Monday, October 17, 2016

Midnight Mist & Moondust - Chapter Three

Beginning is here

Look for the flash to post every Monday until the end of the month. Fair warning: there are some scenes of dubious consent. If you've read any of my books, you know I don't do rape, but this *is* a Halloween flash. It *is* going to be a bit on the dark side. I *am* going to push the boundaries. *Evil cackle.* Bawhahahaha, you've been warned. 

~Also, I made a some small edits to ch 2 to deal with the lightening showing through the window he'd covered. Ah, the joys of reading a first draft, huh, lol. ;)

Chapter Three

“Hello, Caleb.”
Oh God, it knew his name and, and…. Caleb gulped as the hallway light sputtered on, but its illumination was much subtler. Dimmer. How can that be? As he strained to see the figure at the foot of his bed, lightning flashed across the nighttime sky, brightening his shadowy room.
Unable to help himself, Caleb darted a quick glance out of the window. Almost immediately he tore his gaze away and returned it to the end the bed… where whatever it was that spoke to him no longer stood. Shit!
“Lovely night, isn’t it?”
Caleb screeched as the softly spoken words caressed his ear. A body pressed close against his back. Oh God, oh God. Caleb’s response was immediate. He tried to lurch across the bed but steely arms wrapped around him.
Desperately he strained in the embrace, but whoever held him captured his flailing arms and pinned his wrists against his chest. A sob lodged in his throat as he struggled in vain. Whoever—or whatever—held him was strong. Abnormally strong. And male.
“Oh God, oh God… please.” He wasn’t sure what he pleaded for—release, the ability to start the day over, to have never bought the damn spell to begin with. Panting, Caleb stopped his useless struggles. He needed to conserve his energy.
“Your human God holds no jurisdiction over me.”
Caleb’s head spun. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Any doubt he had was banished in a wisp of smoke. Whatever it was, it wasn’t human. He hadn’t seen the thing that held him—so he didn’t know exactly what he was dealing with—and after hearing that, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. It was enough to feel the strength so intimately wrapped around him.
Self-preservation took over. Thrashing wildly, he fought harder to escape even though it still had his arms pinned. He threw his head back hoping he’d knock whatever it was holding him silly. When that didn’t work, he tried slamming his elbows into the body holding him. He kicked, his body bucking as they grappled on the bed.
His heart pounded frantically as he continued to struggle, his breath laboring. Nothing seemed to work. Sweat blossomed across his naked body from his frantic struggles and chilled his skin. Or was the coolness coming from whatever held him so tightly?
“Stop struggling.”
The soft command veiled in lazy menace left him quivering… and no longer fighting. In all of his fantasies he never considered this—that he’d become prey. Stupid of him, really. “Please, oh God, oh God, please don’t hurt me.”
“I have no intention of hurting you, but you will obey me.”
Caleb struggled to swallow the stream that threatened to break loose. Obey? Obey it? Obeying wasn’t exactly a strong suit of his. God, obey it in what?
And did Caleb really want to know?
Whatever it was combed cool fingers his sweat-damp hair. Nails—or possibly claws—lightly scraped against Caleb’s scalp. Soft kisses were pressed against his shoulder. He clenched his fists, not that it did any good. The creature still had his hands crossed and pinned against his chest.
“So lovely,” it breathed softly against Caleb’s chilled flesh. “So delicately made, yet so resistant. Humans astound me, and you are no different.”
Caleb swallowed, then swallowed again. His mouth was so dry he wasn’t sure he could speak. “What… w-what d-d-do you want?”
Whatever held him chuckled softly. Caleb whined softly in his throat as a warm puff of air caressed his neck and shoulder.
“Such a variety of ways to answer that, now, isn’t there?”
Caleb’s brain switched off as stark fear wiped out coherent thought. One message flashed through his mind and that was to escape. He surged up, but the thing held him securely. Easily.
“You don’t really think you can escape me, do you? I mean, you did summon me, after all.”
Caleb froze as the fight abruptly left him again. Heaven help him—that was exactly what he feared. What the actual fuck did that spell say? “What… what do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean.” The creature released one of Caleb’s wrists. But just as quickly, Caleb found both his wrist captured by the other vampire’s hand. Its strength was shocking. Even one-handed it held him securely.
It reached around Caleb and gently tapped the pendant around Caleb’s neck. “Drawing our attention can be serious business. I might even say deadly.”
Caleb glanced down as lightning flashed again. He caught a quick glimpse of a pale hand and long dagger-like black fingernails. “What a-are you? Demon?”
The creature snorted. “Demon? Oh, my lovely little human, I’m no demon. Although, depending on who you ask, it could be said that I’m much, much worse.”
Caleb gathered what little courage he still retained. “T-then what are you?”
The creature tugged Caleb impossibly closer, pressing Caleb against its chest, and whispered in his ear, “Vampire. The very thing you have longed for and sought after your entire adult life.”
“But—” Caleb’s breath strangled in his throat as the creature dropped his hand from the pendant and grasped Caleb’s soft cock.
“I have waited so long.” The vampire kissed Caleb’s naked shoulder.
Wait. What? Caleb tried to focus on what the thing behind him was whispering, but the thoughts rattled around in his head like loose marbles on an uneven floor. Caleb couldn’t catch any of them.
“Get hard for me. I want to see you lost in passion.”
Get hard? For real? Kind of impossible to do when the thing had inch-long claws on a part of his anatomy he held dear. Terrified of what he would see, he still glanced down… to see blunt, black nails instead of the claws he’d been expecting to see. Whaaaat?
Short and nicely trimmed nails attached to what look like a human hand—a very human, masculine hand that was slowly teasing his soft cock to hardness. Trapped in the creature’s embrace with his arms still crossed and pinned to his chest, he watched helplessly as his endlessly stupid cock rose to the occasion. What the hell?
Fear still sang through his body, but now in the unpleasant bubbling brew, arousal was added. Caleb moaned helplessly as he watched, then shivered—and not completely from fear—in the vampire’s embrace when he felt what could only be a fang rubbed against his neck.
Whatever he was going to say was lost. Even thinking was out of the question. Visions of porno scenes he’d watched flashed through his mind. His cock hardened further as he remembered how the bottoms withered in ecstasy as their vampire lover fed. He wanted that. In the deepest, most secret part of his heart, he wanted to experience that.
But he didn’t want to die either.
His breath tangled in his chest. His cock was painfully hard, and it throbbed in time to the beat of his heart. Desire built right along with the tension. The vampire stroked him, his skill obvious in the way he played Caleb’s helpless body. Caleb’s eyes drifted closed as the vampire spread Caleb’s precome, making him slick. Lost in the sensation, his mind shut down.
Caleb’s hips arched off the bed. He wanted—needed—more. Wrapping his long fingers around the shaft, the vampire squeezed. Caleb lurched in surprise. It hadn’t hurt. In fact, it felt rather good.
He widened his legs, giving the vampire room to work, even if his mind shrieked uselessly at him. He’d lost his mind, there was no doubt about it. Instead of fighting for his life, he was giving over… letting this thing pleasure him. And it was doing a damn fine job of it too.
“One day soon, I’m going to feed from you. Take what is mine. You’re going to give me what I want—what you’ve voluntarily given me by wearing this pendant. You’re mine, and I will have you. I’m going to make you scream.”
Caleb’s eyes opened in shock, and, unable to do anything else, he watched as a vampire’s strokes sped up. Caleb strained in its embrace. He drew closer and closer to the edge until finally his muscles locked.
Oh God, he was going to come, come at the hands of a very talented vampire. His abdominal muscles bunched in hard spasms as he came. It was unlike anything Caleb had ever experienced before. It was possibly the best orgasm he’d ever had.
As Caleb came he bit his lip, drawing blood. Unable to stand the feeling, Caleb threw his head back, the cords in his neck bulging, and screamed. His shriek of pleasure was cut off as the vampire released his trapped wrists.
Using its freed hand, the vampire tilted Caleb’s head back and pressed his mouth to Caleb’s, swallowing the sound. The kiss went on as the vampire milked Caleb through his orgasm. His body relaxed into that steely embrace. As he floated back down to Earth, the vampire licked his bloody lip.
“Your taste is magnificent. Truly addicting. I chose well.”
Panting, and covered in come, Caleb squirmed helplessly as he realized the vampire had tasted him now, and apparently he liked what he tasted. “What…? Chose well? Huh? W-who are you?”
The vampire smiled as he lifted his come-covered finger to Caleb’s mouth. Not stopping to think, he tasted himself as he cleaned the evidence of his orgasm. “Brone. Now sleep….”
… and the loud ominous crack of thunder jerked Caleb up in the bed. Bleary-eyed, he anxiously looked around. The hall light flickered but stayed on. But hadn’t it just been much dimmer? But why did he think the electricity had been off?
A quick look at the alarm clock confirmed it. The lights had not been off. The alarm clock’s glowing numbers were not blinking, which they would’ve been if the electricity had been out. What the hell was going on?
Caleb looked down at himself. He was dry, comfortable, and certainly not covered in come. He jumped again when he saw lightning outside the window. A couple minutes later there was another big boom of thunder.
Scrubbing his hands across his face, he wiped the sleep from his eyes. Then his eyes widened as he remembered something else. His hands flew to his face… but his lip felt perfectly fine. Certainly not like he’d bitten it.
Hadn’t he bitten it when…. Scrambling out of bed, he nearly fell to the floor since the sheets were wrapped around his body. Untangling himself, he stumbled to the bathroom and flipped on the light. Immediately he squinted and swore softly. Good Lord, did they put floodlights in there instead of regular everyday lightbulbs? Once he was able to open his eyes without burning his corneas, he checked his neck.
There was nothing.
No holes. Not even a scratch. Nothing. He looked like the same old Caleb. He could’ve sworn he felt a fang… This was just nuts. He ran a hand through his hair then turned on the bathroom faucet and cupped his hands. The water filled his palms, and he gulped it. Once his thirst was quenched, he splashed his face then patted it dry with a hand towel.
Caleb peered at himself in the mirror. “Okay, the electricity didn’t go out and no vampire jerked me off in my sleep. It was a dream. Nothing more than a dream. And what a hell of a dream it was.”
He frowned at his reflection as something tease the edge of his consciousness. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember. But whatever it was, it was odd—something he didn’t normally hear in everyday conversations. A name? A word maybe? There was something right there on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t quite grasp it.
He shrugged. The more he tried to think of it, the more it eluded him. He used the bathroom, washed his hands, and walked back into the bedroom. Not a thing was out of place. Yeah, he really needed to get a grip on his overactive imagination. Annoyed with himself, he returned to bed and tried his best go back to sleep… hopefully this time without any freaky dreams.
* * * *
The next morning sunlight streaming through the window woke him. He showered, dressed, and, still toweling his hair dry, walked into the tiny kitchen. He opened a soda and drank that as he munched on the cold pizza from last night.
The microwave clock showed he had several hours before he had to check out, but he was more than ready to go. After breakfast he cleaned the kitchen, bagged his trash to drop off on his way out, and got ready to leave.
On the way out to his car, he remembered the message from the night before. After he put his suitcase in the trunk, he opened the driver’s door, got in, and started to the car. While it warmed up, he opened his cell and checked his messages. Not only was there a strongly-worded message from Raleigh, there was also an even more strongly-worded voicemail.
He listened to it and only cringed a little, even as he mentally gave Raleigh points for his creativity. What he threatened to do if Caleb didn’t call soon was rather inventive and possibly anatomically impossible.
Caleb sighed as he deleted the voicemail. “Guess this calls for more than a text.” Then he remembered how early it was and grinned evilly. Raleigh was likely still dead asleep. He hit the button and called.
He drummed his fingers on the steering well as he waited for Raleigh to pick up. “Leave me a nasty voicemail, will you? Fine.”
Of course he got Raleigh’s voicemail.
Caleb sighed. He’d really been hoping to wake Raleigh up. Oh well, a voicemail would have to suffice. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I rented a cabin, went off on my own, and did the spell. Seeing how it’s early in the morning, and I’m sitting in my car in the blazing sunlight on my way home, I’d have to say it was a complete flop. I’m fine. You can bitch me out when I get home. And FYI, that means I’m heading that way. Talk to you later.”
Caleb disconnected and shoved his cell back into his front jean pocket. Since that unpleasant chore was finished, it was time to get on his way. It was a beautiful morning, he had to admit, even though his mood didn’t match.
After he dropped off his key at the rental agency and disposed of his trash, he started the long drive home. As usual the drive back home took longer, or so it seemed. Why was that? Anyway, Caleb listened to the radio and tried to remember if he had any clean uniforms for work tomorrow. He loved driving for FedEx and made pretty good money at it. Thank God in his insanity he hadn’t quit his job. He had one more day off, then it was back to the daily grind. Oh well, at least he had the Halloween party coming up at The Edge to forward to.
He passed the city limits sign and continued on his way toward his apartment complex. There weren’t many people on the road, which he was glad to see. Once he got home and unpacked—and possibly received an ass chewing from Raleigh—he planned to take a nap. He hadn’t slept well last night with that crazy ass dream and all.
Speaking of that dream…. He fished the pendant from underneath his shirt. Odd how the damn thing had shown up in his dream—now he wished he could remember why it had. He was tempted to take it off, but hell. He might as well get something out of the money he spent on that stupid spell.
He parked in front of his apartment, popped the trunk, and got his suitcase. Raleigh’s truck was parked next to him. He wondered how Raleigh’s night out went last night. Caleb unlocked the apartment door and quietly let himself in. He walked through the kitchen and made his way to the living area, which was vacant.
Just as he thought, Raleigh was still asleep. Good. The promise ass chewing he had coming could wait. He jotted a quick note and left it on the kitchen table telling Raleigh he was here and taking a nap. He slipped into his room and dropped his suitcase at the end of the bed. Yawning, he stripped and crawled back into bed.
Hopefully this time there wouldn’t be any weird dreams.
* * * *
Caleb jerked awake and glared at the door. Another rounder brutal knocking commenced.
“Caleb, get your ass up. I have a bone to pick with you.”
“Damn man, stop that shit. I hear you.” Well, hell. Well, apparently naptime was over, and Raleigh was in the mood to chew some ass. “Keep your shirt on! I’ll be there in a minute.” Grumbling, Caleb climbed out of the bed, grabbed his jeans, and slipped them back on.
He stomped down the hallway and into the living area where Raleigh sat on the couch, sipping his morning coffee.
“If you weren’t my best friend I’d strangle your ass right here and now,” Raleigh snapped.
So apparently they were going to get right down to it. “Didn’t you get the voicemail I left you this morning?”
“Yes, let’s talk about voicemails, why don’t we? Let’s talk about the one that said what you were doing but didn’t leave a clue as to where you were doing it. What were you thinking, man? And where the hell were you?” Raleigh demanded.
“I was at Moon Lake. They have cabin rentals.” Caleb shrugged.
“And you stayed there because…?”
“Because I needed privacy. I needed to be alone just in case….” As he listened to himself state his reasons why, he noticed how incredibly stupid the whole thing sounded. His face heated.
“Just in case what? Just in case you turned into a vampire?”
Caleb looked down. God, he felt like a moron, but honestly, it sounded good in his head. It made perfect sense then. “Um… yeah.”
Raleigh sighed. He pulled a hair tie off his wrist and yanked his hair out of his face. “On second thought, strangling might be too good. I was worried about you. Do you hear me? I was sincerely, honest to God, worried about you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any harm.”
“I love you like a brother, but I swear if you pull another stunt like this, I will strangle you. Then kick your ass. Caleb, man, what if something happened? You have family. I know you’re not especially close to them, but you guys do talk. What if you’d had a wreck on the way down there? I didn’t even know where you were. Did anyone?”
“Ah… no. That was kind the point.”
“Well, here’s my point. No one knew where you were. Even if something hadn’t happened to you, what if something happened here? What if I got a wreck? What if the apartment burned down? Any number of bad things could’ve happened. I would’ve needed to get in touch with you, only I wouldn’t have been able to because no one knew where you were!”
Caleb cringed. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t think.”
“I know. You never do. You get these grand ideas and off you go… and you never stop to think about the consequences.” Raleigh set his coffee down and scrubbed his hands over his face. “Please don’t disappear on me again, okay? I don’t mind the harebrained ideas you get. Sometimes they’re even great fun.”
Caleb slowly grinned. “Some have been kind of fun, haven’t they?”
“Yes, they have. It’s one of the reasons why I like you so much. You see things differently than the rest of us, and you have a sense of adventure I admire. But you also jump in the middle of things, and you never stop to consider your actions. That’s what scares me.”
Caleb nodded. “I really am sorry. I never stopped to think of it from your point of view, and shame on me for that. Still friends?”
Raleigh picked up his coffee. “Still friends. Just throttled back on some the antics, will you? I’m too young to have gray hair.”
Caleb snorted. “Gotcha. So, I see you’re drinking coffee. Hopefully you made a whole pot?”
Raleigh rolled his eyes. “You honestly think I’d just make myself a cup? I know you, remember? There’s no way in hell I’d just make one cup, especially not with you in the house. You probably strangle me then.”
Caleb laughed off Raleigh’s remark, but it told him plainly Raleigh had expected him home. He walked into the kitchen to get his much-desired cup of coffee. He’d debated adding a shot of whiskey to it, because after the night he had, he certainly deserved it.
Taking his coffee, he wandered into the laundry room. Yup, good thing he got home early because it was looking like laundry was going to be an all-day ordeal. He set about the chores he’d neglected thanks to his latest obsession. And speaking of which, he stopped sorting long enough to pull the pendant out from underneath his shirt.
 He really should take the thing off, but every time he tried, he just didn’t seem to have the will to remove it. Oh well, it wasn’t hurting anything, and it was kinda cool. It was just a pendant.

Besides, what was the worst that could happen?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Finicky Friday - Halloween Style! Severed Finger Sugar Cookies

Hey everyone, I thought it would be cool to post some recipes I had found online. I’m going to *try* to do some of these beforehand, but I’m sure there’ll be times I won't. I'm going to call this Finicky Friday. :)

Severed Finger Sugar Cookies

Step aside, ladyfingers, there's a scary new dessert for the season. This Halloween, prepare some truly ghoulish cookies, made easy with Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix.

Prep Time 15 min
Total Time 1 hr 30 min
Servings 24


1  pouch (17.5 oz) Betty Crocker™ sugar cookie mix

1 egg

1/4 cup raw slivered almonds

1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam

7 drops red food color


Heat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In medium bowl, mix cookie mix and egg, using fork or spatula, until well mixed and texture of sand or bread crumbs. Squeeze handful of dough crumbs together tightly to form small log or "finger." 

Score top of log with butter knife to shape the knuckle, then press 1 slivered almond at one end to make the fingernail. Repeat to use up dough. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Bake 15 minutes. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix jam and food color with whisk. Trim base of “finger” with fork to give it a severed look. Dip base of finger into jam.


The longer and thinner you shape the fingers, the more lifelike they will be. Since the dough does spread out a little, shaping longer fingers will work out better.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Midnight Mist & Moondust - Chapter Two

Beginning is here

Look for the flash to post every Monday until the end of the month. Fair warning: there are some scenes of dubious consent. If you've read any of my books, you know I don't do rape, but this *is* a Halloween flash. It *is* going to be a bit on the dark side. I *am* going to push the boundaries. 

*Evil cackle.* Bawhahahaha, you've been warned. 

Chapter Two

Caleb spent the rest of the day exploring the woods surrounding the cabin and watching TV. He brought extra towels to cover all the windows. Fortunately, they all had curtains, but extra precautions were called for. He also didn’t eat or drink any more—there was that whole getting rid of fluids thing—although his stomach growled.
Night arrived. It was getting close to the time Raleigh would get off, so Caleb left a voicemail as planned then shut his phone off. When Raleigh got the message he’d probably be furious, but it was for the best.
Last thing Caleb needed was for Raleigh to show up here, especially if he was in the process of vamping out. Unable to waiting longer, he opened the cabin door and stepped outside. The moon was out and the clouds were gone, so why wait? And damn, it had gotten cooler. He went back inside to get his heavy coat, slipped on it on, and grabbed the flashlight. Excitement roared through his body as he stepped outside and locked the door.
Earlier he found a little clearing in the woods not far from the cabin, which would be perfect. In a rush he hiked there, the bright moonlight lighting his way. A sharp wind blew, ruffling his hair. Caleb shivered. It wasn’t all from excitement—it was rather nippy out there, but the quick trek warmed him.
Once there he scouted around until he found the perfect place for the moonlight to shine through the branches upon him. His breath quickened and his heart pounded as he took one last look around.
So, this was it. In this clearing, here in the middle of nowhere, his life was going to be irrevocably changed. Caleb pulled out his cell phone, unlocked it, and tapped on the app. Earlier he’d typed the spell into the app’s translator. Now, all he had to do was click play.
His thumb hesitated over the icon.
The hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he quickly glanced around. What was that? Had he heard something rustling through the tall weeds? Oh God, were there bears out here? Bobcats?
Why did he have to think of that now while he was out there in the middle of nowhere armed with nothing more than a cell phone and flashlight. He swallowed frantically, trying to clear his throat. Was that… was that whispering he heard? It couldn’t be. There was nobody out there but him.
He hoped.
At the edge of his vision a shadow caught his attention, and he jerked his head in that direction. Was that movement? Was somebody out there? That did it. He was never watching another horror movie again. Ever. For the rest of his life. Damn imagination was going to be the death of him.
Of course there was no one out here with him. That was just silly. Nevertheless, he took another slow look around the surrounding area, intently study every pool of darkness beneath the trees he could find. There might not be anyone out here with him, but he sure couldn’t shake the feeling he was being watched.
And wow, it was ever quiet out there. At least during the day he’d heard birds and other things, but now…. Caleb gulped, then looked around the area once more. Now there was nothing but dead silence. Once more he glanced around then he frowned. The trees rustled in the slight breeze, and he glanced up. Moonlight shone down through the branches.
The darkness obscured the bright fall foliage. Now all he needed was for mist to rise up and… Yeah, his brain really needed to shut the hell up. Taking a deep breath, he hit play on the app.
A husky male voice began to speak, and his shivers increased. Caleb shut his eyes, listening to the rise and fall of the words, which were almost lyrical in stark sort of way. Heart pounding, he listened to the spell being read aloud.
Then it ended.
Caleb opened his eyes and glanced around. The clearing looked the same. It was still dark. The aforementioned mist still hadn’t shown up. Nothing howled in the distance. Moonlight still shone down upon him. And it was still cold, dammit.
He scratched his head.
Alrighty then. He hadn’t known what to expect, but this wasn’t it. And speaking of nothing changing, he took a quick inventory of his body. His feet hurt from all the walking he’d done earlier. His heart no longer pounded. In fact, it was slowing down to its regular rhythm but still beating regularly.
The fact that his heart was beating probably meant the spell hadn’t worked. Not to mention he was still cold. His stomach was still growling too. Damn, pizza sounded like a good idea right about then. Caleb snorted. Instead of craving blood, he wanted a damn pizza. Disappointment sung through him.
“Well, shit.” Caleb turned the app off and put his phone back in his pocket.
As far as he could tell he was the same old Caleb. Wasn’t that a disappointment? He couldn’t see any better, couldn’t smell better, and certainly didn’t feel faster… all things that were supposed to be vampire traits.
This was certainly anticlimactic.
Only then did he admit he hoped something would happen, as improbable as that hope had been. Which was just stupid. He knew there was no such thing as vampires. Raleigh was right, he had wasted his money.
Hell, he probably could’ve bought the stupid pendant online for ten dollars. Next time he got the wild hair to waste fifty dollars, he’d do what Raleigh jokily said and just give it to him. Might as well. And Raleigh was right about something else—Caleb was becoming obsessed with the myth of vampires.
It was time he grew up and stopped playing in make-believe land.
Disgruntled, he stomped back to the cabin. Yeah, he certainly didn’t feel any different except for now he was in a funky mood, had to piss, and dammit to hell and back, there was no food in the cabin.
He unlocked the door, let himself in, and hurried toward the bathroom. Once he had taken care of business, he returned to the main living area. Standing there, Caleb glanced around. What was the point in staying? There really wasn’t one, except for the cash he paid down to stay there tonight. Apparently that was a waste of money too.
What he should do was uncover the windows he’d covered, pack his stuff, and head home. The place he rented from had a key drop off right outside their office door. But if he returned to the apartment, that meant he had an hour drive in front of him.
Although he wasn’t tired at the moment, as soon as the adrenaline stopped pumping through his blood stream, he’d probably be exhausted. Having a wreck would just be the spoiled cherry on top of this craptastic adventure.
He could stay here, although the quaint little cabin had quickly come creepy. Fuck this shit. There was no point in driving home. Besides, he paid good money to stay here, and he might as well have something to show from this idiocy.
Mind made up, Caleb checked his cell, and seeing it was still fairly early in the evening, grabbed his wallet and headed right back out. There had to be some something still open in town.
* * * *
Caleb parked at the first pizza joint he saw. It looked like a little mom-and-pop restaurant instead of a fast food chain. He sincerely hoped the place didn’t sucked because he was starving. There were several cars in the parking lot, which was hopefully a good sign.
He parked, got out, and quickly made his way to the front door. Another breeze ruffled his hair. Caleb pulled the collar of his coat up and shivered. The streetlight in the parking lot flickered then dimmed.
Shadows danced at the edges of the darkness, expanding outward almost as if reaching for him. From the corner of his eye something flew past, moving too quickly to be distinguished. Chill bumps raced over his skin, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. His breath quickened, and his step sped up.
Once inside Caleb breathed a sigh of relief then shook his head at himself. He wasn’t one to jump at shadows, but that was exactly what he was doing, and he couldn’t figure out why. All he knew was suddenly his overactive imagination had taken a hard left turn into Creepville.
He shrugged off his coat, folded it over his arm, and took a moment to check out the surroundings. The first thing he noticed was the exposed brick and memorabilia on the walls… and the low lighting. The one time he would’ve preferred place to be lit up like Madison Square Garden, what he got was subtle lighting. Lovely.
The floor was black and white tile done in a checkerboard pattern. The tables and booths were covered in a shiny red tableclothes. Each booth had a small pendant light that hung down. The tables had small lamps. Overall it gave the restaurant a romantic ambience.
Caleb seriously considered turning around and leaving. The last thing he was feeling at the moment was romantic, but his growling stomach reminded him of a more pressing need: food.
There was a sign by the cash register requesting patrons wait to be seated. Fine, he had nothing better to do but wait—it wasn’t like he had to worry about things like… oh, you know… sunlight. Although, if they didn’t hurry up and seat him, there was a distinct possibility he’d start chewing on the counters he was so hungry.
As he waited he tried to wipe the scowl off his face. In its place he pasted on some semblance of a smile. From the look on the hostesses’ face, he hadn’t succeeded. She seated him, left a menu, and got the hell out of Dodge. Caleb couldn’t blame her. In the mood he was in, he’d run from himself too.
A few moments later the waitress stopped by, and he placed his order. The temptation to order a beer was great, but since he was driving, he resisted. He did order a deep dish pizza and fully intended to eat every damn bit of it.
Caleb passed the time playing on his phone. He was watching a stupid cat video when the hair on the back of his neck stood up again. Nonchalantly, he glanced around the restaurant. A group of teenage girls sat at a nearby table, but they were more interested in talking to each other than staring at him.
There were several couples in booths, but they weren’t paying any attention to him either. Not too far away a waitress seated a man at a table, but he couldn’t see the stranger’s face since he was sitting with his back to Caleb.
From the way the stranger’s head was tilted, Caleb assumed he was watching one of the large screen TVs set around the restaurant. Caleb’s gaze lingered on the back of the man. He had long dark auburn hair tied back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. A black leather jacket covered his broad shoulders.
Caleb had a thing for long hair, and that shade of hair—that shade reminded him of the owner of Moonlight Mist and Moondust’s hair color. Which was silly considering the guy was most likely doing his own thing… an hour away from here. The chances of him sitting in the same restaurant as Caleb at the exact same moment had to be astronomically slim.
Disgruntled, Caleb looked back down at his phone as a spine-chilling sensation slowly dissipated. Where were these damn creepy feeling coming from? His mom would have said he had a possum walk across his grave—damn Southern sayings—but it described his reactions this evening perfectly.
The same thing had happened when he was in the woods, but he contributed that to being… well, out in the woods. Then it happened walking to the restaurant. What the hell was this?
The waitress brought his pizza and set it down in front of him along with a plate, his drink, and a knife and fork. Caleb grabbed the biggest piece of pizza and bit into it. Oh yeah, this was possibly the best pizza he had ever had. He all but gobbled down the first piece and was starting on his second before his stomach settled down.
Now that he was no longer starving, his thoughts turned back to his reactions this evening. Nothing had changed except… except that spell. Except he had a bunch of words repeated in a dead language he couldn’t read.
What if… Christ, what if he had unleashed something he hadn’t meant to unleash? Obviously the vampire spell hadn’t worked—the fact he sat there stuffing his face was proof of that—but, but… He set his pizza down. Okay, so clearly he wasn’t going to turn into a vampire, but what if he called up a demon?
Now the pizza sat like lead in his stomach.
Every second of the movie The Exorcist ran through his head. Oh God. The first time someone’s head did a complete 360 he was going to lose his shit. He didn’t know the first thing about demons. Vampires were his obsession.
He picked up his pizza and returned to nibbling on it. Okay, the likelihood that I called up demon is probably next to none. I’m just overreacting. I mean, obviously I’m not going to turn into a vampire. Caleb took another bite of pizza to enforce his point he wasn’t about to vamp out and washed it down with his soda. That made sense. Perfect sense.
So why couldn’t shake the feeling he was being stalked?
As he ate he discreetly scanned the restaurant, but nothing seemed off to him. Well, nothing he could see. His eyes were telling him there was nothing wrong, but the itch between his shoulder blades argued vehemently.
Danger. Danger. Danger.
The fact that nothing was obviously wrong didn’t mean a damn thing. Some primitive part of him said there was. Problem was, he couldn’t find the threat. All he had was a feeling that something was not right.
He finished eating and requested a to-go box. The waitress brought his bill, which he paid, then left a nice tip. After he shrugged on his jacket, he checked his cell phone to see what time it was. Yeah, it was getting late, and now that his belly was full, he was getting tired. No sooner than he finished that thought, he yawned. Nope, no way was he driving home tonight.
Caleb stood, picked up the to-go box, and nodded good-bye to the waitress as he walked out. Since the yawns were coming more frequently, he kept the car a little cooler than what he would’ve preferred. Even though he was tired, he made a pit stop by the gas station on his way out of town.
They didn’t have much, but outside of a few bottled drinks and some snacks, he didn’t need much. Between this and the pizza, he wouldn’t starve before he got home. While he was there he gassed up his vehicle.
The drive back to the cabin seemed the longer than the trip into town. When he pulled into the driveway of the cabin, he sent up a quick thank you to whomever might be listening for getting him there safely.
Now he was yawning so hard his eyes watered. And tired. Suddenly he was so damn tired he couldn’t see straight. Glad he made the decision to say, he grabbed his to-go box and got out. Jeez, now the wind was really whipping. Maybe there was a storm blowing in? He glanced up at the sky. Dark, ominous clouds rolled across the moon. The beautiful starry night from earlier was gone, and in its place was gloom.
After he locked his vehicle, he trudged up the steps to the cabin, unlocked it, and let himself inside. All he wanted to do was go to bed. Exhausted now, he stumbled to the bedroom. On the way he flipped on the hall light.
He stripped, threw his clothing on top of his suitcase, and unmade the bed. With a groan, he fell onto it, and after double checking to make sure the alarm was not set, pulled the covers to his chin. Comfortable, he snuggled down into the bed. Just as he drifted off to sleep he could’ve sworn the howling wind was calling his name.
* * * *
The next thing he knew he was wide awake and staring at the ceiling. Confusion flooded his mind. Where the hell was he? His bedroom had a ceiling fan, and the ceiling he was staring at did not. He blinked, and, nope, still no ceiling fan.
Then some helpful part of his brain supplied the answer: cabin. He groaned. He was at that stupid cabin in the stupid woods that he rented for his stupid adventure. Caleb scrubbed his hands over his face and tried to get all his synapses firing.
What the hell had woke him up? He’d been so tired when he went to bed. And why was it so dark in here? He distinctly remembered leaving on the hall light. Still flat on his back, his gaze returned to the ceiling. It was really dark in here, which was just odd. He was pretty sure it hadn’t been that dark when he went to bed.
Huh. Now that he was awake, he couldn’t miss how the wind shrieked outside the cabin. Man, that wind was howling… then he huffed. Damn it. Of course, now it made sense why it was so dark in there. Thanks to the wind, the electricity was out. Still, he got up to double check.
He opened the curtains in the bedroom and glanced outside to see if everyone’s lights were off too. Then it hit him what he was doing. “Well, duh. I’m in the middle of nowhere surrounded by woods. Of course there is no lights around me.”
Just how hard had he been sleeping? Still, he checked the bathroom light. Nope, not juice. The electricity was indeed out. Great. He climbed back into bed and lay quietly listening to see if he heard thunder. Nothing. Ah well, at least it wasn’t storming.
Well, he was due a lucky break, and apparently this was it. He set up and carefully felt around on the end table until he found his cell phone. It vibrated when he picked it up. Someone had a message—probably Raleigh—but he didn’t bother to check. Right now he was more interested in the time. He nudged the alarm clock toward him so he could see the face. Yep, no electricity.
Thank goodness he charged his cell battery before he left. He tapped the button on the bottom of his cell and lit up, showing the time. 2 AM. Seriously? Disgusted, he tossed the phone on the end table and flopped down the bed.
There were a lot of fun things he could be doing at 2 AM on a Saturday morning, but this wasn’t it. He rolled over onto his side and wrestled his pillow into a more comfortable position. Would this night ever end?
Sighing softly, he tried to will himself back to sleep. A cool breeze ruffled his hair, and he wrinkled his nose. Maybe he should have turned on the heat. He shivered and reached for more of the bedspread.
Jeez, was nothing going right? Where was the damn thing? Since feeling around wasn’t working, he opened his eyes… and was greeted with a rolling mist coming from underneath the bedroom door.
Caleb blinked.
Then he blinked again.
When the mist didn’t dissipate, he began to worry. Was there actually mist coming from underneath the door? Or was that smoke? Shit. Was there a fire? But the smoke detectors weren’t going off. Weren’t places that were rented out supposed to have those? He was pretty sure they were.
He set up in bed with some vague thought of getting dressed. He needed to get out of there just in case something was burning. But why didn’t he smell smoke? Before he could throw the covers off of him, the midst began to condense. Flabbergasted, he watched as it swirled and spun, moving faster in a tight spiral.
 Caleb blinked again.
Just what the hell was he seeing? As he watched, the mist formed a body… a body that stood at the foot of the bed. Caleb’s heart pounded furiously. Oh hell no. No, no, no, no, no. He was so not doing this.

What in the hell had he called up with that damn spell?

See y'all next Monday for another howling good time. ;)

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Country Boy at Heart is up for pre-order at DsP!

Buy Link:

Release date: Nov. 9th. This is a contemp... the first one in a long time. :)


Hot damn, what more could a country boy want? Bass Pro Shop is finally opening in Tennessee. Nick plans to check out all twelve indoor acres chock-full of hunting, fishing, and boating in the Memphis Pyramid on the Mississippi River.

City boy Sandy wonders yet again how he let himself get talked into attending a grand opening for a hick hunting store. His geeky heart prefers the energy of the city. Little does he know all that is going to change due to a freakishly tall glass elevator—and Nick, the high-school crush who’s suddenly taking a second look at him.

A moment of panic while trapped in the elevator leads to a spark neither expected. Getting out is the least of the challenges they’ll face if they want to try to put their differences aside and find out if love is possible between a city boy and a country boy.

~States of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the United States~

Cover Artist: Maria Fanning
Series States of Love | Tennessee

Genre: Contemporary


AHHHHH WHHAAAAAHH whahhh whhhhaaaa!
“Oh my God, is that a woman screaming?”
Nick barely resisted rolling his eyes. Could the wedding guests not tell the sound came from the giant bird currently displaying his magnificent feathers as he strutted? The peacock did a little dance, squawked again, and then stopped.
Oh. Oh damn, that’s not good. It turned its head, almost as if searching for him. He swore he saw an evil gleam in its eyes. Okay, now what? He tried to sidle farther back out of the way, but the tiny woman who stood at five feet nothing even in those lethally spiked heels clamped onto his elbow.
He winced. Jesus, she’s got a grip on her. He wasn’t sure which of the two—her or the ornate wall mount—concerned him most. Yeah, right. Nick eyed the ornery bird. Mister Peacock and he had been in an ongoing battle for supremacy for the last several years.
Damn. What was the menace on two legs doing nowOh fuck, it spotted me. It made a funny sound, then shook its body. If he didn’t know better, he would’ve sworn it smiled when it spotted him. It certainly tossed its head as it… oh, shit.
The wedding coordinator grabbed the back of Nick’s shirt and yanked, hard. What the hell did she eat for breakfast? He stumbled backward, and only sheer luck kept him from going down on his ass. The peacock squawked again—only this time it sounded like laughter.
“Your peacock just shit all over the runner! The runner that leads to the trellis! That’s where the pastor is going to marry them!” she whispered furiously.
While he thought that lovely shade of fire-engine red was an interesting color for her, he was a little concerned. He didn’t have time for yet another apocalyptic temper tantrum.
As tempted as he was to cover his ears, he was afraid that would get them boxed by Mrs. Big City Wedding Planner. Why didn’t the lady comprehend wild animals were wild and tended to shit whenever the urge hit? Although he did wonder if it did that just to spite him.
“Both Rob and I tried to explain to you that could happen, Mrs. Smith,” Nick whispered fiercely back to her. “Several times over, as a matter of fact, and in several different ways.”
Fat lot of good it did. The woman refused to budge. The bride’s colors were the same beautiful iridescent blues and greens that were in the peacock feathers, and she just had to have a peacock walking down the runner before her.
Rob, or Robert Gatlin, was actually the owner’s son. Dr. Ernie Gatlin had recently retired from his medical practice, and he and the missus planned to do some traveling, so he’d turned operations of the farm completely over to Robert.
Nick scratched his head as he stared at the steaming pile of shit on the stark white runner, as did several horrified wedding guests who’d already been seated. “What do you want me to do?”
“Go get it!” Mrs. Smith exclaimed as quietly as she could.
“Um, okay. The shi… I mean the poop, right? Ah….” Nick took a step back from the wedding planner, whose eyes were bulging. “Do you have anything I can use to—”
The sound that came out of the tiny woman next to him made his hair stand up. Which was quite a feat, considering his hair was short. Man, even the peacock hadn’t sounded that deranged.
“O-oh, okay, then. Wow.” He assumed she meant for him to get the poop, but now he wasn’t so sure. “Ah, guess not. I’m open to suggestions, just in case, you know, you got any.”
Mrs. Smith fanned her face, her eyes promising death, as she hysterically tapped the headphones she wore. “Art? Art? Are you there? Come in. Come in. Oh my God, sweetie, please answer.”
Seeing an opportunity to escape, he edged away from the wedding planner.
Mrs. Smith grabbed Nick by his shirt again and jerked him down to her level. “You listen to me, young man. Go get that runner out of there right now. That bride’s wedding gown cost ten thousand dollars, and I am not having her walk across bird shit just to get to the altar. Ten thousand dollars. Do you understand that?”
Nick gulped. Ten thousand? Who the hell spent that kind of money on a dress? Was the bride insane along with her wedding planner? No, he didn’t understand that. Not for clothing. Now, for a four-wheeler? Oh yeah, he’d drop that kind of cash on a four-wheeler in a heartbeat.
Once Mrs. Smith released him, Nick raced out there and shooed the bird out of the way. He quickly removed the runner, hissing only slightly when Mister Peacock pecked him on the ass. Damn pain-in-the-ass bird. He was going to pluck the bastard clean one day. He stood, and the peacock pranced out of his way.
Smart bird.
Art, the guy Mrs. Smith had been harping at on her headset, magically appeared right behind Nick, laying down a new runner. This runner wasn’t as spiffy as the first one, but it was missing a very important element in its design—peacock poop.
Nick pulled Mister Peacock’s favorite treat out of his pocket and held it out. Luck was on Nick’s side. The birdbrain followed Nick back to its pen. He threw the treat inside, and Mister Peacock followed after it, no problem. Of course. It preened, looking entirely too pleased with itself. Stupid bird was going to be the death of him, if he didn’t kill it first. Okay, he was joking. Sort of. Maybe.
“Blasted pain-in-the-ass bird,” he muttered as the first sounds of the wedding march drifted to him.
“Ahhhhh whhaaaaahh whahhh whhhhaaaa!”
“Right back at you, you overgrown dust buster.” Nick sincerely hoped no more birds shit on this damn event.
Springtime was their busy time for weddings. The dogwoods were in bloom all over the farm, the weather hadn’t turned melt-your-face-off hot yet, and the air carried the fragrant scent of flowers. Even though it was just the end of April, he was still sweating buckets.
The standing joke was that if you didn’t like Memphis weather, just wait thirty minutes and it would change. They’d already had a few days with the temperature pushing ninety degrees. The humidity wasn’t bad yet, but it was coming. By August the humidity would be as thick as his aunt Sally’s soup and just as deadly.

HOURS LATER the wedding party left. All that remained was to clean up the barn that had been converted into a reception area for weddings. He’d been at the farm since seven o’clock that morning, just like every morning.
Now it was seven o’clock in the evening, and he was past ready to leave. It was Saturday too, so he didn’t have to work tomorrow. After dumping the last of the trash, he clocked out and hurried to his truck. So help him God, if someone called his name he was totally pretending he couldn’t hear them.
He took the back roads home, lost in thought. That guy Art really shook him up and brought back a lot of memories he hadn’t expected. Art was a little below average in height, on the slender side, ridiculously geeky, and had set Nick’s gaydar off. It was pinging all over the place. He didn’t have a problem with Art being gay. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Unfortunately it had taken him all through high school to figure out that he not only liked boys but to accept it. Being captain of the football team hadn’t exactly been conducive to his sexuality either. When he came out, there’d been a backlash. The only good thing was his parents didn’t freak out or act like he was going to hell.
Nick dragged his mind out of the past as he pulled into his driveway. His black Lab, Rosco, leaped happily around his truck, barking madly. What more could a guy ask for? He had a good job he loved, was renting-to-own his home, and had an overly energetic puppy greeting him before he could get out of the vehicle. Life was good.
So why did he often catch himself wishing there was an overly energetic boyfriend standing in the door waiting to greet him? Not just any guy, but a guy named Sandy. Unfortunately that boat sailed long ago, and he had nobody to blame but himself.
He spent an hour playing in the backyard with Rosco until the puppy’s tongue was dragging on the ground. Satisfied he’d worn the little ball of energy out, they went inside. Rosco made a beeline toward his water dish. After drinking all he could and splashing the rest all over the kitchen floor, he flopped down in the den and passed out.
Nick tossed his keys onto the kitchen table, cleaned up the water, and refilled the water dish. After drinking all that water, Rosco would need to go back outside and potty before he left. Not that putting the little scamp in the backyard meant he’d stay there.
No matter what Nick did, somehow Rosco managed to get out whenever he pleased. Pausing as he walked through the den, he turned on a lamp. Rosco whimpered happily as he twitched and batted one of those huge paws in the air, making Nick chuckle.
He wondered what Rosco was dreaming. Sighing, he glanced at the couch. What he wouldn’t give to plop down and mindlessly surf through the channels. God, he was tired. Maybe a hot shower would make him feel better—or knock him out completely. After dragging his tired ass to the bathroom, he stripped, tossed his dirty clothes in the hamper, and trudged into the shower.
He’d just stepped onto the bathmat when the smoky voice of his favorite country singer wailed from the bedroom. “Dammit.”
Wrapping the towel around his waist, he hurried out of the bathroom. That was his best friend’s ringtone. Snatching the cell off his desk, he answered. “Hey, man, what’s up?”
“Hey! You just get off work?” Houston asked.
“Actually about an hour ago. There was a wedding out at the farm, and things ran a little later than we thought.”
“Well, that sucks. Is this the wedding with that wedding planner who insisted on having that crazy-ass peacock—”
“Oh my God, yes, and let me tell you what that crazy-ass peacock did. It shit on the runner. Do you hear me, man? He took a big dump right there. I swear, he did it just to get me in trouble with that equally insane wedding planner.”
“I’ll never understand why you think that bird is out to get you.”
Nick huffed. “That’s all part of its evil plan, don’t you see? Why does nobody else see this? One day that bird’s going to take over the world and you guys are going to wish you listened.”
“Anyway, I have to admit watching Miss Big City Wedding Planner turn red was funny.”
“I don’t get you. I saw that chick, and she was hot.”
“If you say so.” Nick wasn’t going to argue the point. “Most of the times I saw her, her eyes were bulging and she was red in the face. I’m all for a bulge, but I prefer it a little lower.”
“Oh, that was bad.” Houston chuckled. “Really bad. Your jokes aren’t usually that lame.”
“I’m tired.”
Houston was one friend who’d stuck with him through all the bad times after Nick outed himself. He’d said more than once he didn’t understand Nick’s attraction to dick, but he was cool with it since that left more girls for him.
“I can tell. Actually, that’s why I called. I was checking to see if we’re still on for tonight,” Houston said.
“Yeah. I should be at the Rack by nine.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you there.”
Nick disconnected the call and tossed his cell back onto the desk. Since he was dripping all over the floor, he hurried back to the bathroom and toweled off. Then he dried the little pools of water he’d left on his nicely refurbished hardwood floors.
He grabbed a pair of underwear from the dresser, slipped them on, then started searching through his closet for his favorite pair of Levi’s. Both knees were frayed and busted, and other places were so worn they were white. Plus they fit his ass like a glove, not that it mattered.
He wouldn’t be getting lucky tonight—not where they were going—but the jeans were comfortable. The Rack was actually called Mack’s Racks and was a bar with several pool tables and big-screen TVs. They served appetizers too.
Houston’s name was Edward Houston, but he went by his last name. They’d been best friends since middle school. In some ways Houston reminded him of his dog, Rosco: all arms and legs, black hair, and big brown puppy dog eyes. He also had more energy than he knew what to do with. Sometimes Nick envied Houston.
After spending all day working at the farm and then dealing with weddings since it was spring, the last thing he felt like doing was going out. But it was hard to say no to Houston once he got something in his head.
Houston would get this ridiculously sad look in his eyes, pout, and then do this drooping shoulder thing and… yeah. Rosco did that too, and he fell for it every time, just like he did with Houston. Maybe he should just put Houston in the backyard too. Now there was a thought.
Instead he pulled on a tight black knit polo and his fancy black cowboy boots. Since his hair was cut short, it had dried already. After brushing his teeth, he ran his fingers over his jaw. He needed to shave, but he liked the scruffy look, so he decided to leave it. He stopped by the kitchen and chugged an energy drink. Hopefully that would help him keep his eyes open for the next several hours. Once he got to the Rack, he’d eat.
He put Rosco outside. “You know, if I actually found you in the backyard when I get home tonight that would make me really happy. I’m pretty sure that could result in a treat, even. So how about you be a good boy and stay where I put you for once?”
Rosco barked, wagged his tail furiously, and dashed off across the backyard.
“I’m going to take that as agreement!” Nick yelled after the puppy.
All he got in return was another bark.
He grinned as he went back inside and picked his keys up   from the kitchen table. Even though the sun had set and it had cooled off, he didn’t need a jacket. A quick check of the time as he walked to his truck showed it was only eight thirty. Perfect. He should get to the Rack with plenty of time to spare.
He started his truck and just sat for a moment listening to the deep purr of his pipes. That always gave him a little thrill. He’d bought it used last year and was proud of it. It was a jacked-up black 2008 Chevy Silverado with KCs mounted on a roll cage bar in the back of the truck. The interior was tan leather, but he’d put camo seat covers on so the leather would last.
He needed to wash it, but that was kind of pointless. The road to the farm was gravel. Some parts of the farm had nothing more than dirt roads, so keeping the truck clean was impossible.
He turned the radio on as he left the house, and a commercial touting all the benefits of having a wedding at Lake View Farms played. That got him to thinking about the wedding he’d just left, which of course made him think of the wedding planner’s helper, Art, again. He knew why the guy kept coming to mind. He reminded him of Sandy.
Lord, Sandy had had a huge crush on Nick all through high school. Oh, he was very subtle about it, but Nick had known. It was hard to miss those big, adorable brown eyes that followed him relentlessly.
Then, in the tenth grade, Sandy had been assigned by the English teacher to help tutor Nick. Sandy was one of the cutest, sweetest geeks Nick had ever seen. Sandy flipped every switch he had, but he buried those feelings. At the time he’d been terrified to examine what he felt, so he ignored it.
They didn’t hang out, since he was a jock and Sandy was a geek, but Nick made it a point to speak to Sandy in the hallways and other places. His actions made it clear Sandy was off limits. Word spread quickly that if anyone messed with Sandy, they answered to Nick.
It was because of Sandy that Nick finally ended up coming out. They were seniors, football season was over, and they were celebrating their last day of school. One of his jock buddies had slammed Sandy into a row of metal rockers, and Nick saw the whole thing.
Nick snapped when he heard Sandy cry out in pain. He confronted Keith, words turned into slurs, and things blew up when Keith demanded to know why Nick was defending the fag. Somehow Nick went from defending the fag to admitting he was gay too.
He and Keith ended up in a brawl in the school parking lot by the field house with half the senior class watching. Fortunately Coach broke it up. Sandy tried to thank Nick right after the fight ended, but Nick was still furious, hurting from a couple of hard right hooks, and quite frankly horrified by what he had just done.
He’d snapped at Sandy, and the hurt on Sandy’s face only added to the brew of unpleasantness that was boiling in Nick. Sandy stiffly turned away and never spoke to Nick again—and it was all his fault. But to be fair, he had just turned his life upside down and wasn’t dealing well with the fact. The principal had threatened not to let them walk at graduation, but nothing came of it.
That had been five years ago. Since then he’d worked like a dog until he was the second most important person at Lake View Farms. Robert depended on him to pretty much run the place. Nick enjoyed the responsibility and had absolutely no trouble telling people older than him what to do.
Over the years he’d learned so many things, like how to build a deck, how to care for horses, how to deal with distributors for whatever they needed at the farm, how to oversee and operate special events. He was kept busy, so much so he didn’t have much of a social life. Living in a small rural town didn’t help.
If he wanted to hook up, he had to go to Memphis, which he hated. There was too much traffic, nothing but concrete everywhere, and a crime rate that made him glad he lived in a small town. Give him acres of woodlands to the concrete jungle any day. He got in, and he got out—kind of like his hookups.
Occasionally he saw Sandy around town when Sandy came home to visit his parents, but it was always at a distance. From what he heard, Sandy had moved to Memphis and was a manager at one of the major electronic chain stores. He shuddered. That was the very definition of hell to him. He couldn’t imagine having to dress up and work inside all day.
Rumor was Sandy worked on computers on the side and was actually quite good at repairing them. That didn’t surprise Nick. Even in high school, Sandy had earned the reputation of being magic with computers.
Nick took the turnoff to the Rack and parked. It was almost nine and the place was packed. He sighed as he got out and locked his truck. Even from the parking lot, he heard the country music blaring from the speakers. He’d play a couple games of pool, shoot the breeze for a little while, and then take his tired ass back home. He was only twenty-three. When had he gotten old?
He walked inside. It didn’t take long to spot Houston, even in the crowd. Houston was sitting at a little round table off to the side watching one of the big-screen TVs and drinking a beer. Nick made his way over and sat down.
“Packed tonight, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. I didn’t see you come in,” Houston said.
A waitress appeared and took Nick’s order. He asked for a beer and an extra-large order of barbecue nachos.
“Played any yet?” Nick nodded at the pool table.
“A game or two. Nobody here really as good as you.”
They talked for a little while until the waitress brought his appetizer and beer.
“By the way, got any plans tomorrow?”
“Outside of sleeping in? Nope,” Nick said. “Why?”
“The new Bass Pro is opening in the Memphis Pyramid tomorrow.”
“I vaguely remember hearing something about that.” Nick bit into a chip covered in cheese and barbecued chicken. “This week’s been a nightmare, and I forgot about it. So it opens tomorrow, huh?”
“Yep. You want to go? They got this really cool glass elevator, a couple of restaurants, a bowling alley, and even a place to spend the night. It’s some sort of fancy hotel in the upper part of the Pyramid. I think it’s called Big Cypress Lodge.”
“You know restaurants usually suck the first couple of days after they open, right? They haven’t had the time to get the bugs worked out yet.”
“You got anything else going on?” Houston helped himself to a chip. “If you don’t want to go Sunday, we can go Monday.”
“I’m sure one day’s going to be enough time to work all the bugs out.” Nick sipped his beer. His off days were usually Sunday and Monday.
“Come on, man.”
“You’re going to nag me until I give in, aren’t you?”
“Of course.”
“Fine. Fine, we’ll go,” Nick said. “We’re taking my truck too. Yours always looks like a homeless man’s been living in it.
“Funny. Pick me up around noon. I can…. Hold that thought. Shit, that’s Cherie. When did she get back in town? I… my God, she’s even hotter than I remember. I’ll be right back.”

Nick sighed as he ate. So much for sleeping late tomorrow.