Saturday, July 5, 2008

Seasons of Blisse by Victoria Blisse

From "Gaze"

Why do girlfriends insist on dragging you out to noisy clubs when you've just been dumped? And then, why do they desert you to go and dance with fit young men when they get fed up of your "Oh, but I loved him sooo much" whining?

Of course, you have to ask that if I knew all this, why did I let Lindsay, Christine, and Sally drag me out in the first place? I have absolutely no bleedin' idea! I put it down to being in a weakened state. I spent the last weeks of winter sitting in a dark room, eating chocolate and watching every last episode of Friends. That could have brainwashed me into thinking that going out with my bosom buddies actually might cheer me up.

Also, the light was returning, the trees were in bud and the new year was moving into spring. I guess my sap was rising. I felt ready to shrug off the mourning period and come out into the sunshine once more. Maybe.

I'd half convinced myself that it'd be fun. I spent a few hours pampering myself in preparation for the big girlie night out. This involved me drinking a couple of large glasses of white wine and actually shaving my armpits and putting on make-up. I'd not done so in such a long time. Steve liked me make-up free and didn't mind a bit of excess body hair. That thought led to spending an extra fifteen minutes re-applying my mascara.

The first hour or so was fun. We all sat together and drank, giggled and remembered. We'd been quite the fearsome foursome in college. We hunted in packs and always got enough meat to go round. In fact every time we went out, we ended up snogging at least one bloke each.

I should have known they were on the prowl by their outfits. My three single friends know exactly how to attract the opposite sex—vivid colors, low cut tops, and high cut skirts. Their hair was long and flowing, ready to flick at the flutter of an eyelash.

Lindsay was the first to apologise and split off as we danced round our handbags together. She'd seen an old flame and was interested in checking out if the spark still ignited on her ring o' love.

Christine was next, her apology just as sincere. A dark-haired, dark-suited man wooed her on her way to collect more cocktails. At least he paid for a round of drinks before depleting our group to just two.

Sally left to "pay a visit" half an hour ago and has yet to return. No doubt that red head of hers has been turned by something young, firm and juicy. I guess that means I'm off home via the twenty-four-hour Tesco for wine and several blocks of chocolate.

I don't know what inspired me to look up at just that moment, making contact with those powerful green eyes. I'd not be surprised to learn a spell had been cast on me. It is difficult to see much in a club, where bodies sway and thrash to the music, accompanied by flashing lights and enwreathed in a veil of stale cigarette smoke. Those eyes, oh those eyes, have beamed through all of it. Maybe that's just the "sex on the beach" talking, though.

Those eyes are green, not like Jim Carrey in The Mask green, but more like that dark green you often see in velvet; that dark, middle of the rainforest green. And those "cool on a hot summer's day" eyes are fixed on me.

I mean, really fixed. Not just an accidental crossing of gaze, but a definite stare. My cheeks are burning like they've been baking in the sun and I know they're glowing like a neon light in a kebab shop.

I drop my eyes and take a breath. When I look back up, I expect him to have turned away; but no, he's still looking at me. I'm not weirded out by his attention, just a little uncomfortable. I wonder what he finds so fascinating about me. My hair is not quite brown, not quite blonde. My eyes are blue; not azure blue or stormy-skies blue, just middle of the road, kiddie-picture blue. My face is round, leaning towards chubby, and my features plain. I'm honestly and truthfully very average.

Steve was always saying so. He said I was the most averagely beautiful girl he ever met. I always thought he was being cute. Then he ran off with a stunningly gorgeous model and I realised I had been a stop-gap. Any port in a storm, you might say.

I wonder if Green Eyes will come over to me. I flick my line of sight rapidly to the sleek black hair, ruffled and not overly styled, back to the eyes - yup he's still staring. My gaze flicks down to the soft sensual lips, thin then suddenly plump, then thin again, and lower to the little dimple in his tapered, clean-shaven chin.

Green Eyes is hot. Now I am unnerved. He's been staring at me for what? Two, maybe three minutes and he hasn't made a move. Is he shy? Those eyes don't seem shy; they're fixed right on me for a start. That doesn't shout "shy" to me. Why isn't he coming over then? Is he staring in horror? Have I got something between my teeth or around my face?

I slip my hand up my chest to my chin, then subtly rub at my cheek and face. Nope, nothing obvious there. Is he smiling at me? I see it in those evergreen eyes first, before it travels to his lips. A smile, a sexy smile. And unless I'm much mistaken, a suggestive smile.

I feel a corner of my mouth lifting in a sly, knowing smirk. I look into those deep eyes and gather all the courage I have. I know this is the cocktails working, but I lift a finger in front of me (right in the middle of our joined gaze) and beckon him over, still smiling.

My heart hammers, louder than the thumping disco music, or so it seems. I lick my lips nervously, my gaze dropping from his, unable to maintain the stare through my nerves.

Will he come over?

I take a few calming breaths then look up. He is there, just lowering tight and tasty buttocks down onto the green baize seat at the other side of the tiny, round table. I panic now. What do I do? God, it's a long time since I was last single. I've forgotten how to do this. I gaze intently at the glass in front of me, the sad remains of my last cocktail lolling at the bottom.

I feel the now familiar weight of his stare and glance up. He smiles at me and I smile back, focused in on those harmonious eyes.

"Hello." I barely whisper, the words getting caught around the rock-like lump in my throat. I just hope the guy can lip read or I'm sunk.

"Hi." I see the lips move, but I barely hear him. His eyes are still locked on me. He leans across the table and I feel the heat of his gaze on my neck, then his breath tickling my ear and finally I hear, in soft, husky tones, "I hope you don't think me rude for staring at you. I just couldn't believe such a beautiful woman was sitting alone."

I giggle coyly, dipping my head to my shoulder, then lean over to whisper in his ear,

"Oh, I didn't mind. I just wondered what exactly you were looking at."

This close, I can smell the subtle freshness of his aftershave, see the strong set of his jaw, the slight hint of dark hair in the "v" of his partially unbuttoned black shirt.

"Your sparkling eyes, so sad even when you laugh. You're tapering neck, the soft creamy flesh there and down into the cut of your low top, wondering how soft it would feel under my fingers, beneath my lips."

I gasp, the sheer tone of his low voice tingling through me. I bite my lip nervously as his hand brushes the side of my thigh, then let out the slightest moan when it settles on my lap, just above my knee. I all but orgasm from surprise as his lips brush softly along the skin just below my ear.

"I was looking at your lips. So plump and inviting, becoming wetter and pinker as the night wears on. I love them now, all the lipstick removed. They look so sweet, so tempting, so ripe."

A slight squeeze to my thigh and he's whispering again,

"And focusing on your lips got me so hard, I hope you don't mind me telling you this, so aroused that I began to think about your other, hopefully wet and juicy lips."

There is no doubt that my lips are juicy now. His lithe fingers stroking my knee coupled with the sexy voice in my ear have definitely seen to that. But I doubt the honesty of his words. Is he just looking for an easy lay tonight?

Actually, do I care? I mean, I've just come out of a massive relationship and I'm not exactly ready to get entangled in another one. I am incredibly horny though, and sex with no strings sounds better and better the more I think about it.

How long has this silence sat between us? I can hear the hiss and puff of his breath against my ear. His hand has not moved from its place upon my thigh.

"I'm speechless." I reply, leaning closer to his ear, "I have to confess, I don't think you're telling the truth…"

A remembered hand print is all that's left on my thigh as his hand moves to the table and covers my own. Grasped firmly, it is pulled below and over, to cup his hard-very hard-cock straining against the soft fabric of his trousers.

"Well." I pull my hand away, uncomfortable with clutching a man's private parts in public. "So you didn't lie about that then." I cough and splutter, my face flushing with embarrassed heat.

"I want you." His lips are back against my ear. "That is the honest truth. Beyond that I cannot think. I cannot think of anything but your body and how thrilling it would be to feel your naked flesh rubbing against mine."

Fuck. I've got to give this guy points for effort. I've never been this horny from so little contact. As I compose myself to reply, he carries on. "I'm leaving now. I have a taxi ordered. Would you like to share it with me?"

A gentlemanly offer on the surface, but only a step away from asking me to sleep with him. Why should I refuse? The girls have left me alone, I need to get back home and who knows? I might just take the chance and follow my hormones for once. A fuck for fucking's sake seems like a good idea right now.

"Yeah, okay." I reply, "Thank you."

He stands up and offers me his hand. I take it, honestly not knowing how steady I will be on my feet. Cocktails are easily taken whilst perched upon my stabilising big bottom, but standing up could prove difficult.

He slips my arm through his as I stand up and chivalrously walks slowly towards the door.

"Do you have a coat?" he asks. I shake my head. He slips my hand out from the crook of his arm and wraps it around my shoulder instead. "It'll be cold out." he says matter of factly, and before I can complain he is walking forward and pushing me with him.

He's right. There is a chill spring wind blowing as he pushes open the club door. I step out onto the damp tarmac of the road and he follows close behind. The street lights are reflected in shallow puddles, making the ground glow like the yolk of a fresh farm egg. At the pavement edge is a shiny black taxi, Green Eyes taps on the window, establishes it is meant for him, and opens the door for me to step in.

The beauty of the back seat of a Hackney cab is its spaciousness. There is plenty of room to fit three, maybe even four, tipsy ladies, making a cab home a cheap option for a gaggle of girls on a budget. However, sitting with Green Eyes I feel like we're in a child's push car, we're squashed so close together. The more I fidget, the tighter he holds me to him "to keep me warm." It is very cold out there; spring is only just starting to emerge. But boy, is it hot inside this taxi!

I find myself snuggling in towards his body, enjoying his solid warmth. His hand slips round my waist and cradles me. I feel peculiarly safe in the arms of this stranger. His hand moves higher and cups my breast. I nuzzle into his chest and feel his hand grow yet bolder, the long fingers grasping the globular flesh, strumming over my nipple.

I let out a little gasp and rub my hand up and down his front, dipping as low as his belly button and sweeping up to the centre of his chest. His hand sweeps down to my hip and slips under the cotton of my tight-fitting top. If the driver glances at us he will see the hand under the stretched material, but I don't care. I feel his fingers prying at the bottom of my bra and then he eases it up and over my breast, making it possible for his fingers to feel my flesh. It spurs me on. My hand dips lower and brushes over his crotch where I can feel he is still hard. Looking down, I see a definite pyramid at the front of his trousers.

"Yesss," the sibilant hiss echoes in my ear as I grip my hand around the fabric and the cock within its confines. I move my hand up and down a few times and feel his hand grasping and releasing my tit to the same pulse.

I find the zip down the centre of his trousers and tug at it. The hand at my breast drops and slithers over my stomach before slipping under the waist band of my skirt. I am highly aware of the driver and the fact he can hear, and possibly see, everything that's going on. I slip my hands inside and find my fingers gliding over hard flesh. The surprising lack of an extra cloth barrier is sexy. It also seems a bit kinky, as if this guy was hoping to get some action tonight.

"What number was it, pal?" the driver's voice chirps in and my fingers tighten, reflexively covering up his exposed member.

"Seventeen," he replies, pulling his hand out of my skirt. I remove my hand and he zips himself back up.

"Tell me now. Are you coming in with me? If you come in, we're going to fuck." His words are stark and almost offensive, but his voice and tone are compelling. "If you don't want that, then tell the cabby you want to go on home. It's up to you."

I hate decisions. I almost wish he'd not given me this one, but part of me is grateful he did. It shows me that he is gentleman enough to take rejection at this late stage. I've just been massaging his cock, but he's given me a metaphorical "get out of jail free" card all the same.

"I'll come with you," I breathlessly reply. Fuck it. I've had enough of being sensible, and Lord knows I'm horny. My heart thumps, beats and bats against my chest as he takes my hand in his and helps me out of the taxi.

"Have fun." The taxi driver chortles just before he puts his foot down and heads out of sight.

Last Chance for Love by Brenna Lyons

Jole Hi, prince of the Keen Republic and heir apparent, stared out across the hills surrounding his retreat home. It was the home of his childhood, the home he'd shared with his mother, until his father had taken him by virtue of their contract. Now, it would be the home of his marriage.

The lizors were in full bloom, and the fragrant purple flowers blanketed the landscape. Normally, Jole found that comforting. The flower had been his mother's favorite, and the finest cosmeticists had fashioned a scent for her from it. The scent was haunting, a distant memory of home and family, of the mother he hadn't seen for twenty years.

Today, Jole found the scent of lizors terrifying. It meant that summer was nearly over, his twenty-eighth summer.

The day he had trained for since birth had arrived. His bride would be brought to him soon. It was a day Jole had looked forward to since he was five, and the announcement had been made that she'd been born. It was a day he had dreaded since he was fifteen, and he'd learned how hopeless the match was.

He sighed. She'd hate him for taking her from her home and family, as each cross-mate had hated her husband. She would never share his bed. None of them had ever done so.

It had to be different this time, and not simply because she was to be his cross-mate. Bio-fertilization produced less viable embryos than true mating. The female children, typically thought to be the stronger sex, did not survive the Keen mechanical implantation process. A mate, who could have three or even five children over their years together, was unlikely to carry more than one child. The lack of mate-touch and the stress of their imprisonment made pregnancy a difficult process for them.

The project would fail and their civilization be lost, if he couldn't convince his cross-mate to accept him. Worse, he would have to watch his mate suffer. If he could make her happy, any cost would be worth it.

His mother— "Jenneane," he whispered the Human name forbidden by Kell Ri.

Jenneane had taught him what she felt would help him most. Jole knew the language his mate would speak. He knew her culture and her pride. Knowing her son would face his own test with a cross-mate, Jenneane had educated him in all the ways Kell had failed with her.

Pyter bowed as he entered the study. "She will be here soon, Highness."

Jole nodded, gritting his teeth at the thought that Pyter was assigned to him again. The last thing he needed was one of his father's most loyal supporters underfoot now, but he had no choice in the matter.

"What can you tell me about her, Pyter?" The chief of security would have monopolized gateway time to study the new cross-mate, looking for potential problems in handling.

"She is a small woman." Pyter's tone was snide.

"It makes no difference. Kell's woman was only half his size and presented him with two sons."

"True," he conceded.

"What else?"

"She has hair like golden iri flowers and eyes like mature lizors."

Jole smiled. He had always wanted a cross-mate with eyes that were undeniably not the eyes of a Keen woman. "Perfect. Have you done what I ordered?"

"Yes, Highness. This has never been tried before. The men are not happy. It balks all the traditions."

"I know. Perhaps that is why we have always failed."

Pyter shook his head. "We fail, because they are barbarians. We had no choice but to seed among them, to use their strengths. Perhaps if we took them younger and raised them here—"

"Enough! You will never refer to my cross-mate as a barbarian." Jole relaxed the tension in his jaw.

They weren't barbarians. They had a fine culture, not as old or advanced as that of Kegin, but it was culture. Despite what Pyter had taught him at his father's command, Jole knew they had culture.

Moreover... "And you know full well that the laws of sanction do not allow for taking children, even children of our seed, before their twentieth year. Be mindful, Pyter. Such talk is treason."

He bowed, his cheeks a vivid red at the reminder. "Many pardons, Highness." A red light blinked on his belt. "It is time."

Jole nodded and followed Pyter to the gateway chamber. The technicians were busy pulling boxes away from the gateway. The crew chief bowed deeply, and Jole waved to him to continue with his work.

He looked at the boxes in amazement. The most prized possessions of his cross-mate were being hastily passed through the gateway.

It had never been done this way before. Cross-mates were typically presented to their husbands with no possessions but the clothes on their bodies. Thus, they'd failed, again and again.

The women faced exile. Exile with nothing of their former lives was cruel. Even if Kell Ri was right and she was a barbarian, the possessions were her own.

A yellow light blinked on over the gateway, and several boxes came through in the hands of soldiers. Jole prayed they hadn't missed any of her most prized possessions. What was left now could not be retrieved later.

A woman's scream echoed through the gateway.

Pyter restrained him, as Jole surged toward his mate. They had orders. They were not to harm her. Jole hadn't wanted her to be traumatized this way. Pyter tightened his hold at her second scream.

"No! Let me go, you bastard." Her voice warbled through the gateway, taking on a musical quality, despite her anger.

Jole ached to take away her pain and fear. No wonder they hated their husbands.

"Still, Highness," Pyter breathed. "She'll be in your arms in a moment."

Jole nodded, his eyes riveted to the gateway.

A soldier stepped through with one final box. His cheek was an angry red, where he had been struck with formidable force.

Jole stilled in amazement. My cross-mate did that?

The moments ticked away. A third scream ripped through the room...then silence.

The captain stepped through, just as the light turned green. He marched to Jole with the woman cradled in his arms and offered her to her husband. The captain didn't look at her. She wasn't his to gaze upon. It was an honor for him to be allowed to touch her at all.

Jole stroked at her cheek with shaking fingers. This was his cross-mate, the woman he had waited twenty-three years for.

He furrowed his brow. She was still and silent in the captain's arms. "What have you done to her?" Jole demanded.

The captain blanched, sweat breaking out on his upper lip. "She fought the band like a jaglin, Highness. It was necessary to render her unconscious. It was the only way to—"

Jole silenced him with a glare, fighting the urge to strike him. If he did, the captain might drop his mate. Instead, he took her from the man's arms. "If she has been harmed, in any way, it means your life."

The captain bowed and moved away.

Jole carried her to her room, while Pyter gave commands to relocate the gateway.

That would be Pyter's greatest fear, that she would try to escape with no knowledge of how the gateway worked or its limitations. It would mean her death, a very painful way to die, at that.

He laid her on the bed he'd had prepared for her. Jole pulled the quilt over her bare legs to her hips then touched her cheek again.

Her lizor eyes were closed to him, but he stroked her iri gold hair, a cap of curls the length of his own. She was soft. Her skin and hair were like silin, like the sheets and dresses prepared for her.

Jole switched to his long-disused English, a language he'd ordered Pyter to practice with him in preparation for this day. He'd muttered to himself for more than a year, making translations of everything he thought and uttered in Keen, even checking the electronic scans of Earth media when his vid-like memory of his mother's voice and language failed him.

His mate deserved at least a few people who could understand her; she deserved the answers his mother hadn't been given. He'd made a decision to speak only her language in her presence, unless he had a reason to speak Keen...and then he would explain it to her. It was better that way; it was the best he could do for her.

"I am sorry, love. It was not supposed to be this way. I wanted to explain to you. I wanted to be there for you, when you came through the gateway. I will do my best to make you happy. You have my vow."

Pyter cleared his throat. "Highness, the men are ready to arrange her possessions."

Jole furrowed his brow, matching Pyter's Keen with his English, knowing the guard had learned it sometime before Jole's eighth birthday. "What is my mate's name, Pyter?"

"Highness, it is not usually—"

"Her name," he demanded.

"She is called Susan Braeden, Highness."

He smiled sadly. "Welcome to Kegin, Susan Braeden."

A Change of Pace by Michelle Houston

Nicole leaned back in her chair, debating whether she should knock off for the night or get a head start on next week's work. Looking out of the glass enclosure surrounding her office, at the already empty cubicles and the cleaning crew that was just arriving, she decided to call it a night. As if her body added its agreement she yawned, automatically covering her mouth with her hand.

Giving a mirthless laugh, she stood and packed up her things. Setting her computer to secure mode, she placed her keyboard in her desk drawer and locked it. Pulling her purse from the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, she headed out of her office. There was no point in locking it—the cleaning crew had to get in to do their job.

As she walked down the lonely path to the elevator, she couldn't help sighing at what awaited her at home. A few plants that needed watering, a pile of laundry she needed to drop off at the cleaners, and a stack of bills to be paid. The weekend loomed ahead, empty.

Running a hand through her graying hair, she wondered for the thousandth time if this was the life she wanted. Ten years ago, fresh from college and idealistic as hell, she thought she could make a difference. She would start dating and maybe settle down in a year or so, when her career was steady, and hopefully a year or two later have her one and only child.

Now, here it was, ten years later, and she didn't even have a pet. Long hours at the office would leave it cooped up and alone inside her home. She didn't believe in doing that to a living creature. She had tried a fish, and ended up killing it when she kept forgetting to feed it. Even buying a supply of the vacation feeding pellets hadn't worked on the replacement fish. It had lasted only a month longer.

As she reached the elevator, she pushed the down button and waited. And waited. And waited.

"Elevator's out!" a helpful voice called out behind her. Groaning at the six-flight hike in high heels that awaited, she moved to the stairs and opened the door. Stepping into the stairwell, she was immediately enclosed in near darkness. Slipping off her shoes, she held them in one hand and gripped the rail in the other. Starting out slowly, she headed downstairs, grumbling with each step as the cold slowly seeped into her skin.

Rather than the prosecutor's office she had planned on joining out of college, student loans had forced her to accept an offer from an estate firm that had recruited her right out of law school. She had planned to stay just long enough to pay off her debt but had wound up buying a house, and now she found herself alone, thirty-five years old, with a mortgage that would take at least another twenty years to clear. In the darkness of the stairwell, she admitted to herself she hated her job. Writing wills and dealing with probates wasn't what she had planned on doing, or even imagined, when she graduated. But it was too late to start over.

Feet aching, she finally reached the ground floor and, before stepping out, she put her shoes back on, then moved out of the darkness. Waving to the security guard, she was buzzed out.

The muggy night air had her feeling sweaty and more irritated before she made it halfway to her car. Fed up with it all, she decided she wasn't ready to head home to the silence that would surround her, slowly suffocating her until she gave up and called it a night.

As she climbed into her car, she decided to head to a nearby bar and grill that some of her co-workers had been raving about. A few of them had tried to get her to go with them but, conscious of the strong chance she had of making junior partner within a few years, she had chosen instead to put that time to use at work.

Switching on the stereo as she pulled out of the parking lot, she wanted to try something besides her normal soft jazz. Switching the stations until she found one playing a familiar tune, she felt her mood lightening as the 80's music washed over her. She used to love Genesis, but somewhere along the way, she had forgotten that.

Invigorated for the first time in a while, she was tapping her fingers against the steering wheel when red lights started flashing in her rearview mirror. Glancing down at her speedometer, she cursed as she saw that she was going fifteen miles over the speed limit. She pulled over to the side of the road, cut the engine, and waited for the cop to stroll up to her window.

"License and registration, please."

At the deep voice, Nicole felt an unexpected shiver. Her nerve endings stood up and took notice. There was something achingly familiar about that voice. Something sexy that awakened her slumbering libido.

Looking up as she handed over the documents, she tried to see the man's features, but with the darkness of night and the wide brim on his hat, all she got was a glimpse of a strong jaw and the briefest dusting of stubble.

"Ms. Johannsen, are you aware you were doing forty-five in a thirty mile an hour zone, ma'am?"

Not bothering to lie her way out of it, she responded simply, "Yes, sir." Her mind raced, trying to figure out what was so familiar about the cop. When he turned and walked back to his cruiser, she caught a glimpse of his butt in her side mirror. Her pulse fluttered in response. He had the type of ass a woman, especially a sex starved one, could drool over. Tight and slightly rounded, he had enough cushion for a handful, but not enough to be flabby.

When he climbed into his car, she tried to see his features. Although there was enough light, the distance prevented her from seeing more than a hint of his cheekbone.

The view as he walked back towards her was even better. Watching until the last possible second, she licked her lips at his deliberate and powerful movements. He was leashed animal magnetism coupled with a uniform, and a deep, husky voice—the perfect combination.

It was beginning to drive her nuts, the sensation that she knew him from somewhere.

As he started writing on his pad, she glanced at his hand and didn't see a wedding ring, but that wasn't anything to judge by. Plenty of men she knew didn't wear a ring. So, he could still be a co-worker's husband.

Ripping the paper off, he crouched down beside her car and Nicole got her first good look at him. At first it didn't register, until he started talking again. "Seeing as how you helped me through all those torts, and you have a mostly clean record, I've decided to let you off with a warning."

"You're getting me off with a warning?" Horrified as soon as the words were said, Nicole slapped her hand over her mouth, only increasing her embarrassment. If she had played it cool, he might have thought he heard her wrong. But, flustered by her realization that the sexy cop was a former classmate, and secret object of more than one lust-filled night of self-pleasure, she overreacted.

Alan's chuckle sounded warm and incredibly relaxed as he handed a piece of paper through the window.

"No, Nicole, I'm letting you off with a warning. Now if you want, I can do the other after dinner some night." Instinctively grabbing the paper, she curled her fingers around it and sat in silence as he walked away. Through her open window, she could hear him whistling.

He pulled out from behind her, and with a wave took off into the night. After he had become nothing more than taillights winking in the night, she smoothed out the paper and found a note instead of the expected warning ticket.

My place. Tomorrow. 8PM.

1012 Elm Drive. And wear those reading glasses of yours.

Tossing the paper onto the passenger seat, she pulled back out onto the road and, rather than heading for the bar, decided to call it a night and headed for home. She pulled into her driveway several minutes later and sat there, mentally debating if she should take him up on the offer. If she did, what would they talk about? What if he wanted to do more than talk? What if all he wanted was a quick booty call?

It had been years since they had seen each other last, and obviously he hadn't followed through with law school if he was a cop. She found herself nonetheless intrigued. She had always wondered what kind of a lover Alan Vivanio would have made. But, she also wasn't looking for a quick orgasm or one night stand.

The fact that he had a dominant enough personality to go into law enforcement only added to his appeal. Tall, darkly good looking with a hot Italian temper, he was the perfect foil to her blonde Scandinavian looks and frosty temperament. Where she had always hesitated, he often spoke up, many times offering and defending her point on something in class.

Smiling, she reached over and picked up the paper, then climbed out of the car, heading into her lonely house. She would sleep on it and, in the morning when she was clear-headed, then she would decide if she wanted to explore what could be there, or if she wanted to stay with her status quo.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Why, Why, Zed? by Leigh Ellwood

Just in time.

Across the living room, through the feathery, fake plant strands in the vase on the back couch table, he could see two heads poking up from the patio loveseat. They bobbed and rolled in the unmistakable synchronous rhythm of an intimate act. Zed detected no other activity beyond that—he couldn't tell if Nick had a hand pressed to Danny's alleged bulge—or vice versa. Were that the case, it would end now.

A pang seized his heart, and he swallowed the bitterness rising in his throat. To see the actual infidelity, or at least the beginnings of it, bothered him more than expected. He didn't think he could stomach the scene had he arrived ten minutes later, assuming progression to something more hardcore would take that long. His first instinct to charge forward, like the lover scorned, faded quickly. His indifference toward the relationship caused this—Zed knew he had no right to be completely angry. He brought this on himself, and it was up to him to make amends.

He backtracked silently to the open front door then guided it forcefully to a foundation-shimmering slam. "Nick?" he called out in question, trying not to sound too eager, "You around?"

He knew, of course, where to look and what to find. Those resting heads, once joined at the lips, had now positioned themselves on opposite ends of the couch. Sotto voce, curses filled the closing gap between him and the patio along with the sound of a foot scraping the concrete—no doubt, a last minute attempt to hide any visual evidence of the pungent smoke filling Zed's nostrils.

At least, it seemed, it was good stuff.

A large, opened bag of tortilla chips rested on Danny's lap. Zed wanted to snicker, thinking of the surprise crinkling the bottom of the bag, inward. Nick crossed his legs tightly and blinked several times, but Zed could tell his lover was clearly riding the high that encouraged his earlier, and potential, behavior.

"Hey, you," Nick's voice cracked with worry. "I didn't expect you back so soon."

"I had a sudden change of heart," Zed said pleasantly. He chose to ignore the lip of the bong, peeking from the ruffled dust skirt of the ottoman, and moved around so he could face the two men. They resembled guilty teenagers with their heads bowed, caught red-handed, red-eyed, and purple-cocked. "Nice day to be sitting outside," he observed, gazing toward the spacious backyard.

"Yeah, I figured you'd be on the course all afternoon," Nick mumbled. "I called you at work when your cell was busy."

"I did too, but on the way there, I decided there are better things I could do with my time." He looked at Danny, narrowing his gaze. "Unfortunately… Danny, is it?" He should have taken more care to know the men Nick chose for friends.

Danny looked away in silent escape, as though affirming his identity might secure some kind of punishment. Finally, a short nod bowed his head.

"Danny, I had hoped to spend some quality time with Nick, alone. I don't mean to be rude."

"Not at all." Danny's response came swiftly, matching his sprightly leap from the love seat. Brushing off tortilla crumbs, he smiled at Nick and made a phone gesture to his ear with his left hand. "See ya."

Yeah, we'll be changing our phone numbers later tonight. Zed only smiled and waved. "Later," he said, a bit too placating. He waited for the front door to slam before turning his gaze on Nick, who cowered and hugged himself for protection. "Why are you sitting like that?"

"Are you going to hit me?" He sounded small and frightened. Had to be the weed enhancing his lover's paranoia, Zed decided. He had never raised a hand to anybody, especially Nick. The mere suggestion made Zed feel guiltier for his recent neglect.

He knelt before Nick and placed a hand on his bouncing knee. "Why would you even think such a thing?" he gently chided. "Have I ever done anything to suggest I could become violent with you?"

"No," Nick said, looking somewhat remorseful for having asked the question. Zed could sense, though, the next words forming on the man's lips. At least if you hit me, you'd be touching me. Wrapping himself in his own concerns at work really had put the burden of loneliness on Nick if negative attention was preferred over none at all.

Zed smoothed the palm of his hand down Nick's bare calf, then back up his thigh, to the cuff of his shorts. His touch left a visible trail of raised flesh and Zed watched the skin quiver. Farther back, the bulge tenting Nick's shorts increased. A few minutes later, that delicious cock might have been in another man's mouth.

Just in time. He'd come home to stop to Nick from making a mistake and to rectify his own.

"I love you, Nick, from the day we met. I'm sorry for shutting you out like I have these last few months."

Nick straightened a bit, his features softening.

Zed squeezed his eyes shut, mentally forcing back his next words. He wouldn't blame any of this on Nick. He wasn't going to ask Nick why he hadn't made his feelings known. Lost in his fog, he wouldn't have noticed any signals from his lover. Most assuredly, Nick had said or done something, but he just didn't acknowledge it.

He would enjoy making up for lost time and see that Nick did the same.

"Let me see that gorgeous body of yours," Zed whispered.

Nick looked unsure of himself at first, as though surprised to hear such a proposition. Zed bit back a laugh when Nick apparently recovered from his shyness and let his shirt slip over his head, flying to one side. The rhythmic rise and fall of Nick's bare chest—tanned and smooth—hypnotized Zed, and his mouth watered at the prospect of taking one of those taut, pebbled nipples between his lips.

"That's all?" he teased. Nick retaliated by easing slowly to his feet and undoing the button and fly of his cutoffs. Off came Nick's underwear then, and Zed was pleased to spy a patch of dark hair concealing Nick's reddening shaft.

"Turn around."