“You’re sure this color’s okay?” Noah asked. Ben’s eyes roved over the walls they’d painted a few days ago. Noah tipped his beer back. His Adam’s apple rolled beneath the skin of his throat as he drank the chilled beverage. Noah used the cold bottle to wipe off his forehead. “I like it. Why, think the mustard walls’ transitioning into a red kitchen is too much?” Ben asked. His gaze moved from the living room into the kitchen. Ben always wanted red in a common area. His secretary had given him the idea, telling him that red was really “in” now.
“Nah, I like it...I mean, who am I to say. I spent half my life surrounded by gray concrete.” Noah frowned. “I’m heading up to shower. I say by next weekend, if you want to have your lady over, we’ll be good to go,” Noah told him. He grabbed his shirt off the workhorse and left the room, climbing the stairs to his bedroom. “She’s not my lady,” Ben grumbled, sighing. Ben shook his head and went to go sit in the kitchen. He settled in at the island and drank his beer, taking in the red walls. He liked what they’d done to the place. The walls were accented with dark molding. The ivory granite counters and stainless steel appliances lightened up the room. He heard the shower turn on upstairs. Would Noah ever let go of his childhood nightmare? A day didn’t pass that Noah didn’t allude to something that related to his life back at the Pine Acres Juvenile Detention Center. Ben would never forget the day he met Noah. To this day he still hoped that after seven years, some of those horrible memories for Noah would diminish. REARVIEW MIRROR http://www.bookstrand.com/rearview-mirror
“That’s a good idea, keeping all your stuff in the car like that.” Sara adjusted the hat, pulling it over her ears. “Hey, you never know when you might want to go on an excursion. Sometimes the mood just hits me. When it does, at least I know I can dress accordingly.” Jake slammed the trunk, taking her jacket and laying it across the backseat. “It’s all about having the right gear. I want to show you something.” He took her hand, leading them up the street about a quarter of a mile. They turned off and started to trek into the woods, their warm breaths rising into the cold night air. They were on a wide, flat, well-groomed path. “Did you know this was here?” “No. Where are we?” Sara’s eyes strained to see through the thick darkness. Jake stopped to face her. Sara tried to see his eyes, but their darkness blended in with the black surroundings. “This used to be an old railroad line that carried freight. They ripped up the line about five years ago. This is a great place to cross- country ski.” He gave her gloved fingers a squeeze. “What do you think?” “It’s perfect.” The path was nice and straight. “It is. Now all we need is about four inches of snow.” Sara snuck a sideward glance at him. Jake turned to look at her, their eyes locking. He squeezed her hand, leaving her gaze to look off into the thickly treed woods. Sara could vaguely see a maze of bare, arching branches. She felt Jake’s thumb stroke over the palm of her gloved hand as their feet trampled over the cold, packed dirt and residual fallen leaves. Sara took a breath. The scent of Christmas was all around. The fresh smell of pine opened her nose.
“Hey, thanks for doing the holiday thing with me,” Jake said softly, his face dipping down to converse. “Thanks for asking me.” Sara faced him as they walked, hoping the evening wasn’t coming to a close. “I hope I didn’t take you away from your family.” His voice was raspy from the chilled air. “My mother wound up having to work.” “And where’s that?” “She works for the Bridge Commission. She’s a toll collector.” “Oh, well, then she probably does a lot of holidays.” His arm fell away as they strolled back into the street. Jake gestured for Sara to take the inside of the shoulder. “Yeah, the holidays pay well. I’m used to it. What about your family?” Sara asked. There was a lull of silence, the road vacant. She slowed her pace, trying to read his expression. “I don’t see my father anymore. My mother died of breast cancer fourteen years ago.” “I’m sorry. God...you must’ve been young.” She treaded carefully between wanting to know more and being nosy. She’d dealt with a lot at a young age. How different things would’ve been if her grandparents had lived and her father had stayed. “I was thirteen.” His eyes looked straight ahead. “It’s just one of those things.” He took her hand again. “I never knew my father,” Sara admitted. “He split before I was born.” “Yeah, well...mine is an asshole, so I don’t know which is worse.” He glanced at her, his face set. Sara didn’t press him any further. She wanted to lift him up, not pull him down. Jake walked her up the stairs to her apartment. They stood on the small landing, leaning against the railing, gazing into the twinkling night sky. “That’s where I found my cat.” Sara pointed to the dumpster.
“She’s a lucky girl. Now she doesn’t have to spend all winter outside. She gets to snuggle up with you.” Jake turned to face her, his lips curved. “That’s what I’d like to do.” He moved closer, his breaths white puffs of smoke. OPEN SPACES http://www.bookstrand.com/open-spaces
They had dinner out back, the three of them. Marty asked Dan a lot of questions about his profession. It was easier to keep the focus on Dan. Marty kept things flowing, not allowing for any uncomfortable silences or a shift in conversation. A safe place, not having to choose between lies and the truth. The darker it became, the more of a visual thief Marty became, the dim glow of the citronella candles aiding him. He peeled the layers of Allie away, looking below the ones for show. Dan excused himself, going into the house. Marty’s lungs pulled in a rush of air, welcoming the breather. He waited for Dan to shut the glass door, having put on the central air earlier. “How dare you torment me with that dress,” he mumbled, grinding his teeth. Just talking about it had his flesh flaming. “I didn’t mean to,” Allie whispered. Marty gave her a savage look. “Wait until he’s gone. You’re in big trouble.” The door slid open and Dan emerged through the darkness, carrying another tray with pie and coffee. “So where’s our friend Tess these days?” Dan set the tray down, his glance moving between them. Marty shook his head. Tess was the last thing he wanted to talk about. The mere mention of her had the food curdling in his gut. “I guess it didn’t take long for you to get acquainted with our crazy neighbor, huh, Marty?” Dan laughed. “She has a lot of friends in Readington now,” Allie added. Her eyes flickered at his over the rim of her mug. Marty sipped his coffee, not trusting his words due to the level of liquor in his blood.
“No kidding, mm.” Dan started hacking away at his pie. THE SOUTH WINDOW http://www.bookstrand.com/the-south-window
Fern swayed, leaning into the wall to regain her balance as the boxcar moved down the tracks. The woodsy smell of cedar and something sweetened settled in her nose as she turned and sat down on what looked to be sacks of animal feed. Seeing the horseshoe emblem on the burlap confirmed it was most likely horse grain. She reached for her knapsack, resting it between her knees. Fern settled back and watched the town of Easton, Pennsylvania recede behind her. She knew this freight train went into New Jersey, but wasn’t sure where she should get off. The sun began to slip down the horizon, leaving a path of warm pinks and smoky violets in its wake. The remains of the day’s heat warmed her face as she reclined her back into the feedbags. Summer was just beginning, and now her life was rocking back and forth as if on a raft in turbulent waters. I fucking feel like Tom Sawyer. It’d been a Memorial Day picnic at a co-worker’s house. Another embarrassing incident where Johnny had had too much to drink and allowed his paranoia to ruin what had started as the perfect kick-off to summer. He’d accused one of the bouncers whom Fern worked with at the Turnstile of lusting after her. It was always so humiliating to have to calm Johnny down and then rush to explain his demented ways to her friends or acquaintances. She’d always made excuses for him, which never failed to enrage Jada. Fern tipped her head back, feeling the vibration of the moving train run throughout her body. She lowered her eyes against the glaring rays of the sun, drinking in its warmth. Thoughts began to run rampant. She’d need a job, a place to live. With no car, she’d have to set things up so she could manage on foot, until she got on her feet financially. She never needed a car in Easton, always able to use public transit. Thinking of all those things that cost money had her hand dipping inside her satchel, riffling through its contents to find the roll of cash Jada had given her. Fern pulled out the neatly banded roll. She ran her fingertip over the corners of the bills, guessing she had about five or six hundred dollars. The train rolled on, clanking through a tunnel of wooded areas and groves. Two boys on their bikes, with fishing rods resting on their shoulders, stood on the side of the tracks. When one of them noticed her, he pointed, his friend looking on, their faces perplexed. Fern lifted her finger to her lips, smiling. She pulled out her cell phone, checking the time. She’d been on the train for a little over two hours. When the cars began to slow she sat up, her senses sharpening. Fern slung her satchel and knapsack over her shoulder and stood. She made her way to the end of the car, peering outside, gripping the edge of the car as it swayed.
The air had cooled, the days now longer. Fern directed her gaze toward her surroundings as the Jake Brake of the train hissed and squeaked, slowing to a stop. It looked to be a lumberyard. Stacks of wood sat on pallets, lining the edges of a large, fenced-in area. This was it. She’d have to get off here. She looked down at the feedbags, unsure if they were being unloaded. The train whined one last time before coming to a complete halt. Several workers moved about the yard, loading planks of lumber onto carts. Fern looked both ways and hopped out, darting up the track, looking for an opening beyond the fenced-in yard. The sweet smell of sap and sawdust swirled around her as she eased into a jog. A shrilling whistle rang in her ears. Her chest tightened with alarm. “Hey, you!” a gruff voice called out to her. Fern felt her body go stiff. She broke into a sprint, her breaths heaving. He yelled to her again, but Fern kept going, not daring to look back. As the brush and tree line grew thinner, she downshifted her efforts into a slow, steady jog. Her eyes locked in on a small convenience store. Her legs burned with exertion. Fern ducked into the weeds. Thickets and thorns scraped over her skin, stinging her flesh. “Shit,” she gasped. Fern directed her steps and headed right to the side of the building, the restroom sign welcoming her. HOTTER HORIZONS http://www.bookstrand.com/hotter-horizons-mmf
“Speaking of chicks?” Sean grinned, turning on the stereo. Soundgarden blared through the speakers. “Leave it alone, Sean,” Zane said through gritted teeth. He walked in the back, knowing Sean was going to ask about Meg again. He turned around and walked back out. Sean was laying out his equipment for his first appointment. Zane tossed his offer right out into the arena like an impulsive pass, needing to see how eager the receiver was. “Hey.” Zane raised his hands. “If you want to take Meg for a spin, by all means.” His proposal had him stuttering. Sean set his color tubes aside, wiping his hands on a towel. Sean closed the distance between them. Zane suddenly felt tired and trapped.
“What’s your deal, man?” Sean cocked his head, waiting. “Is there something there that’s not to your liking?” “Ah, no, that’s not it.” Zane looked away, relieved that Sean’s first appointment was outside putting coins in the meter. Zane couldn’t tell him he'd had the pleasure of having Meg twice and it was beyond hot. If Sean knew that, he’d never leave him alone. “She’s gorgeous, Zane. That wild hair and those intense green eyes.” Sean whistled. “And such a lithe body.” His breaths echoed off the walls. “In fact”—Sean rubbed his chin—“I thought I saw her eyes amongst some of these drawings of yours.” He chuckled, pointing to the counter littered with his designs. “Well, aren’t you perceptive.” Zane’s tone was sharp. “Looks like your appointment is here.” Zane jerked his head toward the front door. “Lucky for you,” Sean grumbled. DARK DAY BRIGHT NIGHT http://www.bookstrand.com/dark-day-bright-night
“Where did you meet this man?” Her mother’s eyes squinted at her, her glasses resting on her head. Sara sat on the brown, battered recliner, watching her iron the freshly washed curtains, not that they were dirty, but her mother had washed them anyway. She worked diligently, ensuring that all her spare time was occupied. Sara couldn’t remember the last time her mother went out and did something for fun.
“He works at Bath Gates Garage. I stopped in there for gas after work one day.” Sara wouldn’t mention Dale’s fatal accident. She glanced at the analog clock in the kitchen, a yellow, plastic face of the sun with a goofy grin on it. Her mother stared at her through a cloud of steam. “What’s his name?” “Jake Delran.” “Do you know anything about him? Do you think it’s wise to just go off and spend the Thanksgiving holiday with him?” “I’ve already had one date with him.” Sara laughed at her. “He seems very nice...and yes, I think it’s fine to spend the holiday with him.” She frowned. “You’re working. What am I supposed to do?” “Your tone is snippy.” Her mother glared. She yanked the white curtain off the ironing board and began feeding the rod through the gathered seam. Sara stood up and walked toward her. “Don’t you think it might be nice for me to have a male companion?” She stared at her hard. All Sara found was a stubborn, annoying pout, one she’d had to look at for years. “I know that you don’t care much for men...but I sort of like them myself.” “Be careful, Sara.” Her tone was icy. “Let’s be honest here.” Sara held her hands up, pleading for a bit of truth. “When this man left, who you say was my father...that was it for you.” Her mother turned her back, stepping up on the stool to hang the curtain. Sara walked around the stool to face her. “You could’ve found someone else. You allowed one person’s selfish actions to deter you from integrating with an entire population.” Sara stared up at her. She’d hit a nerve. Her mother’s ruddy skin was flushed, the flesh of her jaw quivering. “That was my choice,” she said through gritted teeth, brushing her mousy brown hair away from her face.
“Great, Ma, but it’s not mine.” She paced around the living room, the mustard-colored walls closing in. If her mother hadn’t gotten pregnant, her father probably would’ve stayed, sparing her from becoming enslaved to cleaning and an endless list of ritualistic chores. When Sara was fifteen, she had confronted her mother with her theory. Donna Logan had dealt with her comments the same way she was dealing with them right now. Her face reddened, her lips pressed so tight the blood ran out of them. Her answers were short and clipped. Sara went into the cluttered galley kitchen for a glass of water, standing near the window, looking down into the street. If she didn’t want to face the truth, then so be it. Her mother frightened her. Every time she saw her, Sara felt like Ebenezer Scrooge. The only difference was she wasn’t sitting in front of her own headstone, and dirt didn’t bother her. Scenarios like this were worse. When Sara looked at her mother, she saw the genetic risk of what she could become. OPEN SPACES- EROTICA ROAMCE- PARA/NORMAL http://www.bookstrand.com/open-spaces
“Is the dinner cooked already?” Ella asked. An unexpected calm trickled over her skin like warm, dripping water. “Yeah, I got it right here.” Jayden chuckled. He bent down and pulled out a foil-wrapped package. “How’d you know that I would say yes?” She leaned on the table, cupping her chin in her palm. “I didn’t. It’s all about positive energy. A little faith, too,” he told her, his eyes gleaming. Ella shook her head, laughing. “That okay?” Jayden prepared her plate and slid it in front of her. Ella glanced down at the perfectly grilled burger nestled in a floury bun. One pickle and a small pile of fries filled the remaining space on the plate. “Sure, yes.” She laughed. Jayden set a pitcher of iced tea down on the table and edged a glass toward her. “So where’s your roommate?” Ella asked, pouring her drink. “Work. He works in the ER. Brian’s a phlebotomist.” Jayden bit into his burger. “He’s usually sleeping at this time, but he must be putting in some extra hours. He works nights.” “Wow, you fellas have some interesting jobs.” Ella took a bite of her burger, the juices warm and salty. She took a sip of her iced tea, seeking a sideward glance. Jayden had great features. He had a high forehead, but the way his hair fell right above his eyes was very alluring. He had a youthful masculinity. He was slim in the hips and had long legs. Ella already noticed that his torso was toned and muscled, having caught a glimpse underneath his hoodie. She found her thoughts drifting to whether he had any more tattoos that she couldn’t see.
She’d taken too long of a visual stroll. Jayden’s eyes caught hers. He smiled, his teeth slightly overlapping but just adding to his character. Warmth rose from her pores. “Everything okay?” He set his burger down. “This is delicious, thank you.” Ella toyed with the edge of the tweed placemat. Their kitchen, dining area, and living room sort of all flowed together. Brown wicker rockers and a large orange sectional the color of a cantaloupe dominated the space in front of a flat screen. Stereo components were shelved above. There were milk crates of beach equipment, sports gear, and a fishing rod leaning against the wall in the corner. “Has the color of the couch blinded you yet?” Jayden asked, laughing. “It is bright, but it fits.” Ella glanced at the colorful piece. “Leave it to Brian to find the weirdest thing at IKEA.” Jayden shook his head. “You fish?” Ella asked. “Nah, Brian’s the fisherman. I play Frisbee and run the dogs. I probably sleep too much, but I can’t say I’m religiously into that many hobbies,” he confessed. “Well, my only one is photography,” Ella admitted. “You like art? Well, photography is a form of art, but do you like paintings?” Jayden removed their plates. “I do. I think photographers and artists inspire one another.” Her eyes tracked him around the small kitchen as he rinsed off their dishes and set them in the dishwasher. The browned flesh of Jayden’s chest peeked out from beneath his hoodie, feeding her eyes again as he bent down to tie up the garbage. “I think you’re right about that. I’ve got some great paintings upstairs if you’d like to see them.” His smile was subtle. He raised a hand. “A girl I used to hang out with is an artist. She did some great murals on my wall, so it’s not like I can remove them and bring them down.” His explanation was hurried.
Ella smiled, understanding his explanation. Jayden didn’t want her thinking he was luring her into his bedroom. “I’d love to see them.” Ella stood. Jayden closed the area between them. “I just don’t want you to misunderstand me. Some women have.” His laughter was strained. “So far I think we’re okay.” Ella nodded, reassuring him. PAINTED POSTS http://www.bookstrand.com/painted-posts
Chad’s face hung with a vacancy Alex couldn’t read. Their conversation was strained, almost a sham, the elephant in the room a mockery. This only fueled the guilt that was burrowing through him. Alex felt like he was falling into a deep, dark pit. He couldn’t see his way out, the sides caving in a bit more each day. Chad was so intense, everything about him. He’d stirred things up in Alex that he’d never felt.
Things hadn’t been right since they’d gone to The Lemon Tree. Not realizing it at the time, Alex had been put on the spot. Though the idea of being with Bret was thrilling, he hadn’t taken enough time to think it through. Chad hadn’t pressured him. Maybe Alex was influenced by Chad’s past experience. Did Chad want Alex to explore the outer realm before he asked more of their relationship? Being with Bret certainly had added to his history book, expanding his horizons, but it had come with a price. What Alex hadn’t planned on was how he would feel after it was over. Was Chad bored with him? Did Alex satisfy him? Did Chad want to see Bret again, but was afraid to admit it? The questions swarmed in his head like stinging bees. He couldn’t stand the tension. Chad’s gruff words sliced through him. “Get over here. I’m sick of all this waiting.” Alex walked around the bar, his legs liquefying. Chad grabbed his waist, pulling him close. His beer-battered breath hit his lips. Chad spun them around, pushing their bodies. Their feet stumbled across the carpeting. Alex’s back hit the bookcase. His body tightened in alarm. Alex felt his eyes flutter in shock. He squeezed them closed, not wanting Chad to see his troubled expression. There were words that needed to be said, questions that should be asked and answered. Their lack of communication was chipping away at them. Chad thrust his hips into him, provoking a flame they’d once ignited. Chad gripped his arms, pushing him away, his eyes dark and leering.
“What the hell is happening? You done with me, Hayes?” Chad’s jaw tensed beneath his shadowed growth. His eyes quickly darted between Alex’s. “If that’s the case, why don’t you be a man and just say it?” “What the hell are you talking about?” Alex gasped, trying to buy more time. EXTRA CREDIT- M/M http://www.bookstrand.com/extra-credit
Dale stepped down and moved away, gesturing to him. She watched Neil's long legs climb up into the loft. “Just toss down a bale.” Neil looked down at her before dropping the bale. It landed on the floor of the barn with an airy thud. Neil lowered himself down the ladder. “The grain is over here.” Dale led him over to a large trash can. She lifted the lid and scooped out a full measure of grain and then handed it to him. Dale nudged him with her arm. “Go ahead, might as well get acquainted.” Dale explained to Neil that if he came into the barn at night, it was wise to speak to Midnight. “She’ll learn the sound of your voice. Horses spook easily,” she warned. Neil opened the latch and dumped the grain into her hanging bucket. “Hi, girl.” His tone was hoarse. Puffs of smoke streamed from Midnight’s nose. Neil raised his hand slowly and stroked her nose. Dale leaned against the stall and watched him pet her beloved mare, his touch cautious yet gentle. “How much hay does she get?” Neil stepped out of the stall and lowered the latch. “I give her a wedge twice a day. Sometimes she’ll want more. Not more than two at a time, though.” “How do you know if she wants more?” Neil wiped his hands down the front of his jeans. “Oh, you’ll now,” Dale assured him. Neil turned away and strolled over to the open doors of the barn. He sat down on the bale of hay, his elbows leaning on his knees, admiring the peaceful night. Stars winked in an onyx sky. The woods were quiet. Any sounds of life were iced over. Dale sat down next to him, leaving a few hands’ worth of space between them. “I’m thinking I should leave tomorrow, be on my way, you know.” His eyes didn’t seek hers. A sigh slipped from his lips. Dale stole a look at his profile, his jawline strong, his lips full. His hair fell back over his brows, his face creased. She wanted to crawl inside his head and pick away at his thoughts. Dale didn't know what to do. He could stay. She did need a hand around here. If he was going to harm her he would've by now.
The words shot out of her mouth. Neil’s body flinched in response. “Why don’t you stay?” Dale gulped at the icy air. Her throat was burning. She wanted to help him but was afraid of sending the wrong message. “Why don’t you stay on and work for me? As you can see”—she waved a hand—“I do need some help.” She laughed. He shifted his weight on the bale of hay. Neil's dark-brown eyes latched onto her, a pending silence swelling between them. http://www.bookstrand.com/the-unveiling
The temperate, summer air licked her skin. She felt the shifting weight of Sean’s stare, followed by a heat that warmed her from the inside out. Meg unbuttoned her shorts, hearing the teeth of Sean’s zipper click open. He’d stood over her all day in his jeans, baring his wide chest and decorative sleeve of ink. Meg had marveled at the colored detail up close as she watched him slather sunscreen over the vibrant patterns. He’d informed her to use it when warranted if she wanted her tat to stay fresh and bright.
Her exposed flesh welcomed the feel of the air as it moved over her skin. She now knew why Zane had reveled in the feeling earlier. It was an exhilarating sense of freedom. “Is the water cold?” Meg walked down the sloped bank. The cool, soggy soil seeped between her toes. The dark silhouette of Sean’s body bled through the borders of her vision. He stood adjacent to her, at a safe angle. Was it curiosity, or her lustful thoughts branching off? She felt the nagging urge to look, but didn’t. “It’s awesome, get in here, both of you.” Zane swam back and forth, his body cutting through the blackened water. Meg descended down into the lake. The water edged up her body, spreading a warm tingle over her skin. She dunked her head. When she rose to the surface, Sean was already in the water, his body concealed with the exception of his artfully defined chest. Meg squinted into the night, her eyes adjusting. The earthy scent of the woods dangled in the air. A humid mist pushed through the trees, settling over the water.
“Come here, babe.” Zane reached for her. She swam into his arms, wrapping her legs around him. His wet flesh slid against hers. Zane's hand moved through the water as it fluttered against her body. His fingers trailed over her thigh beneath the water. Meg clung to him, licking the shell of his ear, whispering. “Let’s be polite now.” She squirmed at his touch. “We will.” He kissed her cheek. His hand rose, gripping her waist. Sprays of water hit their heads. Meg turned their bodies, seeing Sean’s ass poke out of the water as he dove below the dark surface. Something grabbed her ankle and tugged. Meg screamed, jumping out of Zane’s arms. Sean’s head shot out of the water. He jerked the hair out of his eyes, his lips curved into a naughty grin. “Gotcha.” His deep laughter reverberated through the still night air. Zane laughed, spinning her, allowing her to retaliate. Meg worked her body through the water, splashing Sean, hurling the water at his face. She knew Sean could see her now in all of her naked glory. The men didn’t seem fazed by this. She embraced the darkness and let the thought slip away quickly. Water ran in lines down Sean’s face. “You’re in trouble,” Sean growled. He moved in for the kill, diving at her waist. The world tilted, her body tossed like a rag doll, draped over his shoulder. Her flesh joined his. Meg's palms slipped down the wet, knitted bones of Sean's vertebrae, her head against his back. Before she could grab hold of the raised biceps of his upper arms, his hands cupped her ass. With one heave he tossed her back into the water. BRIGHT DAY HOT NIGHT / SEQUEL TO DARK DAY BRIGHT NIGHT http://www.bookstrand.com/bright-day-hot-night
A knock on the door had Meg scurrying down the hall. She hoped it wasn’t the super. He wouldn’t like the fact that she’d painted. She left the chain attached, peering through into the dimly lit hall. Sean’s sharply defined face met her gaze.
“Meg, right?” His lips broke into a mischievous grin. “I’m sorry if I spooked you. You got a minute?” She disengaged the chain and waved him through. “Wow.” He laughed. “I’ve stepped into a time warp. Where’s Austin Powers?” His laughter was amusing. Meg chuckled. Sean was as animated as the tattoos on his arm. He looked like a bull that had just stepped into a cluttered consignment shop. “Is that a real plant?” Sean’s gaze followed the ivy that wrapped around the living room. “Yup, that plant’s almost fifteen years old.” “Shit.” He shook his head. “Where do you get this stuff?” Sean canted his head, staring up at the lime-green tension-pole lamp Meg had anchored in the corner. “I’m a bit of a consignment-store hound.” “That’s cool. Hey, listen, I don’t know if you’re busy tonight, but—” “Not at all.” Meg smiled, wanting to help. Her social life had been nonexistent since she’d arrived, not that there was much of one back home. Her mother’s illness had absorbed all of her time. “I wanted Zane to go out tonight. He starts his treatments on Monday, but he wouldn’t go.” Sean frowned. “Could you just check on him, make sure he’s okay? I offered to stay, but he kinda rushed me off. I’m worried.” “No problem. I’d be happy to.” “Thanks, Meg. Hey, you have any tats?” “Ah, no, I don’t.” Her heart kicked into overdrive, thinking of all those needles. Was this a come-on? Sean shoved his hands into his pockets. Black jeans hugged his strong, sturdy legs, nicely paired with a blue-and-green plaid pullover. “I’m asking because you’ve got great skin, nice tone to it. I get twitchy when I see virgin flesh like yours.” “Like a hairdresser with new shears?” she mocked. “Yeah.” His full lips curved into a smile. “When I see pristine skin, I just wanna mark it all up. If you change your mind, I’ll give you a 20- percent discount.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” The thought of all that ink in her pores had her stomach rolling over. It was so forever, a tattoo. DARK DAY BRIGHT NIGHT http://www.bookstrand.com/dark-day-bright-night
Frustrated he’d tripped the lights, Drake quickly darted into the woods, stopping as soon as the trees enveloped him. He could see her. Kelly was on her feet, on full alert. He felt her stare. It burned through him, making his head spin with questions. He knew nothing about her, yet needed to see her again, stand close to her and really look at her. The faint, twinkling light of her fire had disappeared, like flipping off a light switch. Does she live here? All thoughts of Nina storming out of his condo were forgotten like a bad dream. Drake bit down on his lower lip. Unease prickled through him. Dealing with Kelly wouldn’t be the same as the other women he’d been surrounded with. He was a businessman, fully capable of selling. Drake latched onto that idea, confident that he’d be able to make the modifications that were needed with this type of pitch. Her lovely image took shape as he moved through the foliage. Kelly was tiny, bundled up in a fleece pullover. Her hair was pulled back again, her face hidden by shadows. He took a few more cautious steps before her voice echoed through the trees, her tone assertive. “What do you want?” Drake noted the hint of hysteria in her voice that she tried to bury. He didn’t want to scare her. He stopped and answered her back. “I’m here to see you, not hurt you. I’d like for us to have coffee. I also have a pint of brandy and a few cookies. Is it safe to approach?” Drake added a trace of sarcasm, hoping to win her over. It never worked with Nina, but this woman was of a different breed, a breed Drake wanted to experience more of.
His insides cooled as he sucked more oxygen into his flaming body. The draw was maddening. What the hell was it? He continued to move toward her. Words resounded through the air as the outline of her shadow became sharper. Drake stopped, standing within three feet of her. “You don’t owe me anything.” Her tone was jarring, but Drake pressed on. “Who said anything about owing?” Drake answered. He could see her shifting her feet, her body language restless and confused. “Thank you for the hamburger, by the way,” her voice softer. “You’re welcome, Kelly. Now, this coffee’s getting cold,” Drake said, hungering for her consent after speaking her name. “Okay,” her reply huffed. Drake smiled, happy with himself. She turned her back as he followed her, excited to be visiting her as well as her campsite. A tent came into view. Smoke from the residual fire hung in the air. The woodsy burn tickled his nasal passages. Drake waited, their smoky breaths filling the silence. She faced him. Her eyes were skittish. She licked her lips, making his stomach flutter. Drake spoke, choosing his words carefully. He handed her one of the coffee cups. “I’m sorry I made you put out your fire,” he said. Her hand reached for the coffee, quickly recoiling back into her own space after grabbing the cup. “Why don’t you let me restart it for you,” Drake offered. “Sure,” Kelly said, stepping back and waving him toward the woodpile. “Um...” her voice wavered. “Your name, I’m sorry, I forget.” HOMELESS HEART http://www.bookstrand.com/homeless-heart
When Mia walked through the doors of the gym, all hell was breaking loose. A crowd of men were up in the boxing ring. Loud shouts coming from a pack of panicked men bounced off the high ceiling. Her eyes landed on a pair of feet on the floor sticking out from the huddled circle. “Did someone call 911?” one of them yelled. “I called...I don’t where the fuck they are,” someone barked back. Mia stared at the crowd of men. Her walking in on this was no accident. Her mind spun, taking in the chaos around her. Someone was in trouble, and they needed help—her help. Mia’s palms grew damp. Her pulse quickened, thumping hard into her throat. She quickly walked across the gym, trying to see what was going on up in the ring. One of the men turned, his stare direct. “What’s wrong with him?” Her voice squeaked, high with hysteria. Mia chewed on her lower lip.
“We don’t know. He’s out cold.” A younger guy leaned back on his heels, his eyes wide with fright. Mia dropped her purse and darted up the stairs that led into the ring. “I’m a nurse. Get out of the way. Someone go outside and wait for the EMTs.” Her tone was now firm. Those first three words had the crowd moving back. Her legs shook as she dropped to her knees. Mia leaned down and checked his breathing. His skin was warm. There was life still inside him, but his chest was not rising. She tipped his chin back, checking his pulse, and cleared the airway. No respirations, no pulse. She tipped his chin again, held his nose, and began rescue breathing. She sealed her lips around his. Briny sweat salted her lips and mouth. Her lungs pushed air into his sweat- drenched chest. After two quick breaths, she moved right into CPR. Her body trembled. Her nerves were torqued and on complete overload. Her palms pushed into his chest as she silently counted before shifting back into rescue breathing. She completed two cycles, moving like a well-oiled machine. By the time Mia reached thirty chest compressions, the EMTs were there with a defibrillator. Mia stood up, her head heavy and dizzy. She wiped off her mouth, her face soaked with perspiration. His musky smell was on her, draining into her pores. Was it his fragrant sweat or the smell of pending death? Mia stood back and watched the EMTs work. Her stomach was tipping in sickness, a nervousness that had her insides binding together. A light touch on her shoulder had her attention turning to Sal. His weary expression had her eyes suddenly spouting tears. “Thank God you came.” His aged face twitched. Mia lowered her head in her hands, her shoulders shaking. Sal slowly led her down the stairs and out of the ring. “I’m sorry,” she choked out. “Don’t be sorry.” Sal’s burly hand caressed her back in soothing strokes. “I think you might’ve saved his life.” Sal’s words of admiration had her sobbing harder. “Drew didn’t mention that you’re a nurse.” BEHIND THE IRON FIST http://www.bookstrand.com/behind-the-iron-fist
“So you’re renting at Sunset Beach? That’s a nice area.” Scott’s eyes widened. Ella didn’t want to share too much with him. She thought she might be living where the locals considered being the upscale part of town. By the looks of her uncle’s house, she would agree.
Mr. Dog Trainer was her neighbor. Though appealing to her eye as well as her camera’s lens, he didn’t look as polished as their surroundings. Her position in regards to her address in this town was something she’d need to investigate further. “It is a nice place. I like it,” Ella said, sipping her wine. The three glasses had already gone to her head. Her skin was flaming, flushing with heat. She wasn’t sure if it was Scott’s close proximity or the alcohol, which she didn’t indulge in often. Scott cleaned up well. His face was shiny and smooth-looking, the results of a fresh shave. His jeans were faded but looked stiff, as if they’d been starched and pressed. A gray pullover contoured his chest, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Scott was average in height, but looked solid. Raised biceps pushed through the fabric of his shirt. His knees rubbed against hers as he swiveled on his stool. He’d reached into her personal space twice, twirling her hair in between his fingers.
According to Scott, the Salt Rind was one of the popular local taverns. Small, round tables filled a tiny area in front of the bar. Black-and-white photos of Hollywood legends decorated the wall: Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Joe DiMaggio. A flat screen was muted, displaying the news broadcast that most would probably be better off not hearing. Scott’s inquiry pushed through the dimmed lighting of the bar. “What nationality are you?” His eyes widened as his gaze slowly moved over her. “Italian and Scandinavian,” Ella said, pushing her glass away. Her head felt light. She hadn’t eaten since lunch. Having three glasses of wine on an empty stomach was stupid. “That explains it,” Scott whispered, his voice throaty. “I love the dark hair and fair skin.” His hand rested on her knee, skating slowly up her thigh. “You’re hot, very beautiful,” he confessed. Scott’s tone was heavy. It dripped with something Ella wasn’t sure she was ready to sample, though it’d been a long time since she’d experienced any physical gratification. One of the bartenders at Johnny’s was a fringe benefit that Ella would indulge in once in a while, but aside from that, her body was usually battling a drought. “I’m sorry. Am I making you uncomfortable?” Scott asked, his finger tracing the inside seam of her jeans. Ella caught her reflection in the mirror that hung above a shelf of liquor on the other side of the bar, the bottles artfully arranged. She had her reservations about Scott, but Ella couldn’t deny that his touch was scorching. She could feel it right through her clothes. He was heating her up as if tending to a fire, the flame stoking higher and higher. “Ella?” Scott’s finger lightly stroked over her cheek. She spun on her stool, her surroundings unsteady for a moment. “I’m sorry.” She smiled weakly. “Come on.” Scott stood and dug through his pocket. He tossed a few bills on the bar, helping her off the stool.
The sound of a smooth engine drew near. Liz shifted her gaze, her reactions hampered from an impending high. A dark-green Range Rover moved over the stones, pulling alongside the quaint Cape Cod that was adjacent to her backyard, a hundred yards away. Duane had called it the carriage house. It’d sat vacant for years. They’d thought of renting it or maybe selling it, which is what she’d chosen to do. Ben and Noah had already begun their renovations. Liz often witnessed them carrying lumber and other accoutrements into the house. The car door slammed. The package! Liz jumped off the swing, her body now suddenly wired. The marijuana had a habit of doing that. Usually she’d feel calm and at ease, but at times that paranoia would come, overwhelming her. She slinked to the other side of the porch, hiding in the corner. She lifted the joint to her lips, taking another mind-blowing drag. The paper wilted, burning black at the glowing tip. The smoke expanded in her lungs. Liz stifled a cough, watching her new neighbor retrieve the package off his porch. Ben’s tall, lean frame bent down to pick up the box. Dark waves of styled hair made his sharply structured face complete. The glare of the sun rebounded off his sunglasses. He unlocked the front door and set the box inside but didn’t enter the house. Liz lifted a finger to her mouth, gnawing on a nail. Liz’s altered state had led to carelessness. She should have gone inside where she had hid all winter, feeling the need to avoid any type of interaction. He turned suddenly, catching her huddled in the corner of the porch. While he set his briefcase down, Liz quickly crushed out the joint in the soil of a nearby spider plant. Ben descended the porch stairs, making his way across the shared dirt lane.
“Hi,” he called, waving. He trekked across her yard. Liz felt her face cringe in embarrassment. Her yard was ravaged, just like everything else in her life. Residual dead leaves had made a home around her rose bushes, strangling any life out of her flower beds. The grass was yellow and brittle, yearning for fertilizer and a tender hand. As he directed his steps toward her, Liz’s heart jumped into her throat, her pulse now racing as she watched him climb the stairs at the end of her back porch. The gentle breeze lifted his cobalt-blue tie. Once under the canopy, Ben removed his glasses. Vibrant blue eyes flashed at her, the color of faded denim. He extended his hand. “I want to apologize,” he said, smiling. Tiny wrinkles around his eyes deepened his soft expression. A light layer of growth was neatly trimmed around his chin and mouth. He resembled a cologne or clothing ad. Tommy Hilfiger came to mind. “I’ve been meaning to come over.” “Oh, that’s all right,” Liz said. Her fingers braided with his quickly before withdrawing back into the comfort zone inside her pocket. His masculine scent enveloped her. He smelled exactly the way he looked—expensive. She could see the joint stuck in the soil under the plant’s leaves. She moved into his line of vision. “I want to express my condolences,” Ben said kindly. His face went blank with seriousness. “I appreciate that.” Liz forced a smile, pained again with the never-ending farce. “How’re things going over there?” she asked, needing to change the subject. She was somewhat curious about them as well as their renovations. Ben glanced back at the house and then rerouted his eyes back to hers. His brows rose. “Not too bad, it’s coming along. Maybe you should stop by sometime and see it.” He paused. He fussed with his tie, as if feeling trapped in his white-collar attire. “Then you could meet Noah.” Ben shifted his weight. Liz’s eyes fell to his feet, his dress shoes now dusty with dry earth. He cleared his throat, dragging her attention back to his face. “You like wine?”
“Yes,” she stammered, swallowing through a dry throat. She'd become a social invalid. He’d scared her straight, her heart drumming relentlessly. “I do.” “Red or white?” Ben asked. He smiled, flashing a set of impeccable teeth, his demeanor friendly. “Both.” Liz laughed. “Well, okay then.” He laughed. REARVIEW MIRROR http://www.bookstrand.com/rearview-mirror
They trekked up the street, turning the corner and walking down Willow Brook Lane. The street was a tunnel of lights, illuminated in whites, reds, and blues. “Check out this house.” Jake pulled her down the street. The massive volts of electricity made her eyes ache. A large, grinning snowman dominated the front lawn with a trail of lit-up reindeer. The entire house was outlined in white lights that pulsated through the darkness.
“That’s one heck of an electrical bill.” Sara stood in front of the house in awe, wondering how long it took to assemble all of those decorations. There were six large candy canes anchored into the edges of the lawn, the red and white lights blinking to a musical rhythm that couldn’t be heard. “Some people really get into it.” Jake grabbed her hand, steering her back into the street. It was quiet except for the crunching of their soles on the asphalt. Sara decided to take the plunge with her mother’s dinner invitation. The setting seemed to be right, with the meaning of Christmas reflecting all around them. They approached a small brick house that had covered a massive pine tree with white lights and red bows. “Now that looks classy.” Jake’s head tipped back, gazing up at the tree. “It does.” Sara turned to face him. “Um, Jake?” She watched her breath as it seeped out of her mouth in steamy ribbons. “What’s up?” He pulled her into him, wrapping his arms around her waist, rubbing her nose with his. “My mother invited you over for dinner,” Sara said, treading lightly. “Oh, she did, did she?” His smile lit up his shadowed face. “I’m sorry, please don’t think that...” “Sara, what’s with the apology? I’ll come for dinner. After all, we did spend Thanksgiving together. I know what she’s thinking.” He laughed. “I just thought that you may think it’s too soon, you know?” “Too soon for what?” He squinted at her, his brows knitted in confusion.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Sara turned away, soaking up the visual comfort of the tree. Jake’s gloved finger steered her face back to his. “You shouldn’t worry so much.” “I just thought it might freak you out. Some guys get uptight about that sort of stuff.” She nudged him, trying to lighten the mood, thinking she may have offended him. “First of all, I’m not some guys. And secondly, I’m not an uptight guy.” He kissed her gently, his lips bathing hers like a warm breeze. “So I’ve learned.” She snickered. “It’s just that my mother’s a bit strange.” Sara stared up at the glittering sky then looked back at him. “I can deal with your mother.” Jake’s finger traced her lips. “Let me handle your mother.” “Should I give you the rundown?” Jake shook his head, directing her back to the route of their walk. “I don’t need the rundown. I’m an adaptable guy. I can deal.” OPEN SPACES- PARA/NORMAL
Cole knelt by the window, the room doused in darkness.
“What’re you doing?” Cole turned, seeing Josh’s silhouette in the doorway. Cole waved him over. “Check this out.” Cole handed Josh the small hunting telescope, gesturing to the living room window that Toni had wide open, the curtain billowing in the cool evening breeze. Again, she had the house lit up like a Christmas tree. Josh raised the scope to his eye, squinting into the lens. Cole sat near him, leaning into the screen. Toni was skirting across the floor on her tiptoes, her arms above her head in an arc, her chin held high. Cole listened to the distant sound of classical music spilling out into the yard, a piano concerto. Josh handed the scope back to him, taking in a rush of air. “I hope I can get to sleep,” Josh muttered as he rose to his feet and walked toward the door. “You shouldn’t spy on her anymore. It’s not right.” “Don’t be so uptight. People do a lot of things that aren’t right.” “Well, I’m not one of them.” Josh ran his fingers through his rumpled hair. “Save it for tomorrow’s column, Ann. What we did in the barn probably isn’t right either.” “Well, that’s the smartest thing you’ve said in weeks, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot.” Josh’s sharp words sliced through him. Cole gripped the small hunting scope. Josh stepped back closer to the bed. “It’s just sex, right? We don’t care about her—hell, I barely know her! I don’t like that. That’s not what I’m about, man.” Josh shuffled out of the room. Cole continued to look through the lens, letting Josh’s comments roll off even as his jaw locked with tension. Toni had on a short, mint green skirt this time. When her body spun, it lifted, fluttering around her waist. Cole swallowed, salivating at the narrow V between her thighs, her legs encased in white tights. He could tell when she rose up onto her toes, her height elevating with the tempo of the music. There was no denying it anymore. He ached for her. Having Chelsea had not cured his craving. Josh was right—the novelty of sex without strings or emotions had suddenly vanished. He watched her until his knees became sore, grinding into the floorboards. Her arms waved through the air, her wrists bending with a gracefulness Cole had never seen.