Thursday, July 9, 2009

Love Bites by Jade Falconer

It had been over a year since Matthew’s boyfriend, Kevin, had died in a tragic car crash, and his life had not yet returned completely to normal. His two best friends—who had hooked up and un-hooked up so many times with each other it was impossible to tell if they were dating on any given occasion—had coaxed him out of his small apartment for a Halloween party.

Matthew hadn’t been out since the accident, but Halloween was his favorite holiday, and he knew it was time to put the past behind him. There was no point in going to a Halloween party if you weren’t going to do it up right, and being conspicuous was never something that bothered him.

They ended up at a dance club that had been one of Kevin’s favorite hangouts. There was a line to get into the party. Matthew shivered in his wispy harem girl costume. His long black hair draped over his shoulders like a mantle, covered with transparent squares of multi-colored fabric. An equally bright scoop-neck top that hugged his skin like spandex, and ventilated harem pants with a low-slung belt of tiny gilt bells around his hips, completed the outfit. He wasn’t a drag queen by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the perfect holiday for camping it up—it was just the kind of thing Kevin would have loved.

Matthew wanted his mood to be as bright as the faux-silk swirling around his body. It was time.

Finally, he handed his five dollars to the doorman, and got the back of his hand stamped. His friends waited just inside and the three of them proceeded Into the semi-dark of the club. The decor of the club was rather gothic to begin with: fake stone walls, arched doorways, and a suit of armor in one corner wearing a black velvet mask and a feather boa for the occasion. The dance floor was illuminated with blacklight, and blue and green lasers occasionally sliced through the crowd.

His friends hit the dance floor and Matthew jingled his way over to the bar. He ordered a drink to help him loosen up. He caught the occasional pair of eyes looking his way, but even in the sexy outfit he felt like he blended in with the other outrageously dressed partygoers.

Industrial music thumped through the room loudly enough to make conversation difficult, but not impossible. A smoke machine labored away, combining with the erratic lighting to give a surreal effect. People seemed to appear and disappear randomly, and suddenly a tall, slender man materialized out of the fog next to Matthew.

Startled to see someone so close beside him, Matthew shifted back slightly to let his eyes focus on the man. Another vampire, which seemed to be a popular costume, but better than most. The man had short, reddish brown hair and chiseled features that looked almost harsh, but were tempered by a sensual smile. Beneath the open black jacket, Matthew could see that the man wore no shirt, and snug leather pants didn’t conceal sharply defined abs and the suggestion of hip bones. His body was slender but not skinny, and suggested strength in some indefinable way. Matthew realized he was gaping and shook his head, smiling. “Hi,” he said, stirring his drink for something to do with his hands.

The man just stared at Matthew for a long moment. “Hello,” he said, leaning closer. “You’re lovely.”

Matthew noticed the fangs when the other man smiled. They were much more professionally done than any others he’d seen. But it was difficult to look away from his pale, piercing eyes. He felt a little devoured. “You know what they say. Flattery will get you everywhere,” he quipped. “I’m Matthew. Nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand politely.

“I’m Peter,” the other man replied, taking Matthew’s hand. Instead of shaking it, he brought it to his mouth and kissed the back. All the while, he never broke eye contact. “And I’m entranced by your beauty.”

Matthew felt like blushing. The mysterious stranger was gorgeous, and very obviously coming on to him. It felt nice. He hadn’t really flirted with anyone since Kevin died. It seemed to be just what he needed this evening. “Well, perhaps I’ll dance for you, Peter,” he said, shaking the bells on his hips.

All My Dreams by Jennifer Mueller

It was early morning when the old bell for the door rang. Loryn had hardly seen anyone for weeks. Going to the market for food and supplies was her only outlet, other than Ramón and Carmen. Other neighbors only invited her when they saw her. They never came to the door; only Ramón dared to invade her sanctuary, wretched though it was. Loryn stumbled to the door the only light a lamp she carried with her.

“Nice pajamas,” a voice purred as she opened the door, and a pair of blue eyes met hers. The same blue eyes she had lusted for in a lost stranger.

Only then did she look down at the black lace she wore that showed beneath her untied robe a good deal more than was appropriate when going to the door. She was too groggy to care about her lack of clothes or who saw her in them. “What do you want?” Loryn groaned. It was winter, and the cold air hit her through the flimsy cloth. The sun wasn’t even up—soon, but not yet.

“A very big favor.”

“Couldn’t it have waited for a decent hour in the morning? I get little enough sleep as it is.” She could still see the faces of those she loved being lowered into the ground. They filled her dreams most nights, their faces dancing behind her eyes the moment she closed them.

“I brought coffee.”

She eyed the coffee in his hand; it was half-empty before she faced him again. At that hour of the morning, she didn’t care if she kept him waiting. “What is it you need?”

“Have you heard of the movie being shot here on the island?”

Loryn shook her head. “With as many celebrities that live here and come for vacations, I learned to tune it out.”

“We wanted to shoot almost half the movie in a country house, but the house that was scheduled fell through. Fell down, actually. I came with a way to get your house fixed quicker than you scraping away a few minutes a day. Thought perhaps you might want to make some money, and we would fix the décor for the privilege. They would use set pieces to fill it, but when they were done you’d have the place finished.”

She didn’t appreciate the insinuation. “I’m not hard up for money if that’s why you’re doing this, just too few hands.”

That devastating smile came to his lips as he shook his head. “Aren’t many of these old places left that haven’t been refurbished, so they look like they came out of the twenty first century instead of the seventeenth. When I got there, I was told the site was gone, and the backups are in need of more work than we can afford to spend the time on at this late date. Immediately, I thought of this place. This one was cosmetic work, not structural. I did say I needed a favor from you, not that I was doing one for you.”

“You work for the production company then.”

Business cards for half a dozen people came out, not to mention a contract. “I’m producing the film. Thought fixing what a movie star did to your house might give you a better impression of them.” Loryn raised her eyes. “What do you say then? Can we work out a deal?”

She stared at the contract for what seemed forever. “This is my home, all the life I have. You have to work around my schedule, and if I get woken up this early in the morning again, I’m kicking some butt from here to the sea.” He smiled, and her fantasy shattered. She’d learn if he was a jerk or not.

“Guarantee it personally.”

“When do they want to get started then?” Loryn muttered, resigned that her retreat from life had invaders. Nevertheless, she wouldn’t complain too much. She was sick of staring at all that wallpaper and paint, even after only one and a half rooms.

“The crew to get the place fixed up would need to get in here as soon as possible. Supposed to start shooting in a month. We can reschedule shooting around what we would need to do here. There are other scenes in Alcudia, Palma, and the countryside. One or two of my people are so anxious to get in here that they’re out waiting in the car, hoping you’ll agree so they can start rewriting the script and planning the work.”

“Then I suppose I better get dressed.” Loryn was already walking away.

“No need on my account.”

It had been a long time since anyone had even flirted with her. The dates she had gone on since Gabriel’s death were with desperate men. It was probably the reason that everyone had set her up with them. They figured she had to be as well. She wasn’t desperate, not by a long shot.

Gold Dollar Seduction by Sage Burnett

Ben leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb. Up close he saw that she was older than he first thought. Her porcelain skin and silky brown hair were enough to drive a man too drink. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, ma’am.”

“And why is that?”

“I’d like to buy you for the night.”

“I’m not for sale.” She tried to close the door on him, but Ben put up a hand to stop it.

“I know about Johnny Howard. You can do better than that.”

Her face flushed pink. “If you don’t leave I’m going to summon Hal. He keeps a shotgun under the bar.”

“I reckon he does. Why don’t you invite me in and we can get to know each other better.”

“Get out.”

Ben studied her. For the second time, awareness flickered in her gaze. “I can see in your eyes, that you’re interested.”

“Men and their bravado. Always believing a woman wants them.”

“The way I see it is, I want you. Now I’d venture a guess you’re not sure if you want me. But I’m damned good at persuading.”

Ben’s eyes lowered and lingered. He noticed how her nipples were hard peaks under the blue satin.

“Stop staring at me.”

“You’re a mighty fine looking woman. Does ol’ Johnny appreciate that?”

“That is none of your business.”

“Let me properly introduce myself. Ben McCade.” He touched two fingers to the brim of his cowboy hat. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Rose.”

Her delicate brows scrunched together. “How do you know my name?”

“I make a point of knowing things I want to know.”

“I’m afraid, Mr. McCade, that’s all you are going to know of me.”

Ben inched his way farther into the room. He fought back the urge to reach out and feel one of her breasts. Kissing came later when a man went too long without a woman. Studying her lips, he knew he could kiss this woman first. And kiss her dozens of times more during the night.

He closed the door behind him.

“Stop this nonsense now. If Johnny catches you in my room, he’ll...”

“He’ll what? Shoot me? I doubt that. He’s a lousy shot.”

Her eyes widened. “You know Johnny?”

Ben shrugged. It didn’t matter to him that he worked for Johnny’s father.

“Please, you must leave.” A hint of desperation clouded her voice.

“Do you know for a fact Johnny is coming to see you tonight?”

A shadow passed across Rose’s delicate features. “And that is none of your business, either.”

Ben rubbed his chin. “I’m going to take a gander and say he shows up unexpected whenever he has a mind to.”

Her cheeks colored again. “I’ve already told you this matter is not your business.”

“You probably get all gussied up every night and wait.”

She pursed her lips together.

“It would be a shame to waste that pretty dress.” And to waste what was under it. He itched to get his hands under that dress and do some exploring.

“Mr. McCade, you are out of line. Please leave.”

“I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Johnny tonight.” Ben wondered if she knew of Howard’s engagement. He didn’t plan on telling her. “Why spend the night alone when you can have company?”

“If I’m in need of company, I’ll find it elsewhere.”

Spirited. He liked that. Ben brushed past her and walked over to the velvet settee. She smelled of lavender and woman. He turned to face her. “Why don’t you come and sit down?”

Anger flashed in her eyes. “Get out.”

“You’re going to have scream for Hal.” He sat down and stretched his long legs out.

Rose planted her hands on shapely hips and glared at him. A moment later she walked over to a steamer trunk, opened the lid and pulled out a Derringer.

When she pointed it at his chest, Ben’s lips curled up at the corners. “You probably could get away with shooting me with all the ruckus going on downstairs. And everybody up here is too busy having a poke to care.” She held the small gun with a steady hand. If she was a good shot, then he’d damn well meet his maker without getting any of that fine womanly body.

“You’re incorrigible.”

“If you wanted to shoot me, Rose, you would have done it by now. And if you wanted me to leave you would have summoned Hal.”

She scoffed. “I’m giving you a chance to save yourself.”

“Why thank you, ma’am. I truly do appreciate your offer of good will.” He leaned back. “Does Johnny give you what you need besides a roof over your head and fancy dresses to wear?”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hungry Heart by Jenna Byrnes

“Life sucks, and then you die.” Gil Gates raised his beer mug in a toast and took a drink.

“God, that was cheerful.” Long time friend Nick D’Amato shook his head, sipping his own beer.

“It’s been that kind of a week.” Gil set his glass down on the napkin coaster. “I can’t remember when so much shit has flown my way.”

“No kidding.” Sam Nielson fingered the handle of his mug. “The media coverage of your troubles this week has been incredible. Reminds me of our police academy days when that serial killer had all of New York City up in arms. What did they call that guy?”

“Son of Sam?” Gil reached for the name. There’d been more serial killers in the city than he cared to think about, let alone recall their nicknames. He prided himself on a good memory, though.

Sam chuckled. “Nah, this was after Sam, and I still resent the name choice, by the way. The strangler guy. Remember at the academy, going over all the details we could dig up? The three of us thought if we could catch him, we’d graduate as heroes or some dumb ass thing.”

“Oh, yeah!” Nick laughed. “Little did we know, the cops didn’t release most of the pertinent information to the public. We were green as toads back then.”

“The Night Strangler?” Gil offered.

“Wasn’t that a TV show?” Sam nudged him jovially.

“Fuck, I don’t know.” Lifting his mug, Gil took another drink of cold beer. It had been one hell of a week, and Friday night out with his two best friends was a welcome distraction. He’d had concerns about going to Houlihan’s, their usual hangout, because the pub always crawled with cops. Gil felt them looking at him. No one dared say anything, but he knew he figured heavily into everyone’s conversation when discussing events of the week. He’d had the worst week possible.

He closed his eyes. Officers Stanis and Malone were dead. They’d obviously had worse weeks than him. And their families—he could still see the sad eyes of Stanis’ small blond-haired son at the funeral. Funerals. One right after another, and then two burials. It’d been a fucking nightmare of a day for everyone, but as the officers’ police captain, he took it especially hard.

“Get you boys another round?” Donna, their usual waitress, smiled sadly at Gil.

He frowned. Does everyone know my problems? Yeah, they probably did. As Sam had noted, media coverage on the police department fiasco had been intense. “Keep ‘em coming, Donna.”

“Bad week, eh Captain?” The plump, middle-aged woman nodded sympathetically.

The last thing he wanted to do was talk about it. Before he could reply, Nick held up a dollar bill.

“Donna, see what you can find on the jukebox, will you?” He waved the cash, smiling at her.

She plucked it from his hand, feigning irritation. “Springsteen, I assume?”

He blinked innocently. “There’s other music in there?”

“Three beers and the Boss, coming right up.” She walked off.

“Thanks.” Gil looked at Nick. The man with consistently scruffy brown hair was a good friend, and had been for over twenty years since they met at the academy. Back then, Gil was an exemplary cadet with a spotless record and a secret—he was a gay man attempting to enter the heterosexual boy’s club of the NYPD. He thought he’d done well keeping up appearances until Sam approached him one day and flat out asked him for the truth. Gil was hesitant to admit his orientation, but warmed up to it when he discovered Sam and Nick were fucking like rabbits in a local hotel on the weekends.

From that point on, he’d been included in the wildest, hottest bouts of group sex he’d ever experienced. They maintained the torrid relationship throughout their time at the academy, eventually breaking it off so each man could pursue his own job interests. The three remained friends. Closer than most, Gil mused, smiling to himself. They now met for drinks every other Friday at Houlihan’s.

Strains of Bruce Springsteen’s ballad My Hometown wafted through the pub. Gil nodded to his friends and sipped his beer. This was exactly what he needed—time to relax and forget—not that I ever really could.

“So,” Sam tore his coaster into tiny shreds. “Are you getting any sleep?”

“Some.” Gil watched him for a moment. “Christ, enough with tearing the napkin already. Remember how he used to tear the labels off his beer bottles the same fucking way.” He looked at Nick. “Am I right?”

“You’re right.” Nick grinned. “Piece by little fucking piece. We always accumulated a pile of trash on our table by the end of the night.”

“Still do.” Gil swept the paper into his hand and wadded it up. “Jesus, man. You’re a pig.”

Sam raised his hands. “This is the thanks I get for being concerned about you? And, by the way, you better cool it with the ‘Jesus Christ’ stuff. Bobby’s mom is a strict Catholic. If you start talking like that at our wedding, she’ll have your hide. It won’t be a private thrashing, either, it’ll be right there in front of God and everybody.”

Gil laughed. “Oh yeah? Does the blessed Mrs. Rodriguez know her little boy uses his handcuffs for more than just police work? She might be shocked to find out he cuffs you to the bed and paddles your ass before he fucks your brains out.”

“Thanks for that image.” Nick shook his head.

“Jealous?” Sam grinned. “Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.”

Nick snorted his beer. “Hell, if I’d have known you wanted to be spanked, I could have taken care of that a long time ago!”

They stopped talking as several officers walked by, nodding as they passed. Sam and Nick lowered their eyes, fighting back their grins.

The group passed and Gil scowled. “Did you see them looking at me? Every-fucking-body has an opinion. It’s getting pretty damned old.”

“I think you’re being paranoid.” Nick looked into his eyes calmly. “They weren’t staring at you.”

“You have nothing to feel bad about,” Sam added. “Hold your head high and remember you did the right thing. The only thing you could have done.”

“Shit.” Gil rubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” The night of the incident both Sam and Nick had come to his house and the three of them spent the night drinking and venting their frustrations. After being grilled by Internal Affairs, and with the media’s constant scrutiny, Gil was talked out.

“We don’t have to talk about it.” Nick touched his hand lightly then pulled it back. “I’d like to hear more about Bobby cuffing Sam to the bed.” He turned to the lighter-haired man. “Does he use regulation cuffs, or do you prefer the fur-lined style?”

“Fuck you.” Sam tossed a scrap of paper at Nick. “I’ll never kiss and tell. Just save your ribbing for anytime other than the wedding reception. Remember Bobby has seven brothers and sisters, and one of them’s a nun. If either of you so much as mentions a word…” He furrowed his eyebrows menacingly and fingered the masculine necklace his lover had given him.

It looked like a shiny bicycle chain. Gil knew that only he and Nick, and possibly a few chosen others, realized it was a French Prison Collar designed to signify Sam’s submission to Bobby in their D/s relationship. Once Bobby had locked the collar around Sam’s neck, it had never come off.

“Shit, we’d never say anything.” Nick tossed back the last of his beer. “William and I have our own skeletons. You guys have always kept our confidence, like I knew you would.”

Gil thought about that as he finished his beer. Nick’s partner, Will, had been a hustler when they began dating. After a close call with a serial killer who had a penchant for hookers, Nick convinced his lover to move away with him for a fresh start. They’d left the South Bronx and moved north. Will entered therapy and found a new line of work. They’d gotten married and Nick had taken a job with an anti-gang task force in the fifty-second precinct, not far from the fiftieth where Gil was captain.

Sam remained a homicide detective at the forty-first precinct in the South Bronx, where he’d met Bobby, also a detective. The two men hit it off instantly and began a Dominant/submissive relationship, the likes of which Gil would never have believed if he hadn’t heard about it from Sam himself. He liked to tease Sam about their unusual sexual practices, but he’d never seen his old friend happier.

He gazed at Sam and Nick thoughtfully. Once Sam and Bobby tied the knot in a little less than a month, both his best friends would be married in happy, committed relationships. He’d be the odd man out. Hell, I already am. Gil had dated one man for several years, but both of them had known all along that it would never last. Sometimes his heart ached; he was so hungry to find that one special guy. Other times, like tonight, it was all he could do to keep functioning. Sex and love were the last things on his mind. “Love Me Not,” he said, and smiled.

“Excuse me?” Nick blinked, raising his eyebrows questioningly as he pulled some cash from his wallet.

“The serial killer who terrorized New York when we were in the academy. The Love Me Not strangler. Am I right?”

“Damn, you’re right.” Nick nodded.

Sam grinned. “Hell of a memory, buddy.”

Gil shrugged. “Once I hit forty, it comes and goes.”

“What doesn’t?” Nick made a face, and they all laughed.