Spring is for Lovers by Kelly Jensen

They say spring is for lovers, but what if you live in a place with no spring? As I write this, the thought of never seeing another spring makes me want to curl up and die. It’s been a long winter in North America, and unreasonably cold.

I could argue that cold weather is good for lovers. Nothing like a bit of nippy air to encourage the use of one bed and that whole taking your clothes off to exchange body heat thing is a fantastically sexy device. Summer weather is great for showing off a lot of skin and skin is very alluring. Then there is the romanticism of fall. Crisp mornings, the smell of crushed leaves, and cool evenings made for cuddling close. But spring is the time of awakening. It’s when we emerge from hibernation and stretch. Leaves unfurl, flowers open their faces and bunnies get busy. It’s a time of birth and rebirth. A time of new beginnings.

Rituals and festivals celebrating spring are an important part of nearly every culture on Earth. As a writer of speculative fiction, I often wonder which of these rites we’ll take to the stars with us, however. When we chart years’ long voyages to distant planets and take up residence in stations and habitats, will we mark the same time? Space does weird things to time. And, as we’ve discovered, our planet has a pretty unique biosphere.

This is not to say that cramped quarters aboard an ark ship won’t be conducive to love. Quite the contrary. I imagine any long voyage is going to see an increase in the number of passengers—if they’re not all put to sleep, of course.

(I mean cryo-sleep, not Fluffy’s just going to the vet for a checkup sleep)

(But then the cockroaches might breed and take over helm control, possibly steering the ship into the nearest black hole—at which point we might discover the universe adjacent to ours and…I had better get off this tangent before I start writing a whole other blog post)

A generational ship might observe native holidays and festivals. Or maybe they will create their own. Days to commemorate important events, rituals that arise out of a new way of living. By the time they land (we’re assuming the best here!) several cultures might have merged to give new meanings to seasonal and religious celebrations, which have always been so closely linked.

The colonists will celebrate their landing (good or bad) and perhaps that will be something like a spring festival, a new beginning. This would be a momentous occasion, so hugely important. The day we, as explorers and pioneers, claimed a new world, a new home. The climate and seasons of this new world would inform the culture as much as what they bring with them. Perhaps the seasons will be reversed—doesn’t make sense to me, either, but this is science fiction—or maybe they’ll find a planet that is locked in eternal spring.

That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?

Whatever happens, one thing is certain. Love will be a part of our journey to the stars. Spring might be when we celebrate fertility, but you can’t confine sex to a season. And reaching out to the stars is just going to give us so many more ways to get together and celebrate being together.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=

CSCover190Felix and Zander met in the ‘spring’ of their lives, when they were just eight years old. Their lifelong friendship developed into love just before they graduated school—only to be separated by their careers and then war. In Chaos Station (Chaos Station #1), they are reunited.

Seasons play no role in their love story—in fact, Felix isn’t a fan of planets. But their love will be defined by the passage of years and the places they visit.

Read the first chapter of Chaos Station at http://chaosstation.com

Find me online at http://kellyjensenwrites.com

Twitter: @kmkjensen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kellyjensenwrites

 

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Unfinished beginnings part 2 by Lissa Kasey

amber_osterhout_painting

The sky shone bright blue through the metal crisscross of wire mesh over the window. Down below, the trees grew tall and green, birds flew about merrily, and the world turned for everyone else. People passed by, walking down the sidewalk, cross the street, many stared up at the windows. Some shuddered or hid their eyes. Among them, demons. Hundreds. Maybe even thousands of them. He’d lost count years ago.

Myrtle was screeching down the hall again, that meant demons were coming to give him his pills. The tell-tale clip clop of boots headed his way made his shoulders tighten with apprehension. Maybe if he didn’t look at them they would just let him take them and leave. He blinked away a hot rush of tears that filled his eyes. How dumb to be afraid of these same demons.

These two came every day, twice a day. One held the tray with the pills and a small glass of water, the other stood behind the first, beefy arms crossed, waiting for any wrong move. But there was no fight left in him. He liked sitting here staring out the window. They never let him outside anymore. Not after he’d been lost staring at a demon for several hours. How long ago had that been? A few months? Maybe a few years? Not that it really mattered. One day blended into the next.

He took his pills dutifully, handed back the empty cups and opened his mouth to show they’d been swallowed. Only when they walked away did he finally feel some of the tension leave his shoulders. Distantly there was the sound of a TV blaring. Rose often yelled at the people on the screen like they could hear her. He wondered if she knew most of them were demons too.

More footsteps headed his way, several sets, one heavier than the rest. There were raised voices. Had they forgotten a pill? It’d been ages since he’d been taken downstairs. He didn’t have to go back for more training did he? He swallowed a pain filled breath, fear coursing through him in an instant. He’d do anything, say whatever they wanted, as long as they didn’t strap him down again.

He began to shake as the voices filled the room.

“Why isn’t he ready to go?” Someone demanded. A pair of women paused just inside the door, glaring around the room. “This is worse than a prison. Why is he in a straight jacket?”

“We haven’t received official release papers. I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you can’t be in here. This is a restricted ward. Mr. Winters is one of our more volatile patients.” One of the demons tried to block them from coming further into the room.

“Volatile? He looks like he’s thirteen years old, underfed, and hasn’t seen real sunlight in at least a decade.” Someone stepped into the room behind them. A demon, but not one he’d ever seen before. This demon had long hair like an angel, all golden and bright falling like lazy petals over his shoulders and cascading down his back, and he wore dark clothes, leather with lots of zippers. His hands were covered in a bright spattering of ink. This demon towered over the others, his face stern, eyes narrowed. His voice had been gruff and angry.

One of the women pushed her way across the room and knelt down between the chair and the window. “It’s time to go home, Aaidan.”

Aaidan? Oh, right that was his name. Sometimes he forgot. He sighed and wondered what she meant. Home. What a foreign word. A memory of an angry man, fists raised, and a sobbing woman flashed through his head. Pain. He flinched.

“He’s not stable enough to leave, Ms. Franks.”

“It’s Mrs. Franks. You’re standing next to my wife.” The woman nearest Aaidan snapped back. “If case you’ve forgotten, your little hospital has been ordered to release, with compensation, all victims of your sexual identity conversion scam. I’ll be surprised if this hospital isn’t closed by the end of the week. Get him out of that awful jacket right now.”

Mrs. Fanks. You know we can’t do that. He is a ward of the state. His parents handed him over to the Heavenly Road Asylum more than ten years ago. You know they gave up all rights to him.”

“Jake?” The woman looked at the long-haired demon.

“On it, O.” With only two long strides was sudden in front of Aaidan.

“You can’t do this!” The other demon shouted.

The long-haired demon smiled at Aaidan. “Hey, little buddy. You ready to get out of here? See some sunshine, eat some real food?” His eyes were a shade of bright green. Face somewhat scruffy but beautiful like an angel.

“Are you a demon or an angel?” Aaidan whispered.

“Well, I guess we’re all sort of both right? A little good, a little bad? That’s what it means to be human.” He fiddled with the straps of the coat finally snatched a knife out of his pocket and sawed way the last remaining strap, then tucked the blade away again. “Your aunt’s been really worried about you.”

The woman touched his face. Her eyes were kind, a warm brown, skin around them slightly wrinkled, but not from tension. She didn’t look at him like the others did here. “Do you recognize me at all, sweetheart?”

Aaidan thought about those warm eyes. The woman who had been sobbing had eyes like those, only never as soft and welcoming. There was this one time when he was little that someone looked at him like that, with no judgment, just love. Aaidan remembered eating fresh baked chocolate chip cookies while his Aunt Olivia stroked his hair. He’d been seven and had fallen off his bike.

He blinked again. Surprised by such a lucid memory. Most of the time all he had was fog. “I remember cookies.”

A smile lit up the woman’s face. “I’ll bake you some fresh cookies when we get home. Oh, baby boy!” She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him fiercely.

Aaidan frowned, not sure what to do. He wasn’t allowed to touch anyone. He looked back at the long-haired demon. Security filled the room, a group of hulking demons in uniforms with sticks that hurt. He’d felt their sting before, but the long-haired demon rose to his full height, a scary thing that was, and cracked his knuckles.

“I’ve got his release forms, all the court orders, and federal mandates right here,” the second woman waved a stack of papers around. “Try to stop us and you’re all going to jail.”

Olivia pulled the straight jacket off and tossed it aside. “Do you have anything you need to take with you, baby boy?” She looked around the room, but there was nothing personal. “Jake, can you carry him?”

“I don’t remember what cookies taste like,” Aaidan said quietly.

“He’s so tiny. Didn’t they feed him?” Jake, who was the long-haired demon, scooped him up out of the chair. “Weighs nothing. Christ, my dogs have more meat on them than him.”

“Not supposed to touch,” Aaidan said voice raised slightly in alarm. The warmth of Jake’s body against his was nice. He was always so cold, but no one ever gave him extra blankets. Demanding young men went to hell. Evil young men with wicked thoughts like his. “I don’t want to go to hell.”

“Peanut, I think you’ve been there for the last decade,” Jake commented as he headed for the door. “Ladies, let’s get out of this hell hole.”

Faces peered at them from every doorway. The silence almost painful while Aaidan struggled to keep himself from falling into the devil’s snare and enjoying the strong arms around him. No one was supposed to touch him. The demons used to back when Aaidan had fought the medication, but that had been years ago. Now they just held him down to shove the pills down his throat.

His panic began to rise as they ventured into areas Aaidan hadn’t been in years, down the stairs, through the main hallway, and toward the door. He couldn’t go outside. Evil waited for him out there. It was everywhere, hiding in every corner, waiting to suck him down to the black abyss of never-ending fire. He began to struggle.

“Hey, hey. Calm down, kiddo. No one is gonna hurt you,” Jake told him.

“Aaidan, I’m just taking you home. I promise we’ll keep you safe.” Olivia stroked his brow, but the door was so close. The light shining through it so bright it hurt his eyes.

“Can’t. Can’t go out there. Demons!” Aaidan fought with all his might, though he might as well have been a flea in Jake’s arms. He sucked in several huge lung-full of breath but still couldn’t breathe.

“He’s hyperventilating, Olivia,” Jake stopped just before they exited the building.

A doctor cut them off and the security guards became a wall of bodies. “You cannot remove him from this hospital. Mr. Winters is very disturbed.”

“No doubt because of your reprogramming methods. We have video you know. One of your nurses defected and gave us hundreds of hours of videos. Including  videos of you using shock therapy on Aaidan,” Olivia threw back at him.

“Shock therapy is used to treat many illnesses, including depression, which your nephew has. Now if you’ll have your somewhat barbaric friend put him on the bed over there we’ll wheel him back up to his room where he’ll be more comfortable.” The doctor gestured to a gurney that had been pushed down by a tight-faced orderly.

“Marissa?” Oliva asked.

Marissa stepped forward, flipping through her stack of paperwork. “Custody of one Aaidan Delaney Winters is remanded to Olivia Brittney Franks. Any interruption of this change of custody shall be seen as direct disobeying of a court order and met with criminal charges.”

“That means get the fuck out of our way,” Jake said, pushing his way through.

Aaidan blinked around him at the faces that seemed to stop and move in weird motions. His pills were kicking in again. Everything spun, but at least the pressure on his lungs eased even as the brightness of the sky filled his vision. All he could see was the bright blue and a weird golden halo around Jake’s blond hair. Maybe this one was an angel, he thought briefly. Just as the world vanished and darkness took him down into a deep sleep.

~~~

Jake wished he’d brought his guitar or something other than his phone. When O had insisted on taking Aaidan to a specialist she trusted he could have just said he had something else to do. After all he’d just been there to help by playing the muscle. Olivia and Marissa had been sure they would meet opposition in removing the kid from the mental hospital. He’d thought they’d been exaggerating, but they’d been right. He knew his grungy rock appearance would make them nervous, though he didn’t consider himself a real tough guy and never spoke with his fists. Sometimes looking like the bag guy just helped. Though the kid’s question still threw him off. Are you an angel or a demon?

Did that mean the kid really was crazy?

He leaned back in his chair and stretched. Tomorrow he’d be working on the house, sanding the windowsills to get them ready for replacing the windows and repainting. Every couple of years he bought a house that needed some love, lived it in, fixed it up, then sold it and moved on. Six months ago he’d found the most beautiful place. Thought it might just be the forever home for him, after some intense cleaning and fixing of course. That was when he’d met the Franks. Nice ladies. Barbequed all the time and were genius’ at it.

Those many evenings sitting around the grill, sharing meat and sauce, he’d learned about their on going fight to save this kid, Olivia’s nephew, Aaidan Winters. Jake had gone so far as to look up old newspaper clippings about it. Apparently, at the age of twelve, he’d been caught with a neighbor boy and set off to one of those reprogramming camps. When that didn’t work his parents institutionalized him. Something you could only do in a handful of states and Tennessee was one of them. Olivia explained that Aaidan had been caught holding the other boy’s hand. Nothing overt, but apparently they’d all suspected for some time that the kid was gay. Still that was no reason to throw the kid away for life like his parents had.

Kid. Well, Jake supposed he wasn’t much of a kid anymore at twenty-two, but he could hardly think otherwise when the man probably weighed less than a hundred pounds and was barely over five feet tall. Stunted for life. Christ. What a mess. Yeah, he should have gone home. He just thought back to how different it could have been if his parents hadn’t accepted him.

Hell, he’d always been the trouble maker of the family. The second from the bottom of six kids, he was the musician, the tattoo freak, the one who hadn’t gone to college, and had revealed to his parents at sixteen that he was bi with a firm lean toward men. That was more than a decade and a half ago. Before people knew there was more to being gay than just liking men, or that being bi meant you weren’t set smack dab in the middle. His parents had given him more gruff over his first tattoo than his sexuality. Guess he should have been grateful. Some people really got the short end of the deal.

The door opened and the specialist stepped. Everyone jumped to their feet, even Jake who barely knew the kid. The woman’s face was drawn, tired, and a frown played the corner of her lips. Not a good sign.

“It’s bad then?” Olivia asked, running her hands through her brunette curls. Marissa gripped her other hand. “Is there anything we can do?”

“He’s extremely malnourished. You’ll have to ease him into a balanced diet, supplement a lot of vitamins. Nothing overly sweet or fatty, his body can’t take it right now. Broths, lean proteins, bland vegetables lower in fiber.” She pulled out a list and handed it over. “Here’s a list to start him off with. Introduce each level slowly, watch for reaction. I suspect he might even be gluten intolerant. Most of the foods mental hospitals offer are high in starch and carbs, over processed. He’s got hundreds of ulcers in his stomach and intestines. Could be from the medications, could be from an allergy, which would most likely be gluten. I did take a sample of his stomach lining and we’ll be testing it, but that will take a few days.”

“What about the medications he was on? Are there things we need to continue with?” Marissa asked.

“A lot of them are sleeping medications, anti-depressants, things to keep him loopy, or if he were volatile like they claim, to keep him calm. Taking him off shouldn’t make him too sick, but you may find he’s very sleepy for a few days.” She pulled out another chart. “His bone density worries me. Probably a prolonged lack of calcium. Something we see more often in third world countries than anything here in the USA. I would like to test his vitamin levels every month for the next few months until we can get him back to normal levels. However, I think the damage has been done. Right now his bones are pretty fail. No intense activities. A single fall could have him cracking a hip or breaking his spine.” She paused, then shook her head. “You know I deal in recovery of a lot of these type of patients, but this is going to be hard. Emotionally he’s still 12, is there a grown up locked in there somewhere? Probably. I’ll have Ellen schedule weekly at home visits with him. He’s likely not going to be up to leaving the house anytime soon.”

“What about a suicide watch?” Jake asked, ignoring the horrified looks on Olivia and Marissa’s faces. “He might not be strong enough to hang himself or even cut his own wrists with a knife, but he might be able to hurl himself down stairs or out a window. I know suicide is high for those who have been through one of these reprogramming things.” He had a friend for six months, came back after being reprogrammed only to lock himself in the garage with the car running a month later. “I’m just trying to be real here.”

“Mr. Rhoades has a valid point. I do recommend keeping Aaidan away from heights, or anything you think he could find to harm himself. Pills, razors, anything he might use to hang himself.  It sounds morbid, but it’s better to be safe until we can give him back the life that was stolen from him.” She motioned to the room. “You can take him home. I’ve got the nurses filling the vitamin prescriptions right now. You know how to give a shot, right? Giving him pills will only remind him of the asylum.”

Olivia nodded, “I can give him the shots.” She blinked back tears and headed into the room. Everyone followed and Jake couldn’t believe how small and frail the kid looked. And this is what hate did to people. How horrible.

Aaidan smiled faintly at him when Jake approached to pick him up again. “You’re back, Angel.”

“Sure am, Sunshine. Ready to go home? Hospitals of any kind are really not my thing.”

“Hmm.” Was all he replied before closing his eyes and seeming to fall back asleep again. Olivia and Marissa collected the medications and everyone headed out to the duo’s Hummer. Jake had thought it was an odd choice for the two when he first met them, since they were both fairly small, nonaggressive women who didn’t seem to flaunt their minor wealth. But they also coached little league, ran a division of brothers and sisters, headed a ton of Pflag events, and often had foster kids. The Hummer made sense because it had a lot of space and a get a hell out of their way attitude. Jake liked that about them.

The drive back to their neighborhood was a silent one filled only with random tunes from the local pop station.  Aaidan slept in Jake’s lap the whole time. He shivered once or twice, forcing Jake to dig out a blanket from the back and wrap him up. He vaguely wondered how many more kids were lost in these places. Who else had been thrown away? He sighed and prayed for the kid to have a fast recovery.

 

HiddenGemLGHidden Gem: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5376

coversmInheritance (Dominion book 1 rerelease): http://www.amazon.com/Inheritance-Dominion-Novel-Lissa-Kasey-ebook/dp/B00TA6BN9C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426864297&sr=8-1&keywords=inheritance+lissa+kasey

 

 

Lissa Kasey LogoBio: Lissa Kasey/Sam Kadence lives in St. Paul, MN, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing, and collects Asian Ball Joint Dolls who look like her characters. She has three cats who enjoy waking her up an hour before her alarm every morning and sitting on her lap to help her write. She can often be found at Anime Conventions masquerading as random characters when she’s not writing about boy romance.

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Unfinished Beginnings by Lissa Kasey

It’s spring of a new year (officially today since it’s 3-20-15) and I’m planning for the year ahead. Most readers probably are only partially aware of the writing process and I thought I’d share a little of mine. See I’m really good at beginnings. I have tons of ideas and characters spinning around my head. But when I get to the middle or even worse—the end—I find myself running at a snail’s pace. It takes me longer to finish a book than to start one. I can write 40,000 words in a weekend so long as it’s character and world building, but get to the climax, relationship issues, and the final resolution and I’m lucky if I can get out 2,000 words a day.

I have some projects that need to be done this year, but I’m always open to starting new things or maybe pulling something out that was never finished and restarting. So I thought since I don’t have a lot scheduled for the next few weeks that I’d give you guys some samples and you could see if you wanted any of these more than others. They are all unedited and raw, far from being done. But I hope you enjoy the reading anyway. I’m going to post these once a week. Always something new. So enjoy

rob-thurman-v-temnote-ilustracni

 

Sam’s Story (Untitled Dominion 5) Chapter 1:

The cold night brushed against my skin with the sharp clarity of fresh needles as I walked through the bowels of downtown. It was the coldest winter in thirty years. I should have worn a heavier jacket but it’s not like I could freeze to death. I was already dead.

I flagged down a cab and had it take me to the edge of downtown St. Paul. My brain running on high gear—a million things flying through my head—just needed some time away from people. Shit that wouldn’t bother anyone else, but I had to meet Gabe, my mentor, at a club later and make nice with a stranger. Should probably show up for work for a few hours too. Though since Gabe was my boss he wasn’t likely to fire me if I didn’t.

I would rather have been out stalking the night. What was the point of being a vampire if I couldn’t be all dark and brooding when I wanted to anyway? That should be number one in the vampire rule book. If there was a rule book, which there wasn’t.

Not many wandered around downtown St. Paul at night, especially not in late February. There were drunks who shouted things that made no sense while they stumbled out of the bars. Homeless who hid in corners, buried in heaps of dirty clothes and praying they’d live through the frigid night air one more time. Prostitutes smiled, flirted then cursed when I ignored them. I’d grown up here. Riverside to be exact.

The multicolored high-rise towered over the Mississippi only a few miles from Gabe’s fancy condo but a millennia away in class. Living with eight brothers and sisters and my parents in a small two bedroom apartment had been a nightmare. Then I’d met Matthew, my first boyfriend and the first extreme fuckup of my life. I thought I’d found a way out. But false promises, abuse and heartbreak killed those dreams. The stain of what he’d done to me—made me do—covered me with a film that never washed away. It was worse than remembering the way Andrew Roman had fed on me over and over again like I was some auto refilling soda pop machine. I was something to kick and beat or feed on. Not a person.

Then there had been Caleb who had used me to get to Seiran. Because of course everyone wanted Seiran. He was beautiful, powerful, and perfect. I sighed. My track record was for shit. There had to be some giant bull’s-eye on my back that pulsed in neon red for only creeps to see. But I was done with all of that. Relationships, men, sex, the whole deal. I was dead now and no matter what the world at large thought, that just wasn’t sexy. Just because I could still get off didn’t mean I needed too.

The streets hadn’t changed much in the years that had passed since my hopeful escape. I wondered if my folks still lived in the same cramped apartment. Would they look at me and scream monster? Run away in terror? How had they ever survived in neighborhoods that ate at the weak like maggots on roadkill?

Footsteps echoed mine. I couldn’t help but smile as I fed my depression into the blood lust that plagued me from the moment I’d been reborn. They didn’t know the freak they were stalking could and would eat them for breakfast. Literally. I hadn’t eaten yet today.

I turned down an alley I knew had no outlet and slowed my pace, letting them follow like I was unwary prey. They would think they had me cornered, and an easy target. Two, maybe three—all bigger than me by the sound of their feet crunching the icy pavement—stalked me. The crunching of snow echoed in the dark cold as I closed my eyes and leaned against the building, letting them come to me.

“Hey, Chink! You’re in the wrong neighborhood.”

At least they’d gotten my heritage right. Maybe it was because they were Vietnamese themselves that they could tell. Not that it mattered. I’d eat them anyway, white, black, hell even purple. Everyone was on the menu.

You hear me, punk?” The leader demanded. The other two shouted and joked in a language I didn’t understand, but didn’t need to since I was sure it was taunts and insults.

I heard him all right. More than he could imagine. The pulsing of the first attacker’s blood ran excitedly through his veins, quickening his heart and making me lick my lips. He was aroused by the idea of beating the shit out of me, which would make my taking of him so much sweeter. He’d be first because the gush that always came from a surprise attack was the best. The other two might run, but this one would be mine.

Gabe hunted using sex appeal. He’d taught me how to seduce others, draw them close, feed and then fill them with memories of pleasure. I preferred something a little darker. Fear tasted better than pleasure because it was real. No false hopes or dreams were smashed to put it there, even if it soured the blood sometimes.

One of them slammed a bat against the wall near my head hard enough to shake ice from the side of the building. It shuffled around us in the eerie silence of the night, sliding to the ground and crackling like shattered glass. I waited. Let the hunger grow as they surrounded me, hearts racing, words an angry mash of sound. I didn’t need to see them to know how they moved or where they were. My own fears seeped away as I let the monster out. He was hungry and I was willing to let him go even if it were only for a few minutes. No death, I reminded my other self firmly before letting the red haze settle over my brain.

When I opened my eyes they gasped. I knew what they saw. The glowing red gaze of a true predator. Gabe had never shown me this side of himself—though I was sure he had it. All vampires did. Matthew lived in this state, which had probably driven him mad. Roman had only let the beast out in the end when rage tore away his control. I’d spent months perfecting the slip of self in secret—afraid my mentor wouldn’t approve and would cast me out. Only when I let go could I truly feel free.

I grabbed the first by the jacket, twisted the arm with the bat until a satisfying pop told me I’d broken his bone, and set my fangs to his neck all in one smooth move. With my arms wrapped around him, he didn’t even struggle against me. He just let me suck mouthful after mouthful of his hot blood. It stayed sweet a little longer, maybe because he was slow to realize his mistake or even too stupid to get that he’d just become the prey.

One of the others came at me, like he could help his friend. I kicked him away, landing a solid hit to his ribs that had him sliding back several feet then tumbling feet over head several times. Too much strength. I hope I hadn’t broken him by accident, but he shouldn’t have tried to interrupt a feeding. That was vampire intel 101. He struggled to his feet then turned to run for the entrance of the alley clutching his ribs like it hurt. Maybe I’d broken a few though I hadn’t heard the crack.

I licked the wound closed on the first and reached for the third who had yet to run. He stumbled backward, falling on his ass as he realized he should have run the second I took his friend. He reeked of fear.

Bloodlust was strong in the young. I could gorge myself on all of them and still not be satisfied. Their fear poured strong onto my tongue, a slightly bitter after taste telling me that I should move on to the next. But they had a lesson to learn and I was nowhere near full. I gave them memories of glowing eyes—the monster I was sure I was. This is what a vampire was meant to be. Not sex and beauty, but ugly and terrifying. Death wasn’t meant to be pretty.

The second disappeared around the corner as I let the third go and silently instructed them to head to a clinic nearby to tend any wounds. The first would need his arm set, but he wouldn’t start feeling that for a while yet. Not that it mattered to me. These three had been out looking for someone to harass. They’d made the mistake of choosing me. The third had pissed himself. At least I’d already let him go so he didn’t splash me. I hoped it froze to his dick and gave him frostbite. Maybe this little scare would make them think twice about harming someone else in the future.

I headed to the end of the alley determined to clean myself up and calm my heart before reaching the club where I was supposed to meet Gabe. He’d know I already fed. But I had to take the edge off. With my belly full I could think again. The rush of breath from my lungs formed a white mist that made me smile. For a few minutes I could almost feel normal. Perhaps that was the answer—gorge myself on blood until I felt human again. Only the lingering copper bite of pennies on my tongue reminded me that I’d just fed on the blood of a couple of thugs who six months ago would have beaten me to a pulp.

A shadow stepped into my path. Had the second come back? I almost ran into him when he didn’t move, but he was larger than any of the thugs had been. For a minute I thought he was Gabe who has somehow found me lurking in the nastiest areas of downtown. I’d never hear the end of it if he caught me roughing up ‘civilians.’

“You could use some polish, but not bad for an amateur.”

He was dark, not blond like Gabe. I looked him over, taking in the designer pants—pressed just perfectly—Burberry coat, navy in color, and chiseled face, strong chin with dark stubble. His eyes, a warm brown, were lined with thick black lashes. Dark hair, curled just slightly, fell around his ears and across his forehead. Damn but I was a sucker for tall, dark, and handsome. It was what drew me to Matthew and Andrew Roman. This guy had trouble stamped all over him.

The stranger reached out to slowly drag his thumb over the edge of my lips. In the pale light of the street lamps I saw he drew away a bit of blood. I was usually neater than that. He didn’t seem bothered and in fact licked his thumb then sucked on it briefly. “Thugs do have a certain vintage.”

My cock hardened making my pants too tight. It’d been a long time since that happened. Shit, who was this guy? Couldn’t be human. No human would willingly lick the blood of some random person off a stranger’s face. “Who the fuck are you?” I demanded. Gabe had introduced me to every vampire in the cities. He informed me it was so no random vampire would kill me for being rogue because they didn’t recognize me. I figured it was more so I knew who was a potential enemy. Not everyone liked the fact that Gabe was setting up a nest and calling all his old buddies home.

“You may have heard of me, Sam. I’m Maxwell Hart. Call me Max please. We never got to formally meet while you were visiting Los Angeles. Though I know you were there with your master. I would have loved to spend some time with you. See how your transition to our world is coming along.”

Right before Christmas Seiran had gone to California to learn more about his dad. Maxwell Hart had been there, introduced himself to Seiran before Gabe and I arrived. In fact, Sei said Max had been a part of the Ascendence—the ruling body of male witches—killing other witches to steal power and make more powerful male witches. Only when it came down to it, Max had handed over his power over the institution to Sei asking that the earth Pillar fix the corruption of the organization. Sei still didn’t know why. He said many times that Max was scary powerful. Maybe even stronger than Gabe. I didn’t have Sei’s witch powers. I was just an amplifier. Plug me into a witch and we could make crazy trouble. But on my own I didn’t know Houdini from Cris Angel. Hell, I couldn’t recognize another vampire when I met one unless he bit into someone in front of me. Or apparently licked the blood off of me. “Does Gabe know you’re in town?”

He shook his head slightly. “I have not presented myself to him formally. However,” he gestured to the darkened street around us. “Walk with me?” I nodded, whatever, and fell instep beside him. “I’ve not breached any protocols yet. I’m on the west side. He’s claimed the east. The west is yet unclaimed. Odd since it’s such a big city.”

I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting the west side as it was mostly abandoned warehouses and homeless. Gabe didn’t have enough vampires to claim the east side, but the Tri-Mega demanded he begin building a nest since he had a focus now. “So you’re planning on claiming the west side? Not much here, you know. Maybe Minneapolis would be a better option for you.”

He shrugged. “You probably know the area better than I. Though I think Gabe and I do not much run in the same circles. We are both business men, but my businesses aren’t as nice as his.”

“Bars really aren’t that nice. Lots of drunk assholes.” I followed along with him wondering if he’d sought me out to try to get something out of Gabe. Sure hurting me would piss off my mentor, but Max would be better off fearing the witch than the vampire. Sei was sort of possessive and convinced he had to be my friend no matter how many times I’d beaten the shit out of him or tried to kill him. Some people are just gluttons for punishment. “Gabe won’t let you break the law here. The Tri-Mega has sort of put him as defacto leader around here. They hold him responsible for everything.” Which was stupid and unfair, but he didn’t really have a choice. One man couldn’t control one city by himself and technically Gabe had two since Minneapolis was just as empty of vampires as the west side of St. Paul. Maybe vampires didn’t like the cold. It was a lot of layers to peel off of prey, but I didn’t mind.

“What makes you think what I’m doing is illegal?”

“The whole Ascendance killing witches thing.”

Max nodded and sighed. “I suppose that makes sense.” He checked his watch. “I’m actually headed over to look at a new business adventure. Since no humans are allowed there are a different set of rules and legalities don’t much apply to the other among us with the norms.”

I’d been to my share of nonhuman clubs. They were a lot like watching snow—fascinating for the first few minutes—and then just more of the same. A lot went on in those places: drugs, sex and blood for sale. None of which I needed, but I was curious. I did like watching other monsters if just to prove that I wasn’t all alone. “Just for a few minutes.”

“Understood. Feel free to leave whenever you’d like. I would hope we can become friends. Maybe I can become a backup if you need help or advice of the vampire kind. Should your mentor be unavailable of course.” He pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Call any time.”

I took it and stuffed it into my coat, wondering if he really meant it. “If you’re looking for someone to help you get at Sei or Gabe, I’m not your guy.” I told him honestly. “They’ve been good to me. Even when I’m a total shit. I won’t invite you into their house, or try to get them to meet with you, and if you don’t want the witch to turn you inside out and feed your innards to the nearest tree you’re better off leaving me in one piece.”

Max laughed, strong and hearty, throwing back his head. He stopped a moment later and shook his head at me. “No mincing words, eh? I have no use for those sorts of games, Gabe or his focus. My plans are larger and involve only vampires.” He shrugged, “And for the moment—shifters.” He led me down an alley where a brawny man stood at a non-descript door. He nodded to Max, barely spared me a glance, and opened the door for us.

“I assure you, my interest in you is purely curiosity.”

“About what?”

“Your power and how it’s slipped through the cracks.”

I shrugged. “Not Dominion born. So I couldn’t tell you where it comes from. No one in my family has anything like it.”

Max nodded. I followed him down a long hallway and to another door. He opened this one and the noise hit me first. Cheering, shouting, and the smack of flesh hitting flesh. Not the soft slap like porn. No this was bone hitting muscle wrapped bone. The door closed behind us, blocking me in with the echoing thud of a body hitting the ground in the distance. What the fuck?

Max proceeded forward through a far doorway. As I moved closer the smell of sweat and drying blood wafted toward me strong enough to almost be visible. If there was one thing I hated about being a vampire, it was that everything smelled so awful. And this place stank.

The room was cavernous. A warehouse converted into a fighting room. Cages spread out across the open space with wire bolted to the ground and looping all the way to the ceiling over a concrete slab. Everyone moved to cluster around a new fight that seemed to just be starting in the back corner.

“Just in time for the final fight of the night,” Max said. He smiled at me. “If you ever feel the blood lust getting to you, come here and the smell with kill it fast enough. Shifters stink, though their blood tastes all right. Not as good as witch blood, but better than those punks in the alley.”

The stench made me a little queasy. I hadn’t blown blood chunks since the first night of my change and wasn’t going to do it now. “It’s really awful.” I didn’t think I could get past the stink to try tasting a shifter. Did they all smell that bad?

No one noticed us as we stepped in close to the last cage. I moved around to the edge, away from the others in case I needed to bolt. Had to breathe slowly to filter out the smell. Not like I had to breathe, it was just habit. But, God, the smell. Wet dog, only worse. Gross.

Inside the wire ring something that looked like a muscled up version of a horror movie wolfman stood flexing his semi-furry arms and throwing spittle from his elongated snout. He wore nothing. His oddly bald sex hanging large and heavy between his legs, showing arousal. Maybe the fight got him off like that guy in the alley? His hands curled in a mix of human and wolf with long sharp talons and his legs hunched, bent wrong like a dog. Nothing about him was appealing. I wondered where all the romanticism with shifters came from. In comparison a witch who changed flawlessly like Seiran, Jamie, or Kelly was so much more beautiful. Perhaps it was magic that made the difference. Science could only make humanity uglier, but magic—that was a dark beauty that created some of the most heavenly and devilish things in the universe.

A man moved across the ring, yanking off his shirt and pulling on a pair of boxing gloves. I couldn’t imagine how they’d help him against the shifter. He looked scrawny compared the hulking, fur-covered monster across from him. He couldn’t be human though, since Max said this was a non-human event. Fight clubs for supes. The gambling portion of it probably made it as illegal as hell. The man in the corner with fists full of money probably worked for Max. But local law enforcement wouldn’t care. So long as none of the norms were hurt, they’d turn a blind eye.

“Who’s the human looking guy in the ring?” I asked Max. “He’s not really human, right?”

“Not hardly,” Max replied. “Almost vampire, but not quite.”

Was that even possible? But the man was handsome enough, broad in the shoulders, medium brown hair, and just the slightest of red haze to his eyes. A vampire then. The bell ran and the fight began. I didn’t watch. The beautiful man would fight the beast. Would he live or die? Did it matter? We were all monsters here. I turned away overwhelmed by my depression again. I was just like them, wasn’t I? I may not look so scary on the outside, but the monster inside had claws just as sharp and bigger fangs.

I made my way out, sucking in the deep cold air.

“No one dies,” Max told me, having followed me out. “At least not often. Accidents do happen.”

“I don’t want to be just another monster,” I told him.

His smile was sad and somewhat self-mocking. “But we are. Aren’t we? I do a lot just to feel. You’re young. You still pulse with emotion. What you saw inside scared you, depressed you, and yet excited you. I long for all of that.”

Was that all I had to look forward to? An eternity searching for emotion? “I don’t want to be like that.” It was probably rude to say so, but the truth. “Empty.”

“Happens to all of us in time. We live so long the world kills us from the inside out.”

“Are you looking for a way to die, Max?” I had to ask. Gabe mentioned before he’d been nothing but a walking corpse before he’d met Seiran. Max probably wasn’t any younger.

“Looking for a way to live, my young friend. Call if you need me. I can show you things that Gabe would not dare.”

Because Gabe was one of the good guys and Max was just fire I’d already burnt myself with twice. “Thanks,” was all I offered as I headed back out into the night. It was getting late and I had to get to the club before midnight. Gabe expected me to meet with the cibo I’d approved before the night was over.

I stopped at a gas station to clean up. The attendant didn’t say anything about the bottle of water and chewing gum I bought. Though he did give me the stink eye when I asked for the bathroom key. Did he think I was gonna camp out in the crapper for the night? I would rather have found a dumpster to sleep behind.

When I stepped inside the stink nearly had me hurling again. Did they ever clean this place? I went to the sink and washed my face, taking time to scrub away small bits of blood spatter. The hunger must have been bad to make me so messy. At least my shirt and jacket were still clean. I could only imagine what it would be like to go meet the cibo with some other guy’s blood on me. Sort of like paying for a second whore when the come of the first still stained the skin.

The mirror made me look so ordinary. And I’d fed so the my eyes wouldn’t turn red even if I willed them too for at least a few more hours. Though I did try. Sometimes I let the monster out and just stared at him for hours. It still shocked me when I’d fall out of a weird trance and find only myself in the mirror.

I popped a half dozen pieces of gum. The strong cinnamon of it would kill any lingering blood, but it burned my tongue. The stuff was nasty, but it was the one thing that Gabe swore by that I always used.

I made my way to the club hoping that the guy I’d spoken to online a couple dozen times wasn’t some clingy jerk who wanted to be my vampire groupie. Gabe wanted me to have a regular blood source. I didn’t care either way. The last thing I needed was someone fragile that wanted me to be his savior. I was no one’s hero dammit. No matter what Gabe and Sei tried to convince me of most days. I was okay being the bad guy. At least the role fit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Lissa Kasey LogoBio: Lissa Kasey/Sam Kadence lives in St. Paul, MN, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing, and collects Asian Ball Joint Dolls who look like her characters. She has three cats who enjoy waking her up an hour before her alarm every morning and sitting on her lap to help her write. She can often be found at Anime Conventions masquerading as random characters when she’s not writing about boy romance.

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Armchair Winter Sports by L.M. Somerton

As a nation, England is not renown for its prowess at Winter sports. We’ve managed to produce a few spectacular figure skaters and one very bad ski-jumper in the past. At the Winter Olympics, we become part of Great Britain so that Scotland can win us some curling medals and in Sochi 2014 we also pulled off a gold in the skeleton and a bronze in the snowboarding. That put us lower down the medals table than… well virtually everyone! So when the lovely Christy invited me to do a Winter Sports post for Lissa’s blog I was at a bit of a loss.

Personally I can’t skate, ski or snowboard. I have less natural balance than a tightrope-walking hippopotamus. I loathe snow and fully expect to land face down every time I set foot on an icy patch. Winter sport for me is lobbing the occasional snowball. So why is it that some of my favourite films are about sports I can’t do and have no intention of ever learning?

I can hear all my friends yelling, “You just like to watch fit men in lycra”, and I confess… that does have some appeal *grins*, but actually one film I’ve watched several times is about ice hockey and the men in that wear so much padding you can’t tell what shape they are at all. I’m showing my age when I put Youngblood at the top of my list. Any film that features Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze has to be good in my book. It has the whole bromance, heroic triumph over adversity thing going on, which I love and for those of you who know it, that scene with the jockstrap coloured my opinion of men’s underwear forever.

Next up is Cool Runnings, the story of the Jamaican bobsleigh team. This one never fails to make me laugh and cry (and there’s plenty of lycra in it too). What makes it even better is that it’s based on a remarkable true story and like all Brits, I’m a sucker for underdogs everywhere.

The sadist in me (and for those of you who have read my books, this is not going to be a huge surprise) loves all those films with scenes of gorgeous men being pushed to their physical limits. I think I’m a trope addict because these films are so formulaic you can lay out the plot without even watching them. So last up is Miracle, a 2004 film starring Kurt Russell. Based on the true story of “the greatest moment in sports history” (as long as you’re American), this follows the USA Men’s Ice Hockey team as they face the Russians at the 1980 Olympics.

So while all you energetic types are out there playing in the snow, I much prefer to be in front of the fire watching a movie and drinking hot chocolate (with marshmallows of course). So who would join me and what would you like to watch? I’ll bring the popcorn…

Author bio:

L M Somerton lives in a small village in the English countryside, surrounded by rolling hills, cows and sheep. She started writing to fill time between jobs and is now firmly and unashamedly addicted.

She loves the English weather, especially the rain, and adores a thunderstorm. She loves good food, warm company and a crackling fire. She’s fascinated by the psychology of relationships, especially between men, and her stories contain some subtle (and not so subtle) leanings towards BDSM.

Links

http://lmsomerton.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/lmsomerton

http://pinterest.com/lmsomerton

https://www.amazon.com/author/lmsomerton

Twitter: @lmsomerton

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Winter Sports by Kate Sherwood

I’m Canadian. When someone talks about winter sports, I think about hockey. As an author, I’ve got an m/m novella centered around a hockey team and an upcoming three book series of YA romance also centered around a hockey team. Winter sport? Hockey. (Ice Hockey, for those of you who live in places where there’s another kind.)

But maybe that was a bit too obvious. Writing is about stretching yourself, right? So I thought maybe I should write about a different sport, and I remembered how much I love the Winter Olympics. Yeah, okay, the big ticket event is the hockey, but my favorite part about the Olympics is how it makes people care about every sport, even the obscure ones. Luge? I only hear about luge once every four years, but for those few days of caring, I care a lot. I’ve been in sports bars where every person there, including the staff, exploded in excitement after a particularly stirring bit of luging. (Yes, that’s the right word – I looked it up!)

Same goes for cross-country skiing, speed skating (short and long track!), curling, biathlon… they’re all fascinating, once every four years.

But is intermittent, short-lived fascination what winter sports are really all about? I don’t do any of those sports, and most of them I don’t even want to try. What do I do? I ride horses in the winter, and it can be magical on a crisp, windless day, with the horse’s hooves tossing up little explosions of powder, his breath frosting as he snorts. But most days it’s just cold and slippery, and I don’t really enjoy it as much as riding in other seasons, so it seems like a bit of a cheat to call that a winter sport. What do I do just in the winter?

I shovel snow. Lots of snow. I gave in a few years ago and hired a guy to snow-blow my driveway, but he doesn’t do the walkway or the little edges of things, he doesn’t do a path out to the bird feeders, he doesn’t clear off my deck so I can do a little mid-winter grilling. So I shovel. A sport? Well, it definitely takes fitness—there’s a spot in my lower back that I am completely unaware of all year long, right up until I have to start shovelling the white stuff. Enjoyment? Well, I don’t have fun while it’s happening, but I get a certain sense of satisfaction when it’s done—I bet that’s all the Olympic cross-country skiers can say for their sport. Fun to watch? I would absolutely rather watch someone shovel than do it myself, so maybe that counts.

What other winter sports do I take part in? Helping little kids get into snowsuits can be an absolute workout, of patience as well as physical flexibility. The vigorous arm-waving and contortions I go through when walking on icy ground must certainly test my balance and skills, and my hand muscles are well-exercised when I white-knuckle drive through a snowstorm.

My favorite winter sport, though? Fire building. The workout of carrying the logs inside, the technique of building the kindling and adding wood, and then the flexibility involved in stretching out on the couch, cat on my lap and dog at my feet, to enjoy the dancing flames? A good book, a glass of red, maybe some popcorn if I’m feeling ambitious. That’s the kind of sport I can get behind, and it’s definitely one that’s better in the winter!

~ Kate Sherwood

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Winter Sports – A Chilling Proposition by Serena Yates

 

skiingWinter sports are not exactly a hobby of mine, so when Christy Duke first suggested I guest-blog about them for Lissa Kasey, I wasn’t sure what I could possibly come up with. But as I chatted with her, I realized there was more to the topic than I had first thought—including some very personal memories.

Growing up in The Netherlands didn’t exactly predispose me to knowing, liking, or understanding snow. Skiing was an exotic activity for me, and my first personal memory of snow is of finding it on the top of a mountain – during summer holidays in Austria. Weird, right? But my second personal memory is no less strange, and it has to do with ice. Icy rain, to be exact. It was sometime during the 1970s, I think, when one winter got so cold the rain froze to the streets. Everything was covered with ice for a few days, highly unusual where I lived, close to the coast of the North Sea where temperatures rarely drop below freezing—even in winter. Life in the city came to a standstill. To be honest, we were hoping for a day off school, since no public transportation was running, and only the most daring idiots braved the streets in their cars. But then someone came up with a solution: ice-skating! Almost everyone owned skates at the time, since the many grachten—canals crisscrossing the country, one quarter of which is below sea level—occasionally did freeze over, and the Dutch love skating on them. So for one glorious day we took over the streets and ice-skated to school.

elfstedenAnd then there is my third personal memory, of trying downhill skiing with my sister and her family one winter. Not something I remember fondly. Racing down a hill (I never made it to the mountain stage), out of control and afraid of hitting the next tree, or one of my fellow skiers, for that matter, is decidedly not my idea of fun. I did take up cross-country skiing for a while, since, paradoxically, I have no issue with the cold. Gliding through a wintry landscape with (ideally) the sun making all that white stuff glitter is a lot of fun, and a beautiful experience. It appeals to my sense of beauty and I love the silence.

Personal memories aside, and probably because I was never exposed to them other than reading abut them in newspapers and books, I never took to winter sports. I don’t really like summer sports either though, so it may just be me after all. I am fascinated by the idea of winter sports, the concept of them, but I’d much rather watch from a distance than participate.

Even in my writing I have never really explored the ice and snow, though I have one book set in a wintry world (Winter Challenge, a story set on an icy planet in a parallel dimension), and my Mistletoe Science trilogy features a glaciologist as one of the main characters. He ends up falling into an icy crevasse in the third book… But that is as close as I have come.

All in all, to summarize my thoughts about winter sports, I’d have to say that I really do think they are a chilling proposition!

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A Wonderful Short & Recipe by Lissa Kasey

devotionDevotion

Sei didn’t care much for Valentine’s Day because he’d spent so many years believing love wasn’t possible. The idea that I had a valid excuse for giving him gifts and showing the world how crazy about him I was made the day important to me. I just had to figure out how to get my holiday reluctant boyfriend to join the festivities with me.

The jumble of ideas kept distracting me from balancing the books for Bloody Bar. Technically at midnight, it would be the big day, and at the moment, Sei was upstairs in his condo, sleeping. Maybe I could wake him up with a little sweet love-making, convince him to stay in bed with me for a while, or take a long bath together. It’d almost been a week since we’d last had sex, only because he’d been working long hours and came home so tired he fell into immediate sleep.

Tomorrow he had the day off as I’d requested mostly because I planned on spending the entire night with him. The elevator dinged. Jamie stepped out when the door opened. He had a big box in his hands. The smell of chocolate and sugar filled the condo. The sweet treat was a special order from Sei’s favorite bakery.

“It smells amazing, but I haven’t dared to open it,” Jamie said as he set it on the counter.

I shoved the computer aside and pulled open the top of the box. The flourless chocolate cake was capped in a delicate layer of gently folded whipped cream, and fresh strawberries. A sculpted plaque made of chocolate simply said “I love you.”

“Wow,” Jamie whistled.

“I hope he likes it. Since this will be our first Valentine’s Day as a couple.”

“In Sei’s eyes at least.”

It was the first time he didn’t have an excuse to tell me not to celebrate the holiday with him. I grabbed the glass cake dome that Sei kept in my kitchen and carefully placed the pastry inside. I had a box full of rose petals that needed to be spread out. Sei didn’t care much for cut flowers, but I was pretty sure he’d like the live orchids and mini cherry tree I’d gotten for him.

“Do you want me to wake him up?” Jamie asked as he headed for the elevator.

“No. I’ll do it. Thanks, Jamie.”

“You’re welcome. And if you need to extend your activities to Sei’s condo, don’t worry. Kelly is upstairs at my place for the night.” He left with that, the smile on his face telling me more than enough.

I began decorating. By the time I finished it was quarter to midnight and the four bottles of QuickLife I’d had were swirling in my belly with unease. When I finally made my way upstairs, the whole five feet to his door made me anxious enough to nearly turn around. The last time I’d tried a romantic adventure, he’d run from me. He preferred simple tokens of my affection, like passing kisses and nights curled up reading together. This was so far beyond that.

Risky.

But while he liked the little things, I wanted to do bigger things. Like buy him a house, or a room full of dolls, or fly him to a private island for a weekend together. The irony was that I’d spent two thousand years searching for someone who loved me just for being me instead of for my money or power, only to find him and I wanted to give him those things.

I used my key and snuck into the dark condo. Sei slept peacefully on his side, arm wrapped around a pillow. I crawled in beside him, and curved my body to spoon him from behind and tugged a blanket over the both of us. There was no immediate need to wake him. The morning was hours away and sharing a warm bed even for sleep was a sweet little treat. I closed my eyes and let myself settle in.

The soft touch of a hand on my cheek awoke me. I hadn’t realized I’d dozed off until that moment. Sei had turned in my arms and was watching me with a gentle smile on his face.

“Hi,” I said.

“You’re so beautiful,” Sei told me.

“Not as beautiful as you.”

“Gabe, shush,” Sei protested and kissed each of my cheeks. “You’re beautiful. I love your curly hair, your pretty green eyes and long lashes. I love your neck.” He licked down my neck. “And your strong shoulders.” He pushed back the buttons of my shirt and kissed each shoulder.

I directed his head up so our lips could meet. The kiss lasted wonderful ages. He pressed against me. I held him tight and just enjoyed the taste of him, the closeness, and his happiness. When the kisses finally ended, Sei gave me a sleepy sigh, but I had no intention of letting him fall back asleep just yet. “Come with me.” I pulled him up from the bed.

He looked down at his clothes, a pair of sleep pants and a tank top. “In my pajamas?”

“I promise you won’t need them long.”

Sei put his hand in mine and rewarded me with a sultry smile. I led him downstairs to my condo. The orchids were set out on the counter next to the cake, and rose petals made a small heart around them. He traced the stem of orchids, and grinned at the cake. “Yum.”

I carefully lifted the top off the dome and handed Sei a plate. The slice I cut was probably larger than he would normally eat, but the night was really about sensuality rather than hunger. I restored the dome and left Sei at the counter to head into the bathroom where I’d set up the rest of the evening. The tub filled with warm swirling water and the scent of something green, a gift from a certain nosey redhead.

Petals trailed to the bathroom and the tub. I could hear Sei moving around the apartment slowly, as if unsure what to do, but I stripped out of everything, putting a towel around my waist so he would understand that sex wasn’t the ultimate goal, though it would be had if Sei had any say in it. I poured two glasses of the sweet dessert wine Seiran loved and waited for him.

He appeared in the doorway only a few seconds later, plate in hand, cake untouched, eyes curious.

“Gonna eat that?” I asked him. He stepped closer. I took his fork and swept a small bite into my mouth. The chocolate tasted sweet and slightly bitter and I fought not to swallow, but nearly lost the battle when Sei’s expression turned to one of concern.

“You’ll make yourself sick!” He launched himself at me. I took the plate from him and set it on the tray beside the tub before catching him and meeting the ferocity of his kiss. Sometimes having vampire speed was a good thing. He licked away all the chocolate he could find in my mouth and didn’t pull away until I dropped my towel and stepped carefully back into the tub.

The flush heating his cheeks made me smile.

“Going to join me?” I asked him, making room on my lap.

“I don’t understand what all this is,” he whispered.

“It’s called a romantic interlude for Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty sure there are scenes like this in some of your novels. It’s also pretty much the only work out I get in the winter, since I’m not into running like you.”

“Like you have to work out. Vampires don’t change.”

I glanced down at the proof of my change. “No?”

His blush deepened, but he looked away, examined the walk-in shower across the room with interest. “Maybe I could sit on the edge of the tub?”

“Okay, who are you and what have you done with my boyfriend?” I demanded playfully. Sei loved the water almost as much as Kelly did.

“I just-” he stopped like he didn’t know what to say. Finally he clipped his hair up on top of his head, tugged off his top, and shoved his bottoms and underwear down in one swipe then stepped into the tub with me. Instead of cuddling into my lap he sat across from me.

The distance made me swallow back a gulp of worry. I thought we were beyond this, but maybe I’d been wrong. “Talk to me, Sei.”

“You’ll be mad,” he whispered, still refusing to look at me.

“How often am I ever mad? Seriously, what is wrong?”

Instead of saying anything he turned his back to me, rising just far enough from the water to leave the sleek line of his back free of the suds. The last of the lather slipped down, trailing onto his tight little butt cheeks, and revealing colorful words scrawled across his back from right shoulder to the middle of his back, my name. Gabe—not Gabriel—which I’d spent most of my life recognized as. Sei had started the trend of calling me Gabe and it stuck. The letters bloomed in red with roots of green stems. The center of the “a” and “e” were paw prints instead of empty space.

I wanted to kiss him, to taste that skin, and show him how much I loved seeing him branded with my name, but the slightly raised edges meant the ink was fresh and still healing. This was commitment. I was more than a little shocked. He shuddered, and I realized I still hadn’t said anything.

“Christ, Seiran, I love you so much.” I pulled him into my lap, careful not to touch the sensitive skin of the tattoo.

“Do you hate it?” His wide sapphire eyes searched my face with all the fear of a child seeking acceptance. Someday that fear would leave him, and he’d realize that all that mattered to me was him, whatever he was and whatever he did.

“It’s beautiful.” Beyond beautiful. “I love it. You know you didn’t have to do that for me. It must have hurt.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” he lied, his bravado obvious. “You have my name. It’s only fair that I have yours.”

So that’s what it was. I’d had Sei’s name tattooed over the top of Titus’ years ago. The Japanese letters gave it some flourish, and I’d had some color and detail added in the past few months simply because I wanted that connection to him to be visual. I’d been grateful numerous times for choosing to have his name in Japanese instead of English because I’d fear he’d panic if he knew the truth. “How’d you know?”

“I drew a picture of it and asked my mom.” He looked away again. “You were doing things to it after I found out what it meant. So I was worried you were going to cover it up. But then you added the new moon, and the paw tracks, and the leaves….”

“I’ll add even more to it when your babies are born.”

“Our babies,” Sei corrected. “They’re yours as much as mine. Just like they are Ally’s as much as Hanna’s. I hope you’ll be their daddy too.”

“Of course. I look forward to it.” I massaged his neck until he finally rested his head on my shoulder. “Two months until you’re a full-fledged, card-carrying, diaper-changing, daddy.”

“We should make the most of our alone time right now then.” He reached over and took a forkful of the cake, then turned his head toward me, after swallowing, for a kiss. It was a game we often played. I licked the edges of his lips before diving inside for a taste of the chocolate over him.

We picked up the glass of wine and raised them to clink together.

“Will you run away from me if I say Happy Valentine’s Day, Seiran?” I took a hesitant sip of the wine watching him for subtle changes that meant he wasn’t happy about celebrating my frivolous holiday.

“Nah. I’m comfy.”

“Oh, so I’m a pillow, eh?”

He bit back a smile, and then sipped his wine to cover it up. “I love you, Gabe. Pokey bits and all.” His hand slipped beneath the water to touch me, and his eyes peered up through his long lashes. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Flourless_Chocolate_Cake-whole-580

 

Prep time: 30 min | Cook time: 40 min | Total time: 1 hr 10 min (plus cooling)

Yield: 12-14 servings

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 7 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 eggs
  • Powdered, for garnish
  • Fresh strawberries, for garnish

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease a 10-inch round cake pan (a springform pan is easiest).
  3. Bring water and 1 cup of the sugar to a boil. Remove from heat and add both chocolates. Stir until chocolate is melted. Add butter and stir until melted.
  4. Heat a kettle of water (to use for a water bath) on the stove.
  5. Combine remaining half cup of sugar and eggs in a mixer. Beat until light and fluffy. Gently fold chocolate mix into egg mixture.
  6. Pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the cake pan into a larger, deep baking pan and set the larger pan inside the oven. Pour the hot water from your kettle into the larger pan, filling about halfway up the side to create a water bath. Bake in the water bath for 40 minutes.
  7. Remove cake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Heat on top of stove for 30 seconds and then unmold onto a cake plate. Chill the cake for at least an hour.
  8. Garnish chilled cake with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries.
  9. Optional: If you’d like to garnish with whipped cream as well, whip 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar together until thick.

Read more about Gabe and Seiran in the upcoming rerelease of Inheritance:

cover

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Snow Hot by A.J. Llewellyn

When Christy Duke (who kindly wrangled us authors for this guest-blogging gig) mentioned the topic was winter sports, I had to laugh. My personal idea of winter sports is sex in front of the fireplace. Snow is not usually involved. If it is, it’s outside far away from me!

However, winter sports can be dead sexy. I love watching the winter Olympics and Derek Parra remains one my favorite fantasy playmates.

Ahem.

My first inkling that winter and skiing could be alluring was watching Robert Redford in the movie Downhill Racer. Wow was he hot!

In my family however, it’s not such a titillating activity.

It’s more an obsession, a way of life. I just have no idea how this particular gene managed to bypass me, but it did.

Growing up in Australia, my family spent summer at the beach (typically Avalon or Avoca). My father is a sun seeker and relentlessly avoids the cold. As we kids grew older and easier to handle, we had summer holidays in northern Queensland, Nouméa in New Caledonia, Hawaii, and California.

And then he met my stepmother and suddenly he enjoyed arctic blasts and we spent our winters at Perisher Valley, one of the major ski resorts in Mount Kosciusko.

Yes kids, there is snow in Australia!

My stepmother was a fanatical skier and my dad and brothers took to the slopes easily. I did not. I perched, freezing on the edges of chalet coffee terraces drinking hot chocolate and reading Mills and Book romance novels dreaming of sun and fun. I was a dreadful skier but I did lust after a few of my instructors. Boy oh boy where they yummy!

I deeply fantasized about playing with their balls – snowballs, of course.

Ahem.

And yet, for all my inabilities to keep track of a solid pair of ski poles, or to master the art of the snowplow, I think there’s a lot to be said about winter sports in stories.

I have only one that really involves snow and that’s Snow Drive, about two guys who go to Switzerland to drive Aston Martins in the white stuff. I had tons of fun writing that story, but it’s the only one so far.

My family remains passionately devoted to mountains and ski runs, but their tales have never inspired a book for me. The last time they talked me into giving skis a try was in Aspen a few years ago. I was appalled at what skiing has become. I got run down by a snowboarder. Man, was it always this lethal out there? As I rose on wobbly legs, a snowboarder skied right over me!

I retreated to my brother’s apartment, where I watched the idiots outside bobbing and banging into each other. I came up with the idea for my Cat Vs. Dog shifter series there.

What shocked me however, was my niece, who has become a celebrated little skier. And over the holidays I got this email from my brother:

Your niece has just finished her ski racing for the winter (thankfully) and I believe she set a new record for the number of times to be taken down the mountain in a banana boat (three).  She also was taken once by helicopter from Perisher Valley to Canberra Hospital.  I now call her ‘My Tormentor’.  Broken bone in her right hand (still in cast), torn ligaments in her left hand and damaged spleen were just some of the highlights.  Why could she not be a tennis player?  

I know my editor says that jaws cannot drop but mine did. I had to reread the paragraph above. Especially when my brother went on to say,

Anyway she is fine now. Her mother and I are drinking more heavily.

Yeah, I would be too!

but My Tormentor seems happily intent on skiing as fast as ever.  She will join a training program in Austria in December.

Where did this kid come from? Why does she thrill and gloat over high speeds and dangerous stacks – see I am learning the lingo! Stacks are falls in skiing – and God help me, she even got a Christmas present that really flipped my lid, a special camera she can put on the end of her ski pole to film herself as she plunges down the mountain.

I am thinking I need to steal all of this for one of my Phantom Lover books.

I can see Kimo and Lopaka agonizing over their kids skiing, especially little Pele. Hmmm…not sexy but fun. Real. I’ll leave the hot, naughty bits to Kimo and Lopaka. I can see them now, playing with each other’s balls.

And not their snowballs. But that might be nice, too.

Yes kids, there is snow in Hawaii!

Hey, I think I just wrote the beginnings of a book!

How do you feel about winter sports? Do you do them or just like to read about them? Please post a comment to win a free copy of any one of my currently published books – reader’s choice!

Aloha oe,

A.J.

hot snow

A.J. Llewellyn is an author of M/M romantic fiction who was born in Australia, and lives in Los Angeles. An early obsession with Robinson Crusoe led to a lifelong love affair with islands, particularly Hawaii and Easter Island.

Being marooned once on Wedding Cake Island in Australia cured her of a passion for fishing, but led to a plotline for a novel. A.J.’s friends live in fear because even the smallest details of their lives usually wind up in her stories. A.J. has a desire to paint, draw, juggle, work for the FBI, walk a tightrope with an elephant, be a chess champion, a steeplejack, master chef, and a world-class surfer. She can’t do any of these things so she writes about them instead.

A.J. I started life as a journalist and boxing columnist, and still enjoys interrogating, er, interviewing people to find out what makes them tick.

How to find/friend me:

email: ajllewellyn@gmail.com 

website: www.ajllewellyn.com 

www.facebook.com/aj.llewellyn 

www.twitter.com/ajllewellyn

More Free Stuff!

Newsletter sign-up: ajllewellynnewsletter@gmail.com – each month I give away a free ebook!

I’m an app! Download my FREE A.J. Llewellyn App for Android here:  http://tinyurl.com/lkbc4wm 

Posted in Uncategorized, Winter Sports | Tagged | 3 Comments

What’s All This I Hear About Winter Sports? by Tom Webb

What’s all this I hear about Water Sports? It’s the middle of winter, and everybody in the northern part of the country is shoveling themselves out of a billion inches of snow. So why in the world would anybody want to be playing water sports?

Unless it’s those nasty people who like to pee on each other, and I just don’t understand the big deal about it. What two people do in the privacy of their own bathrooms is—

Editor: Um…Ms. Litella, that’s Winter Sports, not Water Sports.

Oh. Well, that’s very different.

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Winter Sports.

The first thing that comes to mind is ice hockey. And I gotta tell you, growing up in the South, you may be surprised to know that we actually had a professional hockey team here for years. The Atlanta Flames. Yeah. Nothing gay about that name at all, is there?

Then they went and moved to Canada and became the Calgary Flames, and we were left with nothing. Although there is a minor league team here just a few miles from here named the Gwinnett Gladiators.

For being known as the redneck capital of the world, two teams from a sport best known for on-ice fights, guys with knocked-out teeth, and hard ass checking into the boards, there’s just something about ice hockey that speaks to my Georgia soul.

The first thing you need to understand is the rules of the game. There are a bunch of men in baggy uniforms skating around a rink

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(as opposed to the ice skating most of us gay men are used to—

170px-Johnny_Weir_2008_World_Championships_(edited)

sequins, gloves and fabulousness). The point of the game is to score the most goals (as opposed to soccer, where the point is to score the most goals, or basketball, where the point is to…well, you get the point). The game is played on a rink 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. It’s divided down the middle by a red line, and there are two blue lines that help divide the action also. Each team has a goal, and there is a goal line it sits on. Also, there are five face off circles.

ice rink

Hockey teams have six players on each side—a goalie, two defensemen, a right wing, a left wing and a center.

  • The goalie sits in the little net and keeps the other team’s players from slapping the little hard puck into the net.
  • The two defensemen help keep the other team from scoring. One is more defense minded, and the other has an offensive mindset.
  • The right wing plays the right side, and
  • The left wing plays the left side.
  • The center is the quarterback and directs the action.

You would think that with the specific names, a player would have to stay in a certain position. Au contraire, mon Cherie! Only the goalie is limited in where he can go, and that is up to the red line. Everyone else can run around the whole rink, causing all kinds of havoc.

The most important things to understand is that players pass the puck back and forth to each other and set up the action. To do that, they slap the hard little puck around the ice, aiming for where they want the players to go, not where they are. It’s important to remember you can’t pass over more than one line, or the action stops and a face-off happens. That’s where two players, one from each team, stand facing each other and the official drops the puck between them and they fight over it.

You can hit another player, but only in certain places. If you hit him with your body, it’s called a check. You can’t hit his head or knock on him on his ass from behind, or you get to go sit in a little time-out area, your team is down a player and you usually get a reputation as an assassin.

ice-hockey-penalty-box-in-football

All the other players and referees can point and laugh. No no no. Bad boy.

There are three 20 minute periods in a hockey game, and in spite of all the melee, the score usually stays low.  2-1. 1-0. 0-0.

Oh, and you still get credit for a tie.

The season goes on goes on for months and months, and almost every team ends up making the playoffs. They go on forever, and finally, a champion is crowned and they win the Stanley Cup.

Then, the winning city has a parade, the fans riot and act like idiots, and Canadians look rueful since they usually don’t win. Boo-hoo.

They take a day off and start the madness all over again the next day.

So…why watch?

Easy.

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hockey-players-0

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Hockey. Not just for Yankees and Canadians anymore.

Author Bio

T.A. Webb is the writing name for the Mean Old Bear That Could. He’s worked with people living with HIV/AIDS and with children in the foster care system for over twenty years, and takes the smaller pay for the chance to make a difference for those who can’t help themselves. After hours, he’s the proud single papa of a couple of rescue dogs, was born and raised in Atlanta, where he still lives, and is a pretty darned good country cook.

His sister taught him to read when he was four, and he tore his way through the local library over the next few years. Always wanting more, he snuck a copy of The Exorcist under his parents’ house to read when he was eleven and scared the bejesus out of himself. Thus began a love affair with books that skirt the edge, and when he discovered gay literature, he was hooked for life.

T.A. can be found at Facebook under AuthorTAWebb, tweeted at #TomBearAtl, or if you really want to, you can email him at AuthorTAWebb@aol.com.

 

24789078New Orleans, Louisiana. 2015.

A bank is robbed and two guards killed under the unblinking eye of a security camera that shows…not exactly nothing. There’s plenty of blood, but no evidence on the videos to show who—or what—is doing the killing. Human victims. Human Only establishments. Preternatural killer. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last.

It’s been almost three years since a vampire burst into flames on television and humans were forced to face a new world where supernatural beings exist. Some are more accepting than others—ask Sam Garrett and Travis Boudreaux, former NOPD detectives. Once human, they find themselves part of the preternatural world. Different lives, different rules.

An invisible killer. Humans Only separatist groups. A vampire with political ambitions who might be forming his own army. No one’s safe in a world where humans—and supers—are forced to adapt, or die.

Working together as part of a team sanctioned by Homeland Security to carry out Justice Department decrees, Sam and Travis ensure the deadliest of supers pay for their crimes. Permanently.

Warning: This is a steamy urban fantasy. In this series the vampires don’t sparkle, werewolves kill, and the men sometimes have sex. With each other.

The Altered States Series should be read in the following order:

Altered States (The Prequel)

Deep Blues Goodbye

Deadly Shades of Gold

Free Falling Crimson

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Guest Post by Ada Soto

Me, New Zealand, and Rugby (you know that game kinda like football but with no pads, no timeouts, and no touchdown dances)

The field was muddy before the first cleats hit the grass.  The white lines are already half washed away but everyone knows where they are by pure instinct.  The rain makes for more fumbles but a wet field is less painful to play on.  For 80 minutes thirty guys, half sponsored by the local pub, the other half by a hardware store the next town over, clash their bodies together trying to get an egg shaped ball over a white line.  There are no pads, no timeouts, just a break half way through for guys a decade past any hope of a national call-up to catch their breaths.  They throw their bodies around the field like it’s a World Cup final all to have their team name on a cheap brass plaque, named after some native son whose deeds have long since been forgotten.

A week, an island, and a world away Eden Park, in the center of Auckland, is filled with 50,000 fans, 45,000 dressed in black.  This year’s team Jockey ads are on the side of busses and the big screens are showing the team’s newest PowerAde spot.  In the changing room a 21 year old kid is pulling on the black jersey for the first time and trying not to throw up, but he will cry during God Defend New Zealand, and get four minutes of play time while one of the veteran players has flowing blood washed out of his eyes on the sideline.

This is rugby, or at least rugby in New Zealand.

^^^^^

I moved to New Zealand for graduate school on a manic whim in 2005 having never visited the country and knowing nothing about it.  I had only planned on staying two years.  That was a decade, partner, kid, and mortgage ago.

One of the many things I didn’t know about New Zealand and one of the first things I learned was the national obsession with rugby.  A country of only four and a half million people, 40 million sheep, and their national side, The All Blacks, hold pretty much every major international rugby trophy available to them.  The coach and top players are household names.  The current team captain turned down a knighthood.  Each Test match is front page news the next day.  A loss at the wrong moment can swing an election.  Ask any little boy what he wants to be when he grows up and the answer is an All Black (except for the skinny kid with thick glasses who wants to be a spin bowler like Daniel Vittori).

I was recently flipping through a half deteriorated notebook that was intended to document my first year of graduate school and found some early thoughts on rugby.  When I first moved to New Zealand I was right around the corner from Eden Park, the grand cathedral of New Zealand rugby, not that I knew this.  When a classmate, a soft spoken little country girl, found out where I lived she invited/insisted that I come to a rugby game with her, especially since her home team was playing.

It was Waikato verses Auckland.  The stadium wasn’t even half full and I have absolutely no memory of who won, (though my notebook says 28-7) I just remember spending 80 minutes supremely confused and saying ‘Oh my god is that legal?!’ a lot, while that quiet little country girl screamed at the top of her lungs.  A decade later it’s more ‘What the hell, he was nowhere near that guy’s neck and it was a blatant forward pass what the fuck is the ref smoking?!’

I was not a sports fan growing up mainly because I was bad at all sports and the kids who picked on me at school the most were the jocks.  I went to that Auckland/Waikato game more out of manners.  I was anticipating the general boredom that enveloped me during the constant stop/start of a football game.  I was not expecting to enjoy it.  I was not expecting to leave still utterly confused but with a strangely exhilarated feeling as though I had fed off both the energy of the fans and the almost non-stop flow of the players.

I had no clue going into that little rugby match what I’d stepped into and what I would become.

^^^^^

If you’re an American like me there are good odds you know rugby as ‘That Game Kinda Like Football’.  And it is, sort of, a little, not really.  The field is a similar shape and size and there are polls at each end.

There are no pads, so when a 6 foot, 200 pound fullback crashes into a 6 foot 7 inch, 250 pound lock, that is flesh and bone hitting flesh and bone.  You can hear the bodies collide from the other side of the field.

There are no timeouts.  When that fullback and that lock crash into each other they are meant to get right back up and keep going.  There is no taking a knee at the last 30 seconds to decide a play.  When the ball hits the ground nothing stops, it’s just free for the next person to grab it.  The clock stops only if an injured player can’t get off the field under their own power.  If one goes down and they’re still awake the clock and the game keep going while team medics try to patch up the fallen right there on the grass.

There are also no touchdown dances.

^^^^^

A few months after that little Auckland/Waikato game the British and Irish Lions Rugby Union team toured New Zealand for the first time in over ten years and for the first time I saw truly good rugby.  I never go to bars yet for each of the three test matches I found myself, through one new friend or another, crammed in shoulder to shoulder in some pub, slightly drunk, shouting at the TV over a game I still didn’t fully understand and occasionally asking questions like ‘is it legal to step on someone’s head’.

It’s a brutal game, rugby, no one will argue different, but when done right, like I saw for the first time on that tour, there can be a fast flowing grace to it as if entire teams are mind melded together.  A dozen perfect passes from one end of the field to another, each player dancing around defense, or taking the hits, passing the ball at the last second, with the final player sliding over the line, under the polls for a perfect Try is an amazing thing.  It gets the heart pounding, and even if you don’t know what’s going on there is an urge to jump to the feet with a shout and a cheer because beauty is an easy thing to recognize.

A conversion (kick for two points) going through the polls in the 80mph wind gusts of Wellington can seem like the act of a benevolent rugby god.

A perfectly executed line-out involves throwing 200 pound halfbacks into the air like ballerinas.

A scrum- well a scrum looks like sixteen guys trying to lay an egg and there are so many rules involved half the time the refs are just making it up.

But did I mention no touchdown dances?

Between the second and third test match of that tour terrorists hit the London transport system.  Players and fans sat in hotel rooms and rented campers trying to get calls through, and for one minute before the start of the third test every pub in New Zealand, for possibly the first time in history, was actually silent.

All three games went to New Zealand but the Lions made them fight for it, and as I shouted my throat raw with the rest I started to understand how an entire country can hold true unwavering passion for one team.

^^^^^

I learned to truly understand and appreciate the finer details of rugby during a crappy, dull, soul sucking job that had me stuck in a tiny room for 8 to 10 hours at a stretch with a bunch of sports mad guys.  (I also learned to appreciate cricket but that’s another discussion).  It was a matter of survival, and perhaps a little Stockholm syndrome that had me glued to a tiny TV we weren’t supposed to have, analyzing every second of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Not that the guys in the office cared but the USA Rugby Eagles played well that year and lost every game.

Oh yeah, side note, America has a national rugby team.  We are currently ranked 16th in the world (one up from the last time I checked), in-between Georgia and Romania.  We are currently the reigning Olympic champions in rugby, though I should mention that it hasn’t been played at the Olympics since 1924. We have a national men’s team, a national Sevens team, (Sevens is a smaller and shorter form of the game), an under 20 team, a women’s team, and a women’s Sevens team.  Sevens is going to be played at the Rio Olympics for the first time and I think the Women’s Sevens have a good chance at bronze, probably coming in under New Zealand and England.  They’re all on Twitter, go follow them.

And while we’re here there is no reason why we should be 16th in the world.  We have thousands upon thousands of college football players who don’t make the NFL every year who should be perfectly capable of throwing off the pads, upping their stamina (because no timeouts), and kicking ass in the game.

Anyway back to the 2007 Rugby World Cup and that cruddy little office.  The US was in a death pool with South Africa, England, Tonga, and Samoa.  We did not stand a chance.  We did get two Tries against South Africa which is pretty damn impressive.  Actually really fucking impressive.  My first psychiatrist was South African and he brought up the way Takudzwa Ngwenya danced past Bryan Habana in that game in our first session in 2010.  (You can find the game on <a href” https://www.youtube.com/embed/8auHLM8emWQ “>YouTube</a>, the try is about 37 minutes in.)

There are vast Wikipedia articles explaining the mechanics of the game in detail if you’re interested but what the articles don’t describe are things like the noise of the crowds.  Not the way they cheer but the way they go silent.  Each game starts with a roar then within the first few seconds everything goes quiet, pub or stadium, there is focus, sharp eyes not just tracking the ball but all 30 players and the ref.  There is no need or reason to make a sound until a player breaks away, sprinting for his try line, the fans raising their voices the faster he goes.  A cheer for the try, another for the conversion, then quiet again.

The Cup was the first time I’d noticed this and still love it.

That year I started to develop <i>opinions</i> on the game.  It’s hard not to have them when it’s all you hear about at work and it blankets the evening news.  The primary thing to have an opinion on that year was the All Black’s rest and rotation policy which is still criticized as the thing that got the All Blacks knocked out of the quarterfinals by France.  My opinion was that it didn’t help but previous world cup losses and the fear of more simply weighed the team down until they choked at the wrong moment.

Yes, I had opinions.  This was about the same time I was trying to convert my student visa into a long term work visa.  When it hit a snag I mentioned in my pleading letter to Immigration that I now enjoyed rugby and had managed to learn the rules of cricket and that had to count for something.  I’m not sure if it helped.  I like to think it did.

After that I fell into the general joys of being a fan.  If you’re a fan of anything, not just sports, you understand.  It’s a thing that lets you strike up conversations with complete strangers, to form connections with people you might otherwise pass by.  In New Zealand it’s probably the quickest form of cultural integration.  Wearing an official All Blacks jersey is nearly as good as pulling out your passport and presenting your visas and permits.  Being able to carry on a conversation about the state of Richie McCaw’s knees is always a bonus.

^^^^^

Of course I’m one of those poor sods who’s a glutton for punishment.  Where’s the fun in pulling for a team that has world record winning streaks and in over a century has only lost games to five other countries?

Time for the USA Eagles and the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

I always used to mock people who would follow their team around to other states or even countries.  That’s what TV was invented for.  Then the World Cup came to New Zealand and I plunked down 570 bucks to follow around a team that was almost guaranteed to lose every game.  I justified it as a bit of nationalism and that someone needed to come out for the USA since they weren’t going to be bringing many fan with them.

But to be honest, by this point, I wanted the experience.  I wanted to see hard fought rugby, pulling for the little team with pride.  I knitted a truly awful red, white, and blue scarf that made me look like I was with the French.  I drove through the pouring rain, getting lost in Hamilton, to watch USA v Russia at the little Yarrow Stadium.  The USA actually won.  The field was more mud than grass.  The rain was verging on becoming sleet.  If it was just Americans and Russians there would have been a hundred people there, instead New Plymouth came out just to watch two bottom of the table teams play a game they loved.

I risked flying into Wellington to watch the USA get slaughtered by a cranky Australia, and risked flying out of Wellington to see the USA v Italy game (which the US should have won but the ref had his own interpretations of offside and advantage rules).

It was freezing.  It was awesome.  It was exhilarating and disappointing.  It was like the best fandom convention with mud, beer, and lots of shouting.  People weren’t just there to support their team; they were there for the game itself in all its fast, brutal, graceful, glory.

^^^^^

8 June, 2013 – Baby’s First Rugby Game, 14 days old.  New Zealand v France, Eden Park, 23-13. Watched at grandma’s house from Dad’s lap.

^^^^^

It’s World Cup time again.  USA is in Pool B against South Africa, Samoa, Japan, and Scotland.  South Africa would have to be completely stoned to lose. Samoa could go either way.  Japan we stand a chance.  Scotland is a probable loss but it could be close.

New Zealand is in Pool C against Argentina, Tonga, Georgia, and Namibia.  Argentina might give them a run but that’s about it.  I’ll watch anyway.  It’s being hosted in England so I’ll be getting up at strange hours.  I might knit a new scarf to wear at the pub at five in the morning with a handful of expats who have also learned to enjoy the true beauty that is rugby.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Ada Maria Soto is a writer for hire currently publishing with Dreamspinner Press

Her blog can be found at http://adamariasoto.com.

She can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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