Sunday, October 22, 2017

Random Tales of Murder/Mayhem 2017


The Hike by John Inman
Summary:
Ashley James and Tucker Lee have been friends for years. They are city boys but long for life on the open trail. During a three-hundred-mile hike from the Southern California desert to the mountains around Big Bear Lake, they make some pretty amazing discoveries.

One of those discoveries is love. A love that has been bubbling below the surface for a very long time.

But love isn’t all they find. They also stumble upon a war—a war being waged by Mother Nature and fought tooth and claw around an epidemic of microbes and fury.

With every creature in sight turning against them, can they survive this battle and still hold on to each other? Or will the most horrifying virus known to man lay waste to more than just wildlife this time?

Will it destroy Ash and Tucker too?


When Ash and Tuck decide to go for a hiking adventure, there is no half measures when it comes to their devotion to make it fun but they are definitely determined to research it thoroughly, which can only keep them safer, right?  There is one thing they forgot and that is nature is not always predictable.  Will they survive the journey but more importantly, will their friendship survive when it becomes more?

First of all I just want to say that John Inman is King of Macabre.  Holy Hannah Batman!  If you doubt that Mother Nature can be frightening I highly suggest you read The Hike because it will keep you on the edge of your seat in ways you never expected.  "Edge of your seat" may be a cliché but it's cliché for a reason, when a story grabs you like The Hike did me, you know you're reading something special.

I won't go into the plot too much but I will say that if you think the duo will meet furry and fuzzy little creatures along the way then you are reading the wrong book and the wrong author.  Don't get me wrong there is plenty of friendship, love, and heart in this story that will warm your heart but its the anticipation of what is lurking around the next bend in the trail that will keep your page turning(or swiping) finger busy.

I'm just going to say it: if you love Stephen King, well then you'll love John Inman and personally, I will read Inman over King any day.  King is good but Inman will take the most mundane and every day situation and turn it into the most frightening scenario imaginable.  I am no hiker or camper and frankly after reading The Hike, I'm not sure I want to be 😉 This is definitely going in my re-read and my creepy/freaky library.

RATING: 

Mummy Dearest(The XOXO Files #1) by Josh Lanyon
Summary:
The truth is out there. Way, way, way out there!

Drew Lawson is racing against the clock. He's got a twenty-four-hour window to authenticate the mummy of Princess Merneith. If he's not at his boyfriend's garden party when that window closes, it'll be the final nail in their relationship coffin.

The last thing he needs traipsing on the final shred of his patience is brash, handsome reality show host Fraser Fortune, who's scheduled to film a documentary about the mummy's Halloween curse.

The opportunity to film a bona-fide professor examining the mummy is exactly the aura of authenticity Fraser needs. Except the grumpy PhD is a pompous ass on leave from his ivory tower. Yet something about Drew has Fraser using a word he doesn't normally have to draw upon: please.

With no time to waste-and a spark of attraction he can't deny - Drew reluctantly agrees to let Fraser follow his every move as he unwraps the mummy's secrets. Soon they're both making moves behind the scenes that even the dead can't ignore…

Warning: Whoso shall ever open this tomb, er, book shall suffer the curse of the Pharaohs. Okay, maybe not. But set aside a chunk of time for marauding mummies, too many cosmopolitans, illicit sex in hotel rooms, and other non-academic shenanigans. 

Original Review October 2014:
Perfect for Halloween, I read Josh Lanyon's short story/novella to quench my eerie thirst.  Very reminiscent of the classic Hollywood horror films in that everything isn't laid out before you in great gory detail, it leaves you imagining the scenes in your head.  Did Drew and Fraser really see a mummy or is it Halloween illusion?  There's humor, a bit of terror here and there, intriguing characters, and of course no Josh Lanyon story would be complete without the yummy.  Considering the length or lack thereof, depending on how you choose to see it, this story has a lot of "bang for your buck" as the cliche' goes.

RATING: 

Laurel Heights #1 by Lisa Worrall
Summary:
Detectives Scott Turner and Will Harrison are sent undercover after an apparent murder/suicide in Laurel Heights, an exclusive gay housing community. Will the two closeted officers be able to hide their attraction while each believing the other is straight? And is there a killer amongst them waiting to claim his next victim?

***CONTENT ADVISORY: This title includes scenes of dubious consent***

Laurel Heights #2 by Lisa Worrall
Summary:
Will and Scott are now out and proud and living together in Scott's tiny house. So everything is perfect, right? Wrong...

Scott has a new partner, a new male partner, and Will is not happy about that at all.

A sadistic serial killer is at large, torturing his way through the gay community, but Will and Scott have no leads.

And one of the residents of Laurel Heights has been arrested for murder.

Original Overall Duology Review August 2015:
This duology has a little bit of everything: sex, crime, mystery, heartache, bad guys, good guys, friendships, and above all love.  Will and Scott are an amazing pair.  I guess to a certain extent they represent the cliche of closeted cops who hate each other, at least on the surface, but are thrown together undercover and then learn certain truths about each other.  But cliche or not, the relationship between the two as well as their partners, Grace and Julie, are so well written and entertaining that my heart was captured from the very beginning and are in no way read as typical.  As for the mystery/crime, that too is edge of the seat expertly crafted, even though I had a fair idea who the culprit was especially in book 2, riding along watching Will and Scott figure it out was nail biting.  For me, Laurel Heights falls into the "journey is more important than destination" category.  I have never read this author before but I will definitely be checking out other works by Lisa Worrall because Laurel Heights is powerful.

RATING: 

The Gentleman's Madness by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon
Summary:
Two men imprisoned. One in body, the other in mind. 

Caught in the throes of passion with another man, scholar John Gilliam agrees to asylum treatment for perversion at the request of his worried parents. He intends to fake a cure then return to his normal life, but an attack on his person leads him down a darker path. Transferred to another facility, he is denied any devices by which he might harm himself—even books and writing materials. Half crazed by isolation John finds an unexpected friend in his caretaker, Sam Tully.

Tully feels sorry for the patient everyone calls “the professor,” but he must keep his head down and perform his duties. His family relies on his earnings. He refuses to acknowledge the stirring of excitement inside him every time he is in Gilliam’s presence. Thirst for the knowledge the scholar offers wars with the carnal hunger he must deny.

In John’s small cell, learning and mental freedom blossom as the two forge a friendship. Forbidden attraction evolves into physical action. But in the asylum there is more than curative treatment taking place. The pair uncover a terrible secret and must fight not only for their freedom but their very lives.

This is a previously released title.

Original Review July 2016:
John's journey definitely broke my heart but when Sam Tully entered his room, heartwarming feels popped up all over the place.  John and Sully wormed their way into my heart.  I say it often because when I read a really good book, the characters, the story, the setting, everything really gets under my skin and in my heart.  I invest all of me in it and The Gentleman's Madness is no different.  Once again, Dee & Devon have showed their devotion to historical detail in this amazing story.  I have to admit that the look in the eyes on the cover creeped me out a bit and because of it, Madness got pushed down on my TBR list a few notches but the farther into the story I got when I finally picked it up, the more it seemed perfectly fitting and now I can't imagine any other design.

RATING: 

The Copper by Bonnie Dee
Summary:
Jaded lord, stalwart cop, instant attraction.

Lord Avery Wickersham wakes from a night’s debauchery at a bordello to police officers pounding on the bedroom door. During the vice raid, Constable Connor Tate is ready to arrest the lord and his two male sex partners when Avery’s glib tongue earns a reprieve for his friends if not for himself.

From this grim beginning, men as opposite as summer and winter slowly work their way to an unexpected spring. Avery is ripe for a change in his aimless life, while Connor struggles between duty and desire. Overwhelming passion takes them by storm, but can a rush of lust evolve into love when their lives are so different?

While Avery attempts altruism by volunteering at a charity mission, Connor uncovers government corruption and an evil man who brings torture and death to his victims. The duo join forces to try to stop the killer, but when one of the lovers faces peril, their time may run out.

Original Review April 2016:
Amazing! The Copper is only the second Bonnie Dee solo book that I have read so I don't have much experience to draw from as to whether the gritty details of torture that Bertrand and others face are the norm for her writing.  Some might find them a bit too detailed for a romance but for me, they were perfectly fitting for the story and the way the characters, especially Connor, deal with it and the fallout from it is realistic.  As a history buff, I find the details and realism of the era pretty spot on, which only further heightens both my enjoyment of the story and my respect for the author.  I love how Connor and Avery seem to influence change in each other but I think what they really do is make the other dig down deeper to expose what was already there.  If what you are looking for is lighthearted romantic fun, this probably is not the book for you.  Yes, there are moments of fun and romance between Connor and Avery and definitely moments of tenderness towards Bertrand but overall this is a gritty tale of corruption and torture with moments of pure unadulterated darkness.  So if these are not your thing, proceed with caution but I found the story heartwarming along side the dark showing what the human spirit is a capable of when tested, so I highly recommend The Copper. it does not disappoint.
RATING:

The Curse of the Blue Scarab: A Monster Mash-Up by Josh Lanyon
Summary:
Who or what is responsible for the gruesome deaths of members of the secret society known as the Order of Osiris?

Dr. Armiston, an irascible, confirmed bachelor who believes in medicine not mysticism, is certain the deaths are only tragic accidents.

The members of the Order of Osiris suspect something more sinister is at work. They profess to believe an ancient curse has been visited upon their society. Handsome and mysterious Captain Maxwell requests Armiston’s help.

Tarot cards? Egyptology? Spiritualism? Armiston has little patience with the superficial and silly pastimes of the rich, but he does love a good puzzle. Or could it be that he is more drawn to young Captain Maxwell than he wishes to admit?

Either way, Armiston must solve the secret of the cursed sarcophagus very soon, for Captain Maxwell is the next slated to die…

Original Review January 2017:
Another amazing tale from the great storyteller Josh Lanyon.  The Mummy has always been one of my favorite Universal & Hammer horror stories and this interesting mash-up/spin on it had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.  Is the Mummy real? Well, for that you'll have to read The Curse of the Blue Scarab yourself, but I will say that you won't want to miss this one.  So many elements in this one bring the story to life in ways that had my heart in my throat, my knuckles white from gripping my Kindle so hard, and the building anticipation had me tingling from my hair to my toes.  Such a delicious way to start the New Year, a Lanyon novel with all my favorite elements: historical, romance, mystery, and hints of the paranormal which tick all my WOW boxes. The only disappointment was that it had to end.

RATING: 

Something Sinister(DS Billings Victorian Mystery #3) by Olivier Bosman
Summary:
On the 21st November 1890, Julius Dunne-Smythe – a wealthy coffee manufacturer – his wife, his sister in law and his butler creep quietly out of their home in the middle of the night, sneak into a carriage and drive off, never to be seen again.

When a few weeks later Dunne-Smythe’s business partner discovers some discrepancies in the company’s book keeping, Dunne-Smythe is suspected of embezzling the company and running away. The case is swiftly handed over to Detective Sergeant John Billings of Scotland Yard.

As Billings delves deeper into the case, he finds that all the clues to the mysterious disappearance lead back to one man; the enigmatic German butler who had recently been employed by Dunne-Smythe. The butler appears to have had a disproportionate amount of influence on the family. After looking into the butler’s past, Billings discovers a dark and disturbing secret which may well put the lives of Dunne-Smythe and his relatives in danger. What initially seemed like a simple case of theft, now looks like something far more sinister.

Original Review August 2017:
I am going to jump right out of the gate and start by saying as much as I enjoyed the first two entries in this series, Something Sinister is mystery at its finest and knocking on the door of 1940s style noir with a little present day creepiness factor added, so basically if you love suspense then this is the one for you.  Will the missing Dunne-Smythe family be found?  Do they want to be found?

I always have a hard time when it comes to doing reviews of mysteries because even though I don't ever do spoilers, so often in a mystery even the little things can be a plot giveaway.  So lets focus on Billings himself.  He still hasn't accepted himself and when he does verge on giving into his desires fate has other plans, but even that may lead to answers he wasn't aware of so perhaps fate knows what she is doing after all.   His determination and passion to solve the mystery his way is inspiring but if there is one wish I have for him it would be to find some true happiness in his personal life using that same determination and passion.

There are so many factors that will keep you on your toes trying to figure out what each new page will bring, if you love mystery then Something Sinister is one you do not want to miss.  It may be the third installment in the series but it can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend reading the first two if only to get a little insight into Billings mind and job.

RATING: 


The Hike by John Inman
Chapter One
I STARED at the pile of shiny new stuff in the trunk of my car, then tore my eyes away long enough to gaze—for the umpteenth time—at the two-foot-long sales receipt in my hand.

“Ahem,” I said. “Did we really just spend $637? I mean, seriously?”

“And that’s just the beginning,” drawled Tuck, who was also standing there staring into my trunk. “We have to come back tomorrow to choose sleeping bags and pick up our two three-season tents, which they didn’t have in stock. That’s another $500 and change. Then we have to buy enough supplies to keep ourselves fed for three weeks, not to mention the loss of wages we’ll suffer heading off into the bush and trying to stay alive for damn near a month, or at least long enough to come back and brag to everybody how we bravely faced nature head-on, fighting off wolves and hopping over rattlesnakes every five feet, and at the same time trying not to fall victim to the Zika virus after being stabbed by some asshole mosquito who flew all the way up from Brazil for the sole purpose of expanding his diet by chowing down on us.”

“Lord, Tuck,” I said. “How you do blather on. And just so you know, there’s probably not a wild wolf anywhere this side of Montana.”

“Thank God for that. But what about mountain lions? They scare the poop out of me.”

I reached into the trunk and pulled out a brand-new garden trowel with a seven-dollar price tag on it. “Which is why we bought this,” I preached. “Never forget the trail hiker’s sacred motto: Leave Nothing Behind. Even poop needs to be buried. Remember?”

Tuck blessed me with a vaudevillian shudder. “Yes, I remember, and I’m still horrendously appalled by the idea.”

We stared down yet again at the mound of very expensive stuff crammed into the trunk of my car. Two CamelBaks that held three liters of drinking water each, pots and pans, a skillet, tin plates and flatware, two tiny Coleman lanterns, four walking sticks, new boots, new hiking shorts, several packs of two-ply socks to prevent blisters, sunhats, rain gear, sunblock, insect repellants, leather anklets to guard against snakebite, boxes of baby wipes for bathing, a bag of dog food, a water filtration system, a couple of throwaway cameras, a book on how not to get killed by wildlife on the trail, and a quart of scotch (which I bought in case we almost get killed by wildlife on the trail and need something to calm our nerves afterward). And we still, as Tuck said, had to come back tomorrow and purchase everything else we needed for the trip. In spite of all this, we were having the time of our lives. Go figure.

We slowly swiveled our heads around to stare at each other. Even more slowly, two grins started spreading across our faces. Tuck’s eyes crinkled merrily. My mouth fell open around a gaping smile. We grabbed hands.

“We’re going camping!” we screamed in unison.

Some butch-looking guy in biker boots and a lumberjack shirt, balancing a brand-new kayak on his head, ogled us askance as we stood there in the REI parking lot jumping up and down like a couple of Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. All we needed were pom-poms and tits. Tucker and I ignored the guy. We’ve been stared at before, and for much more egregious offenses. This Paul Bunyan wannabe barely made a blip on our radar.

Maybe this is the point in the story where I should introduce myself. My name is Ashley James. Everybody calls me Ash. My fellow cheerleader is Tucker Lee. Everybody calls him Tuck. He’s my best friend in this cold, cruel world, and not too long ago, by some weird mixture of hormones and alcohol, he became an unexpected bedmate as well.

That sort of sneaked up on us, don’t think it didn’t. Being bedmates, I mean. There we were, toddling along since high school, best chums, each knowing the other was gay but never really acting on that knowledge until one day a few months ago when we drank too much tequila in a dive in Tijuana and woke up the next morning snuggled up naked in a bed inside a Motel 6 about fifty feet north of the US/Mexican border with our clothes strewn everywhere, my ass hurting that good kind of hurt, some very enjoyable memories swirling around inside my head, and Tuck snoring and drooling against my shoulder while one of my hands rested on his furry butt and my other hand cupped the back of his neck, holding him close.

It was a funny thing too. Tuck isn’t my type. I like tall, smooth-skinned, eel-thin guys with brooding eyes and big feet. Tuck isn’t eely at all. In fact, he’s shorter than me and frankly husky. Sort of stocky, you know? He also has a fuzzy chest. Well, no, he’s fuzzy everywhere, except on the top of his head, where with him at the ripe old age of twenty-five, his brown hair is already receding. And his shoes are a size seven and a half. Ballerina feet.

So here I am all of a sudden amorously attracted to my best friend—the last guy I should be attracted to if you judge me by past exploits. Me, the guy who rarely returns calls after one hookup, now can’t seem to be around this husky, short, small-footed, fuzzy best friend enough.

As if all this isn’t truly irksome, I’m also a bit disturbed by the fact that every time Tuck and I get together for some reason or other, which is almost daily, we expend a great deal of energy pretending that night in Tijuana never happened. Not once has Tuck mentioned it. And since he hasn’t mentioned it, neither have I. Now how do you suppose that makes me feel?

By the way, in case you’re wondering, like Tuck, I’m also twenty-five. I stand an even six feet, have reddish-blond hair, a smooth torso—which is in pretty good shape if I say so myself—and I like to surf and jog, work out at my gym, and run an occasional marathon. Tucker likes to sit on his ass and read books. I mean, what the hell kind of a guy does that?

But all that is another story altogether. Right now we’re in the REI parking lot, jumping up and down like morons, and I’m telling myself not to pull Tuck into a bone-crushing hug for the sole purpose of sticking my tongue down his throat.

Yep. I’ve got it bad. And Tuck doesn’t seem to care at all. Although he is excited about the camping trip; I’ll give him that.

He slammed the trunk shut. We were still beaming at each other. If Tuck had any inkling of the thoughts going through my head about how cute I thought he looked standing there, he didn’t let on. He merely reached up and flicked a speck of dust off my shoulder.

“Where to now, bwana? Lunch?”

“Sure,” I said. “Lunch.”

“How about Lettuce Entertain You.”

“That place that serves nothing but salad? Are you nuts? I need grease. I need cheese. I need great flat wheels of dough. I need pizza.”

He frowned but said, “Okay.”

So off we went.

At our favorite wood-fired pizza joint in downtown San Diego, Tuck prissily nibbled away at a single slice while I consumed six slices in the same span of time.

“What the heck is that all about?” I asked, pointing at his empty plate.

Tuck had the cuteness to blush. “I’m trying to lose weight. I look fat next to you.”

Boy, did I have an answer for that. I wanted to say, “Next to me, you look sexy as hell naked and hungover and humping my leg. Period. All other considerations are moot.” But I didn’t. What I said was “What brought this on?”

He blushed redder and shrugged.

I tried harder. “You weigh the same as I do, Tuck.”

“But you’re six inches taller.”

“Okay, but your dick is bigger.”

A smile, finally. “Yeah,” he said. “There is that.”

We were sitting at an outside table with the whole of downtown traipsing past. I felt the weight of his foot against mine under the table. Tuck didn’t seem to notice, but I did. Disconcerted by how much I noticed, I snagged another slice of pizza from the box between us while a crocodile of grade-schoolers marched past single file on their way to kiddy time at the San Diego Public Library, all the while casting envious glances at our pizza, or what was left of it. Don’t they ever feed those kids?

For about the gazillionth time, I opened my mouth to ask if Tuck remembered that night in TJ at all, then chickened out and kept right on eating. I stared at his strong, meaty hand resting on the table in front of me. It had a brush of dark hair sweeping across the back and also a sprinkling of hair adorning the skin between every single knuckle. How sexy is that? I seemed to remember that very hand doing things to me under the covers in that room at the Motel 6 that could get you strung up by your neck from a baobab tree and stoned to death on most of the African continent.

Again I opened my mouth to bare the elephant in the room (or the elephant in the street-front café) but chickened out a second time.

“Should we pack a snakebite kit?” Tuck asked out of the blue.

“We’ll ask the REI guy tomorrow when we pick up the tents.”

“How about one of those foghorn things to scare off the wildlife?”

“Are you expecting an errant T. rex to chase us down the trail?”

“Black bears,” he said. “And don’t tell me there aren’t any of those within a thousand miles, because I know there are.”

“The only bear I expect to see on the trail is you, Tuck.”

At that he coughed up a wry chuckle. “Am I a bear?”

“You’re hairy from the bottoms of your feet to the top of your head.” I glanced at his receding hairline and amended my statement. “Almost. So yes, that makes you a bear.”

I don’t know if it was the way I was looking at him or because he suddenly entertained an unexpected flashback concerning our one and only night of carnal explorations just north of the Mexican border, but Tuck blushed again.

He tried to cover it up by wiping a napkin over his forehead. “It’s hot out here.”

“And getting hotter by the minute,” I said before I could stop myself.

Maybe because he didn’t know what else to say, Tuck grunted, “Fuck it,” grabbed the last slice of pizza out of the box, and poked it into his mouth with one of those hairy-knuckled fingers I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of. Seeing me watching him, he smiled. It was a good smile too. Very expansive.

“Wow,” I said, honestly startled. “You’ve got dimples.”

Tuck stopped chewing and stared at me. As soon as he could swallow the glob of pizza crust in his mouth without choking to death, he said, “I’ve always had dimples, Ash. You’ve known me for ten years and you never knew I had dimples?”

I came this close to reaching out and stroking his hand, but at the last moment I didn’t. God knows what sort of can of worms that would have opened up. I did, however, allow myself to take a teeny tiny stab at flirting. “Your dimples are nice,” I said. “Very cute.”

Tuck stared at me. His foot nudged mine beneath the table. An accident? He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, then opened it again, but still no sound came out. Finally he said, “We’d better go,” and after checking the bill the waitress had left on the table, he slipped a twenty under it and scraped his chair back so he could stand.

“Let me pay the bill,” I offered.

“Too late. It’s paid.”

“Let me give you half.”

“Stop it,” Tuck said with a dour expression that came out of nowhere.

“What’s wrong?” I said, more hurt by that look on his face than I wanted to admit. “What did I say?”

Tuck shook his head, tapped his pockets to make sure he had his wallet and cell phone and everything else people lug around with them these days, then cast his eyes toward the gate in the fence that led out onto the street.

“You ready to go, Ash? I need to get home and walk Hannah.”

“I guess,” I said. Standing, I did my own pocket patting routine, then followed Tuck as he weaved his way between the tables and headed out into the throng of noontime pedestrians milling back and forth along Broadway.

Since we’d arrived in my car, we headed for the high-rise parking structure where I’d parked. By the time we got there, the awkward moment had passed, and we were joking and kidding around, getting excited all over again about our upcoming hiking trip.

“Are we really taking the dogs?” I asked.

“Hannah and Cho? Hell yes. What else are we going to do with them? They’ll love being in the desert with us.”

Cho is my beagle, named for Margaret Cho. Hannah is Tuck’s Irish setter, named for his old-maid aunt, who died of a fatal bowel blockage twelve years prior. Tuck wasn’t particularly imaginative when it came to naming his pets. Somehow they always ended up being named after a dead relative who had died in some bizarre fashion, which Tuck’s family seemed to be prone to. Poor bastards.

Once settled in the car, I cranked up the engine, but before I could pull out of the slot, Tuck’s hand shot across the space between us and landed lightly on my arm, like a bird.

“We could save money by using one tent on the trip instead of two,” he said softly.

When I turned to him, our eyes met in the way I had been wanting them to meet for a very long time. “That would save us a lot of money,” I said.

For just an instant, his warm fingers brushed through the hair on my forearm, as if he was testing the way it felt. He was still staring at my face, our eyes remaining pretty much locked together.

With the flash of one tiny dimple, he said, “Plus, I’m a city boy. I’ll feel safer having you close.”

My voice wasn’t much more than a squeak. “Really? You’ll feel safer?”

His other dimple made a brief appearance. “Yeah, Ash. I will.”

“Uh, just so you know, I’m a city boy too. I’ll probably be worthless in the wild.”

“I’ll feel safer anyway.”

“Oh, well good, then, Tuck. I want you to feel safe.” I gave him a smile and that was that.

After a tick, he removed his hand from my arm and turned to stare through the windshield while dragging his seat belt over his chest and clipping it snug across his lap. For some reason, he was whistling.

I put the car in gear and started steering it through the confusing tangle of ramps and switchbacks, seeking the exit to the parking structure, shooting off this way and that like a lab mouse working his way out of a maze. Tucker tuned my radio to a country music station, which he knew I hated, and left us to be blatted with an old Merle Haggard hit that set my teeth on edge.

Not that I much minded at the moment.

“I’ll feel safer having you close,” Tuck had said.

“I want you to feel safe,” I’d answered back.

All the way home, I chewed on my lower lip, wondering what the two of us really meant by that little exchange, and what it would be like for the two of us to sleep in the same tent on the trail. Would we be too tired to do anything? Did he even want to do anything? Tough questions, but like I said, all I could do was wonder.

And all the time I was wondering, Tuck kept right on whistling.

Mummy Dearest by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
"There’s a fine line between coincidence and fate."

-- The Mummy Returns 

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago—in fact, in the Sixth Dynasty, which was way before anyone used the phrase once upon a time—there was a beautiful princess. But like all beautiful princesses, not to mention everyone else on the planet, Princess Merneith fell prey to time and tide, and she eventually wound up in the Lasse Dime Museum in Walsh, Wyoming. Population 1999.

I know what you’re thinking, but there are worse places you could wind up, I guess, including—according to legend—as fuel for the locomotive fires upon which some of the princess’s kinfolk landed when railroads were built across Egypt.

Merneith’s empty eye sockets stared up at me from the browned linen swaddling coyly concealing the rest of her petrified features. I leaned closer, nose nearly pressing the glass lid of the display case. She was so tiny inside that bundle of rags.

“How art the mighty fallen,” a voice murmured from behind me.

I didn’t quite jump, but I did straighten so fast I almost decapitated myself on the strategically placed Indian tomahawk display. I’d thought I was alone in the exhibit room. As it was, it took me a few seconds to locate the source of the voice in the surrounding jumble of shrunken heads, taxidermy and miscellaneous junk. A plump, elderly woman, her gray hair in short braids, regarded me with hopeful expectancy.

“Did you say something?” I asked. I was hoping it was her and not one of the stuffed critters.

She smiled. I was struck by the beauty of her eyes. Despite her evident age, they were a wide and sparkling aquamarine.

“The princess.” She nodded at the display case. “Kind of looks like a piece of driftwood, doesn’t she?”

“Well, I never really th—”

“You’re with the film crew?”

She was so eager, I was sorry to have to disappoint her. “No.” I couldn’t help asking, “What film crew?”

“You’re not with the film crew? Aren’t they coming?”

“I don’t know.” She seemed so anxious I felt like I should apologize. Or at least explain. “I’m Drew Lawson. I wrote Dr. Solvani about examining the princess.”

She looked as uncomprehending as the glassy-eyed stuffed beaver on the pedestal behind her.

“I’m writing a paper on her. The princess.”

“Oh? Babe Jenson.” She offered a hand and pumped mine energetically. “Dr. Solvani is so forgetful these days. Didn’t say a word to me.”

My heart sank. This sounded like a delay in the making—and I was on a tight schedule. Even tighter than usual. “He didn’t?”

She was shaking her head regretfully. “Nope. I’m afraid the doctor must have forgotten all about the mysterious people too.”

“The... mysterious people?”

“That would be me.” The new voice was suave and male. It belonged to a stocky young guy about my age with sandy hair, neatly trimmed beard and long-lashed hazel eyes.

“Oh, thank heavens,” Babe exclaimed. “I was starting to worry about you.”

That seemed to be the looked-for response. The guy gazed at me expectantly.

“Er... Hi.” I nodded politely, convinced by now that everyone in this little shop of horrors was wacko.

“Fraser Fortune,” he prodded.

“Hi,” I repeated.

His confident smile faltered. “Fraser. Fortune. The Mysterious.”

“The mysterious...?”

I thought I was conveying polite inquiry, but maybe I just looked hard of hearing. He repeated forcefully, “THE. MYSTERIOUS.”

“The mysterious what?” Now I was getting impatient too. Anyway, what kind of a name was Fraser Fortune? It sounded like the hero of one of those goofy old 1920s adventure novels. Dick Daring and the Lost City. Dick Daring in the Foreign Legion, Dick Daring and the Secret of the Moldering Museum.

Dick—er, Fraser—was now looking at me with disgust. “The Mysterious. It’s only one of the top-rated documentary series on TV right now.”

I snorted. “You mean that thing where they supposedly investigate ancient, weird or paranormal phenomenon and then wrap it all up in half an hour for the at-home viewers?”

His rosy complexion faded. He drew himself up to his full height—he was just a fraction shorter than me. “Yeah. That long-running, top-rated, award-winning thing that I produce, write and host.”

Babe’s chuckle interrupted our exchange of civilities. “Now, I thought for sure you must be a TV person. You’re so handsome.”

Fraser and I turned as though we’d choreographed our moves. She was beaming at me. I heard Fraser hitch a little breath. I reached in my pocket for my glasses and slipped them on.

“No. I’m a college professor. Do you think I could talk to Dr. Solvani?”

Babe looked apologetic in the face of my mounting desperation. “Dr. Solvani didn’t come in today. The doctor usually doesn’t come in on--” her voice lowered, “-- this day.”

“Friday?”

“Halloween,” Fraser supplied irritably. He didn’t actually add dumbshit, but the implication was clear.

I ignored him. Pointedly. “Do you have a way of getting in touch with him? This was all supposed to be arranged—”

Even before I finished speaking, Babe was shaking her head, her braids flying out with the vehemence of her feeling. “No. Oh no. I’m afraid Dr. Solvani can’t be reached.”

Fraser continued to stand there openly listening to our conversation. I gave him a discouraging look. It flew right over his head like a twittering soul departing for the Underworld.

“Well…” I chewed my lip. Fraser and Babe watched me as though waiting for something. “Then may I go ahead and examine the princess? It’s supposed to be all ar—”

“No way,” Fraser interrupted.

“Excuse me?”

“No way.” He met my look with one equally stony. “We’re filming here today. We’re just about to start setting our equipment up.”

“That’s true.” Babe, uncomfortable and apologetic, was suddenly avoiding my gaze. She used the corner of her flowered smock to wipe dust off the edge of a credenza.

“But I’ve got Dr. Solvani’s letter right here.” I unzipped my day planner.

“And I’ve got a signed contract.”

I stared at Fraser. He stared right back, and beneath that cocky, self-satisfied grin was a purpose harder than Egyptian basalt.

It galled me to have to try and conciliate him when the antipathy between us had been instant and instinctive, but I could see from Babe’s unhappy expression that if I wanted to examine the princess, I’d need Fraser’s cooperation.

“It won’t take me very long. Probably no more than an hour at most. If I promise to stay out of everyone’s way—”

He was shaking his head. The look of fake regret on his boyish face made me want to strangle him.

“Look.” I tried for a pleasant, reasonable tone. I think I managed constrained. “I’m only here for the day. I’m flying out tomorrow morning.”

He spread his hands and shrugged in a sorry-no-can-do.

“Why?”

He was only too pleased to spell it all out. “Because it’s not practical, for one thing. We’re going to be setting up lights and cameras and reflectors and mics. The crew is going to be moving around. And the focus of all that is Princess Merneith. Okay? So we can’t have you sitting there in the middle of everything with your tape measure and chainsaw.”

“Tape measure and chainsaw?” I remembered that pleasant, reasonable people didn’t shout. “I’m not dismembering her. I just want to examine the mummy and take a few photos.”

“No.”

I turned to Babe. I could see by her expression she wished I hadn’t. “I’m... erm... sorry,” she stammered. “Mr. Fortune does have a contract.”

“And I have a letter and permission from Dr. Solvani.” I knew I was wasting my breath, but on top of my genuine frustration with not being able to accomplish what I’d traveled a thousand miles to do, I really, really hated to let that arrogant prick, Fraser Fortune, win this bout.

“You could come back Sunday,” Babe offered. “You can have the museum all to yourself.”

Like that would be an issue? The place was a tomb. Literally.

“I’ll be in San Francisco on Sunday. I have a garden party to attend.” I winced inwardly even as their expressions altered. I didn’t mean it to come out sounding like Lord Whipplesniffle looking down his long nose at the serfs. As a matter of fact, the last thing I wanted was to go to this fucking garden party. But Noah had basically made it an ultimatum.

“Of course you do,” Fraser drawled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Actually I had a pretty good idea what it was supposed to mean.

He smirked, and I reminded myself that pleasant, reasonable people do not punch each other either, even if one of them was totally begging for it. The funny thing was, I’d sort of had the impression that he might be gay. It seemed the old gaydar was on the blink.

If a shrug could be insolent, Fraser’s was. “Just that you look like the kind of guy who would spend an afternoon at a garden party and then go home and watch PBS while you sip sherry in your smoking jacket and ascot.”

Oh yeah, I’d’ve dearly loved to smack him in that rosebud-shaped mouth of his. He had perfectly straight little white teeth. Almost like baby teeth. They were too cute—like I imagined he was, hosting his god-awful TV show. Now that I thought about it, I did sort of recognize him from the obnoxious ads for his stupid show.

Oh sweet mystery of life! That was their idiot slogan. Usually flung from the grinning lips of Mr. Fortune as he was hanging upside down or falling off a mountain or leaping out of range of something potentially poisonous.

“Now, now,” Babe said nervously, reading my expression correctly. “I’m sure no one needs to get nasty. Mr. Fortune, maybe you could let Mr. Lawson—”

“Doctor Lawson.”

“Doctor Lawson, I mean.” She turned pink, and I felt like more of an ass than ever. I honestly wasn’t the kind of guy who felt he needed to impress people with his title. I think maybe I said it because I knew it would irritate Fraser—and I could see by the mulish set of his jaw that it did.

But that really didn’t do me any good because it just made him all the more determined to thwart me. “Sorry,” he was saying, shaking his head. “Can’t help you. Nothing personal.”

I stared at him. He stared right back. Enjoying his moment of triumph.

“Fine.” I said to Babe, “If Dr. Solvani should call—”

But she was shaking her head too.

I left them in the shadowy bowels of the museum like two bobblehead dolls commiserating with each other.

The princess slept on in her glass coffin.

* * * * *

Swell. Now what?

I left the museum and stalked out to the small shady parking lot. There were a total of five vehicles including a battered white van at the far end which looked like it hadn’t moved in a decade, a small blue Prius, and my rental car. My rental was nearly boxed in by a large black van which had the words The Mysterious and a website URL painted in silver and purple with sparkly wingdings. Three guys were unloading gear down a ramp and carrying it to the ivy-covered front porch of the museum. The fifth car was a vintage station wagon. It was parked near the van. Two lanky, long-haired blonde girls in bell-bottoms were exchanging clipboards and laughing. Everybody seemed to be in very good humor, which made me feel all the more morose.

What the hell was I supposed to do with myself for the next twenty-two hours? Walsh seemed pretty limited in its entertainment options. My motel didn’t even offer pay-per-view.

I stared across the street at the feed-store sign swinging lazily in the autumn breeze. On the other side of the museum was a small park. Through the wall of trees I could hear childish voices shrieking something that could have been pleasure or could have been outrage.

If it wasn’t for Noah’s mother’s garden party, I’d change my flight reservation, but missing that shindig was not an option. Not if I wanted to save my relationship with Noah—and I certainly did. How could Noah doubt it?

In fact, if anyone should be feeling insecure—

But neither of us should feel insecure because we loved each other. We were just going through a rough patch, and the disapproval of his family and the doubts of some of our colleagues didn’t help.

One of the girls standing by the van smiled at me. I smiled back automatically. She perked up.

Oops. Enough of that. I hunted for my keys and continued briskly on to my car. Maybe I could use my stay in Purgatory to catch up on some other work. I’d go back to the hotel, treat myself to a decent lunch, maybe have a nap, and then I’d see if I could get any work done. It seemed like I was always running behind on some project or other these days.

And this evening I’d find something to entertain myself. I’d noticed on my drive through town that their little theater was showing a vintage double feature of Boris Karloff in The Mummy and Bela Lugosi in Dracula. That might be fun. A refreshing change from Rocky Horror Picture Show, anyway.

And, yes, it was a drag to have wasted the money and time on a flight to Wyoming when Noah and I could have spent this weekend together and gone to a couple of the Halloween faculty parties we’d been invited to—or even stayed home with the lights off. We didn’t have many home-alone nights lately. Not together anyway.

I climbed in the rental, turned the key in the ignition and began the slow process of maneuvering my way out from behind the equipment van. No way in hell was I asking them to move for me, although I wasn’t sure why since it would have inconvenienced them nicely, but it was a matter of pride to be able to angle my way out of that slot.

The girl who had smiled at me came around and mimed asking the truck to move. I shook my head decidedly. No way. Everything under control.

She chewed nervously on her pen as I continued to edge past the immaculate paint job and gleaming chrome.

At last I was clear. I threw one last reluctant look back at the ivy-draped front of the museum. Fraser Fortune stood on the porch beneath the faded sign that proclaimed Lasse Dime Museum in letters the color of dried blood. He seemed to be looking for something in the parking lot, and apparently it was me.

He put his hand up in unspoken command, came down the steps and started briskly across the shady lot. He passed his crew, and they called out various smart-aleck comments. He grinned good-humoredly and tossed back equally unflattering observations.

As Fraser reached my car, I pressed the button and the automatic window rolled down. He leaned into the car, resting his hands on the window frame, his head level with mine.

“Uh, look,” he said.

I looked. His lashes were very long and gold-tipped, his skin smooth and lightly tanned. His beard was the color of ripe wheat. He smelled surprisingly nice, although I couldn’t quite place the scent. White tea and lemon blossom and sunlit ocean? Clean.

“Maybe we can help each other.”

“How’s that?” I asked warily.

“It just occurred to me...”

I watched him narrowly. He was right in my personal space. His lashes flicked up, he met my eyes, his lashes flicked down. My unease grew.

“She’s right. Babe, I mean. You’re…probably pretty photogenic. You’ve got that cheekbone thing. Assuming you don’t turn into a total dweeb on camera, we could use you. We like to interview experts for each segment, and you clearly think you’re an expert.”

Gee, what a people pleaser this guy was. “What is it you’d want from me?”

His cheeks got a little pinker. “I just told you. You can examine the princess, but we’ll film you doing it. Then I’ll interview you.”

“You’re kidding.”

He looked straight at me. “No, I’m not kidding. Why not?”

What was he doing leaning in my car window? He was practically in my face, practically close enough to rub noses.

A bizarre thought. I talked myself away from it. “Do you know what publish or perish means?”

He shrugged—or would have had there been enough space. “Yeah. Of course. It’s the code you sheltered academic types live by. You have to publish enough books and scholarly articles in whatever your field is so your department heads think you’re worth keeping around.”

“Ha. Well, you’re right. Sort of. Getting enough articles published in the right places can make a difference between getting tenure and not getting tenure. But all the scholarly academic articles in the world won’t help me get tenure if I turn up on your monster-of-the-week show.”

Far from insulted, Fraser smiled complacently. “I knew you’d seen the show.”

“I’ve seen enough to know what your show is about.” I mimicked him on those stupid ads. “Oooh. Sweet mystery of life!”

His eyes narrowed. “You don’t have to strike a pose. I’m not ashamed of what I do. I’m offering you a big opportunity.”

“Well, thanks. But no thanks.”

He rose too fast and banged his head on the roof of the car. “Ouch.” He rubbed the back of his head. “God, you are such an arrogant ass.”

That stung. I didn’t care what he thought of me, but I wasn’t arrogant. “I am not. All I’m saying is that your show is not exactly about scholarship.”

“How would you know? According to you, you’ve never actually watched it.” He stopped rubbing his head and glared at me.

It wasn’t so much that he was right, it was the fact that just for a second he looked genuinely hurt.

I said, “Answer me this. Why are you here?”

“To do a segment on the princess.”

“Why?”

He looked uncomfortable. It was fleeting, but I knew I didn’t imagine it. “Because she’s interesting.”

“She’s four thousand years old. She’s not Princess Diana. She’s a mummy.”

“So’s Princess Diana by now.”

That time I didn’t bother to hide my distaste, although I was vaguely surprised to hear my tongue cluck in the exact same sound Noah made when he disapproved of something. “You’re doing a segment on the princess’s mummy because of that idiotic story about a curse.”

His hazel eyes kindled with the light of the true fanatic. “What if it’s not just a story?”

“Oh come on.”

“It’s true.”

“What’s true?”

Fraser said with every appearance of sincerity, “It might not be just a story. We’ve got a number of eyewitness accounts.”

“Of what?” I curled my lip. “What do these supposed eyewitnesses say?”

“They say that every October thirty-first, the princess rises from her grave.”

Laurel Heights #1 by Lisa Worrall
Prologue
The gated housing development of Laurel Heights was quiet in the early hours.

The houses were dark and their occupants asleep.

Nobody heard the muffled shot that rang out into the still of the night.

A shot, quickly followed by another.

Shots that left two members of their exclusive community dead.
* * * * *
"Where are you going? It's two in the morning."

Will pulled his T-shirt back on and raked his fingers through his blond hair. "Early start tomorrow," he said picking up his wallet and his cell. Checking he'd not received any messages while he was otherwise engaged he shoved them both into his pocket, and sat on the edge of the bed to slip his feet into his boots. Will closed his eyes at the feel of soft lips feathering across the nape of his neck, warm breath lifting the strands of his short hair where it sat against his skin, and sighed. He hated this part, the leaving. Especially when the sex had been good, which it had. Ignoring the insistent pulling of impatient fingers at his shirt, he laced his boots and stood up.

"Do you want my number?"

"Sure," Will replied, taking out his cell. He moved his fingers over the pad and pretended to put the number recited to him into his contacts. He wasn't sure why they were going through this charade. The man staring up at him wasn't fooled by Will's actions, yet he continued to reel off the numbers. Pushing his cell back into his pocket, Will leaned down, ran a quick hand through curly blond hair, and kissed the offered lips. He pulled back before it could become anything more and crossed the room. Pausing in the doorway he raised a hand, scrabbling desperately for the guy's name and failing, so throwing a lame goodbye over his shoulder instead. At least he had the decency to blush slightly when the cold reply followed him out into the hall.

"It's Jack, asshole."
* * * * *
Scott threw his head back, lost on a sea of sensation as he pounded relentlessly into the willing body beneath him. "Fuck, yes," he cried out when the heat around him tightened and he lost it. His orgasm pulsed through him and he thrust mindlessly, chasing the last of his pleasure. When his breathing had calmed enough to move, he grabbed the end of the condom and pulled out then turned to flush it down the toilet beside them. Club bathrooms were never exactly the easiest places to have sex in, but eyes across a crowded room and all that. Tucking himself back into his pants, Scott gasped as hands grabbed his face and turned him around into a searing kiss.

"My place?" The gray eyes gazing into his were hopeful.

Scott shook his head, his lips curving into a regretful smile. "I'm sorry, I have an early meeting," he replied, softening the dismissal with a kiss. "But I had fun; maybe we can do it again some time."

"Ah, so you're one of those guys who gets his rocks off and then isn't interested, huh?" The other man's tone was angry, as he glared up at Scott.

Scott's eyes hardened and he pulled himself up to his full height of almost six feet before unlocking the door of the stall. "I'm never interested in some twink who'll let me fuck him before I've even asked his name." Ignoring the stunned look on the other man's face, Scott walked out into the crowded bathroom, and kicked the stall door closed behind him. After quickly washing his hands, he ran his fingers through his short, black, sweat-dampened hair, and then made his way back out into the club.

Surrounded by a sea of writhing bodies, Scott looked at the illuminated hands of his watch and yawned when he saw that it was two in the morning. Lowering his head to avoid anyone mistaking a glance for a come on, he began to push his way through the throng toward the exit. Even though the guy in the bathroom had thought he was being blown off, he really did have an early start tomorrow. Outside in the cold New York air, he hailed the first cab he saw and clambered into the back.

Laurel Heights #2 by Lisa Worrall
Prologue 
The air in the gaudy motel room was thick with heat and anticipation, the only sound the over-loud click of the handcuff slipping into its housing. He stood back and stared down at the man on the bed, struggling to put a name to the beautiful face gazing up at him. Ah, yes, Apollo he’d said in the club. He remembered having to swallow a smile at that. Apollo, of course it was… not that it mattered… why would it? All that mattered was the dim lighting casting shadows on Apollo’s naked body. Muscles and sinew picked out in tanned stark relief against the white sheets, hard as nails cock jutting proudly from a bed of trim black curls.

“Are you ready?” His voice reverberated within his chest. He could barely contain the excitement as his gut churned with the heavenly anticipation of what was to come. He took a couple of calming breaths and willed himself to relax, wanting to take his time, draw out the pleasure… stretch out the delicious release.

“Please.” Apollo’s plea was a whimper from the back of his throat, the tendons standing out in his neck as he lifted his head to watch His every move.

“Don’t worry, baby,” He said softly as he curled his fingers around heated flesh, pre-cum wetting his palm and sending a shiver down his spine. “I've got you.” He slowly lifted his other hand and the length he held immediately withered and Apollo's eyes widened, his mouth opening as if to scream. “Ssh,” He soothed, dropping Apollo’s cock. He shook his head as he pulled a clean, white handkerchief from his pocket and pushed it between Apollo’s suddenly slack lips.

This was the best part. Their sudden fear when they realized the glinting metal in his fingers was not part of the game—it was real. Almost the best part, he amended internally as he drew the tip of the blade across bronzed flesh, his gaze mesmerized by the river of red left in its wake.

He smiled reassuringly at the man bound to the bed, then said in a voice thick with need, “Let’s get started.”

The Gentleman's Madness by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon
John didn’t often lose his temper these days. Punishment came fast when one did, particularly when one had been diagnosed as aggressive. But their intrusive presence now, after this morning’s humiliation, proved too much for his temper. No more pens in his life. He’d been reduced to nothing more than a trembling child hiding under the covers. No. He must fight for what little he had left. Not dignity, but a faint shadow of it.

He drew the blanket from his face, down to his shoulders, too aware of his undressed state. “Dr. McAndrew, if you must speak of my illness and symptoms as if I am deaf, please be so good as to do it outside of my room.”

He looked over the group of four men. Earnest, well-educated men. As he had once been, but nothing like him any longer. His voice trembled, but he didn’t shout. “There is no reason one should be forced to listen to one’s diagnosis.” And then he lost all words. Familiar blue eyes met his, widened with shock, then pity and, worst of all, contempt.

The day’s pain suddenly increased beyond physical torment.

“Stanhope,” he whispered.

Stanhope hadn’t changed much in the last few years. He still wore his hair too long, and the shadow of freckles touched his nose.

“You look well,” John said, pretending that his old friend had answered. “I know the same cannot be said of me. I had heard you were going into medicine.”

Stanhope stepped back so he was at the rear of the group. The blank look he gave John now held no recognition. Except he gave a sharp glance to either side, probably to ascertain no one gazed at him with repulsion—as if John’s condition of madness was contagious.

“Oh, do not pretend you don’t know me.” John sat up, heedless of his naked torso. The dark rage boiled now. “For pity’s sake, that is too much. We were best of friends at school. No, gentlemen, not like that. He was spared any sort of perverse desire. Please, you must learn to hide your disgust better than this, especially you, Stanhope, if you hope to deal with patients who possess more intelligence than turnips.”

McAndrew stepped forward so his black jacket was all John could see. “Mr. G., you must calm yourself.”

He should, he knew. Instead, he rose from his narrow iron bed and wrapped the blanket tight around his shoulders. They had taken all but his drawers from him, and he knew he looked silly standing there, a skinny, crow-nosed fool, no doubt red-faced and staring. If he hadn’t been mad before, he had become so; he had nothing left. They had taken his pens, and now they stripped him of his past.

“I have nothing left,” he told them all, looking at Stanhope, whose gaze had dropped to examine something on his sleeve. “Apparently, even the inside of my brain is tainted. With despair, I should think. But no disease, no aberration is nearly as grotesque as pretending you do not know your old friend. You leave me with nothing.”

He should retreat and shut his mouth, but he knew that if he stopped railing, he would begin to weep. Anger kept the tears away, and he refused to cry in front of Stanhope and the rest of these gawping, muttering “gentlemen”.

“Attendant!” McAndrew didn’t shout, but the word held menace. Maybe John would have heeded the threat two hours earlier. Perhaps he would have heard it if he’d gotten some sleep the night before, but they’d been playing some sort of sleep-and-wakening game with him, seeing if they could wear him down.

“Attendant, now!”

The other men shuffled back to make room for the big oaf in gray who came into the room, moving far too quickly for a hulk like that. “Remove Mr. G to the restful room.”

“Mr. Gilliam. My name is John Gilliam,” John shouted at them all. “I still exist.”

The large gray-covered arms came around him, fast but not rough. He fought against the hard bands of those enormous arms, but they only tightened around him, catching his own arms helplessly at his sides. Too much like the man who’d attacked him in his sleep only a week earlier at Dr. Maxwell’s Asylum, and John began to panic, his heart beating erratically.

“Hush now, sir,” a voice said next to his ear.

“Give me one good goddamn reason why I should.”

The attendant didn’t answer as he expertly shoved John’s hands and arms into restraints.

“I hate this,” John said. He stopped fighting and allowed himself to be strapped and buckled into the jacket, which had been designed to calm the hysterical. Yes, that fairly described him at the moment.

At least the others had moved on, out of the room, so he could let go of the anger. “I fucking hate this all.” And he let the tears fall.

The attendant said, “Yes, sir,” and with a firm hand on his shoulder, marched him passively out of the room and down the hall.

“Today is not a white-letter day for me.” John talked just to hear his own voice rather than their footsteps, which echoed in the long, empty hall. Or rather, the attendant’s boots thumped. John’s bare feet, his ineffectual flesh, merely slapped against the floor. They went into the stairwell, and now their steps shuffled and clapped on the iron steps. “Do you know where the term black-letter day came from?”

He didn’t expect an answer, but the attendant said, “No, sir.”

Rather than think of his lost dignity, of the scorn in Stanhope’s eyes, of his own idiotic response, of anything to do with his proclivities or the fact that the large, ignorant bear of a man who held his shoulder had complete power over him, John began to babble. “A black-letter day is an unlucky day, one to be recalled with regret and sorrow. The Romans marked their unlucky days with a piece of black charcoal, and their lucky ones with white chalk.”

As always, knowledge soothed him. That small bit of the ancient past in his head connected him to the rest of the human race, to all that he had learned and all that he would someday return to. He could breathe without sobs again. And think, thank the good Lord.

“If I can think,” he said to no one as he waited for the figure of doom next to him to fumble with the jangling circle of keys, “I am not lost after all. I shall survive.”

“Yes, sir.” The attendant fitted the right key into the lock, and iron scraped against iron.

John’s storm had passed. “I suppose I will have to ask McAndrew to forgive my outburst,” he said, wishing he could wipe the tears and mucus from his face. He tried hunching his shoulder, but that didn’t reach the worst of the mess on his cheek.

“You might, later.” The attendant’s voice was mild and deep. So far the man hadn’t shouted or barked, a pleasant change from most of the asylum’s staff.

The door opened, the door closed, and John stood alone in the entirely empty room. I have nothing, he thought again, though the storm of self-pity had passed and the thought aroused no strong emotion. I am nothing, and I am alone.

Although no, he wasn’t alone. The attendant had come in as well.

“Get away from me,” John said. “I am not interested. I don’t know what they told you about me, but just get away.”

“I thought perhaps I might take the restraints off, sir.” The attendant stood, hands at his sides. Not impatient or scornful, simply waiting.

“Yes, yes. Thank you.” Unable to keep his balance correctly with the straitjacket, John dropped suddenly to the floor. He landed on his rear with an oomph.

“Whoops.” The attendant lunged forward as if to grab him.

John flinched. “No. Stay away.” He added the word, “Please,” not because he was begging, but because he remembered he was a civilized man and had been taught manners. Ah, damnation, the tears would start again.

He shut his eyes, and something soft, some fabric, touched his face.

With a cry, he jerked away. “Damn me,” he muttered when he realized the attendant had pulled out a handkerchief. He’d wiped John’s cheek. He cleaned the rest of his face carefully, as a nurse dries the tears of a screaming baby, which John supposed fit the situation.

The big man tilted his head to the side to inspect the cleanup he’d done. “That’ll do,” he said.

“Thank you.” It was time to pretend to be an adult human again. “How do you do? I am John Gilliam, as you probably know. You are?”

“Tully. Sam Tully.”

The Copper by Bonnie Dee
Avery drew on his drawers and had one foot in his trousers when raised voices and clattering footsteps on the stairs alerted him to disaster.

“Come out now, you blighters! You’re all under arrest.” A booming voice preceded pounding at a door down the corridor. More shouts followed as the police swept through the rooms where Madame’s select clientele lay sleeping off the night’s dissolution.

Avery froze like a fox flushed by hounds from its den. His haven had been breached. His heart pounded as he envisioned the ramifications of an arrest. Even more than fear, anger surged through him at this invasion of privacy. What he and his companions chose to do here should be no one’s business but their own, and he defied any man who said otherwise.

Defying was easier dreamed of than carried out when the bedroom door crashed open and a man in a uniform rushed in. The pair on the bed jumped up in alarm, the possible Norwegian cursing in his native tongue and the singer bursting into tears and begging, both of them pulling up bedcovers to shield their nudity.

The front of his trousers still open, Avery planted his feet and stared into the constable’s eyes, which were a vivid blue below the brim of his blue helmet. “What’s the trouble, Officer?”

The strong jaw beneath a day’s worth of stubble clenched so hard, Avery thought it might cut through the man’s flesh. “You’re under arrest. Hold out your hands.”

“What’s the charge, sir?” Avery asked blandly.

“You know very well.” The man began to quote the law by rote as he produced a pair of handcuffs. “Any male person who, in public or private, commits, procures or attempts to procure any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

“Do you see any one of us engaged in any sort of promiscuous act? We were merely sharing a bedchamber…” Avery glanced at his nude companions. “And all of us happen prefer to sleep without a nightshirt. Or drawers.”

The policeman beckoned the Viking to him. “You first.”

Avery wondered if the bearded giant planned on giving the policeman trouble. But he shuffled forward docilely and offered his wrists, still rumbling curses. The blue-eyed bobby snapped on a pair of cuffs.

Poor Bertrand cried so loudly, the noise was deafening. Another officer entered the room and approached the sobbing singer. “You shut yer gob, you flamin’ pouf.”

Bertrand shrieked and flailed his hands, raking the man’s cheek with his painted nails. “I won’t go back there. I won’t!”

The balding copper, who’d lost his helmet somewhere along the way, pulled back a fist and drove it into Bertrand’s face. Blood spurted from Bertrand’s nose, and he howled.

“Here now. That’s enough. Leave him alone.” Avery started toward the pair to stop the smaller man from being beaten to a pulp. But he couldn’t intercept before the constable punched Bertrand again, in the stomach this time, effectively stopping his screaming as Bertrand gasped for air.

Avery put himself between the officer and his victim, intercepting a blow, which clipped the side of his head. He hadn’t felt a punch like that since his boxing days at university. The knuckles against his ear made his head ring. He blinked away white stars and formed a fist of his own, but before he could punch the bald cop, the other officer grabbed both his arms and pulled him away. The man’s grip was like a pair of iron manacles. His body against Avery’s back was granite.

“Go on, Turnbull. I have these men under control. See if any of the others need help.” The constable’s voice rumbled near Avery’s ear. He was nearly Avery’s height, and not many men were—excluding the giant Swede, who stood a head taller than either of them.

When his angry partner appeared ready to keep punching, the one snapping cuffs on Avery’s wrists repeated, “I don’t need your help here. Go!”

The other constable glared but left to join the mayhem beyond the room. Avery glimpsed men in uniform and others in various states of undress passing by the partially open door. Chaos had entered Renaud’s, and not of the fun sort they’d all experienced last night.

After his partner left, the officer moved toward Bertrand, who’d crumpled into a naked heap on the floor. He removed his helmet and rubbed a hand through closely shorn but very thick black hair, then squatted beside Bertrand without touching him. “Calm yourself. I won’t handcuff you, but you must promise to behave while I escort you to the wagon.”

Bertrand gazed up at him over the hand covering his injured nose. “I can’t do it. I can’t go back there. Please don’t…” The rest of his words were muffled by blood and mucus.

“For God’s sake, let the man put on some clothes.” Avery felt fairly exposed himself, wearing only his unfastened trousers. He began to button him with his cuffed hands. “Allow the lad some dignity.”

He half expected the policeman to make a retort about nancies getting what they deserved. But the officer covered Bertrand’s parts with a sheet from the bed, offered him a handkerchief for his nose, then rose and searched for the singer’s and the Swede’s clothing.

“They’ll be in the wardrobe. The staff here is meticulous about clothing.” Avery considered that poor Madame Renaud would likely be arrested as well. She’d be charged with pandering. And the servants? Likely they’d scattered like pigeons the moment the bulls charged inside the building.

As Bertrand sniffled and drew on the frock he’d worn for his performance last night, the Norwegian awkwardly pulled on his trousers with his cuffed hands.

Avery drew a breath and considered his dire situation. He could probably buy his way out of a jail sentence, but he couldn’t afford the scandal. Not that his name would ever be pure. Most of high society guessed his inclinations but continued to invite him to galas because Avery added sparkle and life to any gathering. Wealth and a title went a long way toward making people overlook things they didn’t want to acknowledge.

But with this arrest, Avery’s secret life would be on full display. No more hiding in the shadows. An end of invitations and shunning all around, except for among his own kind. Likely those who hadn’t missed being caught up in the raid would go to ground for a while until the scandal blew over. They’d scatter to villas in Tuscany, islands in Greece, perhaps steam across to New York for a visit. London would be void of all life, color, and companionship for a time.

Avery shook off his gloom. Here he was selfishly thinking about a dearth in his social life when some of the men arrested today, the ones without resources, could be facing long prison sentences. And poor Bertrand’s beautiful face!

Avery went to help him fasten the buttons on his gown. “Is your nose all right? Does it hurt too badly?”

“Damn my nose! I can’t go to jail again. I can’t. You don’t know how it was for me last time.” Bertrand’s eyes darted right and left. He was terrified nearly out of his mind, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Avery turned to the constable, who was helping the Viking fasten his trousers over the man’s considerable cock. The officer’s face flushed deeply as he completed his task.

“Officer… May I know your name?” Avery asked.

The man glanced up. “Tate.”

“Officer Tate, please hear me out. If you’d let the three of us slip through the cracks, as it were, I’d show you deep gratitude commensurate with such a generous act.”

“Are you offering me a bribe, sir?” Cool eyes drilled into him like diamond points. “The reputation of the force is shadowed by corruption, but I assure you, I do not accept bribes.”

“Not a bribe. Think of it as a reward for kindness. As you can see, Bertrand here will not last a night nor even an hour in jail. Please, at least let the boy go with a warning. He could hide under the bed until everyone is gone, with none of your colleagues the wiser. I’ll accompany you without complaint.”

Those eyes continued to skewer him, but Avery pressed on. “After my solicitor secures my release, I shall pay you an equal amount for helping this poor youth.”

“A bribe,” the policeman repeated.

“A gratuity,” Avery insisted and realized how often he used his hands to gesture for emphasis. He felt quite at a loss with them cuffed.

The noise in the hallway continued, but the quiet in the room grew thick and heavy as the copper seemed to be mulling over the offer.

Avery held his breath, the Swede ceased his muttering, and even Bertrand stopped whimpering.

The square-jawed officer pressed his lips tight and stared at each of them in turn, his gaze resting longest on Bertrand’s tear-streaked face and swelling nose. He pointed at the singer. “Hide until you hear everyone clear the house. The other pair must come with me. I can’t come away without arrests.”

“God bless you, sir. You’ve saved me!” Bertrand started to throw his arms impulsively around the uniform, but the copper pushed him off. The singer took the hint and quickly scrambled under the bed.

The Swede or Norwegian bobbed his shaggy head in approval. “Ja. Utmerket.”

Avery exchanged a steady look with the officer and nodded, sealing his deal with the devil.

But as he passed the man to precede him from the room, the copper grasped his arm. “You may keep your money. I told you, I don’t accept bribes.”

The Curse of the Blue Scarab: A Monster Mash-Up by Josh Lanyon
Chapter One
I Am Called In
I remember the fog was particularly thick that February morning.

Pressing its formless face to the steamy window panes, grey and dreary as a specter, it crept down the chimney, dripping and hissing onto the smoking logs.

Drip. Hiss. Drip. Hiss.

An otherwise unremarkable start to the day that was to change my life forever.

Bird, my servant, an ex-sergeant of Marines, was spinning some lengthy and involved yarn about his exploits at Ladysmith while I attempted to read my magazine and finish my breakfast before the business of the day began.

“Those were weary hours. Lying on that hill while the bullets hailed down on us. I can still hear ‘em cutting through the air and clacking on the rocks. You couldn’t hear yourself think...”

“One can only imagine,” I murmured.

My name is Armiston. I’m a physician living and working in the West End. This sounds grander than the reality which is a little flat over a grocer’s shop in a small side-street off Piccadilly. My patients are principally the servants (and principally the men-servants—butlers, coachmen and such) from the big houses and clubs.

“Nine hours we clung to that pile of stones. Cartridges dwindling and men dying. I can tell you hope was fading…”

“I feel as though I’m there beside you.” I turned the page of the paper, studying the dubious claims in the advertisement for Madam Harper’s hair tonic.

In the street below a couple of news-boys began yelling about exciting information  exclusive to the special edition of the Daily Tale. I knew nothing would satisfy Bird till he got a copy. So I sent him out.

Drip. Hiss. Drip. Hiss.

Presently the outer door was flung open, and a man’s voice demanded whether the doctor was in.

“Second door right-hand side of lobby,” I shouted, and the man was in before I could swallow another mouthful.

He was a handsome, well-dressed young fellow, though noticeably lame. He leaned heavily upon an ebony walking stick--I noticed he wore no gloves--and his face was bloodless and strained with pain and shock.

I rose at once, ready to go to his aid, but his words stopped me.

“Sorry to come in on you like this,” he said, “but there has been a sudden death in Albany—a man I know—and I--we--need you to come round at once.”

His eyes, dark now with emotion, appeared to be gray in color. His hair was black. He was perhaps thirty.

“I see.” I left the paper-knife to mark my place in the magazine. “Are you quite sure he’s dead?”

“I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it.”

“Poor fellow,” I said, and sat down again. “If he’s dead, I may as well finish my breakfast.”

The young man stared as though he could not believe his ears.

I took another mouthful of kippers.

“You damned cold-blooded c-cormorant,” said the young fellow very angrily. “Will you come or won’t you?”

I studied him for a moment. Too thin, nervy, and young. Younger than I had first thought. Pain and illness had taken their toll.

“Not unless you want me,” I assured him, “but I’m ready if you are--and it seems you are.” I took one final bite, rising and turning into the lobby for a hat, munching the last of my breakfast as I followed my visitor out.

I didn’t mind his remarks, for though my attitude was both logical and practical, his sentiment was natural enough. I observed his awkward gait as he preceded me down the stairs. He managed to move quickly, which must have hurt considerably.

Instinctively I patted my hip-pocket, to make sure that my hypodermic case was there. It is an old servant, and reminds me of a good many queer things if I sit down to overhaul it. But the queerest had not happened when I felt it in my hip-pocket that raw February morning.

A taxi-cab waited at the street door, noxious fumes pooling into the fog. We piled inside and the cab pulled away at once.

Maxwell, as he told me his name was, said that he and another man had gone round to breakfast at the Albany, and had found their host lying lifeless on the ground.

“Poor Scrymgeour’s man Seymour knew you,” he said. “He gave me your address.”

The name Scrymegeour was unfamiliar to me and I could think of no patient named Seymour. I had a number of questions--beginning with why Scrymegeour’s own physician had not been summoned--but it seemed futile to quiz Maxwell when I was about to see for myself.

My companion did not appear to be a talkative man. His profile was grim and withdrawn as he stared at the cab window. The hand clutching his walking stick clenched and unclenched in unconscious anxiety.

In a few minutes we reached the Albany. Maxwell paid the driver and we hurried inside.

All was quiet. There was no sign of life. And by the same token, no indication that a death had occurred. The gas lamps made a valiant effort to challenge the chilly gloom of the day, but the soft light could not dispel the shadows lurking in the corners.

We hastened up the stairs. We had just reached the top of the dimly lit landing when a woman seemed to come out of nowhere, narrowly missing collision. Head down, face heavily veiled, she brushed past us with a breathy wordless apology and disappeared hurriedly down the stair.

I glanced after her. “This way, Doctor,” Maxwell urged, and we continued down the corridor.

Maxwell knocked at A14 and the door opened at once.

A cadaverous-looking specimen stood before us, and I recognized my former patient Seymour. His complaint had been a touch of liver, as I recalled, and in fact his gray and puckered face rather resembled a piece of undercooked liver.

Maxwell and Seymour exchanged a certain and silent look. Without a word Seymour turned, leading the way.

These Albany suites consist mostly of dining-room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, and a pigeon-hole for a servant. The three first are en suite, each opening into the hall or lobby. Seymour took us straight to the bedroom from the outer door. Entering, one faced a high carved mantelpiece over the fire; and above the mantelpiece was the half-length portrait of a man in the dress of Charles the Second’s time.

On the hearth a large, heavy man lay, his head turned a little over his shoulder, his face half-hidden. It was easy to see before handling him, that his neck must be broken, and when I touched him I found he was not only dead, but cold.

Next to his feet lay wooden steps of the sort one uses to reach high book shelves. The right panel had broken off and the stool was overturned.

I glanced up at my companions. Maxwell met my gaze steadily, almost fiercely, as though waiting for me to make some objection. Seymour was staring at his fallen master.

I returned my attention to the unfortunate Scrymgeour. He wore evening-dress, and his face, the face of a man about thirty, was strikingly like that over the mantelpiece. The resemblance was increased by a small pointed beard, and by the dead man’s pale hair being just a little longer than most men wear their hair in town nowadays. What troubled me was his expression. His milky blue eyes were protuberant, as though starting from his head in alarm. His lips were drawn back from his rather pronounced teeth in a grimace of horror.

A young fellow, whom I judged to be Maxwell’s companion to this projected breakfast, joined us through another door than that by which we had entered, and bowed rather ceremoniously to me, without saying anything.

I began to like the situation less and less, though I could see nothing actually untoward in the case. More, it was the peculiar attitude of Scrymgeour’s friends. They were genuinely shocked, as they should be, but they also seemed almost…fearful, and for this I could see no reason.

I became conscious of a strange scent, an undernote to the more obvious odor of death. What was it?

“Your friend is, of course, dead,” I said, rising from my knees, “and he has been dead several hours.”

“And will you be so good as to tell us the cause of death?” asked the young fellow who had just joined us. He was fair-haired with soft brown eyes like a calf. He would have been about the same age as Maxwell, but of a softer and more conciliatory nature. Maxwell, unless I missed my guessed, had seen military service. This young man had never faced a more dangerous enemy than a bill collector. His voice was pleasant, though high-pitched, his manner was polite almost to affectation.

“A broken neck,” I said, “vulgarly speaking. More accurately, there is a separation of the cervical vertebrae, and probably complete rupture of the spinal cord.”

“But would you kindly oblige us with your opinion as to the cause of the broken neck?” At Maxwell’s warning look, he added, “I hope I am not asking too much.”

I looked at the young man, at the body, the steps, and the portrait.

“I cannot take the place of the coroner’s jury, you know,” I said. “The general appearance of things suggests that your friend was using the steps—perhaps examining that portrait—and that the steps broke, and the consequent fall did the mischief.”

He offered an uncertain smile. “Quite so. That is what we thought. I am greatly obliged to you for your opinion.”

“But my opinion,” I went on, looking at them both rather sternly, “isn’t of the slightest value, except as to the injury. The police must be told at once, and things had better be left exactly as they are until the police come. There will be an inquest.”

“Is that absolutely necessary?” Maxwell asked.

“Absolutely, as you must surely realize. But the police will tell you,” and I turned to leave the room.

I was thinking about the poor fellow on the floor, whose face was, I dare say, a good deal less grave and dignified then than it had been while he was alive. When death is sudden, in this case almost violently sudden, the victim is sometimes frozen in his final conscious or unconscious act, however ludicrous or embarrassing. The abject terror on the dead man’s features was disturbing even to someone who had not known him, and I wondered if perhaps it was this that was so distressing his friends to the point of addling their wits.

Preoccupied with this thought--or at least that would have been my excuse had either challenged me--I made absent-mindedly for the nearest door which led to the room the second young man had exited in order to join us.

As I reached for the handle I heard the two friends say simultaneously, “Not that door!’’

But they were too late.

The strange scent was much stronger in here and I recognized it at once.

Bitumen.

The hair rose on the back of my neck, though there is nothing inherently terrifying about the substance.

The room smelled of other things too. Cedar and candle wax and musty linens, but the acrid smell of bitumen underlay it all.

I pushed the door the remainder of the way open, and my attention was immediately caught by the queerly-shaped something propped against the far wall. It was the size of a small settee.

The next instant Maxwell reached me. He caught my arm. “This is only a dressing room, Doctor,” he said. Though his tone was courteous, his expression was grim.

I glanced down at his hand, raised my gaze pointedly.

Maxwell stubbornly held my stare.

I saw the very moment the thought occurred to him--recognized it because it was the exact same instant the thought occurred to me. His eyes searched mine and then he withdrew his hand.

I said, “I was thinking that if I write a note for the police—I know the inspector—it may save you trouble. I can write it here, I suppose?”

“No,” the other young man said. “You can’t.” He threw Maxwell an impatient look and then turned to Scrymgeour’s man. “Seymour, find the doctor pen and paper. Doctor, there is a writing table right in here.”

I ignored him, nodding at the heavy coffin-shaped container. “What is that?” I asked. I suspected I already knew what it was, though it was difficult to be certain in the poor light. I could see that it was made of dark wood and had been painted with exotic blue and gold designs.

“That?” It was Maxwell who answered. His tone was casual. Too casual. “That’s a mummy case, with a mummy inside. Poor Scrymgeour was interested in such things.”

This was my first introduction to the Mummy.

I wish it had been my last.


John Inman
John has been writing fiction for as long as he can remember. Born on a small farm in Indiana, he now resides in San Diego, California where he spends his time gardening, pampering his pets, hiking and biking the trails and canyons of San Diego, and of course, writing. He and his partner share a passion for theater, books, film, and the continuing fight for marriage equality. If you would like to know more about John, check out his website.

Josh Lanyon
A distinct voice in gay fiction, multi-award-winning author JOSH LANYON has been writing gay mystery, adventure and romance for over a decade. In addition to numerous short stories, novellas, and novels, Josh is the author of the critically acclaimed Adrien English series, including The Hell You Say, winner of the 2006 USABookNews awards for GLBT Fiction. Josh is an Eppie Award winner and a three-time Lambda Literary Award finalist.

Lisa Worrall
Thank you for reading and taking the time to review and/or rate. It's jaw-dropping to me that you would do either. I feel a bit like Sally Field in her famous Oscar speech "You like me - you actually like me"

I live in a small seaside town just outside London, on the South Coast of England that boasts the longest pier in the world; where I am ordered around by two precocious children and a dog who thinks she's the boss of me.

I've been writing seriously for three years now and love giving voice to the characters warring to be heard in my head, and am currently petitioning for more hours in the day, because I never seem to have enough of them.

I like nothing more than bringing together two people in interesting and sometimes bizarre ways, and hope that the readers enjoy the characters' journey as much as they and I do.

Bonnie Dee
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.

Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.

I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.

Summer Devon
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.

You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).

Olivier Bosman
Born to Dutch parents and raised in Colombia and England, I am a rootless wanderer with itchy feet. I've spent the last few years living and working in The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sudan and Bulgaria, but I have every confidence that I will now finally be able to settle down among the olive groves of Andalucia.

I'm an avid reader and film fan and I have an MA in creative writing for film and television.


John Inman
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Josh Lanyon
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Lisa Worrall
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Bonnie Dee
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Summer Devon
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Olivier Bosman
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The Hike by John Inman
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Mummy Dearest by Josh Lanyon
📼Currently only in Audio📼

Laurel Heights #1 & 2 by Lisa Worrall
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#2
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The Gentleman's Madness by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon
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The Copper by Bonnie Dee
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The Curse of the Blue Scarab:
A Monster Mash-Up by Josh Lanyon
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Something Sinister by Olivier Bosman
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