Saturday, March 21, 2009

Animal Instincts by Brenna Lyons

Anha arched her back, thwarting Thoman’s move to bite her neck even as she drove her bottom toward the pillar of his cock. Some fems let toms mark them indiscriminately; Anha was not such a fem. Though it was unlikely that she’d find a true mate, Anha wanted to go to him unmarked if she did.

Thoman hissed lightly in his displeasure. “Little tease.”

On some level, he was correct. Still... “All unmated toms want is the pussy.” She purposely used the human term for it as both a pun and a further tease. “It is pride that makes you seek more.”

As if I am not seeking more? She pushed away that thought. It was for another time and place.

Thoman drew in Anha’s scent noisily, stroking her hood with two rough fingers. Her pupils widened, sharpening the contrast of the lush forest around them in the half-light of the moon. She rasped the tip of her tongue over her lengthened fangs, her mouth watering in need of an end to this maddening heat.

Thoman played his cock at her entrance, growling out his thoughts aloud. Her heat had her slick and ready...more than ready to be stuffed full of randy tom cock.

Anha nodded, her breathing hitching as he pinched at her hood. She drew in the scents of her heated core and his pungent musk, soil, growth and decay...and Wul.

The shock of the final in their vicinity sent her into motion, knocking Thoman’s hand away and scrambling from beneath him. His hand grasped at her hip, then released her. He turned and stood, placing himself between Anha and the enemy, as any tom was expected to.

Anha came to her feet, her enhanced vision picking out three of the curs. She let her vocal chords shift slightly to rumble the information to Thoman, uncertain that his lesser abilities could provide it for him. His nod was curt, and she let her throat revert to a human shape again, lest she tire herself unnecessarily when the need to fight might arise.

The Wul were clothed, and they stood between the two Lyx and their clothing. As Anha watched, one of them lifted her jeans from the ground, scenting them. The threat wasn’t spoken, and yet she shivered in understanding.

“What do you want, Wul?” Thoman’s voice was coarse, a sure sign that his fangs were extended.

Anha swallowed hard. Unless one was exceptionally old or strong, that was the most either Lyx or Wul could do without a powerful moon. She could do more, but she’d only prove it if she had to.

The one holding her jeans settled a look of warning on them. “I want, little cats, to know what two Lyx are doing on Wul land. Surely, you scented our mark.”

They hadn’t, which probably meant the Wul had laid the marks after they’d passed. It was an old trick that the Wul used to justify ambush. Since the precious old growth was in dispute, one never knew who would scent and claim it next, but it was good luck to conceive broods in the sacred wood.

Thoman scanned over the line of Wul, apparently deciding that it was not his night to fight them. “Then we will take our leave...with apologies to your alpha for this trespass.”

Anha held her breath, looking for some sign of acceptance from them. It would be an embarrassment to walk back to the nest in the nude, but it would be a welcome exchange for death.

“I think not,” their leader stated, scenting her jeans again, leering at her.

She shook her head in disbelief. They’d rutted on Lyx fems before, but never one in heat as Anha was. Her heart pounded in terror, and her mouth went dry. The copper taste of blood rose up strong in preparation to fight or run.

There were tales, old stories of half-breed abominations. Were they true? Would she catch a half-Wul brood instead of one from the deposit Thoman had made the night before?

The Wul started to circle. Thoman tensed, hissing and growling, his fine, black hair standing on end. The lead Wul closed on him, growling deep in his throat, and Anha shivered in response, her gaze darting between the alpha of this small group and his betas.

Whatever the sound the Wul made meant to a male, Thoman seemed to lose his composure. He pounced on the larger male, his mouth opening to bare his fangs.

The Wul dropped her jeans and dealt a staggering punch to Thoman’s head. His pack brothers held their places, shifting back and forth as if preparing to stop her if she attempted escape.

Thoman came at him again, and the Wul administered another blow; this one took the tom to his back. Before Thoman could react, the alpha was on him, sinking his fangs into the tom’s exposed throat.

Anha leapt toward them, though she knew there was little she could do. The other two Wul were suddenly upon her, not engaging Anha but keeping her from the fight.

She showed her claws...literally. Anha shuddered in pleasure as sleek fur appeared on her fisted hands, bones shifted, and her claws extended.

One Wul pulled back; the other bared his fangs and took a step toward her. Anha lashed out, gouging tracks in the closer beta’s face to drive him back.

He recovered quickly and howled out his intent to hunt, to kill. She braced herself for a fight. Though the howl meant the older toms and fems would be on their way to defend the territory, they still had time to kill her...or commit other offenses against her.

A growl brought the closer two to a halt. The abrupt change startled Anha so much that she didn’t note the third moving until he had her by the wrists, pinning her to the nearest tree. He extended her arms above her head, his legs between hers, forcing hers out.

He surveyed what he could see of her body, finally meeting her eyes. The deep brown was disconcerting, so different than the green-gold or ice blue of a Lyx. For a moment, they stared at each other, neither moving.

“Bind her wrists.” The slightest edge of his fangs peeked past his lips.

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Lost by Zoe Nichols

“I need you to find my mother,” a low, familiar voice says, and I look up from my burger to meet a pair of golden brown eyes. They’re staring at me from beneath a shock of white-blond hair and they plead.

He looks like he belongs here, oddly enough. I’d thought anyone below the age of thirty would look out of place in a smoky beer-and-burger joint like this. It’s more of a bar than a diner and people treat it like one. In dark booths and on stools, people are having liquid lunches instead of solid ones. Yet, decked out in worn jeans and a faded band tee and sporting some beard, he doesn’t look like the twenty-five-year-old high school teacher’s aide I know he is. I’m only about two years older but we’re worlds apart mentally.

I fit. It kind of makes me blink to see him.

He looks like the other men slouched around here.

He looks like me. The only thing different is my skin is dark brown, but color don’t mean a thing in places like this. Too bad the real world isn’t like that, too.

I stare at him hard. “I’m not in the business of finding people anymore,” I say flatly.

“I know.” He sits because I haven’t told him to fuck off yet, and he knows me well enough to know that if I haven’t said beat it in the first five seconds he’s got a chance to talk me into something. Doesn’t mean I’ll do it. It just means he has a chance. Plus, Eric’s a friend.

One who, despite my efforts, means a little more than I really want him to. “Ethan, I don’t have anywhere else to go,” he mumbles, shoving a hand through that bright hair. It’s like a beacon in the half-assed lighting.

He makes a sound of exasperation when I don’t say anything. “Please, Eth,” he says hoarsely. “The last time I saw her, she was fucked to hell on coke and God knows what else. Now she’s gone. Fucking poof. I just…I gotta know she’s okay. Maybe try and talk her into coming home.”

There’s the light of eternal hope in those golden eyes. They’re like a mirror into that bright soul, and reflexively I see myself, the exact opposite. Once upon a time, I’d been a part of an organization called Savior. A well-trained group of empaths and psychics scattered across the country, hunting down lost relatives and missing kids by using the Spark method. All life had glow, a spark that pointed them out as alive. Sometimes, the spark was weak, a sign they were dying or giving up hope of being found. Sometimes, the spark was like a glow that led us right to people. We’d had about a ninety-nine percent success rate. So when that one percent failure happened, it took us all down. That one percent was usually because we simply couldn’t find them. No Spark. Nothing. The mind readers had a theory, but I never wanted to believe it. I pushed it away, hundreds of times. I’d finally walked away when the crushing guilt became too much to bear, when I’d had to deliver one too many ‘I’m sorry’ speeches to devastated families.

Unlike Eric, I’ve lost my hope. My soul is likely as dark as my skin.

Now, Eric, who knows damn well why I don’t do this anymore, is here, asking for help. My hands fist without me wanting them to. What’s worse is that I can feel his emotions. I know he doesn’t want to ask me; the regret is screaming at me. But I can feel his desperation, his frantic worry over his mother. A woman I’ve met exactly once, back in college, and that one encounter imprinted one fact on me in blinding neon colors: she’s an out and out addict. She hides it, yeah, they all do. But with someone as insignificant in her world as me? She didn’t bother hiding it very well.

Come to think of it, she didn’t hide it from Eric very well, either. Not that he doesn’t still try to help her. Says something about their relationship right there. I want to tell him that there’s no point in hunting down an addict, but I can’t form the words. I can’t hurt him like that.

He’s my friend and I have so very few of them. For my sanity, mostly. Empaths don’t do so well with too many people around them. All that emotion equals twenty-four-seven migraine.

Right now, I’m actually shielding pretty tight. I’m only getting impressions of what people are feeling and I can deal with that. Except for Eric. No matter how hard I try, I can’t block him.

“Eric,” I say slowly, determined to imprint the possible fruitlessness of this task. “Eric, even if I find her, your mother…she’s sick, ya know? When people reach that level of sickness, they rarely wanna come back from it.”

“Don’t talk to me like a child,” he snaps out and I straighten, my own temper igniting. He sees it but ignores it. I can feel his anger rise. “I know the fucking chances of her coming back are slim, but…but I just gotta try, okay?”

I grit my teeth and look away. That little part of me that still wants to help, that still wants to save, pokes at me. His pain is agonizing, drowning me. I slam the door on that part of me that can feel it but it’s too late. I’ve never been able to say no to Eric, not when I first met him back in college and not now, when he needs me.

I turn to him slowly, my thoughts settled but angry. “Look, I’m not promising anything, okay? But I’ll try.”

My heart skips a beat when he nods solemnly, his eyes losing their shadow. Fuck me, he thinks I’m gonna find her. That faith is humbling and scary. But seeing it strikes a chord in me.

I want to find her, just to keep that faith.

Fuck me.

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Taming the Wolf by Michelle Houston

“We’ve had another rogue incident.” The words slammed into his brain over the phone line as Ben leaned back in his chair, clamping his eyes shut. He could remember all too vividly his own transition and the events that led up to it.

“How many were hurt?” Mindful of the fact that anyone could be listening in on the conversation, he chose his words carefully, avoiding the phrase that roared the back of his mind—how many turned.

“Three,” came the long sigh on the other end of the line. The gritty voice deepened until Ben almost couldn’t hear him with normal human senses. “We need your help. One must be sent one to you. We don’t have enough safe places for them all to go right now. Since you live in the middle of nowhere, you’re his best bet.”

Groaning silently to himself, Bed knew it wasn’t a request. He was being politely ordered to put up the recently turned man, show him how to fight the urges to turn wolf, and how to exist with his world changed forever.

“When does he arrive?”

“He should be there about five. You must understand something, Ben. If he can’t handle it, you need to let us know. We can’t risk people finding out what we are, even if it means taking an innocent life.”

Without saying anything, Ben set the phone down in the cradle, knowing the conversation was over and didn’t require his response. He had heard the same words once before, several years ago. The same man had spoken them to him, but at the time it was his life that hung in the balance. It had been made very clear to him that if he didn’t control the beast beating at his insides every moment of the day, demanding its share of time, that he would be put down for the good of the race. Despite it being one of them going crazy that had turned him in the first place.

He wasn’t sure what to expect, but when a tentative knock sounded on his door promptly at five pm that evening, he opened the door and got a good look at the man standing before him. For a brief moment, he could feel something inside of him reaching out to the younger man.

There was something pushing the despair and fear aside in the younger man’s gaze, a brief flicker of appreciation for Ben’s toned body, his tanned skin, and crystal blue eyes. His nostrils flared with his every breath, the scent of pheromones pouring off him was unmistakable.

With shock, Ben acknowledged what his inner beast had understood, and embraced, almost instantaneously—the man standing before him was gay. Not in any stereotypical way, but there was no denying it. Nor was there any denying the arc of attraction flowing between them, as their gazes met.

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Crossroads by Keta Diablo

Frank passed through the doors of four billiard halls and left the last one with the disappointing thought the night would be a bust. In all the nameless faces he’d encountered in the last three hours, not one resembled Rand, not from memory or from the picture in his shirt pocket. He pulled the large metal door open and entered the fifth.

Paddy’s Place was a sanctuary for an eclectic mix of wayward vagabonds, slumlords, and tattooed motor heads. A handful of Goth disciples and prostitutes who hoped to turn a quick twenty, were interspersed among the crowd. Dark and smoky, a long, mahogany bar anchored the room with scattered tables and chairs reaching all the way back to the dark corners of the rundown structure. Neon beer signs flashed against the yellow wall over the bar, fluorescent pink, white and a brilliant cerulean blue.

Frank took a stool at the bar and checked out the exits. Two existed, the front door he entered through and another in back at the end of a darkened hallway. Several doors were ajar in the corridor, a restroom, he imagined, and another that possibly led to a cellar or a basement. The overall atmosphere loomed eerily creepy, even after Frank’s first shot of whisky.

A woman approached wearing fishnet stockings and a tight, black leather miniskirt. A long, gold chain hung from her neck, lost somewhere in the valley of her ample cleavage pushing through the low, v-neck black leather vest. Her eye shadow was blue and her eyes ebony, matching her mass of wild hair.

“Buy a lady a drink?” she asked.

Frank nodded her into the stool next to him. He had no intention of advancing beyond the drink, but maybe she had some information about Rand.

“You look a little out of place here.” She pulled a cigarette from her small bag and lit it. “First time?”

Frank gave her a nod. “Yep, I’m staying down the street at a hotel and needed a drink.”

The bartender placed two drinks on the bar, one for him and one for the hooker. The man seemed to take particular interest in his presence. His features were refined, his hair long and his mannerisms effeminate. A chill snaked down Frank’s spine before an image surfaced of a man dressed in billowing silk in a dimly lit room. In the vision, makeup masked his face and the long, stringy hair had been neatly coifed. A transvestite maybe, Frank thought. His inner eye nudged his brain in an attempt to transmit another vision, but like the one several days ago, it faded faster than vapors from a Turkish sauna.

It wasn’t often he could connect with his inner spirit while in a conscious state. Surrounded by interference―casual conversation, body movement, and the muted strains from the juke box―it didn’t surprise him. Something about the bartender left him discomfited. He didn’t feel physically threatened, but warning bells went off in his head nonetheless. A dark aura emanated from the woman-like creature when he picked up the ten-dollar bill and placed the change on the bar.

The prostitute pulled him from his reverie. “How about we take these drinks back to that room you mentioned and I tuck you in for the night?”

Fuck me for the night, you mean. “Thanks,” Frank said, “but I’ve got an early plane to catch. Maybe another time.”

About to show her the picture of Rand, a young, dark-haired man bounced down the hallway with a tray of glasses. He walked behind the bar and stacked them on three rows of shelves. The black-leather lady had already moved on to a muscular guy in a tank top and denim jeans seated to her right. Frank lowered his head and waited for the busboy to finish stacking the glasses, hoping to get a peek at his face before he left the room again. Déjà vu tore through him. He resembled the kid in the picture Emily gave him, but he had to see his eyes and he’d know for sure. If it was Rand, he hoped he didn’t recognize him, not until he found out what the damn fool was up to.

His break came when the boy turned and spoke to the bartender about bringing up another tray in ten minutes. Familiarity rang in his voice. It was Quinn’s boy, all right, and why in hell was he working in this dump?

Another character caught Frank’s attention, a barrel-chested, tall drink of a man with long, greasy hair and a thick, handlebar mustache. The man’s dark eyes pinned him from across the room. He stood in the shadows in back, curiously intent on what was happening around the bar. Frank dragged his gaze from Rand and ordered another drink. Before Rand scurried out from behind the bar, he nodded at the man across the room and ducked into the corridor again. The kid knew the man; there could be no doubt about that.

Frank’s tense muscles relaxed. At least Rand was alive, although he agreed with Emily. Something noxious was in the air. He felt it all the way down to his toes. He slapped a five on the bar for his drink, slid from the stool, and walked out the front door.

The alley behind the bar loomed dreary and dismal, marked by a foggy mist that had settled in. He leaned against the brick wall in back of Paddy’s Place and waited. After closing, Rand would walk through that back door and meander home. Wherever home was. Frank would wait all night if need be, but one way or the other he would find out where he lived. His hand drifted to his pants’ pocket. Everything was still there, the black hood, the gun, and the trusty little martial arts weapon. The effect of what he planned to do would be lost if Rand recognized him.

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2050 by Mychael Black and Shayne Carmichael

Julian wrapped his hands around the cup of coffee and took a sip, savoring the flavor. He hadn’t slept well that morning and needed the coffee boost before he headed into work. Hearing a voice next to him and recognizing it as familiar, he turned and saw Richie not too far away. Julian’s brow rose but he said nothing, noting the near shy look and red creeping over Richie’s cheeks plus the close proximity of the clerk.

When the clerk brought his espresso, Richie smiled as the young man returned the sentiment. “Thanks,” he said softly.

“Interesting book,” the clerk said, gesturing to Richie’s well-worn book of Celtic tattoos. “You have any?”

Richie nearly choked on his espresso. “Um, yeah.” He cursed himself under his breath for blushing again. “A dragon around my bellybutton, and a Celtic cross on my left shoulder blade.”

Attention on his coffee, Julian tried not to listen in on the conversation. But it was impossible. Listening to a potential pickup wasn’t his idea of a fun way to pass the time. He idly read the stream of information displayed in the lenses of his glasses and pretended not to notice the two near him.

When another customer waved for service, the clerk smiled and nodded, then walked away. Richie took a sip of his espresso and said, “How’s your ankle?”

A tight little smile compressed Julian’s lips. “My ankle is fine, thank you for asking.”

With a perturbed sigh, Richie set his cup down and turned around sideways on his stool. He set his elbow on the counter and rested his head on his palm. “Okay, what is it about me you don’t like? Detective Mooney has no problem with me.”

“I have no problem with you. Since I don’t know you, there is nothing to like or dislike. What makes you think I do?”

“Because you have yet to look me in the eye.”

His brow arched into his hairline as he eyed Richie. He could have been rather rude, but Julian swallowed that. “I’m trying to figure out after two meetings, why I’m supposed to have a problem with you.”

“Because my abilities annoy you? Because you have no use for psychics who wander into the precinct to you tell where to look?” Richie shrugged and turned back around to continue enjoying his espresso. “He’s not a copycat,” he said in an offhand manner.

“They’d be great leads if I had something to back them up. I know you want to be helpful, but your imagination, visions, whatever don’t go down well in a report, England. And that’s a cold hard fact.” At least he didn’t dismiss the kid as a total crackpot, and he was being bluntly honest.

“Imagination.” Richie turned around again, narrowing his eyes on Julian. “Do you think it’s fun waking up at three, four o’clock in the morning with images of someone dying a very bloody death?”

A vacant, hard expression took over Julian’s features. He was a fucking cop. In fifteen years, he’d probably seen more of the worst humanity could do than Richie would see in ten lifetimes. And Julian had the nightmares to prove it. When he finally managed to speak, he said mildly, “No, I don’t suppose I would know anything about that.”

Standing from his stool, he gave Richie a polite nod before he turned toward the door.

“Detective...” Richie called after him as he slid off his stool. He knew he hit a nerve and felt horrible about it. “Look, I’m sorry. Okay? Most people think I’m a fucking flake, and I guess I have a hard time letting that go.”

Hearing himself addressed, he turned, giving Richie a blank look. It took a moment for the apology to sink in. A glimmer of a smile appeared on his lips. “You are a fucking flake, but that’s not such a bad thing to be.”

Richie laughed as a hint of pink crept over his cheeks. “Okay, I’ll give you that. I am weird to an extent. Look, I really am sorry. I know I hit a nerve, and I shouldn’t have said that. Sometimes my mouth works before my brain and the rest of my body can catch up.”

“Just like the rest of us.” Julian chuckled and he relaxed slightly. “Let it go over your head, England. Your worth isn’t determined by what I or anybody else thinks. And I shouldn’t have let the remark get to me.”

* * * *

Richie opened his mouth, then shut it quickly, thinking better of what he almost said. Another one of those moments of his mouth running away before his brain could catch up. For a moment, all he could do was stand and try not to stare at the way the detective’s eyes looked when he laughed, or how he looked much younger when he wasn’t scowling or dead serious.

“How old are you?” he asked, then felt his cheeks heat when he realized what he had said. “I-I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that.” He shook his head, cursing himself inwardly.

The question and blush disconcerted Julian. “I’m thirty-five. It’s a matter of public record so no reason you couldn’t ask.”

“You look much younger when you smile. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but...” He bit his lip then bravely continued. “You’re an attractive man. I’m sure you’d make any woman happy.”

There. He’d said it. Despite the fact that he now wanted to melt into the floorboards and never be seen again, he had just made the ultimate fuck-up: he came onto a cop.

“Considering I’m not interested in women, I doubt if I would ever make one happy.” A new display flit across the screen of his glasses, forcing Julian to focus momentarily on it. Reaching up to turn on the transmitter clipped to his shirt collar, he said, “I’ll be there in five.

“Don’t go too far, England. I might need to talk to you in a few hours.”

Richie’s mouth dropped open. For a minute or two, he simply stood there, stunned and looking like a total idiot, at least in his eyes.

“Richie England, you’ve officially lost your mind,” he said to himself. “I can’t believe I just hit on a cop...”

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Unleashed by Ericka Scott

The man beside her shifted and twitched in his sleep. Serena O’Toole rolled over and snuggled against his side. She studied his profile and a warm rush of desire washed over her. Asleep, Jackson looked so normal, yet she’d never met a more complicated man. Once a member of a notorious Los Angeles gang, he had turned his life around and became part of the solution. A cop. To look at him, with three-day stubble covering his strong chin and his overlong dark hair, he didn’t resemble a typical officer of the law. Especially not a small town sheriff. But then Eclipse was a most unconventional town.

Several years ago, a government experiment went awry when one of the test subjects, Ben Rawlings, escaped and began infecting civilians. Once Ben had been recaptured, the government segregated him and his victims in a tiny town built in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Unfortunately, Ben had again escaped from quarantine. The danger of his escape pushed the CDC to accelerate their research on the reversal, and they were now closer to finding a cure.

So far, Serena had managed to escape infection, but lately she’d been dancing close to the fire. As a professional dog trainer, it was proving impossible for her to resist trying out her skills on the biggest dog of them all—the werewolf.

She had been able to get some of the members of the pack to obey her commands, but she’d made little-to-no progress with Jackson. Of course, she conducted the training from behind the safety of a wire fence. The true test of her ability would have to be done out in the open, with the werewolves running wild. If something were to go wrong…

Shaking off the negative thoughts, Serena went back to studying her lover. His eyes dashed rapidly back and forth under his eyelids as he dreamed. His legs twitched and he tossed his head a little. What did he dream about? Did he dream as a man, or as a wolf? Could dreams be guided, influenced by an external stimulus? Well, it sure would be interesting to find out.

With a slight smile, Serena ran her hand across his chest. He sighed but didn’t wake up. She finger-walked further down his torso until she encountered the crisp curls of his pubic hair. His cock hardened when she touched it, but a quick glance at his face assured her that he still slept. With soft touches, she stroked him to full arousal, then inched her way down the bed until her face hovered over his erection. She opened her mouth and as she was about to engulf him, a hand on the back of her head gave her a push of encouragement.

“Hey,” she protested.

Jackson just laughed and kept her pinned. His chuckle faded to a groan as she set to work teasing him with her tongue, lips, and teeth. To add torment to the teasing, she caressed his balls. She heard his breath hitch as she took him deep into her mouth.

A tug on her shoulders interrupted her. Allowing him to guide her up his body, she straddled his hips and stared down into his amber eyes. Bedroom eyes, heavy-lidded with desire.

Her breasts ached to be touched and her pussy throbbed. Leaning forward, she brushed a nipple across his lips. He sucked it deep into his mouth and sent a jolt of desire straight to her core, setting off waves of need.

While he suckled, he pinched and rolled her other nipple. Ecstasy danced around the edges of her pleasure; it would only take one thrust to push her over the edge. So, she drew out the moment, resisting the urge to mount him.

Jackson took the decision out of her hands by grasping her hips and surging up off the bed and into her. With a cry, she sank down onto him, reveling in the way he filled her. Matching him thrust for thrust, she gave herself over to the pleasure as lights flashed behind her eyelids. She heard a howl join her cry and felt him throb deep within her as he came.

She lay in his arms, enjoying the aftershocks of their orgasm. When the spasms finally subsided, she nuzzled his neck.

“I love you.”

“Love you more.” Jackson’s grip tightened on her. “You know that, right?”

Serena pulled back so she could look into his face. His expression was serious and gave her pause.

“Of course I know you love me.” She knew he did; he’d just proposed to her. Or had something changed? Was he having second thoughts?

“More than anything. If…” He took a deep breath. “I’ve been dreaming lately. When I wake up, they almost seem real. You’re standing in the moonlight and I’m torn. I’m filled with this all encompassing love for you. I know I should want to protect you. But…”


“But under all that love is a more primal desire. It takes every bit of my willpower not to attack you.” Jackson shot her an anxious look. “I’d never hurt you, not knowingly.”

Serena bit her lip. She hated keeping secrets from him. So, should she tell him about their moonlit training sessions? If she did, what would he say? Would he be angry or upset? Forbid her to continue? Or would it be better not to tell him? He thought they were dreams, so perhaps it was better to keep it that way. But, it was best to not keep secrets. Especially one where she knowingly put herself in harm’s way. If Jackson ever bit her, he would blame himself. Would he forgive her for the deception? Probably not.

Taking a deep breath, she started to confess it all when she noticed his eyes were closed and his breathing rhythmic and heavy. A quick glance confirmed that he’d already fallen asleep. She carefully extricated herself from his embrace and slipped off him. He didn’t stir when she rolled to her side of the bed.

It was a relief to have made the decision to tell him, and an even greater relief to know she didn’t have to tell him now.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sons of Amber: Michael by Bianca D'Arc

Michael was a Son of Amber - a genetically engineered male designed with the express purpose of repopulating the human race. The jit'suku enemy had launched a bio-weapon years ago, systematically killing off almost all human males. Some women became ill as well and were left sterile or worse.

A few dedicated geneticists, led by Dr. Amber Waithe, had stepped up to the challenge. She and her team devised a plan to restore the balance, engineering a group of males who were immune to the jit virus. Known as Sons of Amber, these men also bred about ninety percent male offspring. They'd been designed so each successive generation would yield more female offspring until normalizing somewhere around fifty-fifty several generations down the road. By that time, it was hoped the human race would be back on its feet as a species.

But Michael Amber was one of the first. He and his brothers had been designed in several discrete groups. Some were Risk Takers, designed to weigh the odds and take calculated risks that others would not. Some were Pioneers, given the skills and predispositions to conquer new frontiers in every field of human endeavor. Some were Moderates, designed to be the backbone of society, even-tempered and rock steady in character, and some were Dominants like Michael.

Dominant personalities were meant to lead in all aspects of life. It made them great military commanders, law enforcers, and the like, but it also gave them Dominant tastes in everything they did. In Michael's case, he was probably one of the most dominant of the Doms. He'd worked his way up to Commandant of the military forces in this sector. He led, and everyone followed. Just the way he liked it.

The way he needed it, actually. It was part of his physiology and his psyche. He needed to dominate the way others needed to breathe. And he needed to dominate sexually as well, though never to the point of violence. Violence was something Mike reserved for his enemies. He'd killed his fair share of jit'suku soldiers in his climb to the top of his chosen profession, but he never gloried in it. He just did what he had to do to protect his own. It was that simple.

Mike also understood the value of working with people. He had good working relationships with all his command staff and his people respected him. That was important to him. He cultivated friendships with his staff, who were mostly female, though he discouraged any interaction or discussion of a sexual nature.

While he still made regular deposits to the sperm banks, and made personal visits to as many civilian ladies as his schedule allowed, he never had sex with his subordinates. For one thing, it wouldn't be fair to take advantage of his position of authority. For another, he had definite sexual tastes and proclivities that required the full understanding of his partner. How could he be certain the woman consented out of her own desire or out of some misguided aspiration to get a promotion by doing whatever he wanted, regardless of her own needs? Mike couldn't take the chance, so military women were off-limits.

If any woman tempted him to break his own rule, though, it was Leah. Still, she'd never once given him any indication she desired him sexually. Perhaps that was why he found her so comfortable to be around. She was his friend, his confidant, his stabilizer when his Dominant genetics threatened to push him a bit too far.

Like right now.

Michael made sure the hatch was closed tight before switching the comm to his personal viewer. Leah remained just out of range of the viewer, but well within his personal sphere. He could see her, read her expressions, and feel her calming energy. He didn't quite understand how it all worked, but something about this woman made him a better leader. She made him stop and think through his decisions, made him want to be the best man he could possibly be. In short, she was an invaluable influence and if he had any say in the matter, she'd be part of his personal staff for the duration of his career. She was a keeper.

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Sons of Amber: Ezekiel by Bianca D'Arc

Zeke looked about and grimaced. The dark earth beckoned to him, but he couldn't drop yet. He had to find shelter before the sun rose higher, or he would burn to a cinder on this godforsaken rock.

Zeke had more than his share of stamina. It was a gift of his genetics. Designed and raised by Dr. Amber Waithe and her team of geneticists, he knew he had a mission in life: to spread his seed far and wide, bringing his fertile offerings to every woman who would have him. By the Maker, he enjoyed his job.

But even his enormous strength was taxed by the huge binary stars that were just a little too close to this dry, arid planet. Too bad his Risker's nature had brought him here but he was usually able to roll with the punches. Riskers had to be able to deal with the results of their actions, and he was one of the best at making lemonade out of lemons.

This time, however, he might just die for his troubles. The suns were rising all too quickly, and he was caught out in the open. He took one last, long, weary look at the suns and kept on trekking. Minutes, or maybe hours later, he felt himself fading under the onslaught of oppressive heat and strong solar radiation. He saw the dusty ground rush up at him as if from a distance, then he knew no more.

* * * *

Zeke woke hours later, feeling a cool wetness on his face. He had to be hallucinating, but he didn't feel the merciless suns pounding down on him anymore. No, instead he felt the coolness of earth, the scent of dirt and dampness in his nostrils, as if he were in a cavern. Cautiously, he cracked one eyelid just enough to see.

There was a woman at his side, mopping his brow with a damp cloth. The suns were blessedly absent. He was in a chamber somewhere underground if he didn't miss his guess. He had no idea how long he'd been out or who had saved him. Somehow, they'd transported him to his present location—wherever that was. He searched his memory, but didn't remember anything after passing out in the heat of the twin suns.

"Sister, he wakes."

The treble voice came from somewhere off to his left as the cool hand abruptly lifted from his brow. He wanted that cool, wet cloth and gentle touch back. Badly.

"Are you well, brother traveler?"

The soft voice caressed his senses, and he opened his eyes to behold the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. His savior was an angel, he was sure, her face heart-shaped and lovely, even devoid of the usual cosmetic alterations women of the upper classes habitually made. No, her face was pure and natural, one hundred percent human female. She was soft, slightly rounded, and perfect.

Her delicate eyebrows drew together in concern as she studied him. Her hand touched his face once more with the cool cloth and it was bliss.

"Are you well, brother?"

"Just keep doing that." His voice was a deep rumble. "Your touch is comforting."

He looked up in time to see her slight blush, but she continued stroking his brow with the wet cloth. A hesitant smile lit her curvy lips. Lips he suddenly longed to kiss in passion.

But his body was telling him something was definitely wrong. He felt achy all over and weak. He had never felt so feeble before in his life.

"What happened?"

His angel spoke as she tended to him. "I found you on the surface at midday. I don't know where you came from or how you came to be on the surface at such a dangerous time."

"Ship crashed." His strength was waning and he damned the weakness that stole over him. His eyes drooped with weariness.

"You came from the stars?" He heard her hesitate and his eyes reopened. He read fear in her gaze now and he didn't like it. "Are you human?" She seemed to steel herself for his answer.

"Be at ease, lady. I'm as human as you. I'm one of the Sons of Amber, designed to rebuild the human race."

Usually all he had to do was mention his illustrious mother and all doors were open to him. Males were that rare. Breeder males even more so. But this attractive little woman did not seem to understand what his words meant.

"You're not Jit'suku. That's good." She seemed to want to reassure herself. "It's just that we have not seen anyone from the stars in many, many years. Our Order selected this inhospitable planet as a retreat when the war came too near our home on Espia. Our elders cut off all communication with the outside so that we might hide from the Jit'suku."

"Then you don't know what happened?"

His angel shook her head, and he noticed the other women drawing near to listen in. He had to tell them, but he was so damned tired. Still, he could give them the bare bones at least, before his strength gave out completely.

"We defeated the Jit'suku at Markesh, but they released a virus that infected just about everyone. It killed most males and caused what few babies that were born to be female. They intended to wipe out humanity within three generations," he paused to breathe through the fatigue that plagued him, "but Dr. Amber Waithe genetically engineered a group of male children that were immune to the Jit virus. I'm one of them."

The angel sat back, looking stunned.

"Did you hear, Sister Angela?" The other little nun was back now, moving closer on his other side. She was younger than his angel, but cute as a button.

For the first time in his life, he realized he was looking upon an eligible human female without any trace of lust. That thought had him rocking back on his heels, figuratively at least. Perhaps it had something to do with his illness, but no, he wanted his angel as much as he ever wanted any woman. Actually, more so. He didn't think he had ever wanted a particular woman this badly.

The realization confused him, but he was too weak to sort through it now. He decided to concentrate his energies on getting well first, then he would bed his angel and figure out why she was so irresistible.

"I heard, Sister. We must tell Mother Rachel."

"I know already, children. Be at ease." A new female voice floated through the chamber to him, coming closer. With it came a fragrance of flowers and earth, and a beautiful, slightly older woman stepped into his line of view. "Your arrival was foreseen. Be welcome, Son of Amber. Can you tell us your name?"

He didn't know why, but he wanted to tell this lovely older woman whatever she wanted. He would reveal all his secret plans, if she but asked, but she only wanted his name. That he could give her before his strength failed.


"Be welcome, Ezekiel." She placed her hand on his forehead and he felt a peace he'd never experienced before wash over his senses. "Rest now and recover."

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Someone to Watch Over Me by Savannah Stephens Smith

I was in the middle of Cry Me a River when I noticed him.

The set was going all right. But I was going through the motions and the audience knew it. They liked me okay, but they weren't in love with me. Some nights you're on, and some nights you're not, and by then, I didn't care all that much.

Until I saw him in the darkness. He sat alone and very still, his gaze following me around the stage. Most of the crowd doesn't really pay attention to the entertainment, but he was. And he wasn't impressed. He sat with his drink on the table before him and his face blank, watching me. I wasn't touching him at all.

You weren't trying to touch him, Sandy, I thought. You were just calling this one in over the phone.

Of course I was. I was singing jazz that year. Popular jazz, familiar tunes people knew or half-remembered, nothing too way out for the suburbanites. And, I was bored. Singing the same songs over and over, to an audience more interested in their highballs and balling later than in me. Still, I didn't like the way the man in the shadows before the stage watched me as if he knew something I didn't.

I was used to being assessed and judged. But more than an audience's usual dare--entertain me--came off him. There was a quiet arrogance, and something else that I figured I was the only one who felt. It made me a little angry, and so I sang the rest of the set to him. Sometimes I do that, pick out a face in the crowd and make them my only audience. Why not him? He was a good-looking man from what I could see, and that was all right, too. I didn't have much of a career, and I didn't have a steady man in my life. So I sang to him. I didn't figure it would be for the rest of the night though, because who'd stick around that long?

Even I knew I wasn't that good.

I sang to him, and I tried to turn it up a bit, raise the heat. Something about him challenged me. He didn't think I was better than mediocre and I wanted him to be wrong. I wanted to seduce him, win him over. I took a few chances with the melody, rediscovering a little bit of the magic in the familiar songs. I couldn't tell if it was working, but I started feeling good again. I started to care about the set. Damn it, I thought, closing my eyes, letting the feelings come out in my voice. I can be good.

I'd forgotten.

It was a good night. I forgot him for a bit, as I lost myself in the music for a while, moving around the small stage, making that space all mine. The stranger faded as I expanded the focus of who I was singing to, connecting with more people. I was getting into it again. I was charming them, the applause stronger after each song. I rode it higher and higher.

I expected him to be gone when I came back after my break for the second set, but he wasn't. He'd stayed, and he kept watching me. I couldn't tell if the level in his drink went down or not. I wondered why I cared.

At end of the night, after smiling to more clapping than I'd heard in a while, I walked into my dressing room, a grand name for a shabby, dark alcove with a bathroom, an old chesterfield and dressing table, and not much else. There were flowers waiting for me. Roses. That hadn't happened in a while. Had it ever? I couldn't remember. Trudy, the cocktail waitress who brought in my post-set scotch and soda, gestured to them over her shoulder with her thumb. "What, you got a real fan?" At last, she meant.

"I don't know," I said. I looked for a card, but there wasn't a small square with a name on it, or a phone number. I bent and inhaled the white roses. They were luminous in the low light, like moonlight caught in a bloom. They smelled like heaven. Pretty. Too pretty for the room.

Too pretty for me.

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S'Mores by Jalena Burke

"Our cabin is already paid for." Alyssa McClaren went to swipe a strand of hair from her face, thought better of it, and left it there. At least it'd hide her eyes and the tears that threatened to escape.

"I'm sure they'll give us our money back," Minor said.

"We've discussed this over and over again. I want to go away, just the two of us, for Christmas. You promised me."

"Oh, come on, Alyssa. I can't tell my mother she's not welcome."

"It's not that she's not welcome." Alyssa's voice cracked, and she turned away to adjust an ornament on the tree she'd decorated herself. Why couldn't Minor understand anything she tried to tell him? He was always taking his mother's side.

Margie had been a bitch to her over the Thanksgiving holidays. That was nothing new, she always acted like a bitch to her, but this time had been humiliating. And now Minor tried to tell her that his mother decided to come down for Christmas, and they were to cancel their plans?

She didn't think so.

"Our plans can be changed. We shouldn't ask her to change hers."

Alyssa turned on him, glaring. She wished daggers would come out of her eyes. At this moment, she hated the man she was supposed to love for the rest of her life.

"Our plans have been made for months. You just didn't want to tell her at Thanksgiving."

"It isn't a big deal."

"Not a big deal? Fuck you." She flung past him into the bedroom. He followed.

"I'll help you cook dinner," Minor said as if that might be the only reason she was pissed. "We'll prepare it the night before so my mom won't be around to criticize. It'll be fine."

It wouldn't be fine. Alyssa was sick of that woman destroying their lives. She didn't have one of her own, so she tried to live through her son.

Alyssa grabbed her suitcase from the closet and threw it on the bed. Her throat ached from suppressing tears, but now she let them roll.

"Come on, Lys." Minor place his hand on her shoulder, and she nudged it away. "It's Christmas. She'll be devastated. It's supposed to be about family."

"Family? I haven't spent Christmas with my family in three years." She held up three fingers to make her point, and evaded his maneuver to get closer. She shoved him away and grabbed clothes from the closet with jerky movements. "And we're not the only children your mother has to annoy. We're just the only ones who haven't given her grandchildren yet. You'd think she'd want to go see them."

"Maybe she's afraid we'll be lonely."

"Ha," Alyssa spat. "If you'd told her we had other plans, she couldn't think that, now could she?"

"I didn't want to hurt her. It's only for a few days."

"She just wants to rub my failures in my face and ruin any plans we might have made."

"Oh, come on, don't be ridiculous."

Alyssa didn't know how she was being ridiculous. She lived thousands of miles away from her family and she only saw them once a year, in the summer. Heaven forbid if they should go see them for the holidays. We don't want to hurt poor Margie's sensitive feelings, but it was okay to hurt everyone else.

It was okay to cancel the plans they'd made, the money they'd paid, but nobody can tell poor Margie no.

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Sodom and Gomorrah by Bridget Midway

Used to be Noah Wiit would be bothered by the screaming, moaning, and howling coming from the cells that lined the main hallway here at Sirius and Galax. Now the sounds washed over him like the silence of outer space. He'd become numb--so very, very numb.

"Fuck me!" One female sexbot reached through the bars for Noah, nearly grabbing his sleeve.

Why the hell hadn't the Federation housed these beings in soundproof containers instead of this dated incarceration system?

He scratched his chin through his bushy beard and kept his gaze straight ahead. There was a reason he and the other scientists on the moon called the place Sodom and Gomorrah. The High Commander had chosen the moon as a place to ship all of the sexbots and cyborgs programmed to be nothing but glorified whores.

"Straight up my ass, baby! Don't you want to do me that way?" A male cyborg licked his lips and tried grabbing Noah's crotch.

Now that Noah knew how to navigate through the lair, he deftly moved away from the cyborg's range. In his twisting motion, he ran into Al-Tomlyn Luc, one of his colleagues.

"Another day in the bowels of Hell." Al-Tomlyn extended his hand over to Noah's shoulder.

Just like he had with the clamoring cyborgs, Noah walked faster to avoid his touch. "We just have another month to weed through them. Should go quickly."

"Wow, I guess after a year of doing this, a month doesn't seem too bad. I don't understand why the Federation hasn't had us disable all of the sexbots instead of wasting our time interviewing them."

"I guess for that one in a hundred that can actually be reprogrammed into a soldier."

Noah could care less about salvaging a few bots for the Federation. The assignment on the moon allowed him the solitude he needed. If talking to sex-crazed humanoids gave him a bit of privacy, he would do it. He just regretted that, within a month, the project would be over and he would have to go back to real life, back to the memories.

"I'll suck your cock. Come on. Don't you want to put your dick in my mouth?" The female cyborg pulled down her top to expose her breasts.

Al-Tomlyn stared at the enhanced woman longer than a good scientist should have.

"I'm more concerned about finding the chameleon." Noah turned the corner toward the interview room.

"You actually think such a cyborg exists?" Al-Tomlyn brushed his hand over his salt-and-pepper hair, then adjusted his glasses. "A cyborg that blends so well as a human that, without looking at their skeletal system, we won't be able to tell that they're not really human. We're scientists. We're smart. We have lots of technology."

"Knowing Dr. Lars Urlean, she or he not only exists, we may not have even captured it in the sweep. That volatile creature could wipe out all inhabitants on the moon if it wanted. It's the only one with a self-destruct capability." Noah felt nothing at the declaration. If he encountered the thing, he just hoped the punishment it doled out would be swift. He cleared his throat.

"Then why hasn't it done all of this mass destruction, Doctor? If such a violent, temperamental, and unpredictable cyborg is out there, why haven't we encountered it yet? Surely in the sweeps, we would have found her."

"Or him." Noah scratched the back of his head. "I don't know. I don't think we have found it. I think it's still out there, laughing at us. It'll need sex. When there are no more cyborgs left in the general population, and humans turn away from it, then it'll surface."

"You think?" It was in Al-Tomlyn's two-word inquiry where his foreign tongue became more pronounced. The man was a master of ten different languages, but his primary one--a hybrid of the old Chinese, Indian, and Russian--still overtook his dialect.

"I know so. It'll be pissed off at us for taking away its sexual outlets."

Al-Tomlyn blinked. "You think it'll get violent and come after us?"

"Don't leave! Please help me!" Another female cyborg extended both hands through the bars for the two men. "Save me!"

Noah took a step to the side, away from her, without giving her another glance. "I think in desperation, it'll do just about anything." He turned to the security guard next to the interview room. "I'm ready for the first subject." Then he faced Al-Tomlyn. "I'll talk to you later."

"You going to join the rest of us for dinner?" His colleague closed his coat around his chest.

"No, I have something I need to do tonight," Noah and Al-Tomlyn replied at the same time.

Noah didn't know he'd become predictable. He just didn't see where his social interaction with his fellow scientists would help him. Mona would have told him he was being silly, and that he should go to dinner with his colleagues.

Mona could always get him to do things he didn't want to do. And when she did, he ended up loving whatever activity she persuaded him to undertake. Without her, there was no reason to push himself.

In his standard abrupt manner, Noah concluded their conversation. "I have to go." Then he ducked into the interview room and waited. As though on automatic pilot, he set out his digital recorder on the steel tabletop.

Needing to take the edge off before starting his day, he dove into his shirt pocket at his chest for a quick shot of Kicker, a concoction Noah created in the lab that gave him a sky-high feeling and let him shut out the rest of the world. To everyone else, he was afflicted with the same migraine issues that had plagued Dr. Sonjie Tuumlar.

One shot relaxed him. Two shots helped him sleep. Any more than that in one sitting would do him in.

Noah glanced up at the small black dome that housed the camera watching him and his sessions. Mona would have hated him taking the illegal drug. He wasn't hurting anyone else, just himself.

Noah located the drug stick. Just as he brought it up to the side of his neck, the door opened. He tucked it back into his pocket and faced forward.

"Here's your first one, Doc." The dark-skinned guard pushed in a female cyborg.

Some of the newer cyborgs were harder to detect. Without the noticeable tattoo on the back of the neck, they blended in with other humans. Noah, however, could tell them right off the bat. He noticed little things like pupil dilation, a nervous twitch to the lips, or sometimes they way they avoided looking into mirrors. His instincts hadn't let him down yet.

The one in front of him today looked like one of the first cyborgs to be assembled. If the bad wig didn't give her away, then it was her stiff-legged walk and her rolling eyes.

There was no hope in salvaging these versions. They were too rigid to work in battle unless used for bomb detection. But since their only function was to fuck and be fucked, even that task was out.

"Have a seat." Noah pointed to a chair across from him.

"I'd rather sit in your lap." She struggled to make her way to him, but as soon as Noah held his hand up to halt her, the guard grabbed her and forcibly sat her in a chair. The steel joints in her legs screeched, echoing off the walls in the small room. She turned her attention to the guard. "I like it rough."

"I'm sure you do." As instructed, the guard stood in the room beside the door, his hand resting on top of his gun in his holster.

Noah announced in the recorder the date and time. He scanned the small screen on his organizer. "What's your name?" he asked the cyborg. He took a deep breath and caught her faint plastic scent. Yes, this one was old.

"You can call me whatever you like, handsome." She winked, and it reminded Noah of the old kewpie dolls from several centuries ago.

"Fine." Noah placed both hands on the table to push himself up. "I'll just look at what's stamped on the back of your head."

She covered the crown of her head and held up her other hand to him. "Grace. I'm called Grace."

It was always so strange to Noah that these cyborgs would be so bothered by the idea that they weren't human. He knew there would be no way she would allow him to take off her wig to see what was tattooed underneath. Vanity prevented her from being revealed.

"Grace what?" Noah pressed.

Grace smoothed her hands over her platinum blond hair. She had attempted to make the regulation smock that all cyborg prisoners had to wear more flattering to her figure by ripping out the thin white seam that went around the bottom of the garment to make it into a belt.

Noah couldn't tell if it was age or if she was made that way, but her skin looked tanned. "What's your serial?" he asked more specifically this time.

"Can't you just call me Grace?"

Tired of playing her game, Noah glanced at the guard. "Officer Ionta, please remove her hairpiece and give me her serial number."

Grace bolted to her feet. "Wait! Wait! Fine, it's Grace X98111G54."

"Sit back down." Noah hated being a hardass, but he couldn't befriend these things.

She did as instructed.

"When were you created?"

She remained quiet. She peered over her shoulder as though Officer Ionta was going to leap onto her back and expose her for the fraud that she was.


"Manufacture date was fifteen years ago." She absentmindedly picked at her fingernails.

Noah noticed that she molded her fake loose skin around her hands and fingers. When he remained quiet, she peered at him.

"What?" Grace set her hands on the table.

"Fifteen? I've never heard of one of you lasting longer than seven years at the most." But then again, Noah didn't exactly pay close attention during the cyborg training meetings.

"I'm not lying." Her left eye rolled. She closed that eyelid for a moment.

Noah stood. "If you don't mind, I'd like to check that out for myself." He came around the table to stand behind her but she jumped up.

"Please, don't. Can't you take my word for it? You can check the records against my serial number."

"Officer, hold her down, please."

As the officer approached her, she screamed and clamored to the corner of the all-white room. Her reaction further puzzled Noah. As a cyborg, Grace had enough strength to rip Noah and the guard in half if she wanted.

Seeing her look so weak and helpless further supported the need to retire these models. If they didn't know just how strong they were, they couldn't fight.

Lars Urlean must have made them all oblivious. He must have done it as a failsafe in case the machine grew smarter than the man and decided to destroy its creator.

Standing a good foot over Grace, the officer grabbed her hands, spun her around, and planted her palms against the wall that he had her facing. As he held both hands in his, he ripped off her wig to expose her shame.

The greenish hued tattoo appeared faded, validating her claim on age. With her plastic skin so wrinkled, Noah had to stretch the flesh taut to read it. As she claimed, Grace was indeed fifteen years, four months, two weeks and three days old.

"I can't believe it." Noah took a couple of steps back. "You can let her go."

Officer Ionta released her hands but stood next to Noah. Grace wouldn't turn around, not yet.

With her hand extended back, she said, "My hair, please."

Noah nodded to the guard to have him place it in her hand. Before she turned around, she made sure to have her crowning glory in place. When she finally faced him, she smiled as though nothing had happened.

"Did you get what you need, or is there something else?" She cradled her breasts and massaged them through her thin, government-issued gray top.

"Sit back down, please." Noah resumed his seat and waited for her to settle herself and for the officer to take his place again by the door.

"You owe me an apology." Grace combed her fingers through her wiry hair.

"Why is that?" Not that Noah cared, but he was curious.

"Because you called me a liar."

"No, I didn't."

"It was implied in your actions. You hurt my feelings." She punctuated her claim with an exaggerated pout.

"You have no feelings. Everything about you is manufactured: your hair, your body, your thoughts, even your libido."

A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth. "My orgasms are real. You want to experience that?"

Noah let out a long sigh before continuing. "A Starkeen soldier comes to your room--"

"Is this part of the exam?"

"Yes. A Starkeen soldier comes to your room--"

"Am I dressed?" Grace winked.

Noah ignored her salacious inquiry and continued. "You have a laser gun in your dresser drawer that you can get to and subdue the attacker."

"That doesn't sound like me."

Noah stared at her.

"I'm a lover, not a fighter." She winked again.

The cheeky expression caused Noah to now bristle. "That's part of the problem." Noah leaned back in his chair. "The soldier tells you that he'll kill you unless you tell him where the Federation is hiding our missiles."

"I wouldn't tell him. A girl's got to have her secrets, right?"

"He brings two other soldiers to the room. They threaten to rape you." Noah watched her blinking her eyes in a rapid flutter. "One will hold down your arms. The other will hold down your legs. The third will have sex with you. How does that make you feel?"

Grace rubbed the back of her neck. "I'd like to go back to my cell now."

Ignoring her request, Noah continued. "Once the first soldier has had his orgasm, he'll switch places with the guy at your feet. The second guy will force you to give him oral sex."

As though the penis was in her mouth at that very moment, Grace wiped the sides of her mouth with her fingers. She leaned her head from one side to the other, making a creaking sound in her neck.

"When that soldier has ejaculated in your mouth and on your face, the third soldier will have anal sex with you." Noah heard a slight humming sound coming from Grace. He knew mentioning anal sex would get to her.

One thing all of the scientists discovered was that Dr. Lars Urlean was a sick bastard. He set a trigger in the anuses of all of his cyborgs so that anal sex would result in either a revelation from the cyborg, as in revealing secrets, or it would set them off into a violent rage.

The trigger made the male cyborgs more dangerous than the female ones. And because the receptor that would set the cyborgs off was connected to their nerve endings, there was nothing the scientists could do about it. It had all become a part of their DNA. Deadening the nerve endings didn't help either.

Noah rose from his chair and strolled to her. In her ear, he whispered some false information about weapons the Federation had hidden and their next strategic move. The Federation would never trust a scientist with this information. He just hoped Grace wasn't aware of that.

"Would you like to feel some anal sex right now, Grace?" He stood behind her and signaled to the guard to get out the anal plug he had in a cabinet next to the door.

"I--I'd like to go back--"

Noah interrupted her. "No, you wouldn't. You don't want to leave. You want to, uh," Noah felt his face get hot at the words he was about to utter. "You want to fuck, don't you?" It was one thing to think it. It was another to say the suggestive words out loud.

Grace stood. "I knew you liked me."

"Pull up your shirt and put your hands on the table." Noah stood off to the side as Officer Ionta approached her.

Noah nodded to insert the device.

"Legs apart." Ionta kicked her feet apart.

"What are you doing? I thought the doctor wanted me." Grace peered over at Noah, who watched the whole operation.

Officer Ionta took no care in inserting the bulbous, sandy-colored object into Grace's ass. Her body jerked forward, then she mewled and writhed with the toy nestled in her anus.

Noah now stood on the other side of the table. "Grace, why don't you tell Officer Ionta what I just told you?"

She shook her head and nearly collapsed. "Please." Grace reached between her legs and started playing with her clit.

"It would turn me on so much if you told him where the Federation has weapons hidden." When Grace raised her head and connected her gaze to his, Noah continued. "I don't want any secrets between us."

Her mouth twitched. "Mars. All of the weapons are hidden on Mars."

As soon as she made the disclosure, the officer removed the anal plug and tossed it into a trashcan. Grace fell back into her chair and covered her eyes with her hands.

"Please, don't do this." She dropped her hands from her face. "I'm not a bad person. If you could just remove my chip--"

"I can't. That's the problem."

"You all did it for E-V-E."

"She's a different model and had a different maker. Dr. Lars Urlean created you and, unfortunately, did not set up any alternative measures in keeping your models updated and relevant." Noah almost said he was sorry for her, but he wasn't. Why should he care? "And since you're so, um, mature, there really isn't anything I'm able to do for you. The way you're programmed is the way you are."

"It's like a tumor." Her bottom lip quivered.

"Unfortunately, an inoperable one." Still Noah felt nothing. This was his job.

A tear rolled down her cheek. That feature Noah never understood. Why would Lars allow these cyborgs to show sorrow, especially in the synthetic versions? The ones that were actually half-human had the ability to show emotion.

The scene should have torn his heart, but it was hard to feel sorry for something that was essentially a living doll.

He peered at the officer. "Take her to the immobilization room."

Officer Ionta made her stand and cuffed her.

"You don't have to do that, do you?" Even though Noah had called for her forced retirement, this one was harmless.

"Regulations, sir." Ionta pulled her to the door. "I'll send in the next officer."

"It's not my fault! I can't help it!" Grace screamed as the large man pulled her down the hall.

Noah knew that none of this behavior was any of their faults. It didn't matter, and he didn't care. He had a job to do. Since he couldn't change them, he had to do what the Federation wanted. After this job was done, he would just have to slink himself into another low-profile job, one with little responsibility and little notice.

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Snow Falling on Lovers by Adrianna Dane

"I have a surprise for you," he said.

He stepped up to her when she walked out the door of her office on Friday afternoon and slipped her arm through his.

She pulled her wool coat more snugly around her against the cold, biting chill of the winter afternoon. He helped her into the car and placed a black silk blindfold over her eyes.

"Relax. You'll enjoy it," he said as she felt the car pull away from the curb.

He put on some soothing, Celtic music and it lulled her until eventually she slept, her head leaning against the cool, wet glass of the window.

"We're here." His voice awoke her from a sound sleep. She sat up and stretched, but the blindfold remained in place so she could not see where they were.

A rush of cold air assaulted her as he opened her door and unfastened her seatbelt, helping her from the car.

She stood on unsteady legs, still trying to push the cotton wool of sleep from her mind.

"Where are we?"

"You'll see in a minute," he said as he led her along what felt like a shoveled path.

The air somehow smelled different, more crisp and clean than usual, more bitingly cold. How far had they driven?

Suddenly the blindfold was gone and a gust of warmth assaulted her. She blinked rapidly as she accustomed herself to the light. Then she shrieked in pleasant surprise, turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck, feathering kisses all over his face.

"You did it. Oh, God, this is wonderful. You finally were able to book us a cabin on Snowtop."

She heard him chuckle. "I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought it would be the perfect place to celebrate."

"Oh it is, it is," she breathed.

Turning away, she looked around the intimate, rustic room. There was a fire already burning brightly in the fireplace and she walked toward it. She stepped onto the brightly colored rug and knelt before the hot flames.

He had always been this thoughtful--and romantic. That was part of why she loved him so much. His surprises were always so special ... and personal. They had talked for a year or more about wanting to spend a weekend at Snowtop. It tended to be difficult to find accommodations unless one booked well ahead and it was one of the more expensive vacation spots around, so he must have been planning this for some time. And he had kept it all a secret.

She turned away from the fire as she heard the door close. He had two suitcases in his hands and dropped them by the door.

"You'll need to hurry--I've made some special arrangements for dinner."

She hopped to her feet. "You have? What?"

He shook his head and a secretive look came across his face. "Uh-uh." He looked down at his wristwatch. "You have thirty minutes. I've packed a dress in your suitcase. It's black, and perfect for tonight." The look in his eyes darkened. "Only the dress, nothing else. You understand? Oh, and the garter belt and stockings that go with it."

A slow smile spread across her lips. Oh, yes, she understood completely. No bra, no panties. He liked her accessible, especially on trips like this. She had no problem with that at all.

He picked up the suitcases and turned away, heading up the wooden steps to the loft above. Quickly, she followed him, eager to begin the evening together. Her nap in the car had rejuvenated her and she looked forward to whatever he had planned.

He turned around to look at her as she hovered behind him waiting expectantly. His gaze met hers. Unzipping his coat, he pulled it off and tossed it aside.

She waited for him to come to her. His head dipped down and he licked her lips. Drawing back, he narrowed his gaze.

"Open," he commanded.

She parted her lips willingly and he swooped down to claim them, driving his tongue deep into her mouth. Her head dropped back as he deepened the kiss, his tongue memorizing the recesses of her mouth, swirling over her teeth, dancing along her tongue. Heat spread through her as passionate need assailed her.

He pushed her coat from her shoulders and it dropped to the floor. His determined hands ripped open the blouse, buttons flying in every direction and tossed it across the room. Pushing the straps of her bra down her shoulders, he lifted his mouth from hers and pressed it to her neck, trailing kisses along the definition of her shoulder. Unhooking the bra, it followed the mangled blouse.

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Snap Decision by Shayne Carmichael

Ace set up her equipment quickly and efficiently. Thankfully she'd been paid to capture the night scenes of local wildlife in the park. Night Life magazine wanted shots of the randier human populace, not the animals that inhabited Wilson Court park. The sun had just set, though it was nowhere near full dark quite yet.

A young couple came into the park, and hoping for some good test pictures, Ace started photographing them. Through the view finder, she watched the couple necking as she captured them on film. When the dark haired man lifted his head, shock raced through Ace as she saw blood stains on his lips. As he smiled, Ace caught a glimpse of the sharp white fangs way too close up.

Stunned, Ace lowered the camera just to make sure of what she'd seen. As she stared at him, she could clearly see his face and raised the camera to take his picture before he moved to help the young girl to a nearby bench. Glancing over at the young woman, she appeared to be fine although she stared vacantly into space. When Ace looked back for the man, he'd already disappeared. Everything had happened so fast, Ace's brain still couldn't fully take it in.

Quickly, she ran over to the girl who appeared no more than dazed. Leaning over her, Ace saw were no marks on her throat. Only a small smear of blood remained on her skin.

The woman tried to stand and Ace quickly grabbed her to steady her. "Are you okay? What just happened?"

"What? Who are you?" Confused, she stared at Ace.

"I'm Ace Cameron. Who was that guy?"

"What guy? What are you talking about?" Clearly, the girl had no recollection of anything at all.

"I think I better find a cab to take you home." Ace got her out of the park and thankfully there were three already waiting in line at the curb. Helping her into the back seat of one of them, Ace asked, "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I think so." She still appeared to be totally disoriented, but when the cab driver asked her address, she was able to answer him. "1757 Nadeau Road."

Ace's mind raced furiously as she headed back to her car; the assignment for Night Life completely forgotten. Ace knew what she had seen. No matter that such a thing couldn't possibly exist, she couldn't argue with her own mind. Keeping the camera in her lap, she drove back to her office to develop the pictures.

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Smolder by Sammie Jo Moresca

Brooklyn New York, The Day After Thanksgiving, 2003

"I brought you a turkey with Swiss on white. From Vinnie's." Johnny Newman placed the sandwich and a half pint of skim milk on the rough granite tombstone. Squatting, he ran his soot-stained hand over the lettering.

MARCH 21, 1970--SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

His eyes halted on the Maltese cross. He bowed his head and crossed himself.

"Two years ago today, Brandon. We found you ... your hand." He cleared his throat as he fought the saline escaping from both eyes. "Susan's okay now. Man, it was bad on her. She wanted to join you. We had to do an intervention. She spent a couple weeks in the hospital. Your mom and I, we took turns staying with her when she got back home.

"Anyhow, I just wanted to bring you the sandwich. I haven't eaten at Vinnie's anymore since..." He exhaled.

"And I wanted to let you know not to worry about Susan. She's gonna make it all right. And, um, I'm gonna keep lookin' out for her. What I'm tryin' to say is, I love Susan. Well, of course you already knew that. But I mean ... I'm in love with her. It's not the September Eleventh widow syndrome thing either. I didn't move in on her a couple weeks after..."

An ambulance wailed by. Johnny sat back on his heels. He picked a thick blade of grass and entwined it in his fingers, pulling it so tight the tips turned red. "Did ya know eight guys left their wives and kids for the widows? Jesus. Shunned one family in favor of another. The psychologists they sent around tried to explain the phenomenon. They warned us there would be affairs. I swear I haven't touched her. And I've kept the wolves away. Johnson and Caruthers. Friggin' bastards. Can you believe it?" Johnny yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. "She's a beautiful woman and all, but they should've had more respect for you ... and Susan, than that." He stood up and unwrapped the sandwich, straightening it on top of the headstone. The white paper flapped under it.

"Anyhow, I just wanted to have a talk with you first. I wanted to let you know my intentions. I've got no idea how Susan feels toward me. But I'll tell you one thing, buddy. I plan on standing in Times Square, watching the ball drop and kissing my fiancée to ring in the New Year." Johnny opened the milk container and placed it next to the sandwich. He crossed himself and walked down the path.

A nun called out, "You can't leave trash here. Remove it."

Johnny smiled and closed the gate behind him.

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