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The Love of a Woodsman by Gregory L. Norris
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: November 19, 2018
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Length: Novella / 17,400
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, Paranormal, demons, shifters, holiday, romance
Teddy Saunders wakes from a trance, trapped in a car speeding through a snowy December landscape, the prisoner of a sinister monocled man and his servant. His captors’ intentions soon become clear—Teddy is to be sacrificed to weaken magical wards surrounding a realm of sacred woods.
Gable Flanigan, the handsome protector of those woods, foils their plans and rescues Teddy, taking him to his home deep in the forest. There, Teddy witnesses even greater mysteries and wonders than his demonic pursuers, including Gable, a man pledged to watch over the woods and all they shield from the rest of the world.
In Gable’s home, the secret of their dark enemies deepens, as does the attraction between Teddy and his rescuer. But Teddy soon finds himself again in jeopardy—can the woodman’s love save him?
The Love of a Woodsman
Gregory L. Norris © 2018
All Rights Reserved
The car accelerated.
From the corner of his eye, Teddy watched the speedometer’s numbers creep past seventy on a winding country road posted at thirty. Tires squealed across uneven pavement and frost heaves, but he barely felt the jolts. The drive was eerily smooth, as though the car was gliding just above the ground instead of traveling over tar. Then the man in the ski mask behind the wheel banked left and the illusion ended. Gravity tossed Teddy against the front passenger’s door. The car shook with a guttural ka-thunk, proof of the wheels striking a rut. Wind shrieked around the car. At first, Teddy thought the scream had come from him, but his lips, like most of his body, were paralyzed.
The car shot into a snow squall. The world went dark around him.
Frozen until the next second, when his cheek hit the cool glass, even Teddy’s thoughts came with difficulty. The man sitting directly behind him in the black sedan’s backseat, a well-dressed magician, had done something to him. A whammy, some kind of spell, screamed the voice in Teddy’s head. His thoughts unstuck from their disconnected state, sounding as intense to his inner ear as the December wind. He imagined the magician: pallid-faced, with short silver hair, dressed in a pinstriped gentleman’s suit and spats. What was it about those shoes that didn’t seem natural or right beyond their hopelessly outdated style? The man held a wooden walking stick, mahogany or… no, rosewood, like the walls in Clarke’s office. He remembered thinking the heel of the stick was scuffed, showing plenty of mileage, the crown capped by a large red jewel. And the magician wore a monocle.
The monocle! Right as he’d heard the tap-tap-tap of the walking stick on the ice-crusted pavement in the parking lot of Howard, Canley, and Associates, Teddy had turned, and the man with the monocle glided up behind him, perhaps one of Clarke Howard’s clients, a fat cat investor. Or worse, one of the many foreclosed upon former owners evicted from their homes.
The man with the monocle had turned out being neither, and he remembered two additional details, including what it was about the spats that so unnerved Teddy. As the car keys dropped from his hands, probably still sitting in the slush beside his car, he saw that the man’s spats were levitating several inches above the ground.
“Boo,” he’d said.
Teddy had gazed into the man’s monocle, thinking the eye behind it didn’t look right, didn’t look human, and then he’d lost the ability to command his own body beyond breathing and blinking.
The sedan broke through to the other side of the squall. The road beyond the windshield leveled off, taking a clear shot through a dense belt of conifers. The forest of sap pines and hemlocks smeared into a wash of greens and grays as the speedometer jumped another three miles. Teddy’s ears popped. The wind screamed.
“Do it, Smokey,” said the magician.
A shiver teased the nape of Teddy’s neck, delivered on an icy finger of breath from the sedan’s backseat. Unable to fight it, Teddy surrendered to the ghostly caress, which tumbled down his spine. Smokey. The Monocle was speaking to the driver, the man in the ski mask. Teddy didn’t know how he got the nickname but guessed the reason was bad. Really bad.
The man in the black ski mask tensed. Teddy imagined him applying the full weight of his foot on the gas pedal while his grip on the steering wheel tightened. In his terror, Teddy hadn’t realized how pale Smokey’s fingers were before now. Not simply white, but gray and tattooed in bruises. Smokey was dressed all in black. What Teddy could see of his face through the slits of the ski mask looked worse. Mottled and unhealthy, his was the flesh of a corpse.
“Hurry up and do it, Smokey!” the Monocle said, the crispness of his voice falling apart, with burbles and croaks filling the gaps between words. “Kill him if you want to live!”
Meet the Author
Raised on a healthy diet of creature double features and classic SF television, Gregory L. Norris is a full-time professional writer, with work appearing in numerous short story anthologies, national magazines, novels, the occasional TV episode, and, so far, one produced feature film (Brutal Colors, which debuted on Amazon Prime January 2016). A former feature writer and columnist at Sci Fi, the official magazine of the Sci Fi Channel (before all those ridiculous Ys invaded), he once worked as a screenwriter on two episodes of Paramount’s modern classic, Star Trek: Voyager. Two of his paranormal novels (written under my rom-de-plume, Jo Atkinson) were published by Home Shopping Network as part of their “Escape With Romance” line — the first time HSN has offered novels to their global customer base. He judged the 2012 Lambda Awards in the SF/F/H category. Three times now, his stories have notched Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best-of books. In May 2016, he traveled to Hollywood to accept HM in the Roswell Awards in Short SF Writing.His story “Drowning” appears in the Italian anthology THE BEAUTY OF DEATH 2, alongside tales by none other than Peter Straub and Clive Barker.
New Year’s Shippin’ Eve by Karrie Roman
Series: Until You, Book 1.5
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: November 19, 2018
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Length: Novelette / 15,400 words
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, pets, holiday, new parents, adoption, musicians, Australia, New Year’s Eve
A Holiday Sequel to Shipped
Lucas Evers and Ryan Lowe thought they had it all: successful careers, good friends and, most importantly, each other. The one thing left was to start a family of their own. Now seems a perfect time. The danger that stalked them is in the past, they’ve settled into their celebrity roles and the love between them continues to burn. They’ve signed all the paperwork to adopt a child and now await their longed for child to come along.
Down Under for a traditional Aussie Christmas, Lucas receives some unexpected news they both thought would be months, even years, away. It’s the kind of news that will change their lives forever. What better time to share it with Ryan than New Year’s Eve? As they settle in to watch the fireworks over Sydney Harbour, Lucas tells Ryan the news, knowing that midnight will not just chime in a New Year but also new lives for them both.
New Year’s Eve is their chance to put the past behind them and welcome their future.
New Year’s Shippin’ Eve
Karrie Roman © 2018
All Rights Reserved
“You’ll be here in ten minutes?” Ryan gasped in disbelief and looked around him. Over the phone line, Lucas chuckled.
“Yeah, ten minutes. Is that okay? Or would you prefer me to stay away longer?”
“No. No, it’s just that I thought you’d be at least another hour or two.” Ryan stood back from the carnage and wiped his brow. Sweat trickled down his cheek and between his shoulder blades, pooling in the swell of his lower back. It was hot today, uncomfortably, stinking hot, but that was summer in Australia for you. He took a deep breath and then another, fighting not to let the scene he surveyed disquiet him too much.
He was filthy and the room he stood in looked like Dorothy’s tornado had recently blown through. Ryan had been on disaster movie sets that didn’t look as apocalyptic as this. He swept his gaze to Lucifer. The black kitten was reclining on the kitchen countertop like he was a regal deity. His yellow eyes were glaring at Ryan with a look that was a cross between boredom and bloodlust. Ryan didn’t trust that kitten not to sink his claws into him, given half the chance.
Lucifer was supposed to be his cat, a Christmas gift from Lucas, but he was convinced the cat, at best, held mild disdain for him, and at worst, was plotting his imminent downfall. On the other hand, the cat adored Lucas. Its nights were spent curled on Lucas’s lap or in the crook of his neck. He’d hiss and spit at Ryan if he got within a half foot. Their intimate encounters had become less spontaneous and more well-planned undertakings since the obstinate little feline’s arrival in their lives only a week ago.
“You know, I’m gonna tell Luke this was your fault,” he mumbled to the moggy, who answered him with a yawn. The kitten then stretched and turned his back to indicate his total disinterest in whatever Ryan had to say. Cats! Or maybe it was only this cat who was definitely not one to turn to if he was after a little affection.
“What did you say?” Lucas asked.
Ryan turned his attention back to his lover but didn’t take his eyes off the cat. “Sorry, I was thinking out loud. How come you’ll be home so early?”
“We finished the interview early… You know, I can hang around here a bit if you need more time to get rid of the hot lifeguard.” Lucas’s tone was cheerful; there’d been many emotions shared between them but never jealousy. Lucas was aware of how much Ryan adored him and vice versa.
“I told you it wasn’t me he was ogling, Luke. He couldn’t keep his fucking eyes off you.”
“Oh, yeah,” Lucas laughed. “Then why the hell did he spend all day chatting you up every chance he got?”
“Well, that’s simple. Because, like everyone who encounters you, he was in mute awe of the gorgeous, talented, kind, sweet, and amazing Lucas Evers, Hollywood megastar.” Ryan would have batted his lashes if Lucas had been there to see him.
Lucas’s throaty chuckle was loud in his ear, and Ryan thought for the millionth time that it was the best sound he’d ever heard. “You are so good for my ego, Ry. Now let me hang up so I can get home to you. Ten minutes, remember. Ten minutes too long to have you in my arms again, if you ask me.”
“Flatterer,” Ryan replied. “See you soon. I love you.”
“Love you too, Ry.” Lucas murmured.
Ryan hung up and put his phone on the countertop.
Unfortunately for him, no fairy godmother had worked her magic while he’d been on the phone so the ruined mess of what had been their meal was still waiting for him. How had things gone so wrong?
It had started out as such a simple idea. Something lovers had been doing for their partners since time immemorial. But Ryan hadn’t factored in a tiny black kitten with a superiority complex and a fondness, bordering on obsession, for seafood. Now, thanks to Lucifer, and a little bit of Ryan’s own culinary incompetence, he stood in the ruins of what had once been an immaculate kitchen and their delicious dinner.
They’d been in Australia for three weeks. Lucas had wanted to spend a Christmas “Down Under” and had been able to tie their trip in with a couple of interviews and other publicity work for his latest movie. Ryan liked to think he’d shown Lucas the best of what Australia had to offer for a summer Christmas. Though having never really celebrated Christmas before, he’d had to google the most Australian things to do for the special day.
In the end, he’d taken Lucas to Bondi Beach for Christmas Day. There’d hardly been an inch of sand to spare with all the other revelers. They’d met a lot of people that day and not one of them had been Australian. They may have spent Christmas Day on an Australian beach, eating Australian food, and drinking Australian beer, but they’d done it with a beach full of fellow Northern Hemisphere tourists, who were likewise here for a summer Christmas. The massive crowd had been intimidating at first, but Ryan was an expert at handling his anxiety these days, so he had managed to enjoy the day despite the vast number of fellow revelers.
Lucas had proudly marched onto the sand in his Australian flag board shorts and matching terrycloth bucket hat Ryan had given him for Christmas that morning. Gold and green zinc had been smeared across his nose, and he’d looked adorable. His flight through the crowds while being chased by a flock of seagulls he’d foolishly tossed a chip at had been not quite so adorable, but definitely amusing.
Cold meats and salads had replaced Lucas’s traditional turkey and baked vegetables. They’d sipped ice cold beers from their cooler, and Ryan had introduced Lucas to the great Australian pavlova. While Australia and New Zealand had fought for bragging rights over the dessert for years, Ryan had assured Lucas that it was most definitely Australian, which the Kiwis who’d overheard had vehemently, though good-naturedly, argued against. Regardless of origin, Lucas had taken to the dessert with an unhealthy flourish, devouring most of it easily. He’d spent the night nursing an upset stomach and claiming it wasn’t only the animals that tried to kill you in Australia; the food was gunning for you too. But, as much as Lucas had grumbled about the dangers of Australia, Ryan was touched to see his lover embrace his homeland.
Dark sunglasses and large bucket hats had mostly kept them from being recognized, even when they joined a somewhat cutthroat game of beach soccer. For once, they’d simply been part of the crowd. They’d stayed well into the night, only leaving when alcohol-inspired singing had become too painful to bear. It had been a day Ryan was unlikely to forget.
This was only the second Christmas Ryan hadn’t spent either alone or with only his drunkard father for company, such as that was. He didn’t honestly think a man passed out, usually in his own vomit, could be counted as company.
Christmas had also been the day Lucifer had come into his life. He’d named him—unfairly Lucas thought—not long after the tiny kitten had climbed his body as if he were a tree and attacked his exposed throat. Lucas had tried to claim a loud bang had frightened the cat, but Ryan had not heard any bang, and he’d seen the fury and dislike in the pale-yellow eyes. A week later, Lucifer still seemed no closer to tolerating Ryan any more than he had to in order to ensure his survival.
Tonight was New Year’s Eve, and Ryan had wanted to surprise Lucas with a special dinner for two before they saw in the new year together. And he didn’t want to go out to do it. They were staying in a penthouse apartment on Sydney’s North Shore, overlooking the harbor and city. The Harbour Bridge was so close to their right that the giant steel structure took up most of that side view. In fact, it almost seemed like the cars on the Cahill Expressway would burst right through their living room if they veered even slightly off course.
The city of Sydney was like a sparkling jewel every night, but tonight when the fireworks would light up the city, the harbor, and the bridge, Ryan expected it was going to look particularly spectacular. It was a perfectly clear evening which promised the ideal backdrop for the pyrotechnic display.
Ryan had hoped to be dining on the balcony in time for the 9:00 p.m. family fireworks and then in bed with Lucas watching the midnight fireworks from the enormous picture window of the main bedroom. If they timed it right, he’d have Lucas inside him—or vice versa—precisely on the stroke of twelve.
“Well, Lu, are you gonna help me clean this up?” The cat gave him a side-eye and continued with his nap. The tiny feline may be plotting the downfall of mankind, but he was still adorable, and Ryan loved him.
Meet the Author
Karrie lives in Australia’s sunshine state with her husband and two sons, though she hates the sun with a passion. She dreams of one day living in the wettest and coldest habitable place she can find. She has been writing stories in her head for years but has finally managed to pull the words out of her head and share them with others. She spends her days trying to type her stories on the computer without disturbing her beloved cat Lu curled up on the keyboard. She probably reads far too much.
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