The eleventh giveaway post of the year! Crazy how fast this year has gone by. I don’t know about you, but I still feel like I’m in some kind of alternative reality. I live with a constant sense of doom. I’m not saying I’m unhappy, I’m not, but I feel like there is a constant threat to life as we know it. I doubt they felt that way in the 50s. But enough soul searching and onto the giveaway!
We have four stories this month – The Maddest of Men, Honey Baked, Eight Feet of Magic, and Turning Wood.
How does it work?
I figured we do an easy comment below thing this month. Tell me what you’re looking forward to the most with the holiday season. I’ll pick a random winner from the comments on the 8th.
All but The Maddest of Men are holiday stories. The Maddest of Men is a post-apocalyptic-people-with-special-skills kind of story.
Honey Baked is a short Christmas story about John and Zach from Once in May, and it’s no longer available as a stand-alone story, so the winner will get a copy of Once in May which has Honey Baked at the end. They’re contemporary stories.
Eight Feet of Magic is… steampunk, Norse mythology, and Christmas all mixed into one rather crazy story LOL
Turning Wood is a short contemporary Christmas story about a man who falls through the ice of the river.
He held his tray up to one of the beautiful women standing along the wall of the room. She, like everyone else here, was flawless. Their beauty always made him self-conscious. Why couldn’t the Bureau offer plastic surgery and enhancements like every other branch of society?
He clamped his lips together over his crooked teeth, totally ruining the smile he’d been aiming at her. They hadn’t even given him eye surgery. His fucked up eyes could be a danger in his line of work; he’d tried to make Howorth see it, but he didn’t listen. Not only was he half-blind but there was also the colour. Creed wondered how many here today would remember him because of the different colouring. And sure, even if he had surgery he would still need the lenses to read the results of the scanner, but really, no one, no one, was short-sighted in the modern world. He guessed he should feel lucky Howorth had given him eye correction lenses, but still.
“Are those vegetarian?” The woman pointed at a cucumber slice with some creamy stuff and a roll of smoked salmon.
“Erm…no.” Creed refrained from rolling his useless, short-sighted eyes. “There is salmon on it.” When she simply stared at him, he smiled again. “Fish.”
“I know what salmon is.” Creed swallowed a ‘why the fuck did you ask then’ and fought against the strain in his facial muscles. “What I meant was is there any meat in those.”
“Fish.” He continued to hold out the tray for her while she looked at the salmon rolls. Finally, she deemed fish edible and took one.
A glimpse of red hair weaving through the throng caught his eye. Instead of hurrying along, he stood still and observed as the mass made a path for whoever it was—Creed had a pretty good idea of who it had to be, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up.
Cham Hovda gave a small wave from where he sat on the lounge, his lips were tight, and he was paler than Creed had ever seen him. He hadn’t moved at all during the evening which made Creed believe the rumours of him being shot in the leg the week before were true. They hadn’t been able to find any medical records, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone from the underworld succeeded in staying out of the system—the inquisitor didn’t exist according to the system. Creed had spent a good week trying to dig up something, anything, and he hadn’t even managed to find a name.
Stepping a little closer to the woman, he tilted the tray ever so slightly. “One more perhaps?” He smiled and tried to be discreet in watching as the inquisitor bent down to whisper something in Hovda’s ear.
“Thank you. Could I get a glass of champagne too?”
Creed gritted his teeth. He was obviously not the champagne guy, and he was about to enlighten her when the inquisitor stepped away from the lounge. A few more steps and he would be right between Creed and the bar. “I’ll see what I can do, ma’am.”
He straightened his back and channelled his inner waiter. With an air of nonchalance, he neared the man. Milky white skin, bright red corkscrew curls Creed wanted to pull only to see them bounce back—an evil man shouldn’t look like that. “May I tempt you with some salmon, sir?” Creed tried for flirty but holy shit that hair was distracting. Could someone so angelic looking be the feared inquisitor?
Deep blue eyes bore into his. “I’m good, thanks.” His voice had a slight rasp to it as if those had been the first words he’d uttered today. Where the shiver travelling up Creed’s back came from, he didn’t know.
“I’m sure you are.” He winked, not knowing if it was the right direction to take but hoping the intent gaze meant interest. “Champagne maybe? I’m heading to the bar to get some for the lady over there.” He nodded towards the woman who stood glaring at him.
The man grunted dismissively and turned to leave. Creeds heart sped up as he realised he was about to lose his chance. A thousand things he could say to grab the man’s attention flitted through his mind, but not one seemed right.
“Hey, Grayham! A word.” A mean-looking man dressed in black jeans and t-shirt walked towards them. Creed tried not to stare, but he was far from the only one who forgot all about manners. In a sea of fancy suits and evening gowns, ratty t-shirts and heavily tattooed arms stood out.
Creed went through every name he could remember from the files as he made his way to the bar. Cipriani, Lou Cipriani, Creed was almost sure of it. The man’s hair was jet black, his eyes glowing green, and he possessed an air of power despite his wiry frame. Creed looked at his right hand, and sure enough, the ring and little finger were missing.
He grabbed two glasses of champagne instead of a tray—if someone noticed he’d sort it later. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure the men were still talking, he zigzagged over to the woman. “Enjoy, ma’am.”
She rolled her eyes but grabbed the glass. “Do you have a death wish?”
“Not particularly, why?” Creed smiled, but his heart hammered. Does she know anything?
“Flirting with Grayham.”
Creed stopped moving. “You know him?”
She snorted and tossed her long brown hair—not a natural brown—over her naked shoulder. “Only Cham knows him.”
Cham? Could she be one of Hovda’s girls? He couldn’t see her working the streets, but prostitution came in many shapes and forms. “Why?” Creed had a pretty good idea why. Who’d want to get friendly with the torturer, right? It surprised him that he hoped the bureau’s information would be faulty.
Grayham, if that was his name, didn’t look anything like he’d imagined a torturer should look. Those full lips should smile soft smiles, and there was nothing scary about bouncy curls. His eyes, though… They didn’t frighten Creed. They didn’t have a crazy shine to them, but they were emotionless, guarded.
The woman shrugged. “People who talk to him disappear.” Huh? Right, why no one knew him. Creed should continue to speak to her, few were as willing to share information, but he could see Cipriani getting ready to leave.
“I’m going to go give him his champagne before he slips away.”
“Mhm.” She downed half the glass in one swallow as Creed left.
He came up next to the two men right before Cipriani started to turn. “Your champagne, sir.” He held the glass out for Grayham to take; he didn’t. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and gave Creed a look intense enough to make him squirm—Creed did not squirm. Okay, he totally squirmed.
“Did you do anything with it?” His voice was still raspy.
“No, of course not.”
For a heartbeat or two Grayham stared at him, then he reached for the glass with his left hand. Creed cursed mentally and tried to push the glass towards his right. Grayham dropped his left and grabbed the glass with his right. “Thank you.”
Perfect. Creed hovered with his hand over Grayham’s wrist waiting for his scanner to gather the information that should be there.
John took another bite of cheese. It was perfect—warm, nutty and sweet. He hadn’t realised how hungry he was. With the party hanging over him, he hadn’t been able to eat all day, but now, people trickled out the door in a slow, steady stream.
He drew in a breath, enjoying the smell of pine and gingerbread for the first time this season. Chris waved at him as he and Gabe exited the café, and John smiled.
This wasn’t too bad.
He went up on tiptoe, hoping to see the red Santa suit heading his way, but Santa was caught up talking to Gary. John huffed and took another piece of crispbread. Gary had grown chatty lately, and John wasn’t sure he appreciated his friendliness, not that he doubted Zachary for a second. Zachary was the only person he trusted, but Gary was out there mingling and John was here hiding.
“What are you doing?” Zachary suddenly arrived in front of him, grinning, and took a tress of John’s hair between his fingers. It was hanging loose today, spilling over his shoulders like a protective blanket.
“I thought you were talking to Gary.” John winced at how the words sounded. The last thing he wanted was to whine because Zachary was talking to someone.
“I was, but then I noticed a hot little angel standing all alone and eating cheese as if his life depended on it.” Zach wiggled his eyebrows. “And I thought to myself, I’d rather talk to him than Gary.”
“Flirting? Now? And I wasn’t eating that much.” John’s face heated anyway.
“No, you weren’t, but I’d still rather talk to you than Gary.” Zachary scratched his chin under the fake beard, his shoulders slumping.
“Didn’t it go well?” John searched his eyes.
Hank held his breath as the sounds of the carol singers’ voices merged with the smog and faded into the dusk. It was the first Christmas songs he’d heard for the season, and it made him think of his mother.
Demetrius dragged him to a narrow wooden door with flaking dark blue paint and rusting iron ferrules. Above, a ghost ship sign painted on a dried up board creaked every time the wind got hold of it.
The Bold Ship.
The words sent a shiver of recognition through him. He’d heard the name before, but how was that possible? He never came to these parts of London—no one in their right mind did.
He slumped down in an attempt to make himself invisible, completely in vain—he had both his size and his velvet coat working against him. The dust of the streets had done nothing to mute the red colour.
Hank had tried to stick to the shadows on the way here, but people kept staring at him no matter what. Barefoot children dressed in rags watched him with eyes wide enough for Hank to fear they’d fall out of their skulls.
He blinked away the smoke hitting him in the face as he followed Demetrius into the grimy tavern. The low murmur stopped as he got a couple of steps inside, then he heard someone chuckle. Heat began climbing his neck, but he refused to blush. It had taken years to get it under a semblance of control. Wiping his sweaty hands on the soft velvet, he kept his gaze on Demetrius’s back.
“He’s over there.” Demetrius appeared unaware of the laughter spreading in the room and hurried towards the far corner. Hank filled his lungs with the sooty air and kept his back straight as he followed. Show no weakness. He had to duck at one point not to hit his head on a joist.
It became darker the farther into the tavern they got, and Hank dared a breath of relief. At least his coat wouldn’t be visible from the entrance. He looked around the room before looking at the man Demetrius had stopped next to. When he did, he wished he hadn’t, he wished he’d stayed at home, and he definitely wished he’d worn his old rugged coat.
The man’s dark eyes shone as he watched Hank. Something close to a smile tugged at the corner of his lips, but Hank could tell it wouldn’t turn into a nice one. A dimple almost appeared on his right cheek, or maybe it was a muscle strain from keeping the sneer at bay.
“This is your seaman?” His voice was melodic, so melodic Hank almost missed the words.
“Yes, my son.” Demetrius nodded frantically, and Hank’s heart made a run for his throat.
No one was listening to him.
“Good, good. I’ve always liked a sturdy man; I need someone big and strong on the ship.”
Hank looked around, hoping against hope someone was standing behind him, and they weren’t talking about him. Several pairs of eyes were watching him with amusement.
“I’m no seaman.”
The man cocked his head, making a long tress of black hair glide off his shoulder. “No seaman?” Then he glared at Demetrius. “A seaman was part of the deal.”
“He is your seaman. Tall and strong, good for heavy lifting. God knows it’s all he’s good for.”
Hank’s stomach turned, but the usual nausea following Demetrius and Polly’s words halted when the man gave an annoyed huff. If he was annoyed with Hank’s stupidity or Demetrius for pointing it out, he didn’t know, but his gaze turned harder than before.
Silence fell. It spread to the entire tavern and made Hank twitchy—grown men shouldn’t be twitchy.
Finally, the man reached out over the table and offered Hank his hand. “I’m Captain Elazar Steel. What’s your name, lad?”
Lad? Lad! The man must be ten years younger than Hank, and though he was still sitting down, he didn’t look like a big man. Hank couldn’t help but narrow his eyes, and it wasn’t until Demetrius elbowed him in the side he realised he hadn’t responded.
“Captain.” Hank refrained from rolling his eyes. Dear Elazar didn’t seem to notice, though.
Mason was shaking so hard the bed was groaning in protest. Where was he? He looked around. This wasn’t his bedroom. His entire body burned, his throat ached, and his eyes stung. Lifting the cover, he looked down at himself and groaned—naked. The bed smelled nice, though.
Bolting upright, he remembered. He’d been out walking and…Santa had been there. He rubbed his forehead. It couldn’t have been Santa, but some guy dressed like Santa.
He’d been kidnapped by a guy disguised a Santa who had stripped him and put him in a bed. What was he planning on doing with him in bed, naked?
Mason flung off the cover and put his feet on the floor, a nice old hardwood floor but cold enough to make him want to climb back into the bed. So typical of him to get drunk and kidnapped by a Santa lookalike. He couldn’t go anywhere without getting in trouble.
Meet a nice guy and he’ll clear out your bank account, sell your car, and have you evicted from your apartment. Go up north on a holiday and a sex offender looking like Santa will kidnap you and bind you to a bed.
Though, in Santa’s defense, he wasn’t bound, and… Mason rubbed his neck. An image of frantic blue eyes behind… He tried to pinch the bridge of his nose, but his fingers weren’t working as they should. Had that been protective glasses?
Maybe the guy hadn’t looked like Santa at all. Now when he was thinking of it, his hair had been dark, and had he been wearing a white sweater?
A door opened somewhere in the building and Mason’s heart leaped to his throat. Shit, he’s back.
Pushing off the bed, he stumbled a few steps only to once again realize he was naked. Gripping the cover, he wrapped it around his shoulders and turned toward the window. His fingers shook as he tried to open it. He had to push with all his strength to get it to yield, the ice working in his kidnapper’s favor.
He got it open and one leg out, the snow on the windowsill chilling against the inside of his bare thigh.
“Hey! Stop.” A tall, dark-haired man with icicles in his beard took a step into the bedroom.
Mason yelped and shoved away from the building. The cover tangled around him; the snow burned against his bare feet as he tried to gain his balance.
The kidnapper knew his name?
Mason ran. It didn’t go nearly as fast as it normally did, it was as if his muscles had melted. Had he been drugged? He only needed to get back to the resort then he could call the police. It couldn’t be far away.
A wall of pine trees appeared in front of him, it grew into a forest, but Mason didn’t care. He ducked and shielded himself from the prickly limbs the best he could.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Mason! Come back here!”
Mason glanced over his shoulder, the guy gained on him, easily. He ordered his useless legs to move, but they continued their slow-motion thing.
Strong arms grabbed him from behind and Mason might have yelped again. He wasn’t a yelper, not normally.
“Are you out of your mind? You could have died.” The man’s gruff voice did nothing to calm him down. “Come on, let’s get you back in bed.”
The man steered him around, Mason would like to say he fought for his freedom, but his resistance only lasted for thirty seconds or maybe it was closer to five. He was too exhausted to stand, and the man carefully wrapped an arm around his waist to help him back towards the building—a cute little log cabin.
To prove his loyalty to Cham, Grayham is willing to do anything, and he does. He helps Cham run his empire by finding out the truth by any possible means. It’s not as hard as it may seem, all he has to do is ask the right questions, and his internal polygraph will tell him if someone is lying or not. And when they lie—well he deals with that too. Life as an executioner can get quite lonely, not that Grayham plans on doing anything about it. It would kill him to have to off a lover.
Creed is a retrieving agent on a mission. He is to infiltrate one of Carona’s drug organisations to get to the inquisitor. Rumour states the man with the fiery red curls has supernatural powers; it also says anyone coming close to him disappears. Creed has no idea how he’s going to make it out alive or why his supervisor sent him in without backup. But, when an opening to work as a waiter at one of the drug lord’s parties presents itself Creed sets to work.
In a world where people compensate for the years of bombings and starvation with clinic bought physical perfection a man with crooked teeth and mismatching eyes stands out. Grayham notices the waiter watching him straight away. If he’s there to harm Cham, he’ll deal with it. Creed knows he must get his hands on the inquisitor so when he is invited to the man’s flat he agrees to come even though he knows it might be the last thing he’ll ever do.
In an attempt to run from his past, John Welsh has spent the last few years building walls around himself. He knows the best way to stay safe is to keep people at arm’s length and preferably out of sight. During weak moments, he might wish he had someone, but he’s not ready. After all, it takes seven years for the body to replace all its cells. He has four years to go before he’s new.
Zachary Fane is always on the move, always on his way to somewhere. He’s going from job to job, from country to country. Contrary to what people might think, he wants nothing more than to find a place to call home, and he knows just where. This time, he is ready. This time, he will stay in Nortown. This time, things will be different. But when he arrives to buy the log cabin he believed would be his, he finds it inhabited. When he goes to talk to the new owner, he is met by the most beautiful green eyes followed by a door slammed in his face.
John should’ve known the peace he’s found in Nortown wouldn’t last. One day everything is fine, the next a mountain of a man shows up wherever he goes. All Zachary wants is to be close to the quiet man who has moved into his cabin. If following him around is the only way, then so be it. Sooner or later, John will get used to having him there … at least, if Zachary hangs around long enough.
Includes the short story, “Honey Baked.”
There is still magic to be found. Even in the bleakest of places.
Hank Goodenough has spent his entire life in the smoggy streets of London trying to keep his head down and not to get noticed. Not an easy feat when you’re the tallest one in the room and have a brass funnel protruding from your head. When he finds himself laid off work once again, his dad wants to drag him away on a crazy quest. Before he can figure out how to get out of it, he finds himself on a steam-driven airship in search of Odin, the old Norse God, and is sharing a room with Captain Elazar Steel, a man strutting around on one high-heeled boot and one peg leg.
Steel doesn’t care that the winks, smiles, and small touches he and Hank share might get them hanged once they land on the ground again. He is determined to show Hank there is magic in the world and that there is no better place to be than on his balloon ship steering towards the Arctic Circle.
For Otho Newcomer, the small village of Snowmelt is a haven from his old life. If he isn’t exactly a changed man, he at least hopes to keep his distance from all those easy romances, and the inevitable heartache and disappointment that always follow.
Mason Dager is an idiot. His ex has cleared out his bank account, sold his car, and got him thrown out of his apartment. And he has no one to blame but himself. But what better way to celebrate a new chapter in his life — one that includes homelessness and the humiliation of telling his family they were right all along — than to spend Christmas at a swanky winter resort like River Cove? It’s already paid for, after all.
When a very drunk Mason makes yet another dumb decision, Otho comes to the rescue, throwing the men together during the most magical time of the year.
What should be the wrong choice for both of them might be exactly what they need. They’ll just have to survive a nosy best friend, an asshole of an ex, and the scars of their pasts if they hope to find something together.