower pot with hair on it.”

“And what would you have liked me to draw?” he snapped.

“How about a wizard hat? And, I dunno, a book?”

He scowled at me. “The next file is a missing girl from Brickell Bay. Amy Greene. They’re not sure if she took off on her own or if she had some help.”

I flipped open the folder and her picture smiled up at me. Reddish brown waves of hair surrounded her heart-shaped face and fell to her slender shoulders. She looked exactly like what she was—a happy, healthy teenager. Except the eyes. Those brown eyes looked… knowing, somehow, incongruous with the braced, cheery smile.

I sighed, closed the file, and tapped it against my leg. Graycie had gone back to his phone already, as though I weren’t there. “And if I don’t choose one of these?”

“Where is the fricking number sign?” He didn’t look up.


“I’m not deaf, Christiansen. No matter what, you can’t be here,” he said. “Not while I’m fixing this Shawna Paul disaster. You should be thanking me.”

“Thanking you? You gotta be—”

“They wanted you fired.”

Oh. Well, there was that. I swallowed. “Thank you.”

He sent me a meaningful look. “Mmhmm. You’re not working with the team until you get your head together. And before you return to full duty, you’ll have to sit down with the departmental psychologist and get cleared.”

“I already did that,” I protested. “You read the report.”

“Yeah.” Graycie finally looked up from his phone, those mossy green eyes serious and soft. So unlike him. “I did.”

I blew out a breath. Fucking Ryder. I probably shouldn’t have been quite so honest with the shrink.

Graycie looked back down at his phone again, and whatever look I had seen was gone as quickly as it had appeared. “This one is a gimme, Christiansen. You poke around one of these cold, and I do mean ice-fucking-cold cases. You go down, investigate, make nice with local PD, and make no waves. Make it look good. You solve the case? Even better.”

Yeah, well. Brickell Bay was also located right on the outskirts of my hometown. That also meant I would have to see my sister and have dinner with my parents at least once. That should certainly qualify me for some hazard pay, right?

He pointed at the folder I still gripped in my hands. “Is that your case?”

“Yeah. Amy Greene.”

He nodded, satisfied. “I’ll email you all the details for when you meet with the Brickell Bay Police Department. They’ll have an escort waiting for you at the airport.”

“Escort?” My eyebrows climbed my forehead. “So I don’t escape? Am I going to Brickell Bay or Alcatraz?”

“Common courtesy.”

I groaned inwardly as I stood and shrugged into my coat and gloves. I had to play nice with some stooge from the ancient history squad all the way back to Brickell Bay. That did it. I was officially going to have to pad my expense reports.

“Let’s get this over with,” I sighed. “When is my flight?”

“The red-eye tonight at DCA.”

“No agency jet,” I said mournfully.

“No, but I’ll book you two seats in economy.” Graycie smirked. “So you’ll have elbow room.”

“Smug bastard. You ever heard of business class?” I stood and slung my scarf around my neck, but didn’t bother to secure it. I’d be in my car soon enough. That’s what God made heated seats for, after all. That and keeping takeout warm on the way home.

“Oh, and Christiansen?”

I looked back to find Graycie staring at me. Hard. “Yeah?”

“Don’t fuck up.”

The word again hung in the air, unspoken, and my mouth tightened before I headed out the door.

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Boots by Angel Martinez
“The cat?” Willem sputtered. “That’s what he left me?”

“Settle down, Will.” Gunther pursed his lips and pointed to the stool beside his desk. “Yes, and three hundred dollars. Wasn’t much to divide between us.”

“But he left you the whole brewery!” Willem flung his arms in the air. Dear old Dad’s parting shot from the grave. “And at least he left Kurt the truck!”

“What would you do with a truck and no license?” Kurt drawled from where he leaned in the doorway.

“Could’ve sold it!”

Gunther ran a hand back through his hair. “Will, it’s not like I’d kick you out on the street. You’re welcome to stay with Linda and me as long as you need. You can always work on the line, or the loading dock.” He glanced up at Willem, his eyes tired. “It’s not like Dad left me a lot either. A floundering brewery and a hell of a lot of debt.”

Shame flushed Willem’s face. “I’m sorry, Gun. I know.”

Five years, it had been five years since he had spoken to their father, and it had been a shouting match about Willem being a ‘sissy fag’. When his father had called him the week before, it had been a surprise. He hadn’t been able to get hold of Gunther and Kurt was out of town, he’d said. Someone needed to help him get to the hospital. The shock of seeing his strong, blustering father gaunt and unsteady had shaken Willem to the core.

In the ambulance Willem had thought he and his father had mended fences, and now this.

“I appreciate the offer.” Willem blew out a slow breath. “But I can’t mooch off you. And working at the brewery would be too much like charity.”

“It’s not charity, Will. We’re family.”

“Hate to break up this love fest, but I’m out. Have to get back to Pittsburgh tonight.” Kurt pushed off from the wall and gave them an unenthusiastic wave. “Later, bros. Have fun with your cat, Will.”

Gunther snorted when he walked out of sight. “Such a warm, caring person.”

“Yeah, well, Dad made us all what we are,” Willem muttered.

A long hesitation hung between them.

“Did he make you gay, Will?” Gunther asked softly.

From anyone else, the question would have made him furious, but Gunther, solid, backwater Gunther, really wanted to know. “No, Gun. Either you are or you aren’t. Dad made me crazy, but he didn’t make me gay.”

Gunther nodded, tapping a pencil on the desk. “So what’re you going to do? No job, no place to stay. Will, I worry about you.”

“I’ll manage.” Jaw tight, the backs of his eyes burning, Willem had no idea how he would.

Three months prior, he’d had a good job as a welder at the auto plant, a live-in boyfriend, and a decent apartment. Now the plant had shut down, the aforementioned boyfriend had ditched him for some damn hairstylist, and cheating boyfriend and said hairstylist now inhabited the apartment. The drunken binge after finding Joey in bed with his new lover had been the final blow. He didn’t recall driving drunk, but since that night had cost him his license, he must have. Not such a terrible thing, he supposed, since the week after, the bank had repossessed his car.

Joey… He wished he could recall good moments. There had been happy times, when they’d had fun together, when it had felt like Joey loved him. The only image that would come, the one seared into his brain, was Joey on his knees, head and shoulders on the mattress, ass in the air, crying out while hair-boy pounded into him with wild abandon. God. How long had it been going on, right in his own bed?

He heaved a sigh and glanced down at the black tomcat sleeping on his cushion in the corner of the office. “It was a good joke. About the cat. But I can’t take poor Puss out of here. He’s comfortable where he is.”

“Don’t mind keeping him for you,” Gunther said. “He keeps the mice from the grain. You just let me know if you ever want him.”

“Thanks, Gun.” He rose and shook his brother’s hand. “Really. I know it’s—” He broke off when something butted against his ankle. Puss wound his way around Willem’s legs, purring.

Gunther chuckled. “He doesn’t want you to go.”

“You stay with, Gun, Puss.” Willem reached down to scratch the tom behind his ears. “Stay here where you’ve got your food dish and your pillow.”

Puss looked up at him with bright green eyes and mewed. Willem hoped that was agreement.

He had walked out onto the street, long strides eating up half a block in no time, before he stumbled on something and nearly fell. The damn cat had run right between his feet.

“Go home, Puss.”

Puss just stared at him with those shining, enigmatic eyes. Not like you can tell a cat where to go. When he started walking again, Puss padded right beside him. Willem went on to the memorial park in the center of town and sat on one of the creaky benches with the fewest slats missing. He pulled his jacket closer against the late autumn chill, set his backpack by his feet, and tried to jumpstart his tired brain.

What was there really left to do? Here he was, in a town where the recession had begun long before Dubya had taken office. The coal companies, having ripped the hearts from the hills and left their mess behind, had long moved on. The last factories had shut down. Half the stores on Market Street were empty or boarded up. He had no prospects, no transportation, just enough money to get him in trouble, and no dreams that hadn’t died. What was the point—?

“Are you going to sit there feeling sorry for yourself all night?”

Willem looked around to find the velvet-smooth voice. “What? Who said that?”

“Down here, nitwit.”

But there was no one, just Puss sitting beside him on the bench with his thick, black tail twitching.


“For Raiju’s sake, Willem, open your eyes.”

They were open all right, but that didn’t guarantee his sanity. He could have sworn the damn cat had spoken.


“Yes. And while I have your attention, what sort of stupid name is Puss, anyway? Couldn’t you and your halfwit brothers have come up with something slightly more imaginative? You may as well have called me Cat.”


“Close your mouth. You waste precious heat that way.”

Willem snapped his mouth shut. Wonderful. I’ve been under so much stress I’m losing my marbles.

“I’ve shocked you. Can’t be helped.” Puss butted his head against Willem’s arm. “I don’t normally speak to regular, garden-variety humans, but you need some serious help pulling your head out of your ass.”

“Did you…? Are you…?” Words no longer seemed adequate for all the things he wanted to ask. In a strangled squeak, he forced out, “Have you always talked?”

“That, my dear Willem, would imply I’ve been talking nonstop for a number of years. I think you meant to ask, ‘Could you always talk?’ Yes.”

“But…did you talk to Dad?”

“Toward the end, yes. I tried to help. Your pater was stubborn, though. Convinced I was part of the disease process.” Puss lifted a white-socked paw to clean, his pink tongue rasping against his fur.

“Why didn’t you ever talk to me?” A little ball of hurt lodged in Willem’s gut. The old tom had been around for as long as he could recall. He would have given almost anything as a lonely, miserable child to have had someone to talk to.

“You never asked.”

“Oh.” Willem batted this around his tired brain a moment. “What do you want me to call you?”

Puss lifted a shoulder in what could only be a shrug. “I suppose you could call me Kasha.”

“Isn’t that a cereal?”

“No, you ignorant hick.” Puss…Kasha snorted. “Now, focus. It’s getting cold out here. Where have you been sleeping?”

“I was sleeping on a friend’s couch.” Willem shivered, still staring at his cat. He supposed if he had to hallucinate, at least it was a sensible one. “But her sister’s coming for a long visit and she asked me, nicely, to get out.”

“So your intention was to freeze to death on a park bench.”

“Yeah… I mean, no! I didn’t, that’s…” he trailed off, at a loss. The huge lump in his throat wasn’t helping. He had been thinking about hiking to the old train station in the next town to the south, even though it was a long haul and he was dead tired.

“Willem, my boy.” Kasha patted his thigh with a paw. “These situations are rarely as hopeless as they first appear. Turn off the bitter emotions. Keep your head. There are always opportunities. Are all your necessities in that bag?”

Willem stared down at his backpack and nodded. “Yeah. I…didn’t keep much. The rest is in storage.”

Kasha jumped down from the bench and tugged at Willem’s jeans with his claws. “Come. We’re going for a walk. I know a place.”

* * * *

Two hours later, Willem swayed on his feet, teeth clenched against his shivers. They stood in front of a dark hunting cabin, nestled in the hills outside of town.

“We can’t just go in. It doesn’t belong to us.”

“He’s gone until next year,” Kasha said with a push at Willem’s legs. “We won’t do any harm and you need somewhere warm and dry. Rain’s on the way.”

Willem glanced up at the cloudless sky. “It’s probably locked. I’m not breaking in.”

Kasha let out a little growl, apparently growing short on patience. “The key’s underneath the stone turtle by the door.”

Sure enough, it was. “How do you know all this?”

“I visit sometimes. The hunters give me deer entrails, still warm from the kill.”

“Sorry I asked.”

Exhausted and out of options now that the sun had set, Willem unlocked the door with his heart slamming against his ribs. No vehicles sat beside the cabin. No lights shone inside. Still, someone might come.

“I’m going to bite you if you don’t go inside.”

Evening blanketed the interior, but enough light remained to make out a table and two wooden chairs, a cot by the wall, a kerosene heater and a gray stone fireplace. “Okay, I’ll be there in a minute. Just need to get some wood.” He was about to stoop to squatting on someone else’s property, but he’d be damned if he was going to steal the man’s kerosene as well.

“Suit yourself.”

Kasha sat on the cot, tail curled around his feet, eyes closed, while Willem schlepped logs and branches in from the woodpile. Though his hands were shaking from cold and exhaustion, he managed to get a respectable fire going. The cheerful snap and crackle lifted a thin layer of shadow from his heart and Kasha, now that the hearth was warm, padded over to join him.

“Are you hungry?” Willem dug in his backpack. “I have a tin of sardines in here somewhere we could share.”

“You always were a thoughtful boy,” Kasha said as he curled up beside Willem’s thigh, his front paws tucked under his body. His ears pricked forward at a delicate metallic clatter against the stones as Willem rifled through his pack. “What would that be?”

Willem peered over his leg and picked up the little wire-and-scrap-metal sandhill crane. “Oh, that. Nothing.”

“If it’s nothing, you wouldn’t keep it. Did someone give it to you?”

“No.” Heat crept up his face. Why he felt embarrassed in front of a cat, he couldn’t imagine, especially a cat he had known all his life. “I, um, made it.”

“Did you now? Huh.” Kasha rubbed his head against Willem’s knee. “I believe you said something about sardines.”

“Right. Sorry.” Willem turned the key to open the can, the sudden, sharp fishy scent mingling with wood smoke in an oddly comforting way. Warmth and food, I suppose. His hands still shook as he divided the contents in half and placed Kasha’s portion in front of him on the lid.

Feline eyes stared up at him. “Are you ill?”

“No. I mean, I don’t think so.” He wolfed down his sardines—barely enough to fool his stomach into thinking it had been fed. With his arms wrapped around his ribs, he scooted closer to the fire. “Just can’t get warm.”

Kasha rose with a languid stretch and a sharp-toothed yawn. He trotted over to a cabinet by the cot and hooked a claw under the door’s bottom corner to pop it open. With his teeth, he snagged a wool blanket and pulled it out, the cloth unfolding behind him to three times his length as he dragged it across the floor to Willem. When he tried to repeat the process with the down comforter from the cot, Willem finally snapped out of his shocked stupor.

“Hey, um, maybe we should just sleep on the cot.”

“Warmer by the fire,” Kasha muttered with his teeth still closed on the comforter.

Can’t argue that. Willem rose on shaking legs and made them a nest of blankets on the hearth. He curled up with Kasha snuggled in his arms, the gradual spread of warmth calming his jangled nerves.

His father was dead and he wasn’t certain how he was supposed to feel. Numb, definitely numb. It was all so inconceivable, that Horst Aufderheide, larger-than-life, never satisfied, never still Horst, could be gone. Not that he had ever been close to his father. His contempt for Willem’s ‘doodling’ and his constant irritation about his lack of ‘drive’ and ‘initiative’, had built a Kinzua Dam-sized wall between them.

Kasha began to purr, soothing vibrations rippling through his chest. “Go to sleep, Willem. You need to rest.”

Between fire crackle and purr, Willem drifted off.

A Ghost Story by JP Bowie
You are cordially invited to attend an intimate soirée on the evening of February 24th at 8 p.m. The renowned poet Mr Robert Clavell will entertain us with a short dissertation of his recently published poem, Lannisbourne. A light supper and refreshments will be served.

Robert sighed as he read the words printed in an elegant scroll on the very expensive card he held. He wished now he had never agreed to attend or read a stanza or two from his latest poem. Lannisbourne meant more to him than being listened to by a gin-swilling mob of degenerates masquerading as nobility. In his opinion, the secret life he led was a damned sight more palatable than the ghastly indulgences favoured by some of the Maplethorpe’s friends.

Only yesterday, he had heard through the gossip mill that a young girl had been admitted to the local hospital suffering from a severe beating after attending a private party given by some well-heeled fops. Robert had a suspicion as to whom the gossip referred. He shuddered, hoping against hope that George Russell would not be one of the attendees at tonight's soirée. The man was a thorn in Robert's side, a self-proclaimed 'master of the verse', and one to quickly deride Robert's work at every turn in the editorials he wrote for the newspaper bequeathed to him by his late father.

A discreet tap at his bedroom door pulled him from his dark thoughts. "Come in, Danvers."

His manservant appeared in the doorway, a small smile on his lined face. Danvers had been his parents' manservant before their tragic accidental deaths five years earlier in a hotel fire in Venice, Italy. As their only surviving heir, Robert had inherited the townhouse on Featherstone Avenue, and he had asked Danvers to stay on in his employ.

"Mr Edmonton is here, Master Robert. Shall I tell him you will be down momentarily?"

"Ask him to come up please, Danvers. I'm not quite finished dressing."

"Do you require assistance?"

"No, no... I can manage." Robert rarely asked Danvers to assist him with his wardrobe, requiring him only to draw his nightly bath and occasionally help with a bothersome button or collar.

"Very good, Master Robert. I shall send him up directly."

"Thank you, Danvers."

Robert breathed a sigh of relief that he had managed to garner his friend John Edmonton an invitation to tonight's gathering. John, a successful lawyer based in London was in Manchester for a weekend visit, staying at a gentleman’s club. With John there it would be bearable, and perhaps afterwards they could return here for a brandy, and...

Another tap on the door, this one more robust, and John entered, his handsome face wreathed in smiles. "Robert, how dashing you look in your best bib and tucker!"

Robert chuckled and opened his arms to his friend. "And you will turn every head tonight, John."

"The only head I want to turn is the pretty one perched on your shoulders." John wrapped his arms around Robert and kissed him, gently at first, then as longing and need took over, with a fervour that had both men moaning into each other's mouths.

"Oh, Robbie..." John groaned his pet name for Robert softly against his lips. "It’s been too long since last we enjoyed one another's company like this."

Robert ran a hand over John’s thick, sandy-coloured hair, his fingers straying over the nape of John’s neck in a tender caress. "I know, my love, but it's difficult when we live so far apart."

"You could move to London." John kissed Robert's neck. "What is there here for you that makes you refuse to leave?"

"This is my home, John. I have friends here..."

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Random Paranormal Tales of 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3

Brynn Stein
Brynn Stein has always loved to write. Fan fiction, original fiction, whatever. While Brynn wrote in numerous genres—everything from mystery, to contemporary, to supernatural—she had always tended toward strong male characters. And then she discovered “slash,” male/male romance, and all those strong male characters were finally allowed to express their love for one another. It seems that there are always at least two characters clamoring to tell Brynn their story.

Brynn lives in Virginia with one of her two two-legged children, and two four-legged ones. Her supportive family encourages her writing and provides a sounding board for fledgling stories. When she isn’t writing, Brynn teaches children with special needs. In free time, when such a thing exists, she reads anything she can get her hands on, and haunts bookstores. She draws and paints, and enjoys the outdoors—especially if she can get to the beach—and is always thinking about her next story.

Helena Maeve
Helena Maeve has always been a globe trotter with a fondness for adventure, but only recently has she started putting to paper the many stories she's collected in her excursions. When she isn't writing erotic romance novels, she can usually be found in an airport or on a plane, furiously penning in her trusty little notebook.

SE Harmon
S.E. Harmon has had a lifelong love affair with writing. It’s been both wonderful and rocky (they've divorced several times), but they always manage to come back together. She's a native Floridian with a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters in Fine Arts, and now splits her days between voraciously reading romance novels and squirreling away someplace to write them. Her current beta reader is a nosy American Eskimo who begrudgingly accepts payment in the form of dog biscuits.

Angel Martinez
Angel Martinez currently lives 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.

Angel's alter ego writes the all-ages science fiction - Sandra Stixrude.

JP Bowie
J.P. Bowie was born and raised in Aberdeen, Scotland. He wrote his first (unpublished) novel – a science fiction tale of brawny men and brawnier women that made him a little suspect in the eyes of his family for a while.

Leaving home at age eighteen for the bright lights of London, he found himself in the midst of a “diverse and creative crowd” that eventually led him to the performing arts. For the next twelve years he sang, danced and acted his way around the theatres of London and the provinces, appearing in shows with many famous British singers, actors and comedians.

After immigrating to the US and living for many years in Las Vegas where he worked for that incomparable duo, Siegfried and Roy, J.P. found himself entranced by the fair city of San Diego where he currently lives with his partner, Phil.

Brynn Stein

Helena Maeve

SE Harmon

Angel Martinez

JP Bowie

Waiting for Patrick by Brynn Stein

Courting Treason by Helena Maeve

P.S. I Spook You by SE Harmon

Boots by Angel Martinez

A Ghost Story by JP Bowie