Friday, January 27, 2017

Calling the Shots

I prefer my first meeting with a client to take place in my conference room with the fantastic view of both ocean and mountain. I pay an obscene amount of money for the space, and it pays me back by distracting people long enough for me to pitch them before they can tell me exactly what they want. The convolutions and permutations that cause people to desire something simply because they saw it presented a particular way, at a particular time, or in a particular place is like alchemy, and if I can prevent my clients from giving me the formula for lead, I can usually turn their products to gold.

Unfortunately, Gloriana Llewellyn (her real name; I checked) had insisted our introduction take place at a coffee shop in a rundown part of the city. I’d have passed on the invitation, but I couldn’t let such a big – and interesting – fish get away. Whether she hired me or not, meeting her would be a win in my book. For someone who had rocked the fashion and business worlds simultaneously, she was incredibly reclusive. No one outside of her staff had ever met her in person.

The scent of perfectly roasted coffee reminded me that my own complex brew system had sputtered and failed. The aroma of cinnamon and sugar made me crave whatever contained them, though I’m not usually a sweets guy. Those twin desires pulled me to the counter before I even looked around for my potential client.

“Happy Yule!” The barista had her back to me, red and white ribbons turning her curlicue braid into a candy cane. She pulled shots with glee, gestured to the lucky recipients, then approached me with a smile that would have made a younger man’s knees weak.

Oh, who am I kidding? Despite the reindeer antler headband and Christmas moose sweater, she was a knockout. I was instantly smitten. That hadn’t happened in a long time. Seemed like a gift in and of itself, albeit one she would never realize she’d given.

“What do you want today?” she asked.

For some reason, everything I truly wanted tried to escape my mouth at once, resulting in me stammering the way I had as a kid. She didn’t rush me, and her smile never wavered.

I took a breath, smiled back at her, and said “Espresso, please.” I glanced at her nametag and burst out laughing, certain her name was not really Possum.

“Find a table. I’ll bring it over to you.” Her voice was smooth and dark, the way melted chocolate felt.

I shook my head, wondering when my inner poet had escaped, and turned to find a spot that would be relatively quiet so I could go over my notes on the mysterious Ms. Llewellyn. In an age of instant fame and digital surveillance, it seemed impossible that she could have remained anonymous. It was also the best marketing gimmick imaginable.

Possum brought me coffee and the cinnamon roll I’d forgotten to order. She put a tiny candy cane on the edge of the saucer. “That’s for later, for memories and dreams.”

Her words opened a flood in my mind – all the dreams I’d set aside to climb to the top of my career, all the memories of loves who had left because my focus was elsewhere. I choked on my coffee.

Possum patted my back, soothing my turmoil.

What have you done to me? I blushed when I realized I’d spoken aloud.

She sat down across from me.

“I’m expecting someone. A business meeting.”

“I know. As for what I’ve done, I must apologize. I needed to see what sort of man you were before I decided whether your words would be worth hearing.”

I blinked owlishly. “You’re Gloriana Llewellyn.”

She inclined her head as a queen might. “Indeed. I was only playing Possum.”

I groaned at the pun, causing her to laugh – like tiny bells ringing – which made me laugh, too.

When we managed to get a hold of ourselves, she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “I think you’ll do nicely, Mr. Farenthold.”

For the first time in ages, I wanted to be nice, as well.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Writhe

Town biddies mutter “Inappropriate!” but menfolk and curious women pay them no mind. The audience is full, drinking, smoking – bans circumvented by promises – waiting to see live that only glimpsed in pictures.

Snake dancing fell out of favor, ages gone, but myth cannot be fully erased. And there is always the draw of burlesque. People trade much to view shimmying flesh, embrace carnal desire and fantasy of touching the forbidden.

Weaving through tables, iridescent serpents sliding over pebbled skin, I find my target. Such a pretty boy, it saddens me to ruin him, but we are all so very hungry.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Note to Newcomers

The Nate and Seth series is a continuing story that includes challenge prompts. To read them in chronological order, click on the Nate and Seth Series page and follow the links. I hope you enjoy!

ETA: The story is now complete, so if you've been waiting for us to finish, we have.

Update: The boys were apparently not done with us, nor we with them, so there's a new chapter and tab: Nate and Seth vol. 2.  At the moment, it is on hold while we deal with upheavals in our lives, but rest assured, we will pick it up again.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Tender is the Night

The lightest touch of his fingers made me quiver yet again. He shook, too, for different reasons. Looking up at the clouds, covering then revealing the moon like a burlesque curtain, I knew I’d not forget these moments shared.

“I didn’t realize,” he started, but could not finish.

“Hush, love. It was meant to be a surprise.”

He rolled closer, sweat beading on his forehead. “I’d have done it anyway.”

That earned him another kiss. “I know. Your kind always do.”

I rose. He remained, blank eyes yet content, as I licked his lifeblood from the corner of my mouth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Forward

Salem. Not a nickname I cared for, but Nate had called me worse.

I opened my laptop, popped in a thumb-drive, and pulled up the scanned copy of my mother’s grimoire. The book was safely stored elsewhere, too precious to go about with a pair of reckless men intent on finding things that might kill us. Besides, that tome has a tendency to compel me to do things that would traumatize Nate. He might be an ass, but I love him.

Headlamps illuminated the road. Engine thrummed. Nate stared into the distance, pretending he didn’t know I was memorizing spells.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Target Acquired

By Colleen Foley

I’d nearly broken my thumb on Seth’s jaw and I was pissed about him using my blood again. But silently fuming wasn’t productive.

“OK Salem, help me out. There was a webpage and a loom, some ugly-ass music, and now we’re gonna kill something. What I don’t know is where that something is. Do you? ”

His grin was merciless.

“I do. I traced the IP address of the website. We’re going to a new age shop called The Brightest Lamp, in Detroit.”

Punching him again would result only in a pair of nearly broken thumbs.

I kept driving.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Reparation

NOTE:  This is an outtake from Seth's time away from Nate. It contains some sexual references and takes place in a dungeon. If this is not your sort of thing, look away.
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Bruised knees on cold stone, sheen of sweat – no blood, not yet –the cloying scent of ylang ylang, and taste of bitter cherry had memories combining with current sensation until I could not recall having been anywhere else but here. Here, where the sound was muted by thick walls and old spells. Here, where I would be shackled whether my wrists were free or not.

They were most certainly not.  You can say many things about Sybil and the place she runs, but she is not careless. My palms were wrapped to keep me from slicing them open with my nails. The strip of silk around and over my mouth would only tighten if I tried to work my tongue free. And the alchemy required to create my bindings was both delicate and effective.

She’d left me alone after the last session. I didn’t know how long it had been, nor when she would return. It was when, not if. She could no more resist me than I could resist coming back to this place. I like to pretend I can escape, be truly free, but it’s nigh impossible for me to find this sort of release anywhere else. For all our differences over the years, Sybil knows me – where to push, how deep to go before pulling back, when it’s safer to retreat no matter how restrained I am. The things I’ve done without control or comprehension are better left untold.

I was contemplating breaking the chains – or trying to – when the barest hint of footsteps reached me. Not Sybil, then. She always came with a hesitant determination. This was a lazy step, confident, almost bored. I felt like I should know it, should recognize the energy that heralded the arrival of my…visitor? companion? I wouldn’t know until told. It was part of the bargain, the price for solace and information. I kept my gaze on the floor.

“Did it never occur to you to get therapy?”

I closed my eyes. Why her, damn it? 

“Not just you, of course. Your brother, too. Maybe couple’s therapy, so you can work out why you have this continuous cycle of mutually inflicted damage.”

I ground my teeth against a reply. As bait went, my relationship with Nate was too easy.

“Do you want me to hurt you?”

Please.  I shook my head. She should have to work for it, just as I would.

“Such a poor liar. Except when your life depends on it, of course. This? Just a little light torture to soothe your injured spirit. Not nearly powerful enough to make you give up your truth.”

She was right, of course. But she already knew everything about me – or everything she would need to judge me. Another woman in my life who was a guaranteed ‘when, not if’, only this one would kill me eventually.

Sybil had threatened to tell me how I die. I had declined.

Kaia had simply told me she would be the one to rend my soul -  such as it is – from my body the second I step over some line only she can see. That I will do it has never been in question.

“I know you want me to pick up that whip. Nothing so light as a crop for you. No, you require real pain to open you up. This place holds so many ways to cause you reparable harm. Naturally, you gravitate to it.”

I swallowed hard. She tilted my head up and licked the desperation from the corner of my mouth.

“Ask me to hurt you,” she whispered.

The gag kept me from requesting my doom.  She removed it.

Before I could utter a spell, her mouth was on mine. There was nothing sexual about it. She simply wanted to give me time to think. I knew who she would rather be tasting, and the thought kept me from pleading for her to let loose on me. The moment I realized that, I went still and she pulled back.

“So, you have both sense and a moral code, however mutable and fluid. You may live a while yet.”

“Depends on which prophesy you believe.” My jaw ached.

“Try to use your new-found knowledge to bespell me, and all those prophecies will turn to ash.”

I had no doubt that I would follow suit. We’d burned more than one place down together. “Why are you here?”

“Curiosity, mostly.” She circled me, trailed her fingers across my shoulders, breathed in my scent.

I fought to remain still, remembering the last time she had laid hands on me. Second to last, actually, but saving my life wasn’t nearly as exciting for her as torturing me had been.

As if she could read my mind, her nails turned to talons, lightly scoring my flesh, enough for welts, not cuts.  “Your fear and desire are so sweet. You could become an addiction.”

“You’re too careful for that.” And I’m not the one you want.

She laughed. “True.”

I felt sick, thinking I’d said the second part aloud.

“You risk much, returning here when this refuge is known to so many of your enemies.”

“None more dangerous than those here who care for me.”

“Also true. Mostly.”

“Why are you here?” I asked again.

She sighed. “To free you. Exorcise your inner demons, or whatever has you trapped in your own head, and then get back out there. You don’t have much time left.”

“For what?”

Her smile was brilliant and disturbing. “You know better than to ask. You won’t even bargain with your soothsayer for that much. And yet you feel the pull.” She tugged on my chains – to check that they held, not loosen them. “I will help you forget and remember.”

She opened and closed compartments that should have been hidden from all eyes but Sybil’s – and mine. I had not always been the one kneeling. I knew the rattle of items in a particular box, the quality of near-silence when one of the finer cases was opened. Some things are delicate, made for only the most exquisite pain. My heart pounded, cock stiffening in anticipation. I never thought I wanted what would come out of that box, and I never did until it was in use; my body remembered and betrayed me every time.

She closed it with a click, leaving me to wonder if she’d taken out the object or put it away. I desperately wanted a drink – whiskey if possible, but water would do.

“Breathe, Seth.” Kaia stood behind me, not too close. “And again. You need to find your center.”

“In a goddamned labyrinth,” I muttered.

The first blow struck. I breathed through it.

“A flogger? Really?” I taunted.

The second blow made me gasp.

“I told you to mind your breathing.”

The third blow almost knocked me to the ground. I balled my fists and sank back on my haunches. I could practically hear her smile at the challenge.

The steady thunk of heavy tails, the familiar heat of the sting, the subtle scent of well-loved leather – I focused on these as she found a rhythm. As soon as I became accustomed, she changed it.  I doubt I could have swung with that power for long. But then, she’s so much more than I am.

I had forgotten my place in the world of monsters. She reminded me.

I couldn’t tell you how long it took me to fall. The cold slate floor was blessing, if not relief. She changed position but not tempo, the tresses striking true again and again until there was nothing but the rise and fall of the flogger, the rise and fall of my chest, the sound of strikes against tenderized flesh.

Eventually, I cracked, as she knew I would. She didn’t stop then, as I knew she would not.

Time lost meaning. Thoughts fled. Numb to the pain of the body, I was free to release the agony I’d held inside for so long. Sobbing, I raised my fist.

She pulled the last blow, so only a feather light touch grazed my skin.

Then my short and slender tormentor unlocked my wrists, picked me up as if I weighed no more than a child, and carried me to my own bedroom. There were more shadows than dim light, a grace note on top of the comfort of fresh linens. Kaia set me down, then crawled onto the bed to cradle my head in her lap.

My tears fell on her thigh. “I couldn’t save her. ”

She stroked my hair. “I know.”

“I couldn’t save Nate, either.”

“That’s not your job. Not for either of them.”

“But I should have…should have been able.”

She kissed my forehead, my cheek.  “No, darling. You couldn’t. Not the first time, nor the second. Even you have limits.”

She slid to the side, let me lie face down and soak the blanket with regrets. It didn’t matter that she was right and I knew it. I still felt I had failed those I loved.

Cool hands gently applied a salve, the scent as much a balm as the herbs and minor magic worked into the ointment. She offered me comfort and truth, both more difficult to take than the skilled lashing I’d endured. I shuddered as the full weight of her words and deed became clear.

She had known where to find me and what I needed to be able to hear her. If she were anyone else, I might have fallen in love on the spot. I wisely kept that thought to myself. It’s not a good idea to become enamored of a Fury. They know too much without asking. 

In other words, Nate was royally screwed. I kept that to myself, too.

“Why not the whip?” I finally asked, rolling to my side.

She lowered her head and gave me a kiss that almost convinced me to throw aside fraternal consideration and common sense. Almost.

“The first time we met, I took your scars away and gave you a souvenir. I won’t willingly shed your blood again.”

“Unless you have to,” I corrected.

Her eyes flashed indigo-black. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it.

“Don’t make me have to, Seth. Think very, very carefully about the paths you might take.” She smiled at me, appearing as close to human as she can. “Preferably before you head down them.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She kissed me, platonic this time, and nodded. “Your very best is required.”

She stood. “Are you settled? Do you need anything?”

So many things, but none I’d ask of her.

She shook her head, as if I’d listed them. “Shall I send you a midnight snack?”

We both knew she wasn’t offering food.  “Only if it’s serving itself and not Sybil. No coercion, no cost attached.”

“I’d be surprised if you were awake by the time a volunteer could be found.”

I sat up gingerly. “I’m full of surprises.”

Her laugh echoed through the stone room as she closed the door to my sanctuary.

I found a cloth to wipe my salt-stained cheeks.  Despite what she thought, I would not be waiting long at all.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ricochet

Pain erupted, a porcupine kiss blossoming across my jaw. Nate’s second blow didn’t land, and it took all his skill to maintain control of the car, as energy directed at me jammed into him instead.

“What the fuck was that?” he snarled.

“Self-defense. Probably best if you don’t hit me again.”

“I had good reason.”

“So did I. To disentangle you from the spell weaving, I needed a blood connection. I know you hate it, but I’ve seen you possessed before. I would fight through seven hells to prevent that from happening again.”

Mollified, he nodded. “Let’s go kill something.”

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Thick as a Brick

No sleep, fast food, and the smell of industrial cleaner Nate had employed on the previously blood-spattered dashboard had me hating the car’s interior. Classic rock tapes – the legacy of his misspent youth in constant rotation – were not helping.

“It occurs to me you’re a lot stronger now,” Nate said casually.

I twitched like a mouse mid-field with a hawk dropping fast. “Little bit, yeah.”

“Did you take my blood from the car?”

“No.”

“So the smear on your fingers was from when I was out.”

I always forget how well he can punch and drive at the same time.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Same Old Song and Dance

by Colleen Foley

Coming back had been …turbulent, at best. The music had changed on the way down, from piano to something like a wheezy organ. It played the same phrase over and again, like a tape loop. There’d been a voice beneath it, shouting like a carnival hawker, and it had pissed me off.

I forgot to tell Seth about it when he mentioned that someone was trying to kill us.

“Oh goody, something new and different for us."

He hauled me off the floor, shrugging in resignation. “Don’t look now, Nate, but I’m beginning to think that’s our legacy. Let’s go.”

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