Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Next Step by Mychael Black

Kale Daniels stretched out on the silky, cool sheets, then rubbed his eyes. The alarm went off, letting him know it was eight in the morning—time to work. He grumbled and rolled over, tempted to pull the blanket back over his head. Then the smell of bacon and biscuits and coffee drifted into the bedroom, and he grinned. He flung the blanket off and shuffled his feet across the carpet until they touched his robe where it lay folded near the bedside table. He slipped it on and tied it, then headed downstairs slowly. He was getting more used to Ian Vaughan’s house, so his cane remained in the office unless they went out.

“Good morning,” Ian said, slipping an arm around Kale’s waist. Kale’s Master drew him into the kitchen in-between kisses. “Hungry?”

“Very.” Kale didn’t want to let go, and when Ian guided him to a chair he held on, earning himself a harder kiss before Ian pulled back. Kale had the urge to pout.

“Later. Right now, breakfast.” Ian set things on the table and touched Kale’s hand to his glass. “Silverware is down and to your right. Plate in front, eggs at six o’clock, biscuits at twelve, and bacon in the middle. Salt is just above your plate.”

“Thank you.” Kale smiled and sipped his drink. Mmm…orange juice.

“You’re welcome. Coffee’s done. You want it now or wait?”

“Wait.” Kale found his fork and waited until he felt Ian’s foot rub his under the table before he started eating. “Oh, man, that’s good,” he said around a mouthful of eggs with melted mozzarella cheese.

Ian chuckled. “Thank you. How long do you think you’ll need for work today?”

“Hmm… Not too long. I just need to finish up a few pages and then I’ll be done.”

“Good. Think it can be done before dinner?”

Kale smiled slowly, knowing exactly where this conversation was going. “Yes…”

“Then finish breakfast, finish work, and take a shower. I have plans for you.”

Kale shivered and managed to bite back a moan as he continued eating. When his Master had ‘plans,’ Kale never quite knew what lay in store. He just knew it would be amazing.



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Charisma by Wendy Stone

Charisma watched the two chasing her as they raced past where she was hiding. The longhaired female was a vampire, she’d recognized her pretty easily. You had to do that when you lived on the streets. The other guy though, the one with the wings? She had no fucking clue what he was.

He was pretty though, if she’d been interested in a man. Curls of golden blonde clung to his finely shaped head and his eyes were even a brighter green then hers. He was made for sin, with a body that rippled with muscles. It would almost be worth a night in the jail to get a closer look. Almost…

Finding the door that led down into the deserted building, she closed it quietly behind her. Vampires had incredible hearing when they concentrated. They could hear the heartbeats of their prey from a very long distance. They could detect the tiniest difference in emotion, from fear to anger, just in the way a heart sounded. She wouldn’t give the pretty blonde a chance to rip hers out.

When did the cops start working with vampires and winged whatever? She couldn’t help but wonder about it as she jogged down the stairs. Pushing through a fire door, she closed it carefully after her and moved to where she’d hidden her worldly possessions. The mattress had been here already, a left over from a drug house. It held stains and spots that she didn’t even want to guess what they were. She sank down on it now, drawing the duster close as a shiver of cold, or fear, trembled through her body.

She had one blanket and one very thin pillow. Curling up, she drew the blanket over her, her head resting on the pillow. She was tired. It was exhausting to live on the streets. Now that Hood thought she’d double-crossed him, it was even worse. Trying to find food had been bad enough before Hood’s goons started scaring away anyone who would help her.

A self-pitying tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it irritably away. It wasn’t her fault that Hood had a thing for redheads. If she could, she’d dye her hair black. She’d paint huge shadows under her eyes and make herself look like death. She’d do anything to get off Hood’s radar.

Maybe it was time, she thought, stifling a yawn behind a balled fist. Maybe she should leave, just pack up everything she owned and start walking. She could go where no one knew her. She could sing at bars for money. Of course, no one here believed she was over eighteen. It was a curse of her size. They thought she was some high school kid out looking for trouble and wouldn’t give her a chance.

High school. She’d never had a chance to go. Not that she missed it, she hurriedly reassured herself. Who needs high school? They force you to spend so many hours a day in a building, shoving their lessons down your throat and then give you bad grades to hide their bad teaching. Nope, it wasn’t for her.

Nope, never for her. It was her final thought before her eyes closed, the small added warmth of the blanket and the security of being home was all she needed to let sleep take her away.

But it was a restless sleep, a light sleep. She was too used to the streets to be able to sleep deeply. That was asking for it. Nor did she dream anything but the dark dreams that haunted her by night or day.

She could see them now--her parents. Her mom was a tiny thing, like Charisma herself, with long, bright red hair that was pulled back and held tightly in a band. But not even those bonds could deny the life endowed in those corkscrew curls. They escaped and bounced about her mother’s face.

Charisma sat in the back seat. She was barely seven years old but she could hear them fighting about her again.

“We don’t have the money to send her to that special school,” her father, a big man with a big voice said. He glanced into the back seat and sent her a warm smile. “I know she’s gifted, Savina. But knowing doesn’t put money in the bank or food on the table.”

“I just want her to have the training, and the chances, my parents denied me,” Savina said, her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “All they ever wanted was for me to use what I have to make their lives better. When I wasn’t being useful, Mom just wanted me to stay away from her and pretended I didn’t exist.”

Even at seven, Charisma could hear the hurt and resentment in her mother’s tone. She didn’t understand it, but she could hear it.

Her father took one hand off the steering wheel, reaching over to pat his wife’s hand. His eyes were on her, not on the road. Charisma was the only one that saw the garbage truck and the man behind the wheel. His eyes had been crazed and he’d gunned his engine as he came barreling down the street toward their small used Neon.

“Daddy! The truck!” she’d screamed, but it had been too late. Her father couldn’t turn the wheel or avoid the truck. It had hit them head on, instantly killing her mom and dad. She’d been hurt, bumps and bruises and one really bad gash on her forehead. Even now, she could smell he disinfectants used by the hospital she’d woken up in. She could feel the scratchy sheets against her small bare legs. The bustling sound of the hospital was loud in her ears. She was alone.

Charisma had known the moment she woke that her parents were dead. It wasn’t so much her memory of the crash. It was a lack of feeling their presence, the presence of the only people in this world that loved and cared about her. Even now, that knowledge could send huge tears streaking down her cheeks. Not of pity, no, but of loss, the loss of something more special than she had ever known since.

Something woke her. She lay there, not changing her breathing or opening her eyes. What had alerted her? She heard someone walking around her small area, bending and touching her things, breaching her small bubble of privacy until she wanted to scream.

“I know you’re awake,” the stranger said. “You might as well open your eyes and talk to me.”

Charisma sat up on the mattress. She glared at the stranger. He was one of the prettiest men she’d ever seen, even prettier than the winged hunter earlier. “Who are you? If you’re here to take me to Hood, think again. I won’t come easily.”

The man paced the floor around her. “I don’t know any Hood. I sensed you earlier. What are you?”

“What do you mean, you sensed me?” Charisma didn’t give an inch. She stood straight as he drew closer, not wanting him to have the advantage. He had it anyway. He towered over her, dwarfing her petite frame. His eyes were a gem-like green, his body fit and taut, with rippled muscles that strained the tee shirt he wore under the dark brown leather bomber jacket.

“I don’t know. I only knew I had to come into this building. You’re in trouble.” It was a statement, not a question.

“So, what if I am? I’m not asking for anybodies help. I only want to be left alone.” Charisma started to shrink away from him, though he hadn’t touched her yet. She had a terrible feeling that if he did touch her, she’d never be the same again. “Go away,” she ordered, a tremor in her voice ruining the effectiveness of the words.

“I can’t,” the stranger said simply, staring down at her. “I won’t walk away from you.”

She saw his hand coming toward her, and held her breath, her eyes closing as his palm touched her cheek. That single touch sent a firestorm of sensations through her, sensations she didn’t understand. “Don’t do this,” she whispered. “Please, don’t do this to me.”

His breathing seemed as rough as hers, his fingers trembling against her skin. He brushed her mouth with his thumb, that single touch rousing a fire in her she’d never felt before. The scent of her arousal filled the air.

“I…I can’t seem to stop,” he hissed, closing his eyes.

His head bent, his mouth softly finding hers. The taste of him was spicy hot, his tongue pressing against her lips until she opened them. Then he was in her mouth, his tongue rubbing with erotic magic against hers. A groan was ripped from her, her hands sliding up that taut tee shirt and into his hair as she tipped her head, changing the direction of the kiss.

Sparks seem to fly behind her closed eyelids as his heat slammed into her. She felt him lift her, dropping both of them to the mattress on the ground.

“Did you hear that?”

Charisma went rigid under him, her hands frantically pulling at him. He lifted his head, staring down at her from only inches away. When he opened his mouth to speak, she shook her head, a plea in her eyes.

“I didn’t hear anything but my stomach growling. Ain’t you hungry, Stretch?”

“Yeah, but I got you, snack on the hoof,” Angel said, a very un-Angel like giggle coming from her mouth.

“So, let’s call this one a wash, tell Shadow and head back to the house. I’ll get some chow and you can chow on me down in the crypts.”

“Damn, thinking with the little head again, aren’t you? Do you know what Shadow will do to us if we don’t bring her back?”

“I’m immortal, babe. Shadow don’t scare me much.”

“How does a stint of guard duty down in the tombs sound to you?” Angel laughed, the melodic sound carrying in the quiet of the building.

“Eww,” Marcus groaned. “Do you know what it’s like down there?”

“My poor little wimp boy,” Angel sympathized.

“There’s no one in here,” Marcus said. “Let’s at least try another building.”

“I just want to make a cursory sweep,” Angel said, the click of her heels on the bare floors sounding louder as she moved closer to the small corner Charisma called home.

“Stay here,” the man on top of her whispered. “I’ll come back later.” He rose easily, brushing down the front of his shirt and fixing his hair before yanking on the leather jacket. Then he turned and walked toward the two forms he could just see in the darkened building.

“Stop!” Angel’s voice cried out. She drew her taser, pointing it at the man who’d stepped out of the shadows. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”



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