Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Touch of Silver by Nicole Gestalt

Tammy released a breath and relaxed her grip on the steering wheel of her van, when the door of The Bar and Grill swinging open in the dusty wind came into view. She feared it would be closed and barricaded shut like all the other shops and buildings she had passed coming to town. She pulled into one of the many empty parking spots, cut off the engine and got out. The squeaking sounds of metal drew her gaze up to the bar’s sign. Half the letters were either out or flickering, but the word open glowed without a problem. A grateful smile lit her face as she went inside.

Her nostrils twitched at the stale scent of cheap beer and cigarettes. There were no other customers in the joint, but she could still see smoke in the air. It was as if the haze was permanent.

Tammy peered through the dimness to wave at the burly man behind the bar. To those who didn’t know him, he looked rather imposing, arms filled with tattoos and piercings, but he was a complete softy. The fact that at least one person was around made her feel much safer.

“Hi Rob, how you been?”

“I’m not bad, getting organized for the next couple of weeks,” he said with a broad smile and continued to clean various glasses under the bar. Rob was well known for moving constantly, always liking to keep busy. Tammy had once tried to ask him about the habit, but had received no answer other than a shrug.

“Expecting a busy few days? You’d think all the other places would want to remain open rather than close early like they seem to have done. I just stopped by here to see if you knew anything about it?”

Tammy looked around the bar, noting the dark empty feel of the place. Since her father took over Red Clover Farm, she had never seen it so deserted.

Rob paused, longer than Tammy had ever seen him still. “How long ago was it you moved here?”

“Ten years, why?”

Rob nodded and started to clean the bar.

“Ah, then you never had an encounter with the pack before. They like their drink, and their pool. Tend to like their fighting too. One of the reasons the town closes down. Best you get out of the way and keep your business confined to the farm for a short while, at least for this week anyway.”

Tammy wasn’t sure if she should be more worried or intrigued. After a brief moment, she picked intrigued.

“The pack?”

Rob looked around, his ears turned red about the tips. His hazel eyes shifted nervously.

“Why don’t I tell you later…when they’ve gone.” As he talked, he came around the bar and ushered her out. Before she had time to react, she found herself outside, in front of her van with the echo of Rob’s words ringing in her ears.

“Drive safe now, and I’ll see you in two weeks–or better yet longer,” he told her closing the doors to the bar.

Tammy blinked, unsure as to what exactly had just happened. She shook her head before she climbed into her van. The engine as it started up, seemed duller somehow than before.

When she pulled up to the entrance of the parking lot, she caught sight of the reason. A vast number of bikes headed toward the bar. They filled the road for as far as she could see. The noise of the bikes’ motors was deafening, but the riders, clearly used to it, conducted animated conversations with ease as they slowly steered her way.

Riders came up to her van, so close Tammy felt nervous they would collide with her. None of them did however; each turned at the last minute. All were in total control of their machines. Not wanting to risk taking the van through the group, she started to swing right.

Tammy glanced to the bikers once more and her stomach clenched with excitement. There was just something about the raw power of a bike and the look of the leathers that turned her on. The idea of no destination as you pulled out of the latest town and set off, enjoying the journey and the open road, was liberating to her. It seemed so different to the life she had, where each day consisted of various tasks she had to do and the general upkeep of the farm, especially now with her father away.

Another biker rode close to the van, and Tammy’s breath caught in her throat. This one didn’t have a helmet on. Silver-white waist-length hair flowed with wild abandon around her.

Tammy gazed at the woman’s muscular but lithe form. The leathers on her body appeared skintight. Tammy wondered if the rider had anything on under them. She dearly wanted to slowly peel them away to find out.

Realizing she was staring, Tammy jerked her gaze up and froze. Steely blue eyes stared at her with an intensity she had never seen before. Her heart hammered in her chest. The woman had the most fascinating eyes. Yet they were so cold and emotionless. Tammy wanted to get to know the person behind them, to wrap her arms around that waist and draw her close before kissing her passionately.

The woman held her gaze for a few moments, but to Tammy it felt like a lifetime. In that instant she fell in love, and wanted nothing more than to stop the van and speak to her.

Then as if nothing had happened, the rider nodded a tad before she turned and headed off into the parking lot. The spell broken, Tammy felt lost, as if something vital had been ripped away. Her whole body ached. She shook herself, and, very reluctantly, put the van into gear, managing a short distance before she had to stop.

Her mind was a mixture of confused emotions. Her hands trembled. She tried to calm down, but the image of the woman had seared itself into her memory. Tammy wasn’t that far away, it would be possible to turn around and find her. Sweep her off her feet, hold her body close and kiss those lips. She shook her head, taking a deep breath to relax.

No, it was stupid. With that number of people, she’d take hours to find. And one glance wasn’t enough to learn much about someone. She might not even like women, not like that, and for all she knew the woman could have been married. Tammy hit the steering wheel in frustration, trying to be rational.

There was work that needed to be done back on the farm, and it had to be finished soon. New seed needed to be planted and then checked on. She couldn’t postpone the job, unless she wanted the farm to fail in her father’s absence.

Besides, Rob had said at least two weeks, so the woman might still be around for a while. There were a number of jobs and excuses she could give for coming back this way, more if she thought creatively. Tammy would look for her then.

Feeling happier and more able to drive, Tammy glanced behind her as she pressed the gas. She noticed one of the bikers had separated from the group, and was looking in her direction. Tammy wasn’t sure why, but she was instantly filled with the sensation that the figure was watching her purposefully and not out of coincidence. She glanced out the van’s front windshield to make sure she wasn’t going to hit anything, then up to her rearview mirror. She kept driving until she reached a curve in the road, beyond which she would lose sight of the figure. Tammy slowed a little. The rider seemed to have got what they were after as they sat back on the bike and turned away. Confused, but mildly intrigued, Tammy drove on. She pushed her thoughts of the woman to the back of her mind, concentrating on the upcoming jobs.

Sons of Heaven: Beldon by Brenna Lyons

Chapter One

Beldon stirred, his mind and body coming to functionality at a maddening pace. His link to the sensors cleared first. He searched for signs of battle and relaxed at no such input.

There were only two reasons for the priests to wake him. If they didn’t require his protection, they wished for him to evaluate one of the young and advise them on their progress toward suitable matches.

He sighed. So far, the breeding on this planet hadn’t produced a close enough match. Beldon was starting to doubt it ever would, though saying it would be paramount to treason.

The priests had woken him countless times, and he hadn’t found a match yet, close as they’d been. Still, he took solace in the soft bodies of those brought to him to be evaluated. The priests and the young expected it of him, and it was the least he’d earned.

How long has it been this time? How long since they’ve woken me? It might have been one generation, or it might have been ten. The longest so far had been ten.

The answer from the sensors sent his heart skittering. The bio tube suddenly felt too tight. He beat at the locks, shouting for the priests to manually release them. The wait for the computer was intolerable this time.

Too long. It’s been millennia. Sakkan! What went wrong?

Without a doubt, something or someone had forced them to seal the tube for so long. What would have caused such a choice?

It couldn’t have been battle. His bio tube was coded to wake him automatically for battle. He was, first and foremost, left here as protector to their seeded young.

They could have succumbed to disease; their first thought would have been to shield Beldon from it. They could have died in a cataclysm his bio tube had shielded him from.

Were they all dead? There was no answer from the tube, as if the systems were having problems understanding the question or identifying the answer.

Beldon cursed his shortsightedness in putting his bio tube under their sole control. He’d trusted the priests would wake him whenever it became necessary. In hindsight, that had been foolish.

What had woken him now? Was it a condition the priests had set? Was the bio tube breaking down? Surely, his Sakk brothers hadn’t waited nearly three millennia to search him out.

With that, he struck the locks again. What if they wouldn’t open? What if the bio tube was breaking down? Dying of dehydration wasn’t a pleasing thought.

Strange tonals reached him through the tube’s loosened seals. Beldon tapped at the translator circuitry, but he only succeeded in spurring sporadic translation.

“Wait...open...” An ancient curse followed.

Two of the locks snapped open. A cry of pain and a second curse identified the speaker as female.

Sakkan breathes! Where are the priests? Why was a female opening the tube?

He pleaded silently with the sensors, compiling all the data they could provide of the situation outside the bio tube. Whoever the female was, she was the only being within sensor range, which was highly unusual. There should have been hundreds of priests and young in range, if it was working properly. Even the basic sensors would cover the entire habitation areas of the temple, but Sakkan alone only knew what three thousand yans had done to the circuitry.

The final bit of information stopped him cold. The shields were down. If the generators were operational, only one of Sakk blood could open them, and there was only the unknown female in his proximity.

Was she one of the young? If so, where were the others? Was she human? If so, what was her purpose here?

Or were the generators broken and he defenseless? Or, defenseless with young to protect? Sakkan, not that.

Three more locks opened, and the computers took over, taking the last seven in a rush of air and the creak of untended pistons. The moment the opening was large enough, Beldon launched to the top, seeking the height advantage for possible battle.

She fell back with a cry of fear at the movement, her pale skin going summer cloud white at the sight of him. Her dark eyes scanned up and down his body, stopping at his extended wings. Her breathing went ragged, and she collapsed to the dirt floor, her eyes slipping shut.

Beldon laughed harshly at that. Humans and the young bred in the temple were frail creatures. More than once, the young brought to him had fainted in his presence. Even more amusing were the battle-hardened human soldiers who’d loosed their bladders when pitted against him in battle.

He dropped down beside her, sobering. On closer inspection, it seemed the female was injured. Her clothing was ripped and stained in dirt and blood. Her head was discolored along the temple and cheek, as if she’d been struck...or had struck something else with formidable force.

Certain that he had time to spend, Beldon assessed his surroundings, his heart sinking. The temple was all but indistinguishable from the caverns in which it had been built. Whatever calamity destroyed it had been long ago.

A scan for biological traces told him roughly what he’d expected it to. The remains of the priests were the stuff archeologists and treasure hunters dreamed of finding. They were dead. All of them were, male and female. Nothing Sakk had moved here for almost as long as he’d slept.

There’d been no active breeding measures since then. There’d been no reports to Sakk. Beldon wasn’t sure there was a home to return to.

What did that mean to him? Stranded on this alien world?

The female moved, a moan escaping her lips. Her shoulder-length hair feathers picked up red sand that nearly glowed against black curls.

Answers. I need answers she might have.

* * * *

Jannie hurt from the tips of her hair to her toenails. Her head was just one more pain in the lot, though it was the most troubling to her, since it was most likely to affect whether or not she found her way back to camp.

She wanted to believe the fall had been accidental, that the rope had been frayed or the clips faulty, but there was no denying the truth. The rope had been cut, and Edward was going to play this off as an “unfortunate incident in the field.” All for a little personal glory.

By all rights, the fall should have killed her. Even now, Jannie couldn’t identify what she’d hit. It had been smooth, warm, dome-shaped... She had slid down its side, landing hard at the base...of nothing.

The dreams that followed were even more bizarre: touching strange raised markings with blood-soaked fingers, wandering through half-lit caves she couldn’t identify a light source in, a man trapped under the rock, vivid glyphs on a stone vault...and an angel.

“What dreams may come,” she breathed.

No. That wasn’t accurate. Jannie hurt too much to be dead.

But I will be dead, if I don’t find a way out of here.

She forced her eyes open, her breathing hitching at the apparition leaning over her. Deep blue eyes in a fierce face surrounded by waves of golden hair couldn’t hold her attention when compared to the blinding white expanse of his wingspan.

Jannie swallowed hard. “Am I dead?”

After a moment, he smiled...then laughed, but he offered no answer.

Attempts at movement sent shards of pain down her shoulder and arm. She groaned. “Nope. I hurt too much to be dead,” she reminded herself.

His brow furrowed, and he retreated to the stone vault. Now that her vision was clearing, Jannie realized light was emanating from inside it.

He returned with a metal cup and offered it to her. Jannie took it with a nod, hoping it was water. She couldn’t identify the drink, but it was tasty and wet, so she drained it, then offered a word of thanks. He set the cup aside and settled on his knees, staring at her.

“Do you know a way out?” she asked.

He cocked his head to one side, his eyes narrowing.

Great. No English.

He understood enough to laugh when I asked if I was dead. “Do you understand me?”

There was a momentary pause. Then he tipped his head in response.

“Great. Can you show me the way out?”

No answer.

“Either you don’t understand everything I say, or—”

Another tip of his head.

She groaned, scrubbing a hand over her face, then winced at the complaints from her bruises. “Of course. Whoever said angels spoke English?”

A hand touched her throat, and Jannie staggered to her feet. Her vision blurred, and she collapsed into his arms.

A series of dizzying movements later, she was surrounded by bright light, laying on a surface as smooth as glass and warm as bath water. A buzzing not unlike static electricity teased at her skin.

Jannie forced her eyes open, staring up at the angel. He pushed buttons etched with symbols not unlike those she’d seen on the scrolls. He did it by memory, his attention riveted to a glowing read-out of the same sorts of symbols.

His fingers went still over the keypad, and one eyebrow rose in what she’d term surprise. His gaze panned from the readout to her face, and a smile lifted one corner of his lush mouth. For some reason, that expression made her distinctly nervous.

* * * *

Beldon stared at her, his heart warming at her naivety. She tensed as if to flee, and he placed a restraining hand on her uninjured shoulder.

“Calm, young one.”

It was a given that she didn’t understand Sakk, but she relaxed all the same.

Beldon looked around at his wings in surprise, noting how they’d curved around the tube in an unconscious move of protection and comfort. The move was instinctual; a young one was frightened, and he was sworn to protect her.

He’d denied his base side so long, the response shocked him. He was a soldier, not a caregiver. There had been nest parents and priests for that, but they no longer existed.

One hand came up, and she stroked at his primary feathers, murmuring something that didn’t translate. He bit back his instinctual response to that. The young one didn’t know what a Sakk male would expect after such a touch. Adopting a stern expression, he guided her hand away.

Her cheeks darkened, and she chewed at her lower lip. Her gaze flicked to his wings, then away, and she tipped her head in agreement.

That settled, Beldon moved on to his evaluation of her injuries. To his relief, they were minor. The young one would be unsteady on her feet for several weeks, and she’d require herbs to minimize the inflammation and ward off infection, but she’d heal well, he was sure.

She tried speaking to him again, but the only two words that translated were out and home.

“Home is waiting for you, young one.” He kept his tone soothing, needing to comfort her in the only way he could.

Her eyes drifted shut, most likely due to the yosha root he’d given her to drink before he moved her. In moments, her breathing was deep and even.

Beldon traced a finger along her lower lip. They’d done it. Priests or no priests, forced breeding or no, the match had been made.

He reached across her and started punching in the code to alert Sakk of their success.

Sakkan only knew what would happen next. Did Sakk still exist? Did they think Beldon dead? Would they leave him here, or would they take Beldon and the young one home?

Only time would tell.

Beldon froze, startling in the realization that he was humming Sakkan’s Night Song to her. He hadn’t even known he remembered it. What was happening to him?

Corruption by Jack Greene

“I’m not sure this is the right place.”


Tom leaned closer and raised his voice almost to a yell. “I said, I don’t think this is the right place!”

Mark scowled, peering into the club’s dark interior. “Why not?”

Jason shook his head. “Because, you idiot, that’s industrial playing, not eighties. And the club is called Corruption.”

Tom nodded, agreeing with his more observant friend. “Exactly! You sure this is the right place?”

Mark shrugged. “It’s the right address, I checked. It all sounds the same to me.”

“Fuck,” Tom muttered as his eyesight adjusted. This was definitely not eighties music. The club Mark had dragged them to was supposed to have two rooms: one playing electro, the other eighties. The music pumping out of the speakers was neither.

A look around also revealed people mostly in black—girls with long dresses, and some with brightly colored fake dreads. “It’s a Goth club.”

“Shit,” muttered Jason. “Fucking Goths.”

“It is?” Mark peered at the people. “Shit. I guess I did get the wrong place. Well, you wanna go then?”

“I just paid twenty bucks to get in here!” Tom protested. “I don’t have enough with me to pay another cover charge and still get drinks.”

“Sorry.” Mark had the decency to look ashamed. At least, Tom thought he looked ashamed. It was too dark to be sure. “Hey, they have dollar drinks ‘til midnight!”

Jason shrugged and headed for the bar. Tom knew Jason didn’t care that much. He’d come along to get wasted. Mark wanted to dance and pick up girls. Tom just wanted to get out. It had been a long week and he was ready to relax.

“A couple of drinks.” Tom sighed and followed Jason, and Mark stayed right by his side. It was early yet, so the bar wasn’t too crowded, and they slipped into an empty spot. They ordered beers and got carded again.

“I’m twenty-three. When am I gonna stop getting carded?” grumbled Tom, slipping his wallet back into his pants.

“When you can actually grow a full face of hair,” Mark countered, smirking.

“Not gonna happen,” Tom declared, rubbing his smooth jaw. He didn’t like facial hair, and sometimes he shaved twice a day. Not that he considered himself hirsute; Mark was actually right. He couldn’t grow a full beard if he’d wanted to. But, he didn’t want to. He’d tried the three-day-stubble look once, but Jason told him he just looked like he was homeless.

They got their beers and turned around to face the large dance floor. The club was obviously designed for a big crowd. Indeed, the place was beginning to fill up. People filed past them, and Tom realized that for the first time in a few years he felt short. At six feet tall, he rarely looked up to people, especially girls, but industrial music seemed to attract tall people for some reason. Then he looked down and saw that everyone, men and women, wore huge platform boots.

He didn’t mind the music. He preferred alternative rock or electro, but the driving beat of this music was definitely appealing.

He turned his attention to the dance floor. It was about half full now, and the style of dancing seemed freeform in style. People moved in jerky, random movements, or slinked around the stage like animals. People danced together in groups but not together as couples. The dance floor was surrounded by big screens with images of bodies in leather and fishnets. The name of the club alternated with the images.

At one end of the dance floor there was an elevated platform, sort of like a stage, and a few of the more adventurous dancers strutted their stuff up there. At the other end, there were two smaller raised platforms, and each one held a cage. Both were empty at the moment. Tom turned back to the bar and ordered another beer.

Jason and Mark switched to mixed drinks—the better to get drunk, he supposed. He looked down as the bartender, a giant bald man, set a shot of tequila in front of him. “I didn’t order—”

“Shut up, I did,” Mark yelled, leaning across Jason, who also had a shot. “You’re depressing us. Drink up!”

Tom shrugged and picked up the shot glass, draining it.

“Fool, you forgot the lime and salt!” Jason chided.

“Now you have to do another one.” Mark nodded.

So he did, and then another. The tequila burned on the way down but felt good. By the time he turned around again, the club was considerably more crowded.

“Gotta hit the john,” Jason said, and wandered off, staggering slightly.

Mark moved closer. “This kinda sucks,” he finally admitted. “You wanna go?” At that moment, a girl with very short, spiky black hair slinked past. She was slender and her dress was composed of little more than strategically placed strips of cloth. Mark’s gaze followed her and he set his empty glass on the bar. “On second thought…” He waved vaguely in Tom’s direction and said, “Be right back.”

“Great,” Tom sighed to himself. “I’ve been ditched at a Goth club.” He ordered another beer and turned back to the dance floor. The bar was getting a bit too crowded so he moved to a small table near the dance floor. There were no chairs so he just leaned on the table. He could amuse himself by watching the dancers. He loved to people watch.

The floor was packed now, and people were getting into it. They seemed completely uninhibited, not caring if they looked like idiots flailing around. Of course, some of the dancers were more graceful than others.

As he looked around he noticed both cages were occupied now. The one closer to him contained a petite, curvy girl with shoulder length orange hair wearing an outfit made entirely of foil. She was pretty, but nothing compared to the girl in the other cage. Tom found himself staring.

She was slender, and wore very little. She turned, her body moving like a cat’s, hips undulating in a way that made Tom’s mouth dry. Her back was to him now; she wore tiny black briefs, almost like men’s underwear, and attached to them were suspenders made of silvery chains. Tom didn’t know how she could dance like that on the knee-high, high-heeled boots she wore, but they made her already long legs even better. Her ass was perfect, firm and round, and her black, silky straight hair fell to mid-back. She didn’t seem to be wearing a shirt.

Tom drifted closer. The club was hazy from the smoke machines and he wanted to see the girl more closely. No, he needed to. He was still a ways away when she turned to face him, still writhing seductively. Tom stopped in his tracks, cursing the haze and the dim lights. It really looked like she wasn’t wearing a shirt; only black x’s made from tape over her nipples. She seemed nearly flat, but then again she was very slim, and Tom had never been into big breasts. She was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen.

His gaze finally made it to her face, and his breath caught. She was beautiful, with dark eyes ringed with heavy black eyeliner, perfect nose, and full red lips.

As he watched her, she looked directly at him.

“Fuck,” he moaned. He was thirty feet away, yet he knew she was looking right at him. He could feel it. He just stood there, hoping he didn’t look like too much of an idiot, watching her. She smiled, and danced some more, gripping the cage as if longing to escape. Tom wanted her to escape.

Suddenly Tom’s cock wanted to escape, too. He could feel it hardening, and he hoped his pants were baggy enough to hide it. Though the girl was supposed to be sexy, he didn’t think having an obvious hard-on while watching her was cool.

A sexy smirk graced her lips and she backed up, leaning against the pole in the center of the cage. She reached back over her head to grab the pole, arching her back, and Tom whimpered aloud. She spun around, rolling her lithe body against the pole, and Tom made his way closer. He’d never seen anyone so seductive. He had to meet her.

The crowd was thickest near the cage, and it wasn’t easy to get closer, but Tom was determined. He didn’t know what he would do when he got there, but he had to see her up close.

Finally, he made it. He stood within a few feet of the cage. Her back was to him, and his mouth watered as he watched her dance. Her ass was perfect, so amazing that he ached to touch it. Her legs were long and smooth, and the way she moved made Tom’s cock pulse. As if she knew he was there, she bent over deeply, legs spread, and Tom nearly came in his pants. No one had ever affected him this strongly. She was sex personified.

Then she turned around.

This time, he looked at her face first. She was even prettier up close, movie star pretty. Her eyes sparkled and she was clearly having a great time. She looked down at him and smiled, then licked her lips. Tom moaned. He tried to smile but wasn’t sure if he succeeded. Then, because he was male and he absolutely couldn’t help it, he looked down.

His first thought was that the girl had really, really small breasts. He didn’t mind. Then he looked lower.

Then he looked back up again. Not just really flat. Not there at all. He swallowed hard, and he knew his face turned a deep scarlet. He wanted to look at her face again, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Her face. No, his face. Fuck. How could he have been so blind? It wasn’t as if her…his clothes could possibly hide that much. But now, close up, he could see that the tape hid nipples but no breasts, and the briefs hid, well… Tom didn’t want to think too much about that. He backed away, and on impulse looked up…right into those dark eyes.

The boy raised an eyebrow, and his mouth twisted into a half smile that didn’t look happy at all. He knew. He knew that Tom had thought he was a girl, and now freaked out. He also looked disappointed. Tom felt guilty as hell. He wasn’t sure why.

He couldn’t think about this anymore. He turned and pushed his way quickly through the crowd. He looked around for Mark or Jason but saw no sign of them. His heart beat fast and suddenly he needed to get some air. He headed for the exit, ignoring the signs that said, ‘No re-entry.’ He pushed through them, then stumbled out onto the sidewalk. A few black-clad smokers on the balcony peered at him before going back to their addiction, and he breathed in the cool air and the relative silence of Hollywood Boulevard gratefully.

He’d been aroused by a man.

Fuck it. He’d ridden here with Mark but didn’t feel like waiting. He knew the bus system well. He needed to get home. He texted his friends and told them he felt sick, and hopped on a bus.

He barely remembered getting home. His mind raced, and he engaged in a lot of attempted self-justification. He’d been drunk. The club was dark. He hadn’t gotten laid for a while. Anything to deny the fact that he’d never been quite so hot for anyone in his entire life.

He had the urge to take a shower, as if he could wash away the illicit urges. He ran the water colder than usual and stood under the spray, eyes closed. But, he couldn’t shut out the memories. The images of the lithe body dancing, arching, showing off for him...His cock hardened once again and he groaned. Even reminding himself forcefully that that beautiful face and body hid an unwelcome surprise didn’t make his arousal go away completely. He refused to jerk off to the image of a man, however androgynous. The more he ignored it, the harder his cock got, until he turned the shower all the way to cold. He shivered, but his cock subsided.

Unfortunately, as soon as he was dry and in bed, it began to harden once more. He resolutely ignored it. He finally fell asleep, aching.

He woke up the next morning sticky, though. It seemed his cock had a mind of its own.