Ariel Tachna's Blog

February 14, 2018

Home Early
Patrick loosened the tie he'd worn to work for his first day. He'd eventually have a uniform, but they weren't ready yet and his predecessor had not been the same size. He'd managed to get away early, what with it being Valentine's Day. Everyone who wasn't on duty had left even before he did, so while he felt a little guilty at leaving, it wasn't enough to keep him there.
He climbed the steps to Mikhail's little apartment, surprised to see the light on through the window. He opened the door. "Lyosha?"
Mikhail's bit back a curse as he heard Patrick's voice. He hadn't expected his lover to arrive home for at least another hour, and the apartment wasn't ready for him yet. He set down the candle he had been trying to fit into a clear glass as a holder and stepped in front of the table, blocking it with his body. "Patya. Is all well? I had thought you would be later, your first day as sheriff." He pushed a wave of hair off his forehead, thinking he should have gotten it cut before now, but he had not found the time.
"It's Valentine's Day," Patrick said. "Everyone left early. It would have made them look bad if I'd stayed." He glanced at the candle in Mikhail's hand. "I can leave again if you want me to."
"Was foolish idea," Mikhail said as he stepped forward to take Patrick into his arms. What more did he need than this? But he had wanted to offer Patrick something more, some way to show him how much the sacrifices he had made, leaving his family and his career in Chicago, meant to Mikhail. "Everyone at work talk about Valentine's Day, about plans for romantic evening with wives or girlfriends." He shrugged and bent to brush Patrick's lips. "I thought to try, but seems I am not very good at romance."
Patrick shook his head in automatic denial as he leaned into Mikhail's embrace. "I think you're very good at romance. You thought to do something for me. I don't need it to be perfect, Lyosha. I need it to be you. I love you, remember?"
"People at work told me candlelight, flowers, soft music." Mikhail turned Patrick in his arms enough to let him see the cellophane-wrapped bouquet of dark red roses on the table. "I thought to find some music once the table was ready, but...."
Patrick smiled. "You set the table. I'll find some music." He had the perfect CD somewhere in the boxes he'd brought from Chicago. He just had to find it.
By the time Patrick returned from the bedroom, Mikhail had arranged the roses in an empty glass jar in the center of the table and opened the bottle of wine he had set in the refrigerator to chill. The candlelight softened the tiny kitchen and glinted off the glasses as he filled them and offered one to Patrick. Patrick took the glass and lifted it in a silent toast. "Here's to many more years of being romantic together."

Patrick and Lyosha are featured in Under the Skin
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Published on February 14, 2018 07:29 • 17 views

February 22, 2017

Unlike most of my other blog tours, the ones for Talking in Code have an order and are meant to be read as a set, so I figured I'd do a master post to make it easier for everyone to find all the links if they miss on on Facebook or Twitter.



Recognition (available February 25)

Risk (available February 28)

Reward (available March 2)

Recovery (available March 3)

Resistance (available March 5)

Talking in Code (preorder now, available for download March 6)

Some things crumble under pressure. Others are tempered by it instead. For three former soldiers, a tragedy might be the catalyst that binds them together—stronger than ever.

Richard Horn and Timothy Davenport met in the SEALs twenty years ago and have been lovers ever since. Now running their own paramilitary organization, Strike Force Omega, they work in the shadows to protect their country and its people. When Tim falls for Eric Newton, a deadly sniper and strategist on their team, Richard accepts that Tim’s heart is big enough for two men. He respects, admires, and even desires Eric enough to accept him into their relationship—and their bed—but he’s never been fully a part of what Eric and Tim share.

Then Eric is captured by terrorists and Tim is gravely injured in an op gone wrong, bringing Richard’s world crashing down around his ears. Even if he gets his men out alive, Eric must face the aftermath of months of physical and psychological torture—and without Tim to lean on, Eric’s PTSD is tearing him apart. Richard has to figure out the third leg of their triangle fast, or Tim won’t have a life to come back to.
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Published on February 22, 2017 07:19 • 111 views

March 27, 2016

This is for everyone who wanted one more scene at the end of At Your Service .
Au parc Monceau

Paul checked the next day’s weather one more time. The weather report had promised sunny skies all week, but it paid to be careful. He had everything else in order. All he needed was for the weather to cooperate with his plans. 
Sunny skies, warm temperatures—for March anyway—the perfect day for what he had planned.“Paul, come to bed.”
Paul switched off the computer, checked his surprise where it was hidden one last time, and did as Anthony asked.

Anthony waited patiently the next morning as Paul fussed about their shared apartment. Paul had refused to say what he’d planned for the day, the Tuesday after the Salon du Livre ended. It had become their tradition to spend the day together as they had the year they’d met, so sure that it would be their last day together. Now it was a celebration of everything they’d gone through to get where they were. Maurice hadn’t even needed to be reminded to give Paul Tuesday off instead of Wednesday this week. 
That still didn’t explain Paul’s secrecy,  though. The last few years, he’d been eager to share his plans for the day with Anthony.
‘I’m ready,” Paul said, finally coming into the living room where Anthony waited.
“About time.”
They walked down to Convention and caught the Métro north. That didn’t really tell Anthony anything. There were only three stops south of theirs and none of them led to anywhere particularly interesting. They’d waited late enough in the day that rush hour traffic on the line had cleared, allowing them to sit side by side as they passed station after station.
“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” Anthony asked.
Anthony laughed. “Fine. Have it your way.”
Paul stood as they neared Concorde and led Anthony toward the Défense line. Anthony had expected to go the opposite way when he saw which stop they were taking. They often wandered the Marais in their spare time, but that was east, not west. When Paul got off at Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile, Anthony gave up trying to figure out where they were going. The Arc de Triomphe was a lovely monument, but they had never spent the day after the Salon du Livre doing touristy things, and the only time they’d gone to the Arc de Triomphe was when Matt came to visit.
Paul took Anthony’s hand as they turned away from l’Étoile and up one of the arteries leading to the most famous roundabout in the city. Anthony squeezed back. Wherever Paul was leading them, he would enjoy it.
Fifteen minutes later, the entrance to parc Monceau came into view. Anthony grinned. “You’re sneaky, bringing us in this way instead of directly.”
“I didn’t want to give it away too soon,” Paul said. Anthony wasn’t sure what Paul thought he would be giving away by telling Anthony they were coming back to this particular park, but he’d enjoy it regardless.
“Not that I’m complaining, because coming here is always a treat, but why the secrecy?”
Paul flushed but didn’t answer. Anthony rolled his eyes and followed Paul past the decorative gates and into the peaceful park. A few joggers ran by as they made their way deeper into the park. The sun had lured out some mothers with infants in carriages as well as some grandmothers bundled up against the breeze.
Paul led Anthony to the bridge that overlooked the stream where they’d had lunch the first time they came to the park three years ago. Anthony leaned against the stone rail and let himself relax. 
Whatever Paul had up his sleeve, Anthony would wait for the surprise. He closed his eyes and tilted his face toward the sun, basking in its warmth. The winter hadn’t been as cold as the year he moved to Paris, but it had still been colder than what he’d been used to in North Carolina.
Anthony opened his eyes and looked down to see Paul on one knee. He started to ask what Paul was doing, but before he could get the words out, Paul took his hand and continued, “Lunch here with you three years ago was a start to an adventure I didn’t ever think I’d have… I didn’t even think I’d want to have. Now I can’t imagine any other life. Will you marry me?”
Anthony blinked a couple of times at the sight of the ring in Paul’s hand. Sunlight glistened off the gold band. He’d half-expected a day in a park, and he hadn’t even been surprised at Paul choosing this one, but he hadn’t expected a proposal.
Paul’s face fell, and he started to pull his hand away.
“Yes!” Anthony tightened his grip and pulled Paul to his feet. “Yes, yes, yes.”
Paul slipped the ring on Anthony’s finger and leaned in to kiss him. A couple of people cheered and clapped, but Anthony tuned them out to focus on Paul. He returned the kiss and then broke away to stare down at the ring on his finger. He and Paul were getting married.

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Published on March 27, 2016 18:35 • 159 views

March 13, 2016

I was thrilled to have one of my books accepted to the Dreamspun Desires line at Dreamspinner Press, and now it's available for preorder.

Unstable Stud comes out on April 15.
Horses were his passion, until he laid eyes on his boss.

Eighteen months ago, tragedy struck Bywater Farm when a riding accident killed Clay Hunter’s lover and traumatized his prize horse, King of Hearts. Clay and King lingered in limbo, surviving but not really living, until a breath of fresh air in the form of Luke Davis, a new groom in the stud barn, revives them both.

When a fall from King’s back sends Luke to the emergency room, Clay watches the shaky foundation of their budding relationship tumble down. Can Clay really love a jockey again, or will his fear of losing another man he loves keep them apart for good?


“Ready to go back outside?” Luke asked as he picked up King’s blanket. King sniffed at it for a minute before turning so Luke could spread the blanket over his back and secure it around his chest with the thin strap. He clipped the lead rope back on King’s halter and led him through the barn to the paddock.After he let King loose, he watched for a minute as the stallion bucked and raced around the sizable enclosure, but he had work to do inside still. He couldn’t spend his whole day admiring his new charge.He started back toward the barn, only to freeze and wish he could sink into the shadows. Mr. Hunter stood  at the far corner of the barn, watching King as well. Luke debated pretending he hadn’t seen him—Mr. Hunter had given no sign of being aware of Luke’s presence—but he owed Mr. Hunter a thank-you, if nothing else.“He seems happy to be outside,” Luke said as he crossed the space between him and his boss.“He’s always preferred to be outside,” Mr. Hunter said. “It doesn’t matter how cold or hot or wet it is, he’d rather be out in it than cooped up in a stall.”“I’ll keep that in mind,” Luke said. “I can turn him out first thing in the morning and let him stay out if we don’t need him for something. He’s not likely to get out of his paddock.”Mr. Hunter huffed a laugh so full of disbelief and irony that Luke wanted to sink into the ground. “Have you seen him jump? If he wanted out of that paddock, he’d be gone. He jumps five- and six-foot hurdles like they’re nothing.”“I’ve seen him,” Luke said softly, “but only on TV. I always thought of the jumps as something horses did because they had to, not something they did just because.”“For most horses, you’re right. They’d rather go around a barrier than over it, and they’ll let one stop them if they aren’t driven across it, but every once in a while, one will come along who doesn’t need the encouragement. King was one of those horses.”“It’s a shame he’s not still competing,” Luke said.Mr. Hunter’s face contorted with grief and anger. “He hasn’t let anyone ride him since the accident, and I won’t risk hurting him or a rider. He can earn his living as a stud. His career supports it.”Luke wished the ground would open up and swallow him whole. He couldn’t seem to say anything right today. “I should get back to work. I have a lot to do still.”“The vet will be here after lunch to take a semen sample. I expect you to be there to keep King calm.”
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Published on March 13, 2016 08:00 • 29 views

March 6, 2016

This originally appeared in the Myths & Magic anthology which is now out of print, so I thought I'd share it with all of you. It's a complete, free short story for all of you to enjoy!

The One

Rylan limped toward home, cursing the injury that had forced him out of his faster form and left him naked and vulnerable to anyone who happened across him. He only hoped he’d managed to outpace the hunters whose arrow had scored his flank before he was forced to change. He knew their kind. He’d be in a cage before he could blink if they caught him, and that would kill the wild heart within him—a death sentence for sure. He could survive quite well in either form for extended periods of time, but he needed the freedom to run, as man or beast.He stumbled, his injured leg giving out on him, the fall leaving scrapes on bare skin. He cursed again, wishing he could shift. Four legs would be far steadier than two.“Are you all right?” The sound of a voice in this usually deserted corner of the forest surprised Rylan. He tried to push himself to his feet, but his leg gave out again. “No,” he admitted, studying the man who stood a few feet away in the woods. He was tall and broad through the shoulders, but lean at the waist and hips, with long, long legs, perfect for gripping the back of a horse—or a lover’s body. Pitch-black hair topped olive-colored skin, the equally dark eyes warm with the offer of aid. Usually skittish around strangers, Rylan could sense no ill intent, nor did the beast inside him stir as it was wont to do in the presence of a threat. “I’ve hurt my leg.”The man stepped closer. “May I look at it? I’ve some skill with healing.”Rylan had no idea what a human’s tricks could do for him, but he did not see any harm in finding out. Even if all he got was a bandage around his thigh and a hand to keep going until he could get home, it was more than he had now. Carefully, he rolled to his side, showing his benefactor the long gash on the back of his leg.“You didn’t do that yourself,” the man said immediately. “You were shot.”“It’s clean,” Rylan told the healer. “The arrow merely grazed me rather than penetrating.”“It was clean,” the healer corrected. “It’s caked in mud now. We need to get you to shelter so I can clean and dress it properly. I’m Thorin, by the way. If you’ll lean on me, I have a horse not far from here. She can carry you to my cabin, where I can get you patched up and on your way.”Rylan shook his head, for as delightful as it sounded not to have to walk, he knew what would happen if he tried to mount the animal. He’d been thrown before. Horses didn’t need to see his other form to know he wasn’t fully human. Their equine senses recognized him immediately and refused to let his human form mount them any more than if he’d been in his true form. “She won’t carry me. Thank you for the offer, though. I’m Rylan.”“How do you know?” Thorin asked, confused. “You haven’t even seen her yet.”Rylan shook his head. “I’ve yet to meet a horse that will let me on its back for more than the few seconds it takes to throw me. If you’ll help me to my feet, I’ll be on my way again. My own home is not far.”Thorin approached and offered Rylan a hand. Rylan managed to get to his feet, but his leg held him for only another few steps. With a muttered curse, he looked up at Thorin. “Perhaps I am more in need of assistance than I realized.” Rylan was right about the horse, but he had not counted on Thorin’s determination. The mare would not bear him, but Thorin did not give up, loading the entirety of his pack onto his horse’s back instead so he could put his shoulder beneath Rylan’s arm and his arm around Rylan’s waist, taking the bulk of Rylan’s weight on himself. They moved slowly, but they made progress, and an hour before dark, they reached a little dwelling nestled in the woods. Rylan’s sense of direction told him they were far closer to his own home than he would have expected, for he thought he knew the woods and its inhabitants well. “Have you lived here long?”Thorin shrugged. “For three seasons now. When winter gives way to spring, I will have been here a year.” He helped Rylan inside, the beast within Rylan growing restless at being confined in the unfamiliar space. Rylan soothed it with the reminder that he needed help and that Thorin had been nothing but considerate.“I’m surprised we have not met before,” Rylan murmured, breathing a sigh of relief as he was able to sit and take the weight completely off his wounded thigh.“I don’t go out much,” Thorin said as he opened a cabinet and began taking out herbs and tinctures to tend Rylan’s wound. “Why not?” Rylan asked, surprised. “If you have the skill you say you have, I would think you would be in high demand.”“That was the problem,” Thorin muttered, so softly Rylan would not have heard him without his acute senses. Deciding it best not to reveal the abilities brought about by his dual nature, Rylan let the comment go, waiting until Thorin gave a louder answer. “My skills are mine to use as I see fit.”“Then I shall say thank you for using them on me,” Rylan said as Thorin approached.“We’ll see if you still say that after I’ve dunked you and dosed you,” Thorin said with a laugh. “My medicines will do no good on a dirty wound.”
As the sun dropped below the horizon, Rylan settled on a pallet in front of Thorin’s fire, amazed at how much better his leg felt already. The healer had washed his wound carefully, making sure it was completely free of dirt and debris before covering it in a thick paste the color of the sunset. Rylan had no idea what was in the paste, but he could practically feel his leg healing as he lay there.In the dim light of the fire, Rylan could see little detail of Thorin’s home, naught but the table set into shadows, yet the place felt safe. Rylan’s beast was as relaxed as he was, a surprise in itself because of the wound that kept him from changing. Usually, when he was hurt, he had to fight to keep the animal inside him under control. The pain kept him in human form, but the inability to shift left his mind in turmoil. Thorin seemed to have a calming effect, making Rylan wonder what magic besides healing the man possessed. In his other form, perhaps he could have identified the source, his beast able to sense far more about a person than Rylan could do in human form. Given his current inability to change, he would simply have to accept the situation at face value.The exterior door opened, allowing a gust of wind to enter, chilling Rylan even beneath the thick blanket Thorin had provided him. “Are the animals settled?”Thorin nodded, turning his back to Rylan and stripping off his shirt. Rylan barely smothered a gasp at the sight of the scars crisscrossing Thorin’s back. They appeared healed, but it was obvious someone had taken great pains to whip the man badly in the not terribly distant past. Rylan’s beast screamed in protest at the thought, surprising the man with its ferocity. Then Thorin turned, and Rylan caught a glimpse of a much more foreboding mark. Thorin had an M branded into his shoulder. M for murderer.The rational part, the human part of Rylan’s brain urged him to flee, but he was not strong enough to get far. Even more importantly, the animal inside him felt no fear. Thorin might be many things. He might even be a murderer, but he was no threat to Rylan. Of that much he was sure.“Who died?”Thorin’s head whipped around, his hand covering his shoulder automatically. “You… you can see my mark?”Rylan cursed silently. He should have realized Thorin would never have undressed if he thought Rylan could see him. “I’ve always seen well at night. You didn’t answer my question.”“The local lord’s son,” Thorin said, his voice tight as he pulled a clean shirt on over his head. “I tried to help him, but he was too far gone by the time I got there. I tried explaining that, but the man was crazy with his grief. He insisted I had killed his son. They tried me and branded me. They were going to hang me, but I escaped.”“Three seasons ago.”Thorin nodded. “I won’t go back. I don’t want to hurt you, but if you try to turn me in, I will find a way to stop you.”“Don’t worry,” Rylan said, though he knew Thorin had no reason to trust him. “I have my own reasons for wanting to stay as far away from the nobility as possible.”“Why aren’t you afraid of me? Everyone else who has ever seen it has run away in fear.”“Because I know you don’t mean me any harm,” Rylan replied honestly.“How?”“You aren’t the only one with secrets, Thorin,” Rylan said, evading the question. “So they accused you of murder and you ran here to hide.”“They say a terrible beast lives in these woods,” Thorin explained. “The people from the village won’t come here.”“And if the beast finds you?”“I’ll take my chances,” Thorin said.Rylan hid a smile. He already knew what the beast’s reaction to Thorin would be. “If you see the beast, just remember that it can read your intentions. It will never hurt someone with a pure heart.”“How do you know?” Thorin asked, coming to sit at Rylan’s side, his eyes alight with excitement.“You aren’t the only one who lives in these woods,” Rylan reminded him, though it was no real answer. He could hardly tell Thorin that he was the beast. For one thing, Thorin would never believe him, and he couldn’t change in his current state to convince the man.“You’ve seen it? What does it look like?”“It looks like a horse, with a few minor exceptions,” Rylan answered honestly, having seen his reflection in the pond as he drank. “It has a horn that sprouts from its forehead and extends nearly the length of your arm. Its coat is black as night during the day and white as the moon at night. It is a peaceful creature, as long as it isn’t threatened, but if it fears you, it can use its horn with all the dexterity of a sword. I have seen more than one man spitted through by its sharp point.”“It sounds fearsome,” Thorin said. “I will do my best to avoid coming to its attention.”Rylan could have told Thorin he had nothing to fear, but then he would have to give an explanation he was not ready to offer. The few people in the past he had told had reacted badly. In one instance, he had barely escaped with his life. No, it was far better to keep his secret for the time he was here and leave Thorin in his ignorance.

Three days later, the wound on Rylan’s thigh had closed completely. Although it was still stiff and sore, Rylan could move his leg and even put his weight on it for short periods of time. With the freedom from debilitating pain came the need to shift, something he could not do in Thorin’s company or in his home. Even if the man could accept it, Rylan’s animal would not. In his other form, he could not bear any kind of confinement.When Thorin went out to check on his animals, Rylan disrobed so he would not damage the clothes Thorin had lent him and slipped out into the woods. As soon as he could no longer hear the cackling of the hens the healer kept in a pen behind his house, Rylan changed, his body stretching and reforming to become the black unicorn that struck fear into the hearts of the villagers in the surrounding towns. He shook his head, ruffling his mane, the movement working its way down his body until he had stretched every muscle.Taking a few tentative steps, he tested his injured leg, finding the muscle as sore in animal form as in human form, but not so much that he could not walk. His animal mind resented not being able to run, but even in equine form, he retained enough of his humanity to control the urge to ignore the pain and gallop through the woods toward home. He knew he should go back to Thorin’s and take his leave properly, but the desire to find the solace of his own abode was nearly overwhelming. He turned his head back toward Thorin’s cabin, and then regretfully began the long walk home.An hour later, he was regretting his decision. His leg was throbbing, making it harder and harder to walk, and he still had some distance to travel. Furthermore, he could hear someone approaching. When he was well, he feared no one, but in his current state, he did not have the speed to defend himself should the need arise. There was nothing for it, though. He would have to face his tracker and hope for the best. Lowering his horn threateningly, he turned back and waited.Thorin walked into the clearing where he stood.The sight of his benefactor took Rylan’s breath away. In his human form, he had come to know the man over the past few days, appreciating Thorin’s gentle hands, his sharp wit, and his handsome face, but now, as a unicorn, he could sense so much more. He could sense the basic goodness at the heart of the man and the untouched innocence, which lured the unicorn like nothing else. He was not repelled by the sexual experience of those around him, but the unicorn inside him still felt the lure of the virgin. Especially when he already knew and cared about the virgin.Slowly Rylan lifted his head so his horn pointed toward the sky rather than toward Thorin’s chest, and waited to see what the man would do. Even with the distance between them, Rylan could hear Thorin’s heart pounding in his chest, another advantage of his shifted form, but the man did not back away.“Rylan was right about you,” Thorin said. “He told me you were peaceful as long as I didn’t have any ill intent.” He took a step forward.Rylan’s muscles quivered, but he stayed where he was. His human mind knew he should leave before Thorin saw the wound on his thigh, so comparable to the one the man had been treating, but the unicorn’s desire was stronger, the need to feel Thorin’s hands on his neck, his shoulder, his flank too great to overrule. Angling his body so Thorin would approach his good side, he let the man draw near, blowing hard to ruffle his black hair.Thorin laughed and stroked his long nose gently. “I can’t believe you’re letting me touch you.”Rylan couldn’t believe he had gone this long without Thorin touching him. His entire body vibrated with the sense of rightness at each stroke of tender hands over his hide, his heart crying out in joy at the nearness of an innocent, someone who could be his One. He nickered softly, trying to convey without words how much he enjoyed the caresses, how much he wanted them to continue.Thorin laughed again, a sound Rylan had heard too rarely in the days they had spent together. The fear of discovery kept Thorin somber more often than not, but it seemed Rylan’s unicorn form brought out the lighter side of his personality.“What is this?” Thorin said suddenly. “You’re hurt!”Rylan did not stop to think. He fled.He could not let Thorin discover the truth. That reality had been driven into him since he was a child and had first learned to change. He could not let anyone realize his dual nature, at the risk of being captured or even killed, and experience had only reinforced that lesson. He ran as far as his injured leg would carry him, collapsing to the ground in human form when the pain became too much.He cursed under his breath at finding himself back in the same position as when he and Thorin had first met. His leg was in better shape now than it had been then, even after his reckless run, but the weather was far worse. The wind whistled threateningly in the trees above his head, bringing with it the heavy smell of impending rain. Lightning crackled between the low-hanging clouds, the acrid smell of ozone making him realize how close the storm really was. He pushed to his feet, limping as he tried to continue toward his home.“Rylan!”Shoulders slumping, Rylan turned to face Thorin. “We have to stop meeting like this,” he joked, but Thorin’s face remained stern.“What are you doing out here with a storm brewing and no clothes on?” Thorin scolded.“It’s a long story,” Rylan said with a sigh as the first fat raindrops hit the canopy of leaves. “My home is not far. If you will help me there, I’ll try to explain.”Thorin nodded and slid his shoulder beneath Rylan’s arm, supporting his weight as he had done the day they met. “Which way?”Rylan guided them through the woods to his home, the stone dwelling built into the cliff face next to a small waterfall that fed a normally placid pond. The wind and driving rain stirred the surface, leaving it choppy with white-capped waves. They stumbled to the door, Rylan working the locking mechanism to allow them entrance. Heart pounding, he stepped over the threshold, Thorin at his side, the first man to ever enter Rylan’s domain.“You should dry off,” Rylan said, avoiding Thorin’s eyes. “There is a towel by the sink. I will find something dry for you to wear, even if it’s only a blanket.”“Take the time to dry off and dress as well,” Thorin urged. “I will start a fire for us.”Rylan nodded and retreated into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him and leaning back against it for a moment. He had invited a man into his home. He wasn’t a monk. Thorin would not be his first lover—he had no illusions they would end up anywhere but in Rylan’s bed—but Thorin would be the first man Rylan had welcomed into his bed. The first man his unicorn had ever acknowledged. The One, the virgin he would bind to forever.Taking a deep breath, Rylan found a towel and dried off, dressing in his own clothes again for the first time in three days. He rummaged through the armoire, looking for something that would fit Thorin, but the man was too big. Rylan settled for pulling the blanket from his bed. Stepping back into the main room, he paused for a moment to appreciate the vision of Thorin in only a towel, kneeling in front of the fireplace, his body limned in gold from the light of the burgeoning flames.“You must be cold,” Rylan said, struggling to keep his voice even as he draped the blanket around Thorin’s shoulders. “What were you doing out in the woods?”“I could ask you the same question,” Thorin replied, rising from his crouch to face Rylan.“I was coming home,” Rylan replied honestly. “I’d imposed on your generosity long enough.”“Then why run away like a thief in the night?” Thorin asked. “You could have asked me to come with you, if only to make sure you got here safely. You didn’t need to sneak out of the house—naked, no less—while I was outside.”“I told you that first night you were not the only one with secrets,” Rylan said defensively. “I didn’t mean to discover yours, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to share mine.”Thorin wrapped the blanket more securely around his shoulders. “So you ran away instead.”Rylan shrugged. “That’s why I was in the woods. What’s your excuse?”“I was looking for you,” Thorin replied slowly, his eyes searching Rylan’s face as if he could find answers to some silent question there. “I found far more than I expected.”Heart pounding so loud he was sure Thorin could hear it, Rylan struggled to keep his voice steady and his face blank. “Really?”“I met the beast you told me about,” Thorin said. “He isn’t a monster at all. He’s beautiful.”Rylan shrugged silently.Thorin frowned, but went on. “But I noticed something odd. He had a scar on his left hind leg that matches the wound on your thigh perfectly.”“That is odd,” Rylan agreed, his voice sounding strangled to his own ears.“Why didn’t you tell me you were a shifter?”“For the same reason you didn’t tell me about the brand on your arm,” Rylan snapped. “It’s a good way to get myself killed.”Thorin’s hands landed hot and heavy on Rylan’s shoulders. “You know better than that. If I had any intention of harming you, I would have done it already.”“But that was before you knew what I am,” Rylan reminded him. “Unicorns have been killed for their horns. Surely you know that.”“I do,” Thorin agreed, “but I also know they’re less likely to be killed than a man with the mark of a murderer on his arm. Unicorn or not, I mean you no harm. For the first time in three seasons, I have had the company of another person for more than a swift business transaction. You saw the brand on my arm, but you never once condemned me. You asked me who died, not who I had killed. I think I fell in love with you from those words alone.”Rylan started to shake his head, but Thorin’s lips brushed his, stilling the movement and winning a gasp of surprise from Rylan’s lips. The kiss was awkward in its innocence, Thorin clearly having no idea what he was doing, but Rylan could not have cared less. His innocent, his virgin, his One, was kissing him of his own volition, and nothing had ever felt so right.“I need you to hear me,” Rylan said, breaking the kiss with difficulty. “Right now, my beast desires you, and if you choose to leave, it will fight to go after you, but I will win because I am not my beast. If you stay, if you let me have you, you will be mine, my One, and no power in the world will be enough to keep me from coming after you if you try to leave. If you are not completely sure you can love me in both my forms, you need to leave now, because I won’t be able to offer a second time. The lure of the virgin is nearly overwhelming for a unicorn, and my own attraction to you only adds to that.” He took a breath to slow the rush of words, steeling himself for Thorin’s rejection. “You need to decide now.”“There is nothing to decide,” Thorin replied, renewing the kiss. “You are all I stopped letting myself dream of the moment they put this brand on my arm.”Rylan wanted to ask if he was certain, but he could only fight the unicorn within him for so long in the face of such provocative temptation.“You are mine now,” he swore, pushing the blanket aside and turning Thorin toward the bedroom.Thorin made no protest as they moved into the other room, though Rylan could sense his nervousness. He turned Thorin back around, kissing him tenderly, the emotion in the gesture, the interest his beast showed for the first time in his intimate life, making it easy to go slow and give Thorin a moment to adjust to their intimacy. Rylan had fucked many men in his life, but never before had he made love. Never before had he taken a man to his bed with the full acceptance of his unicorn nature. Never before had he claimed a man.His hands wandered carefully, gentling Thorin as earlier Thorin had gentled the unicorn. Their lips stayed pressed together, moving against each other, parting for a quick breath, then joining again. Rylan could swear he felt their souls touching in that contact. He waited for Thorin to touch him in return, but his virgin was too shy for that, apparently. Rylan looked forward to teaching him confidence, but that could wait for later, when Thorin trusted the depth and permanence of Rylan’s love. For now, Rylan would take charge and claim his virgin, his mate. His One.He had always known his other half would fixate on someone someday, and that when that happened, he would be bound to that person for life, but knowing and experiencing were two completely different things. The reverence that imbued his touch as he discovered every plane and hollow of Thorin’s body had never before been present in his bed sport. His own pleasure had no importance in the face of Thorin’s need. And when their bodies finally joined, the tender indignities of flesh piercing flesh faded to nothing compared to the knowledge of soul mating with soul.Time stretched and slowed as their breathing returned, finally, to normal and their pulses steadied again. Rylan rolled to one side, keeping Thorin tightly in his embrace so his virgin—even if Thorin was considerably less virginal than an hour ago—would not feel rejected.“So what happens now?” Thorin asked after a few minutes. “You called me yours, but I don’t know what that means. In practical terms.”Rylan pushed up on one elbow. “Unicorns are fascinated by innocents, virgins. I’m not sure you could have approached me in animal form earlier tonight if you hadn’t been untouched. I wouldn’t have hurt you, because I knew you meant me no harm, but I’m not sure I could have stayed still while you petted me like you did. In my human form, it isn’t simply an abstract fascination. It’s a mating instinct. I’ve always known that, someday, my unicorn would find a virgin who would be my virgin, my One.”“Except I’m not a virgin anymore,” Thorin pointed out.“No.” Rylan had to agree, since he had taken part in the deflowering. “But I caused that, and so instead of my unicorn seeing you as tainted, it sees you as mine. Nothing we ever do together in love will tarnish your innocence in the eyes of my beast. How is it that you have reached an age and a maturity to be my One without ever having taken a lover?”“I never met a man I respected enough to take to my bed,” Thorin replied. “Apparently I needed a unicorn instead.”The answer was, perhaps, simplistic, but Rylan accepted it for now. He would have time to learn more of his mate’s past as they built their future. The details could wait.

Winter had given way to spring finally, and both Rylan and Thorin were ready for the freedom the warmer weather allowed. The snow had been uncommonly heavy, making it hard for Rylan to run in unicorn form. He had changed frequently, his unicorn as possessive of Thorin as Rylan was, but while he had reveled in letting Thorin brush him and stroke him, they had not been able to go for many rides. Now that the snow had finally melted everywhere but under the densest stands of trees, Rylan wanted to take his mate on his back and run.Over the winter, they had worked toward Thorin being able to ride Rylan in unicorn form. Even with Thorin, his One whom he trusted implicitly, Rylan’s unicorn had been nervous at first about accepting a rider. It had taken all of Rylan’s will and all of Thorin’s persuasiveness to convince the animal to let Thorin first lean and later sit on its back. Finally, though, they had reached the point where Thorin could take a short ride around the protected yard. The sensation of having Thorin’s long, long legs stretching across his back and down his sides, gripping him tightly for even that distance, had been enough to result in a frenzied session of lovemaking. Rylan could only imagine—and anticipate—the results of a real run.“Are you ready?” he called impatiently to Thorin, who was still in the house.“Hold your horses,” Thorin joked, coming out of the house.“Who are you calling a horse?” Rylan retorted, a grin forming at the easy teasing.“Not you,” Thorin said immediately. “I want my ride today, and I know what will happen if I insult you.”“What will happen?” Rylan asked, drawing Thorin into his arms. He stroked the strong arms bared by the sleeveless shirt Thorin wore, thrilled that the man no longer felt the need to hide the brand from Rylan’s eyes.“You’ll pout, and the unicorn won’t let me mount,” Thorin said. “And that would ruin the rest of my plans.”“And what are the rest of your plans?” Rylan asked, though he thought he knew.Thorin grinned mischievously. “Finding a secluded spot and convincing you to switch back to human form so you can ravish me thoroughly.”That coincided exactly with Rylan’s plans. “What makes you think I have any intention of ravishing you?”Thorin held up the small vial he had found tucked among his clothes that morning. “The fact that you left this for me, since you can’t carry anything when you’re in unicorn form. Come on, change already, so we can go.”Rylan stripped, shivering a little as the breeze picked up, his human flesh far more sensitive to temperature than his equine body. Usually, Thorin’s hands would have been all over him as he bared himself for the change, but today it seemed the man was as eager as Rylan was. With a stretch and a shake, he shifted, turning to nudge Thorin with his horn. Thorin approached the animal cautiously, because even after their practice rides, the unicorn remained skittish at first, but Rylan’s eagerness overcame the beast’s fears and Thorin mounted with ease. Rylan took a deep breath, calming his unicorn’s nerves and reining in his own anticipation. Thorin’s pat on his neck gave him the sign he needed that his One was settled and ready to go.The unicorn began at an easy walk, growing accustomed to the extra weight on his back, to the way it moved and shifted with and against him. Thorin made no move to guide Rylan, content to let the unicorn explore on his own, much to Rylan’s relief. He was not sure the animal inside him would have taken such direction.When he was comfortable, he picked up the pace a little, alert for any sign of discomfort or distress on Thorin’s part. Despite his intention of being careful, their lovemaking the night before had degenerated into a pounding, Thorin demanding more and more until Rylan’s reserves broke. The body on his back moved with him easily, though, nothing in the hands resting lightly on Rylan’s mane or the legs wrapped firmly around his girth suggesting anything more than pure enjoyment of the day and the sunshine and the ride.The need to run became overwhelming finally, and Rylan gave in to it, his hooves pounding the uneven ground as he raced along the narrow track between the trees. Thorin moved with him as if they were one body, making Rylan long for them to be joined in another way. Turning toward the hot springs that bubbled up from the base of a nearby mountain, he raced in that direction, already anticipating making love to his One in the bubbly water.Thorin dismounted when Rylan stopped near the springs. The unicorn gave a restless shake of its head and transformed back into the man. The very aroused man.“It looks like you enjoyed our ride nearly as much as I did,” Thorin said with a grin, pulling Rylan toward him. “I don’t know,” Rylan teased, moving into Thorin’s arms. “You still have clothes on.”Laughing, Thorin pulled the shirt over his head and started undoing the laces on his trousers. Rylan moved to help when a noise caught his attention. “Someone’s coming,” he said tersely. “It sounds like a group.”Thorin nodded, his face sober as he refastened his pants and reached for his shirt. “Change. We can always come back later.”Rylan stretched, his body transforming as Thorin pulled his shirt over his head. Before Thorin could mount, though, five men broke free of the woods. Everyone froze for a moment before one of the men shouted Thorin’s name. The others took up the cry, rushing toward the man, heedless of Rylan at his side.The fell intent in their hearts spurred Rylan forward, his body blocking Thorin’s from the oncoming crowd. They did not appear to have bows with them, fortunately, but Rylan would have fought them even then. No one threatened his One. No one. He lowered his horn, charging the group. He hoped his aggression would frighten them into retreat, but he had not counted on their greed. The emotion he could feel roiling from them made no sense until one of the men shouted about the price on Thorin’s head. That only added to Rylan’s anger. These men would steal his heart from him for money? They could think again. Rylan reared high, his hooves thrashing just above the head of the nearest man. When the man’s response was to draw his sword, Rylan lowered his head and skewered the man without regret. He tossed his head, the man’s body flying through the air to land lifelessly at the feet of a nearby tree. The other four hesitated after that, not sure they wanted to face Rylan’s horn, but the lure of the bounty was great.Before Rylan could lunge again, he felt tender hands on his side and a leg over his back. “Go,” Thorin said. “Don’t sink to their level when their only crime is greed. They can’t follow us. Run.”Rylan was tempted to ignore the admonition, but his One ruled his actions as surely as his heart. Springing forward, he reached the track the men had taken to arrive, hoping to throw them off his trail by not returning directly home. His hooves thundered hard on the forest floor as he raced away from those who would have hurt Thorin. He could feel Thorin clinging to him, bent over his neck, hands tangled in his mane. All the pleasure of the earlier ride had disappeared in the face of the villagers’ violence, and not even Thorin’s legs squeezing tightly around Rylan’s belly could restore it. Not until he knew Thorin was safe.Arriving at a stream, he splashed into the bed, traveling downstream for some miles so the water would hide his tracks before leaving the watercourse and turning toward home. His subterfuge would slow their pursuers, but the villagers knew Thorin was in the woods now, in the company of the beast. They would be back, and in greater numbers. When they entered the yard, Thorin slid from Rylan’s back.“You defended me,” Thorin said as Rylan shimmered back into human form.“Gather everything of value,” Rylan said. “We must leave as soon as we can load the pack horse. It will take them time to find us, but they will not give up.”Thorin caught Rylan’s arm as he started toward the house. “You defended me.”The repetition caught Rylan’s attention. “I’ll always defend you. You are my One.”

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Published on March 06, 2016 09:39 • 28 views

February 28, 2016

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Intimate Territory (A Hot Cargo anniversary story by Nicki Bennett and Ariel Tachna) 

Captured and accused of piracy, privateer Blaise Risner, captain of the Golden Stallion, finds himself in a clinch - literally - with Confederation Admiral Peter Keller, who promises to see justice done by way of hard labor. But when the chemistry between them rivals the heat of the twin Talixin suns, the dominant admiral decides he wants to handle the rehabilitation of the provocative pirate himself. After their first close encounter, Blaise figures that serving Keller in such a personal capacity won't be such a terrible sentence.

Keller dispenses his own forms of painful justice and sensual discipline, which usually involve a not-so-resistant Blaise on his knees bound and determined to give as good as he gets. The privateer can't deny that suffering the handsome admiral's punishments makes him burn like the fires of the Horsehead Nebula. Serving in the roles of prisoner and captor defines their 'relationship', but no power can stop a shooting star ... the star of startling passion that flares every time they touch.

Just when Blaise thinks he can navigate the treacherous asteroid field of emotion to find common ground with Keller, an interstellar war tears them apart. Through it all, Blaise's desire for his captor stands as tall and strong as the monoliths of Maraven, and he'll go to the very edge of the galaxy and back if that's what it takes to crack the ice around the admiral's heart. Blaise Risner laughed as he led his lover and partner, Peter Keller, back into the hotel Peter had convinced him to splurge on during their stay on Regulus. They’d spent the day browsing the infamous pleasure bazaar, and Blaise couldn’t wait to get back to their rooms so they could put their new acquisitions to good use.
He pushed open the door, stepped inside, and froze. Instead of the simple but elegant decorations that had adorned the room that morning, he stood in a boudoir that seemed to be modeled on the fabled harem of the Orion emperors. The comfortable but utilitarian bed had been replaced by, or at least hidden beneath, a mound of plushly decadent body pillows. A gauzy veil draped from the ceiling around the bedding, seeming to serve little purpose in the climate-controlled suite but to provide the opportunity for glimpsing a lover’s naked body through its shimmering folds. Scented tapers provided the room’s only light as well as adding a heady, sensual fragrance. To one side of the bed stood a tray overflowing with delicacies to tempt the palate and a flask of deep ruby liquor beside two ornately etched goblets.
Blaise automatically took a step backward, intending to check the room number. He couldn’t imagine the door opening if they weren’t in the right suite, but he knew the room hadn’t looked like this when they left that morning. The movement took him directly into Peter’s embrace. Even in his puzzlement, the feeling of those strong arms going around him heated his blood, especially since it was already on a low simmer from all the discussions over the course of the day about the different toys and all the things Peter would do to him when they had time and privacy. “Peter?”
Nudging Blaise forward gave Peter the chance to rub his arousal against his lover’s firm backside, and Blaise’s puzzlement didn’t stop him from pressing against the hard shaft. Peter indulged himself in the contact for a moment before leaning forward to nip at the side of Blaise’s neck. “Unless you want to continue this here in the hallway, I suggest moving inside.”
Blaise stepped far enough into the room for the door to close behind them. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to a bit of exhibitionism, but he’d prefer to do it in a more controlled manner. “Not that I’m complaining, but what’s with the décor?”
“You don’t like it?’ Peter cocked an eyebrow before tossing their parcel of purchases onto the bed, where it was swallowed up in the sea of pillows. “Not that I object to sharing the captain’s bunk with you on the Stallion, but I thought you might appreciate a bit more comfort tonight.”
“I’ll never say no to comfort,” Blaise replied automatically as he turned to face Peter, “and it looks amazing in here, but why tonight? Or is this just for the hell of it?”
The appreciative gleam in his partner’s eyes convinced Peter that he’d definitely plan something like this just for the hell of it at some point in the future, but he managed what he hoped was a convincing scowl. “You don’t remember what tonight is? After I juggled our supply schedule to be sure we’d make it to Regulus in time? And made all these arrangements over the comm while you were asleep in order to surprise you?” He shook his head. “I’m surprised at you, Risner.”
Blaise racked his brain, trying to figure out what they could possibly be celebrating. “It’s not the anniversary of my arrest,” he said. “That passed while I was still trying to find you when you ran off to Petarus without me. It’s not your birthday or mine. It hasn’t been a year since we finally worked things out, so it can’t be that. I’m sorry, Peter. You obviously went to great lengths to put this together, and I really appreciate it, but I don’t know what we’re celebrating.” He was babbling and he knew it, but he hated disappointing Peter. He had no trouble angering him, seducing him, teasing him, playing any and every kind of game with him, sating him and being sated by him, but he folded like a house of cards at the first sign that he had not lived up to Peter’s expectations.
Dropping his feigned irritation, Peter drew Blaise closer, sliding his arms down until he could cup his pirate’s—or rather, privateer’s—delectable ass. “I didn’t appreciate what I had when you first showed up on the North Star,” he admitted. “I saw your obvious attractions, but nothing beyond that. It took a while for me get my head out of my ass long enough to recognize how much more there was to you, and how much you were starting to mean to me.” Before Blaise could speak, he covered the opened lips with his own, his tongue sweeping in to claim Blaise’s in a heated duel that left them both gulping for breath when he finally pulled away. “Not that I had any intention of letting you see that at the time.”
Blaise’s head was spinning from the kiss and from Peter’s hands on his ass. Peter had him well trained. At the first sign of his lover’s attentions, he went fully hard and ready for whatever Peter had in store for him next. He’d actually been surprised to get out of the room that morning without one toy or another inserted in or affixed to some part of his body. Maybe this was why. He cast his mind back over the previous year, trying to remember the nights leading up to him making the connection between the mysterious attacks on Confederation outposts and the Gavenelians who had held him captive and tortured him for six months. “The night you first asked me to stay,” he said after a moment. “The first time I felt like your lover and not just your fucktoy.” He rubbed against Peter’s hip, letting his lover feel his arousal and by extension his willingness for anything Peter had in mind. “Instead of bending me over the nearest flat surface, you took me to bed and made love to me. That’s what we’re celebrating, isn’t it?”
Peter’s grip tightened on Blaise’s ass, his cock already hard enough to tempt him to rip the clothes from that delectable body, throw him onto the pillows, and fuck him through them, just the way Blaise described it. But if he’d learned anything since his lover found him licking his wounds on Petarus, it was that there were times when talking really did need to take precedence over sex. He’d just have to talk quickly.
“On your birthday, when I offered you anything you wanted and you asked for just me, I started to hope we’d moved beyond my forcing you, though I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t simply a ploy to avoid having to endure any of the toys. But that night—this night—watching you sleep in my bed, I couldn’t deny it anymore. I might not have been sure what it meant to you, but I knew what it meant to me.”
“I was scared that night,” Blaise admitted. “I’d slipped up and called you by name because you’d stopped being Admiral Keller and had become Peter in my head, even if I couldn’t let you see it, but that night, you weren’t the sadistic bastard of an admiral, at least not once you started fucking me, and I let my guard slip. I don’t think I ever got it all the way back up. So this is our anniversary celebration?” He loosened his hold on Peter enough to look back over the exotic boudoir Peter had arranged to set up. “Shouldn’t you be taking me to bed then?”
“Still thinking you give the orders,” Peter grumbled, though no one hearing him would believe he was truly complaining. He moved forward, walking Blaise backward with a thigh between his legs, grinding their groins together with each step. He wanted to watch the silky netting around the bed whisper over Blaise’s honeyed skin, but his lover had entirely too many clothes on for that to happen. Just before they reached the gauzy veil, he stopped and took a step back, one hand settling on his hip and the other slipping into his pocket. “Strip,” he ordered in the tone his crew on the North Star had learned to dread.
For Blaise, though, that tone evoked none of the same foreboding. For him, it was a harbinger of things to come. Sometimes painful, but always powerfully arousing and ultimately mind-blowing things. Wearing the cocky grin that had earned him more than one punishment aboard the North Star, Blaise ran his hands up over his chest, making a show of undoing the buttons on his shirt one at a time, even though he could have pulled it over his head after the first two.
Peter widened his stance at the provocative striptease, though the shipsuit he wore was nowhere near as constraining as his Confederation uniform. His first glimpse of Blaise’s chest had the same effect, regardless. When Blaise let the fabric slide down his arms, baring the two rings adorning his dusky nipples—the one he’d pierced after he escaped from the Gavenelians, the other placed there by Peter himself—Peter started releasing his own fasteners, but he didn’t move any nearer. “The rest of it too,” he prodded when Blaise paused, eyeing him with what Peter no longer had any doubt was equal hunger.
Blaise dropped the shirt to the ground and popped the button on his trousers. When he was sure he had Peter’s attention, he shimmied out of them as well until he stood before his lover completely nude and utterly unabashed, his erection jutting out in front of him eagerly. “Your turn,” he drawled. “Can’t fuck me senseless if you’re still dressed.”
“Maybe I want to enjoy the view first,” Peter answered, though he shucked his own clothes quickly enough. After letting his gaze run the length of Blaise’s lean body—he might see it every day now, but it still never failed to impress—he took a step forward and ran a hand up the toned chest, pausing to tweak the nipple the bore his ring. Then he flattened his palm and gave Blaise a push backward. The fluttering curtain brushed over Blaise’s skin, the sight every bit as arousing as Peter had imagined it to be, before Blaise landed on the mounded pillows with a bit of a bounce.
“That was strange.” Blaise reached up to finger the sheer fabric with a puzzled look on his face. “It kind of tingled.”
Peter frowned at the small remote in his other hand. “The shopkeeper I bought it from didn’t mention that side effect. Is it painful?”
Blaise ran the palm of his hand over the cloth this time. “No, not painful. Tingly, like the way the lightning of Petarus leaves the air feeling charged when the storms come at night.” They had slipped out into the storms, one memorable night, making love beneath the pounding rain, bodies singing from the contact and from the electricity in the air. He looked up at Peter for a moment before reaching out for his lover with the cloth still in his hand. He pressed his palm to the unscarred side of Peter’s chest, letting the effect of the fabric add to his touch.
Shaking his head, Peter bounced the remote in his palm. Not that Blaise’s touch wasn’t potent enough on its own, but…. “It won’t work on me. It’s already taken a sensor scan of your bioreadings—that must have been the tingle you felt—and adapted itself to your metabolism.” He thumbed a control on the remote and cocked an eyebrow at Blaise, appraising the effect. The device was supposed to be painless, and while neither he nor Blaise was averse to an occasional nip of pain with their pleasure, it wasn’t a part of Peter’s plans for the night. He nudged the setting a fraction higher, his gaze never leaving Blaise’s face. “Enough to generate a mild stasis field.”
“New and inventive ways to tie me up?” Blaise teased. He didn’t try to fight the confinement. He never had other than for show, but tonight he didn’t even bother with that. “You could always just order me into whatever position you want me in, you know.”
“And since when have you ever followed orders?” Peter retorted, pausing a moment to appreciate the contrast of Blaise’s golden skin against the white pillows before moving close enough to trace the muscle of Blaise’s thigh with his fingertips. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he felt an echo of the tingle Blaise had mentioned quiver up his arm, and he dropped to one knee, caressing the other leg to judge if it caused the same effect.
Blaise was terrible at following orders, but only because he knew Peter loved it when he acted up. Even at his worst, he’d only done it when it hadn’t mattered. When it had been a matter of life or death, he’d listened and done what was expected of him. “Where’s the fun in blindly obeying every word that comes out of your mouth?” Blaise teased. He tried to move his leg, if only to spread his thighs farther apart in invitation, but the stasis field held, sending showers of electricity up his limbs whenever he tried to move or whenever Peter touched him, and all he could do was lie in place and wait upon Peter’s whim. The thought left him far more hot and bothered than it should have.
“That’s why I have to find toys like this,” Peter explained while running both hands up the insides of Blaise’s thighs. If the frisson of excitement that coursed through his nerves at the touch was anything like what Blaise was feeling, this would prove a sweet torment for both of them. The flutter of Blaise’s eyelids suggested the sensation was at least as strong for him too. “You’ll just have to lie there and take whatever I give you.” Leaning forward, he nipped at the woven ring that marked Blaise as his, sending sparks dancing along his synapses like the ionized dust in the Varian asteroid cloud. He closed his lips over the pierced nipple, a purr of pleasure rumbling from his throat at the jolt of awareness that flowed through them both.
“You realize,” Blaise gasped as he tried to arch into the touch and couldn’t, “that the more I try to move, the more I get that static electricity feeling. I’m never going to last.”
“You’ll last until I’m ready for you to come and not before,” Peter growled, and then set to work proving just how well he’d learned his lover’s sensitive spots—and his limits—during the months they’d been reunited. Each time Blaise’s groans and curses hinted he was close to losing control, Peter backed off, turning his attentions to a less susceptible spot and then pushing Blaise even higher, keeping him dancing on the knife-edge of release without letting him tip over. That the nerve-net’s augmentation was proving just as hazardous to his own self-control was the price he’d willingly pay to lavish his lover with this much pleasure.
Blaise would have given any number of things to be able to ignore Peter’s demands and simply jerk his cock until he came. He had come so close to release so many times already, but each time Peter had pulled him back and then pushed him higher. He tried to beg, but the stasis field’s effects had spread until he had trouble even making his mouth form words, not that Peter left it empty for long. Between his tongue and his cock, Blaise hadn’t been able to do more than gasp for breath in what felt like hours. His eyes rolled back in his head as Peter denied his orgasm yet again.
As much as Peter would have liked to prolong his attentions to every micron of Blaise’s skin, his own body was making its demands clear in the ache in his balls and the insistent throbbing of his cock. While he was well dampened between Blaise’s saliva and his own precome, he needed to slick Blaise as well, even if the preparation was cursory at best. He’d heard of a device that could be inserted to keep a lover lubricated, and made a mental note to look for one on their next supply run while he scrabbled among the pillows for the container of lube that was among the purchases they’d made that day.
“Now,” Blaise said as soon as Peter left his mouth unoccupied for more than a moment. “Fuck me now.” He couldn’t turn his head to see what Peter was doing, but he heard the squelch of lube and felt the cold touch of Peter’s hand between his thighs. “Forget that,” he groaned. “In me. Now, damn it.”
“I may listen to your orders aboard the Stallion, but I’m in charge here, as you seem to keep forgetting,” Peter countered, though since he punctuated his response by slamming into Blaise in a single hard thrust, he figured his lover didn’t have reason for complaint. Just to be sure, though, he captured Blaise’s mouth with his own, his tongue probing as deeply as his cock as he worked them both hard and fast.
Peter’s mouth muffled the scream that escaped Blaise at the sudden penetration, but it was exactly what he needed. He wanted to wrap his arms and legs around Peter as encouragement, but the fucking stasis field kept him from moving. He fought it, every suppressed twitch of his muscles sending another surge of electricity through him. Peter pounded into him perfectly, pegging his gland with every pass, and this time, he didn’t pull back when Blaise’s orgasm started to crest. With a second muffled scream, Blaise lost control, his climax spilling between them. Every spasm of his muscles triggered the stasis field, prolonging his pleasure until he was nearly insensate with it, and still it continued, Peter driving into him over and over and over and… fuck, it felt so good it hurt!
If his tongue wasn’t massaging Blaise’s tonsils, Peter would have gritted his teeth as he fought to hold back his climax and prolong Blaise’s. The convulsions of the tight sheath spasming around his shaft and the tingle the stasis field transmitted wherever his skin met Blaise’s proved his undoing, the sudden splash of Blaise’s release sending a flare of such ecstasy through the nerve-net that he nearly blacked out as his release seared through him like a plasma bolt. He barely had the presence of mind to thumb off the remote before he slumped against Blaise’s hot, sweaty body in complete satiation.
Blaise felt the stasis field disengage, but he still couldn’t move. Peter had left him completely boneless.
“So,” Peter drawled after regaining his breath, “should I have one of these installed in our cabin on the Stallion?”
“I don’t have to take your orders on the Stallion,” Blaise reminded him. A rather wicked thought occurred to him. “Unless you’d rather I use it on you….”
“Maybe next anniversary,” Peter murmured as he pulled his pirate into his arms.
Blaise grinned as he started to drift off to sleep. He had a year. He’d think of something to top this.

Want to find out how Blaise and Peter got here? Check out Hot Cargo as well as the other two stories in that universe, Healing in His Wings and Something About Harry .
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Published on February 28, 2016 09:00 • 32 views

February 21, 2016

I'm starting a new feature on my blog called Sunday Snippets. Each Sunday I'll post something... a teaser for an upcoming book, a deleted scene from something already out, a new short story featuring a favorite couple after the end of their book, or maybe a scene from a story idea I'm considering but haven't quite decided on yet. This week, it's a teaser for my upcoming release At Your Service set in and around the Salon du Livre in Paris.

Leave a comment either about this teaser or about a short story you'd like to read later and you'll be entered in a drawing for your choice of my backlist eBooks.

Blurb: When Anthony Mercer walked into Au cœur du terroir, he was looking for good food and a pleasant evening spent with a friend. He never expected to meet—and sleep with—Paul Delescluse, a waiter at the restaurant. After spending a magical week together in Paris, Anthony must return to his life in North Carolina, while Paul remains in France.
Despite the distance and the lack of promises between them—Paul wants sex, not a relationship—Paul and Anthony forge a solid friendship. Then Anthony’s job takes him back to Paris, this time to stay. Paul is thrilled to have him back, but Anthony has a harder choice: be another of Paul’s conquests or fight for the relationship he knows they could have, if only Paul would believe it.

Rue de Vaugirard was a busy, vibrant street, even at midnight, exactly what Anthony had come to expect from a commercial area of Paris. Almost as soon as they left the thoroughfare for the side streets, though, they left the bustle behind for the quiet of a residential neighborhood. Another block away to rue du Hameau and Paul guided Anthony toward the front door of an eighteenth-century building in pale stone, white or yellow—he couldn’t tell in the light of the streetlamps.“Do you ever feel like you can’t get away from work, living so close to the restaurant?” Anthony asked as Paul dug in his pocket for his keys.“It’s the family business,” Paul replied with a smile. “Unless I quit the restaurant and never went to family gatherings, I wouldn’t be able to get away from it, no matter where I lived.”“There is that.”Paul got the heavy wooden door unlocked and ushered Anthony inside with his hand low and hot at the small of Anthony’s back. Anthony stood in pitch darkness for a moment until Paul found the light switch that illuminated the entry hall. The inside of the building matched the outside, buffed stone floor shining in the bright light and wrought-iron railings with a wooden banister leading up a curved staircase.“We’ll take the elevator unless you really want to walk,” Paul said, following Anthony’s gaze. “I live on the fourth floor.”Which meant they’d have to walk up four flights of stairs, not three. He’d had too much wine at dinner for that. Not to mention how ready he was for the promise implied in the hand that had returned to his back. “We can take the elevator. I can admire the architecture another time.”Paul grinned at him. “Does that mean there will be another time?”Anthony swallowed hard. “I’m in Paris for five more days. I have to be at the Salon du livre during the day, but Patricia made it pretty clear my evenings were my own when she left without me tonight. I don’t see why this has to be a one-night thing, as long as we both understand that I’m leaving on Wednesday.”Paul pulled open the elevator door and herded Anthony inside. The tiny cabin, probably a century old, barely held both of them, but Paul didn’t seem concerned as he punched the button for the fourth floor and crowded Anthony against the wall. Anthony leaned into him, letting their bodies touch in as many places as possible. Paul tilted his head and mouthed at Anthony’s jaw, his lips catching on the stubble Anthony hadn’t bothered to shave away before dinner.“I’ll shave tomorrow before I come to the restaurant,” Anthony gasped.“Don’t bother. I don’t mind a little beard burn.” Paul worked down Anthony’s neck to the collar of his sweater. He nudged the cloth aside and nipped at the skin beneath. “Do you?”“It can’t show tomorrow.” His voice sounded wrecked to his own ears, but he couldn’t be bothered to care. Paul was taking him apart, and he didn’t want to be put back together anytime soon. “Beyond that, no.”The elevator dinged and the interior door slid open. Paul pulled Anthony out of the elevator with him and spun him around so his back hit the wooden door behind him. The doorknob dug into his back, but he ignored it in favor of running his hands over Paul’s shoulders and arms. Beneath the simple shirt, he could feel solid muscle, tribute to all the heavy trays Paul carried around the restaurant. He yearned to see as well as feel, but he’d wait until they were inside for that. Paul’s wasn’t the only door on that floor, and he didn’t want someone coming out and seeing them half naked.Paul didn’t seem to share Anthony’s concern about his neighbors, given the way he ran his hands under Anthony’s sweater.“Fuck,” Anthony grunted.Paul laughed and pulled away. “Should I be pleased I have you so worked up that you speak in English instead of French?” he teased.Had he spoken English? He hadn’t even realized. “Ouais,” Anthony replied, consciously switching back to French. He didn’t have to think to speak French these days, but exclamations were always the last thing to come naturally in French, and Paul had muddled his brain thoroughly already.“What did you say?” Paul asked.Anthony considered his reply for only a moment. He could translate it as a simple expletive—putain or merde or something like that since he couldn’t imagine Paul not knowing the word fuck—or he could get what he really wanted. “Baise-moi.”
Want to read more? At Your Service releases in English and French on March 14 from Dreamspinner Press and many other online retailers.
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Published on February 21, 2016 15:27 • 11 views

November 13, 2015

“Are you ready for this?”“I have no idea,” Orlando admitted, coming to sit next to Alain on the bed.  “We’ve gone through all the training, we’ve got the house ready, everything is set.  Nicole arrives tomorrow.”“And you’re scared out of your mind,” Alain surmised.“And you’re not?” Orlando asked.  “I know you better than that.”“How do you think I knew what you were feeling?” Alain asked.  “Claire said it was normal to have doubts.  She only worries about people who don’t question whether they’re doing the right thing.”“I know, I was there,” Orlando said.  The energetic social worker had helped smooth over any number of bumps in their road: his being a vampire, their being gay, to name the biggest.  Their status as war heroes had probably helped, but he knew he owed Claire a debt of thanks for making their dream of being foster parents to war orphans a reality.  “I know you’ll be a wonderful father to them.  I’ve listened to Thierry tell stories about the way you were with your son.  You’ll be the same loving man with our little refugees.  I have nothing like that to draw on, and my experiences with my own father were so long ago and from such a different time that I’m not sure they even come into play.”“Children need one thing more than anything else,” Alain said, his voice firm with conviction.  “They need to be loved unconditionally.  That doesn’t mean you take their crap and let them walk all over you, but it means that no matter what they do, when you tuck them into bed at night, you tell them you love them and you mean it.  You may not have any practical experience, but you have a heart full of love.  They’ll see that and respond to it.”“I have a heart full of you,” Orlando countered.  “Before I met you—”“Let’s not think about that,” Alain said, pressing Orlando back onto the bed. “You need to feed so it’s safe for you to be outside tomorrow when Claire brings Nicole, and then I need to sleep so I’m rested enough to keep up with a six-year-old all day.”“And you think me feeding is going to speed up you going to sleep?” Orlando teased, running his hand down Alain’s back.  “That isn’t usually how that works.”“Maybe not, but I sleep best after you’ve fed and we’ve made love,” Alain replied.  He couldn’t remember the last time one hadn’t led to the other.  Certainly not since the war ended.  Even on the rare occasions they helped with one magical ritual or another, the Aveu de Sang gave Alain protection from overfeeding so that Orlando could continue the connection when they arrived somewhere private.Orlando smiled.  “Then let’s see about helping you sleep.”  He rolled Alain beneath him and licked the brand on Alain’s neck that proclaimed them bound.  The surge of love and amusement that passed through their bond only widened Orlando’s smile.  Somehow, through some twist of fate or act of God, he had ended up here, in this bed, with this man.  He didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky, but he never forgot to be grateful for the gift of Alain’s presence in his life.“Bite me already,” Alain said, but there was no heat in his words.  Orlando chuckled and lifted his head.  “I thought you wanted to make love.  If I bite you now, there are so many other things I can’t do.”To prove his point, he reared back and lowered his head to Alain’s cock, licking the tip.  “Unless you’re suggesting I bite you here.”“Maybe not,” Alain said, his voice hoarse with the desire Orlando could feel resonating through his mind.Orlando wouldn’t have done it even if Alain had said yes.  He knew how much that hurt, and he wouldn’t inflict that on anyone even at their request.  Instead he drew back his fangs and slid lips down the hardening shaft, taking it deep into his mouth.  Alain tossed his head, but his hips stayed still, leaving Orlando in control of their interactions.  Orlando wanted more, though, so he slipped one hand between Alain’s legs, circling Alain’s entrance in the one caress that never failed to shatter his lover’s control.Alain’s hips lifted, driving his cock into Orlando’s throat.  Orlando swallowed and hummed his approval, projecting his need through their bond as firmly as he could.  Alain was always so careful not to do anything that might trigger bad memories for Orlando, and without that, Orlando doubted they would have made it through as well as they did, but tonight Orlando wanted this.  He wanted Alain to let go and fuck his mouth and throat.  Fortunately Alain seemed to get the message, beginning to move in time with Orlando’s suction, his hips rising and falling in a rhythm designed to steal both their wits.  Within minutes, a burst of hot cream filled Orlando’s mouth, one of the few tastes besides Alain’s blood he could savor fully.  The magic of the Aveu de Sang would let them prolong their encounter as much as they wanted, provided they didn’t find release at the same time, but tomorrow would be a busy day, and Alain did not have a vampire’s ability to go for days without rest, so Orlando kissed his way up Alain’s torso, lingering over each nipple, until he once again reached the brand on Alain’s neck.  His fangs pierced flesh, tasting hot blood and the myriad emotions roiling through Alain’s heart: desire laced with satiation, surprise, and, the bedrock of their lives, love.Orlando rocked against Alain, rubbing his hard shaft against Alain’s hardening one.  He would never have had the patience to wait if he hadn’t known his fangs in Alain’s neck would speed Alain to a second climax nearly as quickly as the first.  As it was, though, he didn’t worry about holding back, rutting against the cradle of Alain’s body, driving them both higher and higher.  He could taste the rising desire in Alain’s blood once more, matching his own until it reached a fever pitch and the repercussions reverberated between them, a never-ending feedback loop that left them both panting and exhausted on the bed.Orlando licked the wounds on Alain’s neck to close them and nestled close to his wizard’s side. “I love you.”“I love you, too, angel.”“Sleep,” Orlando murmured, pressing one more kiss to the mark of their bond.  “I’ll guard your dreams.”

Morning came early, but Alain didn’t protest when Orlando bounced out of bed the moment the sun peaked above the horizon.  His vampire, once imprisoned by the sun’s rays, now reveled in his freedom, spending as much time outside as the demands of their lives would allow.  By the time Alain had showered and came blearily downstairs, Orlando had coffee ready and breakfast on the table.  The bread was still warm from the bakery down the road in Pouilly.“And you worry about being a good father,” Alain said.  “Nicole won’t drink coffee, but if she wakes up to this kind of attention every morning, she’ll never doubt you care about her and want her here.”“Even if it’s as much for you as it is for her?” Orlando asked.“She’s six, Orlando. Her world revolves around her still.  She’ll see this and not even notice the coffee that isn’t for her, or if she does notice, it will be an afterthought.  You’ll be Papa Orlando, and she’ll think you hung the moon.”“I hope you’re right.”Alain ate while Orlando fussed around the kitchen, making sure everything was in its place.  When Alain was finished, Orlando insisted on checking the room they had prepared for Nicole one more time to make sure everything was perfect.The sun had risen enough to cast gentle rays through the dormer windows they had added to the attic of the house, converting the space into a series of loft rooms that would, they hoped, allow them to welcome several children at a time into their home and their lives.  Claire said it would depend on how things went with Nicole, but she had been cautiously optimistic that their plan would work.Everything was exactly as they had left it the day before, the flowered comforter adding a touch of femininity to the yellow walls and white trim.  A few books sat on the desk and Orlando had put a stuffed bear on the pillow, a welcome gift to Nicole.“It’s perfect,” Alain said.  “She’ll love it here, and we’ll fill it with all the things she needs once she gets here and we know her tastes a little better.”“It’s almost time.”“We can go sit in the courtyard until they get here,” Alain said, knowing Orlando would pace wherever they waited. At least outside, they would hear the car approaching.  Their quiet little street in their quiet little town had very little traffic, especially once everyone else had gone to work.A high wall extended from the corner of the house along the road to the three-sided shed where they kept their little Peugeot.  Alain had never owned a car before, living in Paris with its public transportation system, but out here in the country, walking wasn’t always an option and his magic could not take Orlando with him.  The pebbled courtyard between the house and the shed was surrounded with climbing roses, a touch Orlando had insisted on adding.  Behind the house in the garden, they had other flowers as well, but here in front, Orlando had insisted on the roses.  Alain had seen no reason to argue.  He sat down on the stone bench and did his best to hide a smile as Orlando began to pace.  Oh, he tried to cover it up by checking the roses, pulling a few weeds, and squashing a few aphids, but Alain knew his lover better than that.  Orlando was pacing.“It’s nine o’clock.  Where are they?”“Calm down, Orlando.  There may have been bad traffic getting out of Paris.  Nicole might not have been ready on time.  It is a long drive, and Claire did get her up early.”Before Orlando’s worry could escalate into a full-fledged panic, they heard the sound of a car engine at the bottom of the hill.  Orlando rushed to the gate, swinging it wide in welcome.  Alain shook his head indulgently and adjusted the wards that supplemented the physical barrier so Claire’s car could come through bearing the new addition to their family.Claire climbed out of the car the moment she put it in park, but the back door didn’t open. Orlando approached the back window before Alain could stop him.“Hi, Nicole,” he said through the open space.  “How are you today?”“Is this where you live?”“It is,” Orlando said.  “Would you like to look around?”The little girl nodded so Orlando opened the door and helped her out.  “Do you have horses?” she asked, holding a stuffed pony close to her chest.“No horses,” Orlando said, “but we have something almost as fun.  Do you want to see?”She nodded again.  Orlando led her toward the barn at the back of the property where a mama cat had given birth a few days before.“Here’s her bag,” Claire said.  “It isn’t much, but it’s all she has.  I can tell she’s going to be happy here.  She’s taken with Orlando already.”“He so wants this to work.”“It will,” Claire said.  “She’s already forgotten she’s scared.  Go join them.  I’ll help myself to coffee and we’ll do paperwork when she’s ready to come inside.”Alain smiled his thanks and went to join his family.

“Papa Alain?”“Yes, Nicole?” Alain paused at the doorway to Nicole’s bedroom. He had thought her asleep and so had intended to leave her to rest, but it seemed she was not as far gone as he’d believed.“Tell me a story.”“What kind of story?” Alain asked, returning to the foot of her bed. He didn’t know why she wasn’t exhausted. She and Orlando had explored every inch of the village, running up and down the hills and streets, laughing like banshees. It warmed Alain’s heart just to think of it.“A magical story.”Alain smiled and brushed her hair back from her face. “Like a fairy-tale story or a real magic story?”“A real magic story,” Nicole said.Alain grinned and summoned a candle with the flick of his wrist. A tap of his wand, mostly for effect, lit the wick. Nicole’s eyes widened.“A long time ago, there was a wizard,” Alain began, casting around for the perfect words. “He was very sad and very lonely because his family had died.”“Like my parents,” Nicole said.“Yes, very much like that,” Alain said. “He was sure he was never going to have anyone special in his life again because he’d let bad things happen to the two people who needed him most. Then one night he was walking and he met the most beautiful young man he had ever seen.”“Did they kiss?” Nicole asked with that mixture of curiosity and horror that only a six-year-old could muster.“Not right away,” Alain said. “They talked first because it turns out they each had something the other wanted.”“What?” Nicole asked.“They each had a heart full of love to give and a deep fear of giving it,” Alain explained. “They each needed someone to love and trust, and because they were both so afraid, they knew how important it was to take good care of each other.”“Did they die in the war too?” Nicole asked.“No,” Alain said with a smile and another stroke of his hand over her hair. “They fought in the war, protecting each other as best they could, and when the war was over, they decided to leave Paris and move to the country.”“Like you and Papa Orlando.”“Exactly like us,” Alain agreed. “Can you sleep now?”“Is that how you met Papa Orlando?”“Yes,” Alain said. “I can do all kinds of magic with a wave of my wand and a whispered spell, but no magic will ever be as great as knowing I love Papa Orlando and that he loves me in return. Sleep well, minette. We’ll see you in the morning.”Nicole let him leave this time. He shut the door to her room and took two steps before he ran right into Orlando. “I don’t remember it being quite that simple,” Orlando said, his smile evident in his voice, though Alain could not see it in the darkness of the hallway.“Don’t you?” Alain said. “You took one sip of my blood, and I’ve been yours ever since. Everything else pales in comparison to that one irrefutable fact.”“No,” Orlando said, running his fingers over the brand he didn’t need light to see. “I took one sip of your blood and I’ve been yours ever since.”“A heart full of love and a deep fear of giving it,” Alain repeated. “I’m not scared anymore.”“Neither am I.”
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Published on November 13, 2015 14:00 • 36 views

February 23, 2015

I promised the Dreamspinner Press social media staff that I would write a Dream Vacation free short story as part of a promotion in March, but I need your help. Which characters would you most like to see take a dream vacation to Paris?

I'll draw a winner from all comments received by 8 am CST on February 25. The winner will receive his/her choice of any eBook from my backlist.

Ready, set, go!
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Published on February 23, 2015 16:54 • 229 views

October 20, 2014

Yes, that's right. The Partnership in Blood series, ten years and a million words of my life, is now complete. And on Friday, October 31, the remastered versions of the first seven books will become available along with the final volume of the series.

 It started as a challenge on a writers' group I was part of ten years ago. Each month, the moderators would propose a theme and anyone who wanted to participate could write a story around that theme and enter it into the group's contest. We'd critique each other's stories and then at the end of the month, we'd have a vote and the winning story would get a banner for the author's Live Journal or wherever they wanted to post it. The theme for that year's October was supernatural stories. I'm not a paranormal reader. I love fantasy of the Lord of the Rings variety, but I've never gone in for the werewolves or vampires or any of that. So I looked at the challenge and at everything else I was working on and decided I'd pass that month. I'd cheer everyone else on and vote at the end of the month. And then I fell asleep.

I dreamed that night with a vividness and clarity that I rarely have, and I woke up with three scenes etched in my memory: two men meeting in a cemetery, one of the two men stumbling out of a building at dawn, and one of the two men kneeling at a gravestone. Beginning, climax, and end (or so I thought). I knew it wouldn't be short, but I also knew I had to write it, so I asked the moderators if I could enter whatever portion of the story was complete at the end of October for the voting. They said yes as long as I promised to finish it eventually. I don't think they had ten years in mind when they said eventually, but I can honestly say I kept my promise. Partnership in Blood is now complete.

(And yes, for the record, I won that month's competition. No, I don't still have the banner.) So without further ado, I give you the final installment in my saga of love and magic in Paris and beyond: Partnership Reborn !   

 All his life, wizard Raphael Tarayaud has dreamed of a vampire—first as a friend, then as a lover. His search for his missing soul mate brings him to the attention of Sebastien Noyer, one of his childhood heroes. While Sebastien isn't his soul mate, he could be the perfect partner for Raphael's best friend Kylian Raffier.

As strange coincidences mount up, Raphael offers his research expertise to try and help Kylian and Sebastien understand what is happening to them, though the more he learns, the less he likes it. But it won’t keep him from fighting with everything he has to secure Kylian’s future.

When he finally meets Jean Bellaiche, former chef de la Cour and grieving widower, the meeting is disastrous, but Raphael can't let it go. He doesn’t stand a chance with Jean—who could compete with the ghost of Raymond Payet?—but nothing can stop him from dreaming.

Also, coming this Friday, a free bonus short story, Partnership Reforged .

For two years, Thierry has wanted the one thing Sebastien's past denies him: an Aveu de Sang. With the help of friends new and old, he has finally assembled a ritual that will give him a close approximation of the ultimate bond between vampire and mortal... if it succeeds.
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Published on October 20, 2014 14:47 • 49 views