Concerto Chapter 9

Sorry that it’s taken me a bit longer to get the next chapter of Concerto to you. It’s been a wild couple of weeks. Because I’ve made you wait, I’ve put the link from the last chapter up at the top for continuity sake. The rest are at the end. Enjoy!

 

 

Chapter 9: Me, But Somebody Else

In the blink of an eye I was transported into the opulent music room, lit only by moonlight. I looked out through eyes that were not my own, I wore clothes that were uncomfortable and unfamiliar. On slippered feet, I approached the pianist from behind. His music was angry, violent, his fingers harsh on the keys. There was no one else in the room. “What you want can never be, you realize?” He spoke without looking away from the keyboard. “Your father will never let us be together, you must know this.”

“I don’t care what my father wants. I want you,” I said in a voice that was not my own. It was softer, more treble, like a bird singing – one you could listen to for hours.

“You don’t care because you’ve never gone hungry, never known what it’s like to live without. Do you suppose for even a moment your father will continue as my patron if I run away with his only daughter? Do you not think that he’ll use all of his power and influence to make sure no one else will do me the honor either?” The music stopped. He fisted his hands and brought them down hard against the keys.

“But you’re the best. You’re astonishing. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll be sought out to perform all over the world, and then you won’t need my father or anyone else.”

“But I do need your father now. One mistake, take one false step, and he’ll cast me aside as easily as he does anything else that makes him unhappy.”

“I don’t care. I love you.” I moved to stand close behind him and threw my arms around his neck. “I want you and no one else.” As he pushed back the bench, I took his face in my hands and kissed him, and I was her – this woman who loved him — but at the same time I wasn’t her. Still one thing was clear, he was my pianist – the same — as surely as night was dark. And the kiss he returned, the kiss that wasn’t for me, was offered with that familiar passion, the same sense of need and hunger.

At last he pulled away and held me at arm’s length. “Then we have to wait. We have to wait until the time is right, until I no longer am a beggar at the gate.”

With a flash of light, the scene changed, and we were naked, rolling and tumbling in a big curtained bed, and he was deep inside me, the roar of our breath and our passion drowning out the storm.

“I shouldn’t have come, Felicity.” I heard his voice from far away. “You shouldn’t have invited me here of all places. Don’t you realize what we’ve done? We should have waited.”

“I’m tired of waiting.” Once again the bird like voice came from my lips. “Take me with you. Take me with you my love, and we will find a way.”

“We’ll find a way. Just take me with you, and we’ll find a way.”  I came back to myself wet and warm and sitting between the pianist’s legs in the big claw footed tub. I was leaning back against his bare chest, his arms wrapped tightly around me. “What happened,” I managed through a throat that felt like I’d eaten sand.

“You followed me into the storm. You fell,” came the clipped reply.

For a moment I sat silent, the heat of the water curling tendrils of steam in front of my face. “But, I saw …” I saw what I couldn’t have possibly seen, that’s what I saw. For a moment I debated how much to tell him. “Did I hit my head?”

“You fell, and then you were delirious.”

In a convulsive move, he pulled me closer until I gasped for breath as his arms tightened around my body and his breathing became more labored.

“I remember falling,” I replied, wriggling to get more comfortable. “And the rest was more like a dream. The manor house was there and we were there alone in the music room and you were playing the piano. And then we were making love. It was me, but it wasn’t me.” I forced a laugh as he all but mantled me from behind, his breath skimming my neck. “Dreams are funny like that.” And then I remembered why I’d gone to the overlook in the middle of a storm. “What were you doing up there in this horrible weather, and you were naked. Why?” My stomach dropped, as I recalled how I’d found him and, in spite of the heat of the water, gooseflesh climbed my arms. “Surely you weren’t trying to … I mean you were so close to the cliff’s edge. I was so scared.”

“No,” his voice was suddenly cold, distant. “I wasn’t trying to kill myself. You needn’t have been scared. I won’t, I can’t … do that.”

I turned as best as I could, slopping water over the floor, so that I could see his face over my shoulder. “Were you dreaming, then? Sleepwalking.”

His laugh was no more than a puff of breath against my ear that held little humor. “These days I’m never sure.”

Something in the way he said it made me shiver, but I forced a chuckle. “I think we all feel that way sometimes.”

He didn’t answer, only kissed the top of my head. For a long moment we sat in silent, the only sound the wind howling around the corner of the cottage.

“You called me Felicity,” I ventured.

He flinched at the name. Though he caught himself soon enough, we were skin to skin, I felt it like a tremor through my chest. He sighed out a deep breath then slid a hand up to cup my breast. “What, are you holding me responsible for your dreams now?”

“No. It just seemed so real. I couldn’t have been unconscious that long, if I was unconscious. It was less like a dream than it was flashes of memory.”

“You were stressed, concerned for me, and you fell. That’s all. What matters is that we’re both warm and safe and there are better things to think about right now.” He kissed my ear, then ran a hand down over my belly and between my thighs. I bucked and gasped, setting off another tidal wave of bath water. In spite of what had just happened, in spite of all my questions and doubts, I was ready, anxious for his touch.

“What’s your name?” I spoke around my efforts to concentrate as he nibbled and kissed my neck and shoulder and reacquainted himself with every furrow, every swollen fold, of me. Then with more splashing and awkward wallowing, he helped me turn in the tub to straddle him. “I don’t even know your name,” I said, my mind hanging on to at least that much in the heat of arousal he was stoking.

“Does it matter? Maybe you can find one in your dreams, Felicity.” Before I could respond, he thrust up into me with such force, with such desire, that all I could do was wrap my legs around him and hold on for the ride. Everything else went away. The rest of the world disappeared again, but this time in a storm of desperate lust.

 

If you’ve missed an episode of Concerto, here are the links.

Concerto Part 1: A little Night Music

Concerto Part 2: Distractions

Concerto Part 3: Too Much to Bear Alone

Concerto Part 4: Writing and Waiting

Concerto Part 5: A Duet in a Storm

Concerto Part 6: Remember How it Feels

Concerto Part 7: Unsettled

Concerto Part 8: Into the Storm

 

 

 

 

My Writing Journey – A Guest Post by Tanya Jean Russell (@TanyaJRussell) #giveaway

I have been a bookworm my whole life and can often be found wandering the house, attempting to do my chores without looking away from whatever I’m reading, but I only began writing about five years ago. When I started I honestly thought I could just sit down and bash out the story that was swimming around in my head. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that it wasn’t actually that easy. Apparently writing is a craft and like any craft you need to actually learn what you’re doing.

So I took some courses and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (a real must for any budding romance writer – they and their local chapters are amazing). I have also spent the last few years working out where I sit on the planning or writing by the seat of my pants spectrum.

As someone who is notoriously organised (I love a list), I had expected to be a planner. I was wrong, very, very wrong! The one time I tried to plan a full novel, I was so bored with the story when it came to writing it that I totally ran out of steam and it remains unfinished on my computer to this day.

So I then tried to just write without planning. It started off great but I ground to a halt at around 30,000 words and I spent weeks feeling completely stumped as to how to proceed.

It turns out, I like to do a bit of both. When I write now I let the ideas float around in my head for a few weeks before I try putting pen to paper, or more accurately, fingers to keyboard. During that time I make notes in one of the many notebooks I carry everywhere. They are never very coherent but they let me capture the mental images I have of my characters and settings.

When the itch of ideas grows too strong I start writing and keep going until I get stumped, at which point the Post-its and whiteboard come out. I use them to corral my thoughts and spot where more work is needed. It’s the perfect blend of just getting the story out creatively, and planning.

The one thing I’ve really taken away in all of my learning is that I love to get advice and listen to everyone’s ideas and trying them all on for size. You never know which ones might fit!

*****

Shadows of Our PastBlurb

Jackson Halland has spent ten years running from a mistake that cost him everything, including Amory Parker, the woman he loved. With his gut-wrenching response to her reappearance, he realizes that if she will forgive him, then maybe, just maybe, he can forgive himself.

After ten years of working undercover Amory agrees to one final mission. Vowing to get justice for the woman she promised, and failed, to protect, nothing will stand in her way, not the prolific criminal she’s determined to bring down and certainly not coming face to face with the man she fell in love with on her very first undercover assignment, even if he has no idea who she really is, or the part she played in his past.

Buy Links

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadows-Past-Tanya-Jean-Russell-ebook/dp/B07B9SNHYN/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

https://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Past-Tanya-Jean-Russell-ebook/dp/B07B9SNHYN/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

https://www.evernightpublishing.com/shadows-of-our-past-by-tanya-jean-russell/

*****

Excerpt

Amory was so engrossed in her thoughts she didn’t hear the approaching sound of bare feet, padding on the smooth wooden floor, until a deep groan broke through them and she looked up to see Jackson. His mussed, dark blond hair was shot through with strands of gold in the overhead lighting.

The man was incredibly made. His arms stretching up and behind his head caused the bottom of his t-shirt to lift a few teasing inches, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of a tanned, rock-hard stomach. They weren’t the sculpted lines that came from the gym, but powerful, solid muscles. A fine trail of hair led the way to the top of his loose navy shorts. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, her gaze was transfixed.

His legs were long and thick, every muscle rippling as he moved down the stairs into the hallway. A rush of heat shot through her body, setting every nerve alight. Her stomach rolled as she absorbed the sight while a little lower everything tightened and tingled. She’d hoped that her memory had been flawed, tinted by the rose-colored lenses of what she had long since accepted was her first love. That clearly wasn’t the case. Rather than letting himself go he had become more impressive. The slenderness of youth had filled out, living up to the promise of overwhelming masculinity.

His lean muscles had broadened, and whilst the softness of youth had faded from his features, it had left a strong profile in its wake. Jackson had grown up all man. She gulped, heat flooding her.

The good feeling from her run was replaced by a more base desire to touch every inch of his perfect body. To pull it hard against her own and feel those muscular planes mold against her. She unconsciously licked her lips as she watched him.

As she met his eyes, the feeling of heat evaporated, replaced by a harsh chill of dread that sank through to her toes. His emotions were playing across his face and it was clear that, despite her DCI’s reassurances, Jackson had joined the dots and figured out who she was. The recognition clearly shocked him as his whole body jolted abruptly to a stop.

Unable to move, she stared helplessly as he began to walk toward her, his face a mix of unreadable emotions. As he reached out, her body began to respond to the heat that rolled off of him. The scent of his skin washed over her, but she moved back defensively. It was a tactical mistake, giving away that she knew who he was, that she had known all along.

“Amory?” he whispered, hope shining oddly through that one word.

Almost imperceptibly shaking her head, all her professionalism flew out the window, and with her heart sinking she managed a stuttered whisper, “N-n-no… No, you’re wrong. I’m Olivia.”

No amount of training was going to get her through this. Despite her only half-admitted hope that he’d see who she really was, Amory knew too much was at stake for this to happen, but it had. Now she had to endure the awful consequences of him recognizing her, the hatred that would follow this moment.

*****

Bio:

I live in England and am married to an amazing Elvis & Neil Diamond tribute artist, thanks to whom I have a house full of jumpsuits & trophies. This, of course, is a source of much embarrassment to our two teenage children!

I am a little obsessive about books and have an embarrassingly huge and ever growing pile of things that I just ‘have’ to read next to my bed.

I squeeze my daydreaming … ahem … ‘writing’ around my family and my day job in HR, and am convinced that chocolate & diet coke should be considered a well-balanced diet!

Author Links

https://www.tanyajeanrussell.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TanyaJeanRussellAuthor/

https://twitter.com/TanyaJRussell

*****

GIVEAWAY!

Make sure to follow the whole tour—the more posts you visit throughout, the more chances you’ll get to enter the giveaway. The tour dates are here: http://writermarketing.co.uk/prpromotion/blog-tours/currently-on-tour/tanya-jean-russell/

Use the Rafflecopter to enter for your chance to win an eBook copy of Tanya’s previous book, Broken Trust.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

At last! The Pole Shoot!

 

This past Saturday, a year and two weeks after I began pole training, the long awaited
photo shoot finally happened. It was nothing like I had planned out in my head. There were a few unexpected turns at the end. On Tuesday before the shoot, I pulled a muscle under my shoulder blade during the pole class warm ups. That meant no going over my moves for the shoot and no last minute practice on Thursday either.

 

On Wednesday, I spent time with my personal trainer, Klaudia, working to mobilise the shoulder and neck and other areas that had stiffened up to compensate for the pain. The next three days were filled with lots of stretching, Epsom salt baths and a diet of anti-inflammatories. Meanwhile my pole instructors were very supportive and promised me they could get me into the moves for the shoot.

 

 

It seems that for a photo shoot it’s all about getting the shot, and as my instructor, Lauren McCormick, told me ,technique goes out the window, which took the pressure off me and off my shoulder.

 

I wish I could say I documented everything in photos right down to the packing up of what I’d need for the day of the shoot. I wish I’d done that, but I didn’t. There are not shots of me getting on the train, me putting on make-up, no shots of me warming up. All my detailed plans went out the window with the injury, and suddenly the game plan was simply to get through the shoot with minimal pain.

 

 

Fortunately I went in with the very best supporter. Mr. Grace went with me to cheer me on, take photos of the shoot and to set me down and give me strong drink after it was over. Having him with me made everything a little easier. Plus it was great to share the experience with my best friend.

 

The photo Shoot was held at the fabulous My Body Rocks Pole Rocks Studio in Reigate, a place I’ve become very familiar with in the past six months. It’s the parent studio for the Guildford studio, and the brain child of one of my heroes, Samantha Holden. I have secret fantasies about just moving in to this place.  Yes, it’s as totally cool inside as the door suggests.

 

 

Most of the mistakes I made had to do with the planning, not the shoot itself. I needn’t have worried about that. Between the lovely photographer, Simon Hooley, and my instructors, Lauren McCormick and Ben Weeks, and with my husband there to cheer me on, I was in good hands.

 

But I showed up way too early, thinking I would use the time to warm up and maybe relax a little, go over the moves in my head. Warming up was limited because of the shoulder, my head was such a muddle that I couldn’t actually think enough to go over my moves even in my head. I already had on most of my make-up. Changing clothes took five minutes, and putting on the feather necklace and playing about with the feather fan took another five.

 

 

It didn’t help nerves that the second studio, which was open for us to warm up and practice in, was a hive of activity. There were people working on hoop. There was a couple of women practicing doubles on the pole next to me. Along with that there was a constant flow of people coming and going. They were all fabulous, and I would have loved watching them any other time. But Saturday, I just felt intimidated, even though they were all very supportive.

 

 

However, once my time came, two very strange things happened. First of all, the half hour photo shoot felt like it went on forever – in a very good way, but I was exhausted by the time we were done. Simon joked that he made it his job to make sure we left the shoot completely broken. Actually, he was very helpful and very lovely. Second of all, it was over in a heartbeat. I don’t know how it could be both. I only know that it was.

 

Yes, the shoulder did hurt with almost every move – especially the getting into the moves. But it didn’t hurt as bad as it could have, and I was careful and took advantage of offered help to get into positions. I quickly learned to intersperse the hard moves with some easier ones. That saved the shoulder and saved me from being more exhausted that I already was at the end. When I started out with a superman, which is one of the hardest moves for me, and I managed it without too much trouble, I knew I’d be okay if I paced myself. After that the nervousness went away, and the whole thing became fun.

 

 

Another lesson I learned is that sometimes the very simplest of moves looks far more elegant than the ones that are the most difficult. The camera doesn’t really show technique or how hard a move is. It only shows the subject, and really, it’s all about the subject … that would be me … looking her best. And that is something Simon does VERY well.

 

During the shoot, Raymond took photos and short vids on my camera so I would have some idea of what the whole process looked like – what I looked like. I’ll have the proofs probably later this week. My husbands documentation, his efforts are what I’m sharing with you in this post. Believe me when I have the actual photos back, I will be sharing them far and wide.

 

 

I say that, but the truth of the matter is that Saturday afternoon when I shared a couple of them on Facebook, I found it a little hard to let them go. I found myself feeling shy and nervous, even still worrying about what other people might think of a 59 year old woman getting half naked and hanging from a pole. Sometimes the things we do for ourselves other people might not understand, and a huge part of the challenge is often to remember that it doesn’t matter. We’re doing it for us. Having said that, I have had nothing but support and positive feedback from people. Perhaps that’s another major lesson to me. While we might not always understand why someone feels compelled to do something, I think everyone understands that need to pursue a challenge that speaks to us.

 

I’ll have the final post of this year-long pole journey when I get the photos back from the shoot.

 

 

Celebrating Summer Solstice with Garden Porn

 

Last December, I wrote a post about celebrating the darkness of Winter Solstice and of partaking in that extra dream time those long winter nights bring with them. It seems appropriate that today I write a post celebrating the light. Happy Summer Solstice, my Lovelies! In the UK, the days are extravagantly long, and everything is blooming itself silly just before setting fruit. OMG! There are not enough words for delicious to describe British asparagus and strawberries!

 

 

And the birds!  The birds start up their raucous Dawn Chorus at 03:45! I know because I heard them start this morning. I think that’s rather auspicious, being awake in the early hours of Summer Solstice to hear the Dawn Chorus begin. And this bad boy black bird is the first to start the song. Even at that insane hour the sky was rimmed with that thin line of silver that happens just before night gives way to the charcoal grey and dusty blue of the first intimations of morning.

 

 

Oh! And if you look out the window at Grace Manor, you will see how we  celebrate summer on our grand estate. That’s right, it’s garden porn time. The light brings with it heat and the heat means the ground is ready to plant. Germination is happening! Beans are thigmotroping, corn is photosynthesising. And we’re ready. We’ve been planning since January.

 

 

This year’s a little different though. This year, we’ve decided to share the fun. It’s a lot of work putting in a veg patch the size of ours — especially when underneath our efforts to build up the soil, it’s still a clay pit that demands lots of physical labour to make it ready. With that in mind, we invited the neighbours, two doors down, to share the veggie fun — a very smart thing to have done. We have not only halved our efforts, but we’ve doubled the laughter and and the excitement and the wonder at seeds growing exponentially into huge plants that produce such succulent delicious treats. Add to the fact that this young couple has no space for a veg patch of their own, and both have a green thumb, and seeing their excitement is almost as much fun as feeling our own.

 

 

And then there’s the celebrating the day’s efforts. That almost always involves beer or cider. Following Sunday afternoon’s efforts, Mr. Grace, in the mood for a party, cranked up the bar-b-q and the four of us sat outside over our burgers and wine and fresh British strawberries. We lingered long into the approaching evening watching the bats fly over and listening to the birds sing their good-nights, while we planned and schemed our veggie kingdom. In the midst of it all, there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie that comes from time spent with kindred spirits.

 

 

Planting things, seeing things grow, tending them, and then harvesting them and feasting always feels like the perfect way to honour the Earth in all of her splendour and change. It’s a wonderful way of being a little closer to those cycles we’re all so connected to and yet have sadly lost touch with. Veg gardening is reconnecting in a visceral way. It’s a very real reminder of what sustains us, what gives us life, and why we celebrate the light.

 

 

Happy Solstice, however you celebrate. Me, I’m going to fondle the plants in my veg patch, then I’m going for a walk in the English countryside. The sun is full on us. Let’s bask in the light, as we dreamed in the darkness, and see what grows from that wonderful, seasonal blending of the two.

 

 

 

 

Wolf Around the Corner Tour and Giveaway

 

 

Wolf Around The Corner

By Aidee Ladnier

 

 The Giveaway!

Aidee is giving away a $5 Amazon GC, $10 Amazon GC, Ebooks from her backlist, print books from her backlist. The winners will be chosen by Rafflecopter. Please use the RaffleCopter below to enter. Don’t forget you have a chance to enter every day so be sure to visit all the stops on this tour. You may find those locations here.

 

About Wolf Around the Corner:

 

Frank’s family taught him that his wolf was dangerous, unwanted. Now his best friend’s brother wants him in bed and on stage. But giving into his wolf’s need for love could risk the quiet life Frank has created for himself—and his heart.

 

Settled in the small town of Waycroft Falls, Frank is content to be a lone wolf among the white picket fences and dollar book bins until he finds himself sniffing his best friend’s brother. Tom smells like hot apple pie and his Broadway smile has Frank lolling his tongue. But when the visiting actor learns Frank’s secret and plies him with hot kisses to get him to star in his play, Frank can’t help but wonder if Tom is only acting.

 

Tom ran away from family obligations to be a Broadway star. If he could make it there, he could make it anywhere…but he didn’t. Trudging home to Waycroft Falls to open his sister’s new performance space brings him face to face with a werewolf—a werewolf that would be perfect for Tom’s shoestring production of Beauty and the Beast. Staying in Tiny Town USA would be worth it if he can somehow convince the sexy wolf to expose his furry condition on stage and howl privately in Tom’s bed.

 

Wolf Around The Corner, a paranormal semi-finalist in Passionate Ink’s 2017 Sexy Scribbles Contest, is a full-length fairytale romance with a side of wolf shifter. If you like your romance with gorgeous men, humor, and small town magic, you’ll love Wolf Around the Corner! Buy your copy now and settle in to watch the drama unfold!

 

Genre: M/M Paranormal Shifter Contemporary

 

Buy Links:

Amazon  | B&N| iBooks| Kobo| Smashwords| 24Symbols| Indigo| Angus & Robertson| Mondadori

Wolf Around the Corner Excerpt:

 

The first thing he always did was take a large lungful of air. It reoriented him to the outside. His animal cataloged the smells—car exhaust, grass, tree pollen, and wait, a mouse skittering in the Dumpster out back. Frank’s urge to run built. He circled the apartments, looking for the storm drain near the landscaping wall. Inside him, his animal wiggled in excitement at the prospect of being freed. Frank shucked his clothes behind the wall and tucked them into the shelter of the pipe, out of view. Then he shifted, his hands lengthening, hair sprouting, and muzzle growing. His point of view shortened, now three feet from the ground as he blinked through the eyes of his wolflike animal. Frank couldn’t stand still any longer. He sprang into the woods.

 

Frank ran, crashing through the underbrush and into the darkening shelter of the trees. He leaped over a shrub, felt the give of a sapling as he plowed through the brushwood. The animals and birds quieted at his loud, headlong dash, knowing he wasn’t of the forest, only disguised and playing at being a creature of the wood.

 

His paws skidded on a pile of old leaves. Frank almost lost his balance as he skipped up and over a fallen log. Around him, the scents of the forest all pushed in on him. Here a whiff of mold, there an astringent sniff of decay, everywhere the menthol of evergreen sap and wild herbs growing scattered on the forest floor.

 

Dry twigs snapped beneath his paws. His tongue lolled from his mouth, the fresh taste of the woods painting the back of his throat. The sun dipped below the horizon, the sky inking the tops of the trees. And Frank ran on until his limbs stopped, shaky and trembling. He collapsed onto a blanket of pine needles and leaves, moss and fungi cradling him as he panted.

 

As he caught his breath, the sounds of the woods lapped back around him. Insects and birds first. A harsh caw from a crow shrieked a hundred yards to his right. The chirp of a cricket sawed a few feet away. The rat-a-tat of a woodpecker echoed above. And the still of twilight calmed him.

 

When he’d rested enough that his legs would support him again, Frank began the slow jog back to the apartments, letting his nose guide him through the darkening visibility of the woods. He could smell Mrs. Reynolds’s nighttime cocoa, and Mr. Reynolds’s liniment that stank of capsaicin. The lighted windows of the apartment building led him the last few feet, and he scurried up to the storm drain.

 

But his clothes weren’t there.

 

The sky darkened into night.

 

Frank knew Mrs. Anderson was out, but he could try to get the elderly Reynolds couple to buzz him inside. And hope they didn’t ask why he was naked trotting up the stairs.

 

Or he could stay in wolf form without a tag, which meant a night outside running from animal control and/or dodging every human that would mistake him for a stray dog.

 

Or wait, a third option. There was an oak that almost reached the ledge of his apartment window on the second floor. He never bothered to lock the window. Frank shifted back to human and sprinted across the yard.

 

He leaped for the lower boughs of the tree, grunting as the bark dug into the flesh of his palms. Frank swung himself up to straddle a branch, regretting it as the rough wood scraped his thighs. He crouched in the tree, awkwardly trying to shield his more delicate parts from the smaller whiplike twigs. He skirted around the trunk, grimacing as a low branch brushed a little too close to his groin. There. He was now on the side that faced the apartment house.

 

Frank balanced upright, his arms pinwheeling until he caught another branch higher up to steady himself. The leaves around him shivered on their stalks, the rustling loud. Please don’t let Mrs. Reynolds look out her window.

 

Using the taller branch as a guide, Frank placed one bare foot in front of the other and inched away from the security of the trunk. The limb beneath his feet shook as his weight tested its strength. He slid a foot farther out on the branch. It dipped, the leaves at the tip brushing against the side of his window. Just a few feet more.

 

An ominous crack sounded beneath him, and Frank froze. The branch popped again. It wouldn’t hold. He could make a jump for it. Frank swallowed hard. He should make a jump for it.

 

Frank jumped. And missed the house, falling into the azalea bushes.

 

Just as his hunky new neighbor from across the hall walked out of the apartment building and down the front steps.

 

Frank had seen Tom in the hall that morning, carrying boxes. Trying to be neighborly, Frank had introduced himself and offered to help. Tom had turned Frank down but flashed the whitest, most even teeth at him. Frank had seen nothing whiter outside of a movie theater big screen. They’d exchanged pleasantries, commented on the weather, and then gone their separate ways. Or rather, that was what Frank wished had happened. What went down was:

 

“Need help?” Frank barely got the words out when his new neighbor turned in the doorway. Frank froze. God, the man was gorgeous.

 

“Naw, man. I got it.” Tom shifted the box in his arms to hold out his hand. “I’m Tom Davidson.”

 

Frank wiped a clammy hand on his jeans and shook Tom’s hand. “Hot.” And Frank knew his mouth had disclosed the exact thing his brain was thinking. Idiot. Who said that to a guy he’d just met? A guy like Tom already knew he was hot.

 

Tom tilted his head as if he hadn’t heard Frank right. “Yeah. The temperatures are a little warm for this time of year.”

 

Frank didn’t dare correct him and kept his mouth shut, afraid he’d say something worse.

 

“Okay, well then, see you around, Frank.” Tom chuckled and continued into his apartment.

 

Meanwhile Frank beat it down the stairs, unsure how he managed not to walk into traffic as his mind ran over the exchange fail again and again.

 

So yeah. That was the less than stellar first impression he’d given Tom this morning. And now Frank followed that up by hunkering down naked in the azalea bushes.

 

“Are you okay?” The gleam from the safety light caught Tom’s dark gold hair as he tilted his head to peer over the shrubs. The shadows sank into his chiseled cheekbones. He looked like a brooding movie star ready to sweep a celluloid damsel off her feet.

 

Too bad Frank was a naked man trying to keep from exposing himself. Frank crouched down farther, making himself as small as possible, hoping the azalea’s pink blooms would distract Tom from looking at his hairy backside.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Are you sure?” Tom leaned closer. “Are you… Do you have any clothes on?”

 

Frank racked his brain for some reason he’d be naked and hiding in the bushes. “Um, I, uh, just got out of the shower, and I leaned too far out my window.”

 

“Oh my God. Did you fall from that height?” Tom glanced up to the second floor, to Frank’s closed window and then back down. “Do you need an ambulance?”

 

Frank sighed. This conversation was only getting worse. Cupping his hands over his privates, Frank rose from behind the bushes.

 

“I’m okay. Just need to get back inside. I have a hidden key if you can get me past the front security door.”

 

Tom’s eyes widened when Frank stood. Frank winced, sure he looked like one long scrape covered in leaves. He blew at the hair in his eyes. A twig dangled, caught in an auburn strand, but Frank was unwilling to expose himself to yank it out.

 

“Sure. Sure.” Tom fumbled for his key and opened the door. Frank half hopped over the acorns and chestnut burrs to slide past Tom. Tom wrinkled his nose as Frank passed. Good old wet dog smell. It always clung to him after a run in the woods.

 

Frank took the stairs two at a time to escape.

 

After a shower and shave—why did going furry always lead to needing a shave? The rest of his hair receded. Why didn’t his beard?—Frank spent thirty minutes in front of his bathroom mirror, trying to psych himself up to knock on Tom’s door and invite him over the next day for coffee or to watch football. He scratched behind an ear, feeling the healing scab from a graze he’d gotten when he’d fallen into the azalea bushes. Staring at his reflection, he tried to look earnest and approachable. He could do this. He had game.

 

“Hey, I know you don’t know many people in town, and I’m a loser, but would you like to spend time with me?” Frank made a face at himself. Probably shouldn’t label yourself as a loser.

 

“Yo, you want to watch football? No, how about basketball? Baseball? No? What about Mexican wrestlers?” Oh God, what if Tom doesn’t like sports?

 

“I ordered two large pizzas by mistake tonight, and I could use some help, or I’ll be gorging on pepperoni for a week.”

 

Lame. Frank’s own gaunt features stared back at him from the mirror. Who was he kidding? He’d always be the guy who lost the genetic lottery and ended up with the family curse.

 

Galen’s syndrome was rare, only affecting about one in 2,000, but well-known enough that most people had at least heard of it. The Greek surgeon Galen had coined the word lycanthropy to explain the shape-shifting curse that traveled down through a family tree. Like most recessive gene disorders, it only manifested when two genes were passed down to a child, leading early scholars to think the afflicted had been re-cursed or spared for a generation due to divine providence. It was only with modern medicine that curses were found to be attached to DNA, breaking and molding chromosomes like magical radiation. But despite better understanding of the disorder, the stigma remained, not helped by the occasional local television feature linking the disorder to werewolf mythology.

 

All Frank knew was the recessive curse gene made him even more different from his family. He’d already been pushing it when he came out as gay. Turning into a wolf at sixteen had been…well, more than his father and stepmother could handle. She wanted to protect the kids, she told him. He loved his half siblings, didn’t he? It wasn’t safe to have a wild animal around children.

 

It had gutted him. They turned him out of his own home. He’d been angry. He’d done something stupid, lashing out, snapping at his sister Robbie. It still hurt, remembering the tears on his baby sister’s face, her eyes wide and scared. Of him. It was then he knew his stepmother had been right. Dangerous animals didn’t belong in a family. So he’d left, traveling all the way across the state until he landed in Waycroft Falls. It had been hard that first year. There were a lot of adult things he still hadn’t figured out.

 

Like how to ask out a guy who he hadn’t known his whole life. Moving from one small town to another had been a bad idea. Frank bonked his head against the mirror, gazing down into the white porcelain sink. He rubbed at a stray hair that clung to the side.

 

But on the plus side, small towns meant he rarely needed a car. And he could shift and run if he needed. He should take his clothes with him

 

About Aidee:

Aidee Ladnier, an award-winning author of speculative fiction, believes that adventure is around every corner. In pursuit of new experiences she’s worked as a magician’s assistant, been a beauty pageant contestant, ridden in hot air balloons, produced independent movies, hiked up a volcano, and is a proud citizen scientist. A lover of genre fiction, Aidee’s perfect romance has a little science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or the paranormal thrown in to add a zing.

 

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The Romance Reviews

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