Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!


Thank you for your support over the past year (well, years now) -- it is a great pleasure to be able to share my stories with you. I hope you continue to find as much pleasure in reading them as I do in writing them. I know I'm not curing cancer or bringing about world peace, but if I provide a few hours entertainment and escape, I'm well satisfied.

 Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you much joy and happiness. I hope the coming year brings you health and happiness. 



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Coda 35


Don and Ricky-Joe from A Coal Miner’s Son

 

 

 

Ricky-Joe put down his guitar and made a couple of notes. The new song was coming along. Not easily, because a drop of his heart’s blood was in every word, but it was coming. And maybe someday Don would hear that song on the radio -- or more likely Spotify -- and remember…


I'd shorely hold up the ceiling of the darkest mine shaft for you
I’m caving in, you cave in too
Cuz diamonds come from coal, it’s true
I’m caving in, you cave in too


The meter was a little rough. Don had always said timing was Ricky-Joe’s problem. But it was no use thinking of Don now. Their second chance at love had gone up in flames with the fire that had destroyed the Bonsai orchard. Don would never forgive him and Ricky-Joe couldn’t blame him. Only a fool would leave his guitar in the bright sunlight where a cruel and random sunbeam might glance off those steel strings and spark a raging inferno. You only got so many chances in this bottomless mine pit of a world, and Ricky-Joe had wound up with the shaft. Again.

He wiped a tear away and made another notation on the chord chart.

The door to his motel room burst open and Don charged in. Ricky flew to his feet.

“Don!”

Don looked exhausted beneath the grime and coal dust. Actually, it was smudges from the smoke, because it had been a long time since Don had worked the mines. Thank Jiminy Cricket for that, but was it really an improvement if he had to go back to being a butcher’s apprentice and killing baby cows? Beneath the weariness in his sapphire eyes was a twinkle.

“Ricky-Joe.” Don held up something in his big, strong, workmanlike hand.

Ricky-Joe’s eyes popped at the vision of the small and twisted plant. “Donnie, is that what I think it is?”

Don nodded solemnly. “Yonder little fellow survived that conflagration that took out all his leafy kinfolk.”

“A baby bonsai,” breathed Ricky-Joe.

“Babe, I know you feel to blame for what occurred in the orchard yesterday. I know you must be planning to run away to Nashville again. But this little limb of greenery is the symbol of our love. A love that can withstand --”

 

“Something funny?” Jake asked.

“Hm? Oh.” I showed him the cover of the paperback. “I found it in the drawer of the bedside table.”

His dark brows rose. “A Coal Miner’s Son? I guess it makes a change from Bibles and phone books.”

“You ain’t just a-kidding.” I smiled at the green plaid flannel pajama bottoms he wore. We hadn’t had much time for jammies and such in our previous acquaintanceship. I kind of liked the, well, touch of domesticity official sleepwear brought to the festivities.

Jake crawled into bed beside me. His skin looked smooth and supple in the mellow lamplight, his face younger. He smelled of toothpaste and the aftershave he’d worn at dinner.

“I thought that meal would never end,” I said. “It felt like we were sitting there for years.”

“There did seem like a lot of courses. The food wasn’t as bad as I expected though.” Jake glanced at our hotel room clock. “Hey. It’s officially Christmas.”

“So it is. Happy Christmas.”

"Merry Christmas." He nodded at the book I held. “Were you, er, planning to read for much longer?”

I tossed the book to the side. It made a satisfying thunk as it hit the wall. “No,” I said, and reached for him. “I shorely wasn’t.”

   

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Coda 34


Jake Riordan from the Adrien English series (this coda takes place one year after The Hell You Say).

 



Baby, I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.

 

Yeah, once upon a time. Halle-fucking-lujah.

The first time he’d heard that song it had been in that very building. Cloak and Dagger Books. It had been around this time of year. Not quite this late in the season. The song was on a Christmas album that Adrien had played a lot. Rufus Wainwright. Jake had never heard of Rufus Wainwright before then. Never heard the song “Hallelujah.” Now it seemed to be on every time he turned on the radio.

What the hell did it even mean?
 



And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

 

Such a weird song. Such a weird time in his life.

It was all over now. Over and done. And he did not believe in wasting time on regrets over the things that could not be changed.

Should not be changed.

But here he sat in his car, watching the dark and silent building across the street.

Sometimes it seemed like a dream, those months. Ten months. Not even a year. How could the most important relationship of his life have been the briefest?

But that’s how it felt sometimes. And that’s what he would tell Adrien if he had the chance. If Adrien came home alone tonight, Jake would get out of his car, cross the street and try to tell him…something. It was Christmas Eve after all, and if there was ever a night for holding out an olive branch -- for asking for forgiveness -- this was the night.

That’s all he wanted.

That’s all he’d ever wanted those other nights he’d parked here. Waiting for the right moment. Trying to get the nerve up.




Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

 

You could refuse to take a phone call, but it was a lot harder to turn away from someone standing in front of you. Too hard for someone as soft-hearted as Adrien. No, Adrien wouldn’t turn him away. Not on Christmas Eve.

But he wasn’t coming back tonight.

It was past midnight now. The windows above the bookstore remained dark. The surrounding streets were silent and empty.

Adrien would be at the Dautens’. Or at Snowdon’s. He’d be with people who loved him. Which was where he belonged. It was where everyone belonged on Christmas Eve.

And Jake…had spent too long sitting here already. He could not afford to arouse suspicion. He did not want to have to lie. Okay, compound the lie. He turned the key in the ignition.

Still, engine idling, exhaust turning red in the taillights, he waited a few minutes  longer.

The stars above the city lights twinkled with cheerful indifference, blazing that cold and broken hallelujah.

 

 

 

 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent Calender - Day 22

Photo by Kovalevska licensed thru Shutterstock
"Mistletoe" by Walter de la Mare

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen - and kissed me there.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent Calendar Day 21 - EXCERPT

Today's final excerpt is from The Hell You Say, which is not necessarily what one thinks of as a Christmas romance. :-)  I mean...devil worshippers, for one thing. But still, the holidays are central to this story.

BLURB:
Adrien English isn't really a detective, he's a bookseller and
mystery writer who has a knack for attracting real life mischief and
mayhem -- much to the displeasure of his sexy, sometimes-boyfriend,
closeted homicide detective Jake Riordan.
When bookstore assistant Angus falls afoul of a Satanic cult, Adrien
falls afoul of Jake -- but despite the fact that his amateur
sleuthing is playing hell with his love life, Adrien can't help but
delving into this case of kooks, cults, devil worship, and human
sacrifice.




EXCERPT:
Bam! Bam! Bam!

I nearly dropped the can of salmon I was opening for my supper.

The shop was locked for the evening. That meant my visitor was probably one of two people -- and that didn’t sound like Velvet’s knock.

I set the can on the counter, wiped the fish oil off my hands. I opened the door. Sure enough, Jake stood there. Clearly this wasn’t a social call.

“What the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he said, brushing past me.

I was pretty sure he was not referring to the missing food groups in my evening repast. “Oh, come on,” I said. “Guy was just helping me --”

“Yeah, I know what that faggot Snowden is helping you with. What part of stay the fuck out of it don’t you understand?”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with your investigation,” I said angrily. Which was not true, although as far as I knew, Peter Verlane had not materialized on the cops’ radar so far, so technically I was not trespassing on Jake’s turf.

That’s what I told myself, but it didn’t fly as well with Jake.

“You’re not that stupid,” he said. “Then again, maybe you are. I go to the trouble of lying -- of falsifying police reports -- to keep you out of this shit, and you turn right around and walk back into it.”

My heart slipped into heavy, slow punches against my rib cage. “Give me a break,” I said. “You didn’t lie to protect me. You lied to protect yourself. You never asked me what I wanted. And I sure as hell never made you any promises about what I would or wouldn’t do.”

His finger jabbed the air, punctuating his words. “Stay. Out. Of. It. Or this time, bad heart or not, I will throw your ass in jail.”

“No, you won’t,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to risk anyone discovering the connection between us.”

His face changed, grew ugly, dangerous. “Are you threatening me?”

I hadn’t been, but like an ember in dry grass, a self-destructive impulse flicked to life in my mind.

“My existence threatens you.”

He shoved me back, hard. I crashed into the hall table, knocking it over, smashing the jar of old marbles I had collected. Glass balls skipped and bounced along the corridor. I landed on my back, my head banging down on the hardwood floor.

I lay there for a second, blinking up at the lighting fixture, taking in the years of dust and dead moths gathered in the etched-glass globe. The silence that followed was more startling than the collision of me and the table and the floor. I heard Jake’s harsh breathing and a marble rolling away down the hall -- which seemed pretty damned appropriate, since I’d apparently lost all of mine.

He bent over me. Probably safer to stay submissively on my back, but I got up fast, knocking his hands away. It was a protective instinct and maybe not a wise one. I hadn’t had time to inventory what, if any real damage, I’d sustained.

Weirdly, neither of us spoke. There was plenty to say, but no words.

Jake stared at me. In his eyes, I read the urge to knock me down again, to punch, to kick, to silence, to destroy. His hands were clenched by his side. I felt light-headed with anger and outrage -- and yeah, maybe a little fear. He could probably kill me by accident. My heart was tripping in my throat.

I was afraid if I tried to speak I would cry. From rage.

He swallowed once, dryly. He looked sick.

“I won’t tell you again. Stay out of it.”

He went, shutting the door quietly behind him
 
 
 
****
Ah...those holiday memories! Jake and Adrien have a Christmas coda right here.

Today's giveaway is the full set of Adrien English audio books to one lucky listener/commenter. You can also gift this set to someone else.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Calender - Day 20

Today is something simple. A poem and a couple of pictures. The poem is "In Excelsis"  by Amy Lowell. We have been focused on Christmas romance over the past few days and somehow this spoke to me. The photos are by Kati Molin and Morgan Studio (licensed thru Shutterstock).



You -- you --
Your shadow is sunlight on a plate of silver;
Your footsteps, the seeding-place of lilies;
Your hands moving, a chime of bells across a windless air.
The movement of your hands is the long, golden running of light from a rising sun;
It is the hopping of birds upon a garden-path.
As the perfume of jonquils, you come forth in the morning.
Young horses are not more sudden than your thoughts,
Your words are bees about a pear-tree,
Your fancies are the gold-and-black striped wasps buzzing among red apples.
I drink your lips,
I eat the whiteness of your hands and feet.
My mouth is open,
As a new jar I am empty and open.
Like white water are you who fill the cup of my mouth,
Like a brook of water thronged with lilies.
You are frozen as the clouds,
You are far and sweet as the high clouds.
I dare to reach to you,
I dare to touch the rim of your brightness.
I leap beyond the winds,
I cry and shout,
For my throat is keen as is a sword
Sharpened on a hone of ivory.
My throat sings the joy of my eyes,
The rushing gladness of my love.
How has the rainbow fallen upon my heart?
How have I snared the seas to lie in my fingers
And caught the sky to be a cover for my head? How have you come to dwell with me,
Compassing me with the four circles of your mystic lightness,
So that I say "Glory! Glory!" and bow before you
As to a shrine?
Do I tease myself that morning is morning and a day after?
Do I think the air is a condescension,
The earth a politeness,
Heaven a boon deserving thanks?
So you -- air -- earth -- heaven --
I do not thank you,
I take you,
I live.
And those things which I say in consequence
Are rubies mortised in a gate of stone.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 19 EXCERPT


From LONE STAR, part of the Men Under the Mistletoe holiday anthology.

Blurb:

Growing up in rural Texas, Mitchell Evans's ambition to be a dancer made him a target. Though he found success in New York City, Mitch is at a crossroads, and heads home for the first time in twelve years to figure things out. When what appears to be a reindeer jumps out in front of his car, he drives off the road and into the path of the one man he hoped to avoid.

The last person Texas Ranger Web Eisley expects to see four days before Christmas is his first love. He hasn't seen Mitch since they quarreled over coming out to their friends and family years ago. Though he's not in the closet now, Web has worked hard for the respect of his fellow officers, but he still regrets the loss of Mitch in his life. And his bed.

The attraction between them is as strong as ever, and it doesn't take long for the men to pick up where they left off. But is love enough to keep Mitch in town in the New Year?



 EXCERPT:

A lone star blazed in the midnight blue sky.

It looked like the Christmas star, which was appropriate seeing that it was four days till the holiday, but with Mitch’s luck it was more likely a crashing jet plane headed straight for him.

Incoming.

Yeah, that would be about right. On the bright side it would spare him driving any more miles down this long, dull stretch of memory lane. Texas looked only minimally better at night than it did in the day. Nothing but rugged, ragged landscape. Igneous hills of limestone and red rock as far as the eye could see—which wasn’t far, given the darkness beyond the sweep of the rental car headlights.

Mitch rubbed his bleary eyes. This was more driving than he’d done in years. He didn’t even own a car anymore. New York had decent public transportation and when Mitch wasn’t working he was—well, he was always working, so problem solved.

Prickly pear, yucca, and juniper bushes cast tortured shadows across the faded ribbon of highway. A mighty lonesome stretch of country, as they’d say out here. Cemeteries were more plentiful than towns. He wasn’t entirely alone though. Outside of Fredericksburg a pair of headlights had fallen in behind him and they continued to meander lazily along a few miles back. Some cowboy moseying on home, though not in any hurry to get there.

That made two of them.

It was six months since Mitch had got the word his old man had keeled over and he’d have happily waited another six months—or six years—before dealing with what his father’s lawyer euphemistically called “the estate.” But after the blowup with Innis, Mitch had desperately needed time and space. And one thing Texas had in plenty was space.

Speaking of space, the star twinkling and beaming up ahead could have fallen right out of the state flag. It was the biggest star in a night field of stars. A beacon burning in the night. Mitch blinked tiredly at it. He hadn’t slept on the plane, hadn’t slept in nearly forty-eight hours. Not since he’d walked into his dressing room to catch Innis with his pants down. Not a euphemism, unfortunately. Innis’s excuse —


Up ahead Mitch caught movement in the middle of the road. Headlights picked out the gleam of eyes. A deer. A very large deer with a huge rack of antlers. An eighteen point—no, not a deer. Mitch’s eyes widened. A caribou. In Texas?

What the hell?

A caribou…in Texas…wearing a red leather harness with bells?

A reindeer?

He was asleep. He had fallen asleep driving.

Mitch wrenched the wheel. The tires skidded off the road onto the rocky shoulder. He tried to correct but over-steered. Instinctively, he slammed on the brakes, the car spun out. It did a wild fouetté across the highway, tipped over the side, and rolled once. The airbag exploded from the dashboard. The car landed upside down in the sand and gravel beneath the embankment.

Dust and powder from the airbag filled the interior. The engine died as the car rocked finally to a stop. The passenger door had flown open. Mitch could smell oil and antifreeze and cornstarch and singed juniper. The airbag hissed as it deflated. Or maybe that was the radiator leaking. Or the sound of four tires simultaneously going flat.

“What was that?” He wiped the airbag talc residue from his face. His eyes and skin stung.

It had happened so fast. So fast there hadn’t even been time to be afraid. And at the same time it had seemed to occur in slow motion. Like watching a film or seeing it happen to someone else. Really weird. Maybe that out-of-body sensation was shock.

In movies, of course, flipped cars promptly burst into flames. That didn’t seem to be happening here, which was good news. He took quick stock.

Neck and shoulders felt wrenched. No surprise. The web of seatbelts was cutting into his chest and hips. Other than that, he seemed to be unhurt. Shaken, bruised, but nothing serious. He could safely move without risking further injury; and probably the sooner, the better.

Reaching around, Mitch fumbled with the clip, and unlatched his seatbelt. He wriggled free of the shoulder strap, landing awkwardly on the ceiling interior. He crawled under the gear box and beneath the passenger side, scrambling out the door.

The dry, cold desert air was a jolt. Mitch drew in a deep lungful and it tasted as sweet, as fresh as his first ever breath. He was alive. Maybe his luck wasn’t as bad as he’d been thinking.

Climbing to his feet, he stumbled up the embankment to the highway. He was relieved to see the vehicle that had been tagging along behind him for the last thirty miles pulling to the shoulder, tires crunching gravel. Mitch waited in the glare of the headlights.

The door of the large white SUV swung open and Mitch glimpsed official insignia. Public Works? Parks and Wildlife? Highway Patrol?

But no, the man coming toward him wore a cowboy hat and a leather coat with a sheepskin collar. The headlights illumined his tall, rangy silhouette; it was too dark to see his features. He moved well, though. He moved like a cowboy—a real cowboy, not the movie kind—a long, easy stride with the little swing to it.

“Howdy, friend.” The cowboy had a deep, unhurried voice shaded by that familiar homegrown accent. “You need an ambulance?”

“I’m okay. I think my car’s a goner, though. Did you see what happened?” Mitch hugged his arms to try and stop his shaking. The temperature couldn’t be much above the low thirties and his jacket was somewhere in the wreck below.

“I saw you swerve and then lose control.” The cowboy was already sidestepping down the embankment to get to the crashed sports car. “Was there anyone else in the vehicle with you, sir?”

Not Water and Power, by the look of it. But not regular police. Even in Texas the regular police didn’t swagger around in jeans and boots and cowboy hats. Mitch might have forgotten one or two things about the Lone Star State, but not that much. Unless he was very much mistaken, it looked like he’d snagged the attention of a real life Texas Ranger.

“No. No one. I’m by myself.”

The cowboy wasn’t taking his word for it. He reached the flipped car and knelt, checking the interior. He rose and went around to the other side. Mitch lost sight of him for a moment or two. When the cowboy returned to view he had the rental car keys.

He scaled the ascent in a couple of long strides and returned to his own vehicle. The dome light flashed on and Mitch could see him speaking over the radio. He hugged himself tighter, waiting. He should have known what a mistake this trip would be.

When the cowboy had finished his report he ducked out of the cab and started back toward Mitch. “You have your license with you, sir?”

“Yes.” Mitch added – because he felt he had to say something and the cowboy didn’t seem to be the chatty type, “Did you see the deer?”

“The deer? Is that the story? You were avoidin’ a deer?”

The story? Mitch glanced at the empty road. “ That’s what happened. I saw the deer and swerved. I…It must be someone’s pet. It was a wearing a—a—”

 “A what?”

Mitch wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. He hedged, “A collar, I think.”

“A collar?” The cowboy repeated politely as he reached Mitch. Mitch was six feet, tall for the average dancer, but the cowboy was taller by a few inches. It was a very long time since Mitch had needed to look up at someone to speak to them.

“Er, yeah.” He wished he could read the other man’s face.

 “You thought you saw a deer in a collar? What kind of collar would that be, sir? A rhinestone collar? A fur collar?”

Great. Maybe you couldn’t always find a cop when you needed one, but there was never a shortage of assholes. “There’s a deer farm around here, right? There used to be. It could have escaped from there. It was wearing one of those—”

“Collars.”

“No. Actually, it was a harness. For pulling a…” Self-preservation kicked in. “Something.”

“A somethin’?” Mitch could see the gleam of the cowboy’s eyes. He had a suspicion he was going to be providing belly laughs around the old bunkhouse that night. The cowboy’s tone was still perfectly polite. “I see. Did y’all maybe have a drink or two this evenin’, sir?”

“Of course not. I don’t drink.” Although maybe he’d make an exception tonight.

“Uh huh. You were takin’ this stretch of highway at a mighty fast clip.”

“I…I guess so. I was in a hurry to get where I was going.”

“And whereabouts is that, sir?”

“The old Evans place off Highway 16.”

In the silence that followed his words, Mitch could hear the ever-present wind whispering over the sand like some ghostly oracle. The cowboy went so still he seemed to stop breathing.

“Mitch?” he said at last in a flat voice. “Mitch Evans?”

Mitch stared back into that faceless shadow.

It couldn’t be.

It was.

The muscles in his neck and shoulders locked so tight he wasn’t sure he could move his mouth, let alone his head. Any time he had envisioned this encounter, it hadn’t gone like this. As a matter of fact, it had gone with him managing to avoid the encounter.

How had he failed to instantly recognize—? But in twelve years a boy’s voice deepened considerably and a boy’s light frame filled out and even the way he held himself changed. Mitch found his own voice. “That’s right. Web Eisley, is it?”

“I’m flattered you recollect.” Web didn’t sound flattered. Mitch couldn’t blame him for that. The last words they’d spoken to each other had not been kind ones. But that was twelve years ago and grown men didn’t hold grudges. Or if they did, they tried not to show it.

“I remember.” His voice sounded as toneless as Web’s. He made an effort to sound more personable seeing that he was standing at the scene of an accident with a Texas Ranger who he’d once called a “fucking gutless coward.” Among other things. “Well. It’s been a while.”


* * * *

Christmas coda here.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Coda 33


Ryo and Kai from Blood Red Butterfly

 

 

Ryo had probably had worse Christmases. He couldn’t remember one though.

First, he had to work. That was a drag, but he was new man on the totem pole at Barton and Ross Investigations, so fair enough. He was the guy pulling stakeout duty on Christmas morning. Somebody had to be. Too bad because it was his and Kai’s first holiday as a couple, but he could wait a few hours to see what goodies Santa brought him. Except what Santa had brought seemed to be strife and unhappiness.

Ryo shifted position behind the wheel of the sedan. His butt ached from sitting for hours. Though not as much as his heart ached.

You were supposed to be honest with the people you loved, right? You didn’t tell them lies to keep the peace or make life easier on yourself. So when Kai had started in about how Laurel and Ojiisan were forcing Kenji to spend Christmas with them, Ryo had intervened.

“Dude, you have to think about what’s best for Kenji,” he had said.

“I am thinking of that!” Kai had snarled. He was pacing up and down the living room floor, past the towering Christmas tree piled with gifts and toys for his little son. “It’s our first Christmas together.”

“Yeah, so you’ve said about a dozen times now. But if Kenji wants to be with his mother and Oji--”

Laurel’s lying!”

“Dude.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s my turn. I’ve waited and waited for this.” Kai’s fox-brown eyes glittered dangerously in his pale, furious face.

No wonder the kid was scared of him.

But Ryo did not say that. There were some truths you could not ever share. Instead he said, “Look, what do a few hours matter? He’ll be here the day after Christmas, right? He’ll love it. He gets two Christmases for the price of one.”

“It’s not the same! This was our first Christmas. You’re not going to be here. Now Kenji’s not going to be here.” Kai whirled away again and started another lap of the festively decorated room. 

He’d gone all out. It looked -- and smelled -- like Santa’s Village in there. Garland and candles and a couple of life-sized reindeer statues. Whatever. If it made him happy, it made Ryo happy.

But then disaster. Laurel had called to say Kenji now wanted to spend Christmas day at home. He was worried that Santa might not find him at his father’s or some such excuse. The thing was, Kenji didn’t really need an excuse. Not in Ryo’s opinion. If he was happier waking up Christmas morning in his own bed, well, he was the little kid after all. Kai was just going to have to swallow his disappointment.



But he had not swallowed his disappointment. He had been ranting and raving for nearly an hour when Ryo had made the mistake of trying to reason with him.

In Ryo’s opinion, not only was it not fair to blame Laurel and Ojiisan for this change in plans, it wasn’t healthy. Yes, it was Kai’s turn to have Kenji spend Christmas -- more than his turn -- and yes, Kenji would have had a great time. He usually ended up having a great time, even if he always arrived shy and uncertain and a little reluctant. But that was beside the point. The kid didn’t want to be there. And that wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Or even if it was partly the fault of Laurel and Ojiisan for those years of keeping Kai from his son and creating this unnatural tension…there wasn’t any point dwelling on what couldn’t be changed. Right?

“It seems to me like you’re more concerned with what you want than what Kenji wants,” Ryo said.

Kai had gone perfectly silent and perfectly still. When he turned, his face was bone white and his eyes were red and glowing. Okay, not literally red and glowing, but if Kai had been drawing himself for a manga -- Blood Red Christmas -- his eyes would surely have been red and glowing.

“What?”

Ryo said, “All I’m hearing is how disappointed you are. You’re not five years old, Kai. So next year, maybe he’ll be ready to spend Christmas Eve over here. And in the meantime you’ll have the day aft--”

“Get out!” Kai had yelled. “Get the fuck out of my house.”

Gee, it was practically like old times.

Except… “It’s my house too,” Ryo had pointed out. Loudly. “So you get out.”

“Fine! I’m going.”

And he had. Stopping only to grab his car keys, he had flung out of the house and driven away into the rainy gray afternoon. Without so much as a jacket.

“Good!” Ryo had yelled as the front door slammed shut.

Peace and quiet at last.

Ryo got a beer out of the fridge and made himself a sandwich. Maybe after lunch, he’d have a nap. He would be working all night and it would be wise to take advantage of this lull in the storm. But he couldn’t sleep. Every time he glanced at that giant Christmas tree sparkling and alight, the embodiment of all Kai’s anticipation and hopes over these past weeks, his heart felt heavy.

He hated Kai being so hurt and disappointed, and maybe that was one reason he hadn’t been patient enough. He couldn’t fix this and so he wanted it not to matter so much to Kai. He wanted him to be reasonable and wise. But Kai was not reasonable and wise. Well, sometimes. But he was also headstrong and impulsive and emotional.

Kai did not call and he was not home by the time Ryo had to leave for work.

Ryo didn’t think he was in the wrong, but he did think he could have handled things better. Anyway, he hated quarreling with Kai, and quarreling during the holidays added a special level of awfulness to it. So he scrawled SORRY xoxo on a post-it-note and left it stuck the fridge door.


 

Rain drops hit the windshield. A gray Toyota splashed past Ryo and parked half a block up. The taillights went out.

That would be Ellison, Ryo’s relief. He checked his watch. Nine thirty. Shift over. And not a peep out of his phone all night. He checked his messages to be sure. But no. Nothing. Not a word from Kai.

He started the engine. He could always drop by his mom’s and spend Christmas morning there. If Kai wasn’t home…well, that was going to be pretty damned depressing. Or if Kai was there but still wanting to fight, that would be worse.

 For a few moments he sat watching the rain, car engine idling, then he drove home.

* * * *

Kai’s car was in the garage, so Ryo knew he was back. That was a relief. More of a relief than he wanted to admit, in fact.

The house was so quiet, he thought Kai must still be sleeping. And that could either be a good sign or a bad sign. There were no lights on, no music. The Christmas tree was a dark form in the gloom.

Ryo tiptoed through, heading for the bedroom, stopping only to plug in the Christmas tree lights. In the sudden dazzle of blue and red and green and gold he was startled to spot Kai huddled on the sofa. Kai looked straight at him. His eyes were dark in his haggard face. He said nothing.

“What is it?” Ryo went over to him, sitting down on the sofa, pulling Kai to him. He was thinking death and disaster at the least. Their earlier quarrel was forgotten.

Kai shook his head, but he leaned into Ryo. He was not crying, but there was something so sad, so heartbroken in his silence, that tears would have been a relief.

“Tell me,” Ryo said softly.

Kai moved his head in negation again, but he said into Ryo’s chest, “If you’re not on my side, then I have no one.”

“I’m always on your side. Always. You don’t want me to lie to you, do you?”

He felt Kai swallow. Kai said in that same smothered voice, “I don’t know. No. Only sometimes.”
Ryo smiled faintly.
Kai said, "I do want what's best for Kenji. But if I don't push this -- he's my son. He doesn't know me. I don't know him."
"I know. But you can't force it." Ryo kissed the top of Kai’s head. He smelled like he had been out in the rain for a long time. He felt chilled. His own Ice Princess. But now he knew the ice was a thin and too fragile shell. “I am always on your side. I guess the truth is, I can’t stand it when anyone hurts you. I didn’t want it to matter so much to you because there isn’t anything I can do about this situation.”

“I don’t need you to do anything except…"
"Except what?"
"Be the one I matter to.”

Ryo’s heart squeezed. “Kai-chan. You do matter. You matter more than anyone or anything.”

And that was the truth. Ryo wasn’t even asking for it to be true in reverse. Because if that wasn’t what love was about -- putting someone else first -- what was it?
He held Kai quietly, safely in the soft, prism of many-colored lights, and it was enough.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Calendar Day 17

Today's Advent Calendar is another photo that I hope will inspire you to write something of your own. It can be a jokey try or a serious try. That's up to you. You can use my characters (GULP) or your characters. Whatever inspires you is fine by me on this rainy December morning.
 
On offer is the "winner's" choice of audio, print or ebook from my backlist. But the real giveaway is simply the pleasure and satisfaction of taking a few moments to do something creative during this hurried, harried time of year.

So here we go again, Write a paragraph or so about what you imagine is in that box. Who is giving? Who is receiving ....?




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 16

I'm working on another couple of codas, but I decided I probably needed a couple of health and welfare days where I did not put my creative brain to use. So today's calendar is again looking at Christmases past. Only instead of childhood, I'm thinking of adolescence.

How did Chrismtas change once you were in your teens?

When you're a small child, it's all so simple. People know exactly what to get you, and you are in the delightfully uncomplicated situation of not needing to reciprocate. Ever. At all. It is enough to merely show your delight. Even showing disappointment is still acceptable in very small child cases. And of course most of us still believed in every holiday-related fantasy. Not only believed, were untroubled by thoughts of unlicensed flying reindeer, small foreign peoples forced to work in a sweatshop with only gumdrops for payment, and strange bearded men observing us while we were sleeping and waking. We were immune to calories and indifferent to alcohol.

Even from a religious standpoint, well, it's all about Baby Jesus. The promise and not the pain.
But then came adolescence.

In adolescence we know some hard truths. Starting with the Fat Man. And what is worse, if you're a kid of my generation, were the advertisements that began to skew our expectations and understanding of what Christmas should and could be. We began to compare our holidays with those of friends. We began to measure our real life against the life on TV and the movies. We began to want and wish for things that Santa could not deliver: friendship, popularity, romance...etc.

Maybe our family didn't celebrate Christmas.

Heck, sometimes we had to WORK on Christmas.

We began to reject traditions and it was still a bit too soon to have anything to replace them with.

Or was it?

What was Christmas like in your teens? Were the holidays full of teenaged angst? Or were they still merry and bright? Share a holiday memory or two.

Today's randomly selected commenter wins their choice of story or collection from my audio backlist. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Calendar - Day 15 - EXCERPT

Today we have an excerpt from one of my personal favorites, Snowball in Hell. I'm not sure if it really qualifies as a "holiday" story, but the holidays are certainly an important part of the novella. Anyway, here's a bit of bittersweet vintage mystery from the 1940s.


BLURB:

It's Christmas 1943 and the world is at war. Journalist Nathan Doyle has just returned home from North Africa--still recovering from wounds received in the Western Desert Campaign--when he's asked to cover the murder of a society blackmailer.

Lt. Matthew Spain of the LAPD homicide squad hates the holidays since the death of his beloved wife a few months earlier, and this year isn’t looking much cheerier what with the threat of attack by the Japanese and a high-profile homicide investigation. Matt likes Nathan; maybe too much.

If only he didn’t suspect that Nathan had every reason to commit murder.

EXCERPT:


Spain proffered a pack of Camels. Nathan took one, and Spain leaned forward to light it for him. Spain’s hands were large and well-shaped. His lashes made dark crescents against his cheekbones. As though he felt Nathan’s stare, he raised his eyes -- and Nathan couldn’t look away.

He stared into Mathew Spain’s long-lashed hazel eyes, and he realized with sudden terrible clarity that Spain knew all about him. Knew exactly what he was. Knew it as surely as though Nathan’s ugly history were an open file on his Spain’s tidy desk. In fact…Nathan glanced at Spain’s desktop as though somehow the explanation could be found there, because how did Spain know? How? Had it become that obvious? Like a scarlet letter branded into his skin -- or the mark of Cain?

Hot blood flushed Nathan’s face, and just as quickly drained away, leaving him feeling light-headed. He drew back, drawing sharply on his cigarette. He sat very straight.

Spain flicked his lighter closed, put it away. He seemed to be in no hurry.

“Why am I here?” Nathan asked, blowing out a stream of blue smoke. His voice was just about steady.

Spain watched him, eyes very direct between his straight, black eyebrows.

“Why didn’t you mention you were with the Arlen kid on Saturday night?”

“I wasn’t with him,” Nathan said. “I ran into him at the Las Palmas Club. We had a drink together.” He shrugged.

Spain leaned back in his swivel chair and rubbed his chin. “Listen, Sir Galahad, it might interest you to know that the lady in question didn’t mind throwing you to the wolves. She said it looked to her like you were pretty angry with Philip yourself. Like you were mad enough to kill.”

“She doesn’t know me very well.” Nathan studied the ashes on his cigarette.

“Did she threaten to kill her husband and Pearl Jarvis?”

“She might have.” Nathan smiled wryly. “I wasn’t listening that carefully to tell you the truth.”

“Why’s that?”

 Nathan said slowly, “I went there for a few drinks and some laughs, but after I got there…I realized that really wasn’t what I needed.”

“What did you need?” Spain asked -- and Nathan, for the life of him, couldn’t think of how to answer.

Neither of them spoke. Neither of them looked away.


* * **

Christmas coda here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Calendar Day 14

Today we're sharing holiday cocktails. Post the recipe to your favorite holiday cocktail below and I'll randomly select three commenters to receive your choice of an audio book download code.


Actually one of my very favorite holiday drinks is just hot cocoa with a dollop of whipped cream and a splash of peppermint schnapps. But if you want to get fancy...


Espresso Martini Recipe

Ingredients
1 1/2 ounces vodka
3/4 ounce Kahlua coffee liqueur
1/4 ounce white crème de cacao
1 ounce cold espresso

Preparation
1.Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.
2. Shake well.
3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Coda 32


Carey and Walter from Slings and Arrows

 

 

“Everything is not a joke,” Walter said.

Which was a clue to how tense he was about the upcoming Christmas dinner with his father and his father’s new wife. Walter usually liked Carey’s sense of humor.

“I don’t think everything is a joke,” Carey said, surprised.

“Of course you do.” That was so unfair it almost seemed like Walter was trying to pick a fight. Which really was out of character.

Carey didn’t enjoy confrontation and he sure as hell didn’t want to fight with Walter, so he was quiet. Walter turned away and walked to the frost-edged window of the apartment, staring bleakly out at the night. In the raw silence, Carey could hear the departing wail of distant train.

“Maybe you shouldn’t go,” Walter said finally.

“Go?”

“Come. To Christmas,” Walter said tersely. He turned to face Carey, his gold-rimmed spectacles glinting blankly, his expression withdrawn.

It was unexpected and painful. So painful that it took Carey a moment to say, “Look, Walt. I…know how to act in public. I’m not going to chew with my mouth open or talk about what we do in bed.”

Walter’s expression went tighter, closed like a fist.

“I don’t…understand,” Carey said at last.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Walter said with the same cold preciseness he used to use back when he’d been Dr. Bing’s teaching assistant rebuffing all slackers and goof-offs. “I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to come with me. You can go to your parents, correct? They’ll be happy to have you stay for a few days. We both know you’ll have a better time there.”

Carey swallowed. He was afraid the sound was audible. But Walter’s expression did not change. He was not going to relent. He did not want Carey to go with him. It was that simple. Simple as an arrow through the heart.

Carey said stiffly, “In that case, maybe I should just leave tonight.” He couldn’t imagine lying next to Walter in that perfectly appointed bedroom with all this between them. Hurt. Anger. Bewilderment.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Walter said.

* * * * *

Was it over?

Carey wasn’t sure.

They had been together for a little under a year. Walter loved him. He loved Walter. There was no question of that. There was no question that they were happy together. But Walter could be odd. Odd and hurtful. And Carey wasn’t sure that love was enough.

Four months ago Walter’s father had abruptly remarried. Walter had attended the small, private civil service without Carey. It had sort of bothered Carey, but he had understood. There was no love lost between Walter and his father.

“Believe me, you don’t want to go,” Walter had told him at the time.

“I want to go if you want me there.”

“I don’t want you there,” Walter had said.

That was Walter at his most bluntly honest, but Carey had forbore to take offense. The little Walter had shared about his childhood had been alarming to someone who had grown up in a big, noisy, affectionate clan like Carey’s. No wonder Walter had a few, well, intimacy issues.

When Walter had returned, he had said the wedding went smoothly and that he thought his new stepmother would suit his father. Carey had not pressed for more information. He was not sure he wanted to know.

But this was Christmas. Their first Christmas together. This mattered to Carey. Not least because they had both been invited to spend it at Walter’s family estate. And they had accepted. Together. As a couple.

Otherwise they could have spent it at Carey’s family -- where they would always be welcome with or without formal invitation -- together and as a couple.

Instead they would be celebrating Christmas apart. And Carey wasn’t completely sure if they still were a couple or not. Was Walter ashamed of him? Did Walter really think Carey would make inappropriate jokes or use the wrong fork or…

Or was it something else?

Something even worse?

Who knew with Walter?

This time Carey didn’t feel like being understanding or patient. It took him less than fifteen minutes to pack his suitcase (later he discovered he’d forgotten his toothbrush) and headed straight for the front door.

Walter was still staring out the window at the black and starless night. He didn’t turn around and he didn’t say anything to stop Carey.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” Carey said bitterly. He regretted that crack later, but at least he refrained from slamming the door.

* * * * *

Christmas day passed without a word from Walter.

Carey had told himself he wasn’t expecting to hear from him, but the letdown was something akin to discovering Santa had skipped your zip code. His family showed unusual discretion and tactfully didn’t ask.

It was a nice Christmas. It was a Christmas like all the Christmases that had come before it. And probably all the Christmases that would come after. The thing that would have made it different, remarkable, memorable was Walter.

“Maybe next year,” his sister Susan said, and Carey smiled noncommittally.

He stayed over the weekend. Walter wasn’t flying back until Monday anyway, so there was no reason to hurry home.

On Monday Carey debated staying over another night, but it was starting to feel like he was hiding out. If he didn’t go home, he needed a reason, and that reason would have to be there was something seriously wrong between him and Walter.

If he went home now, they could pretend it had just been an ordinary, run-of-the-mill argument. Carey wasn’t sure he was ready to face it being more than that. Once he’d stopped being so angry, he’d started missing Walter. He still loved Walter. Doubts about the future didn’t change that.

But sooner or later they were going to have to face it. Whatever it was.

* * * * *

The minute Carey unlocked the front door, he knew Walt was home.

The apartment was silent, but the silence had a living, breathing quality. Relieved, Cary pushed open the door and walked inside.

There was a neat tower of expensively wrapped red and green parcels on the chrome and glass coffee table. His own gift to Walt, a plum-colored cashmere pullover, hung over the arm of the sofa. All other signs of Christmas had been cleared away. Walt was in the kitchen making a grilled cheese sandwich.

He looked up at Carey’s entrance. “How was your family?” he asked.

“Fine,” Carey said. “How was yours?”

“Fine.” Walter was unsmiling and serious. But that was usual for Walt.

“Did you have a nice Christmas?” Carey asked.

“It was all right,” Walter said politely. “How was yours?”

Carey opened his mouth. But he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t play the game, couldn’t be a part of this. He wasn’t built like Walter. His former relief that everything could go back to normal vanished -- because this was not normal.

“I missed you,” he said. “But I guess I better get used to that.”

Walter’s pale, bony face reddened. “Carey --”

Carey waited but Walter didn’t go on.

Carey let out a long weary sigh. He hadn’t realized how tired he was. It was the effort of holding back all that sadness and worry. But there was no holding it back now. “That’s what I thought,” he said.

“What did you think?” Walter turned off the stove and came across the kitchen to Carey, but Carey put a hand up to stop him. Walter did stop. He looked stricken.

“Carey,” he said in a very different voice.

“I don’t know any way to explain it that I’m not going to sound childish or petty,” Carey said. “But this isn’t about where we spend the holiday. Or how we celebrate, except that holidays are for spending with the people we love.”

“Next year we’ll spend it with your family,” Walter said quickly.

“No. I don’t think we will because…” Carey swallowed but made himself go on. “I’m not sure we’ll be together next year. I don’t think we will be.”

Walter put a hand out to grip the back of one of the kitchen table chairs--as if Carey had punched him. No, more like as if Carey had delivered some mortal blow. “Of course we’re going to be together,” Walter said. He sounded almost frightened. “I love you and I know you love me.”

“I do,” Carey admitted. “But I just spent the five most unhappy days of my entire life. And I don’t even know why.”

“Why what?”

“Why it had to be that way. You shut me out -- and not the first time -- and there’s no debate, no discussion. It’s just the way it is. And then when you decide to open the door again, everything goes back to the way it was. Except now I’ll be waiting for the next time the door slams.”

“It’s not like that,” Walter said. “If I’m…if I’m closing doors, it’s to protect you.”

“Give me a break, Walt,” Carey said, surprised to find himself getting angry.

“It’s true.”

Carey shook his head and turned away. Walter caught his arm. “Wait.”

Carey stared at Walter, seeing the jump of his adam’s apple jump, the little nerve pulsing in his cheek. He seemed unaware his fingers were digging into Carey’s forearm. Walter kept himself in tight check all the time. Only with Carey did he ever let his guard down.

“I love you and I don’t want to lose you,” Walter whispered.

It killed him to hurt Walter. “I love you too, but we’re already losing each other if we can’t be honest.”

“Wait. Listen to me,” Walter said. “Just…listen.”

Walter didn’t go on, but Carey listened anyway. And he did feel like there was some kind of plea in Walter’s struggling silence.

“Walt,” he said helplessly. “Talk to me.”

“I don’t want you to see me like they do,” Walter burst out. “I don’t know why you love me, but you do. And I don’t want you to stop. I know it’s not logical. It’s not rational. But I don’t want you to change toward me.”

Relief washed through Carey. This was one explanation that had not occurred. Maybe it should have, knowing even the little he did about Walter’s childhood. He was still a little angry, but now it was on Walter’s behalf. “I’m not going to change.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Of course I do.”

Walter shook his head. “Sometimes, even now, it’s a struggle for me not to see myself like they do.”

“You have to have some faith in me.”

“I do. This is about not having faith in myself.”

Carey said carefully, “But it’s also about not having faith in me and what I feel for you. I don’t want a stack of expensive presents. I want you. All of you. The good and the bad. The real you. Isn’t that how you want me?”

Walter said instantly, “Of course.”

“Buying a bunch of presents is like something your dad would do.”

Walter looked startled and then dismayed. “It wasn’t like that. I just want you to feel appreciated.”

Carey started to smile. Relief and happiness were filling that hollow ache he’d had for the past five days.

Watching him, Walter smiled tentatively in response. He drew Carey toward him, and this time Carey yielded. 

He said softly, “Okay, well as far as making me feel appreciated, I’ve got a couple of ideas…”