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Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld

Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld

Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld

Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld
Available at:
Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble

Description:  

Want to know what it feels like to be a rock star?

Reid Taylor started out with nothing and became part of one of the biggest bands in the world. Now he wants to tell you about the hard struggle every step of the way, fame, the craziness of being on the road, the groupies, and how he found real love that meant more to him than all the groupies in the world. And he wants to tell you about the conflict he had with one of the members of his own band, that threatened everything the band ever hoped to achieve.

Chapter One:

The thing is, I never really liked our drummer. I never liked the guy. Our singer I could tolerate, even though he thought he was beyond human. I’d seen him on the way up, when nothing like that was ever in his head. Mostly what he thought then was how afraid he was that he was blowing it and he’d run out of money and become a street person, sleeping in doorways. He had an unnatural fear of that, as though some fortune teller had put it into him. It was like it haunted him, a vision of his own future. Then when we really hit it, something else ridiculous happened – he felt like he had won against some supernatural power, like he’d overcome his own destiny and become more than normal. It was just irritating, but I still liked the guy.

Our lead guitarist – what you see looking at us is not what you see if you’re inside looking out.  Barry O. – the Fireman, if you know his nickname – to you guys he looked like he had it all under control, but I knew that every second he was just waiting for it all to fall apart. He was just convinced that this was going to last for, maybe, another ten seconds. This went on for years.

I played the bass.  I guess it was only natural that I’d be the down-to-earth guy, since that’s what I did for our sound. My bass was just like the anchor that kept the kite from flying off into the sky and getting lost. I guess I tried to do that for our band too. And you know how that turned out.

But why get ahead of things? Everybody always wants to know how it all got started and what happened, and to hear about all the craziness and everything. So now that it’s all over and I’ve got time, I’m like, why not?

HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED

Actually it was kind of spooky.  I’ll never forget the day because my girl friend just broke up with me that same morning. She just finally got fed up with me for being the way I am. She was excitable. She didn’t mind that I wasn’t excitable, but it was the way I wasn’t that finally she couldn’t take any more. I’m just sort of a, get up every day, get the job done, don’t get distracted by stuff, just keep moving forward kind of guy. I sort of feel like a tank on a battlefield. I just keep going. Stuff can be blowing up around me, so what, I don’t care, I’m still going ahead. Meanwhile she felt like I was a snail, just going along too slow, getting nowhere. Like I said, she was excitable. She started getting crazy about it, hysterical. Which didn’t even faze me because I’m like what I said, and that drove her even crazier, and so it was just that same morning that she just said she was breaking up. Which was kind of like, I mean, even to a tank, a bomb goes off right underneath of you and you’re going to feel it. So I was trashed and in no mood to go anywhere, much less to an audition.

I’d heard about this audition Barry was having out in some old barn or shack or something. I wasn’t going to go in the first place and now I definitely wasn’t planning on going. I’d met him once or twice and my impression was that he was a little frayed around the edges.  A little flighty. Maybe not serious enough.  Tanks don’t wait for guys like him,  we run guys like him over.  So the hell with it, was basically my approach to the subject.

I was in no mood to see anybody, and then my phone started to blow up. All these calls were coming in. I tried to remember, did we always get this many calls on a weekend? Did my girlfriend used to just answer the phone? It seemed like way more than usual. All these people asking me to go here or there or come out and have a drink or let’s go to this party or hear this band or whatever. Some of them already knew about the breakup and wanted to cheer me up, and some had no idea. Finally I had to go out just to get away from the phone calls. So it was getting late already and I just took off for the bar to play pool and have some beers.

So now I’m out and my cell phone starts blowing up and I just don’t answer it. I’m not in the mood, as you can easily imagine. I’m playing pool, having a beer, trying to not think about anything. The misery is sitting on me like a wrestler that’s got another wrestler pinned. I can’t do anything about it and I know I can’t do anything about it, so I’m trying to not think about it.

And then this guy walks right up to me out of nowhere and says, “Hey man, can you give me a lift to Barry’s audition?” I don’t even recognize this guy. I’m so stunned that I actually forget to blow him off.  I actually let myself get into a conversation with him.

“Dude, I’m not going to Barry’s audition.”

“Aren’t you Reid Taylor?”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m Travis. I saw you sit in with Sammy Marshall at Harry’s a month ago.”

“Yeah, well, I’m just hanging out here tonight.”

“Everybody says you’re going.”

“Everybody? Who?”

The guy looked around vaguely. “I don’t know. People.”

“People? Who? Who said that? What was the name of the person who said that?”

“It wasn’t one person. It was at least two people.”

“Who?”

“That guy over there.”

He looks over at somebody and at that exact split second, before I can see who it is, the guy he’s looking at turns and walks out of the place.

“’Scuse me one second. I want to say hi,” I said, and went to see who it was.

So I head out of the bar and the guy is walking away towards his pickup, and I said, “Dude.” He stopped, looked around, I’d never seen him before, and I already don’t like him.  I’d never seen the guy before, and I swear to God I already don’t like the guy.

“Yeah, what’s up Reid?”

“You know me?”

“No, some guys in there said you were going over to Barry’s.  You want a lift?”

At this point I actually said, screw it, I might as well go. I mean, why not at this point? It was either go or hear about it all night evidently. It was turning out to be the path of least resistance. The easiest way to not have to think about going was to head over there.  I could already see that if I didn’t I’d spend all day tomorrow answering people who wanted to know why I didn’t go.

“Yeah, sure, why not,” I said. I got my axe out of my trunk and got into his pickup and we took off.

The guy said his name was Clay Hicks.

So now I’m headed off on a mission to be in this band, when in fact I could care less. I felt like one of those embedded reporters who travel with the army.

The plus side was, I needed a laugh, and heading off to this thing without caring at all what anybody there was going to say about me was funny. They were going to be judging everybody and I was going to be not even beginning to care. I was way beyond caring already tonight about anything any of these guys were going to say to me.

And I had to admit it was a welcome distraction from this misery I couldn’t shake.

After a while Clay started driving too fast.  Way past the speed limit. He’s taking curves at roller-coaster speeds. I’m looking at this guy, I’ve never seen him before, and I’m wondering, is he testing me? Is he waiting to see how I’m going to act? Or is he just trying to rattle me so I can’t audition? I watch the road. He’s not skidding much, he’s not driving outside the lane or anything. He seems to be able to handle the car at this speed. So I don’t say anything.

We’re driving way outside of town and the streetlights are getting farther and farther apart, and finally we pull up in this parking lot outside of some kind of big old run-down looking building. I grab my axe and get out of there because there’s no way I’m talking to this guy since I’d only tell him that no matter how proud he is of whatever he thinks he was doing, he’s just like one of those comets heading down through the night sky, that burns bright while it’s burning itself up. Let’s put it this way — chances are that when he crashes his car, I won’t be in it.

The front of the building looks dusty. The door doesn’t feel solid when I open it. Inside it’s dark. There are tables all around – it’s some kind of closed restaurant. There’s people milling around on the far side of the room, and that’s where the lights are on. There’s a stage set up over there. I see Barry, long-haired, rattled-looking but cheerful, proud that this is his thing, he’s running it, everybody’s there to win his approval. People drive all the way here, they get here, and they’re into it, man, you can feel it. It’s electric. People want to be chosen.

I consider just hanging out back here in the dark and watching, but that’s too ridiculous. Besides, I need more distraction or I’m going to get swallowed whole by this wretchedness that feels like it’s eating me alive.  So I head over to the edge of where everybody is and see a singer I know named Shawn.

“Hey, how you doin’?”

“Reid, all right man, how are you?”

“Pretty good.”

“I heard you and Sharon broke up.”

“Yeah.”

“You okay with it?”

I like Shawn, but why do people always have to ask the wrong question? He’s saying it like he’s my friend and being all sympathetic, but what if the answer is what it really is, namely that I’m anything but okay with it? He’s gonna make me talk about that? Expose myself like a fish flopping around on a boat deck waiting to be iced? Is that like a friend to do that, to bring that up, to try to make me say it? I don’t even give him the benefit of the doubt.  I bet that somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows exactly what he’s doing. When you’re suffering, it almost takes a saint to be your friend.

There’s nothing I feel like answering. I’m not a good enough actor to say I’m fine and have anybody believe me. Or maybe I could, I’m not going to protect myself by lying, by hiding, by pretending to be something I’m not.

“No. I’m not okay with it. It sucks.”

“I’m sorry, dude.”

To me that looks like the fakest sympathy ever.  So what. I don’t care. I don’t say anything back. I move on.

Barry spots me and comes over.

“Hey Reid! Good to see ya’. Thanks for coming over.”

“Glad to be here, man.”

“I didn’t know how to reach you, so I just told people to let you know about it.”

“Okay, cool. It worked.”

“Excellent.” He moves on to talk to somebody. It’s like I said, the guy’s a little flaky. He didn’t know how to reach me, so he just told people. But it worked, I gotta give him that.

“Hey, how’s it goin’?” A drummer I know has spotted me, a good guy, named Leon.

“Okay, man. How’re you?”

“I heard about Sharon, dude.”

“Yeah.”

“That sucks, man.” He says it like he’s talking about a coat that doesn’t fit. He’s not making that big a deal out of it. You can see he’s not acting like it’s the end of the world. Leon’s an okay guy.

“I appreciate that.”

“For sure. You think it’s really over?”

“Oh yeah.”

“You were with her, what, a couple of years?”

“Almost.”

“Well, if it’s not right, it’s not right, huh?”

“Yeah, man. Thanks.”

“For sure.”

Barry gets up on stage – the action’s starting, and Leon goes to find out when he’s up. These encounters are taking too much effort, so I go sit down on the outer edge of the group, in the shadows but not like I’m trying to avoid people. Barry’s warming up, playing some old blues.

Sitting down, there’s not enough distraction. I’m trying not to think about Sharon, but it’s too big to avoid. It’s like a yacht bearing down on a rowboat. You want to enjoy the beautiful day, but you see that yacht bearing down on you to cut you in half.

Then I realize I already got cut in half, when Sharon left. This misery is too big, I can’t fight it, I’m just going to have to go through it. I get ready for it, I look for how to like the grief, how to want it, how to make something good with it. Feeling it means something, it means finding out what you’ve lost, like a store owner taking inventory after a flood. It’s super painful but you have to do it so you can keep the store going.

For a minute I didn’t even notice what was going on. Then I started to hear the new stuff Barry was playing. He wasn’t playing blues anymore. This must be his own stuff. It’s pretty much just straight chord progressions, but these aren’t the same old tired boring patterns I’ve heard a million times. I’ve never heard these progressions before, and the chords he’s got sound great together.

I know what this means if it’s not a fluke, but I figure that’s gotta be all it is.  There’s no way he’s got a lot of this stuff. But then he hits us with another one, and another one. This is the DNA of songs that haven’t been written yet. This is what I’ve been looking for. Sharon thought I wasn’t getting anywhere – she didn’t see that I was looking, waiting, for what it’s starting to look like just showed up here in this busted-up closed restaurant.

I want to stand up and charge the stage. It’s such an overwhelming mix of feelings – this wretchedness on top of this exaltation and excitement. I get the sense a person can hold an infinity of feeling. It starts to make me feel physically bigger than myself.  It’s making me giddy. It’s making me dizzy.

I move really quietly over to some friend of Barry’s with a note pad and get my name on the list. Then I sit back and watch what goes on, carried along on these sensations like a loose rowboat – or a piece of a loose rowboat that got cut in half — on top of huge ocean swells.

Bass players, drummers, singers come and go. Leon tries out and does great. The bass players are just playing right on top of the same notes Barry’s got, just a few octaves lower. It’s driving me crazy. I can’t stand it. I can’t wait to go up. Finally they call me. I walk up, plug in. Barry hits it. Leon’s on the drums.

This tremendous sense of power hit me.  I was so full of passion over breaking up with my girl and now it was going into the notes I was playing and the counterpoint I was finding. It was like the whole day was fated to put me on fire for this. I blew that room away so hard that even my competitors just looked at each other and they all saw each other felt, I was the guy.

When you live a certain way, certain days come along and change the rest of your life.  And when that happens it just kind of naturally shows you were right all along – waiting, believing, praying, hoping for that to happen. And that is quite an experience. The surprise that you were right about that stuff, that you were right you could do these things, that you could find what you needed in the world that was missing in yourself, and put that all together, and make the things happen that you thought you could, and where other people wonder how you got there and how you did it – it puts awe into you.  Of course, that night, it was still just my belief, my hope, my faith, that that was what had happened. Nothing was proven yet.

Leon did not get chosen. It hurt his feelings, and I felt like my friend had been dropped into a deep deep well and I didn’t know how to get him out. And who did get picked – Clay Hicks. Clay had outperformed Leon on the night, no question. But how could I tell Barry that I had a bad feeling about Clay based on one crazy car ride? Barry didn’t know Clay, didn’t know Leon – none of us knew each other yet.

 Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld
Available at:
AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & Noble

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A Ghost of a Chance at Love, by Terry Spear

A Ghost of a Chance at Love, by Terry Spear

A Ghost of a Chance at Love, by Terry Spear

A Ghost of a Chance at Love, by Terry Spear
Available at:
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance Ebooks

Description:  Lisa Welsh only wishes to leave a messy divorce behind for a couple of days stay in Salado, Texas but wakes to nightmares and a cowboy in her bed, and she has no earthly idea how he got there. But the situation gets worse when she learns she’s now living in 19th Century Salado. Even more worrisome is the tall dark stranger, and everyone else in town believes she’s some woman named Josephine Rogers who is supposed to be dead.

Jack Stanton can’t believe the clerk gave him an occupied room at the Shady Villa Inn, but worse, he was ready to ravage the woman in that bed—until he realized his mistake. Now the woman he thinks is Josephine claims to be some other woman—and though he could never abide by Josephine’s fickle ways, this Lisa Welsh intrigues him like no other. Still, if she isn’t Josephine, he figures he best help her find her way back to where she really belongs no matter how much he wants to keep her with him.

Together, Lisa and Jack must solve the mysteries and face the troubles in their worlds or they will never be free to share the love that binds them across the ages.

Chapter One

In the flickering of the lantern’s golden flame, a shadowy solitary figure stood across the room, observing the sleeping occupant. The dim light projected through the amber glass cast eerie shape-shifting characters up and down the burgundy rose-papered walls. In the gloomy darkness, the specter reached out to Lisa Welsh, begging for solace, straining to be felt.

The fragrance of roses permeated the dimness, tea-scented, teasing the senses of the unwitting guest. Except for the rustle of sugar-drained leaves dancing against the windows, the room remained deadly quiet. Suffocated by the heat of the coverlet, Lisa tossed the quilt aside. Quickly chilled, she tugged it back over her shoulders. The darkness threatened to swallow her whole and drag her into the hellish pit of a nightmare again.

Groggy with sleep, she thought about Tom, the image of him, smug, his eyes blue and cold. “I found someone else,” he’d said, and it echoed in her mind like a damn broken record.

A girl barely out of high school. The bastard. At twenty-one, Lisa was already over the hill? She blinked tears back. She refused to give him any more space in her brain.

She attempted to think of something pleasant. And then she had it.

A Trojan warrior’s fingers pushed the silky gown up her leg—she, being his Trojan princess hostage. His muscular thigh tensed when he pressed his nude body against hers. She ran her hands over his sculpted back, mesmerized by the smoothness of his skin against her fingertips.

In the flutter of an eyelid, the chills resumed, and the darkness returned. A shudder shook Lisa’s body.

Murky figures moved closer. “She can’t last long.” A man’s gruff voice made no attempt to quiet his comment in Lisa’s presence.

We can’t wait any longer. The sale—”

I know, I know, the buyers are getting suspicious. In a town this size, the word will soon get out.”

What do you propose to—”

You know what we have to do. She’ll never be missed.”

The heat, the chills, the muscles that ached with every twitch of her body…

Lisa squirmed to free herself of the misery pervading her soul. She twisted and rolled onto her back. She gasped for breath—she couldn’t breathe.

In a mournful, strangled voice, she cried out. The goose down-filled pillow covered her face, pressing tightly against her mouth and nostrils. Her arms felt locked in a vise. She attempted to pull them free from the blanket and comforter

Were the bedcovers pinning her down? Or something more sinister? Fingers? Gripping her arms, bruising the skin?

Her heart beating pell-mell, Lisa broke free from the paralysis and threw the pillow burying her face onto the floor. Cold, she was so cold. And drained of energy. She rolled over, submerging herself under the covers, trying to push out the chill.

Warmth radiated from the other side of the bed, and she gravitated toward it.

Tom. Sighing, she snuggled against his hard, naked body, his heated skin warming her to the core. She listened to the steady thumping of his heart, the rhythmic drumbeat lulling her back to sleep. Until he stirred. His fingers slipped through her hair, tenderly combing the strands. His simple touch made her crave for more. She nuzzled her mouth against his smooth chest, her fingers tracing his pebbled nipple.

He groaned, leaned down, and kissed the top of her head.

Her heart lifting, she raised her face toward him, encouraging more of his kisses. Pressing his mouth against hers, gently at first, the sleeping giant awakened.

She kissed him back, nipping his mouth with teasing bites, touching her tongue to his, making him moan with need. The sound was gratifying after such a long absence. She shifted her body, sliding her thigh over his. But he pressed his hands against her shoulders, moving her onto her back like a man with a calling. Forceful, yet loving.

Yes! This is what she needed to warm her up.

His hands slipped to her breasts, and he caressed, lifted, and massaged them through her clothes, making her tingle throughout. She stilled her hands on his waist, absorbed in his sensual and needy touch. Then wrapping her in his heat and vigor, he pinned her to the mattress. Ohmigod, yes! He hadn’t shown her this much ardor in forever.

She ran her hands over the muscles in his back, enjoyed the feel of his satiny skin, the way he pressed against her, his arousal hard against her waist. She wanted him buried deep inside her, passionate, virile, possessive, loving her without hesitation.

With his mouth kissing hers, he swept his hands down her sides and reached for her… nightgown? Not right. Something’s not right.

He lifted it, exposing her, his fingers stroking her naked thighs with a silky caress. But a twinge of panic streaked through her veins.

Not…not her nightgown…too heavy, not long enough…denim…her denim skirt? The illusion shattered. The world as she knew it unraveled, one notion at a time. He was too muscular to be Tom, too tall, and he smelled like leather and a spicy scent not at all like her…her…oh, hell, she was divorced. Tom hadn’t lived with her for the last three months.

Her heart and breath on hold, she tried to slip out from under the aroused man who was clearly not her ex-husband. He slid his hand higher, toward the apex of her thighs.

Too scared to scream, she squirmed to get free.

Charlotte,” he said, his voice a husky, sexy tenor.

What’s wrong, darlin’?”

Ohmigod, had she been out of her mind? Gone to bed with a total stranger and made up an alias?

The cotton sheets scratched her skin, unlike the satin feel of her 600-thread count ones. Cotton? She’d put flannel sheets on her bed for the fall as cold natured as she was. She wasn’t even in her own bed. Where was she?

“Get off me!” She tried to shove him aside, but he was like a primed bull ready to mate with his woman, and she’d been the one to prime him.

He reached out and touched her arm in a reassuring way.

Honey?” His voice was drenched with lust but sounded concerned, too.

She pushed again, freeing herself from his hot body. She scooted away so fast she fell off the bed. And fell and fell. Finally landing on the unforgiving wooden floor, she smacked her elbow and hip hard. How high was the damned bed?

Charlotte?” the man asked, but this time his voice was tinged with more than worry.

Who are you?” The covers rustled.

Lisa couldnsee blamed thing in the dark, and she hoped the naked guy was dressing and leaving the room pronto. At least she wasnnaked.

You’re not…she’s…” He paused.

Lisa scrambled to her feet, trying to remember where she was and why she was with a naked man in a bedroom that wasn’t her own.

What are you doing in my hotel room?” he finally asked with an accusing tone.

Hotel,” she whispered,  rubbing her throbbing temple.

Ohmigod, hotel. The Stagecoach Inn.” She vaguely remembered leaving Waco last night to come to Salado, to get away after the judge finalized her divorce from Tom, the worm.

Wrong inn,” the guy said, matter-of-factly.

rented room here. Iafraid youre the one whoin the wrong place.” She attempted to sound sure of herself, not as rattled as she felt.  But she knew for fact that she had rented the room.

A boot hit the floor, and the bed creaked. “I sure apologize for the mix-up, ma’am. I reckon the clerk made a mistake. I’ll be out of here as soon as I can.”

It wasn’t your fault.” Although she couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d nearly done with a total stranger. How could she have thought it was Tom? She guessed after four years of marriage and three months of separation, she still couldn’t believe they were finished.

Boots tromped across the wooden floor then stopped at the door. When the man pulled it open, a hall lamp cast a dim light into the room, illuminating the guy’s attire, a cowboy dressed in black. A rodeo type or maybe he was in a country band. Neither of which appealed to her. Although why she was considering it, she hadn’t a clue.

He stared at her for moment, his brows deeply furrowed. hint of recognition appeared in his dark eyes, his angular face stern, and his jaw taut. Her gaze drifted to his lipsperfectly kissable mouthif they werenso grim. He was much better kisser than Tom had ever been, like he wanted to devour every lovable inch of herif shebeen some woman named Charlotte.

A green cord of envy wrapped around her heart. Why couldn’t she garner that much interest from a man who looked like this guy?

The cowboy cleared his throat, ran his hands over the brim of a black Stetson, and gave her a little nod. “I apologize again, Miss.” Then he shut the door, and his footfall echoed down the hall.

Instantly, she felt bereft. Alone. Unwanted. Discarded.

She was mess and had to pull herself together. Tom wasnworth the feelings that were churning deep inside her. He was perfectly content, and she was damned if she was going to be unhappy because heleft her for teen. Wiping away annoying tears, she vowed not to think about him again tonight. Or tomorrow. Or ever. Letting out her breath, she inched her way to the door in the dark. She fumbled with the doorknob, searching for lock.

A Ghost of a Chance at Love, by Terry Spear
Available at:
AmazonBarnes & NobleAll Romance Ebooks

Between Seasons, by Aida Brassington

Between Seasons, by Aida Brassington

Between Seasons, by Aida Brassington

Between Seasons, by Aida Brassington
Available at:
Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble

Description:  There are things Patrick Boyle will never forget: the sound of his own neck breaking at the moment of his death in the fall of 1970, the sweet taste of his mother’s chocolate cake, and the awful day his parents abandoned him in his childhood house-turned prison.

Nineteen-year-old Patrick wonders for decades if God has forgotten all about him or if he’s being punished for some terrible crime or sin over a lovely forty years trapped in an empty home. But when Sara Oswald, a strange woman with a mysterious past, buys his house, old feelings reawaken, and a new optimism convinces him that she’s the answer to his prayers.

Things are never simple, though, especially when she begins channeling the memories of his life and death in her writing.

Excerpt:

Whoever said dying was easy was full of crap. Patrick Boyle remembered slipping down the carpeted stairs, wincing and grunting as he dislocated his shoulder with the first jolt. His skin flayed off at the hip when his shirt rose up while skidding across a hard edge, a sensation he vividly remembered as lingering and grinding. And finally, he was fully cognizant of the pain as his neck made a sharp, juicy cracking noise when he crunched head first on the landing below. It wasn’t easy, and it sure as Hell wasn’t fun.

The pain faded just as quickly as it happened, but then he groaned in humiliation as the piss stained the front of his tan corduroy pants seconds after he officially died. His mother’s high-pitched screech drew his attention away from the sensation of hot fabric sticking to the inside of his thighs, although not so much that it didn’t occur to him it was pretty far out that he could still feel his body. It was a sure bet he was dead – if the blank look in his wide open eyes and the fact that his heart didn’t seem to be beating was any indication. And, you know, being able to see himself and his mother from across the room made it pretty obvious. In fact, he seemed to be able to see the scene from all directions: from above, from the left, and from the right.

Arlene Boyle obviously didn’t realize her son was dead, though. At least Patrick didn’t think so – otherwise, she probably wouldn’t have poked so hard at his dislocated shoulder with a firm but shaking finger and yelled his name. It was kind of strange; getting jabbed should have hurt, but he didn’t feel a thing at that moment. Well, except the beginnings of a persistent panic that tied his useless intestines in phantom knots.

“Patrick Michael Boyle!” rang through the house, echoing in the narrow stairwell of wooden steps and slippery, rust-colored shag carpeting runner. When Patrick’s corpse didn’t even so much as flinch, she slipped into Mom mode, quickly and efficiently calling someone, maybe the operator or the hospital or something. She probably couldn’t allow herself to even consider that her “little miracle Patty,” as his mother liked to call him – something about not being able to have more children –  might not be okay. That’s just the way she was, though: calm and optimistic. Patrick and his father liked to joke she was queen of ignoring the obvious.

The good news was when he looked down again, he stood beside his dead body… in his own body. His spiritual body, he supposed. And his corduroy pants – the ones on his non-dead… or undead, whatever… body –  were dry as a bone. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t the best thing to ever happen to him, but on a day when he was due to meet his Heavenly Host earlier than anticipated, he’d take what he could get.

Pancakes had been the key to Patrick’s undoing, the reason he got out of bed in the first place. The scent of vanilla and butter woke him, swirling around his pillow like a thick cloud and making him shift restlessly beneath his covers. His stomach rumbled, urging him downstairs. The smell had even interrupted a fairly good dream involving Susan Dey, inappropriate considering this might possibly have been his last full day of freedom. Unless Patrick had some exotic disease, wet dreams would occur in the presence of a dozen or more other guys for the next few years.

Lucky him.

Patrick felt kind of like a bad ass… at least for a few moments after his heart had ceased to beat. Dying was a downer, especially when he was just nineteen years old, but he grinned smugly anyway. It wasn’t the perfect solution to escaping Vietnam, but dying on the stairs had to be better than getting shot up in a rice paddy. Tomorrow he’d been scheduled to report to the draft board office in Philadelphia for a physical exam, a pit stop on his way to the war. He’d nearly sh*t himself when his number had been chosen in the draft lottery, although he shouldn’t have been surprised since his birthday had been assigned a relatively low number.

At least now his mother could bury a good-looking body, not that it would likely make her feel any better about the situation. But it would have to be at least some comfort.  Janice Hobbs’ brother had his head half blown off in some god-forsaken village during a surprise attack, and at the funeral the month prior, his parents had insisted on an open casket. Patrick’s mother had remarked to the neighbor over coffee that the Army had done a “spectacular” job of making poor Stevie Hobbs presentable, but all Patrick saw when he glanced into the coffin was Stevie’s pale waxiness, a too-flat nose, and a sunken cheek on one side that looked kind of like Silly Putty.

The worst his mother would have to deal with – aside from burying her kid – was trying to get the stench of urine out of the carpet in her stairway and straightening his head out, which admittedly looked pretty wrong, now that he had another look.  He hoped she would take care to make his hair look foxy at the funeral; it had taken six months to grow it out to just the right length. The hot blonde girl who worked at the record store on South Street in Philly said it looked cool last week. Patrick groaned to himself, lamenting the waste of his perfectly-feathered hair. He didn’t think God would really care how boss his hair was, though, and Mom was probably going to be too upset to give a rip.

Patrick snorted, rubbing his neck absently. No pain there either, but it had to have been busted. The crunching sound had been loud and unpleasant, like the crack of a bat against a baseball heading over the baseball field fence. “This is so crazy.”

His brain raced – it was hard to focus on just one thing, but maybe that was okay. God would probably send for him any second, so he should get his thinking done now. Remember as much as he could before he had other things to think about… like not falling off his cloud in paradise or losing his harp.

His father had been bizarrely unconcerned when his birthday had come up in the draft lottery, and his mother – true to form – had pretended March 16 hadn’t been chosen… until about a week ago. Then she started talking to Mrs. Timmons, the librarian. Apparently Mrs. Timmons’ nephew had been court marshaled or something when he didn’t show up for his physical a half dozen times. He was serving something stupid like fifteen years in federal prison. Patrick’s mother had told him quietly she didn’t want him to go to war, clutching his sleeve in her vise-like fist one afternoon.

“You’re my only son,” she’d told Patrick solemnly, eyes wide with panic and glistening with tears. “I don’t care what your father thinks. It’s not like I’m going to tell him… but I want to find a way to get you out of it.”

“Oh, come on, Ma.” He’d patted her awkwardly on the shoulder, faking confidence. “Don’t worry about it. They won’t want me anyway. I’m not exactly Army material.”

He knew from watching his friends and acquaintances get drafted; it didn’t matter if he was a one-eyed, pigeon-toed idiot – the government would still have his ass in basic training within weeks.

Patrick wasn’t interested in spending time in prison for skipping his physical, and he definitely wasn’t planning to spend the rest of his life in Canada as a draft dodger as Ginny Burns, his old girlfriend, had suggested two nights before his plunge down the stairs. On the night his group of friends drank pilfered beers at the abandoned lot on the outskirts of town, she’d been full of opinions.

“But Tim Rimmel’s cousin did it,” she’d protested, tipping a can to her lips with slender hands. “I think he went to British Columbia.”

The air that night had held a chill to it, a crisp feeling that brought to mind thoughts of dead things and football. Ginny shivered and inched closer to the fire he’d helped build in an old, rusted trash can. At the time, Patrick had been thinking about how glad he was he and Ginny could still be friends after he’d broken up with her. Thinking back, he wished he would have kept dating her – at the very least, he could have had one last grope, one last home run before checking out.

“I heard he’s working on a ranch or something like that.” His friend, Andy, pulled his fringed vest over a concave chest and blew out a long stream of cigarette smoke. The cherry of his cigarette danced in the dim light, the fire shadowing over sharp features.

“Well, I’m not making a run for Canada.” Patrick drained his Pabst and crushed the can, tossing it over his shoulder into the pile of aluminum that grew each weekend. “It’s probably cold as Hell, and my dad would kill me.”

Ginny flipped her straight, pale hair over her shoulder, grinning. “Oh, yeah. He’d be pissed.”

He knew exactly what Ginny’d been thinking – his dad was an Army vet who had served in the Korean War. His father had firm opinions about draft dodgers; he’d made it perfectly clear it was Patrick’s duty to serve his country, no matter what he personally thought of the war. “Chickens,” his father had called those who made a big deal about service, and that was among the nicer terms he’d used. “Go***mn pu**ies” was his dad’s personal favorite name, though. Patrick was no pu**y, and sure as s*it wasn’t a chicken.

 Between Seasons, by Aida Brassington
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The Gargoyle in the Seine, by Dee Garretson

The Gargoyle in the Seine, by Dee Garretson

The Gargoyle in the Seine, by Dee Garretson

The Gargoyle in the Seine, by Dee Garretson
Available at:
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Description:   Art student Clary Ashton can’t imagine a more perfect spot to study painting than Paris in the spring of 1878, until she witnesses a body thrown into the Seine, the body of Liam Heaton, another art student whose claims to be without money or family never rang true. What Clary thinks is murder becomes much more as Liam’s secrets come to light and his identity is revealed. When Clary’s own brother falls under suspicion for Liam’s death, she is desperate to clear him, but as she delves deeper into the murky underworld and the glittering salons of the city, she finds caught between two dangerous men- a political extremist days away from a royal assassination, and the young intrepid British secret agent, Reese Tretheway, who is determined to stop him.

Reese could be compared to a 19th century James Bond, but Clary is no Bond girl. Brought up like a gypsy in the wilds of America, Clary finds her skills at roasting lizards and hunting rabbits little use in seeing behind the treacherous sophistication of both Reese and of those who hold the key to Liam’s death. Reese manages to hunt revolutionaries without ever wrinkling his evening clothes or revealing his own secrets, all of which Clary finds maddening. When Clary realizes she knows too much and has become a target of the revolutionaries, she and Reese have to find a way to tolerate each other long enough to save Clary’s brother and try to stop the assassination, or face the possibility of losing their own lives.

Chapter One

“Very coarse red hair is a sign of propensities much too animal.”

NATURE’S REVELATIONS OF CHARACTER by Joseph Simms, 1873

PARIS, Monday, April 30, 1878

Clary’s brother told her about the gargoyle brooding deep in the Seine, the gargoyle who was the guardian of the drowned and the hopeless. She didn’t believe him, of course, but she looked every time she was at the river. She couldn’t help herself. Sam claimed the creature fell off Notre Dame during the restoration of the church, the only one lost of the hundreds of gargoyles who perched there, the gargoyles who waited and watched the mortals below them.

Now the superstitious, the old bargemen and laundresses whose lives were bound to the river, they believed the fallen creature crouched in the depths of the river, a one-horned demon with stricken eyes and grasping fingers who waited and watched for the drowned to come down.

This morning Clary only glanced at the river, the murky water smothered in mist, muted like the cloudy green of absinthe. Clary could almost imagine she caught a whiff of the licorice scent of the drink the other art students seemed to crave.

She didn’t hear the stranger approach. His breath announced him an instant before he grabbed her arm and tried to draw her close. Clary shoved away from him, dropped everything, and reached into the pocket in her boot for her knife.

“Stay away,” Clary ordered, first in English and then remembering where she was, in French, as she held the knife in front of her. It was only a small bowie knife, but she hoped the sharpened tip and the gleam of the blade would discourage him. She was not about to give up the little money she possessed to a thief.

The man stared at the knife as if he could not believe it was real, and then examined her face. “I only thought you might like a friend, girl,” he said in French. It took her a moment to decipher his French, spoken with both a strange accent and a jaw that had been pushed sideways at some point in his life. “I have a bit of business to take care of and then I will have more of this,” he continued, holding up a franc.

She wondered what kind of business an unshaven man in much mended clothes could have.

“I think we could have a nice time,” he added, waving the franc, “and I promise you won’t need your little knife. How much?”

“No,” Clary replied, waving her knife back at him, deciding this was not the time for subtlety. “I don’t like you. I don’t like you at all. Go away before I decide to plunge my little knife into your stinking heart.” She thought it wouldn’t hurt to clarify her lack of interest to a man whose brain was the size of a possum. Only someone of limited intelligence would have mistaken her for a lady of the evening, or rather the morning, since it was just past six. Her clothes should have given him a clue. The plain navy blue walking dress was old, to be sure, but not overly tight, and it buttoned to her throat.

He looked her up and down one more. “Please yourself. I’ll just find someone else who will appreciate my money. Besides, you are as scrawny as plucked chicken.” He spat on the ground to confirm his insult.

“And you’re as ugly as a…as a poodle.” Her voice trailed off. She wanted to say “as ugly as a mangy cur” but didn’t know the French for either “mangy” or “cur.” The man walked away as if he hadn’t heard her, and Clary stamped her foot, furious at herself for not knowing any French curse words. She needed to find someone to teach her some as soon as possible. The man climbed up the steps to the next bridge downstream, the Pont Royal, disappearing from her view behind the stone walls that edged it.

Clary tried to go back to her study of the Pont du Carrousel. She wanted to see the bridge in the dawn light before Quillan met her to go on to the studio. Wisps of mist rose and twined around the iron spirals supporting the bridge, obscuring the riverbanks, giving the illusion the bridge led not to the Louvre, but to some other world far from this one. This was what she would capture in her painting.

“Miss Ashton, I need your help,” a raspy voice said from behind her. Clary whirled about, her knife in front of her again. “Miss Ashton, it’s just me, Liam, Liam Donovan, you remember, don’t you?”

Liam Donovan was not a man one forgot. Even though it was at least six months since Monsieur Dupay ordered Liam to leave the studio, he was an oddity among the vast assortment of art students overrunning Paris. His glorious fiery red hair and beard made him stand out in a crowd, but it was his insistence on wearing a worn black velvet smoking hat with a long silvered tassel, all the time, even out of doors, that made him memorable, if slightly ridiculous.

“Mr. Donovan, I’m sorry.” She let her hand drop. “You startled me. What are you doing here?”

“I need your help, and I hoped I would find you here.” He moved closer, thrusting a tattered red leather folio at her.

She didn’t take it. “How did you know where to find me?” she asked, bothered by his sudden appearance. Paris was too large a city to just happen upon someone, particularly on the riverbank early in the morning. Now that he was only a few feet from her, Clary was startled to see the changes in him, the changes the opium had wrought. When she knew him, Liam had been a husky man with a barrel chest, but his threadbare clothes hung on him now, and his hair under the smoking cap was matted and dull.

“I used to hear you in the studio making arrangements to meet Quillan in the Tuileries. It didn’t seem to be a secret,” he said, wincing as he spoke as if he were in pain. “I need you to look at some of my drawings.” He held out the folio again and Clary noticed the bandage.

“Your hand is bleeding,” she said, looking at the grimy scrap of linen wrapped around his right hand, blood seeping through the part covering his palm.

He looked down at it and frowned, as if just noticing it. “It’s nothing. I am getting some money in a few minutes, and then I can talk to you. Things have gone wrong, very, very wrong. I need some help and I thought you could introduce me to your uncle. I tried to explain things to your brother, but he refused to listen, and he warned me not to go near your house. He has quite a strong left hook.” Liam rubbed a blue-black shadow on his jaw. “I don’t know where else to turn. Please, Miss Ashton.”

“My uncle? My brother?” Now Clary was very confused. “How could my uncle help you?” Clary’s uncle, actually her great-uncle, Benjamin Thompson, was an elderly expatriate American who spent his days either pottering about his miniscule garden or reading in front of the fire. She didn’t see how he could help Liam with anything. And Sam? She didn’t realize Sam even knew Liam, though her brother certainly didn’t need to be formally introduced to someone to punch them.

“Your uncle can help me find the right people to see. It is a long story.” Liam was pleading now.

“How do you know my brother?”

“I don’t have time to explain it all right now,” he said. “I’m late to meet someone. I saw the fellow go up on the bridge just a minute ago. Look at my drawings, please. I will tell you everything when I come back. There he is. Kirill!” Liam yelled toward the bridge, and Clary turned around, but didn’t see anyone. “Kirill!” Liam yelled again. “I have to go before he leaves. Please wait.”

He sounded so desperate, Clary agreed. “All right, but I won’t be here long.”

“Thank you.” Liam held out the folio to her and smiled.

Clary froze at the bizarre sight. “What’s wrong with your mouth, your teeth, Liam?” she said, not believing what she saw.

“What do you mean?”

“They, they are all golden,” she stammered. It was hard to get the words out. Every single one of Liam’s teeth glimmered as if each were brushed with gold dust. They glowed with a strange luminance as the first rays of the sun hit them. It was grotesque, like watching a man turn into a gilded statue before her eyes.

“Gold? What are you talking about? I’ve never needed any teeth capped with gold.”

“Not that kind of gold. They look like they’ve been painted.” Clary wondered if someone played a joke on Liam while he was sleeping or passed out. Her fellow art students were notorious practical jokers, and she was spared only because she was female. This was too cruel to be amusing though, far beyond any of the standard jokes of brushes dipped in glue and pinholes put in paint bladders.

Liam put his hand to his mouth, but Clary realized he couldn’t see for himself. “I don’t know. I don’t have gold teeth,” he said. “It must be a trick of the light. I have to go. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He tried to take a step forward, but stopped and clutched at his side.

“Are you ill?” Clary asked, wondering if some strange sickness could cause his teeth to appear so extraordinary.

“No, I’m fine. I’ll be right back.” He staggered up the narrow steps leading up to the Pont Royal. Clary watched him until he reached the top and disappeared onto the bridge. The walls on the sides of the bridge were not very tall, no more than three feet, so she assumed he had gone to the downstream side where she couldn’t see him from her vantage point. Who was Liam meeting to give him money at such an odd place and time? Her would-be “friend” claimed he too was getting money, but Clary could not imagine who would be handing out francs up on the bridge.

She looked down at the folio. It was tied with twine, the clasp broken, and it was thin enough to hold only a few drawings. Even if Liam had produced a few sheets of amazing work, she didn’t think he could get back in Monsieur Dupay’s good graces. The day Liam appeared at the studio befuddled by opium, Monsieur Dupay was furious. He had made it plain Liam was not to return.

Tucking her knife under her arm, she fumbled with the fraying bits of twine, attempting to untie the knot. Her fingers refused to work, the cold biting into them. The gloves she wore were so old and thin, they only provided the illusion of fabric. It was tempting just to cut the twine with her knife, though she knew it would then be difficult to retie it.

From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a dark shape above her. Startled, she looked up and saw a man, a red-bearded man, Liam, plunge down from the bridge, an arm trailing awkwardly behind him as he fell. His fingers curved as if beckoning her to follow. When he hit the misted water, his body cleaved the surface cleanly and disappeared beneath it.

For an instant, Clary was frozen, staring at the ripples in the water, waiting for him to reappear. The river turned dark as it flowed under the shadows of the bridge arches, and she couldn’t make out anything in the water under them. She ran toward the stairs, then back the other way looking for someone to help. There was no one. Clary turned back again and saw the black smoking hat, the tassel flapping about, tumbling down. The hat stilled her when it landed on the river. It bobbed and twisted about in the ripples of the current, appearing and disappearing in the mist, a St. Vitus dance of futility to stay afloat.

Clary ran down the bank to the edge of the river, dropped the folio and her knife and reached down to pull off her boots, wishing she wasn’t enveloped in long skirts. Glancing back up at the bridge, she saw the man with the sideways jaw leaning over the edge, looking down at the water.

“Help,” she yelled, first in English, and again catching herself, in French.

The man gave her a long look and started toward her, not running, but walking as if he hadn’t understood the urgency.

“There’s a man in the water,” she yelled at him as he turned. His pace didn’t increase, and his eyes were fixed on hers, not the river. He started down the stone steps.

The Gargoyle in the Seine, by Dee Garretson
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Straight Out of University, by Rosen Trevithick

Straight Out of University, by Rosen Trevithick

Straight Out of University, by Rosen Trevithick

Straight Out of University, by Rosen Trevithick
Available at:
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Description:   Sophie isn’t exclusively gay, but when you’re voted Ms Lesbian Oxford in your first year at university, it does put you under a certain amount of pressure.

Her university life is characterised by passionate love affairs, liberal activism and boundary-pushing theatre.

Nine years later, Sophie returns to her hometown in Cornwall, where girls are friends with girls, boys are friends with boys, and queer is an experience felt when you drink too much cider.

Sophie falls for John, a sensible, conservative male man with a fondness for cardigans, but can they overcome their cultural differences?

Excerpt:

Ellie did a wonderful job of fulfilling my aspirations for the rest of the year. It transpired that having a hot, highly successful, super-girlfriend was a good thing.

My girlfriend was an outstanding public speaker, had a superb deep and sexy singing voice, had mastered yoga positions I could only dream about, and was full of creative ideas. She also had type one diabetes and never let it hold her back, which just made her even easier to admire.

We wrote a play together, we raised money for The Terrance Higgins Trust together, we protested animal rights extremists together. There was no doubt, that Ellie Hart made me a better person.

Of course, there were a few drawbacks:

When we applied for a slot at The Burton Taylor Theatre to perform “Coming Out Stories” we were turned down because this year’s unusually conservative president of the drama society felt that full frontal male nudity would be off-putting in a gay play and Oxford was not ready for such things. Cherwell then portrayed us as two sex hungry heretics, then a drunken Balliol theology student flashed us in the street.

Whilst selling red ribbons for AIDS awareness day, a particularly anxious man in his forties thought that we were accusing him of having AIDS, took offence, and stabbed me with a pin.

Worst of all, was the feud that we got into with an unofficial animal rights group. I’m a vegetarian who was happily balancing on the fence regarding animal research, when a fanatical activist sent me tumbling into the pro-vivisection field. An activist threw mud in my face and, in defending me, Ellie earned herself a punch in the face.

Injuries aside, there was something greatly satisfying about standing up for what we believed in, whether it was writing lifestyle fiction, raising awareness, or protesting. When Ellie and I were together, there was a great energy between us, just waiting to blow up.

Fortunately, there was a context where explosive energy was entirely constructive – the bedroom! Our energy translated to sexual chemistry and our erotic life was mind blowing beyond belief.

Ellie was somewhat imaginative between the sheets and loved playing out different scenarios: Virginia and Vita, first female president and her wife, airhostess and the publisher who discovers her, and my personal favourite: Ellie Hart and Sophie Sweet.

We wrote our own game, “For fits”, a parody of some other game that I’d never heard of. Ellie assured me ours was a “hilarious mockery of a misogynistic calamity” – I took her word for it and found personal satisfaction from the fact that every round involved stripping.

We scripted, filmed and edited our own erotic movie. Ellie said it wasn’t porn, because we’d used light in an original way.

We made our own dildos using a kit purchased online. Ellie’s was modelled perfectly using scientific research into the female g-spot. Mine looked like a gherkin. Both led to mind-blowing, though dildo-free rumpy-pumpy.
Throughout the next two years, Ellie and I continued to plough our energy into the arts and other important causes. The most remarkable of which were our supporting roles in The Gregory Event.

Although I was no longer a member of St Cuthbert’s, my past success as Chair Mover Number Three in Amadeus had not gone unnoticed, and I was invited back to partake in this year’s Gregory event.

 St Cuthbert’s held an annual arts festival to honour one of the founders of the college, Lord Gregory. It generally involved a bit of music, a bit of theatre and some form of arts and crafts exhibition. Given that Lord Greg was no spring chicken when the college was built forty-five years ago, he was somewhat elderly by the time a group of determined first years were allocated the task of organising The Gregory Event 2004.

Ellie explained the concept of the event to a bunch of enthusiastic English literature freshers.

“Ninety-five percent of the audience will be students and the rest would be fellows of the college and guests of honour.”

I do not know whether it was Ellie’s persuasive influence, or a collective death wish, but in 2004, the first years decided that they were more interested in being contemporary and moving, than pampering to the tastes of the “fuddy-duddy” guests of honour. Their choice of play was somewhat more risqué than the usual West End musical.

“The Crying Game” inquired The Dean of St Cuthberts. “I have never heard of this play. Is it modern?”

“Very modern,” the producer, a ginger lad with aspirations of a parliament, told him.

“Very well, leave the details with me and I’ll take a look in my own time.”

I can only imagine that Dr Bamford was very busy during the two days that he was given to look over the script of The Crying Game. We were stunned when he agreed that it was a suitable production to perform in the honour of our esteemed founder, Lord Greg.

“He can’t have read it!” I said to Ellie, that night.

“Well he approved it, didn’t he?”

“He probably only read the first third. The opening doesn’t even begin to cover just how controversial…”

“The beginning is gritty.”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about Ellie Hart.”

She smiled, that lovely Ellie Hart smile.

“I think someone should say something.”

“Why?”

“Letting the first years go ahead with this is like assisted suicide.”

“Don’t be such a spoil sport.”

Ellie was a persuasive soul, and not only did we not enlighten the dean about the true nature of the play, but we auditioned.

I ended up playing the role of Drinker in Bar and Ellie played the role of Kooky Hairdresser. My role was hardly the height of my theatrical career, but I would not have missed the chance to be part of this fiasco, for the world.

On the night, I felt a whole new species of butterfly in my stomach.

During the first act, the audience’s reactions were divided. There was the half who clearly hadn’t seen the film: they were sucked into the gritty IRA kidnapping and planned assassination, all the while thinking, “I preferred last year’s Return to the Forbidden Planet.” Then there were the rest, who’d seen the film, and knew exactly what was coming: they wriggled around in their seats, laughing at inappropriate moments, waiting for the moment of truth.

After the interval, the tone of the play changed entirely. Rather than being set in a lonely forest, it was set in a bustling city, and in contrast to the tense, suspense-based beginning, the second act began to take the form of a romantic drama.

To summarise the plot: in line with the dying wish of a British soldier, IRA man Fergus, seeks out the soldier’s girlfriend, Dil, to make sure that she is all right after his death. Of course, in line with true cinematic convention, Fergus begins to fall in love with her, and the course of the film begins to shift. In fact, things start to get a little steamy.

Lord Greg looked somewhat uncomfortable as a first year medic pretended to perform oral sex on a fourth year biochemist. However, you may be surprised to hear that that was not the most shocking moment. What followed almost knocked Lord Greg right off his seat.

If you haven’t seen The Crying Game and you plan to, then skip a page or two to avoid the spoiler. If you have seen the film, then you will know exactly what happened next and exactly why it was extraordinarily inappropriate for a prestigious Oxford occasion.

Fergus is just about to get jiggy with Dil – they’ve kissed, they’ve cuddled, they’re approaching the home straight – Dil opens her dressing gown…

…and she’s got a willy!

In the film itself, this moment is quite shocking. However, when performed in front of twenty or so, distinguished Oxford fellows, it is priceless.

The college male welfare rep entered stage right, wearing just a wig and a satin dressing gown, then untied the delicate rose belt, and flashed his cock at the entire audience.

I watched from the wings trying desperately to stifle my laughter. Ellie put her hand in my mouth to silence me.

For some moments, Lord Greg, Dr Bamford and various other college officials, were frozen in their seats.

Then, in unison, they tilted their heads slightly, to check that they had really seen what they thought they’d seen.

Five or six seconds later, they began shuffling awkwardly in their seats, but were too embarrassed to make eye contact with anybody else in the room.

I could swear that the strawberry-blonde maths teacher’s eyes popped out of his head, but fortunately he was able to reposition them without causing any lasting damage.

I wondered whether somebody would command us to stop the performance but the fellows seemed too embarrassed to speak.

The poor old dean, having previously approved the play, could hardly object, without appearing indecisive. The other fellows of the college could not object without undermining the dean.

Added to which, it would appear most uncultured if a fellow appeared not to be keeping up with the developments of modern theatre.

When twenty seconds of silence passed and none of the fellows interrupted, the actors continued with the scene.

The play ran to the end.

“See,” whispered Ellie, “Oxford was ready for full frontal male nudity.”

Straight Out of University, by Rosen Trevithick
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A Bride for Pastor Dan, by Katie Crabapple

A Bride for Pastor Dan, by Katie Crabapple

A Bride for Pastor Dan, by Katie Crabapple

A Bride for Pastor Dan, by Katie Crabapple
Available FREE at:
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Description:  Anna is content with her life. She works as a kindergarten teacher for a local school, and gives as much of her time as she can to her church. The new pastor at her church has caused quite a stir among the single females, because not only is he a single pastor, but he’s a handsome single pastor. Anna knows she doesn’t have a shot with him. Or does she?

 

 

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott
Available at:
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Description:  Regina Baker has loved Sam Hyatt since the third grade, but as a poor preacher’s daughter with a landscaping business that barely pays the bills, Reggie feels like a mangy mutt compared to Sam’s current girlfriend, who has a pedigree a mile long.

As the heir to a sizable fortune, Sam has a responsibility to marry well. His wife needs to be well bred, well educated, and well heeled. He was raised to live up to his responsibilities, even if it means sacrificing his happiness.

Their matchmaking friends, Cara and Gray, arrange for Sam and Reggie to join them on a two week cruise, where Sam will have a chance to see what he’s been missing without the society trappings he’s normally surrounded with, and Reggie will have two weeks to win Sam’s heart.

Excerpt:

Regina Baker was going to strangle Sam Hyatt.

She swiped the back of her hand across her sweaty face, leaving a streak of dirt on her cheek. He’d promised to be home by the time she finished today, and here it was after six p.m. and no Sam. It looked like she wouldn’t get paid today like he’d promised. And darn it, she needed that check.

Someone like Sam didn’t understand the concept of living paycheck to paycheck. He’d never experienced an overdrawn checking account, the frustration of overdue bills. All he had to do was snap his fingers and money appeared like magic.

Reggie gathered up her tools–shovels, rakes, hammers, stakes, water hoses–and loaded her pickup. She took her time, stalling, hoping Sam would show up before she finished. But no, she was ready to leave and still no Sam. He wasn’t answering his cell phone, either. She’d left him three messages already. Which meant she would have to face the intimidating George and ask if Sam had left a check for her.

Reggie smoothed her unruly hair into a semblance of a pony tail, scrubbed her face with the corner of her shirt, and dusted her hands on her blue jeans. Not that it would do a bit of good. Sam’s butler would still look at her like she was a cockroach trying to find a way into the pristine Hyatt mansion.

Reggie took a deep breath and rang the bell.

The butler opened the door and looked down at her. He didn’t say a word, just waited for her to state her business.

“Hi, George.” Reggie straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin with an air of false bravado. “Did Sam leave a check for me?”

George shook his head. “Not that he mentioned, Miss.”

Darn. “Well, do you know where I might find him?”

“I’m not at liberty to divulge Mr. Hyatt’s schedule.”

“Come on, George. You can drop the act with me. You know darned good and well Sam and I have been friends since he was still in short pants. I need the check for this job or they’re going to repossess my truck.”

Did the corner of his mouth just twitch? She’d never thought George might actually have a sense of humor.

“Well, you didn’t hear this from me, Miss Baker. But you might try to catch him at the club.”

He started to close the door, but Reggie stuck her foot inside. “Wait! Which one?”

His eyebrows arched. “Why, the Manor Country Club, of course.”

Reggie stared at the elaborately carved door. Of course. Like it was the only club in existence. Sheesh.

She drove across town, fighting the horrific rush hour traffic, afraid Sam would be gone by the time she arrived. Her gas tank was dangerously close to empty, she had no cash on her, and her bank account was as empty as her tank. If Sam wasn’t there, she was sunk.

The reality of what she was about to do sank in as she pulled into the drive behind a stream of new Mercedes, BMWs, Corvettes and Hummers. Her ten year old truck let everyone know she didn’t belong there.

Maybe she should have looked for a servant’s entrance.

The cars ahead of her pulled to the front and valets hurried to help the passengers out. No way could she afford valet parking. She waited in line until the driveway was clear ahead of her and drove right past the valets without making eye contact.

She just might kill Sam after all.

She found a parking place at the far end of the lot and pulled in, locking the truck behind her before heading to the main building. Like someone would break into her old truck with all these luxury cars around. She chuckled at the foolishness of her actions. She stuck out like a gardener at a dress ball, which from the look of the people going in the door was exactly what she was.

She looked down at her dirty jeans, sweat-stained tee shirt, and mud-caked boots. No way they were going to let her inside these hallowed walls. How was she supposed to find Sam if she couldn’t get inside?

The valets moved so fast she couldn’t catch one to ask them what she should do, either. She waited until they were all occupied and snuck around the side of the building. She had no idea what she was doing or where she was going, but if anyone stopped her, she’d tell them she was there to bid on some work on the golf course. At least she was dressed appropriately for that.

She’d only walked a couple of hundred feet when she saw Sam at a table on a terrace, gazing deeply into the eyes of a platinum blonde. The woman’s manicure alone probably cost more than Reggie made in a day. She looked at her own ragged, dirty nails and sighed. No wonder Sam never looked at her like that. Compared to the pedigreed blonde, Reggie was a mangy mutt.

What was she doing here? She couldn’t approach Sam like this. It would embarrass him and he’d never speak to her again. She turned to go, then heard him call her name. When she looked back, everyone on the terrace was staring at her. Sam stood and the blonde put her hand on his arm and shook her head. He shook her hand off and vaulted the terrace wall, making his way to where Reggie stood.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” Sam put his hand on her back and urged her back toward the parking lot.

“Don’t you ever answer your damned phone?” Reggie picked up her pace, walking away from him, in a hurry to get away from all those people still watching them.

“I turned the phone off. Beebe gets a little annoyed when my phone rings during dinner.”

They rounded the corner of the building and Reggie stopped, turning to face him. “I’m sorry. I know how embarrassing this must be for you. But believe me, it’s a hundred times worse for me.”

Sam looked down at her. “I know you wouldn’t have come here dressed like that without a good reason. Has something happened? Is someone hurt?”

Reggie shook her head. “Only my pride. I waited for you at your house, but you never showed up. I hate to ask, but I really need that check.”

Sam smacked his forehead with one head. “I totally forgot. I’m so sorry. How much do I owe you?” He pulled his billfold from his back pocket.

“Three thousand,” she told him. “But if you don’t have that much with you…”

Sam slid a handful of hundreds from his wallet and counted out twenty-five hundred. He handed the bills to Reggie. “That’s all I have in cash, but if you want to walk to my car with me, I can write you a check for the rest.”

The humiliation finally became too much for Reggie. She shook her head and backed away. “No, it can wait. This will hold me until Monday. I’m sorry. Thank you.” She was babbling like a fool. She had to get out of there before she started to cry. “Thanks, Sam.” She turned and ran to her truck. Her hands shook so badly she could barely get the key in the lock.

She finally got the door open and climbed inside. She looked back to where she’d left Sam. He still stood in the same spot, watching her. She started the truck, shoved the gear shift into reverse, and backed out of the parking space. Then she peeled out of the parking lot.

***

“God, Cara, I have never been so embarrassed in my life.” Reggie leaned against the bar in Caramia Kensington’s kitchen, picking grapes out of a bowl on the counter and popping them into her mouth. She was starving, but instead of stopping for food, she’d driven straight to her best friend’s apartment for sympathy. “There I was, looking like something the cat dragged in, and Sam was with this perfectly-groomed blonde in red silk and stilettos. If he needed proof that I would never fit into his lifestyle, he got it in spades today.”

“Aw sweetie, I’m so sorry.” Cara stopped stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove and rounded the bar to give Reggie a hug. “I don’t know how Sam can be so blind. You’re the perfect woman for him. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

“Yeah, well I don’t think there’s any chance now. I thought, maybe, after that night at the diner that he was at least a little bit attracted, but I guess that was just wishful thinking.”

“Maybe he’s just seen you as a friend for so long that he’s stopped seeing you as a woman.” Cara returned to the stove. “I think we need to come up with a plan, some way for the two of you to spend some quality time together that doesn’t involve you planting trees in his yard.”

Reggie laughed. “Yeah, well, good luck with that. Sam spends every waking minute either at the office or with one of his blonde bimbos. We’d have to kidnap him to get him to take any time off.”

“Maybe we can figure out something. Like what Sam did for us. All Gray and I needed was some time together, to remember what we once had.”

“But Sam and I’ve never really had anything going. It’s all been one sided. Even if he knew I was in love with him, I don’t think it would make a difference. ” They’d been friends since the third grade and he hadn’t realized it yet. Reggie had known for years that Sam was the only man for her, but his parents had drilled into his head that his social standing in the community meant he had to marry well to uphold the family name. And to them, marrying well meant a woman with an impeccable ancestry who could manage a foundation as well as she could host a fundraiser for two thousand people or a dinner for two hundred. She had to look the part and come with a trust fund that matched his.

A poor preacher’s daughter didn’t stand a chance.

 Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott
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