"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis

I’ve been remiss in my duties

I’ve fallen down in my blogging duties. Turns out that writing books takes up most of my words!  I do have a few tidbits of news to share, however.

Bedside Manner cover finalMy newest release, Bedside Manner is on a blog tour! The book is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. You can grab it here. 

If you’d like to enter a giveaway for some extra money, Diverse Reader is one of the blog tour stops where you can enter!

If you discovered my blog through the tour, then I’ve got a little treat for you. I have my first book of the Ashe Sentinel Series, Changing Focus, up on Instafreebie. Grab it while this offer lasts. You’ll have to opt in to my newsletter to claim it, but I try not to bug my subscibers too often! Outside of letting you know about a new release or sale, I try to make you aware of freebie and giveaway opps and recommend some other great m/m reads!

I’m much more active on Facebook than I am on this blog, so come join my group for additonal fun: DJ and Company



My New Year’s resolution means goodies for you!

As I considered my New Year’s resolutions regarding writing, I knew my primary one had to be to put a larger effort into reaching and engaging with readers. I wrote several books in 2016 and was excited to meet (via social media, and occasionally in person at GRL)  loyal fans who enjoyed my m/m romance books.

I created a Facebook group to share fun teasers, ask readers’ opinions about everything from character names to their cover design opinions, and offer exlusive giveaways for their constant encouragement.

What I didn’t do in 2016 was build much of a mailing list. That’s where the goodies for you come in.


In 2017, my resolution is to grow my newsletter and reach more readers. As an added incentive, I’ll start offering bonus content. No one wants a mailbox cluttered with meaningless sales pitches, so I’ll endeavor to offer giveaways and bonus stories about existing characters and new ones.

mehMy current giveaway is a free novella titled “My Anti-Valentine,” which will be delivered to my subscribers on Feb. 14.

“My Anti-Valentine” is the story of a jaded gray-asexual, Bret, who has given up on romance after two failed relationships in which partners couldn’t handle his sexual limits. He throws an anti-Valentine’s Day party to burn his ex-boyfriends’ belongings and celebrate freedom from a commericalized tradition. There, he meets Harry — a hopeless romantic who’s getting tired of settling for shallow one-night-stands but can’t seem to figure out how to meet “the one.” Harry still believes in romance, and he’s determined to convince the cute hipster, but will he still think love trumps sex when he learns the truth about Bret?

The giveaway is part of a larger Valentine’s group giveaway that includes many authors, and I’ll update my followers with info on that opportunity closer to the date, so they can discover other authors’ work, as well.

I hope to regularly offer valuable content to my mailing list as a thank-you for their loyalty and support as I take the next step as an independent author. I hope you’ll be one of them!

A return to sweet romance …

Heart Trouble by DJ JamisonWhen I released “Hard Press,” I wrote about how the characters pushed me out of my comfort zone. They were a little self-centered, a little vain. Not my usual “sweet guy” schtick.

“Heart Trouble,” releasing Thursday, is a return to the sweet romance I tend to gravitate toward. I like my romances to bring together good guys who just want to find love. Of course, there have to be a few bumps along the way to make it interesting, and this couple have their share.

This book pushed me out of my comfort zone in different ways. It’s my first book venturing from a newspaper setting — with which I have a lot of firsthand experience — to an ER setting with a nurse. The book does still have loose ties to Ashe Sentinel Connections, but it’s less more rooted in journalism than earlier books in the series.

In fact, I’m planning to use it as a launching pad into a spin-off series I’m tentatively calling Bedside Manner, which will focus on some of the secondary characters that surfaced in “Heart Trouble.”

I hope you’ll enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing the story of these two soft-hearted men who have to find a way to trust in each other if they want their happily ever after.


Heart Trouble book blurb

When Gage Evans gets a look at his hot nurse, he’s smitten immediately. Too bad he’s given the nurse the impression he’s some kind of daredevil. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Gage is a college journalism instructor writing a series of guest columns that require him to jump into new experiences — a fun bucket list, but one that does nothing to convince Ben he’s not an adrenaline junkie.

Fresh off his latest heartbreak, nurse Ben Griggs is wary when one of his patients shows an interest in him — especially when that patient showed up in the ER after a motorcycle accident. Ben’s ex was a biker, a friend with benefits, and he dropped Ben cold when someone more interesting came along. Ben isn’t the kind of guy who can hold the interest of an adrenaline junkie like Gage Evans for long. The last thing he wants is to lose his heart to the wrong man again.

The more Ben gets to know Gage, the harder he is to resist. He can only hold on for the ride and keep his guard up as much as he can. But Ben’s lack of trust seriously gets in the way of building a relationship, and Gage will only be patient so long. Can he trust Gage enough to give him heart, or are they destined to have a fling that goes nowhere?

You can find the book on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited on Thursday. 

‘Hard Press’ is a new kind of novel for me

My latest novel, “Hard Press,” is releasing Aug. 18. And I think there will probably be some readers who will be surprised the same author wrote both “Catching Jaime” and “Hard Press.”

Most of my earlier works, including “Catching Jaime,” tend to be sweet romances. There are varying levels of sex in them — ranging from no sex (Rewriting His Love Life) to your typical, vanilla sex (Source of Protection, Winter Blom) — but none of them would be described as racy or sizzling hot. The stories are more about the romance, and sex is a natural part of the evolution of a relationship.

“Hard Press” stands out from the other novels in that regard.

julian quotesWhile there are elements of sweet romance in it, the characters aren’t all that sweet. Julian begins his journey as a “vain brat” (Elliott’s words, not … well, yes, they are mine, but you know what I mean). Elliott, who is stressed to the max due to his family situation, finds Julian’s submissive nature liberating — finally, he can take control of something — and comes off as pushy, and occasionally, like a bit of an asshole.

Somehow, it works for them both. So who was I to question it?

But of course I did.

Power play is not my favorite trope, and actually I debated quite a bit about whether to go that direction with the book, even with only mild themes of submission. It wouldn’t have been my first choice. Because, you see, it pushed me a bit out of my comfort zone.

But the characters were demanding it, from pretty much their first meeting. They weren’t cut out to be a sweet romance, and they weren’t going to let me dictate that.

When I started writing books, I thought it would be a good opportunity to create the stories I crave as a reader. That is maybe a little bit true. But the larger truth is that each book in Ashe Sentinel Connections is different, because the characters are different. And as it turns out, they’re the boss. Not me.

Each book takes on a life of its own, and it’s not entirely within my control.

And that’s how I happened to write a love story about a vain, rather unlikeable man and a stressed-out, aggressive man who both needed something the other had to offer.

In the end, I like to think they helped each other grow into better human beings, too. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.


About Hard Press

Julian has everything: good looks, flashy cars, a high-end condo. Until his girlfriend dumps him after a disastrous attempt to have a threesome. To top it off, he rear-ends a motorcycle and meets a pissed off biker who calls him on his shit. But there’s something about the man that hits his repressed buttons, and makes him want to finally pull his desires out into the light. But living up to the standards of an edgy but caring man proves a challenge.

Elliott feels like his world has spun off its axis, and if he can just get control of his life, he can breathe again. His parents’ deaths and his autistic brother’s need for a boarding school weigh heavily on him. When Julian hits his bike outside the news office where he works in the press room, he thinks the sultry man is a spoiled brat who knows nothing of real pain. But bringing him under control soothes something in Elliott’s soul — and Julian seems to need a steady hand, too.

Can these two very different men navigate the give-and-take of a relationship unlike any other they’ve experienced? For both of them, it will be a hard press.

Order now
All Romance Ebooks
Barnes and Noble

New book release with a discount!

Catching Jaime, gay romance new adult book by DJ JamisonIt’s release day for “Catching Jaime,” my new adult gay romance! This is my first full-length novel to release in the m/m genre, so I’m pretty excited to see what readers think. It’s also a bit more serious than my Ashe Sentinel Connections series, which have most often been described as cute, sweet romances.
Even better, Catching Jaime is part of a huge summer sale at Smashwords, so I can offers readers a 50% discount right out of the gate!
Buy the book here, and you can get the discount when you enter the code SSW50 at checkout. It’s a site-wide sale, and many other books are discounted besides just mine. You can click here to see the full catalog of books included in the sale.
Here’s the book blurb for Catching Jaime
When Jaime Harris is outed at a party, his quiet life starts to fall apart. His best friend avoids him like the plague, and his younger sister blackmails him in exchange for keeping the truth from their mother. The only bright spot, strangely enough, is Tony Espinoza, who relentlessly pursues his friendship. Why Tony cares at all is a mystery, and as their friendship evolves into something more, it seems too good to be true. Can Jaime trust his heart to the cutest, sweetest straight boy he’s ever met?Tony Espinoza is angry and confused. His brother’s betrayal cuts deep, even after amends have been made, and he’s torn about the direction he should take with his future. In the midst of it all is Jaime Harris. Fixating on Jaime’s problems makes a great diversion, but the more he gets to know Jaime, the more he realizes the guy is more than just a distraction. He’s slowly becoming everything. Now, if only Tony could get him to believe it.

Catching Jaime is available at most online bookstores. Click here to find it on aRe and Amazon.

Happy reading!

Order up! Hard Press available for sale now

hardpressjpegIt’s been a Hard Press for me to finish writing Book 5 of the Ashe Sentinel Series, but it’s up for pre-order now with an August release date!

I originally planned to write this story immediately after Book 3, Rewriting His Love Life, where Julian first appears. In fact, I did write the first few scenes. Then the holiday bug hit me and I stopped to write Winter Blom, a holiday novella and the fourth installment in the series.

Julian will get his say at last in “Hard Press,” with a release date of Aug. 18. You can order it on Amazon here or on aRE here.

Catching Jaime, gay romance new adult book by DJ JamisonI wrote a large part of the novel while participating in an April NaNoWriMo camp, but I had to finish edits on “Catching Jaime,” a m/m new adult novel releasing July 1, before I could fill in the plotholes and cement “Hard Press” enough to set a date.

You see, I’m one of those authors who’s always juggling multiple works-in-progress at one time. I’ve never been able to figure out if that’s a good thing, but it does mean I tend to finish and release books in bursts.

In July, you get “Catching Jaime.” In August, you get “Hard Press.” And in October, you get to see me at the GRL conference. Beyond that, I can make no promises.

I truly hope you enjoy my latest writing endeavors. Thanks for reading!


New release and excerpt!

I’ve been behind in my blogging, but have you ever written/edited two books at once, while writing author guest blogs and business blogs by day? I’m exhausted! Also, I’m a procrastinator, so there’s that.

Enough with my excuses.

I’m excited to say that “Catching Jaime” officially releases July 1. It’s available for pre-order now at various online bookstores. Recently, I wrote a guest blog on Joyfully Jay, offering an excerpt from the book. The giveaway contest has ended, but if you want a sneak peek inside the book, you can find it there.

Catching Jaime is my first full-length m/m romance. It’s the sequel in a series (Espinoza Brothers) that begins with a m/f romance, but it can stand on its own.

Story blurb for Catching Jaime

Catching Jaime, gay romance new adult book by DJ JamisonWhen Jaime Harris is outed at a party, his quiet life starts to fall apart. His best friend avoids him like the plague, and his younger sister blackmails him in exchange for keeping the truth from their mother. The only bright spot, strangely enough, is Tony Espinoza, who relentlessly pursues his friendship. Why Tony cares at all is a mystery, and as their friendship evolves into something more, it seems too good to be true. Can Jaime trust his heart to the cutest, sweetest straight boy he’s ever met?

Tony Espinoza is angry and confused. His brother’s betrayal cuts deep, even after amends have been made, and he’s torn about the direction he should take with his future. In the midst of it all is Jaime Harris. Fixating on Jaime’s problems makes a great diversion, but the more he gets to know Jaime, the more he realizes the guy is more than just a distraction. He’s slowly becoming everything. Now, if only Tony could get him to believe it.

Find Catching Jaime at a variety of online bookstores:

Barnes & Noble

All Note Long is how you’ll read this book

allnote“All Note Long” by Annabeth Albert captured me from Page 1. And like the title’s play on words, I was reading all night long. Sufficed to say, I wasn’t disappointed. Lucky ensnared me as easily as he did Michelin Moses.

What struck me most about “All Note Long” were the incredible characters, and how different they were. Often when you read a romance with alternating POV, you run into problems where you forget — just for a moment — whose perspective you’re reading. You will never have that problem with Albert’s third book in the Perfect Harmony series.

Michelin and Lucky are very much people from two different worlds, and that’s reflected in their voices throughout the story. Lucky is a dancer who prefers rap and R&B and is a master twerker who loves showing off. Michelin Moses is a famous country musician who is fairly introverted unless there’s a guitar in his hand.

Michelin has been in the closet for so long it’s become claustrophobic. But his career in country music depends on his discretion. Michelin’s not one for casual hook-ups, so that’s not difficult to maintain, until he meets Lucky while he’s go-go dancing at a well-known Hollywood gay bar.

A brief meeting away from the stage looks to be leading to a date, but a misunderstanding infuriates Lucky and puts them on a path to nowhere — until photos and gossip are printed the next day, accusing Michelin of paying Lucky for sex. Now, for both their sakes, they’ll have to present a story that won’t destroy their careers and reputations.

At its core, “All Note Long” is a coming out story, with all the hallmarks of one closeted character and one out-and-proud one. There are other obstacles that threaten their fledgling relationship, from Lucky’s struggles with money and his pride that won’t allow him to accept help to Michelin’s seeming inability to truly respect Lucky’s dancing as a serious career. As the two muddle through, you’ll be rooting for their romance, despite their differences.

Throughout the Perfect Harmony series Annabeth Albert creates unique characters and story lines. Her incorporation of minority characters is also a highlight readers may appreciate.

trebleThe first book, “Treble Maker,” is one of her sexiest, featuring a Christian gay boy who’s accepted by his family and conservative college as long as he doesn’t act on his sexuality and a rebellious, gothy rocker who’s determined to push all his buttons. Book 1 happens to be on sale for 99 cents on Amazon at the time of this blog post.


In the second book, “Love Me Tenor,” we’re introduced to Jalen — a guy who’s starring on a boy band television show as a favor to his foster sister, even though he’s never pursued music as a career and has little interest in the fame — and Trevor, a periphery character from the first book who’s hiding health problems and stressing about problems at home.

All three books have one theme in common — that the characters don’t seem like an obvious choice for a love story. They come from different worlds and hold different values, but somehow they overcome the obstacles to find understanding and love.

All Note Long” can be read as a standalone, but why would you want to do that and miss out on the first two great books in the series? I highly recommend the entire series — and anything else Annabeth Albert writes, for that matters. She’s quickly become one of my favorite, most reliable authors in the m/m genre.

You can find her books on Amazon, as well as other retailers.

NOTE: I was provided an free copy of All Note Long in exchange for an honest review.





Earning Edie: A Sneak Preview

Earning Edie, a new adult romance by DJ JamisonI am releasing my new adult romance, “Earning Edie,” April 1!

I’ve posted an excerpt of the book here, so you can have a preview of what’s to come. Earning Edie is available for pre-orders on Amazon, Apple ibooks and other online bookstores now.

Pre-order “Earning Edie” here, and receive your copy on April 1.

Chapter 1


Well, my parents did it again.

They managed to turn what should be a happy occasion into another crapfest.

Sitting on a folding chair under the glaring sun, my hideous yellow gown soaking up enough heat to power a small village, I couldn’t muster much excitement about high school graduation. It was a stepping stone to our future, a milestone in our lives, blah blah blah.

To my right, Jessica Mallick flirted with Brian Morris while handling dueling text messages from her friends. Apparently, she’d made out with someone last night and was now strategizing about how to “catch” him.

Considering at least half the senior class would be leaving town when summer was over, I didn’t see the point. But when it came to high school girls, I was usually the exception, rather than the rule. I hadn’t had a boyfriend yet. And no, I wasn’t a lesbian, even though my cousin Daisy insisted on asking me that question every other year when I saw her for Christmas.

Still, I admired Jessica’s multi-tasking. Sitting directly under the sun on Ashe High’s football field, I was too miserable to focus on anything, much less two-way texting and one-way flirting.

I sweltered under the polyester gown, my skin growing sticky with humidity. Lifting my thick brown hair from my neck to get a little air moving, I snuck another peek at her phone to pass the time.

Another text message: “Doesnt he have gfriend”

“Not 4 long,” Jessica sent back.


The phone chimed with a return text. “You take Carlos; I get Jaime.” Followed by a winky face.

I knew those names.

Carlos Espinoza and Jaime Harris ran with the popular jock circle, pretty far from my more academic group of friends. My closest friend, Lily Brown, sort of surfed between the two circles, making friends with everyone, and she’d been obsessed with Carlos all four years of high school.

Watching him run through girls like soda pop while my awesome friend pined after him made me instinctively dislike him, but Lily had already promised I was going to his graduation party tonight, even if she had to drag me screaming. Lily’s promises often came across more like threats, but I was used to it.

“Lily!” I called across three rows so she could hear me where she sat with the other B names.

She turned, her blue eyes squinted against the bright sunlight.

“I don’t see them,” I said, hoping she’d take my meaning.

Her mouth dropped into a grimace, and she craned her neck to scan the crowd gathering in the football bleachers.

I watched her, rather than the crowd, tired of scouring the bleachers for some sign of my absentee family.

My parents had never been what you’d call good at the parenting thing. They were divorced, which you’d think would mean double the presents and birthday parties. Not so much. Instead, they each shoved parenting responsibilities at each other, and no one picked up the slack.

Instead of two presents, I often got no presents.

They hadn’t attended parent-teacher conferences in ages, which wasn’t that big of a deal. I made good grades anyway.

They’d also skipped my high school band concerts, which was a little harder to swallow. I’d eventually given up the clarinet, so it hardly mattered now. Only I sometimes wondered if I might have kept playing if I’d had someone take an interest. I suspected musical genius wasn’t in my genes, even with an enthusiastic parent in the crowd, but I’d never know for sure.

They’d even forgotten my birthday one hectic year.

But skipping my high school graduation. Really?

A smile lit up Lily’s face and she waved wildly to the crowd. I jerked my head around, hope surging.

My eyes landed on Lily’s brothers and sisters, who waved enthusiastically from the crowd, and my heart settled back into its steadier, if disappointed, rhythm. Figures.

She had a ginormous family, and they were all there. Her parents; her two older brothers in college; and her three sisters still in junior high and high school. It made me wonder where the heck they were all sleeping this summer.

Lily got annoyed by her huge family, but I envied her. There would be plenty of cheers when she crossed the stage.

I’d give anything to have someone in my corner like that.

Thirty minutes later, I shuffled off the stage — after a rousing speech about how we were all persevering like our mascot the Pioneers and the added of humiliation of being called Eddie Mason – to find someone had shown up for me after all.

“Look!” Lily pointed into the flow of people that now swarmed the graduates with congratulations.

Tequila shoved her way to us through the crowd, grinning widely. That girl could rival Lily for the best smile ever. It stretched across her face bursting with uncontained joy.

“You did it, Eeds!” she squealed and pulled me into a hug.

Somehow, I ended up squealing and bouncing up and down with the 13-year-old I mentored. I was supposed to be a model for at-risk youth, but sometimes it seemed like Tequila was the one teaching me about life. My parents hadn’t made it, but Tequila made the effort when it was anything but convenient for her.

“You didn’t have to come. How did you get here?”

Tequila shrugged her bare shoulders above her tube top and said “bus” before popping her bubble gum. She’d paired the bright purple tube top with tight white shorts.

“And what are you wearing? Are you trying to get knocked up?”

Tequila rolled her eyes, used to my mother hen act.

“For real, Edie? I know enough about sex to know you don’t get knocked up just because you look good.” She turned to Lil and gave her a hip bump. “Am I, right? Hmm?”

Lily laughed. “You’re right,” she said, earning a glare from me. “So, you want a ride home, Vodka?”

“Har-har,” Tequila said, used to Lily’s joke of calling her by every liquor except her actual name. “It never gets old.”

Lily gave Tequila a ride home and dropped my at my job, Jumpin’ for Joy, before heading home.

Technically, I had the day off to “celebrate” my big day. I opted to stop by, and see if I could catch an extra shift. Dad had been avoiding the tuition talk, and I was getting a bad feeling about how much financial support I was going to get.

My boss Joy took one look at my face and enforced “bounce therapy,” a term she’d coined for making me go jump in the bouncy houses we managed.

“You need to bounce the blues right out of you, missy!” she scolded playfully, pushing me toward the nearest fire engine red inflatable. “Today is your day. I won’t let you work. Besides, the place is practically empty.”

She had me there. She did a brisk business on the weekends and through birthday parties, but late afternoon and evening was always slow. So, I did as ordered, and reluctantly kicked off my shoes and started jumping.

Between Tequila’s surprise visit and Joy’s enforced bouncing, I felt lighter than I had since I realized my parents weren’t going to appear at graduation. I was almost in the mood to celebrate.

Maybe I would go to that party with Lily.



I’ve been celibate more than a year. For a guy, that’s like, forever.

The reason for my celibacy? The green Prius idling in my apartment parking lot. Or rather, activities with the driver of the Prius. I like cars, but not that much.

I ducked down, my palms sweating and curse words pouring from my lips. I couldn’t handle seeing Elana right now. Or, well, anytime, if I was being honest.

My sister-in-law must have been in town for my cousin’s graduation. I’d missed the ceremonies — and a run-in with her, thankfully — because of a last-minute news meeting at work. A news meeting that was anything but good news.

My column was on the chopping block unless I improved my readership in the next eight weeks. And that column was everything to me. It was my ticket to syndication in larger newspapers, and maybe even a book someday. But only of it was a success, and I was determined it would be, whatever it took.

It was kind of stupid to think I could hide from Elana. Besides being bright orange, my 1969 Dodge Charger was a distinctive classic car, and one I’d spent countless hours working on in Elana’s garage last year. She’d be sure to recognize it.

I smashed the gas pedal to the floor.

The engine revved loudly as I sped up — a feature that usually revved my ego, but today made me cringe — and the wheels squealed as I took a corner too fast.

My cell phone rang before I’d cleared the next block.


Grimacing, I let it go to voicemail.

I didn’t know how long Elana would hang around in the hopes of cornering me. I could go to Mama’s house, but there was always the possibility she’d show up there. Elana had gotten even closer to Mama since my brother died, which made me all kinds of nervous considering the secret we were keeping.

We’d made a stupid mistake. One that could rip out my mother’s heart.

It was every bit the cliché Jerry Springer scenario you might imagine.

My brother Gabriel had been traveling a lot for work, while I’d been spending a lot of time working on our project car in his garage. Hanging out with his wife. His lonely wife.

It doesn’t take much to add two and two.

Gabe and I were supposed to restore the Dodge Charger together, but like Elana, I was feeling his absence. I spent hours over there, working on the car and eating the dinners she made for me. We talked, and we drank wine, and we watched movies together.

Then it happened.

One hook-up. One impulsive fall into bed. One betrayal that couldn’t be undone.

And … hell, there were no excuses to be made. I fucked up. Big time. And there was no taking it back.

The phone stopped ringing, only to start up again. Fuck my life.

I drove aimlessly, gritting my teeth until the phone went silent once more.

Blessed silence filled the car. Elana had given up on reaching me, for now.

I should just man up and talk to her, but what was there to say? She only reminded me of our indiscretion. Of my brother, and the fact I could never make it right with him.

Gabe died in a car accident before I could even think about coming clean and asking for forgiveness. Or at least a good ass-kicking. That might have assuaged the guilt somewhat.

With him gone, and the chance for amends gone with him, I wasn’t sure I’d ever outrun the guilt.

Still unsure of my next move, I drove aimlessly.  I needed a place to settle in and work. Shoving the guilt aside, I concentrated on the revelations of today’s news meeting.

I’d been doodling in my notebook, drawing a caricature of my managing editor, Tanya Nelson, as a blowfish shouting at a bunch of distracted guppies when Sean flicked my pen.

My head had shot up to see the blowfish herself staring me down, brown eyes narrowed in annoyance. I quickly flipped my notebook to a fresh page before she spotted her caricature.


“You’re quite the attentive reporter,” she said dryly, drawing a few quiet laughs from the staff. My mouth opened, my mind whirring through potential excuses for my distraction, but she continued on. “We’ve had to cut a reporting position.”

My mouth snapped shut, and I cast an anxious glance around the table. No one was missing. Except Shirley, but Shirley always came in late because she lived on a farm an hour from town. It had to be Shirley … Tanya wouldn’t actually lay me off in public, right?

“That means the rest of you have to shoulder some extra responsibility,” Tanya added, with a meaningful look around the table. A look that said, “Yes, I will be giving you extra work, and no, you won’t be getting any perks in return.”

A wave of relief had hit me. I still had a job. As for the reporting, who cared? My job was to write columns and meaningful features, not cover the daily grind.

“Nick, you’ll have to pick up some extra stories.”

Relief, gone. “But my column—”

“As I was saying when you drifted into la-la land, we’re considering retiring your column, so you can report full time.”


I’d shot from my chair, heart pounding. I’d worked my ass off, done the hard sell to get the damn thing started — and they wanted to discontinue it, already?

Even though I’d argued hard for my column, Tanya hadn’t budged much, outside of giving me an eight-week window to convince her to save it.

To do that, I needed a kick-ass column each and every week for the next eight weeks, and I had until tomorrow afternoon to turn in the first one.

Gotta love being a journalist in the era of dying newspapers.

My cousin’s house caught my attention. I’d turned down Carlos’ street on autopilot, but it was as good a solution as any. My aunt had an open-door policy for family, and I could kick back in their hot tub after I put my brain through the ringer.

Chapter 2


I looked out the car window to get a better view of Carlos Espinoza’s house.

It perched on a hilltop impressively, and I could just see the kidney-shaped pool as Lily turned onto a gravel drive that led up to the house. Big columns supported a front porch and put me in mind of the Southern verandas I’d seen in movies.

I knew Carlos lived in this swanky Northwestern neighborhood, but I’d never been inside any of the homes here. Unlike most of our graduating class, I’d never attended one of his parties.

His house was positioned on a large corner lot, with a huge, perfectly manicured lawn. Tonight, cars parked haphazardly along the side of the drive and up on the lawn, giving me the feeling Carlos’ parents weren’t going to be too pleased when they came home. Then again, he threw these parties often enough they must be okay with it. I didn’t understand that, but admittedly, I didn’t understand much about parenting. I’d avoided my own parents since the graduation ceremony.

Lily blared the car horn and waved frantically through the car window at another group of friends. A loud whoop echoed back, and giddy laughter drifted on the breeze.

“Oh yeah, this is going to be that kind of party,” Samantha said gleefully from the front seat.

“What kind of party?” I asked guardedly.

“The best kind,” she answered cryptically.

I decided not to ask exactly what she meant by that, but now I was a little concerned I might be out of my depth.

Generally, I skipped the party scene, preferring a quiet movie with friends or a night in reading when I was alone. Lily had given up on dragging me to parties years ago, but she’d insisted graduation required a celebration.

The car lurched to a stop as Lily found a spare patch of grass to flatten, and I unwound myself from the cramped backseat with a sigh of relief. Carrie and Kelly Williams climbed out behind me; the twins had been noticeably quiet on the trip over, only whispering to each other. But they’d always been their own super duo, giving others only brief glimpses into their lives.

The group straggled up to the house in a disorganized line, and I hung back, while Samantha threw herself into the center of things, grabbing the nearest available guy and hitting the dance floor. Looking into that mass of twisting bodies weaving around furniture — and occasionally tripping over it —  I wanted to turn around and run out the door.

“Let’s get some drinks,” Lily suggested, as if she sensed my flight instinct kicking in.

She grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the kitchen. I narrowly dodged an elbow to the face and tripped over not one but two sets of feet on the way there. After that, I stopped trying to track our path and watched the ground for obstacles.

“You kind of know your way around here, don’t you?” I asked suspiciously once we’d reached a bubble of space next to the kitchen bar.

“Maybe,” Lily smirked as she mixed sprite, vodka and some purple concoction into a glass. “Here, take a drink.”

It was obvious Lily wasn’t going to spell it out for me. But I had a feeling she’d been hanging out with Carlos before tonight. I had hoped she’d move on now that we’d graduated, but I guess I was wrong. She’d been crushing on him for far too long to give up now.

I hesitated, sniffing at the drink. It smelled like grape, but also like alcohol, reminding me of that awful cough syrup my mom forced down my throat when I was little.

“Come on, live a little,” Lil urged, already chugging down half a cup of the grape-flavored hangover-in-waiting.

Glancing around the party, taking in the chaos around me, I knew the only way I’d get through the night was if I joined the fun. So, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the worst. Then I slugged down a big gulp.

“Ugh!” My face twisted in disgust.

“Sorry if it’s too strong. I’m an amateur bartender.”

It was definitely too strong, but maybe strong was what I needed tonight. I shuddered, and forced another swallow down. And another, and another. I set down the empty cup proudly, and Lil filled it to the brim again with a grin.

I rolled my eyes, but took it with me as we made our way out of the kitchen.

Samantha grabbed my arm as I passed.

“Dance, girl!” she yelled, shimmying her hips while holding a cup in her left hand and a handful of Alex Combs’ shirt in the other.

I laughed, shaking my head, and plowed through the crowd of loud couples and obnoxious boys playing drinking games, shouting over the music, and shoving each other like a bunch of kids on the playground. I’d need a whole lot more to drink before joining that unruly mass.

“Party pooper!” she shouted after me.

Samantha never did understand people who didn’t want to live loud. She was the life of the party, but that would never be me.

Lily steered me into a group of rowdy graduates that included Carlos, and I hovered at the edges, sipping at my drink and attempting to follow the drunken stories.

“And then she was all, the prom is a special night! And she started crying right in the middle of the dance floor!”

Laughter broke out, though I couldn’t figure out what was funny, having missed most of the story and suspecting I wouldn’t find it funny even if I hadn’t. Just as I raised my cup for another drink, I realized it was empty.

“Here, take mine,” Lily said, shoving her cup at me, even as she turned for the kitchen. “I’m going to grab a beer for Carlos, so I’ll just make another.”

She disappeared into the crowd, and I drifted away from the group, searching out a little breathing room.

Finally, I spotted the staircase and blessed open space not filled with drunken teenagers. I climbed the stairs, taking a seat at the top where I could watch over the party while not smothering in it.

By then, I had made it to my third cup of fruity-flavored alcohol, and was feeling rather disconnected from everything. As I sat, the room below spun slowly, and I leaned against the wall for support.



Graduation is the launching pad to the rest of your lives …

Bass vibrated through the room, undaunted by the wooden door, and rattled the desk. I groaned and tapped the delete key.

Delete. Delete. Delete. Delete.

“You suck,” I muttered, glaring at the screen, which was once again blank.

The curser blinked, as if daring me to come up with something better. I’d been working for two hours — or at least searching for inspiration that long. But after reading, surfing the web and racking my brain, I was no closer to the perfect column topic.

And I was distracted.

A yell went up downstairs. “Body shots!”

It was followed by catcalls, whistles and drunken laughter.

Trying to work in the middle of a party wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had.

Doing my best to block out the noise, I reflected on potential column topics. The art walks piece I’d originally planned sounded like fluff. No way to win over the editors in the bid to keep this column. I needed more time to finish the political piece about the councilwoman who was overspending tax dollars for questionable travel arrangements.

Graduation had seemed like the logical solution, but that was the problem.

It was predictable, aka boring.

The newspaper industry is going down the toilet and as a result, this column is saying goodbye …

I sighed and took my hands off the keys. If there was any brilliance inside me, it wasn’t going to emerge with this party screaming outside my door, and I could definitely use a drink.

The view from the second floor revealed a disaster zone below. Empty plates and beer cans covered every surface. Glistening skin flashed as girls and guys grinded together to the blaring music that rivaled some nightclubs for noise decibels.

I was too old for this crap — or maybe too sober.

I longed for my peaceful apartment. Elana would be gone by now, but given the massive crowd in Carlos’ living room, I’d never get my car out.

I hesitated outside the guest room where I’d been hiding, trying to psych myself up. Just get in and get out. One drink and back to work.

Turning toward the staircase, I noticed a girl sitting alone at the top of the stairs. She wasn’t clubbed up like the other girls at the party, instead dressed in jeans and a green blouse.

I gave her a brief onceover, doing a quick inventory: No body glitter. No makeup. No cleavage.

She must have been dragged to the party by a friend.

“Not too social, are you?” I asked, raising my voice to be heard over the music.

Her brown eyes flicked over to me.

“No,” she said, without the hint of a smile.

If there were a projection screen that put her feelings up on the wall, I was pretty sure hers would say leave me alone.

Oddly reassured, I walked over and dropped down beside her.

She leaned away, pressing closer to the wall.

“Don’t worry, I’m not here to hit on you. I’m not even drunk, believe it or not.”

She nodded, turning her eyes to the crowd below.

She was pretty in an understated way. Her chestnut hair was straight and shoulder-length, held back by a makeshift headband that hinted at a retro style. Her fitted blouse outlined her curves nicely, while her jeans showcased long legs. There was a coltish beauty to her, something young and untamed, and yet I got the impression she’d done little more than run a brush through her hair before running out the door.

She struck me as that type of girl. Low-maintenance.

“Is that why you sought out the least social person at this party?” she asked.

Her lips curved in a smile, but a sad one.

That expression made me curious. Had someone harassed her? Or was she lonely, overlooked because she didn’t spray on enough glitter and flash enough skin?

“I guess so,” I murmured. “Drunk people can be pretty annoying when you’re sober.”

I gave her an opening to tell me some jerk had messed with her, but she just laughed and lifted her half-empty cup.

“I never said I wasn’t drunk.”

I hadn’t missed that, either. Her eyes were too glazed for total sobriety, though she was far from trashed.

“Yes, but you’ve missed the hyper phase and gone straight into the brooding, introspective phase. Much more dignified,” I teased.

She turned back to looking at the crowd below, but I could see the smile she tried to hide.

“Oh Lord,” she said. “Lil is getting in it now.”


She pointed to a slender blonde grinding with … my cousin. Of course.

“Carlos is a total player,” my staircase buddy told me. “I keep telling her that, but she won’t listen. I mean, he’s been with like every pretty girl in our year except Lil. I bet he just couldn’t let graduation pass without saying he scored with them all.”

“Does that include you?”

Now, why did I ask that? I didn’t want to know if this girl was another of Carlos’ conquests. I’d have to bolt, and I was just getting comfortable.

“Uh …” she said awkwardly, and took a gulp from her cup to stall for time.

Shit. She was an ex.

Why had I gone there? Her answer wouldn’t matter. She was too young, and I never dated anyone. Not after Elana.

Anytime I started to think I could move on, the familiar churning of guilt and regret in my gut corrected my mistake.

“I don’t really fall into the pretty girl category. I was never on his radar.”


I sensed her pulling back into herself, as she refused to make eye contact and sipped her drink. I couldn’t leave her hanging like that.

“Carlos is a dick.”

Great. Real classy, Nick.

She burst out laughing in earnest, to my relief.

I decided in that moment Carlos was an idiot. This girl was beautiful, and if she put in half the effort of the glossy girls downstairs, she’d outshine them all.



I watched this guy, whose name I didn’t even know, grinning at me and felt a little lighter than I had all day.

He was older. Somewhere in his twenties, I guessed. And compared to the obnoxious boys downstairs, he was sexy and sophisticated.

Too sophisticated for a high school party.

When I’d first seen him in the hall — a tall, dark stranger stepping out of a bedroom — I shuddered to think what he might be doing there. Now, with his body warming my side as he sat close, I wondered if someone waited inside for him.

He didn’t seem to be in any hurry. His eyes fixed on me while I watched the party and tried to seem unaffected by his gaze.

Why hadn’t I done something more with my hair, or dressed up a little at least?

I dismissed the thought immediately, glancing to the side to take him in once more. He was so far out of my league it was a joke.

His dark hair was short, but neatly styled, and his fitted T-shirt and dark-wash jeans hugged his body perfectly. He was lean, rather than bulky, but with enough muscle definition to show when he leaned back on his elbows and his shirt stretched tighter.

I liked his eyes best, though, a deep blue that contrasted vividly against his olive-toned skin.

In a word: gorgeous.

“Why so glum tonight?” he asked. “The only time you smiled was when I called Carlos a dick. Did he do something to you?”

“No,” I said quickly. “I just had a bad day.”

“Why’s that?”

He stared at me so intently, and with such sincere interest, the words slipped free before I could think them through.

“No one came to my graduation today.”

I shrugged, trying to play off how much it bothered me.

“It’s pretty typical of my parents, actually. They’ve missed a lot of special occasions, but I was really hoping this one would be different, you know?”

“Out of town?”

I shook my head and sighed. “No, they just—” I stopped abruptly and glanced at him. “You don’t need to hear all this.”

“Actually, I’d like to hear it,” he said, leaning in close and lowering his voice. “And, it seems like maybe you’d like to tell it.”

Maybe it was the alcohol loosening my tongue, or maybe I just needed to vent. But I told him my whole sad life story.

At first, I talked about my disappointment with graduation. But he kept asking questions, and he was so easy to talk to, that before I knew it I’d given him a rundown of every birthday my parents had missed, every school concert. Even the story of my parents’ divorce, and the strain with my mom ever since I chose to live with my dad.

I went on and on, taking breaks only to gulp down the rest of my drink. And he soaked it all in, never interrupting, always listening intently.

When I finished, I felt drained but also lighter. As though I’d been carrying a burden of bitterness for so long, I didn’t realize it had made it hard to breathe.

“Wow,” he said when I finally fell silent, my throat a little sore from talking so much. “That is some story.”

“Sorry. I’ve probably bored you.”

“Nah, I’d like to hear more. Like your name, maybe.”

“Oh,” I laughed and held out a hand to shake, trying to ignore the flutters in my stomach when his fingers brushed my palm. “I’m Edie Mason. And you?”

“Nick,” he said as he pumped my hand with exaggerated enthusiasm and a grin that made my heart skip.

“Edie’s an unusual name. You spell that with a Y?”

“No, it’s i-e. E-D-I-E,” I said. “So, would you like to share your sob story now? It’s what drunk people do, apparently.”

“Ah, but you forgot,” he said with a slight smile, “I’m not drunk; you are. So why don’t you tell me more? Is your mother remarried too?”

“What are you, training to be a bartender?”

He laughed and nudged me with his shoulder. “No, really, I’m interested.”

I didn’t pause to consider why he wanted my story. It was just nice to have someone interested. So, I rolled my eyes at him good-naturedly and kept answering his questions until Lily arrived.

I didn’t notice her presence on the stairs until she tapped my shoulder.

“Edie, we’re getting ready to leave.”

I looked up. “Oh. Already?”

Lil rolled her eyes. “It’s 2 a.m., and Samantha’s got to work early tomorrow.”


Time had flown by while I talked to this guy. Nick.

He stood up and grabbed my hand, pulling me to my feet, where I swayed for a moment before catching my balance against the wall.

“I’m Nick,” he supplied to Lily. “Edie and I were just talking about graduation.”

“Uh-hmm,” Lily said noncommittally. “And will Edie ever see you again?”

“Lil! He doesn’t have to see me again.”

Lil thought I was naive, and Nick was looking to take advantage. As if a guy that good-looking would actually pursue me.

Nick just grinned at Lily as if he knew exactly what she was about.

“I’m sure Edie and I will meet again,” he said. “At any rate, she can figure out how to find me.”

To my disappointment — but not surprise — he didn’t offer a phone number or ask for mine.  He started down the stairs.

“What’s that mean?” Lily called after him, but he didn’t answer.

“Oh, well, let’s get you out of here. You can sleep over at my house, so you don’t go home drunk,” Lily said, helping me down the stairs.

Pre-order “Earning Edie” here, and receive your copy on April 1.

Free short story: Hunters’ Sacrifice

I wrote the story below as a flash fiction prompt in the YA LGBT Books group on Goodreads.
It was a beautiful sunset.
Large swaths of burnt orange and amethyst swept across the sky, and all I could think was: I hope it’s not our last.
Kevin faltered to a stop, breathing hard. His normally pale complexion was flushed a deep red from exertion and his long limbs trembled with exhaustion.
“I don’t know if I can keep going,” he said.
I wanted to tell him he could rest. I wanted to pull him close, and let him lean on me until his heart calmed and his breathing slowed. I wanted a of things, but I couldn’t have them.
Not if we wanted to survive.
“You want to be the their dinner?” I asked in a harsh tone. He flinched, and I hardened my heart against those wide blue eyes so full of fear. “They won’t stop, so neither can we.”
“But, I don’t hear anything. Just for a few minutes? Please?”
I adjusted the pack on my back, attempting to ease the ache of straps digging into my flesh and the weight of supplies that grew heavier with every step. Without checking on Kevin, I started trudging down the mountainside.
He would follow. He’d follow, or he’d die.
Sometimes, it seemed as if I’d loved Kevin forever. Surely longer than our 17 years of life. Longer than the decades of hunts. Longer even than the war that prompted desperate villages to agree to sacrifice two adolescents every year to the Hunters who dwelled in the woods in exchange for peace.
The Hunters that were half fact and half myth and entirely a mystery.
Some said they were primitive men and women, raised in the woods as survivalists and trained in the art of hunting and tracking their prey, be it animal or human. Others said they were beasts, wild animals that hungered for flesh and could be appeased only by a sacrifice of fresh meat.
The most frightening rumor, though, was that they were a blend of man and beast, with the appetite of an animal and the intellect of a human.
Whatever they were, no sacrifice had ever returned to our village, or any of the others, as far as I’d heard.
But I wasn’t hopeless.
If we survived this, we would never return, either. I’d take Kevin far away, and I’d protect him from the people who forfeited our lives.
He’d never love me back. I’d come to terms with that a long time ago, even before I started pushing him ruthlessly, berating him cruelly if it would yield just one more step.
“We’re gonna die anyway,” he muttered behind me, as we stumbled our way through the trees.
I whirled on him and clutched his arms. “Shut up! You’re going to freaking live if it kills me, Kev. Just. Keep. Going.”
“I can’t!” he wailed, sagging in my grip. I had to release him or fall to the ground, too.
He collapsed in the dirt, between limbs covered in prickly pine needles that itched like the devil. He leaned back into a low-hanging bough and closed his eyes.
“Just leave me. You can make it, Aidan. You’re tough. I’m … not. Never will be.”
“Well, toughen up!” I demanded. “I’m not leaving, Kev. If you stay, I stay. If you die, I die.”
He groaned. “Why? You hate me, so … why?”
It shouldn’t have surprised me he believed that, yet it did. I loved him so hard I lived in terror he would see it shining out of my eyes, even as I said cutting, mean things to him to hide my feelings.
“I don’t hate you.”
He scoffed. “You told everyone I wet my pants in fear of the Hunters.”
His voice broke on the last word, and I winced. I’d had no idea he’d be facing the Hunters when I made that taunt years ago.
“We were just kids. I was a brat,” I said.
“You avoid me,” he pointed out. “When I walk into a room, you cross to the other side.”
I sighed. “What it does it matter now?”
“Because!” He shouted, working up a good fit of anger. “You make my life miserable!”
It was a relief to see his temper. The anger would pump adrenaline into his veins, and he’d find new stores of energy.
He lurched to his feet, adjusted his pack awkwardly and stomped past me. Smiling, I moved to follow, and he threw out his arm, nearly clothes-lining me.
“You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”
“Don’t Kev me,” he growled. “Leave me the hell alone. I’ll either live or die on my own. I don’t need my last minutes to be with someone who can’t stand me.”
He pushed ahead, walking too fast. The sun had set while we argued, and this dense section of woods blocked out the few rays of light still fading in the sky.
“I don’t hate you,” I called. “Will you slow down?”
He stumbled over a fallen log, his hands flailed at his sides, and then he was gone.
My breath caught in my chest. “Kevin?” I called.
I strained to hear his voice, or some sign of his movement, as I hurried forward. The normally peaceful chirp of birds and the sighing of wind through tree limbs was anything but soothing now.
“Kevin!” I shouted again, even as my heart sank in my chest.
Ahead of me was the log that tripped him, and just beyond that, the crevice in the earth that had swallowed him.
I dropped to my knees at the edge, and peered down. It was darker than night at the bottom.
“Kev?” I called again. “Are you okay?”
I held my breath, praying to hear his voice once more, vowing to the Gods I’d tell him the truth about why I’d treated him so harshly, if only I got the chance. If only he lived.
“Ow. Oh Gods,” he groaned. Then a moment later, a loud shout: “Aidan? Are you out there? Aidan! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Gods, I’m so sorry. Help me!”
“Kevin! I’m here! Are you hurt?”
He shuffled around, cursing and making pained noises.
“It’s too deep to climb out, but only by about a foot or so. So, um … 7 or 8 feet deep, I guess? I’m bruised, but fine. Do you have rope?”
No, I didn’t. But I wouldn’t leave him there. If I could get to the bottom, I could boost him to the top, and then hope I could figure out some handholds to climb out myself.
“Get back. I’m coming down.”
“Aidan, wait–”
I swung over the edge, extending my full length so I could drop only the couple of feet left to the bottom. The soil pulled loose in my hands, and I fell into the darkness.
It should have taken only seconds to hit the bottom, but it didn’t happen. I fell, and fell.
When I hit bottom, a sharp pain shot through my ankle and I collapsed with a shout of pain.
“Aidan?”His voice floated to me in the darkness.
It was damp and cool in the chasm — and so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
A touch whispered over my arm, and I flinched from it before I realized it was Kevin’s hand.
“You okay?” He asked.
“Seven or 8 feet? Really?” I asked in a sharp tone, before I remembered my resolve to tell Kevin the truth. To be kinder.
He sucked in a breath. “Sorry. I tried to tell you before you jumped that it was a blind guess. I’m such a screw-up. No wonder you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.”
He laughed humorlessly. “I’ve basically gotten us both killed. Of course, you do.”
Exasperated, I reached out a hand blindly, fumbling it over his face until I felt the shape of his cheek under my palm.
“Why do you think I wouldn’t leave you, Kevin?” I said.
“I don’t know.” He sounded confused. “That’s what I can’t understand.”
I sucked in a breath to tell him, but the words lodged in my throat. I had to tell him, though. I’d vowed to the Gods I would, and everyone knew a broken vow brought only the worst misfortune.
Of course, in our present situation, misfortune seemed a given.
I wasn’t sure I could handle Kevin’s rejection as my last memory of him before death. I wanted to remember him as I’d seen him every day of our childhood: a golden-haired, blue-eyed, vibrant angel.
He was slender and a little gangly, yet somehow still graceful in his movements, and though he thought he was weak, I’d watched him long enough to know he was resilient.
I admired him, though I worked hard every day not to show it.
Laughter rang above our heads, and twigs and pine needles crunched under feet.
I clapped a hand over his mouth, as I strained to listen. I hoped they’d pass us by, but I suspected this chasm was a trap meant to deliver us into their hands … or paws.
This was my fault. Had I honored my vow, we might have yet escaped.
A lamp swung out over the chasm, and light filtered down between the rocks to shine in my eyes.
“Hello, boys! Nice of you to join us!” a deep voice bellowed.
So, they weren’t beasts. It was yet to be seen if they were entirely men.
Quickly, frantically, I turned to Kevin. If I wanted us to survive the night, I had to honor my promise to the Gods and pray they took mercy on me.
“I love you,” I blurted. “I was a brat because I didn’t want you to know.”
And then, unable to face the horrified expression that would cross his face any second, I pressed my lips to his in a brief kiss.
My heart raced and my palms sweat and it wasn’t at all what I’d dreamt when I’d imagined kissing Kevin.
There was too much fear and shock in me. I barely registered the sensation of his lips against mine.
“Climb the rope,” the voice from above called, and a moment later thickly braided rope thumped against the wall at our sides.
I turned to inspect it, finding that it had a large loop at the end for raising a rider. Good. I didn’t think my arms, or Kev’s, could handle a tough climb.
Grabbing it, I turned to him. “You first. Climb in.”
He leaned on me as he raised first one leg, then the other and slid into the makeshift seat.
“Aidan …”
I shook my head. “Not now,” I said. “I only told you because I made a vow and I had to honor it.”
Tugging on the rope, I called up to the men. “He’s ready!”
Kevin slowly ascended the wall, and then the rope was tossed back down to me. I wasn’t sure we’d made the right choice to put ourselves into these men’s hands. We could have died naturally, together, of starvation or thirst. It might have been better than what was in store. But it wasn’t in me to give up so easily.
I adjusted the rope under me, and began the ascent.
Minutes later, I was on firm ground beside Kevin. I couldn’t look him in the eye, and my ankle throbbed with every step, but we weren’t dead yet.
“What will you do with us?” Kevin asked in a shaky voice.
“Same as always, kid. Don’t look so frightened. You’ll thank us when it’s over.”
“Are you going to eat us?” he blurted.
I turned stunned eyes on Kevin as he stared down the huge man before us. He was a brute, I saw now that I was free of the darkness. He was tall, at least 7 feet, with broad shoulders and muscled arms. His hair was curly and wild, sticking up in all directions, and a thick beard covered his face.
A feral smile split his face, and my hopes sank in my stomach like a stone. There was a beastliness to this man that couldn’t be coincidence.
“You hear that, Hart,” he said, with a deep laugh. His eyes sparkled over his sharp grin as he turned to another hulked-out man beside him. “They’re telling them we eat them for dinner now.”
“So, you don’t?”
“Gods no, boy.”
“So, you kill us then,” Kevin said flatly, and it hurt my heart to hear the acceptance in his tone.
Unable to help myself, I grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. He didn’t look at me, but he didn’t pull away.
“Relax, boys,” Hart said, his tones more civilized than his partner’s. “We’re not going to harm you. Come, we’ll tell you everything once get back to camp. You two look like you could use a meal and a rest.”
We had no choice but to follow. Thankfully, the camp wasn’t far, but it was still agony on my sore ankle. Kevin fell back to one side, wrapping an arm around my waist to lend support, and Hart yanked me gracelessly to my feet whenever I tripped and fell.
“What could they want?” He asked quietly.
“I don’t know.”
“They don’t need to lie. They’ve already won.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, huh? We’re still alive.”
He nodded, and we fell into silence.
We were hustled to the fireside, and situated on a fallen log. Bowls of soup were pressed into our hands, followed by cups of water that we gulped greedily, dehydrated after our panicked flight through the forest during the heat of the late afternoon.
There were a handful of people in the camp, women and men. Not all of them were so intimidating as the two Hunters who’d caught us, but there was a sort of wildness to them.
“Hart tells me you’ve been misled about your fate,” a young woman with dark hair and intense eyes said.
“There are a lot of rumors,” I said carefully. “About who you are and what you do with the sacrifices.”
“They would call it a sacrifice,” she scoffed. “We call it a gift.”
Kevin stirred beside me. “A gift?”
A note of hope crept into his voice, and I hoped it wouldn’t be shattered before the night’s end. I was glad to hear some emotion from him. That flat, numb tone had torn me to pieces.
“Let me tell you a story,” she said.
I noticed the other Hunters gathering around and settling in with bowls of soup, as if she were about to tell stories by the campfire for their enjoyment and not share with us our fate, whatever it might be.
Kevin’s hand crept into mind, and I held it tight, bracing for the truth at last.
“A century ago, there were hundreds of our kind in this forest. We kept to ourselves, mostly. The woods provided what we needed to survive, and we were happy enough. Then the Hunters came–”
“What? But you’re the Hunters!” Kevin blurted.
The woman’s eyes widened in surprise, and one of the men cursed loudly, angrily. My hand tightened on Kev’s in fear, but no one made a move to hurt us.
“They call us the Hunters?” She said, sounding astonished, then let loose a sharp laugh. “That just figures, doesn’t it?”
It was a rhetorical question, obviously, and she continued to the tale.
“The Hunters came, and they started killing us. No doubt you’ve heard enough about us to know that we aren’t like most humans. We can call our beasts from within, and change into beautiful creatures that thrive in the woods, hunting and playing. The Hunters started killing us, mostly for our furs, but sometimes just for sport. It went on for years, decades. We tried to hide, we tried to relocate deeper within the forest, but the damage was done. We had to fight back for our own survival.”
“The war started,” I said.
She nodded. “Yes. And, it went on for ages. We had a tactical advantage. Our beasts are excellent trackers–”
“And hunters,” Kevin injected.
Did he want them to rip him to shreds?
I tensed beside him and cast him a look that conveyed my wish for him to shut up.
“Yes, I suppose so,” she said. “In that way, perhaps their name for us makes sense. We began to hunt them. But we were disadvantaged by our dwindling numbers, and so the war went on year after year, decade after decade. Finally, we’d all had enough, and a truce was made.”
“Each village sacrifices two adolescents to a tribe of Hunters each year,” I said.
“Each village gives up two adolescents, yes. To join us,” she clarified. “We neared extinction during the war, and we’ve been trying to rebuild our population ever since. Once we reach a stable number, the villages will no longer contribute to our pool.”
I stared, stunned. In all of my speculations, I’d never considered that the village sacrifices might be joining the Hunters.
“You mean we’ll become like you?” Kevin asked.
This time, I blurted the question. “But how?”
She waved a hand. “That is a long story, and it is quite late. You two need to rest. The transformation doesn’t come without a great deal of effort. Come, I’ll get you settled for the night.”
She stood and led us to a tent, complete with sleeping bags inside. At my astonished look, she cracked a grin.
“We’re not entirely animals, you know. This is just a temporary camp. We could sleep in our beast forms, and some of us will, but the rest of us want shelter from the elements.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
Kevin and I crawled into our sleeping bags, close together in the small tent. I could hear his heavy sigh as we fully relaxed for the first time in nearly 12 hours.
“So, we’re not going to die,” Kevin murmured, mostly to himself.
“Looks that way.”
He cast a look my way. “Bet you’re regretting that confession right about now. Gonna go back to making my life miserable?”
I bristled. “I honored my vow, and we’re not dead,” I said shortly. “Hard to regret that.”
His hand landed on my shoulder and squeezed. “Aidan, I’m teasing.”
“It’s not a joke to me,” I said reluctantly.
He was right in a way. I hated that he knew my feelings, that he could use them against me. It felt like a weakness.
“Of course not. It’s just hard to believe,” he said.
I cleared my throat. “We don’t ever have to talk about this again, but I have to ask just once. Do you … I mean, do you want to–”
“I mean, not right now,” he clarified. “Right now, I still think you’re a jerk. And I’m still coming to terms with the whole not dying thing. Eventually, who knows? You did keep me alive, you and your vow to the Gods.”
He was teasing me again. I could hear it in his tone. He didn’t believe my vow had anything to do with our situation, and maybe he was right. But at least I wouldn’t have to face the idea that my cowardice had been our doom.
Kevin didn’t love me, didn’t want me. It was what I’d expected, and yet, he’d given me hope. Maybe, eventually he’d forgive the way I’d treated him while we were children. Maybe he’d come to love me in our new lives.
As men.
As Beasts.
As Hunters, giving new life to the packs that roamed these woods for centuries until our people came along to decimate them.
It was a sacrifice I was willing to make, especially with Kevin by my side.

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