Saturday, May 24, 2008

Apprehension by Yvette Hines

Thor could hear the Carrie Underwood song blaring a quarter of a mile away. Even given the distance, the candy apple red shine of the car was vaguely identifiable as it barreled down the road's flat terrain leading to the main gate of Moody Air Force Base.

Here comes trouble. The words echoed through Thor's mind, only slightly comprehended above the car's radio.

When the red Corvette finally pulled up beside him, the chorus of Before He Cheats was playing. He watched the blonde driver as she conversed with the brunette beside her and flipped her dependent identification toward him.

Things like that always pissed him off. "Excuse me, ma'am. I need you—"

Thor cut his own words off. Blondie still wasn't giving him the benefit of eye contact.

On any other day, he would have repeated his order. But not today. Today was his last day of work and he classified that as 'taking no shit day'. Reaching across her body, he twisted the radio's dial quickly, feeling it snap into the off position. Nice legs. He noted the fact that the skirt of her sundress was riding high on her thighs, whether by the wind or her instigation, it was a sight worth appreciating.

He returned to his authoritative stance beside the car.

Finally, the blonde turned with her brow pinched and pierced him with an angry glare, barely visible through the tint of her glasses. "Hey, where in the hell do you get off—"

"Sorry, ma'am," he began "but it's base policy—"

"I can care less about base policy. But, a little courtesy would've been nice." The blonde woman pushed her sunshades on top of her head, allowing it to double as a headband holding her wind blown shoulder length hair away from her face.

She had nice eyes. Hazel eyes. He hadn't expected that color. Blue maybe or even brown, but the striking gold-green color of her irises emphasized by her mascara thickened lashes gave him pause.

Reigning himself in, he brought his focus back to the subject at hand. "When you pulled up, I requested you lower your music, but I guess you couldn't hear me with the volume up so loud." He purposely gave her a cocky smile.

The brunette leaned toward the driver's side of the car with a snide smirk on her face. "Evidently, Technical Sergeant Zeller, you don't realize who you're talking to."

Taking his sights off the driver, he glanced at her passenger for a moment. "Doesn't matter, ma'am, the rules apply to anyone entering the base."

The brunette hooted with laughter. "Your little security force's handbook of rules doesn't apply to Major General Michael Wright's daughter."

"Stephanie, don't—" the blonde driver attempted to stop her friend.

Ignoring her, Stephanie, the brunette, went on, "I'm sure you know who he is." She beamed a superior smile at him. "He's here from the Pentagon to retire in his hometown. Our hometown. Claremont is a neighbor of Lowndes."

Just great. I had to be the one to get the town princess.

The driver jumped in again. "Steph, leave it alone. It's not worth it."

He was sure the General's daughter probably meant that he wasn't worth the time.

"Well, when you get there, tell him I said congrats," he commanded. Looking back at the driver, he placed an additional amount of authority in his voice. "Identification, please."

Opening her hand, the blonde presented him with her card.

Collecting it from her for review, his fingers brushed the soft, supple skin of her palm and heat raced up through his fingertips. Lifting the picture, he scanned the name on the card. Liza Wright. Purposely, he held it longer than was necessary before he passed it back to her awaiting hand.

"Enjoy the ceremony, ma'am," Thor told her.

Slipping the card into the inside handle grip of the driver's side door, she looked back at him. For a moment, her eyes traveled down the length of his body as if assessing his worth. When they returned back to his face, she flipped her glasses down and said, "I plan to. The party is at Claremont Wright Country Club if you care to stop by when you get off."

Like hell I will. It wasn't that she was not beautiful. She was damn hot. Every fiber in his being had reacted to the view of her golden thighs. And in any other situation he would have taken her up on the offer with big hopes for the end of the night. However, his every instinct told him she was trouble.

"No thank you, ma'am."

Shrugging off his reply, she floored the gas and peeled through the gate, turning her music back up.

As he watched her pull off, he was tempted to call it in, but disregarded it. Instead, he looked down at his watch and checked the time. He was relieved to note that in four hours and ten minutes he would be off duty and by tomorrow morning he would be out of the Air Force.

* * * *

Few parking spaces were available when Thor arrived at Sonny's. He'd learned quickly that food and business were how they did things in the south, in that order. A month after he left the military, he'd received a call from Robert Dennison, the Claremont police chief, asking him to meet him for the final interview to join the local force.

Thor was happy for the time off to relax but now he was becoming restless and antsy. It was time for him to get back in the cops and robbers game. Stepping out of his car, he paused. Leaving the barbeque establishment was the town princess he'd had the pleasure of meeting during his last day of duty. Just like four weeks ago, she wore a dress and sunshades, the only difference this time was instead of a mouthy brunette accompanying her, she held a large bag of takeout. He admitted to himself she was a knockout. A visual treat. Even with her regal attitude. It just made him want to tame her even more.

Leaning back against his car, he took a moment to observe the General's daughter. Watching the sway of her hips as she strolled with confidence to her convertible two rows over from his, a smile played on his lips. The miniscule amount of wind in the air wasn't an adequate amount to cool the rising summer heat from his skin, however, it was more than enough to flirt with the hem of her dress, allowing him a glimpse of her sexy tanned legs. As she padded across the ground in her sandals, he noted how nice her calves were. The kind of calves a man loved to cup in his hands or feel over his shoulders. He was slightly heartbroken when the parked cars in her row blocked his view of them.

She disappeared from his line of sight as she passed two vans parked next to her car. When she arrived at her car, she leaned over the driver's side door and situated her burden in the back seat. Just like sweet iced tea to a hot and thirsty man, the town princess satisfied him with a view of her sweet round ass. The thought of wanting to see her naked in the same position didn't shock him as much as it turned him on. Quick and fierce.

Attempting to clear his mind of images that wouldn't lead him to employment, but more than likely run out of town if anyone found out, he brushed his hand across the back of his neck and pushed away from his car. Chief Dennison was inside waiting on him and he needed to mind his own business concerns. The princess definitely wasn't his business, nor his concern. Matter of fact, Princess Wright would probably have been pissed if she'd known he'd been observing her royal hiney. Nevertheless, as he walked away, he couldn't stop himself from glancing back over his shoulder and watching her pull out of the parking lot. The wind now teased her hair and made his finger itch to do the same.

Running his hands through his hair, now grown out from the short standard military cut, he headed toward the front of the wooden restaurant, which resembled a big red barn, to meet the Claremont chief of police. Dust from the unpaved parking lot trailed in the wake of his footsteps as he moved to the entrance.

"Brad 'Thor' Zeller." A tall, thin black man in a suit with basketball palming hands grabbed his hand and patted Thor on the back. "I recognize you from your file photo."

Thor added his own strength to the handshake. "Then you better be Chief Dennison."

The black man smiled.

"The one and only." A greeter standing by the welcome podium chimed in with a wink.

"I hope you brought your appetite," Chief Dennison commented as he ended the handshake.

"I sure did." Thor rubbed his abdomen for effect. He'd heard from his friend Jack that this was one of the best barbeque restaurants in town.

"Great." Dennison headed toward the woman. "A booth, please, Rachel."

"You got it, shuga'bear." Grabbing two menus from beside her stand, Rachel, the greeter, sashayed into the dining area. "This way."

"During lunch we'll talk about the position I have open and you can tell me how you got your nickname. Or should I just believe I'm eating with a legend?"

It was Thor's turn to laugh. Business and food, the southern way.

Better Late by Ellen Addie

"I can't even remember...is the party starting at seven or seven thirty?" Kelly muttered, searching for an open space in the hotel's crowded parking garage. "Oh, great, I'm already talking to myself," she said as she pulled into a spot. "Not too nervous, am I?"

Gathering up her purse and the invitation, she hurried toward the elevator. Kelly quickly glanced at her watch and rechecked the invite clutched in her hand.

"Party On With A.W.E.! Cocktails 7 p.m. – 8 p.m., Dinner 8 p.m. - ???"

"Okay, okay, so I'm a little late." She chastised herself out loud as she emerged into the opulent lobby at half past seven o'clock. At least it was going to be easy finding the ballroom; the chatter and laughter of hundreds of people echoed through the hotel corridors. And she heard music, too, probably a small combo. Sounds like the old company is doing this party up right. It was the least they could do, of course; so many people had been associated with American Wrestling Enterprises, and now here they were, finally about to go public on the Stock Exchange. A little thank you to the employees was certainly in order and much appreciated. Hey, at least I got an invite, Kelly congratulated herself; she'd left the company over twelve years ago but still kept in touch with several of her old colleagues.

How do I look? She made a quick duck into the nearest ladies' room for a quick once-over. Okay, so I'm not twenty-five anymore...hell, I'm not even thirty-five. She laughed quietly as she checked her image in the mirror, amazed to find herself in a skirt again. She hadn't worn one in a few years; her current routine teaching at the university didn't require much in the way of dolling up anymore, and that was fine with her. Still, she rather liked the way her legs looked in the swirling, above-the-knee black dress she had bought just for this party. Her new black shoes, strappy, sexy high heels, enhanced the shape of her legs and, to her surprise, were much more comfortable than they looked. Not bad for a forty-year-old English professor from the wilds of Maine, Kelly thought as she smiled at her image. She gave her wavy hair a fluff. Here I go.

One more turn, a few steps, and she was in the ballroom. A huge banner welcomed all the A.W.E. alumni, and she fervently hoped somebody still remembered her—or at least recognized her. Though she tried to keep up with the current roster of stars, those wrestlers who made it on TV the most often and sold out the arenas, she had to admit it had been a while since she had really followed the sport. As director of publicity for A.W.E., she had been a walking encyclopedia of the company's personalities, but that was a long time ago.

"Kelly! Oh my God!" It was a woman's voice, and Kelly felt two hands grabbing her shoulders and whirling her around. "I can't believe you actually came!" Kelly was thrilled to discover it was Sarah, her former assistant who now ran the public relations department.

"Sarah! You look wonderful!" Kelly gave her a hug and smiled warmly. "You know, I almost didn't show up. I'm not sure anybody will still remember me."

"Are you kidding? There are a bunch of us old-timers still kicking around." She laughed. "Somebody's got to know where all the bodies are buried!"

"That would be us." Kelly smiled in agreement. "Anyone here from my era?"

"Plenty! Come on inside; we'll find a table," Sarah said, taking Kelly by the arm. "I've already seen Super Sam and Tabonga the Giant holding hands, so guess who turned out to be gay, after all?"

"No! We were right all along," Kelly giggled. "We had gaydar before gaydar was cool, eh?" They laughed together. "Say, where's your adorable husband Ken, anyway?" she asked.

"He's a total idiot," Sarah smiled. "Couldn't wait to get here. I sometimes think that's why he married me, just so he could get backstage passes to wrestling," she joked. "He's off getting autographs." She rolled her eyes affectionately. "And how are you doing, anyway?"

"You mean since Nick and I split up?" Kelly shrugged. "Not bad. We were over. Really, we're both much happier now. We're actually friends."

"Well, don't worry, Ken and I will take care of you tonight!" Sarah assured her as they continued to wend their way through the crowd. Kelly spotted other familiar faces from the past—The Juggler, Sir Boss, The Black Fox, former grapplers who had been top stars years ago and who still worked in the arenas and the front office. The two women received hugs from several of the guys when they stopped to say hello. There was nothing quite like getting a bear hug from a 300-pound wrestler.

Kelly noticed the younger guys. If anything, the wrestlers were even larger and more toned than when she worked at the company. Each generation of stars seemed to get more superhuman-looking, and even in their street clothes, they were impressive. Or weirdly over-muscled, depending on your point of view. The whole body-builder type wasn't her thing exactly, but they were nice to look at just the same, even though she knew that it was often unsafe steroid use that made them that way. That particular dirty little un-secret was one of the uglier things about professional wrestling.

"Appetizers, ladies?" A young female food server offered up a tray of luscious shrimp as Kelly and Sarah halted, mired in the crowd.

"Yes, please!" they answered simultaneously and cracked themselves up.

"Now, if we can just make it over to the bar, we'll be doing all right," Sarah said. "Look, why don't you head over to one of those tables, and I'll get us something. Snag three seats. No sense for two of us to fight our way through. I'll find you."

"White wine is great for me, thanks," Kelly said, and they separated, Sarah peeling off to the side of the room while Kelly squeezed her way further forward. The crowd seemed to thin out here a little, but there was a lively group gathered around one of the tables just ahead. Kelly heard a familiar strain of devilish laughter, and her heart skipped a beat. It sounded like...could it really be him, her all-time favorite, her old friend "Rabid" Randy Muldoon?

She used to love it when the wrestler dropped into her office for a working visit, and sometimes just to hang out. Randy was crazy and hilarious, and they had hit it off from the very beginning. She hadn't thought about him for a while and suddenly became very nostalgic. Boy, I really used to like him, she remembered. Big crush...and I don't think I laugh enough anymore, she decided. Moving ahead, Kelly veered toward the opposite side of the crowded round table, positive it was Muldoon. She could make out some of his animated conversation as he held court.

"Don't worry about me—my book's coming out next month, and I'm in no hurry to get back in the ring just yet," she heard him say to someone. Kelly couldn't see him. Then for a split second, the wall of people parted, and she had a clear view of him just as his eyes swept over the crowd. He spotted her. "Kelly? Kelly Stewart? I can't believe it! Is that you? Get over here, would ya?" he called out, raising his arm in a wave and motioning to her. She managed to work her way around to his side of the table, happy that he recognized her but not wanting to interrupt his conversation.

Rabid Randy had a huge grin on his face, and as she approached, he rose from his chair to greet her. In his late forties now, he still cut a nice figure in his relaxed suit. He was a few inches over six feet tall, his tousled, sandy brown hair not showing much grey yet. Though he had put on a few pounds since his heyday in the ring and now sported a small stylish goatee, he didn't look too different from the charismatic wrestling superstar she had known back then. He had taken the sport by storm well over twenty years ago with his talent and that genuine and welcoming smile of his. His dark brown eyes sparkled at her, mischievous and lively. She stood in front of him and smiled, all at once aware of the rapid beating of her heart.

"Hi, Randy! I'm surprised you remembered me," Kelly said with a laugh as she held her hand out to shake his. Instead, he pulled her into an enthusiastic hug, squeezing her tight, his muscled arms strong around her. She returned it shyly, giving him a friendly embrace. Randy took her by the shoulders and held her away from his body, looking her over.

"I'd never forget you, Kel. You're holding up awfully well for an old broad," he kidded, smiling at her warmly. "What's it been, nine, ten years?"

"Would you believe twelve? And you look pretty decent yourself," Kelly said, returning his smile.

"Tell that to my orthopedist," Randy joked. "Hey, you know most of these folks, don't you?" he said, indicating the crowd. "You all remember Kelly, right? She used to run the P.R. department." Kelly said a round of quick hellos. She knew a lot of them from way back, and it was gratifying to see that they seemed happy to see her. "It's fun seeing everybody again," she offered, smiling, and stepped back, not wanting to intrude, but Randy kept a hand on her arm.

"Who are you here with?" he asked, his attention still focused on her.

"I'm on my own." She shrugged her shoulders. "I'm single again. My husband and I just split about a year ago."

Randy raised his eyebrows. "I didn't even know you were married."

"Oh, well, I guess maybe you wouldn't. It was a few years after I left the company." She brightened. "But hey, I just now hooked back up with Sarah, my old assistant, and she's off getting us something to drink. Is your wife here with you?"

"Not quite," he said, with a rueful little exhalation of breath. Randy held up his left hand and wriggled his fingers. "See, no wedding ring anymore."

"Ooh, I'm sorry," Kelly offered quickly. "I hadn't heard."

"Well, thanks. I'll tell you all about it later. Come on, you've gotta sit here at our table. There's plenty of room," he insisted. Kelly smiled; it was no use trying to decline. It was sure to be a lively evening at Randy's table. She was thrilled to see him again.

Making Magic by Jade Falconer

Tommy was enjoying his first semester at college. He'd only made a few friends so far, but his classes were interesting, and he loved the city. New Orleans was different from anywhere he'd ever been. The heat was stifling, but as September gave way to October, it got better.

One of his classes, on witchcraft, was particularly fascinating. There were a great many "witches" who had chosen the colorful location as their home, and supposedly a great deal of the city's history revolved around things intangible. Voodoo, black magic, high priestesses. Just as riveting as the syllabus was the man teaching it.

He was downright stoic. If anything, his lectures tended to be a trifle unromantic for such a topic. But, the most notable thing about Professor Burton was that he was stunningly handsome, almost beautiful. He could be reading from the telephone book and Tommy would happily sit in the front row and listen to his mellifluous voice, watching those full lips and sculpted features. The professor looked to be in his mid-thirties, with short dark hair and striking blue-green eyes. His body looked solid and muscular underneath his regrettably conservative clothes.

But, he wasn't reading the phonebook. He was speaking of witches, and whether they were real or not—the witches certainly believed they were. And so, it would seem, did the professor.

"Do you think he's one of them?" he asked a couple of his friends as they left the class.

A tall, muscular boy with sandy brown hair snorted. "No such thing as witches, you dork." He nudged him as they walked.

Another boy, with short dark hair, shook his head. "I don't know, man. He's fucking creepy. I'd believe it."

Tommy looked up at the lighter-haired boy. Derek. He was certain Derek was straight, but he was still gorgeous in a homophobic jock kind of way. "If he is one of them, we should all be careful. He might hex us or something," he joked.

Derek rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Let him try, I'll kick his ass."

The darker haired boy, James, looked a little worried. "You never know. He could do that voodoo shit." He shuddered.

"I think he's harmless," Tommy said. "Actually, I think he's quite handsome in a dark, brooding sort of way." He watched Derek's reaction. Surely he had to know by now that Tommy was gay, if he had any sort of awareness about such things, at all.

Derek frowned, looking at Tommy. "I bet he's totally just some grown-up Goth."

"I bet he's not," James countered. "I'm not gonna piss him off, anyway."

Tommy frowned at James. "Whatever, it's not like there's any way to find out, anyway. I'm sure it's not something he goes around flaunting. Probably some school rule against it or something."

"I bet if anyone could find out, you could," Derek said, insinuation in his voice.

Tommy raised an eyebrow. "Find out if Professor Burton is a real witch or not? And how would I manage that?" he asked. Honestly, if Derek thought he could do it, he was highly motivated to try. He couldn't help wanting to impress the handsome young man. "Is this a dare of some sort? Because I have to tell you, that's one of my weaknesses," he said.

Derek grinned. "You know that's why I said it," he replied. "I've heard other rumors about him."

"Rumors, Derek?" Tommy asked, feigning innocence. "Cheating on his taxes? Stealing sugar packets from Starbucks to use at home, maybe? Or are you talking about having a preference for extremely sexy young men?" he asked with a wink. "You wouldn't be suggesting that I seduce a professor, would you?" He batted his eyelashes.

Derek blushed a little while James gaped and said, "I hadn't heard that—"

Derek interrupted. "I would never suggest such a thing. But if you want to win, I suppose you've got to use every advantage at your disposal."

"Win? And what do I win, by the way? If I'm putting my precious advantages on the line?" he asked. He ignored James' sputtering, smiling wolfishly at Derek.

Derek laughed. "Yes, such a hardship this will be for you. Well. If you win, and it's provable..." he considered. "I’ll do your laundry for a month?"

Tommy pursed his lips. "Hm, you drive a hard bargain, Derek, but I have a better idea." Now was the moment to see if Derek was completely opposed to the idea. He didn't seem disgusted about the possibility of Tommy seducing Professor Burton. He crooked his finger for Derek to come closer so he could whisper in his ear.

Derek raised an eyebrow but leaned in closer. "What?"

Tommy leaned up, his lips just brushing Derek's ear. He knew he would have to ease into it. "If I win, you let me suck your cock," he whispered, enunciating the words.

Derek's eyes widened and he gasped.

James frowned. "What?" he demanded.

Derek blushed and glared at James. "None of your business." He turned to Tommy. "I heard you right, didn't I." It wasn't a question.

Tommy leaned back with a catlike smile. He crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. He could tell the other boy wasn't dead set against it, or he would have told James.

Without looking at James, Derek mumbled, "Deal." He looked away.

Tommy nodded coolly. "All right. You're on, then." They continued on their way to their next class. He knew it wouldn't take much to seduce the professor. He knew just how to play those intense types, assuming he really did like boys.

* * * *

The next time they had their witchcraft class, Tommy stayed after to ask some probing questions about the lecture. He waited patiently for the professor's attention. He'd deliberately worn his glasses, rather than his contacts, hoping to put on a studious air.

The professor looked up from his desk. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"I'm terribly sorry to bother you, Professor, but I was wondering if you would perhaps give me directions to the graveyard you mentioned today? It sounds so fascinating. I thought I might go have a look in person." He nibbled on his lower lip, clutching a thin spiral notebook to his chest. He had worn his tightest, most low-cut black jeans, and he knew that his hips were just about at the older man's eye level.

The man's eyes went to Tommy's face after a very brief glance at his midriff. "Of course," he said after a moment. He pulled a pad of paper over to him. "From the dorms?"

"Yes, thanks. Is it a long walk? I haven't got a car. I can take the bus though, if I have to." He pushed his glasses up his nose and smiled sweetly.

The older man blinked, then began to write down instructions. "It's a bit of a walk," he said. "And I don't know how late the buses run." He smiled. "And of course you'll want to go at midnight, won't you?"

Tommy blushed. "Well, that does seem to be the time to go, doesn't it?" He stepped a bit closer. "Have you been there at midnight?" he asked breathily.

The older man looked up at Tommy, eyes a little wide. "Yes, I have. The magical resonances are much stronger at midnight."

"Maybe...oh, no, never mind," he said, shaking his head. He smiled again. "I'll find a way to get there, I'm sure."

The professor raised an eyebrow. "Well actually, if you could wait a couple of days, I'm going there myself. Besides, it's not really safe to be there by yourself."

"Really?" Tommy asked, looking at him guilelessly. "That would be incredible! I'm sure it would be much more rewarding to go with you than by myself. If you don't mind me tagging along, that is."

The professor smirked. "As long as you do exactly as I say, and try not to disturb the resonance."

Tommy nodded slowly. "Oh, I promise," he said quietly. He wanted to add that he was very good at taking orders, but he didn't want to start off too overtly sexual. He had to earn this man's trust before he let him get anywhere.

The older man stared into Tommy's eyes for a long moment before smiling slightly and nodding. "All right then. I'll pick you up at about eleven on Friday night."

"Brilliant," Tommy said, smiling. He was reasonably sure that if he was careful he could have the older man eating out of his hand in a few short days. "Do you have any sort of study group or anything? I'd love to discuss the subject in more detail. It's really fascinating."

The older man stood slowly, so that now he was looking down on Tommy. "Not at the moment," he replied slowly, picking up his notes. "But I'll take it under consideration. If there is enough interest, of course."

"Oh. Okay. Um. I'll just meet you out front of Xavier Hall, then? That's the dorm I'm in." He looked up at the professor, worrying his full lower lip between his teeth.

The professor's lips quirked. "I don't suppose I have to tell you to wear black."

That made Tommy smirk a little. "Oh well, that's handy. Most of my clothes are black," he said, chuckling. The man had a gorgeous smile.

"What a surprise," he answered, not unkindly. "And don't bring any electronic devices, like cell phones or iPods. Or you can leave them in the car. It's very important."

Tommy nodded. "All right. Because they interfere with the energy?" he asked, his expression innocent and wondering.

"Exactly," the professor nodded seriously. He finished packing his things and he came around the desk. "I will see you Friday night then, Mr. Edwards."

"Friday night," he said breathily. "Please feel free to call me Tommy, though. If you want to, I mean." He gave him a shy smile and started backing up, nearly bumping into a desk. "Eleven o'clock Friday," he said again, then turned and strolled out of the classroom with a little bounce in his step.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sweet Surrender by Victoria Blisse

He noticed her body language. The way she sat defiantly in her chair, her back straight, her chin (and her breasts) jutting out proudly. That woman is angry, he thought, his body showing signs of arousal. She was obviously unaware of her beauty; just the kind of woman he liked. He wanted her, but slowly sipped his beer, knowing that timing was everything.

* * * *

She was upset, and that fact upset her even more. The prick dumped her days before they were meant to go on this trip. She didn't know why she decided to come on her own. Rebellion? Defiance? She hadn't a clue. Already she contemplated returning home on the next train.

The smiling seaside town of Scarborough seemed to be filled with reminders she was alone, when she should have a partner with her. The romantic double bed in the highest room of the guesthouse, the look on the receptionist’s face as she explained that she was on her own. The restaurant table set for two. The seemingly hundreds of couples strolling hand in hand along the bright, sunny seafront. She hated it all, so she retired to her room until the sun was going down and the singles came out in force. It was Saturday night and the bars were packed; she stepped into the first one not hosting karaoke and ordered a Bacardi and Coke. She determined to get drunk and start enjoying this holiday if it killed her.

Moments later she held back tears, realizing how pathetic she must look. Thirty years old, single, and surrounded by happy youngsters flirting, gossiping and pairing up. She prepared to rise, go back to the hotel and pack with the intention of boarding the first train home in the morning when a man appeared at her table.

"Hi, I'm terribly sorry for just approaching you like this, but I noticed you'd finished your drink and wondered if I could get you another whilst I'm on my way back to the bar."

He was smiling, the slight flush to his cheeks giving him a boyish charm quite impossible to resist.

"Okay, I'll have another Bacardi and coke, thanks." She smiled at him, her tummy flipping. He looked a little older than her, dressed casually in dark coloured slacks and a pin stripe shirt. He was well groomed, smelt citrus fresh with a tempting spicy edge and was obviously interested in her. She wasn't interested in hooking up with another drain on her finances, but spending a moment in his company couldn't do any harm, could it?

"So, you're not a local are you?" He said on his return, sitting down on the stool next to her.

"No, I'm not." She replied, not really wanting to elaborate.

"That's good. I like pretty tourists, they've not heard of my reputation." His easy and encompassing smile lit up his deep, dark eyes.

"And what reputation would that be, then?" She flirted back, involuntary pulled in by his charm.

"Oh, for being a right gentleman, of course," he replied, putting on a broad Yorkshire accent, hiding his posher, milder one.

"Oh, really? I guess I'll soon see. So, Mr. Gentleman, what brings you here?"

"To this pub? To pick up naive tourists of course."

"I meant Scarborough generally, but thank you for the warning."

She had forgotten her ex for the first time in weeks, and was enjoying the first flushes of flirtation, something she'd experienced far too few times in her life.

"I'm an artist," he replied. "I paint, I sculpt, but mostly I take photographs."

"There is a lot of beautiful scenery around here. It's a good place for an artist." She took a sip of her drink, and let her eyes linger over the strong, soft hand gripping his pint.

"And beautiful women." He grinned, his cheeks dimpling. "Scenery is nice, but on it's own it is unimaginative. Now put together an attractive lady and beautiful scenery and you've got magic."

"You just like ogling the feminine form, then." She teased. He was silent for a moment. His solemn face made her wonder if she had offended him until he broke into another unending smile.

"Yeah, that's about it."

The conversation came easily, and the flirting flowed from both sides, mingling and interchanging effortlessly. It was the perfect meeting, everything you want in a first date -tension, controlled lust, shared conversation, and the ease that comes from such a chance meeting. No pressure, and absolutely nothing to lose.

"I've not seen much of Scarborough yet, I only arrived today." She said in answer to a simple question posed to her. "I'm here for a long weekend though, so I hope to see a bit of it before I leave."

"Well, let me offer you my services as a guide. I know all the beautiful places and I would love to show them to you. I'd love to take some photos of you, if you'd permit me to."

The flattery was working, but she was wary of saying yes to a stranger, especially a stranger who evoked such a strong sexual need deep inside her.

He saw the indecision in her manner and added, "We can meet at the harbour of the south bay at mid day. It will be packed at that time on a Saturday, so you'll not have to worry about being alone with me. I promise you'll have a good time."

His eyes captured hers, and there something in their blue lagoon depths made her unable to look away and unable to say no, even though she sensed danger. The madness of it all sealed her decision; she said yes and swore not to regret it for a moment. As they made their way out of the pub, she put her hand on his arm.

"And just so I know, what's your name?"

"Tom." He smiled, "and yours?"

"Helen."

"I shall see you tomorrow, Helen." he grinned, laying a soft, non-threatening kiss on her cheek.

Helen thought about the kiss all the way back to her hotel, then all the time she was showering and putting on her pajamas. She thought about it as she lay in the big, wide double bed and smiled. Tomorrow was going to be fun and she was beginning to really enjoy this holiday.

Star's Destiny by Barbara Donlon Bradley

The beautiful orange, turquoise, and silver of the setting sun had no effect on Star tonight. Fear controlled her. She had run out of time.

* * * *

Tyereen sat back as a slave offered him Emperor Carnis's favorite wine.

"Something wrong, T'Nagar?"

Tyereen blinked before he realized the Emperor addressed him. Fatigue dulled his mind and reflexes, but he couldn't afford any lapses now. He was too close to his goal to make a careless mistake. "I was only admiring your palace."

"You were admiring my slave," stated the Emperor.

Tye only shrugged. He wouldn't argue the point.

"I could offer him to you as a gift." Emperor Carnis laughed at Tye's startled look. "Not your type? Perhaps one of my young female slaves?"

Tye shook his head. "I'm sure they're all very nice, but I'll decline."

"That's right. You vowed abstinence while away from your homeworld." The Emperor sighed as he leaned back against his throne. "Not something I could do."

Gong. The Emperor stood and faced the main archway.

Tye could hear the whisper of slippers against the marble floor. The Emperor gave a slight nod to an older man standing near the archway who stepped out of sight for a moment. Then in a flurry of horns, Carnis's bride stood in the ornate arch

He hadn't realized how beautiful she was. Their reports told of her basic features, but none spoke of the auburn highlights, the exotic slant to those violet eyes, flawless skin so pale it almost looked translucent. He never thought the combination would make him want to run his fingers through her long brown hair, kiss her violet eyes. No wonder the Emperor wanted to marry the girl.

She slowly approached the throne area, followed by a small entourage of young female slaves. Aloof, regal, she glided across the floor. Despite his best effort to remain detached, all Tye could do was stare. Something about the woman made his blood boil. All of a sudden, his job got a lot harder.

"Welcome, my dear." The Emperor captured her hand and kissed her knuckles before gesturing to the empty throne next to his.

And right next to Tye's.

* * * *

In a rustle of silk and beaded gauze, Star took her seat.

Entertainers flipped and danced, wowing the crowd, drawing gasps from the people gathered to honor the Emperor's bride. She didn't feel honored. She felt like a trophy on display for all to see.

After the jugglers finished, three magicians suddenly appeared before the dais. Although the rest of the guests gasped and then clapped, Star sat unmoving. All she could think of was her impending marriage. Her skin crawled knowing this man would have complete control over her body. He wasn't kind; in fact he could be jealous of the simplest things and quite volatile.

A tingling along her spine made her shift. Who would make a point of staring at her? The Emperor would have the person killed. Glancing to her left, she found Carnis's guest watching her. She looked away and then back. He continued to keep his eyes on her. The hairs on the back of her neck rose . How dare he. Her thoughts scattered when a slave stepped forward to pour more wine.

She nodded before looking at the new guest.

"T'Nagar?" The Emperor addressed the stranger.

So that was his name. How unusual.

Anger flashed across his face for a moment before he smiled. "No, Emperor. My people don't normally imbibe."

"That's right. But your loss." The Emperor toasted T'Nagar. "I don't remember your father ever following these rules. He always enjoyed my wines."

"I bet he did, sir." He held his cup close to his chest. "Father was known for loving any kind of wine."

"Perhaps you would prefer another beverage. Something a little gentler for you?" The Emperor laughed at his little jab.

Star straightened her spine a little when T'Nagar's jaw clinched. He didn't like the Emperor's comment at all. "Water will be fine."

One of the young slaves picked up another jug and offered it silently to the man.

He paused for a moment. She watched as he fought to control the anger blazing in his grey eyes before he held out his cup.

The Emperor smoothed his neatly cropped beard. "Water is more fitting for you? I'll have to remember to keep a good supply on hands for your visits. At least until your father can make these trips again."

T'Nagar didn't answer. He just glared at the floor and sipped his water.

Star took a sip of her wine. Even though T'Nagar looked the opposite of the Emperor, light hair, more rugged, he frightened her just as much as the Emperor did. She could sense the barely leashed hatred boiling in the man. Didn't Carnis see this?

A glint of light flashed in her eyes. She looked around, wondering where it came from. The throne room was open, with the exception of the upper balconies across the room. Her gaze slid to Carnis. If he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary maybe she imagined it.

* * * *

T'Nagar leaned back in his chair, trying to maintain his control without breaking the cover he had worked so hard to create. Inside, he seethed with anger. How dare this little prodar of a man insult him. He wanted to kill the man, but needed Carnis to trust him right now. He needed access to the palace this evening to do a little reconnaissance. Then he could contemplate the best way to kill the man. Slowly for sure, but it had to befit the crime the man committed. Tye smiled at the thought. He needed patience, that was all.

A glint of light blazing across the bride-to-be's eyes caught his attention. His brow creased. Turning toward the back of the room, he scanned the balconies. Who in their right mind would try to commit murder now?

"Something wrong, T'Nagar?" asked the Emperor.

He knew he should turn back and answer the man, but he had to know what caused the light. There! It came from the upper left balcony. T'Nagar saw a slight movement. Light flashed again, he spotted a metallic tip of an arrow aimed at the center of the Emperor's throne. If it met its mark, the Emperor would die before he could exact his revenge.

Not while he had a breath in him.

He watched the sniper out of the corner of his eye, ready to move the moment the arrow took flight. His sensitive ears heard the cock of the bow. Just as he leaped to his feet, he heard the Emperor shout.

* * * *

Star saw the flash again. Was someone trying to kill her? Without a second thought, she leaped to her feet. Her gown caught around her legs, forcing her to fall to the floor.

The Emperor's angry roar rattled the chandelier.

Star felt the Emperor's hand curl into her hair and pull. She grabbed her head in pain. A loud thunk made her jump. The Emperor pivoted on his heels. When she expected him to tighten his grip on her hair, she felt him let go of her instead.

She looked up and noticed the Emperor staring at his guest. The man had an arrow caught in his grip.

The pounding of feet filled the hall as the outer perimeter guards raced after the shooter.

A murmur rose amongst the guests. The stranger had saved the Emperor.

The Emperor made a sharp gesture alerting his head guard to step forward. "I want the culprit alive."

He then turned his attention to T'Nagar.

"You saved my life?" Carnis shook his head in astonishment. He retook his throne, ignoring Star, his soon-to-be bride, still prostrate on the floor.

"Looks like it." T'Nagar switched the arrow to his other hand and flexed his fingers.

Several slaves helped Star to her feet. She brushed her gown before she sat back down. Her mind had problems accepting how he caught the arrow in mid-flight. She didn't think it possible until now. Yet the arrow in his hand proved it could be done.

"I'll give you anything you want." Carnis leaned forward in his chair.

Star slid her gaze to Carnis. What was he up to? She could feel his excitement build as he spoke to T'Nagar.

"I know just the thing." He clapped his hands together.

"Emperor." T'Nagar's brow creased. "Your hospitality is all I need."

"This kind of bravery must be rewarded." Carnis smiled and leaned back in his chair. "Name it."

T'Nagar laughed then took his seat. His eyes cut to Star.

She wished he hadn't done that because the ominous silence let her know she was now the center of attention.

"I know." The Emperor stood up again. Making a big show, he placed his hand on Star's smaller throne. She didn't like the glint in his eyes. "My betrothed. It shows how much your deed means to me. She is yours."

Two people gasped and said "What?"

The Guardian by Shayne Carmichael

Bryan closed his eyes, focusing on his playing. The notes he coaxed from the violin surrounded him, soothing him. The only time he could lose himself like this was when he played his instrument.

Oblivious to the others in the room, the bow, guided by the expert manipulation of Bryan's hand, flew over the strings. The motion of his fingers over the strings was a sensual stroking, bringing the hauntingly beautiful melody to life.

As the last note died off, the cheering from some of the students surprised Bryan. He'd forgotten they were there. When he opened his eyes, he saw the instructor nodding in approval at him. This audition had been set up by Bryan's guardian, Jaden St. Ives. It was damn near impossible to get Lazlo Alvante to agree to tutor a new student, but from Lazlo's smug expression, it appeared he would take Bryan on. The small, excitable man positively beamed at him.

"Very well executed, Bryan. Your heart shows most plainly in your music." Lazlo approached him and heartily shook Bryan's hand. "I would be delighted to instruct you."

"Thank you, Mr. Alvante." Bryan smiled, relaxing now that the interview was over. He'd been somewhat worried, but refused to allow the emotion to take over.

"St. Ives told me you had promising skill, and he was correct in his assessment. However, remember that I will require you to play until your fingers bleed. I'm not the easiest of task masters."

"You know my guardian?" Bryan placed his violin and bow in his case, then shut it.

"I've had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, and I heard him play once. You've a long way to go before you are equal to his skill, but with the proper dedication, you might match him someday."

For a brief moment Bryan envied his new instructor. The man had met Bryan's guardian, something Bryan hadn't had the privilege of doing. There were a million questions Bryan wanted to ask Lazlo, but he swallowed them. Very few people realized that Bryan had never seen Jaden St. Ives, and he preferred to keep up the illusion that he knew his guardian.

"I only have four students currently, five now with you. I expect you to be on time for every session I schedule with you. Short of your own death, there will be no acceptable excuse for you to miss a class." Walking back to his desk, Lazlo opened his calendar. "I will see you every Thursday at four PM sharp, Bryan. And advance warning: if you miss more than two classes, you will be dropped."

"I understand, Mr. Alvante, and I'm grateful you're willing to tutor me."

* * * *

After carefully setting down the hand-written sheets of music, Bryan opened and read the note accompanying the birthday present from his guardian. The letter explained the composition had been a personal gift from Tchaikovsky to an old friend and was a relatively unknown piece of work.

From the details his guardian included, Bryan had the odd impression his guardian had written from personal experience. Then again, each time his guardian sent him a gift, he'd also given a detailed history of the present as well. This one was so intimately detailed that Bryan wondered if Tchaikovsky's old friend had been his guardian.

It wasn't the first time in his life Bryan had had a similar feeling. He couldn't explain any part of what he felt. His guardian had been a mysterious and unknown figure in his life since Bryan was two years old.

"For never having met you, your guardian knows what you like." Kennedy, his roommate, looked over the music as he ate a slice of the cake that came with Bryan's present. "Umm, Bavarian cream. You've got to try a piece, Musical Genius."

"I will in a minute." Reverently, he touched the sheets as he studied the notes. It was a very complex piece. He had no doubt he could master it, but it'd take some time.

"MG, snap out of it. Get over here and eat some cake." Kennedy cut him a piece, then thrust the plate in Bryan's face.

"All right, all right." Laughing, Bryan took the plate and grabbed one of the forks from the table.

"So when do we meet this mysterious guardian of yours anyway? I'd think he'd want to see where his money is going."

Bryan made a face. "I'm not sure if I'll ever meet him. I haven't tried since last spring right before I graduated. The guards at the gate keep telling me he isn't seeing anybody every time I try."

"Don't tell me you've given up? There's a mystery to solve here." With a fake maniacal laugh, Kennedy waved his fork at Bryan.

"No, I haven't given up. I'll meet him one way or another."

"You never know. He might have a very good reason for not letting you see him. Maybe he's hideously deformed. Or a serial killer. Or…"

Before Kennedy's imagination could come up with anything more, Bryan put up his hand. "Or maybe you're crazy."

"Well, you have to admit it's really weird that you've never met your guardian, yet he pays for everything."

Bryan just shrugged. He really didn't want to get into the oddity of his own situation. The two of them had known each other since middle school, and Kennedy pretty much knew everything about Bryan except for the odd dreams and feelings Bryan had because of his guardian, something he'd never spoken about to a living soul.

"At least you got in with Lazlo. That's a great step to your dream of getting into the Universal Symphony." Kennedy finished off his piece of cake then tossed the paper plate into the trash. "I'm off. Sure you don't want to come with?"

"Nah, you go ahead. I don't feel like going out."

"You're gonna miss a great party." Grabbing his jacket, Kennedy put it on, then paused at the door with his hand on the knob. As one of the campus jocks, Kenny made a regular habit of attending every party he could during the off season. "You double sure?"

"I'm positive." Bryan's thoughts were too focused on his guardian, and the loud distraction of a party would bother the hell out of him.

"Your loss, bud. I'll have a beer for ya."

Bryan sat down on the bed, relieved when Kennedy shut the door. Lying on his bed, he folded his arms behind his head. As much as he liked the gift, he couldn't help feeling a bit of disappointment. He'd hoped Jaden would finally come to see him, but here it was his nineteenth birthday, and his guardian remained no more than a mysterious figure in the background of his life. Bryan had held to two major dreams in his life; meeting his guardian and becoming a member of the Universal Symphony.

Staring up at the ceiling, he tried to count the small holes for distraction. Not that it helped any. Once his thoughts fixated on Jaden, his mind wouldn't let go. Bryan had spent many hours weaving daydreams around Jaden. In his dreams, he'd hear the man's voice, feel his kiss. His guardian featured far too prominently in Bryan's dreams.

Sometimes in the dead of night, he swore Jaden was there with him. With a certainty that allowed for no argument, Bryan knew he was being watched. Just as he fell asleep, a fleeting touch of a hand to his face or shoulder would disturb him, and he believed without a doubt it was Jaden.

Oddly, he never believed himself crazy, but he knew if he admitted it to others, they would probably think he was. Which was why he'd never told anyone. Bryan couldn't even explain to himself how he just knew it was Jaden. He could remember dreams where he listened to his guardian long into the night. He never recalled the exact words the next day, but he'd known that he dreamed of Jaden.

Bryan realized he'd fallen in love with his guardian. Again, not something he could explain how or why, but he knew it. When he'd finally understood his own feelings, he simply accepted them. He still dated other people, but mostly only to have fun, and everybody in his group of friends knew not to expect anything serious from him.

Just having his thoughts focused on his guardian was enough to make Bryan hard beneath his pants. His hand drifted over his bare chest as he lost himself in his own daydream. It wasn't his hand exploring the smooth lines of skin, it was Jaden's.

A breath parted Bryan's lips, and he dreamed of the hungry devouring of his mouth under the bruising pressure of Jaden's. Slipping his hand under the waistband of his pants, he stroked over his aching cock. The tip of his thumb applied an exquisite pressure just under the head, making him groan softly. As he spread his legs, the motion of his hand quickened. In his mind, Jaden's cock filled his ass, taking pleasure from him.

"Please. Oh God, please." His mind and voice pleaded to his invisible lover to be taken over the edge. So rapt in his fantasy, Bryan could see the dark form hovering over him in his mind's eye. It wasn't his hand on his cock, it was Jaden's, drawing him deeper and deeper into a need that threatened to consume him.

Suddenly, Bryan felt a familiar presence drench over him. He knew, just knew it was St. Ives. He came, body shaking hard as he helplessly cried out his guardian's name.

For a single second, Bryan felt the perfect world where he gave everything of himself to Jaden. A sob rose in his throat and he curled to his side, trying to mentally wrap the feel of his guardian around himself. Bryan so desperately needed him, the sense of it both a pleasure and a pain to him. A quiet, soothing flow gradually filled him, and he relaxed with it. It seemed as if his guardian knew and had answered him.

The strong sense enveloped Bryan, keeping him at peace and gently lulling him to sleep. Before he completely tumbled into the blackness, Bryan could have sworn there was movement on the bed beside him. A gentle touch brushed over the side of his face, and Bryan tried to open his eyes but couldn't. A voice reached for him through the darkness. Sleep now, I'm with you.

Completely trusting the soft words in his mind, Bryan drifted within the waves of warmth before he fell deeply asleep.

* * * *

"Hey, lazy ass. It's time for breakfast."

Bryan opened one eye and peered blurrily at his friend who tried to shake him awake. "I'm up. I'm up."

"You wanted me to get you up before I left. You better fucking hurry 'cuz I'm leaving." Kennedy lightly hit the top of Bryan's head before he grabbed his books and headed out the door.

Why in the hell had he wanted to get up early? Kennedy had classes today, he didn't. Just as Bryan burrowed back under the covers, he remembered. Pushing off the covers, he got out of bed and made his way to the bathroom. Kennedy had left his damp towels lying on the floor. His dirty clothes were next to them, and there were blobs of toothpaste and shaving cream left behind on the sink.

His roommate was hideously messy, and Bryan had learned to outwait him. He no longer cleaned up behind Kennedy. Sooner or later, Kennedy would clean up after himself, depending on how long it took him to get disgusted with his own filth. The last time Bryan had finally made arrangements with one of their friends down the hall to use their bathroom for showers. It wasn't until Kennedy decided the bathroom had gotten too dirty for him to use that everything got cleaned. At the time, Bryan had absolutely refused to lift a finger and do Kennedy's job.

This weekend was Kennedy's turn to clean the rooms. Bryan prepared for a repeat of what happened last time. Stepping into the tub, Bryan relaxed under the hot water, making a mental note to talk to Barry about using his shower again if things got out of hand. Kenny occasionally tended to skate through life on his looks alone. He had good reason with his all American blond curls and blue eyes, plus being built like a Mack truck. He loved his best friend to death, but Bryan wouldn't let him get away with flashing his pearly whites to get out of trouble, living with the guy was occasionally a trial. He picked up the soap and began rubbing it over his body. After pouring some shampoo into his hand, he scrubbed his head with his fingers, then closed his eyes and rinsed off.

He fumbled for his towel on the rack and found it. Wiping his face, he stepped out of the shower, then dried off. Today he would do some surveillance on his guardian's home. He'd thought about the idea for a long time. If he could sneak into Jaden's house, he would finally be able to meet his guardian. Bryan refused to be deterred.

Once he dressed, Bryan opened the front door and went out into the hall. Pretty much everybody was either in class or out for the day, so the hallways were quiet. He ran down the two flights of stairs then headed outside to his car in the parking lot.

Since he needed breakfast, he went to the drive-thru of McDonald's first and got a Sausage McMuffin meal, one of his favorites. He flipped on the radio, then started eating as he drove to one of the grocery stores right outside town.

After a quick jaunt through the store, grabbing a few things to eat, ice, and more soda, Bryan returned to the car. He opened the cooler between the front seats, putting in the cans and filled it with the bag of ice. Before he closed the lid, he put the package of lunchmeat on top. He did plan on being gone most of the day, and everything he brought would have to tide him over. Restarting the car, he drove out of the parking lot and in the direction of Jaden's home.

Bryan had driven by it several times, ever since he'd learned to drive. He'd even stopped at the gate and asked to see Jaden, but every damn time he'd been refused. This was the first time he'd returned after the last refusal. His guardian's home was nestled among other large estates, some of them were fenced, some weren't, but Jaden's was. Which made Bryan's task just a bit harder. He felt up to the challenge. Come hell or high water, he would get in to see Jaden.

Bryan parked his car at the curb and shut it off. Drinking the last bit of Coke, he settled in for a long wait.

Right before two, he saw someone walking toward the guard shack at the gate. Since she came from the direction of the house, Bryan had a feeling the guards were live-in, and not hired from a company. He made himself a ham sandwich while he watched. Soon it became obvious that his guardian received little company. No cars had approached the gate at all. The only people Bryan saw were some gardeners tending to the grounds and an occasional guard walking the outer perimeter around the house. Glancing at his watch, he began timing them. Once in a while, Bryan stared up at the house, wondering where his guardian was. Every window, except for the downstairs ones, still had drawn curtains. The three-story wooden structure was reminiscent of the Tudor style, and it was enormous. There were two wings that branched off the main house.

Was Jaden awake or asleep? What was he doing now? Bryan knew Jaden was extremely well off. The look of the house and the exorbitant gifts he gave Bryan revealed that. But what did the man do? At first Bryan had thought he was some kind of business tycoon, but his name was never mentioned in the business section of any paper Bryan had ever read. The same questions had plagued Bryan for a long time, and he wanted to find out the answers.

His own intuition filled in some of the blanks surrounding his guardian. While most might scoff at him for it, Bryan knew some things with a certainty that couldn't be shaken. He'd felt hints of Jaden's gentle nature in the dreams of his guardian speaking to him. No matter how he had to do it, Bryan would get into that house, and he would see Jaden.