Saturday, October 10, 2009

Home for the Holiday by Wendy Stone

“Hi, Mom! It’s Kenna.”
“Baby!” I could hear the happiness in my mom’s voice and that tiny little voice inside berated me for not calling home more. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s great, mom, I just wanted to call and let you know that I got some time off around Christmas and I thought I’d come home. That is, if that’s okay?”
“Okay? Okay? That’s wonderful. Your dad will be so happy. He’s been wanting a big family Christmas with all the kids and grandkids. Now that you’re coming, it’ll be perfect. Oh, I can’t wait to tell him.”
“Wait, Mom, what do you mean all the kids and grandkids? Do you mean Bekka and Steven will be there?”
“Oh, honey. It was such a long time ago, can’t you forgive them?”
Yeah, sure, Mom,” I thought, my brain whirling around the fact that my two-timing ex-fiancĂ© and my sneaky bitch of a sister were going to be at Mom and Dad’s for Christmas.
“Honey?”
“Yeah, Mom,” I said, offhandedly. “Sure.”
“Bring your new beaux home with you, baby. We’re all anxious to meet him.”
“Yeah, Mom,” I said, distracted. I was having problems getting the last time I’d seen Bekka and Steven out of my mind. It was at my wedding, when she’d come and broke it up to tell Steven that she was pregnant with his child. Two-faced blonde bitch.
I finished the conversation with my mom in somewhat of a daze, sitting back in my chair in my small, one bedroom apartment. I worked for the State Police Post in Lapeer, Michigan. I was a 911 operator and a good one, or at least my last evaluation had said as much. One of the officers I was in charge of keeping track of was Steven. I’d managed to pull his ass out of some minor trouble and he’d come in and thanked me. We’d gone out once and then we’d been damn near inseparable.
That was, until I made the mistake of taking him home to meet the rest of my family. He’d taken one look at Bekka with her thick blonde hair and baby blue eyes and had barely been able to speak. I should have known then that he wasn’t right for me. If I hadn’t been so stubborn, maybe...
The maybe flew from my head at the knock on the door to my apartment. “Who is it?” I yelled through the door, even though I was pretty sure I knew.
“Delivery!”
I knew that voice. I heard it almost every day at work, in the cubicle behind mine. “Get in here,” I said, opening the door and dragging Nicky in. “What are you delivering?” I asked, lust in my voice. It could have been for the food in his hands or for the hands holding the food. Both were lust-worthy.

Nicholas Evans, six feet two inches of pure male. He preyed on my mind and my libido on a regular basis. But try to get him to realize that. I sighed, wishing that I could be more like my pretty sister, with her confidence and her fashion sense. Instead, I got the Irish in the family. Red hair that held a lot of curl no matter how many times I tried to straighten it. Green eyes that always sparkled with a hint of deviltry, even after Steven. A smattering of freckles graced my nose. They were my cute factor and a place every single man I’d ever dated had felt the need to kiss.

I was curvy instead of lithe and lean, holding onto about ten extra pounds that no amount of sit ups or running at the track would dispel. Where Bekka was model height and weight, I was the shortest in the family. Even Mara was taller than I and she was the youngest in the family, still in school.

“What’s wrong?” Nick asked, holding the food above his head, where he knew I couldn’t reach it. “Tell me and I’d be tempted to share.”

“You tell me what you got and I’ll see if I want to share,” I teased.

“Meatball sub,” he said, bringing the bag down to nose height and rolling open the flap. “Your favorite, with lots of marinara sauce.”

“Ah hell, Nicky. I can’t. I’m on a diet.”

“Since when?” he said, and I could see his eyes lingering on my full figure.

“Since I heard that Bekka and Steven are going to be at Mom’s for Christmas.”

Nick dropped the bag on the counter. He knew the entire story. He’d been at the wedding when Bekka had dropped her bomb and then scuttled away with the groom, leaving the abandoned bride to deal with the fallout. “Hell,” he said, digging a hand through the thick black hair on his head. “I’m sorry, Kennie. Is there anything I can do?”

“Well,” I said, half-joking. “Now that you mention it, you could go with me and pretend to be my boyfriend.”

I stared out the window, waiting for his decision. I could feel his gaze roaming over me and I wanted to punch him. Just the thought of him looking at me like that sent my pulse racing and my heart thundering in my chest. It beat so hard I could barely hear anything over the sound.

“Pretend?” he asked softly, coming up behind me.

“Yeah,” I answered, shivering as his hands settled against my stomach. I sucked it in, trying to hide the small bump.

“Would I have to kiss you?” he asked near my ear, his nose nuzzling my hair aside.

“I-If you wanted to. They might expect it.” His lips were warm against my throat, wrenching a moan from my lips.

“Would I have to touch you?” he asked, his hands moving over my stomach and up my arms, drawing me back until I could feel every hard inch of him from his shoulder to his thighs.

“N-Nicky.” I gasped as he pressed his erection into me. “W-What are you doing?”

He turned me in his arms, pressing me back against the counter, his fingers under my chin to hold my lips up. “Practicing, so your family doesn’t think we’re playing them,” he whispered, his lips finding mine with a softness that made me want to claw my way through his clothes to reach the hard body under them. He twisted my mouth open, pushing his tongue in to play with mine.

I returned his kiss. I couldn’t help but return it. I heard him groan, pressing his big body harder against mine, holding me close. I wanted more, much, much more than what he was giving me. I stretched, standing on tip toe to put my arms around his neck, drawing my leg up the back of his until it was hooked around him. How far it would have gone, I don’t know. My damn beeper went off, a dull buzz that made me push him away. We were forced to wear them and answer immediately, a burden of the job.

My lips felt swollen, my eyes heavy. I stared at him, panting. “What the hell was that for, Nicky?”

Instead of answering me, he plucked my pager off my waistband and handed it to me. “You might want to get this,” he growled before turning away and pushing his hand through his hair again.

I checked the number on the pager and groaned. Mom must have been on the phone the second I’d hung up for them to call me so quickly. I picked up the phone and punched in the familiar number, my heart jumping when I heard his voice answer.

“Kenna?” Steven said softly, almost as if he were hiding the call from his wife.

“Yeah, what do you want, Steven?” My attention was focused on the call but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Nicky as he made his way around my kitchen, gathering plates and a couple of beers, napkins out of the cupboard. He sat down at my scarred second-hand table, cutting the sub in half and putting it on the two plates. Then he twisted open both bottles of beer, rising and bringing me mine. I took a long pull off it, wiping my lips with the back of my hand.

“Bekka’s in her last month of the pregnancy, Kenna. Any stress could harm her or the baby. I was just going to ask if I could get you to stay away from your folks this Christmas. For your sister’s sake,” he added.

Fucking snively little weasel, why had I ever loved him? “Maybe you two should stay away, Steven. Mom sent me the invitation herself and I’m going. I’m sorry if that might make you uncomfortable, but maybe you should have thought about family Christmases when you were fucking my sister!” I hung up, taking another long drink of the beer and feeling it rush right to my head. “Fucking snively little weasel!”

“Well, don’t hold back,” Nicky said. “Tell me how you really feel about the douche bag.”

“He is a douche bag, isn’t he? A used-up douche bag owned by an ancient hooker with syphilis.”

“Gross, Kenna. Really, really gross.” Nicky waved his hand into the chair across from him and I couldn’t help but notice that he’d given me an extra meatball.

“You know, this is going to go right to my ass, Nick.”

“You’ve got a sexy ass, Kenna. Nice and soft, just right for grabbing and...”

“Shut up,” I said, self-defensively. I couldn’t sit there after talking to my ex-fiancĂ© on the phone and listen to what Nick had to say about my ass. I just couldn’t. I picked up the sandwich, taking a bite and letting the soothing taste of marinara and bread, cheese, and onions—not to mention the meatballs—sooth my ruffled feathers.

“So about the boyfriend gig?” Nick said around a bite. “How long would you need me?”

I almost said “life” but I could just see him racing out of my door, never to be seen again. “How long could you do it?”

I could almost see the wheels in his brain spinning. “Well, I was just thinking it might be a returnable favor. My folks want me to come home for the holidays, too. We could go to your parents’ for Christmas and then mine for the New Year’s. That way neither set of parents would have a real long time to troll for information and we can make them all happy. What do you think?”

“You want to spend an entire week with me?” I asked him, shocked.

“I do that now,” he said with a laugh. “Between work and the shit we do together after work, we almost live together.”

Oh, how I wished! The thought of getting into bed beside him, of having him there every night was an aphrodisiac, and I could feel my panties getting damp.

“Besides, it’s not like they’d ever catch on that we’re duping them, Kenna. We could just say things went south a few weeks after Christmas and no one would be the wiser, right?”

“Right,” I said slowly. I picked up my beer, clinking it to his. “Here’s to making the parents happy on the holidays.”

“To making them happy and keeping them off our cases,” he added.

The Carpenter and the Fairy by Cassandra Gold

Something sparkled in the bright, moving club lights, catching his attention. A few feet away, on the edge of the dance floor, a slim young man danced in smooth, sinuous movements. The young man was shirtless, with wispy, dragonfly-like wings on his back. The only clothing he wore was a long green loincloth and a pair of sandals. His dark, curly hair was tousled and dusted with glitter. A vine wreath rested among the curls. Was he supposed to be a woodland fairy or something?

As if sensing Mason’s stare, the fairy turned around. His full lips turned up in a smile. To Mason’s shock, the fairy walked toward him.

Up close, the guy was stunning. He was about five-foot-eight, at least six inches shorter than Mason, and he had one of those lovely, androgynous faces fit for a runway model. His big eyes were outlined with dark eyeliner, and his eyelids sparkled with a hint of makeup. He was not at all Mason’s type. Mason went for men built more like himself: big, tall, muscular guys, not slim waifs who wore makeup.

Still, as the fairy came to a stop right in front of him, Mason felt an unexpected surge of desire. Something about the younger man’s pretty eyes, which Mason could now see were green, or maybe his soft mouth made Mason want him. His cock stirred in his worn jeans.

“Hi.” The young man brushed his unruly curls away from his face. “I’m Avery.” Avery’s voice was sweet and a little husky, a surprisingly sexy combination.

Although Mason told himself he should just walk away and find a guy that was more his speed, he found himself replying, “I’m Mason.”

Avery’s slender hand traced Mason’s bicep through his tight t-shirt. “Nice costume, Mason.”

Mason searched Avery’s face for any signs of mockery. Stan had certainly laughed his ass off when they met up earlier. He’d said Mason’s costume was too simple and made him look like one of the Village People. Mason knew it was lazy to wear work boots, worn jeans, a t-shirt, and a carpenter’s tool belt, but he hadn’t wanted to come to a stupid Halloween costume party anyway. It wouldn’t be Halloween for another week, which made the party even dumber. He gave Avery a wry grin. “I guess it’s not technically a costume. I’m really a carpenter.”

Avery laughed, making his wings shiver. “And I’m a fairy. Truth in advertising.”

Against his will, Mason laughed, too. He had to admit the man was clever. “So what brings you out tonight, Avery?”

“Other than the chance to wear these fabulous wings?” Avery grinned and peered up at Mason through his eyelashes. “Maybe I came to meet you.”

On anyone else, the coy expression would have looked ridiculous, but on Avery it was alluring. Mason shook his head, unable to believe his own thoughts. Avery was one of the prettiest men he had ever seen, and as far from Mason’s usual hook-up as was humanly possible without being a girl. What was he doing? He opened his mouth to give a polite brush-off, but what came out was, “You’ve met me. Now what?”

Those full, sexy lips curved up in a slow smile. “Now you carry me off into the sunset. Or your bedroom. Whatever.”

Nightingale by L.E. Bryce

Aranion was not the first person to use the bath that day, he could tell. Unlike Elenin and Hyleas, both of whom owned residences with private facilities for themselves and their families, Aranion had to share his porcelain tub with the higher-ranking servants; the two scrub maids, porter, and assistant cook used the communal bath two floors down. Barracks life inured him to the situation, and he honestly did not mind letting Mahawn, the valet, and the cook enjoy a hot soak as long as they bathed while he was out and left him a clean tub.

Early in the day, the scrub maids carried steaming buckets of water from the kitchen hearth up to the bathroom and emptied them into the tub. Had Aranion insisted, he probably could have gotten apartments in the newer wing of the palace, where hot and cold water ran through clay pipes, an innovation brought from Thrindor fifty years ago. But moving would have been a chore, especially in winter, and the old wing was quieter with better neighbors. Too many court dandies and nosy, social-climbing bureaucrats occupied the new facilities, paying double the rent for only half the space.

Aranion sank into the hot water, hissing as it tingled and reddened his skin. Forgoing the comforts his brothers and their wives enjoyed in their palatial pools, he reached for the pumice and began scrubbing between his toes. A man did not need a dozen bath slaves hovering over him to wash his hair and scour his ass when he was perfectly capable of doing those things himself. And no matter what Elenin said, Aranion doubted very much that washing was the only activity going on in a rich man’s bath.

Movement from his periphery drew his attention to the doorway, where expressive gray eyes set in an oval face widened at being noticed. Aranion laughed, and as Melan started to flinch back he called the boy over. “Are you looking for me, young man?”

Blushing, his eyes averted from the tub and its nude occupant, Melan shook his head.

“Did you think Mahawn was in here? He never attends me during my bath unless he has something truly interesting to report.” Noting the youth’s damp ringlets and pink skin, Aranion could not resist a little teasing. “Have you just come from the communal bath? That’s no place for a pretty boy like you. Next time use my tub. Don’t worry—I won’t be in it! Mahawn will tell you how it works.”

Melan’s gaze darted toward the door, seeking escape from embarrassment, not terror. Had he been afraid, Aranion would have let him go at once. “Sit on the stool over there where you won’t have such a full view. Just shift my things over.” When Melan was seated, the robe and loose cotton trousers spread over his lap like a shield, Aranion nodded, laughing. “You’re safely out of arm’s reach now. Certainly not about to be molested by some dirty old man in his bath!”

When the youth blanched, Aranion silently chided himself for his tactless remark and changed the subject. “Have you learned anything new? I don’t believe I’ve heard you sing since you were given to me.”

An inquiring look yielded another nod. “Sing something for me,” said Aranion. “Whatever song you like.”

A subtle shift in posture, a studied deep breath, and a low tenor filled the steam-laden air. The song Melan sang was one Aranion had never heard before. From the lyrics, which filled the darkness behind his closed eyes, Aranion was transported to the Seaward Islands centuries before the Shivarians came in their ships to drive the natives south. Turquoise waters lapped limestone cliffs, and reflected the towering ninoni that had seen generations of Danasi come and go, that watched the invaders approach, and that fell crashing into the sea when Shivar toppled the ancient monuments.

Aranion imagined male lovers, servants of the sea goddess, driven apart as their world fell, then finding each other again in a rush of passion.

As the song ended, quivering on a final, soft note, Aranion opened his eyes. “That was lovely,” Aranion admitted grudgingly. Melan modestly averted his eyes at the compliment, as though unaccustomed to praise. “But now I have to get up.” Steam curled and wafted from his arms as he gripped the sides of the tub and stood. “Hand me the towel, would you?”

Gaze still fixed on the tiles, Melan passed the crisp linen across, and did not look up until Aranion stepped out and, dripping wet, wrapped the towel securely around his waist. “You needn’t be afraid. I won’t touch you, and Sheban isn’t to do anything with you except give you your lessons and leave. I’ve made that clear to him, and Mahawn will make certain he obeys.”

With a second towel, Aranion dried his torso. “Would you consider performing for one of my brothers?”

Melan’s reaction mingled apprehension with revulsion. Apparently a petah was expected to do more for his clients than simply give a public recital. For him, performing held multiple meanings. “It isn’t what you think. Hyleas enjoys music. He has no taste for boys. You would accompany me as my guest, sit at the high table beside me, and sing at the end of the evening, nothing more. Sheban certainly isn’t invited.”

Frowning, Melan tapped his chest with both hands and shook his head. Aranion could only guess at his meaning. “You can’t go? No, you mean you can’t go without Sheban? Then we’ll find you another voice trainer and agent. Or I can act as your agent, since I’m also your owner. You needn’t put up with anymore than what’s necessary.”

A broad smile curved Melan’s mouth, and sudden joy brightened his eyes. As Aranion reached for his trousers, the young man seized his hand and kissed it.

Now it was his turn to be stunned. Such spontaneity brought a burning flush to his cheeks; he was grateful for the steam and hot water that disguised his reddened skin. “Melan…,” he began, the name sticking in his throat. “You needn’t do that.”

And yet, those lips exerted a subtle pressure upon his knuckles that stirred impulses he had thought quiescent. No matter how innocent the gesture, his desire wanted more—he suddenly wanted to feel that mouth moving over his, and that youthful body pressed against his own. It would not have been the first time he took a lovely boy or girl to bed after the languor of a hot soak. As Melan’s owner, he had that right.

But he could not do it—could not crush the youth to his chest and ravage him with kisses, or bend him over the stool and take him. Melan’s trust was as fragile as an icicle, too easily shattered, and once broken, forever beyond repair.

No, he could not do it.

“You needn’t kiss my hand,” he repeated. “Here, hand me my robe and you can show me what new books you’ve discovered.”