January 31, 2015
Title: The Marzipan Opening
Author: B.G. Thomas
Pairing: Kit and Nick from Grumble Monkey and the Department Store Elf
The kid was making Nick St. George nervous.
It was not a good night for anything more to worry about. The opening of Kit’s first big New York art show already had him nervous enough. Having some homeless kid wandering around was not good. Not good at all.
But Nick didn’t dare say anything either. What if the kid wasn’t homeless? Yes, he was dirty. He was wearing torn jeans, and his T-shirt was old and dirty, his hair disheveled and greasy-looking. But this was the art world. These weren’t just patrons here tonight vying to see a potentially important new artist. There were artists here as well and that could mean those who were the very definition of Bohemian. What if he accidentally insulted a John McAllister, or an Armin Boehm, or a new Eric Fischl? That certainly wouldn’t do, would it? Or maybe the kid was an art critic that Nick didn’t know? A good (or bad) review in just the right (or wrong) place could make or break a new artist.
And Kit was a new artist.
One that Nick loved with all his heart.
Who would have ever thought it?
A year ago Nick had wanted to end his life. With Kit, his life was just beginning. And a wonderful life it was turning out to be.
If not frustrating.
First he’d had to figure out if he and Kit were something at all. It seemed like it. And Kit’s family loved Nick—something he cherished since his own family had disowned him some eleven years before.
And then when it was clear that Kit loved him just as much as he loved Kit, that this wasn’t infatuation or a reaction to the magic way they had met, they had to figure out what to do next. Live together? That sounded good to Nick.
But he knew he needed to wait for Kit to finish school. All he wanted to do was make love with Kit night and day, but Kit had to get his degree. Luckily the young man was in his last year at the Chicago Art Institute. He was already making a noise in the art world, and he hadn’t even had a real show until tonight. So he’d had to give Kit time to make sure his final pieces for school were perfect.
And they were, weren’t they? Like nothing Nick had ever seen.
When you walked into the room, the first impression you got was that a huge wind had picked up and thrown several laundry baskets’ worth of sheets throughout the room. They had struck people, objects, tables, and more—moving and flapping about them in the breeze. Except when you looked again, all you saw were the sheets. The objects that had caught them, or seemed to, were gone.
Some were haunting, like spirits or ghosts. Some humorous—a table with a lovely cloth and a service set for tea awaiting guests… but there was no table! One, a centerpiece for the exhibit, was decidedly erotic. It was the only one where an object was still there with the sheets: a bed. It was the people in the bed that had vanished. And from the way the sheet clung to “them,” it was clear, very clear, that the two people were men. It clung to… everything.
Nick knew that there was no way it would sell. Where would anyone put such a piece of artwork in their home?
But it was causing a stir. Gasps, titters, and erotic stares.
New York would be talking about Keaton Jeffries tomorrow.
Nick didn’t want any of the talk to be about Nick St. George asking some young man what he was doing at Kit’s show—whether he was famous or homeless.
Tonight had to be perfect.
Kit was nervous. He looked around at the work he’d done over the last year and wondered if it had all been a horrid mistake. None of it was the pretty or silly stuff his family loved so much—like his renditions of the Grumble Monkey, the character his mother had created to teach her children lessons as they were growing up. Nor even the realistic pieces his sisters praised him for—like the fields of lavender. He’d taken a real chance breaking away from the kind of art he’d done for years—and the art that had so interested Nick in his work.
But he hadn’t been able to help himself.
When the idea hit, it had become a fever.
It all started with a marzipan cake.
One his mother had made.
One that had made him blush.
It was a bachelorette cake for his oldest sister, Ambrosia. And who could believe she was getting married? Of course, she was twenty-six. That was plenty old enough. But somehow as far as Kit was concerned she would be the older sister running off to her high school prom.
How wonderful that she was marrying the very same boy who took her to the prom.
But the cake!
“Mom!” Kit had said, shocked.
She had taken a superhero cake pan, one that went from the neck to just below the crotch and could be decorated to be Superman or Spider-Man or whoever the decorator desired. But in this case, she had made it into a man wearing nothing but underwear with a very clear and decided bulge. The cake was covered in marzipan—an icing that could be rolled into thin sheets. It made the man’s skin look very real and the underwear blushingly real as well.
“Oh, don’t be a prude!” his mother had exclaimed. “I thought you’d approve! You do like men, don’t you?”
“Mom!” Kit had cried a second time and turned so red he could feel his face warm from it.
“And you must admit, this man is well equipped!” She had laughed then, and once he’d gotten over his initial shock, he’d finally managed to join her.
It was the marzipan that had begun the idea for his new show.
The second catalyst for his idea happened when he’d been watching an episode of Face Off. The makeup artists had been using a vacuum machine to take thin, rigid sheets of heated plastic and stretch them over a mold.
The next day his idea had totally solidified in his mind while he was looking through a magazine and admiring a fashion photo set done on a windy day. The shoot had made the clothing and bodies beneath very exciting.
All three events had led up to his new creations.
Darn if he couldn’t tell what people were thinking.
But they were certainly talking, and wasn’t that what Nick had said was important?
He looked across the room, and yes, there was his man.
My man, he thought, and glowed.
The year since he’d met his grumble monkey at a rest stop in the middle of an ice storm would forever be in his memory. How wild that he would meet his love at such a strange place and circumstance!
It had also been a crazy year. He’d been so afraid that Nick would lose interest in him. But that hadn’t been the case. Nick would come to see Kit at least every other weekend up at the Art Institute. It had been exhilarating. And so strange. The dance between them. Close, then step back, close, then step back.
It had driven Kit nearly crazy, until Nick finally explained what he was up to.
“This is a critical time in your life! You’ve got to graduate. Then we can think of us.”
“Us?” Kit had asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Nick had said with a whisper. “If you want there to be an us.”
More than anything, was all Kit could say and think.
So he lived with that not-enough time with Nick, and he worked on his art. Worked long into the nights and often into the mornings. Some of the pieces were simple and some rather elaborate, especially the piecemeal crazy quilt at the foot of the bed. A bed that in Kit’s heart was all about him and Nick.
After school there had been the whirlwind of putting together the show and deciding so many things for their lives. They’d finally decided they would live in New York, and nothing excited Kit more than the Big Apple (except for a life with Nick), and they searched for a new apartment. They’d settled on a loft so that the large express elevator could be used to get Kit’s bigger pieces out of the building. It also would allow Kit to work at home.
Soon it would finally be time. Nick assured him that when the show was over, he would take him to Europe. For the art. And for lots and lots of making love!
It was then that he saw Nick stand up quite straight, his expression surprised and excited. He’d been talking to some older man, one Kit hadn’t seen before. Not that that was surprising. There were lots of people he didn’t know. But this one was causing quite a reaction with Nick.
Why then was his love still occasionally looking at the dirty young man who was now staring at the piece Kit called Tea for Two.
Gosh. Nick wasn’t interested in him, was he? Attracted to him?
No. Kit shook off the idea.
And made up his mind then and there to talk to the kid.
“You’re serious?” Nick said to Mr. Detwiller.
“Most sure,” the gentleman replied. “We will talk in a few days, but we don’t want anyone else getting it.”
It was more than Nick could take in.
No. No one would want Love—Kit’s bed sculpture—for their homes. But the Art Institute of Chicago? The second-largest art museum in the United States?
It seemed impossible. But then, was anything impossible for Kit Jeffries? Whatever the young man believed in strongly enough seemed to come true for him. It was a fantasy come true.
And Kit—his little department store elf—was Nick’s dream come true.
“Hi,” said Kit.
The kid in the torn jeans and the messy hair jumped, eyes wide and frightened. “Ah…. I’m not doing nothing!”
Kit smiled. “It’s okay. Do you like it?”
The kid sighed. “I do. I wish I could do stuff like this.”
“Do you like art?”
“Like it? I love it. It’s all I did in high school—all I wanted to be was an artist—even though my mom and dad said only fags and girls were artists.”
Kit winced at that word—fags.
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s not true, you know.”
“What?” Suddenly the kid looked like he was about to cry.
“Not all artists are… gay, or girls.”
The kid trembled for a minute. “But I am.” he whispered.
Kit winked. “I assume you mean gay, because you certainly aren’t a girl.”
The kid blushed. “Are you the artist?” He indicated the room with an expansive wave.
“I sure am.” He held out his hand. “I’m—”
“Kit! I need to talk to you!” It was Nick. He eyed the boy-man. Then looked away. “This is big, Kit. Really big.”
“Oh?” Kit said, caught up by Nick’s excitement, but not too pleased with the way he was looking at the boy. No, it wasn’t desire—it was worse.
Oh, my grumble monkey. You’ve come a long way, but—
“The Art Institute of Chicago wants Love.”
Kit staggered back.
The Art Institute of Chicago? Wanted one of his pieces? But… but was that possible?
“It might only be a temporary exhibit at first, but do you have any idea what this means?”
Kit staggered again, afraid he might fall. But then Nick was there, arm around him, and then pulling him into a tight hug.
“Yes,” he whispered. “I do know what that means!”
A fantasy come true.
“Excuse me” came a voice.
They turned to see the dirty kid standing there, looking up at Nick with big fear-filled eyes.
Nick stood straighter, and for a second Kit was afraid he might be rude.
“Yes?” Nick said, voice a bit stiff, but not ugly.
Thank you, Kit thought.
“How may I help you?”
“Are… are you Nicolas St. George?”
“Yes,” Nick said. “And who are you?”
“I’m Kenny,” the kid said. “Your nephew.”
They were sitting in the office in the back of the gallery.
“My mom threw me out.”
His sister? She threw her own son out?
Just like Mom and Dad did to me?
Nick looked at the young man, and yes, he was just the right age. It had been eleven years since he’d seen the boy. Damn. He—Kenny—even looked like Nick’s sister.
“I can’t believe it,” Nick said. “I figured I’d never see you again. Because…. Well, because….”
“You’re gay,” Kenny finished.
Nick nodded dumbly.
“Mom has been saying it for years. That you’re gay. Except she called you a fairy. And I’ve so wanted to talk to you. To meet you! But I knew, I just knew that if I spoke to you before I was eighteen, that not only would she have a cow that I was gay, but that I would get you in trouble. I know Mom. I know what she would have done. Accused you of turning me gay. Molesting me.” He shuddered. “Then a few weeks ago, on my eighteenth, I told her.”
“Threw me out. Gave me a half hour to pack. I could only take a few things. I couldn’t make it too much to carry.”
Nick could only stare. Be amazed by how calm the young man was.
“How have you made it all this time? Where have you been staying?”
Kenny shrugged. “Here and there,” he replied. And then quite suddenly he burst into tears.
To Nick’s surprise, he found himself standing and going to Kenny. Kneeling. And taking him into his arms.
He looked up at Kit.
What would they do?
They couldn’t let him walk the streets….
“What am I going to do, Uncle Nick?” Kenny wailed.
Then, before he realized he was saying it: “You’ll stay with us. Your mother can’t say anything. You’re legal.”
Kenny pulled back just enough to look at Nick with red, tear-filled eyes.
Nick looked at Kit again, wondering what he would say. They had finally reached the time when they could be alone together. They’d waited so long. But now?
Kit smiled and came to them, wrapped his arms around them.
“I’m so proud of you, my grumble monkey. So proud.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not at all. I insist. We have our whole lives ahead of us.”
Later, Kenny pointed at the huge cake that Kit had made and placed in the middle of the dessert and drinks table. No one had touched it.
“Is that marzipan?” Kenny asked.
Kit nodded sadly. “I guess no one likes it….”
Kenny laughed. “Silly. It’s not that. They don’t know it’s a cake.”
Kit looked again. He’d spent hours making the thin-rolled confection look like one of his flapping sheet pieces. Then it hit him. He began to laugh.
“They think it’s a sculpture,” Kenny said.
Kit shook his head. “You any good at cutting cake?”
Kenny smiled. “I sure am!”
“Because you know what my mother always said?”
“What did your mother always say?” came a familiar woman’s voice.
Kit turned and let out a squeal. “Mom! I thought you said you guys couldn’t make it. Nick said he tried to talk you into it and you said no.”
“We wanted to surprise you. Nick was in on it.”
Then he felt arms surround him from behind him. “Surprise, my little elf.”
He spun in his lover’s arms. “Taller than you!”
“Gosh,” said Kenny. “Even I’m taller than Uncle Nick.”
And they all laughed.
“But what was it your mom always said?” Nick asked.
“Sometimes you just have to cut the cake. People are afraid to be the first.”
“Especially when it’s as gorgeous as that one,” Kit’s mother exclaimed.
Then Kenny cut the cake and even served it.
Everyone was amazed that is was cake, and they loved it.
Later that night they showed Kenny his new room.
“You’re sure you don’t mind?” Kenny asked.
“Not at all,” Kit and Nick chorused.
“But there will be rules,” Kit said.
“Hey!” Kenny cried. “I’m eighteen!’
“And under our roof. No dating boys unless you introduce them to us, no boys in your room after nine unless the bedroom door is open—”
“That’s Uncle Kit to you, young man!”
And later in their room, Nick asked again. “Are you sure?”
“Surer than anything in the world. I was watching him serve that cake, watching my mom help, and it broke my heart. To have a family that loves me so much and to see what your family has done to the two of you. I just don’t understand.”
“You’re the only family I need now,” Nick said. “I love you, my elf.”
“I love you, monkey.”
“Not grumble monkey?”
Kit shrugged. “I think you’re getting rid of the grumble part. Just like in my mom’s story.”
Nick smiled. “Well, what do you know?”
“What do you know, indeed,” said Kit.
Did you enjoy B.G. Thomas’s story? If so, check out the rest of his books and take 25% off at checkout with the code BGThomasFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 30, 2015
Title: Peach Tarts and Proposals
Author: Raine O’Tierney
Pairing: Giordan and Shane from Sweet Giordan, Please Remember
Beautiful morning light filtered into Chloe Devereaux’s kitchen and for a moment, Giordan was lost in the way it played through the blue and white checkered curtains. Maybe paints… Maybe prismas… Colored pencils weren’t his strongest medium, but there was something wholly inviting about the challenge of using pencils to capture the scene. His paints would have been too easy. He’d add glass bluebirds on the sill—likes the ones that had maybe belonged to his mother. Maybe. Probably. For a moment, he could almost see it. Was he making it up? Or was it a real memory?
The sound of his name startled him and Giordan’s moment of almost-memory was broken. It was Chloe, sashaying back into the kitchen in her flowered broomstick skirt. Of course, she hadn’t known Giordan was drifting, or she would have let him drift. She always let him explore the boundaries of his amnesia, for seconds or minutes or hours even.
His expression must have told her what she’d interrupted because her prettily painted lips formed a little o of surprise and then she relaxed into a smile. “Remember anythin’ good this time?”
“Just my mother’s glass bluebirds,” he told her.
“You’ve painted those for me many’a time,” Chloe said, climbing daintily up on a stool at the island where Giordan leaned awkwardly. He’d sat for a while, but the pain in his stiff side got to him and he had to stand and relieve some of the pressure off his cramped nerves.
Giordan nodded. “This was a little different, though, Maman. I could see all the tiny bubbles in the glass and there was a fence outside the window. I could hear someone saying ‘blue bird of happiness.’ It felt really warm there.”
“Sounds beautiful. Thinkin’ another paintin’ is in the works?”
He nodded and then looked down, realizing that he hadn’t taken a single bite off the large plate Chloe had made for him. Here he was, supposed to be helping with an experiment in the kitchen, and he’d let himself get lost in the thought of glass bluebirds. His surrogate Maman followed his gaze, her lips quirking.
“They’re only sweets,” she said. “Ain’t gonna kill you. At least, I don’t think so.”
Giordan had not only lost his memory in the accident but, according to Chloe, his love of her chocolate pie as well. Maybe he had enjoyed it in the past, but it certainly didn’t agree with him now. For a long time she’d lamented this—altering the recipe by degrees to see if she could convince his taste buds to see her side of the argument. Finally, the sassy Southerner who rarely ever gave up, was forced to throw in the towel where pie was concerned at least, simply because one more alteration, she said, and she’d be making brownies instead of pie.
And then she’d had an idea: make brownies! And cookies. And crumble. And homemade ice cream. And all manner of good and sweet treats that she had, for years, brought to church picnics, sold at booster club, and competed with at the county fair. Chloe had spent the entire day cooking, and now Giordan had a small plate of bite-sized sweet treats.
“I want you t’be honest with me now, Giordan Stone,” Chloe told him in her melodic Reverie accent. “Try everythin’ and you let me know if somethin’ makes your pallet jump. And if it don’t, we’ll just get my grandmama’s cookbook right back out and start over. I’m gonna figure out somethin’ I can make you for dessert.”
Giordan nodded and dutifully tried a bite of the lemon cookie, Chloe’s large brown eyes on him. Slowly he shrugged and Chloe sighed. Luckily, he was not forced to face her disappointment further because there was a firm knock on the front door that called her away. Giordan spit the cookie into a napkin.
Even before Chloe opened the front door, Giordan’s heart began to thud happily. It was Shane, he just knew it. Despite what his lover said about not being able to get away from the office for the weekend, he felt him nearby. Then there was the deep rumble of Shane Devereaux’s voice as he greeted his Maman and Giordan’s smile could not be contained. He walked to the kitchen door, almost completely unaware of his limp, and waited to be swept up into Shane’s arms—except Shane did not immediately come.
Slowly Giordan pushed the door open, still expecting to find his green-eyed devil waiting to kiss him, but instead there was only the low hum of voices coming from the living room. Chloe and Shane were talking, very quietly, out of earshot.
Forced to swear on a Bible, Giordan couldn’t say that he hadn’t meant to listen in. If he hadn’t meant to listen in, he would have gone back into the kitchen. He certainly would not have crept farther forward and avoided the planks in the gleaming hardwood that always creaked under his weight. He might have knocked on the sitting room door and let them know he was there. Instead he stood, and listened to their conversation.
“Why does Julian have my Granddaddy’s ring?” Chloe was asking hotly. When her temper flared, her slow drawl became quick and biting as a cat’s hiss.
“He picked it up.” Shane’s voice was a counterweight to his mother’s. Calm. Steady. Deep.
“Picked it up? Stole it?”
“Maman, no. Of course not.”
“Then what do you mean picked it up?” She punctuated every word with a little exclamation point. “And why, pray tell, did that boy not then turn around and hand it right on back to you?”
“I….” Shane let out a long sigh and Giordan could imagine his lover rubbing the tense spot between his eyebrows. “I threw it into a trashcan on Main Street in downtown Midday—”
Chloe squawked in surprise.
“Maman, stop looking at me like that. You know what I was going through. I… I thought I’d never see Giordan again. Thought I’d never get the opportunity to give him the ring, so I tossed it.”
“But Julian picked it up.”
“Thank God. Y’know I’ve always loved that boy.”
Giordan had to put his knuckles to his lips to keep from laughing.
“But he’s got to keep it a little longer.”
“I will drive to Midday right now and turn him over m’knee,” Chloe said. “That is my ring and I want it back.”
“And why on earth would that be? He could have any damned ring he pleased! He better not be givin’ it to some model fling of his. Oh, I swear—”
“Maman,” Shane said firmly, wrestling the conversation back. “Stop before you’ve started a feud with my best friend’s family that can’t be undone for six generations. Just listen. Julian wants to pay for its restoration. As a gift.”
There was a long silence and then Chloe said stiffly. “Well, that is kind of him.” Then, suddenly the haze of annoyance lifting she said, much louder than before, “Oh! Oh my… Shane, honey, this… does this mean what I think it means? Are you plannin’ on askin’ Gio to marry you?”
As quickly as he could manage with his injured side, Giordan hurried back into the kitchen. For a long moment, he didn’t realize that he was smiling. Shane was going to propose again—and this time, Giordan would remember it. If he could have danced, he would have danced. He didn’t care how silly he might look.
He went to the cutting board Chloe had floured for a batch of cinnamon rolls and—grinning stupidly—he began to draw in the flour with the tip of his finger.
“So you overheard that, hmm?” Shane asked, running his thumb gently across Giordan’s cheek.
Giordan jerked away from the touch. He was startled, embarrassed. When did Shane come in and how did he get so close? “I guess maybe that was a little obvious.”
Shane bent to kiss his neck and Giordan leaned into the contact. “Are you surprised I want to marry you?” he asked, his lips pressed behind Giordan’s ear.
Giordan wanted to say No, of course not! But the words caught. There were mornings he awoke, pressed up against his beautiful lover, and still couldn’t believe they had found each other again. Giordan smiled. “I don’t know, maybe I was going to propose to you.”
“Oh, were you now?”
“You tend to take the lead. Maybe I want to do the getting down on one knee.” Then patting his bad leg, Giordan said, “Well, so to speak.”
“Proposing marriage to me, Giordan Stone?”
Giordan took Shane’s hand and tugged gently, bringing him around to where he’d played in the flour moments before. For a minute, Shane stood, admiring the work. “You’re so talented.”
But Giordan swiped the flower, creating a blank slate, and whispered soothingly as Shane groaned at the loss of the picture. Then he took Shane’s hand and placed it, top down, into the flour. When Shane lifted his hand, his dark skin was coated white and the flour canvass was left with the imprint of his hand.
With one of the fancy toothpicks Chloe kept—the sort with ribbons of colored cellophane on the end—he began to draw again, using the white medium to create a ring on the appropriate finger of Shane’s handprint. He did not lose himself to the sway of the art trance now, only drew, as carefully as he could, in the flour with the toothpick.
He gave the ring form and depth, shadowing the edges. And when he was satisfied, he finally looked up, cheeks a little ruddy at the silly thing he’d just done, wondering what Shane would think. But Shane had swiped a tear away from the corner of his eye—just the one and quickly. He was still so consumed with pride sometimes.
“Yes, absolutely.” Shane nodded.
“You will? You’ll marry me?”
Shane grabbed him into a kiss, careful, as he always was, not to jar Giordan’s bad side. Their lips met and melded, Giordan’s tongue slipped past his lover’s lips. No, not just lover. Not friend nor boyfriend nor lost-and-found-again love, but fiancé. Shane’s mouth gave back playfully, excitedly, careless that they were in his Maman’s kitchen. He tasted sweet, like peach tart. It wasn’t half bad.
Suddenly Giordan became aware that Chloe was nearby.
“Oh, don’t mind me a bit, boys,” she said, her normally calm voice tinged with excitement. She’d done her own eavesdropping, it seemed.
Shane broke the kiss and looked over Giordan’s shoulder at his mother, “Maman? Is that Daddy’s old camera?”
Giordan turned then to find Chloe snapping a photo of the flour artwork with a camera that seemed almost too big for her.
“Just gettin’ pictures.”
“Any particular reason?” Shane teased, still holding Giordan possessively to him. Giordan leaned his head against Shane’s chest, listened to the steady thump of his heart, and was comforted by it.
“For the scrapbook,” she said pleasantly, her accent light and airy. “Have to get a shot before y’all sweep the whole thing in the trash and, I dunno, try to christen my new marble countertops—doncha dare, by the way.”
“We’ll keep our celebrations to the bedroom, Maman,” Shane promised. “Or at least our own countertops.”
Even Giordan’s toes turned red at the comment.
“So… are y’all gonna announce now or…?”
“Well, Maman,” Shane said. “It seems you already heard.”
“’Course I already heard,” she said with a chuckle. “Though I’m waitin’ to be formally told so I can get out my phone and call every person I know, includin’ Ophelia Morton.”
Giordan had heard Chloe go on about Ophelia—the new member of her women’s group who had just given her granddaughter “The Weddin’ of the Decade” down in Ounair. Something to outstrip the Westbrook wedding even.
Chloe’s eyes twinkled mischievously as she spoke. “Can’t you just imagine it? You’ve got that connection with the parks department. And your father knows that man who does those handsome pavilions. Oh! Think of it! No one, far as I know, has been allowed to marry on the Hawthorn Plantation in more than a hundred years. But I bet I could convince the Historical Society. Weddin’ of the century.”
“But Maman,” Giordan smiled, safe in Shane’s arms. “What if we were thinking of eloping?”
Shane’s rumbling laughter filled every part of Giordan and he melted into it. Even Chloe’s scandalized look was worth that laugh.
“You made a joke,” Shane crooned. For a moment, Chloe’s delicately plucked eyebrow remained arched and then she softened and laughed too.
“I’ll support anythin’ you decide to do,” she said slowly.
“But you’d prefer to gift us with a wedding so large it will shame Ophelia from ever mentioning her granddaughter’s wedding again?”
“I don’t care at all,” Giordan said, more to Shane than to Chloe. “I just want to be married to you. Always.”
“So now that we’ve got all the romantics out of the way,” Shane teased. “What’s with the bakery explosion?”
“Oh!” Giordan smiled. “You should help me. I’m testing my palate against every one of Chloe’s dessert recipes… that peach tart was a pretty good place to begin.”
“You liked that, huh?” Shane asked, grinning.
Giordan said, “Maybe everything just tastes better on your lips.”
Chloe threw her hands into the air with a dramatic sigh and told her son and future son-in-law, “No Christenin’ my countertops.”
“Yes Maman,” they said together.
Did you enjoy Raine O’Tierney’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code RaineOTierneyFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 29, 2015
Title: Friends With Benefits
Author: Sue Brown
Pairing: Liam and Sam from The Isle of…Where?
Liam was missing—again. Sam swallowed down the anxiety roiling in his stomach as he received phone call after phone call from Wig because he’d missed a shift, Paul because he was fed up with Wig calling him, and the old lady two doors down from Rose’s cottage who’d been expecting Liam to drop in for a cuppa. Liam had promised never to leave him again after going missing in America, but he’d been gone for hours and Sam didn’t know where the hell he was.
No one had seen Liam since Sam had left him tucked up warm and snug in their bed that morning. He wasn’t there; Sam had checked. Even though he knew it was ridiculous, he checked the drawer where they kept their passports, breathing out a sigh of relief when he saw Liam’s blue American passport nestled next to his maroon one.
Hoping that his last guess was right, Sam drove down the wooden boards of Ryde Pier and parked the car in a car park at the very end. He walked through the coffee shop and out the doors to the tables around the edge. “Liam?” He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat, his relief bubbling over as he spotted the coat-wrapped figure of his lover staring out over steel-grey waves. “We were worried. I was worried about you. No one’s heard from you since this morning.” He tried to keep the chiding tone in his voice to a minimum.
Liam didn’t speak for a moment. “I needed to think.”
“About what, babe?” Sam leaned against the rail next to Liam and placed his hand over Liam’s. He felt so cold and his dark hair lay damp against his cheeks in the perpetual drizzle.
“I came here to hear him,” Liam said quietly.
After four years together, Sam didn’t need a translation. “Alex?”
Liam nodded, his jaw locked and Sam knew he was close to tears. Sam sought for something to say that would comfort Liam. How could he say ‘I’m sorry your dead best friend doesn’t speak to you anymore?’
“I thought if I came here, where… where….”
“Where we sprinkled his ashes,” Sam said.
“Yeah. I thought he’d be here.” Liam sighed again and rested his head on Sam’s shoulder.
“Has it helped?”
“No. I’ve been standing here for hours, and I’ve heard nothing. He used to talk to me all the time, and the last few months, nothing at all. It feels so empty.”
Sam hugged Liam closer to him. “When did he stop talking to you?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t even notice. I just realised today I haven’t heard from him in such a long time.” Liam wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “You must think I’m insane.”
“Don’t worry,” Sam soothed. “I’ve always known there’s been three of us in this relationship. Hell, there’s only one of Alex. You’ve had to cope with my entire family interfering all the time.”
“They’re alive,” Liam pointed out. “You’re not listening to a dead man. I’m surprised you don’t want to commit me. Except I’m not even listening to him now.”
Liam sounded so despairing. Sam turned Liam to look at him, holding him by his shoulders. “I know you were friends, but you loved Alex and he loved you. Maybe the reason you don’t hear him is that you’re busy thinking about something else.”
“Or someone. You fill my mind and my body. You’re my life.”
Not giving a toss who was watching, Sam kissed Liam on the cheek. “You’re my life, my love, and my friend.” He paused. “With benefits.”
Liam furrowed his brow. “Benefits?”
“Oh yes, there are many benefits to being friends with me.” Sam smirked at him, and Liam’s eyes widened.
“Take me home, Sam. Show me the benefits.”
Sam held Liam closer. “Can you let Alex go now, babe?”
Liam looked over the grey waves. “I have no choice, do I?”
“He’ll always be here, Liam. He’ll never leave you completely. Alex loved you too much for that.” Sam gathered Liam in his arms again and kissed him gently, then he led him into the coffee shop. “I need a coffee and you need to get out of the rain.”
They sipped lattes as they headed towards their car. Liam held out his hand as Sam took out the keys.
“There’s no way you’re driving us home,” Liam said. “I want to get home in one piece to enjoy the benefits.”
“I’m not that bad,” Sam protested but he handed over the keys and walked around to the passenger seat.
Before he got in the car he looked out to the gloomy horizon. “Thank you for giving him to me, Alex.”
Maybe, just maybe, he heard a “You’re welcome.”
Did you enjoy Sue Brown’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code SueBrownFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 28, 2015
Title: Black Feather
Author: B.G. Thomas
Pairing: Hound Dog and Bean from Hound Dog & Bean
Dean “Bean” Alexander thought about buying H.D. the ring. It was beautiful, Black Hills gold—all leaves and vines and clusters of grapes, and made with not only yellow gold, but green and pink as well. Not standard, not screaming “wedding ring!” It would look gorgeous on Hill’s hand, and every time Dean saw it, he would have a symbol of how generous the Universe had been to put the man in his life.
But then Dean would remember those horrible weeks that H.D. had left him. Left him in that big house alone, taking his love with him.
And it happened because Dean had made Hill feel trapped. Had scared his lover, and in the great decision of Nature—of fight versus flight—his beautiful man had chosen flight.
Dean hadn’t known what had made Hill come back to him—not for months and months. He’d only been deeply grateful.
So in the end, he’d left the ring where it was, in the glass case at the store.
The last thing he wanted to do was make Hill feel trapped. Would a ring do that?
No. Marriage, even though it was legal at last for two men to marry in Missouri, was not something for which he and Hound Dog would ever claim their right.
It was enough that Hill was in his life.
And wasn’t it enough that H.D. was taking him to meet the only person alive that he could call family, a mysterious old woman named Ezzie Borchardt?
“Stop!” cried Hillary “Hound Dog,” and Dean did. Slammed his foot down on the brake, too hard, and his Smart car slid on the gravel and close to the ditch. Luckily, close was as far as it got. It would be a bitch getting the car out. Who would they even ask for help out here in the country?
“H.D! What is it?” Dean looked over at his lover. He wasn’t saying anything, only staring out the passenger window at the small house at the end of the road. “Hill? What’s wrong?”
H.D. sighed and turned, his mane of blond dreadlocks shifting in a wave. “God, Dean. Suddenly I’m scared.”
“Of what, baby?”
He didn’t answer right away. Dean could only guess. “Of me meeting Ezzie?”
Dean watched as H.D. gave a single nod. It made his stomach flutter. “You don’t think she’ll like me?”
“Oh no!” H.D. bit his lower lip. “It’s not that. It’s just….” He looked back out the window. “I’m suddenly nervous. Ezzie… she’s the only family I’ve had since… Mom died. I never expected to be bringing a man to… to… I don’t know what!”
Dean smiled and reached out and touched H.D.’s cheek. “Home?”
H.D. gave a little shrug, making those beautiful locks shiver. “About the only home I ever had… until now.” He blushed.
Wonders never ceased.
“You do have a home now. Now and forever.”
“My forever home,” whispered H.D.
They pulled in to the dirt driveway just as Ezzie walked out onto the porch, letting her old screen door bang shut behind her. She came to the top of the steps, hands on hips, and gazed down at H.D. through the windshield of the car. She looked pretty much the same as she did all those years ago when he’d lived with her that year as a teen—old enough to have known Moses personally.
H.D. took a deep breath and got out.
“Well, it’s about time you got here,” Ezzie said and leaned against the porch railing.
Yeah. Sure. Start that shit again, and right off. Pretending she knew they were coming. And she couldn’t know. Couldn’t. It wasn’t even like he could call and tell her. No phone. He’d even called the local town hall to see if anyone knew if she was okay.
“Well, I don’t know if anyone would call Ezzie Borchardt ‘okay,’” the woman on the other end of the line had told him this past week. “But she’s still kicking. I suspect she’ll be around when my grandchildren breathe their last.”
Ezzie started down the first step. “Oh, come here, you ol’ hound dog,” she said, reaching out with the hand that was not gripping the railing.
“Don’t!” H.D. said. “We’ll come up to you.”
She laughed. “I can still walk, don’t you worry none about that. She pointed past him. “Is this your man? Ha! Of course it is!”
“Dean Alexander, ma’am.” Dean went to her and held out a hand. “My friends call me Bean.”
“Of course they would.” She took his hand and gave it a single shake. Had she winced? Arthritis? “You’re the coffee man. Handsome fellow too. Ooooh, what you two must look like when you’re rolling around in the sheets!”
“Ezzie!” H.D. cried and watched as Dean turned red. Even his ears!
“And bald,” Ezzie continued. “Just like I said. Didn’t I say, Hillary?”
Had she? H.D. didn’t remember.
All he remembered was the old woman sitting down one afternoon and doing one of her crazy witchy readings. “Readings” like he’d seen her do countless times for people who came from far and wide, wanting her to tell their fortunes or work spells or cures.
….except sometimes she knew things she couldn’t know.
And here I am, bringing Dean to meet her….
For one second, H.D. wanted to jump into the car and shout for his lover to get him out of here and now.
But then she smiled and gave him a wink, and then she was somehow in his arms, and he was hit with a rush of nostalgia and good memories and echoes of the only real love he could remember while wandering the long roads between Losing His Mother and Finding Dean.
She pulled back and blinked at him. Were those tears in her no-nonsense eyes?
“I got a big roast ready to eat if you two are hungry. I even made leather jackets. Stink to high heaven when they’re a-cookin,’ but my oh my, aren’t they good to eat? Especially with a good old pork bone thrown in?” She shook her head. “Cornbread’s ready to go into the oven, and good thing I waited, huh? Been wonderin’ what was taking you two so long. Were you lollygagging? You should have been here at least an hour or more ago. Hope you didn’t stop to eat.”
There she goes again. Pretending to know things she can’t. H.D. turned to Dean and saw him gaping at her.
I warned you about her, H.D. thought. I warned you.
The meal was wonderful. The old woman—not even five foot five, with snow-white hair, wrinkles lining her face, and perhaps twice the weight of their Sheltie—had made enough food for a dozen people. The cornbread exceeded the expectations Hill had given Dean—perhaps the best he’d ever had in his life. Leather jackets turned out to be something that looked a lot like green beans but were brown and had so much flavor Dean’s salivary glands practically ached. And the roast! So tender it fell apart, it was laden with at least a dozen different herbs that had come, according to Ezzie, fresh from her garden. When they finally pushed back their plates, Dean was almost sick, he was so full.
“I guess we can wait on the cobbler?” Ezzie asked and chuckled delightfully.
“Please!” Dean leaned back in his chair and petted his extended tummy, trying to soothe it.
“Growing men need to eat,” she stated empirically.
“I just don’t want to grow in the wrong direction,” Dean said, pantomiming a growing belly.
Ezzie sat up straight and let out a long squeaking laugh. “I doubt that you have to worry about that. ‘Sides, do you think we eat like this all the time ’round here?” She pointed at Hill. “If we had’a, our old hound dog there wouldn’t be the sleek thing he is.”
“Ezzie!” H.D. sighed dramatically.
Dean could only smile. Sleek and more described him.
“Since you were coming, and I was going to meet Hillary’s forever lover-man, I wanted to fix something special. I knew Jimmy Garret had slaughtered a cow last week, and I also know his gout was acting up again. I made him some of my tart cherry remedy, and he gave me a roast.”
Dean raised an eyebrow. Ezzie was claiming she knew they’d been coming? Funny. How would she know that? Unless the lady from the courthouse had told her they’d called. But that wouldn’t have told her they were coming, and certainly not today. Nor to have a big meal waiting for them. He shook his head.
“By the way,” Ezzie said, getting up and walking over to an ancient china cabinet, with very little “china” inside. “Where are the children?”
“Children?” Dean asked.
She nodded and, standing on her tiptoes, started moving jars around on the top shelf. “Yeah. The shepherd dog—black, I think. And the little fur ball.”
Dean sat up. Rammstein, their Sheltie, and Sarah Jane, the dachshund-Yorkie mix? Now how did she know about them?
“We left them with their Aunt Elaine and Aunt Mara,” H.D. said, acting nonplussed. “Dean has a Smart car. There would have been room for Sarah Jane, maybe. But Rammie’s gotten big. It would have been way too crowded.”
Ezzie continued to fumble with the jars, and for a second there, Dean was afraid one would fall. Or she would.
“Ezzie,” he said, standing. “Let me help you with that.”
She stopped and turned around. “I was hoping Hillary would get off his butt and give an old lady a hand.”
“Well, shit,” H.D. said, jumping up. “I didn’t know what you were doing.”
“Don’t swear,” she snapped. “You know I don’t like it.”
Dean laughed, and H.D. went to the cabinet.
“It’s there on the top,” Ezzie directed. “But a few jars back. Clear. Looks like water.” She winked. “It’s not.”
“This one?” H.D. held out a mason jar that indeed looked like it was filled with water.
Ezzie cackled—a genuine cackle. “That’s it!” She took it from him, sat down, and pointed to his seat. “Just wait till you try this.”
“What is it?” Dean asked.
“It’s my rheumatoid medicine,” she answered and cackled again. She sat down, unscrewed the lid, and took a sip. Her face scrunched up, and she crowed out a “Whoo-whee!”
Once more Dean was curious. What in the world?
“Moonshine,” H.D. explained and took the jar.
His brows shot up. “Moonshine?”
“You bet your sweet bippy,” Ezzie exclaimed. “Every spring I put a charm on Gary Sutton’s still to keep the law from finding it, and he pays me in a few jars.”
“You do what?” asked Dean. Moonshine? A charm? He looked over at Hill, who only shrugged and then mouthed, “I told you.” And indeed he had.
What would his conservative parents—his father, a retired Missouri prosecuting attorney, and his mother, a bank president and socialite—think of this old lady? This woman who could have been anywhere from sixty to a hundred years old, with her wild white hair and her clothes that might have been older than she was. Her home, no bigger than his parents’ pool house. And her mason jar full of moonshine….
He swallowed hard and managed a smile. “A charm, huh?”
Ezzie nodded. “Yup.” She turned to Hill. “What do I put in it, boy?”
“Come on. You know. For protection. And to drive undesirables away?”
H.D. sighed. “Patchouli?”
Ezzie smiled. “And?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “And basil and cloves. And what do I sprinkle around the whole thing?”
“Salt,” Hill replied and rolled his eyes.
Ezzie laughed and pushed the jar across the table to H.D., who grabbed it and took a good swig. He started to cough, and his eyes went wide, and she started to laugh all the harder. When he was finally able to stop coughing, he drank again but took a smaller helping this time.
Then he passed it to Dean.
Dean stared at it for a moment and then looked at the two sets of eyes that were focused on him expectantly.
What the hell, he thought. And took a drink.
It went down like fire, and when it hit his stomach, it rolled out in hot waves through seemingly every inch of his body.
Ezzie giggled, threw her head back, and her giggling turned into a loud guffaw. “Oh,” she cried and laughed some more. “I think the coffee man isn’t used to a drink like this!”
Indeed he wasn’t. But damn…. A nice warm feeling was filling his whole world.
He shook his head and watched as she took her turn with the mason jar. What a character, he thought. He’d read about people like her. Seen shows. They were experts on human nature. They somehow read expressions, body language, listened to every single word and studied every nuance—without appearing to—and then made you think they had powers and otherworldly insights. She’d make a hell of a subject for one of those shows. What would Houdini have made of her?
But somewhere along the line (was it the fifth time the jar was passed to him? The sixth?) he quite suddenly realized something.
He didn’t care what his parents would think of Ezzie. He didn’t care she was so eccentric. He liked her. Weird as she was, he liked her a lot. For lots of reasons. But number one among them all was that she loved Hill. He didn’t need to be psychic to see that. So, so what if she was a little odd?
So what indeed.
Ezzie put them in Hill’s old room.
“Now don’t you two do anything I wouldn’t do,” she said, and snorted. Then before H.D. could say anything, she shocked him by leaning in and kissing his cheek. Then she blinked at Dean, touched his arm, nodded, and finally turned and headed down the hall to her own room.
H.D. closed the door and faced Dean, wondering what he would say. What was he thinking?
Dean smiled. “She’s a character, all right. You were right about that.”
“I’m sorry,” H.D. said but then wondered why. Ezzie was who she was. He’d warned Dean. Many times. But his lover had insisted he wanted to meet her.
Would he ever get used to that word?
“Why are you sorry?” Dean asked. “You don’t have anything to be sorry about. She is who she is. And she loves you. How can I not like her?”
H.D.’s heart skipped a beat. Oh, Dean, he thought and then pulled him into his arms. I love you. My God, I love you.
They undressed then. H.D. watched Dean’s every step as he removed each article of clothing. He never tired of seeing his lover’s body slowly revealed to him. Those muscles. His skin that begged to be touched, kissed. His cock, glorious, his ass more so. And Dean was watching him in that way of his. It always amused H.D. the way Dean seemed always caught up in some weird seesaw of timidity and boldness, which, impossibly, made H.D. shy and at the same time caused him to revel at Dean’s hungry eyes.
The two men were hard in seconds, and H.D. pulled Dean down to the floor.
“What are you doing?”
“The bed springs,” H.D. explained. “They squeak. A lot. I couldn’t even jerk off as a kid without her knowing.”
Dean smiled as H.D. pulled a tiny tube of lube from his discarded jeans. “You don’t think she knows what we’re up to? She knows everything else.” Then he gasped as H.D. applied the slick lubrication with a tight grip.
H.D. straddled him and, with a long sigh, took Dean deep into himself.
“Not everything,” H.D. whispered, and began lifting and lowering himself on Dean’s cock.
Then he wasn’t thinking of Ezzie. He was thinking only of the glory of being with Dean and how it never ceased to amaze him that he never tired of him. All his sexual life he’d made it a point to avoid having sex with a man more than once (and occasionally twice if it was very good sex). Now? He couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Dean had asked him if he wanted an open relationship, and for a second he’d been startled that the question had actually hurt. But then Dean explained that he knew H.D. had enjoyed a life of men and had expressed never wanting to be tied down. “I don’t want you to be bored with me,” Dean had said. H.D. realized that Dean was just as afraid of losing him as he was afraid of losing Dean, and he loved him for the offer. And then he saw clearly and totally that he was through with being a sexual gypsy. Somehow, in some way, the impossible had happened. H.D. wanted to be with only one man.
“I love you,” H.D. said, the words out of his mouth before he knew he was going to say them.
Dean’s eyes widened, just a bit. “You… you do?”
“I do,” H.D. replied. He watched Dean’s eyes fill with tears, and then he bent to kiss them away. There was fear in those eyes as well. He’s afraid I’ll leave. Still. Can I blame him?
But H.D. knew he wasn’t going anywhere. And how incredible was that? He’d been afraid for so many years of getting close to anyone. When you did that, they went away. They left you or fell out of love with you or denied you their love altogether.
Or they died.
“You don’t tie a hound dog down,” he’d been saying forever.
But now? Now the idea didn’t seem so frightening. Like it wasn’t being tied down but bound together. Forever? Hell! He’d accept gladly every day he was given with Dean.
Then H.D. sped up his rocking motions, letting them forget, for a moment, anything but pleasure.
After, when they were in bed together and the lights were out and Dean was softly snoring, H.D. thought once again of the wonder of it all. Of Dean. Of them.
Forever, he thought. I’m with you forever. Then he pushed away any fears he had, snuggled tightly against his man, and slipped into lovely dreams.
They stayed for two days, helping Ezzie around the house—fixing the back screen door, clearing the gutters for the rapidly approaching winter, harvesting the last of her garden: squash, a few stray cucumbers, and—damn!—tomatoes the size of grapefruit.
Dean found himself falling into a happy, comfortable timelessness. The chores weren’t difficult or boring. It was just time with Hillary and a funny old woman named Ezzie Borchardt.
That last night she fixed them another wonderful meal. Home cooking, she said. This time it was chicken (Dean had never seen one plucked before!) home-canned green beans, sweet potatoes, fried pickles (he’d never heard of those, and they were delicious), and of course tomatoes.
While Dean was contemplating getting up and packing for home—luckily it would take but a few moments, but God, he was so full—Ezzie announced it was time for their reading.
Reading? Did that mean Ezzie was going to tell his fortune? No, their fortune? Something with chicken bones and arrowheads?
He smiled. He couldn’t help it. Hill had warned him about this too. And before they got here, he’d vowed to be polite and nod and keep his mouth (mostly) shut. But now? Now he was curious. Why, maybe even a bit excited. Because he’d come to find the old woman fascinating. She did seem to know things. He knew it was a trick. But just because she didn’t have “the sight” didn’t mean that she wasn’t insightful. And she was doing this reading for them—for him and Hill.
The idea made his heart race.
So he and H.D. cleared the table, and just as they were wiping it all down, she came back and sat down, laying a brown leather pouch on the table in front of her. It was about eight inches by eight inches and extremely worn—it looked to be as old as she was. Ezzie was humming a tuneless little tune, no rhyme or reason that he could see to the notes, as sharp and flat as they were. She looked up at him and pointed to one of the seats across from her. He sat.
“Hillary?” she called, and with a sigh, H.D. sat beside him.
Ezzie closed her eyes and rocked in her chair for a moment, the tune forgotten and then remembered. Then she gave a little shudder, opened her bag, and dumped the contents onto the table between them.
What Dean saw was an eclectic collection of objects. An old bottle cap, a thin and frayed piece of rope—not much thicker than twine—what looked like a chicken bone. A tarnished ring of undetermined metal, a piece of glass that must have been smoothed by a river or ocean waves, a piece of gnarled wood. There he saw a little fossil with the imprint of a fern, and a buffalo-head nickel (his father would love that; he collected coins). Look, there was the arrowhead Hill had told him about, and there a bolt with a nut screwed on about halfway. He also saw what he thought was probably a piece of antler, and was that a bear claw? There were several other objects as well, including an acorn, a cowrie shell, and a single black feather.
“That’s new,” H.D. said, pointing to the feather Dean had noted.
“It is. It was left by your spirit guide before she left and went to the Other World.”
H.D. scoffed. “Other world. Sure.”
“Don’t be rude,” Ezzie replied. She looked up at Dean. “One of his guides is a blackbird,” she said. “And a dog, of course. But then, so is one of yours—a dog.”
“Guides?” Dean asked.
“Animal guides, from the Great Mother. To help you find the way.” She closed her eyes. “Most people have seven, and some nine. I think you have at least that many.” She opened her eyes, studied him. “And a ram…. Or a goat. Hmmmmm…. Do you know why that would be?”
“Don’t you know?” H.D. said with a sarcastic tone.
“I told you not to be rude,” she snapped.
A goat, huh? Interesting. “I suppose because of my coffee,” Dean said, humoring her. “Legend says goats discovered coffee.”
“Dancing goats,” she added.
Which was true. How did she know that? But then the story wasn’t that uncommon. A woman her age could easily have heard it and filed it away.
“Hermit crab was one of your guides, because he carries his home on his back. Home was wherever he went.” She nodded. “Yes. But not anymore. You have made a permanent home now.”
He raised an eyebrow despite himself and looked over at H.D., who only shrugged. Did you tell her that? he wondered.
“Spider too. Because—well, in your case—because she creates. Are you an artist, Dean?”
That one got him. He was. He’d painted a series of pictures telling the story of the goats discovering coffee and then dancing when they were filled with caffeine. He’d painted them all along the ceiling of The Shepherd’s Bean, his coffee shop.
Ezzie closed her eyes again. Just when Dean wondered if she’d slipped off to sleep, she began to speak.
“I see two men. Two who have been separate and alone. For too long. For miles and miles they have wandered and finally found what they didn’t even know they were looking for.” Her eyes popped open wide, showing her faded blue irises. “You two.”
Dean glanced over at Hill and saw his lover’s Adam’s apple bob hard. They locked eyes. H.D. bit his lower lip.
She pointed at the green piece of glass. “See? This was once sharp. It had edges that could cut you. But it has been worn smooth. Like the two of you. What was once sharp is now ready to be something beautiful and new. See how something so common can be so lovely?”
She touched the bone. “This points to your future. It says, ‘walk away from each other at thy peril.’”
“Peril?” H.D. said, his voice breaking like a teenaged boy’s. “Peril? Really, Ezzie? Peril?”
“The peril that you will both walk the world alone. You two are meant to be.” She indicated the bolt and nut. “You fit.”
“I thought you always say that that means something halfway done or half still to do,” H.D. said.
Ezzie raised a thin white brow. “Are you the reader, or am I?”
H.D. sighed, and Dean reached out and took his hand. “I think we fit, Hill.” He interlocked his fingers with H.D.’s, liking the sameness and differences of their hands. His were thicker, blunter. Hill’s were thinner and longer. Yet both were obviously men’s hands.
Dean looked into H.D.’s eyes and smiled. Let her have her say, he thought at H.D. I like that she says we fit.
Now Ezzie was running her finger along the black feather. “See how it goes through the ring? And how the ring touches the horn?”
“Horn?” asked Dean. Not an antler?
“Bird and goat. And the bird is Hill’s mother. She watched over him for years but pointed him to you. It’s your job to watch over him now.”
A warmth spread throughout Dean’s chest. “I can do that.” I would love to do that.
“And this….” Ezzie picked up the piece of rope. “Frayed and done. A fear of being tied down can now be set aside.”
H.D. gasped, and Dean looked over at him again. Hill’s face was unreadable. A host of emotions seemed to be swirling in those eyes.
“The leash is broken,” Ezzie said. “This man will not tie you down. You can chose to walk by his side or go your own way, like any hound dog.” She looked over at Dean. “You want to ask him an important question. One asking him to be yours forever. But you’re afraid he will leave you.”
An important question. A ring. He wanted to ask Hill to marry him. And yes. He’d been too afraid….
Wait! Was he finding himself believing that this woman knew things?
She reached out a hand and laid it on theirs. “Of course I know things, Dean Alexander. I know all kinds of things. I’m as old as Moses, right? How could I not?” She chuckled.
“My advice is to take on the handfasting.”
“Handfasting?” they both chorused.
She nodded. “The old way. To be bound together for a year and a day. And then at the end of that time, the lovers decide whether to stay forever bound—”
“Bound,” H.D. whispered.
“—or to go their separate ways.”
And then she stood and left the room, leaving them alone. Together.
They were halfway home when they decided to turn around and go back.
“You’re sure?” Dean asked.
“I…. Damn.” H.D. smiled. “I am.”
“You know she can’t possibly know the things she says she knows, right?” Dean asked, hoping to convince himself more than Hillary.
H.D. laughed. “I guess I really don’t care.”
Dean realized that neither did he.
So they went back and found her on the porch, and of course she said, “I was wondering when you’d get back.”
She took them out into the remnants of her garden under the light of a brilliant and full moon. There she called on those that have no names, who came before there were names. She called on the North and East, South and West. She called on Dog and Ram, on Spider and Black Bird. She called on Love to be their witness.
She took their hands and tied them with a gold cord, and she said, “Do you take each other in heart? In mind. In life and love?”
“I do,” said Hill, before Dean could even answer.
Dean repeated the words, feeling his heart race and tremble in wonder.
“Know then that you both do this willingly, and you go forth from this place as two men, and one man, at the same time.”
The nodded, waited….
“Kiss, you fools!” she cried.
And they did.
Then she had them jump over a broom, telling them that they had left separate halls and now lived together in one home.
They hugged her then and decided to stay one more night.
What the hell.
They decided they didn’t care that the bed springs squeaked.
Did you enjoy B.G. Thomas’s story? If so, check out the rest of his books and take 25% off at checkout with the code BGThomasFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 28, 2015.
January 27, 2015
Title: Perfect Timing
Author: Chris Scully
Pairing: Adam and Joe from Inseparable and When Adam Kissed Me
I heard the screaming the minute I set foot on the front porch.
What the hell? Joe’s sisters had popped out enough kids over the years that I recognized the sound of a squalling infant when I heard it. The question was, what was one doing in our house?
“Joe?” I called as I entered. I dropped my laptop bag on the floor in the foyer and followed the ear-splitting wails to our cozy living room. There I found my best friend and the love of my life, bare-chested and uncharacteristically frantic, bouncing an irate, red-faced and equally bare-chested, baby in his arms. “Okay, I know we didn’t have one of those when I left for work this morning.”
Joe spun around at the sound of my voice. Although how he could possibly hear anything with that crying, I don’t know. “Hey, babe,” he said with a grin.
“I leave you at home to wait for the window installer and somehow you end up with a baby?”
“The stork brought him.”
“What?” I shouted, pretending I couldn’t hear him over the din.
I waved him off and ventured a step closer to peer at the noisemaker. “Is that Julian’s kid?” Our friend Julian and his wife Sara had just had a baby four months ago. We’d visited once. “Brady, right? What’s he doing here? Don’t tell me you kidnapped him.”
“Sara’s mom is in the hospital. They didn’t want to take the baby, so I volunteered….”
“Of course you did,” I muttered under my breath. “What happened to your magic touch?”
“It’s not working. He hasn’t stopped crying since they left.” Two creamy rivers of snot flowed from Brady’s nostrils into his open mouth. Joe produced a tissue and tried to wipe his face, but the kid twisted his head and it ended up smeared across his cheek. Ugh.
“Do I want to know why you’re both shirtless?” I asked. “Maybe that’s the problem—he thinks he’s being attacked by a sasquatch.” Joe just stuck out his tongue in response to my dig. My beautiful bear of a boyfriend knew exactly how hot I thought he was.
“The little guy was screaming so hard he upchucked down my back.”
A sudden silence made us both look at Brady in shock. Then he made a choking sound and with a loud gurgle, frothy milk erupted from his mouth and spilled down his chin to drip onto his pudgy Buddha belly. “You mean like that?” I asked drily.
Joe started laughing. Brady screamed louder. Me? I wanted to hide. I had nothing against kids, but I preferred them older—when they developed personalities. Babies were so helpless and needy. Mostly though, it was the idea of being responsible for another person that freaked me out. Unlike Joe, I didn’t exactly come from a loving family. My parental examples were indifferent at best.
I’d known Joe most of my life. He was surprisingly traditional about some things. Even before we’d become a couple, he’d made no secret of wanting to get married and start a family. I knew what I was signing up for, but we hadn’t talked about it in a while, concentrating instead on getting the house fixed up and just enjoying being together the way we’d always wanted to be.
The silence was his way of letting me adjust to the idea. He was waiting for me. I knew this the same way I knew he’d already scoped out schools in the district, and envisioned a swing set in the backyard. By mutual, unspoken agreement we’d chosen this fixer-upper instead of the new condo I’d originally wanted. Now I couldn’t help wondering if he’d been reading my thoughts lately, and this whole thing was a setup.
“Are you sure you want one of these?” I asked.
“One? Try two or three.” Joe held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers. “But you’ve got to put a ring on it first. I’m Catholic, remember.”
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at his wide-eyed, innocent expression. “That’s convenient. You don’t seem so worried about all the pre-marital gay sex.”
“Oh, that I’m willing to go to Hell for.” Joe flashed that sexy grin of his. “Here, take him for a sec. There’s a change of clothes here somewhere.”
Before I could protest, Joe thrust the squirming, squalling baby into my hands. I held him up and out from me, his chubby little legs churning in the air. Then Brady blinked once and stopped crying. We stared at each other warily, like two unknown species meeting for the first time.
“What did you do?” Joe demanded.
“Nothing. I swear.” Cautiously, I settled Brady against my chest. He heaved a sigh, shuddered and rubbed his wet face into my shoulder. “He must have cried himself out.”
“Hmpf.” Joe thrust a blue onesie at me. “You dress him then. I’ve got cannelloni in the oven.” He tried to hide it, but I saw that little smile as he walked away
“I think someone’s jealous,” I called after him.
I stared down at the tufts of dark hair on Brady’s head with a mounting sense of panic. What to do now? He sneezed, blowing snot bubbles from his nostrils. Oh yes, clean up. I took Brady into the bathroom Joe and his dad had tiled, and cleaned him up as best I could with a damp washcloth. He grinned up at me the whole time, trying to stuff the cloth into his mouth.
Being a parent was not something I had ever envisioned for myself, but then, I had also never dared imagine having someone like Joe at my side to help me. I’d thought about this a lot. There was no doubt in my mind that I would spend the rest of my life with Joe—I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me that. But it was important to him. And making Joe happy made me happy.
Now that I’d made up my mind, I’d been waging an inner struggle the past few weeks on how to actually do this. The idea of staging some stupid, romantic, YouTube-worthy proposal terrified me. That wasn’t me. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to buy an engagement ring or not.
I looked down at Brady in my arms. “I’m overthinking this, aren’t I? I should just do it.” His round face scrunched up in concentration and began turning pinker by the second.
The thunderous rapport as Brady filled his diaper made my jaw drop. He grinned, mighty pleased with himself. I would have laughed too, except the smell hit me then, and all my concentration went to keeping my stomach in check.
Several gag-inducing minutes later, Brady and I—him freshly diapered and dressed, and me with hands scrubbed until they were nearly raw—stood in the doorway and watched Joe move about the kitchen getting dinner ready. Brady gnawed on my tie, but otherwise seemed entirely content in my arms. He wasn’t so scary, really.
This felt right.
“Hey, Joe,” I began, taking a deep breath. “Can I ask you…?”
“Diapers are in the bag in the hallway,” Joe finished.
My laugh was nervous and freakishly high-pitched. “Yes, I know. Actually, my question was a bit more serious than that.”
Joe straightened as he drew the bubbling dish of cannelloni out of the oven and set it on the stovetop . “Oh.” He looked closer, reading me. He must have liked what he saw because his eyes widened slightly, and hope flared to life in the chocolate-brown depths. Once again we had no need for words. “Oh?” His lips kept twitching into a smile. “Now? You’re going to do this now?” His excitement was palpable. “Do I need to sit down?”
At that moment, Joe’s cell phone rang. We both glared at it where it lay on the table.
“Want to get that?” I asked.
“Hell, no,” he exclaimed. “Keep going.”
“It could be Julian with an update.”
He groaned and snatched it up. “Hold that thought, okay?”
But it wasn’t Julian. Even halfway across the kitchen, I heard the unmistakable squeal of Joe’s younger sister. He jerked the phone away from his ear. “Jesus, Maria, I think I’m deaf now,” he complained.
I watched his face fall for a split second as he listened. I could hear Maria’s voice, but not what she was saying. My stomach tightened when Joe’s eyes met mine. It wasn’t good. “Adam’s here. Let me put you on speaker,” he said dolefully.
He held the phone out and Maria’s excited voice burst from the speaker. “I’m getting married, Adam,” she cried. “Kevin proposed.”
Brady’s little head jerked about searching for a body to go with the phantom voice. I shared a look with Joe, seeing my—our—plans evaporate. I knew he wouldn’t want to overshadow any of Maria’s happiness now. He shrugged silently, but his eyes were sad. “That’s… uh… great,” I said. “Congratulations.”
“Wait until you see the ring. I’m going to send you a picture,” Maria babbled, unstoppable. “Oh and Joe, I want you to be my man of honor.”
“I’ve got to call Toni now. But we’ll talk soon, okay?”
We both said goodbye.
“My timing sucks, doesn’t it?” I asked as soon as Joe had hung up. It wasn’t the first time I’d messed things up by waiting too long.
“It could be better,” he admitted with a bittersweet smile. Then, “I’m just kidding.”
This was awful. When he hurt, I hurt. “We could do it now. Just the two of us.” That’s all I wanted anyway. Something small and intimate. “And then we could tell the family later.” Of course, we’d catch hell later, but I’d worry about that then.
Joe stepped close and laid a hand on my cheek. “It’s okay, Adam. Really. It’s enough that you’d offer. There’s no rush, right?”
I searched his face to make sure he meant it. He did. That was my Joe—big hearted to a fault. Thinking of everyone else’s happiness but his own. “Right. I mean it’s not like we can just make one of these in nine months. It’ll take some planning.” I shifted Brady to my hip. “We… uh… could start looking into it, though. If you want.”
“And you’ll hold on to that question a bit longer?”
“As long as you promise not to change your answer.”
Joe smiled. “I think you know what it is anyway.”
I leaned in to kiss him. “I do.”
Did you enjoy Chris Scully’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code ChrisScullyFlash2. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 27, 2015.
January 26, 2015
Title: The Thrill of Magic
Author: Kate Pavelle
Pairing: Wyatt and Jack from Zipper Fall
Jack turned on the dishwasher, rinsed and dried his hands, and glanced toward Wyatt’s bedroom. Wyatt had never formally moved in with Jack, and Wyatt still had his old, cheap apartment, but he’d never made the commitment to living together, for better or worse. Moreover, Wyatt had been spending more time in his bedroom—one that Jack had set up and decorated just for him only half a year ago—almost every day.
The door was closed.
Jack poured himself a bourbon on the rocks and crossed into the living room, where he slid behind his computer. The seat hugged him in its perfect, ergonomic way. The screen woke up, the unfinished spreadsheet opened.
He bit his lip and reached for the crystal tumbler. The ice chinked through its thin walls and the coolness of ice felt soothing and familiar as Jack tried to fight down a swell of panic. He sipped, feeling the sweet and woody notes, the smoke and the tannin and the sharp sting of alcohol on his cheek. The scent of adventure.
That was the problem. Adventure. Wyatt, the love of his life, was an incorrigible adrenaline junkie. Just the way they’d met, Wyatt rapelling into Jack’s bedroom, with burglary in mind, showed a lot about the sort of adventure that scratched Wyatt’s itch. It’s been about six months since Wyatt had done something like that, and the need within him must have been immense. Spring was in the air, newly awakened blood must have been coursing in his veins, and all those unattended houses, just waiting to be infiltrated….
Jack took a swig and broke into a bout of cough.
Wyatt’s restlessness had been getting worse and worse until right after Valentine’s Day when he had begun to regain a sense of inner calm. Jack had thought Wyatt had been blown away by their weekend getaway, but even though that might have helped, Jack knew that wasn’t it. His mind drifted to the ways in which Wyatt could get a fix. None of them were safe. All of them threatened the unity and the comfortable home they had both worked so hard to build.
His eyes began to water from having been glued to the screen for so long, and Jack realized he hadn’t done a smidgeon of work. He had been sitting there, staring at his spreadsheet, drinking bourbon.
Unhealthy. No shit, Sherlock.
He was tempted to burst into Wyatt’s room and demand explanations. He wanted Wyatt to account for his time alone. Wyatt’s room had a fire escape. Suppose he’d been sneaking out, going on a prowl, committing a quick home invasion here and an adventurous lock-picking there just to keep sane? He knew such action would have destroyed any trust they had built between them. The soft, comfortable nights with Wyatt’s head on his arm. Wyatt’s unruly hair in his face, making him sneeze. Wyatt’s passion, and the trust in his eyes as Jack took him and loved him and possessed him until the air got thin, the world receded, leaving just the two of them.
For that, Jack would keep controlling his temper. For that, he’d stay his hand and not intrude upon Wyatt’s privacy. He walked to the kitchen and reached for the bourbon.
Water. What he needed was water, and water he got.
Wyatt’s door opened, and Wyatt stepped out wearing jeans, a dress shirt, and a blazer over it. The look he gave Jack was cagey, as though he was hiding something. A shiver passed through Jack. So Wyatt had been hiding something—something that had scratched that wild, adrenaline itch of his. He considered Wyatt’s flushed face and wide eyes.
He couldn’t imagine Wyatt on drugs. That would be even worse than burglary, or risky rock-climbing stunts on the downtown office buildings.
“Would you like to go out?” Wyatt’s voice had a determined edge to it. “You look stressed. I think we need to get out of here for a little while.”
“I already had a bourbon.” If Jack disclosed he’d had a drink, his coping mechanism wasn’t a problem. Or was it?
“There’s always ice cream,” Wyatt said. “Although I wanted to hit the South Side. Just walk around, y’know… take in the sights of crowds of rowdy party-goers.”
“Vicarious thrills?” The words were out of Jack’s mouth before he knew it.
“Maybe, maybe not. You comin’?” Wyatt’s eyes softened. He wanted Jack’s company. A sudden curiosity flamed within Jack. Wyatt was up to something.
“Sure. Gimme a minute to change.”
East Carson Street was the wild, bar-hopping part of Pittsburgh where bad things happened. One of the crowds of college kids roving the street spilling out of a beer bar and made a right toward Margaritaville. Careless and loose with drink, the guys joshed and elbowed one another while the ladies hustled to keep up in their high heels.
“Check this out,” Wyatt said, leaning in close so only Jack could hear. “Hey, girls, you lost something!”
As they turned around, Wyatt bent to the sidewalk. When he straightened, he had a five-dollar bill in his hand.
The three girls stopped. One called out to the guys, and the guys stopped to wait.
“Here,” Wyatt said and handed the bill out to them. Jack looked on. He didn’t quite know what was going on. Did someone really drop some money? They were right under a streetlamp, and Jack figured he’d have noticed.
“Not mine,” a short blonde said. The second girl shrugged and ran her hand through her hair in what seemed to be a habitual gesture. The third one, though, nodded. “Oh, thank you! How nice of you!”
Jack frowned. Something was off. A glint in her eye, a hint of a smile that tugged on Wyatt’s mouth. Wyatt offered the five dollar bill, and the girl reached for it, not looking down, smiling prettily into Wyatt’s face.
Jack looked down. Now everyone was looking at her hand, a hand with a writhing snake in it. She screamed again and shook her hand, trying to shake it off, but the snake wrapped its body around the warmth of her wrist.
One of her girlfriends took a few steps back while the guys guffawed with laughter, but the blonde stepped forward. “Don’t move,” she said in a level voice.
“Yeah, don’t move,” Wyatt said and moved forward.
He stepped back toward Jack again. Jack stood there dumbfounded. The girl had a five-dollar bill in her hand, all crumpled. The snake was gone.
“How did ya do that?” The blonde girl asked, giving Wyatt an accusing look.
“Do what?” Wyatt shrugged.
“Where’s the snake?” One of the guys was looking Wyatt up and down. “You better not be messing with them.”
“I can’t even return someone’s money anymore,” Wyatt said with a sigh. “Here, check my pockets. No snake!” He spread his arms out. The guy approached him as though on a dare, and Jack felt a pang of sudden sympathy. He knew this couldn’t end well. The guy gave Wyatt a polite, cursory patdown, apparently keeping his distance in case the snake made a reappearance.
“See, no problem,” Wyatt said in a soothing voice Jack knew all too well. He bit the inside of his cheek in an effort not to grin as he saw the guy step away.
“Shit,” the guy swore. “I figured… oh, whatever, man.”
“Yeah,” Wyatt nodded. He turned to Jack as though they were about to go, when he looked back at the group of college kids. “Oh, here. I almost forgot. I believe this is yours.”
Jack was amazed and appalled when Wyatt proferred an expensive-looking watch in the college kid’s direction.
“Shit, man!” The kid felt his wrist—empty—and grabbed the watch out of Wyatt’s hand. He then looked at his friends. Jack saw they were torn between outrage and laughter.
Wyatt cleared his throat. “Oh, before you go… you have something of mine in your pocket.”
The guy dove his hand in, only to pull it out and rip his jacket off. “Snakes! Shit, fuck, snakes!”
The blonde girl picked his jacket up, extracted the snake out of his pocket, and handed it over to Wyatt. “Be nicer to your friend,” she said in an amused voice. “I wouldn’t want to see him get stepped on!”
“Thanks.” Wyatt reached for the snake—and she ended up with that old, crumpled, five-dollar bill in her hand. Then he turned to Jack. Had it not been for the fine flush and slightly widened eyes, Jack would have assumed Wyatt was entirely calm and casual. He wasn’t, though. Wyatt was high as a kite, riding on a wave of adrenaline comparable to the ones he used to get from burgling a house, or free-climbing a rocky face.
Happy and exalted, Wyatt met Jack’s searching gaze with his playful one. “Can I treat you to a drink?”
Did you enjoy Kate Pavelle’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code KatePavelleFlash2. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 22, 2015.
January 24, 2015
Author: Jameson Dash
Pairing: Aaron and Zach from Home Team
“You’re giving me the wheelbarrow?”
“Well, you’re not getting the dog. The dog is mine.” Aaron said this with Rocket’s head pillow on his thigh, the two of them curled up on the couch together.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
Zach hadn’t played Monopoly since he was a kid. Aaron explained that it was a ploy he and Rosie invented, a way to convince their parents to let them stay up late. A game of Monopoly could go on forever, and it was easy to beg for a few more minutes after bedtime.
“Let me say again that I don’t approve of you being the banker,” Zach said.
Aaron nodded. “Your protest has been noted for the record.”
He suggested Monopoly when Zach asked what he wanted to do for New Year’s.
“Seriously?” Zach had asked. “I thought you retired from hockey, not from life.”
But Aaron promised him a good time, even if it was going to be a good time at home. He promised Zach he would cook dinner, which was usually enough to get Zach to say yes to anything. But Zach didn’t tell Aaron that. Aaron had too much power over him already.
Aaron came home on the afternoon of the 31st with a grocery bag and a bottle of champagne. Zach was sneaking a look at his work email, in his pyjamas on the couch, but he looked up guilty anyway when Aaron stomped his boots at the front door and announced his arrival.
Dinner was a lazy affair. Zach drank wine at the kitchen table while he watched Aaron dance around the kitchen. Staying home meant they didn’t have to dress up, and it also meant Aaron was wearing sweatpants. Zach watched his hips twitch as he rolled out the pasta, leaning over the counter.
They ate on the couch, Zach’s feet up on Aaron’s lap. When their lips were red and buzzing from the spicy tomato sauce, they kissed, hours before midnight, but not caring at all.
And then Aaron pulled out the Monopoly board.
“I don’t even remember how to play,” Zach told him.
“Of course you do. It’s like riding a bike.”
“No,” Zach said. “You’re thinking of a bike.”
“You buy things, Zach. That’s how you play Monopoly.”
He busied himself with starting a fire while Aaron set up the board, shuffling the cards and counting out the money. It was dark and cold outside, but still early. Zach wasn’t even sure he would make it to midnight tonight.
Last year, it had been a lot like this. Zach had the warm house, the cuddly dog, and champagne chilling in his fridge.
But he didn’t have this man sitting on his couch, brow furrowed over brightly-colored money, teasing Zach with a smile as he waved the tiny wheelbarrow in his face.
“I’d give you the shoe,” Aaron said, “but I know you’d never wear anything that looked like this.”
Zach left the warmth of the fire behind and climbed on Aaron’s lap. They didn’t make it to midnight, but Zach had nothing to worry about.
Their new year was going to be just fine.
Did you enjoy Jameson Dash’s story? If so, check out the rest of Jameson’s books and take 25% off at checkout with the code JamesonDashFlash2. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 24, 2015.
January 23, 2015
Title: Wally’s Orphans
Author: Andrew Grey
Pairing: Wally and Dakota from A Chaotic Range
“Wally!” Dakota called at the top of his lungs.
He looked up toward the barn door where snow blew past, creating a curtain of white. Wally gently patted the goat he was examining. “Don’t worry. You’ll have your babies soon.” He stood and pulled his coat closed around him. The early spring snow storm had begun in the night and didn’t show any signs of letting up.
“What is it?” Wally asked as he reached the door. Dakota appeared out of the white and entered the barn, stamping off his boots. “I thought you were plowing the drive with the tractor.”
“I was, but I saw something in the snow.” Dakota opened his coat and Wally gasped. “There were two more, but they were already dead. The mother seems to have curled into a snowbank. She must have been injured because she was gone as well.”
Wally lifted two of the pups out of Dakota’s arms and let him keep the other two. “You poor things.” He whispered. “They’re cold, but warming up. Let’s get them in the house so I can look them over and then get the poor things something to eat.” He was already out the door and on his way to the house before he turned around. “What are you waiting for?”
“Shouldn’t we leave them in the barn?”
“No we shouldn’t. Now hurry up before you catch your death.” He turned and marched to the house. Inside, he waited for Dakota and got him to sit in one of the chairs. “Take these two and hold them all close. I’ll be right back.” Wally hurried to the back pantry and got a box. Then he raced upstairs and got two old towels and a heating pad. When he was back downstairs, he lined the box with the towels and heating pad, plugged it in, and turned it on. Then one by one, he placed the small brown puppies inside.
“I wonder how they got there. I nearly ran over all of them,” Dakota said softly. “The plow blade passed right next to them. If I’d been a foot to the right….”
Dakota was a huge man, but he had such a wonderful heart that he’d stolen Wally’s a number of years earlier. “I’m going to look each one over. Would you warm some milk? I have some droppers in the clinic that I can use to feed them. They’re going to need food quickly.”
“All right. I’ll run out to the barn and then I’ll be back to help you feed them.” Dakota took off and Wally picked up each of the puppies and gently looked them over. German Shepherds by the look of them, or at least in part, and they seemed about four weeks old. Their eyes were open and they seemed responsive. “Are they okay?” Dakota asked after stomping in and closing the door.
“Yes. What about the plowing?” Wally took the droppers and syringes that Dakota brought.
“It’s taken care of.” Dakota took off his coat and sat down on the floor next to Wally. “What do you need me to do?”
“Get me some milk to start with. I’ll make up a formula once we’re done that will be better for them longer term.”
Dakota nodded and got back up. He strode into the kitchen, and Wally heard the refrigerator open and close and then the microwave run for a few seconds. Dakota returned with a mug and sat back down. Wally got a dropper and picked up a puppy. He pulled some milk into the dropper and gently placed it on the puppy’s tongue. It licked it up and was ready for more. Dakota got another of the puppies and did the same.
“They’re hungry little guys aren’t they?”
“Yeah, that’s a really good sign. I’d say you got to these little ones just in time. I wonder why they survived.”
“They were in the middle and all curled together. The others were on the edges and more exposed to the snow. But you’re right. They wouldn’t have lasted much longer.” Dakota continued feeding the puppy. After five minutes, they switched puppies, placing the fed ones back in the box and picking up the others.
They switched back and forth until the puppies curled in a pile in the box and seemed ready to go to sleep. “We’re going to have to feed them often, but they’ll be okay.”
Dakota got up and stretched his back, then he pulled on his coat. “I’m going to bring in some wood and start a fire. We’ll all be warmer.”
“Thanks,” Wally said and sat next to the box, watching the pups. They snuggled in a little puppy pile. With the next round of feeding, he’d try bottles to see if that would work.
The back door opened and closed. Dakota trudged in with an armload of wood and began building a fire. It didn’t take his very capable partner very long to have a fire warming the room. Once he was done, Dakota hung everything up and made some hot chocolate for them both before settling on the sofa. Wally joined him, curling close. “You’re warm,” Dakota whispered.
“So are you,” Wally said as he wound his arms around Dakota’s middle.
“What are we going to do with them?”
Wally lifted his gaze. “They’ll make great ranch dogs. We can keep one or two. Milford will probably take one, and as soon as Phillips sees them, he’s going to want one.” Wally angled for a kiss. “Don’t worry. We’ll only keep two at the most, and I’ve already picked them out. See, I want the little boy with the honey coloring. He’s going to be Marzipan, and the one with the Black head and tawny ears is Sasha.”
“You’ve named them already?”
“Of course. How else do I get you to agree to add to our menagerie?” Wally chuckled and sipped from his mug before setting it on the coffee table.
“You know I’ll do whatever you want,” Dakota whispered.
Wally shifted closer. “And you know I love you for it.” Wally kissed Dakota hard, crawling on top of him and pressing Dakota back on the sofa.
“I love how you show your appreciation.” Dakota drew him down into a kiss, sliding his work-calloused hands under Wally’s shirt and up his back. “Lock the door and pull the curtains.” Wally jumped up and did just that before rejoining Dakota on the sofa. They showed each other their appreciation, deep and slow, not once, but twice, and ended up curled together as warm and comfortable as a pile of puppies in a box in front of the fire.
Did you enjoy Andrew Grey’s story? If so, check out the rest of his books and take 25% off at checkout with the code AndrewGreyFlash2. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 23, 2015.
January 22, 2015
Title: The Scariest Halloween Ever
Author: Pearl Love
Pairing: Reggie and Charles from Juicy Bits
“Come on, babe! The party starts at eight, and I promised to help Sam and Jen with set up.”
Charles ignored Reggie’s bellowed request as he held up his costume, or rather, the two strips of cloth that made up nearly the whole of his costume. He would honestly rather walk out in the black boxer briefs he had on than this questionable ensemble Reggie had forced on him. The final item, a large plastic bone, lay on the bed. He glared down at it balefully.
“Charles,” Reggie called out again, his voice getting louder as he approached the bedroom door. “I’m usually the one that takes forever to get ready, so what’s the hold up? Jen will kill me if we’re late.”
“What in the bloody hell is this?” Charles held up one strip of cloth in either hand as his husband stuck his head into the room.
Reggie blinked innocently. “It’s your costume, silly.” His body remained out of view, but a bone slightly smaller than the one laying on the bed was perched jauntily atop his head, held in place by an elastic strap. Charles thought he had no business throwing about the “silly” label with respect to anyone else.
“This is not a costume,” Charles sighed. “It’s at least a misdemeanor in several states.” He could hear his accent reach Colin Baker’s Doctor levels of crankiness. Reggie chuckled, his bright grin flashing against his dark skin. He came fully into the bedroom to display his own homage to Samhain. Charles blinked as his jaw fell open. “What in the bloody hell are you wearing?”
“Two ‘bloody hells’ in five minutes? You know I love it when you talk dirty British to me,” Reggie crooned unapologetically. He made a beeline for the bed and threw himself on it so he bounced on the firm, but not too firm, mattress. He picked up the forsaken bone and waggled it at Charles. “Don’t you dare try to get out of this. You promised you’d come. Jen is my boss—”
“No she isn’t,” Charles scoffed.
“Jen is in charge of payroll, so without her, my half of the bills don’t get paid. So, get with the dressing, and let’s go!”
Charles groaned, knowing he was fighting a losing battle, but unwilling to give up without at least trying to salvage his dignity. “What is this thing even?” He tossed the larger strip of cloth, which was orange and bore some odd pattern of large, triangular polka dots, toward the bed while waving the longer swath of dark brown cloth he held clutched in his other hand for annoyed emphasis. A small surge of petty victory rose within him when the orange fabric landed on Reggie’s head.
Undaunted, Reggie flipped up his new headgear and raised his eyebrows. “What, you’ve never heard of the Flintstones? The modern stone age family with their dino-dog, their adorable daughter, and her super strong toddler boyfriend?”
Charles stared incredulously. “What are you talking about.” He paused as a memory sparked. “Oh, wait. The old cartoon show, right? I think I’ve seen an episode or two, but I don’t remember the main couple or their neighbors having children.”
“Ah.” Reggie held up a finger. “Then you haven’t seen the latter part of the show. Yeah, Fred and Wilma have a daughter—” He lifted up the hem of his green top, which had the same triangular dot pattern as the fabric currently on his head. The motion revealed the scandalously tight blue shorts he wore underneath. “And Barney and Betty had a son. That’s you,” he added, pointing toward Charles.
“Hmmmm.” Charles pondered the explanation, seeking and failing to find a way to poke a hole in Reggie’s now obvious idea. “You’re dressed as the daughter, right?” he asked for clarification and reassurance.
Reggie chuckled. “Yeah. I figured I’d pressed my luck enough by asking you to come to this costume party with me without also making you play the girl. Besides,” he said in a slow drawl, “your abs will look way better in the Bamm Bamm costume than mine ever could.”
“Bamm Bamm? Seriously?” Charles felt a throbbing in his temple heralding a headache.
“Pebbles and Bamm Bamm.” Reggie sighed and shook his head. “You’ve been in the U.S. for years now. It’s past time you caught up on the pop culture. I’ll show you some clips of the show when we get home.” Before Charles could politely decline, Reggie hopped up from the bed. He whisked the orange fabric off his head and approached Charles with a menacing grin. “But now, it’s time you got ready for this party.”
Six minutes later, Reggie was stepping back with a self-satisfied smirk on his full lips. “Oh, yes. I was so right about that costume.” He abruptly grabbed Charles’ arm and angled him toward the full-length mirror standing in the far corner of their bedroom. “There, see?”
Charles stifled what he really wanted to say in favor of “Well, I guess it’s a good thing one of us stayed out of the candy stash.” The orange cloth was secured around his hips and the brown piece was draped over his left shoulder with the bone secured at his waist so it appeared to be holding the brown fabric in place. “I feel ridiculous.”
“Well you looked hot.” Reggie bit his lip. “In fact, why don’t I call Jen and tell her we’re going to be about a half hour late—”
“Oh no.” Charles spun around and speared Reggie with his best glare. “If I have to wear this…thing, then I refuse to let you enjoy it any more than you absolutely have to.” He caught Reggie’s grin before he turned to stalk out of the room.
Charles laughed despite himself as Reggie’s taunt followed him down the hall toward the front door of their condo.
Did you enjoy Pearl Loves’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code PearlLoveFlash2. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 22, 2015.
January 21, 2015
Author: M. Raiya
Pairing: James and Ambient from Another Healing
“Are you ready?”
“No,” Ambient said quickly, heart pounding. “James, I can’t do this!”
“Yes, you can,” their friend Jules said.
Ambient shook his head emphatically and gave James what he hoped was a pitiful look. James—his lover, fiancé, and demon—looked back, face set and unreadable.
Jules laughed. “You two are hopeless.”
“No, just scared,” Ambient said.
James and Jules were sitting next to each other on a large boulder the glaciers had abandoned on top of the hill a few thousand years ago. Ambient stood on the grass about twenty feet in front of them. It was a still, dark summer night, moonless and warm: perfect for witches and demons to practice their arts unobserved by Vermont’s more human population. No one was awake for miles, but they hadn’t risked a fire, just in case. All three could see well in the dark.
“Forsooth,” Jules said. “Thou both agreed to enter into my training, choosing myself over the esteemed Dr. Anderson to develop and hone your talents to prodigious heights. By doing so, thou didst pledge to let me determine the pace and subject matter of thy learning. Therefore, thou both must trust me and accept my judgment as law.”
“Jules, going all Elizabethan doesn’t make this easier.”
“Ancient phrasing doth indeed open the channels of the ancient ways and power into which we tap.” The jewelry maker nodded sagely. “Here on this hill beneath the sky, the earth and the heavens do meet and cradle us in the hands of the old ones, that their memory be not erased from this earth.”
“We only chose you because Anderson is too busy training my sister,” Ambient said. “And the poor old ones will never be the same again if they’re trying to cradle James and me.”
Jules flung back his head and let out his big, comfortable laugh. Even James cracked a smile, Ambient noticed, which was saying something. He knew James was really nervous too.
Jules, an experienced witch, had been instructing them since last fall. They had raced through the preliminary skills because James was damn good for being self-taught, and he was a powerhouse as well. Ambient was a quick learner, even though he hadn’t known he was a witch until a few months ago, and had almost gotten killed shortly after discovering his birthright. A few renegade demons had wanted to experiment on him and James. One of them had been Jules’ ex-demon. It was due in no small part to Jules that the two of them had survived to become the working team he was trying to make them. They trusted him implicitly. But that didn’t make what Jules had planned for tonight any less frightening.
Ambient was going to learn how to fly.
“Are we going to do this?” James asked, jumping down from his perch on the boulder.
“But of course,” Jules said. He stayed on the rock, crossing his legs casually and folding his arms. “Ambient, we have discussed the technique many times. You and James have become very proficient at stacking wood without touching it. It is time to move to the next level. You are in control and may draw power from James. James, your role is to bolster Ambient, anticipating his needs, feeding energy through your link even before he requires it. Your shared concentration must be perfect.”
“Don’t you think we could touch each other for this one, while we start?” Ambient asked.
“No,” Jules said firmly. “You cannot count on being able to touch James or even having your diamond to draw power from. I want you fully accustomed to working on your own. Only when you’ve mastered your exercises may you have the luxury of working in contact.”
Ambient sighed. Jules was right, of course. But was Jules so adamant about it because he’d had lost his own partner years ago?
“Fine. James, be ready to heal me if I fuck this up.”
James’s gaze was steady. “I won’t let you fall.”
Ambient drew a deep breath. How the hell could James be so confident all the time? James hadn’t been fazed by anything Jules had had them do. On the other hand, James always had his feet on the ground. It was Ambient who was the focal point, the one in charge of the working. Tonight, he could literally break his neck if he didn’t get it right. This was the most difficult exercise they’d worked on so far, and the most dangerous.
The problem was that he could make even simple exercises dangerous. He’d dropped a chunk of wood on Jules’s foot a few weeks ago, trying to stack it, and broken one of their mentor’s toes. Last week he’d almost gotten them struck by lightning, just trying to make a little rain cloud. And they wondered why he was worried now.
“Jules, have you ever actually done this?”
He saw their mentor hesitate. “Only once. And I’m not going to delay your first experience by telling you the story. Gentlemen, please calm your bodies and focus your minds.”
Well, if he was going to break his neck, he’d better get on with it.
Ambient drew a deep breath, let it out, and raised his eyes to James’s. In the shadows, James’s dark eyes and hair and tanned skin blended into the night. All three of them were all dressed in black.
After a moment, James’s eyes began to glow red. It was a warm, comforting light; it was a feeling of tangible strength and love.
Ambient let his next breath out with a sigh. He might feel jittery, but he knew in his soul that he would never come to harm. Not when James’s single wish in the world was to keep him surrounded by a bubble of love.
James was his demon, destined to be his magical partner before either of them had been born. He was also destined to be far more.
“You’re still thinking,” Jules said.
“Sorry,” Ambient said. He centered his mind, letting go, letting James’s steady gaze fill his senses. For a moment, he thought about what their lovemaking would be like later tonight. Using magic hit James like an aphrodisiac. Then Ambient let even that thought slip away until he closed his eyes and held his own essence in balance.
“Deeply centered,” Jules said. His low voice was a familiar anchor.
Ambient perfected his balance and then poised himself, ready.
“Now, James,” Jules said. “Reach out and surround him. You are becoming the air that holds him and the air he breathes.”
Like a soft tendril, Ambient felt James’s touch. He opened himself to it, felt the warm sensuousness of it, felt the power. So much! He didn’t even have to draw on it; it was as though he and James were one, and the power was theirs to share. He could feel it surrounding him as Jules had directed. It held him and filled him. It was wonderful. Their magic had never felt like this before. He had no idea what they’d done differently this time. Maybe it was just the natural result of the months they’d been working together. Whatever it was, Ambient felt for the first time that maybe he really could fly.
“That’s it,” Jules said encouragingly.
Ambient opened his eyes, wrapping the power around himself like a cloak, and locked gazes with James again. Despite Jules’s encouragement, he waited for James’s nod. Then he spread his arms like wings and drew on the skills Jules had taught him. This time, instead of seeking to move a chunk of wood, he focused on himself.
For a long moment, nothing happened. It felt strange and awkward to twist the energy back around himself instead of sending it outward. He felt James seeking to help him, but this was in the range of abilities that only witches had, leaving him alone to figure it out. All James could do was offer support by firming the air around Ambient as Jules had directed.
And then, suddenly, he had it. Holding his body motionless, he practiced in his mind. It was a bit like driving a car in reverse, using mirrors. Cautiously, he felt it out, working backward, experimenting, going from side to side until he found the middle of the road. Then, more confidently, he began to pick up speed.
“You’ve got this, Ambient,” Jules said.
Amazed, he realized that he did.
“I’m with you,” James said, moving forward a pace.
Ambient held his breath, gathered his courage, and lifted himself into the air.
Despite his new confidence, he fully expected to crash down. But he didn’t. He was floating a whole foot above the ground! He heard himself laugh with delight.
“Stay focused!” Jules said sharply.
Ambient’s focus was the last thing in the world he would give up. This was the most amazing thing he’d ever done. He bent his right leg and raised his arms higher. This felt incredibly like swimming. Then he tweaked the energy just—so.
He rose higher with ease, as light and free as he’d dreamed he would be. He stopped when his feet were as high as James’s and Jules’s heads, held there for a moment, and then flung back his head and soared.
“Ambient!” Jules shouted.
The earth was too far away to possibly matter, to have anything to do with him. He was part of the wind, part of the clouds, a song that rose and glided across the heavens in the light of the stars that burned so close….
A sudden memory came to him. Eighth-grade English class in a hot and stuffy room, part of a life that meant nothing to him now that his world was filled with power and magic. Old Mrs. Eldridge’s voice came to him: “But Icarus flew too near the sun, and its warmth melted the wax that held his wings together. Without them, he plunged to his death in the sea….”
But oh, what a glorious death it must have been.
A tug from far below. His anchor, his mentor. Jules.
“Ambient, get your fucking ass down here now!”
No! He was the sky! The land spread out below in a patchwork of trees and fields, cut by snaking roads and rivers, all silvery in the moonlight, shimmering like the sea in the wind.
But something else tugged at him. Someone he did care a great deal about. Someone familiar and sensuous and… James! God, how could he have forgotten James? The lure of flight and the desire for his partner warred within him for a moment, and then, reluctantly, he started downward.
Suddenly, exhaustion burned through him. He became aware of channeling energy again, aware of how much strength it took. Shit, what if he’d drawn too much from James? Swiftly, Ambient let himself plummet. Wind tore at his clothes and hair, filling his ears with its rushing sound. When he slowed, sounds from the ground reached him again—a car horn, a dog barking. Then trees became individuals instead of a waving green mass. He slowed and aimed for the clearing below. Even as tired as he was and as strong as his love for James was, letting go of the sky was brutally hard. Only the knowledge that he could do this again soon kept him going down. The clearing became a hilltop with a round boulder in the middle. At last, he could see the two men standing beside it.
He wanted James’s arms around him again. The pull of that longing brought him the rest of the way down. Something in him, some of the wild wind that was now part of his soul and would be forever, made him pause and then gracefully sweep in a circle around the boulder before coming to land lightly on the balls of his feet, chin raised. For a second, he poised there, and then he let gravity have its way with him again. He lowered his arms, fully expecting both of them to light into him about being a reckless idiot.
But Jules had turned away and was leaning heavily against the stone, his head buried in his hands. Before Ambient could figure out why, James swept him into his arms and gave him a kiss that threatened to explode Ambient’s mind. Passion seared between them with such intensity that, had they been alone, they would have been naked and on the ground behind the boulder in moments. As it was, only the knowledge that James had to be angry with him made Ambient pull back and look cautiously into his partner’s eyes.
James sent him a look that clearly said the kiss would be continued later and whispered, “Do you have any idea how fucking hot you looked?”
Ambient stared at him. “You aren’t furious with me?”
“Hell, no! I had you all the time. It was effortless. You knew exactly what you were doing. You could have stayed up there an hour. I only tugged you back because Jules was freaking out.”
Ambient shook his head. “I was starting to feel the strain, at least once Jules called my attention to it. I shouldn’t have gone so high. I was totally caught up. How much were you feeling through me?”
James’s eyes burned with so much exhilaration that he didn’t even have to answer. “Can you lift me with you too?”
Ambient only had to think about it a moment. It would take some major reconfiguration, but… “Hell yeah!”
James started to pull him back into his arms, but Jules cleared his throat.
“If you two are through congratulating each other.” Jules’s voice was curt and snappish. Ambient braced himself again. James might have understood, but their mentor could not have been pleased with Ambient’s loss of attention, to say nothing of common sense. Jules hadn’t specified how high Ambient could go, but Ambient didn’t think it would do him any good to point that out.
They turned to him.
But all Jules said was, “We’ll meet after breakfast tomorrow,” and stalked off toward the woods, not toward the path that led down to the farm.
Ambient shivered. The three of them had always walked home together after a training session. God, Jules must be really furious. Ambient felt worse than if Jules had lit into him.
James hesitated a moment, then ran after Jules. Ambient groaned, knowing that was just going to make it worse. If Jules needed time to cool down, they ought to let him take it. But Ambient couldn’t help going after James.
“Hey!” James called.
Jules didn’t pause. He was almost at the tree line, about to disappear under a large pine. Ambient couldn’t shake the memory of how the tree had looked from above. He longed so badly to see it that way again that his feet actually left the ground for a few steps. This was going to take some getting used to.
“Jules!” James called again.
He didn’t stop.
Let him go, Ambient thought. This is only going to make him angrier. Usually James was so perceptive. Why was he doing this?
“How long ago was it that you flew?” James called to Jules’s back.
Oh, Ambient thought.
He caught up to James. When Jules finally turned, Ambient realized that he’d completely misinterpreted the situation. There were tears running down Jules’s face.
“Damn it, I thought I had this under control!” Jules wiped at his eyes furiously. “It was a long time ago. It doesn’t matter.”
“Jules,” James said. “It was the night you broke up with Allen, wasn’t it?”
Jules drew a ragged breath and looked away again. Holy shit, Ambient thought. James had really figured this out fast. Then Ambient shuddered. Oh, how he understood what Jules was feeling right now. How thoughtless had his question been when he’d asked Jules if he’d ever flown?
“I would kill Allen right now if James and I hadn’t already done it,” Ambient said.
Jules finally faced them. “Allen killed himself. You two just assisted him. But what was between Allen and me was a long time ago. I’ll see you both in the morning. I’m sure you have urgent, pressing needs to deal with.” Jules attempted a grin.
Ambient and James exchanged a quick look and came to an instant agreement. James said, “I’m not sure we’ve ever really thought about the sacrifice you’re making to teach us.”
Jules looked up at the sky, where Ambient could see the moon trying to break through thinning clouds. He fought an urge to feel moonlight in the air, and he looked away quickly. Jules was clenching and unclenching his hands as he struggled with his emotions. “I wanted to teach you,” Jules finally said. “I can deal.”
“Do you want to talk?” Ambient asked quietly.
“Nothing to talk about,” he said quickly, but made no move to continue on into the woods.
“Damn it,” Ambient said, moving closer to Jules. “After what I just experienced, I can’t imagine breaking things off with James and making it so I could never fly again. It would kill me. What did Allen do to you, Jules?”
“Oh, hell,” Jules said. He roughly leaned against the pine trunk, then let his shoulders slump in defeat. “Allen was a bastard however you looked at him. I don’t know if he was always evil or just grew to be that way, but he was corrupt by the time we recognized our connection. At first, I was thrilled because I’d known Allen for years as your family chauffeur, James, and I figured he must be all right because he worked for good people. I—”
“When was this?” James interrupted.
“After we’d graduated high school and you were trying out college. I never had any idea you were a demon. I didn’t even know Allen was until the day Anderson introduced us and we both felt the connection. I’d always known what I was. My parents were witches; I was trained from my first breath. When I finally found my demon, it was wonderful. At first. Then I began to realize we had vastly different interpretations of what witches and demons were. He chose a more—I don’t know—stereotypical understanding? And he began to force those values onto me. I resisted. Our relationship suffered. Suffice it to say that the day I flew for the first time—and was caught up in the emotions of it the way you just were, Ambient, the way a person should be—he twisted me in a horrible way. He got me to fly through a woman’s open window to steal a jewelry box full of family heirlooms. It was for me to gain inspiration from, he said, because he knew I was opening my own jewelry store and making my own pieces. He made me think it was all right, until I had the box in my hand. And then when I faltered, he sent pain through our link.”
James gave a low groan. Ambient darted him a look, remembering the time James had told him it would be just as easy to kill as it was to heal with his powers.
“When I came back to land—without the box—we fought. It was terrible. But I proved stronger, and I cut him out of my mind and burned our link. I tried not to hurt him. I tried to make him see the other choices he could make, but he was not having it. What I ended up doing left him with only a shadow of his own strength, he had put so much of himself into me to control me. And you two know well what a wreck of a man that made him. My mistake was that I didn’t know he could still be dangerous to our kind. And to make up for that, among other reasons, I am offering my knowledge to you two.”
They both stared at him.
Jules pushed himself away from the tree and ran a hand over his eyes again. “So yeah, it hurts like hell to see you flying, Ambient. But at least I get to feel your joy tonight. Allen did not, since he is finally dead and gone.”
Ambient suddenly found James’s arms around him. He hadn’t realized he was crying too, until he was sobbing into James’s shoulder. The emotions of what he’d just been through were still rushing around inside him, and it was impossible to reconcile Jules’s terrible story to some place in his mind where he could process it later. The agony in Jules’s voice hurt so bad.
Deep inside the link in their minds, James whispered, I can help him, if it’s all right with you. And he shared his plan with a few quick images.
Love blossomed up in Ambient’s heart, and gratitude for this wonderful demon who was so truly his partner in all things. Do it, he whispered back.
James let him go and turned to Jules. He stood before him with open hands. “Draw on me. Fly again.”
“What?” Jules looked completely stunned.
For answer, James closed his eyes and let the power flow.
“No!” Jules gasped. “That’s between you and Ambient. This has never been done!”
“Who cares? I’ve been raised outside the system, and I’m a healer first and foremost. I’m constantly trapped in situations where I can’t heal without revealing myself. Please let me do what I love to do when I can. Besides, I’ve got a shit-ton of power. You’re an incredibly talented witch. Fly.”
He shoved so much power at Jules that Ambient, watching, felt like James just slung Jules into the night sky. The moon came out an instant later, and through a fresh wash of tears Ambient watched their friend fly higher and higher. He stood silently beside the motionless James, reveling in a different kind of flying. For the first time, he understood what it must feel like to be James when he healed.
James’s eyes never left Jules’s dance in the stars. But after a while, James reached out and pulled Ambient into an embrace, physical and mental. Together, they soared with their friend.
Did you enjoy M. Raiya’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code MRaiyaFlash2. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 21, 2015.