Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor by Jack Greene

They were going to kill him.

He’d die happy, but that was beside the point.

It had gotten to the point that Gerard exhibited a Pavlovian response while looking out the window. His heart started beating faster as he approached the blinds, which he always kept angled to let the sun in as much as possible without letting anyone else see in.

He was certain some of his neighbors had no such compunctions. That was the problem.

As he peered through the blinds, other physical reactions began to manifest. He felt his face flush, then the tightening in his lower stomach that signaled the onset of arousal. He wasn’t hard yet, but it wouldn’t be long.

It always happened this time of night, when the sky darkened enough to require lights inside. Their blinds never closed. The effect was like a spotlight, or his own private peep show.

The apartment building was an open square, with a courtyard in the center that held a small pool and some greenery. Gerard had moved in just two months ago and still had half his stuff in boxes. He didn’t know many of the neighbors.

Well, except for them. Not that he knew them, not by name. He’d never spoken to them. He knew parts of them, though. He knew what they did for fun. He knew they wore very little clothing around the apartment.

He knew they were beautiful. He knew they were gay.

The first time he’d glimpsed them, he’d thought they were women. From a distance, it was an easy mistake. They were both very slender, with tiny frames and longish hair. They wore stylish clothes and moved gracefully. But, more than a glance assured him they were both male.

He was quite certain of this because they tended to strip off their clothes with very little provocation.

They looked like models, and he found out later that was exactly what they were.

He could still remember the first time he’d seen them. He had been attempting to unpack but got sidetracked. He’d noticed the glorious colors of a spectacular LA sunset and gone to the window to look at it. As the colors faded into the dusk a light went on across the courtyard, and his attention was drawn by movement.

The two men were both slender and dark-haired, but that was where the resemblance ended. They looked about the same age, early twenties. The taller one had longer hair that Gerard later learned he sometimes spiked up into a faux hawk, but usually wore loose and straight. The other had shorter hair that came to just below his ears and was cut in the type of asymmetric style that was designed to fall over one eye.

The taller man wore makeup almost all the time, and favored tight, designer type clothing while the other dressed in a more punk style, often in a leather jacket when the weather was cool.

He didn’t see all this at once, of course, but over the course of time he’d seen them in the underground parking garage, or by the mailboxes. They’d never spoken to him, but he had smiled once or twice at the pretty men. He’d gotten smiles back from behind dark sunglasses, and he’d felt strangely elated.

He’d been fascinated at first sight; only for a moment had he thought they were women. They’d stood in front of the window for a moment, then the taller man disappeared from view only to appear a moment later, shirtless.

He’d swallowed hard and tried to make himself move away from the window, but couldn’t. Especially when the other man removed his shirt, tossing it carelessly to the side.

Both appeared quite pale, though the shorter man was the lightest. He caught a glimpse of metal from the taller man’s nipple rings, while the shorter one had several tattoos on his arms and chest.

The taller man stepped closer and reached out, and Gerard gasped softly. They’d looked like they were about to…but then he just turned the smaller man away from him. He began to massage his roommate’s shoulders, and the shorter man’s head fell back in evident pleasure.

Gerard tried to tell himself that it was just a friendly massage, but something told him these two were more than friends. There was something in the familiar way they touched. Sure enough, the massage turned more sensual. The taller man pressed up against the shorter, and his hands strayed from his shoulders down over his chest.

As Gerard watched, stunned, the shorter man turned and they kissed, lithe bodies rubbing against each other languidly. He’d stumbled back from the window, cheeks burning. The image didn’t leave his mind for a long time, though.

It wasn’t that he was shocked. Living in Hollywood, he saw same sex couples all the time. He’d seen every flavor of porn imaginable at one time or another. He wasn’t homophobic. He knew what men did together, but it just had never appealed to him. All the gay porn he’d seen had featured big hairy men and had done nothing for him. Shemales were slightly more interesting, but still not too exciting. He’d never imagined two pretty, slim men together like this.

He was amazed to find that he was fascinated by the image in his mind.

The image wasn’t just in his mind, though. Gerard didn’t return to the window for a couple of days, and when he did chance it, he’d seen nothing. No one was home in the apartment across the way.

The next night, he’d happened to glance out, and there they were. They were dancing; Gerard couldn’t hear the music but it looked like something really danceable because the men seemed to have a great time. They danced close to one another, and as he watched they stripped off their shirts and began to dance dirty.

His mouth went dry as he watched; the men knew how to move. They weren’t at all shy with each other, that was clear. They ground against each other, hands roaming, lips parted. They were beautiful together.

That was the first time Gerard thought that perhaps they wanted an audience. Two creatures that gorgeous were made to be watched.

One thought led to another and Gerard’s mind strayed to what else he might watch them do.

Once again, he forced himself away from the window. He felt like a voyeur even though he wasn’t going out of his way to watch.

He wanted to watch, though. He wanted it badly. He wanted to see what came after the dancing. Half hard, he went to the spare bedroom to work out. He pushed himself hard, trying to exorcise the vision of the two young men.

He worked out every day. He liked the way he looked, the way it felt when he was in good shape. He was thirty-five but looked younger. The only indication of his age was a sprinkling of gray hairs that had appeared in his close-cropped brown hair. He refused to color it.

Since he was new to the area, he hadn’t done much besides work and unpack. He’d been out with a few colleagues from work but he hadn’t bothered to date yet. He always found dating awkward; he’d stayed in an unfulfilling relationship for too long because it was easier than dating again. He didn’t want to get into a situation like that again. He wasn’t the kind of man who needed to be with someone all the time. He missed sex, of course, but he always had his hand.

He wondered if his new fascination had something to do with the fact that he hadn’t had sex in a couple of months. He didn’t think so. He’d gone longer without it before. All he knew was that whenever he thought of sex, the image of his sexy neighbors came to mind.

Roped Into You by Marie Rochelle

Chapter One

Placing the last of her clothing into the black luggage, Leila Hilson tried closing the lid, but it wouldn’t snap shut. After leaning on it using all of her weight, she was finally able to get it fastened. She knew that she should have invested in a new bag for her road trip, but she was trying to save a few bucks. In addition, she was very attached to the one she was using. It was the last big present her parents had bought for her right before they’d died in a boating accident. Just the thought of giving it away broke her heart, so she’d kept it for all of these years.

“Leila, are you about ready?” Ms. Thurston yelled at her from downstairs. “You’ve been up there for a while. Do you need some help?”

“No, ma’am, I’m almost done. Just give me a few more minutes and I’ll be downstairs.”

Leila quickly got off the suitcase and placed it on the floor next to her. She finished getting the rest of her personal items together and tossed them into the open bag on the bed. She couldn’t believe after living here since she was twelve years old that she was finally going to be moving away.

She wasn’t quite sure if she was ready for the adventure she was about to embark upon. However, Ms. Thurston wouldn’t let her stay at home out of misplaced fear or nervousness. No, she would push her out the door and tell her to live her life to the fullest.

Picking up the bag off the bed, Leila placed it on her shoulder, grabbed her suitcase off the floor and went out of the door. The second she rounded the corner and headed down the steps, Leila spotted the woman who had been like a second mother to her, standing at the bottom waiting for her. The sight of the sweet older woman who had raised her brought a smile to her lips.

“Honey, are you sure that you don’t need any help?” Ms. Thurston asked, again

“Thank you for your offer, but no ma’am, I’ve everything packed up and ready to go,” Leila answered.

Ms. Thurston was about to turn eighty in less than two weeks and she was still moving around like she was twenty-five years old. It always amazed Leila at how young and active Ms. Thurston acted. There truly wasn’t a wrinkle on her sienna skin because her guardian was a stickler about using nightly no-wrinkles lotions and creams on her face and body.

“Now, sweetheart, you don’t have to call me that,” Ms. Thurston corrected with a huge smile on her pretty face. “You’ve been living with us for so long that you’re a part of the family now.”

“Despite the fact they’ve been gone for years, you know that my mom and dad would be very disappointed in me if I called you anything else. They raised me to respect people. Mom was very big on saying treat others like you wanted to be treated and that is what I do. I like being considerate to everyone even the ones who may not deserve it.”

“You’re right. Catherine and James were very big on being well-mannered. They were fine people and raised you to be the same way. I’m also proud to say that they were wonderful when it came to helping out the community. Whenever I needed some help I knew that I could count on them. It’s still hard for me to believe that they’ve been gone for such a long time.”

Tears filled Leila’s eyes as she wished her parents were still alive and here with her, but that wasn’t going to happen. She hated the thought of leaving the house she considered her home. However, it was past time for her to live on her own and try to make a life for herself outside the small community she was raised in.

Yes, she loved everyone here and they were like an extended family to her, but she needed more out of her life. Her parents would have pushed her to move away right after college if they’d been alive. They believed in being independent and choosing the right path for your life in the world...she hoped and prayed this new job was her direction.

It had killed her to let go of her childhood home a few weeks ago, but she had to do it. Selling the property was the first step into leaving her childhood behind and becoming an adult. All while she had been growing up, Ms. Thurston’s son Tony had taken care of the property and even stayed inside the house when he was in town on business or came for a visit.

Leila was overjoyed that she had sold the house to Jacob and Clara Roberts. She had talked to them several times in town and they had always shown a keen interested in owning her old home, so when she finally got up enough nerve to sell it, they had been the first couple she had thought about and it turned out to be the best decision of her life.

Now, she could take the nanny position that Tony had gotten for her in another state. But, she was a little apprehensive because she hadn’t met her new boss yet. Her new employer hadn’t even gone over the new rules or salary when it came to her new position, so she wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Tony had assured her that she would love the job. But it was hard to let her worries disappear when she had so many unanswered questions, yet she trusted Tony with all her heart and would go with the flow. He would never put her into a bad situation.

Despite all the wonderful encouragement Tony and his mother had given to her over the years, she was still very uneasy about living out in the middle of nowhere for the next three years of her life. Sure, her hometown was small, but it was a place she knew like the back of her hand.

When she walked around in town and people called her by name it brought a smile to her face. She never got any strange looks like she was an outsider. Now she was going somewhere where she would be the ‘new’ person and the inquisitive looks were bound to happen whether she wanted them to or not.

Any time a stranger moved into town the residents there always wanted to know the life story of the new person. She wasn’t all that big on talking about her life with anyone. All she really wanted to do was her job and not stir up any trouble with anyone she might be working with.

Leila had grown to hate the factory job she had worked at since graduating from high school and when the third year was about to roll around, she decided it was time for a change in her career choice. Since she adored kids so much, becoming a live-in nanny seemed like the perfect option. However, she didn’t quit the factory job instantly because it kept money in her pocket while she was attending college.

After graduating from college, she tried numerous times to get work in her hometown, but none here had a need for a live-in nanny since most of the women stayed at home while their husbands worked. She thought she might have made a mistake until Tony came for a visit from Wyoming.

He mentioned how his widower boss was looking for a nanny for his little girl and he thought she would be excellent for the job. So, Tony being the good guy he was faxed his employer her college credits, wrote a five star reference and the rest of it was history.

“Ms. Thurston, I’m going to miss you so much especially all of our late night talks on the porch. You gave me so much fantastic advice about life. I don’t know what I would have done without it.”

“Leila, you’re so welcome. You’re like the daughter I’ve always wanted. I love Tony and he knows it, but you will always hold a special place in my heart,” Ms. Thurston said touching her on the arm. “But I thought that my homemade oatmeal cookies might rank above our nightly talks. You never waited for them cool off on the cookie racks before you would grab a couple and leave the room.”

“I haven’t forgotten about your delicious cookies. I’m going to miss them so much too. They constantly found a way to cheer me up anytime I was having a bad day,” Leila confessed, smiling at the woman in front of her. “I swear they are the best cookies I’ve ever tasted in my life. I’m sorry that I didn’t have you make some for my long trip.”

“Sweetheart, you aren’t going to have to miss them on your road trip at all.” Ms. Thurston removed her hand off her arm. “Come inside the kitchen. I’ve something for you.” Brushing past her, Ms. Thurston headed back in the direction of the kitchen. Placing all of her items on the floor by the entrance table, Leila followed behind her.

“What are you up to?” Leila asked the second she stepped inside of the room. Looking around, she noticed that Ms. Thurston was getting everything together so she could start lunch in a few minutes. She hadn’t even left yet and she was already home sick. She truly was going to miss the homey feel this space always gave her.

“I decided to get up early and make these for you. You can snack on them on your long drive to your new job.” Ms. Thurston grabbed a red and black tin container off the counter by the microwave and brought it back over to her. “Now, don’t eat all of these up before you get there. Save some for tonight and you can have them after you get all settled into your hotel.”

Taking the container from Ms. Thurston, Leila noticed the rosebush and birdhouse on the front of it. They were the two things she loved the most about their backyard. She would sit in the backyard for hours inside the swing and watch the birds as they flew in and out of the birdhouse.

“You didn’t have to do this for me. I know how busy you are with other chores around the house,” Leila said as tears filled her eyes. She blinked a couple of times hoping they would go away, because if she started crying now it would make it only harder for her to leave later.

“Don’t you dare cry on me,” Ms. Thurston scolded giving her a tight hug and then stepped back. “You know that I wasn’t about to let you leave this house without your favorite snack. As much as I would love for you to stay here forever, I know that you can’t. You better get going so you can at least make it to the hotel before it gets too dark.”

Holding the cookie tin to her chest, Leila took one last lingering look around the room and tried to hold on to everything about it that she could. Ms. Thurston and she both knew she wasn’t going to see this place again for awhile unless she came back for a visit, but she didn’t know when that might be because of the schedule at her new job. She hated that leaving this place made her feel like she was losing her family all over again.

“Maybe I should just stay here and go back to the factory,” she suggested as a case of nerves set in. “I was making a pretty good salary working there. I’m pretty sure if I asked my old boss nicely, he would give it back to me. In addition, I hate to think of leaving you here all alone without anyone to talk to.”

“Sweetheart, I won’t let you do that. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t you remember one of my old girlfriends is coming to stay here with me for a few months while she heals from her hip replacement surgery? We’re going to have a good time talking about our younger days. She will be here the day after tomorrow.”

“If you’re sure...” Leila hedged.

“I’m more than sure. You can’t be afraid of the future. It’s yours to do anything you want with. Now make me and your parents proud. Get out of this kitchen and out into that cute car Tony got for you.”

Ms. Thurston gently pushed her out of the kitchen and back into the hallway next to her bags. “You really need to get on the road because it’s already past eight o’clock and you’ve a long drive ahead of you. I’m hoping that you will at least get there before it gets too late.”

“I don’t think I’m running too far behind schedule,” Leila replied. “Tony set me up in a motel for tonight and I’ll check out in the morning. He didn’t want me on the road all night long. I’m hoping when I talk to my new boss that everything will go well.”

“That’s my son,” Ms. Thurston said with a smile. “He’s always thinking of everything. Now are you sure that you’ve all of your things? Do you need any extra money? I don’t want you to have forgotten something in a rush.”

“No, I’ve everything that I need in my travel bag and suitcase. I said my goodbyes to my old house yesterday. It was extremely hard to hand over the keys to the new owners, but I did it and I think my parents would’ve been so proud of me.” Leila held back fresh tears as she tried to stay strong.

“As I told you before, your parents are looking down at you with smiles on their faces. You’ve turned out to be a beautiful young woman on the inside and outside. They couldn’t have raised a better daughter.”

“You helped raise me too,” Leila cut in, wanting Ms. Thurston to know how much she cared about her too. “I couldn’t have gotten through that tragedy without you. You were such a stable part of my life. Tony helped out a lot too. I always thought of him like an older brother. It was kind of fun since I was an only child for so long.”

“Sweetheart, we loved having you as a part of our family and we always will. Enough of this messy stuff because I can’t let you make our final goodbyes even harder. You really do need to get going now or you’ll have me worrying about you until I get your phone call.”

“Okay, I’ll hit the road.” Picking up her bags, Leila went towards the front door and waited for Ms. Thurston as she opened it and followed her outside. Once she got outside she placed her belongings in the trunk of the white convertible and slammed it shut.

“I’m still not fond of this car that my son got for you. He knew better than that, but he always loved to spoil you,” Ms. Thurston complained as she glanced at the car and then back at Leila.

Leila loved the sporty little convertible and was thrilled to have it. Tony knew what she‘d wanted and bought it for her without a second thought, but she’d need to ease his mother’s mind about it. She truly didn’t want Ms. Thurston worrying about her.

“I promise to follow the speed limit and not get pulled over by the cops,” Leila teased and then hugged Ms. Thurston.

“Young lady, you better not get stopped by the police or pick up any hitchhikers either.” Ms. Thurston returned the hug and then stepped back. “You know that Tony and I have already had this talk with you. That’s why I wanted him to drive you there. I wasn’t sure if you could handle such a long drive on your own.”

“I swear to you that I listened to everything you and Tony told me.” Leila didn’t know what she was going to do without this amazing woman in her life. It felt a little strange going on a new journey to a family she didn’t know.

Ms. Thurston planted a kiss on her cheek and then moved back from her. “You be careful, you hear me? Don’t forget that your old bedroom is still ready for you if that old rancher isn’t nice and wants to work you too hard. You can leave the same day and come right back here. I would welcome you back with open arms.”

“I promise I’ll come back home if things don’t work out there. I won’t stay anywhere that I’m not wanted.” Leila got into the car. She started it up, waved goodbye and then pulled out of the driveway wondering what lay ahead for it at the Blue Horn ranch.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Healing The Beast Within by Jaxx Steele

Salem, NC - 1750 AD

The soft glow of light was more prominent as a figure glided smoothly through the trees toward the clearing. In the small space between the foliage were seven cloaked and hooded people standing close in an incomplete circle around the fire.

One person stood apart from the rest and nodded to acknowledge the newcomer’s presence. The arrival bowed her head and knelt before them. The individual removed their hood revealing the softened features of an aged woman. The crackling blaze lent its radiance to her well-preserved beauty. Her voice was gentle and feminine when she spoke.

“We have come together many times to intervene where justice for women was needed, but it has been a long time since we have gathered. Why have you summoned us here to call upon the powers of darkness, Olivia?” she questioned.

“My granddaughter has been treated unfairly by her betrothed. I seek to punish this man, Veronica.”

“Please explain?”

“Six months ago Dominic McNeal promised to return and marry her. When he arrived on their wedding day, he was already married to another, breaking his pledge some time ago.”

Shocked gasps spread across the clearing. Veronica sighed and shook her head.

“Granted, sister, leave it to me. I know what to do.”

Olivia rose and walked toward the people within the circle. Someone offered her a cloak to don before she joined the circle.

Veronica raised her arms. The coven members mimicked her movements, closing the circle with their clasped hands. Veronica hummed and the rest followed her lead. As their combined voices rose in crescendo the flames burned brighter. The small inferno went from bright yellow to pale red as the droning continued. Veronica didn’t speak again until sparks jumped violently into the air.

“As we call upon the powers of darkness seeking justice for one of our own, we offer a sacrifice of blood.”

One of the cloaked figures passed an athame down as Veronica paused. Olivia stepped forward with her arm extended over the heat. She took the knife handle with her left hand. With no hesitation she quickly slid the blade across her right wrist. A small yelp came from her lips. The murmurs increased. Bright red blood trickled in a steady stream falling into the fire making it blaze and sparkle even more. The flames licked at her arm and her wrist healed. The dripping stopped, Olivia returned to her place in line and Veronica continued.

“We ask that you condemn this man, Dominic McNeal, for dishonoring our sister’s family. Not only must he pay, but those that come from him will pay as well. For humiliating one of ours, the first son born of his bloodline will be a creature of the night! That is our prayer! Knowing that they will never experience the joy of being happy with a woman again will be our revenge!”

As Veronica grew silent the humming ended and the small conflagration exploded with a loud popping sound. Veronica lowered her arms.

“It is done, sister. Go in peace, until we meet again.”