Thursday, July 21, 2016

Conference Call


Brandon Fledermaus stared at his waiting computer screen and sucked in a long, labored breath. He wasn’t looking forward to this, but it needed to be done. “You want a drink first?” Jerboa offered drily.

“Not yet. I need all my wits about me. Afterwards, leave the bottle.” He glanced at the clock in the screen’s corner. This call had been arranged earlier. The one he could count on to respond. The other? Still up in the air. He prayed both would listen. Lives, perhaps more than their own, might be at stake.

At precisely 7 pm he activated Skype. The screen split as he connected with the two incoming calls. One hurdle cleared: both horses had been successfully led to the water. Now to get them to drink. “Gentlemen,” he said. “Thank you for hearing me out.”

“You haven’t said anything yet,” Damien Hancock growled. The image from his end was slightly out of focus. Brand studied it as best he could. The Alpha wolf didn’t look good. He appeared somehow bloated, and hairier than usual, as if he hadn’t shaved or even combed his hair in days. By contrast, Zhere Ghan’s image practically crackled with clarity. He looked the same as always: handsome, dignified, polished, urbane. Dangerous. That burned in his narrowed eyes and was picked up by the camera. Hancock’s eyes were harder to read from his blurry image. They looked bloodshot.

“I’ll get right to the point,” Brand said. “By now you both probably know I was attacked in my home the other night. I know the two of you were also attacked the same night. Supposedly each of us ordered the attacks on the others. For example, the pair that came after me made a point of telling me they were Hancock agents, under orders from—”

“Like I’d bother,” Hancock snarled. “Stinking little flying rat. Scrape you off the bottom of my shoe.”

“While my attacker,” Ghan said smoothly, “dropped your name rather casually into the conversation, Mr. Fledermaus. Care to explain?”

“That’s why I arranged this meeting,” Brand said. “After asking around and weighing the evidence, I’ve concluded—”

“What evidence?” Hancock broke in. “Who’ve you been talking to? My wolves wouldn’t talk to you. They’d chew you up and spit out the wings. You’re just trying to—”

“Damien,” Ghan said, “be still. I wish to hear what our neighbor has to say.”

“Stuff it up your tail, you striped bastard. He’s not your neighbor. You don’t have a damned rat gnawing at your borders. You just hide in your den and send others out to skulk around. What’sa matter? Too good to get your paws dirty? You want a piece of me, you come at me yourself! See what it gets you!”

“Damien—”

“Cram it, stripey. I will not ‘be still.’ You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Still as in dead, right?”

“I will admit,” Ghan said, “your demise would give me a measure of satisfaction. One less annoyance to concern myself with. But I didn’t order an attack on you or on anyone else. Not this time.”

“The hell you didn’t. Hump you. Hump the both of you.” Hancock’s blurry image vanished from the screen.

After a moment Ghan said, “Well. That could have gone better.”

Brandon didn’t answer right away. Hancock had a reputation for aggression—he was an alpha wolf, after all—but that outburst had been over the top even for him. “Something’s off,” he murmured.

“With Hancock?” Ghan sniffed. “You needn’t have disturbed me to tell me something both of us already know.”

“And I didn’t. I called to tell you both my findings. I’m convinced none of us ordered any attacks on the others. But somebody wants us to think that. Someone’s trying to pit us against each other. Someone from outside.”

“A common enemy?” For the first time, Ghan showed a modicum of interest. “Who would benefit from our mutual demise?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to ferret out. Either somebody wants the three of us to destroy each other so they can move into the power vacuum, or one of us was the real target and the other two are a smokescreen.” He half-smiled grimly. “I’m sure you have a number of enemies with a personal axe to grind.”

“Too many to count,” Ghan confirmed. “Including Hancock. You?”

“Hancock wants my land. He’s never made any secret of it. But that attack on me seemed awfully impersonal. They weren’t assassins, or fighters, for that matter. They weren’t even there to kill me. They said as much. I don’t know the details of Hancock’s encounter, only that someone got in, and also left him alive. What about your attack? Anything hit close to home?”

On the screen, Ghan stiffened. Ah, Brand thought. Struck a nerve, did I?

“My attacker did try to kill me. And mentioned your name,” the tiger reminded him.

“Then your life could be in serious danger. Hancock’s too, from his reactions. I suspect I was thrown in to muddy the waters.”

“And now you’ve called to inspect your handiwork?”

“I called to report my findings to you both,” Brand said patiently, “and to propose an alliance. I was hoping the three of us together—”

“Ah. The plot reveals itself.” Ghan turned brisk. “Remove us both and secure your own position, all the while playing the innocent. A tiger does not have allies, Fledermaus. A tiger has servants and enemies. I will deal with Hancock, as I should have long ago. And then I will deal with you.” He cut the connection.

Brand was still staring at the empty screen when Jerboa approached with the brandy. He set the bottle on the desk. “Well,” he said, “you tried.”

“I had to. Even though I think we both knew it wouldn’t work.”

“Yep. That’s a predator for you. So what happens now?”

Brand sat back and reached for the bottle. “We keep digging,” he said, “and try to contain the collateral damage before all Talbot’s Peak gets caught in the blast.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Checking in



My yard is over-run with pissed off wasps at the moment. I’ve been fighting a battle for my custody of my yard for the last two weeks. It’s a battle of attrition that started with one of the buggers biting me on the small of my back while mowing the lawn. It has progressed to them spreading and trying to take over the shed I’m rebuilding.

Have you ever tried to kill a wasp colony? Those that don’t die when you spray their nest just move. They don’t move on, just elsewhere. The original nest was in a tree at the back of my yard. There’s now a small nest next to that tree, another in my lilac bush, and yesterday, one in the shed.

Today, there were two wasp nests in my shed. I feel like I’m losing this war even though they’re the ones taking heavy casualties.

Anyway, the story. I haven’t been posting any of Jarod Black’s story lately because I didn’t like how it was progressing. Yesterday, I figured out how to get out of that hole I was digging, so Jarod Black will be back next week. In the meantime, I offer you “Frank the Bat.” Enjoy!

~Rebecca


 * * * * * * * * * * *


Friday, July 15, 2016

Shifter Art...

Sage flicked the last bit of paint onto the canvass and pronounced the painting complete.  Bright red dripped down the picture, setting the perfect scene. “A masterpiece!”

“You’ve said the same thing about every piece since college, isn’t there one shite piece in all that time?”

Sage smiled.  She knew that voice, remembered the last time she’d heard it whining and growling at the same time about his lady loves irreverent need to make him crazy. “Nick,” she said, turning to see the one she’d never had the chance to let get away.

“Dear—what is that deity you worship—” With a wave of her paint coated hand, she bit her bottom lip and looked skyward.

“Lupa?”

“Yes, yes.  Dear Lupa, no!  My work will be talk about ‘til the end of time.  It will be raised to the heavens and I will be immortalized before I ever die!”

“And what style do you follow?  Who are your influences?  Pollock, Van Gogh, Vermeer?  No wait, is it Munch or the older greats?”

Nick’s smirk reminded her of their late night painting sessions.  He would paint—dreadfully—to keep his mind off his love and what she might be doing without him, but also to keep the hordes of girls wanting some alpha loving, at bay.  She would paint because she could do nothing else.  They had teased each other unmercifully, they had also become the dearest of friends.

“Poosh, I am influenced by them all, and by none of them.  I’m in a league all my own, babe.”

“And modest…”

“Of course,” she agreed, nudging him to take in her latest.  “What do you think?”

##

Nick looked at the painting, raised a hand to him mouth and forced himself to swallow the gurgling laughter fighting its way to the surface.  “Is that a chipmunk, with wolf’s teeth, taking down a-a-moose?”

“Yes, isn’t it wonderful?”

“Um, I especially like the blood spraying from the moose’s neck,” Nick laughed, short and loud, before once again shutting down his laughter. “What do you call it?”

“Self-portrait in red.”

This time Nick couldn’t contain himself.  He bent at the waist and laughed until he hurt as Sage watched him with her crazy chipmunk eyes.  It was so good to have his friend close once again.  He hoped she and Ziva could connect.  Also, he figured the town of Talbot’s Peak would be good for Sage. They were going to just love her shifter art. 
~~~

Have a wonderful weekend!

Serena

Thursday, July 14, 2016

This Week's Excuse

No chapter this week. I got caught up in writing projects that I’m hoping will result in paydays somewhere down the line. I enjoy writing the blog entries, but at the moment they don’t pay the rent, and I’ve gotten accustomed to eating on a regular basis. Here’s what’s in the pipeline: a proposal to Carina Press for a M/M shifter story; an entry for an upcoming Carina SF anthology; and the story that took over my head earlier this week, a contemporary M/M for Evernight’s Romance on the Go line. I might have that one done in draft by next week, once I get the paid freelance work out of the way. I’ll see if I can squeeze in a chapter of the serial story next week.

This week we're going to do a version of “Caption This.” I found a couple animal-related headscratchers on Google Images. What do they suggest to you? Let us know in the comments. No prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing you're more clever than I am.


I suspect someone may have an allergy ...


Being cheap isn't Mr. Krabbs' only nasty habit ...


C'mon, dude, it wasn't that funny ...


This is either the opening of Dr. Who done with cat memes or ... nah, I got nothin'.


And, of course, this. I could write a whole erotic M/M novella based on this one pic. I'm sure you folks out there have much cleaner minds. Have fun, and see you next week!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Ripple Effect


Actions have consequences. Throw a stone into the center of a pond and the ripples spread out to the shoreline. The nameless person behind the scenes has just thrown huge stones into a number of lives. Now the ripples are starting to spread …

# # #

Brandon Fledermaus is looking for answers. The attack on him made little sense, and his instincts tell him Damien Hancock wasn’t really behind it. That opinion strengthens when he learns Hancock and Zhere Ghan both experienced similar attacks on the same night. Oh, the two kingpins themselves aren’t talking, but they have staff, and their staff tends to gossip, and speculate.

Hancock and Ghan are predators, and so are their employees. Most of the population of Talbot’s Peak is prey—herbivores, rodents. When predators talk, prey is always listening, in the form of a diner waitress, a clerk in a grocery store, a bartender in a local pub, a janitor mopping the floor in the offices of Hancock Real Estate or the tigers’ nightclub, Nirvana. Listening for the movements of predators is how the prey survives.

Brandon Fledermaus is a bat, and bats have excellent hearing. He flits through the night from one contact to another, and listens as the stories grow.

# # #

The doctor holds up a hypodermic. “This is what we have. It still hasn’t been fully tested—”

Damien Hancock thrusts out his arm. “Start testing.”

The scientist grimaces, but Hancock’s money keeps his pups in private school, away from human and herbivorous taints, so he swabs the prominent vein in the crook of the old wolf’s arm, slides the needle in, and prays he hasn’t just poisoned his financial well.

Nothing happens, at first. Hancock growls, down low in his throat. The sound has an edge of panic to it. The Asian cat who ambushed him hit too close to home. An Alpha who can’t shift might as well be dead. If his pack learns the truth, his life won’t be worth scat.

And then …

It starts in his gut, a twist like his innards are reshaping themselves. He doubles over, dry-retching. His heart slams against his ribs like a caged wolf against iron bars.

Then the power hits. Raw, crackling energy blasts through his veins, building and building with no end in sight. All of a sudden he’s twenty again, fierce and hungry and ready to hunt the world and crack its spine in his powerful jaws. His muscles thicken, his neck bulges. A howl starts up in the pit of his lungs and bursts free in a lusty bellow that almost seems to rattle the windows.

Still got it! he thinks exultantly. He’s still the king of Talbot’s Peak. Still the Alpha wolf.

When his body’s shudders stop he rises up. He’s suddenly a foot taller than he was before. He jabs a taloned finger at the empty hypodermic. “Make more.”

The doctor nods bleakly. Secretly, he wonders if it might be best to yank his pups out of school, pack up the wife and the SUV and move to that nice town in Oregon.

# # #

Zhere Ghan stands silently by while housekeeping removes the remains of his wrecked office jungle. One hand grips the edge of his desk. The other clenches and relaxes, clenches and relaxes. Each clench drives his nails more deeply into his palm. His men have searched the manor grounds, and beyond. They have yet to catch the assassin.

A sheep. Someone sent a sheep to kill him. A bloody herbivore. The blatant insult curdles in his gut.

Allegedly it was Fledermaus, but Zhere Ghan has his doubts. He’s studied the bat. Fledermaus certainly has funds enough to afford the Seven’s services, but would he be so crass? This attack reeks of contempt. It’s something Hancock would think of, had he the wit or the subtlety.

Worse still, it nearly succeeded. That rankles even more.

And now he’s lost his favorite and most powerful chess piece. Sergei’s in the wind, no longer at Ghan’s beck and call. Sergei, who knows every inch of this compound, who can ghost past its alarms, defenses and warriors any time he wants to. Who trained Stefanya, leader of the Seven.

The phone atop his desk goes off. The housekeepers jump. Ghan does not. He answers calmly. “Yes?”

“Father?” Tasman, from the club. “Are you well? I’ve been getting jumbled reports—”

“It’s nothing. A glitch in the security system. Stay where you are. No need for you to come home.”

Tasman pauses, reading between the lines. “I could send Leila.”

“No. Keep her with you. Better than a battalion, that one.” He might not have been the only target tonight. At least now he knows his son and heir is safe and, with his lethal assistant to guard him, likely to stay so.

Enough standing about. Time to take action.

“Father?”

“I have matters covered on my end, but there’s something you can do. That dancer, the red wolf, Genevieve Bordeaux. Is she still there at the club?”

“Not any more. She quit the other night. Went over to that new place, with the freaks and the perverts.”

“Did she now?” First her, then Sergei. Interesting timing. “Can you spare an agent? I want her watched. I want to know who comes and goes at her house, and where she goes, and why.”

Tasman makes a small noise, like he’s about to ask a question, but instead responds, “Yes, Father.”

“Good lad. We’ll discuss matters when you get home.” He’ll need to find out if Sergei at least killed Warner Hancock’s bitch and spawn. The House of Ghan is under attack. He can’t afford to take anything for granted any more.

After ending the call with his firstborn, he summons the head of his personal security team. “I want all your current intelligence on Fledermaus, the Hancock pack, Sergei, and that new upstart nightclub in town.” He sighs. It’s a happy sound, full of anticipation. “Looks like we’re going to war.”

# # #

Genevieve awakens from a restless sleep to the sound of a light tapping at her bedroom window. She squints through the gloom and spots a hulking silhouette that can only be Sergei. She springs from her bed and hurries to the kitchen door to let him in.

He does not waste words. “I have left Zhere Ghan,” he tells her somberly. “My life may be worth nothing now. Yours also, I’m afraid.” He bends to kiss her forehead. “I am so sorry, my firewolf. I should have killed him.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.” She isn’t upset. She’s been getting hints of this through her dreams for a while now. She’s known something along these lines was coming. “We’ll need a place to hide, at least for a bit.” A smile curves her lips. “And I know where.”

# # #

Working the late shift on the desk at the Rocky Top Motel, Hoover suddenly straightens when a poignant, musky scent assails his sensitive nose. His phenomenal sense of smell is how he got this job. Hancock’s corporation owns this motel, and Damien Hancock owns Hoover. His job is to assess the travelers who pass through the strip by the interstate exit. Most are humans, nonthreatening and oblivious, on their hurried way from here to there. Some are shifters. Some could pose a threat to the Hancocks and their hold on Talbot’s Peak. Any time Hoover sniffs someone iffy, he’s to contact the Alpha immediately.

One whiff of the man approaching the desk and Hoover figures he’s earned his pay for the week, and then some.

The man walks with a slow, effortless stride, like he’s stalking prey. Hoover doesn’t even need the walk. He knows a tiger when he smells one. He’s got smooth skin, paler than most Indian tigers, and straight black hair that falls to his shoulders. He smiles at Hoover. His eyes chill the wolf to his bones. The tiger’s eyes are blue. Hoover knows only one other blue-eyed tiger: Sergei, Zhere Ghan’s freak albino pet.

He swallows hard and offers up a wide, friendly smile. “Welcome to Talbot’s Peak, sir. Would you like a room?”

“That’s usually why one comes to a motel,” the tiger says dryly. His voice holds the hint of an accent, and it isn’t Indian. “I’ll need lodging for a week at least, possibly longer. Have you any available?”

“This time of year? Not a problem. You’ve got your pick of the second floor. How about one near the ice machine?”

“That will do nicely,” the tiger agrees. He nods toward the motel entrance, and the garishly-lit street beyond. “That road out there. Where does it lead?”

“Up into the mountains.” No point in holding back. He has a sinking feeling the tiger already knows and is toying with him. “There’s a town up there about the size of a pinhead. Nothing of interest, really.”

“Talbot’s Peak, yes?”

Scat. “Yeah, that’s it. They’re kind of insular up there, though. Survivalists. Home-grown Montana militia. You don’t want to go up there.”

“Perhaps not.” The man signs in and produces a credit card. Hoover makes close note of his name. Mikhail Dvorak. That answers some questions and raises a ton of others. Mr. Dvorak gives him a cold, thin smile and climbs the stairs. He’s brought no luggage with him.

The second he hears the upstairs door clap shut, Hoover dives for the phone and speed-dials the Hancock stronghold.