Tuesday, June 12, 2012

EXCERPT: Who's Your Daddy?

Author: Lauren Gallagher
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): ebook, print (coming soon)

Chapter One


These digital tests didn’t leave any room for denial. There was no “well, maybe that line isn’t really there”. No “is it really two lines?” No “I’m just seeing double, that’s all.” Not with this little bastard. In a half-inch-long window, in bold black print on a deceptively bland gray background, eight tiny letters offered no ambiguity or uncertainty.

Holding on to the bathroom counter for dear life and staring at that single word, I could have gone for some ambiguity or uncertainty. A few minutes, maybe even a few seconds, to let it sink in slowly. But no, ever the practical one, I’d gone for the brand with the clearest, least mistakable result, so there could be absolutely no doubt, and that was exactly what I’d gotten.


I closed my eyes and exhaled, pretending that single word wasn’t emblazoned across the insides of my eyelids. Taking long, deep breaths, I tried to keep the nausea at bay. I’d already been sick today. And yesterday. And every day this week and the better part of last week. So much for blaming my mom’s cooking, even if I had gone to my parents’ house for dinner a few times.

It didn’t take any mental calculations to figure out when this had happened. I was exactly six weeks and four days pregnant. Eight weeks if I went by the weird school of thought where the clock started two weeks before actual conception. Whatever the case, I had been pregnant for six weeks and four days. I knew when and where it had happened.

What I wasn’t so sure about was who the father was.

I groaned and rubbed my forehead with the heels of my hands. This wasn’t me. I didn’t do one-night stands. 
I didn’t have casual sex. Hell, I’d barely had any sex at all in the last few years, and in the six weeks and four days that I’d been officially divorced, I’d only done so once.

Well, twice.

Several times, actually. In spite of myself, I shivered. For as much wine as the three of us had consumed, those two just didn’t quit.

Donovan and Isaac had been good friends of mine for ages. I knew Don long before he met Isaac five or six years ago, and the three of us were super close. Of course, my ex-husband hated that. It was tough to say what bothered him more: the fact that I was so close to two other men, or the fact that they were gay. Why I ever thought to marry a man who was so homophobic, I didn’t know. But then, I couldn’t really remember why I’d thought to marry him at all, and divorcing him had been one of the most liberating moves I’d ever made.

The night my divorce was final, I’d gone to Don and Isaac’s to spend the evening celebrating. The amputation of the gangrenous husband growth, as Don called it, was complete, and I was free to move on.

And what was a celebration without wine?

One bottle had loosened our tongues enough to get us talking about more intimate subjects than usual. Two had coaxed Isaac into admitting to some bi-curiosity and a desire to indulge that bi-curiosity before he turned forty next month. Three had been enough for all of us to admit a very strong and very mutual three-way attraction. Somewhere before we got to the bottom of the fourth bottle, my shirt had come off, and the rest was a patchwork of sometimes blurred, sometimes clear moments of amazing sex.

Not that it took a genius to figure out how it had happened. Whether it was the alcohol, or just the fact that none of us had had any reason to use them in the last several years, we’d completely neglected to use condoms. I hadn’t had sex with anyone since, and it had been months before that.

No two ways about it. Either Isaac or Don was the father of this baby.

“Shit,” I breathed into the otherwise silent bathroom.

I’d just started getting on my feet. It had taken me almost two years to save enough money to leave my husband. Divorces were expensive—but oh, so worth it—and my bank account was still in the intensive care unit. As it was, I was living with my sister in a cramped two-bedroom apartment that wasn’t even big enough for the two of us. I’d moved in with her until I could get on my feet.

How the hell was I going to take care of a baby when I could barely afford to take care of myself?

And since when was I the type to be reckless with sex or a dear friendship? This wasn’t me. I didn’t do this.

I opened my eyes. Maybe I could tell myself this wasn’t me, but that plastic stick with its verdict on the screen begged to differ.

A lump rose in my throat, and I forced it back. That had been happening a lot the last week or two. One of many reasons I’d bought that damning little test. The last thing I was going to do now was succumb to hormones and fall apart. That wouldn’t solve anything.

Solve anything. Right. Because this was a situation that could be resolved, tied up in a neat, tidy little bow and shelved in the past with a promise not to be so stupid in the future. My friendship and their relationship would make it through without a scratch, everything would settle down and be the same as it always was.

Oh, except for the part where I’d be a single mom. And one of them would be the father. And one of them wouldn’t.


Why did the first decent sexual experience I’d had in years have to turn out like this? And “decent” didn’t begin to describe it. Good God. If there were no strings, no baby, no worries, I’d have slept with them again in a heartbeat. They were amazing. Don was deliciously rough, one of those men who understood that “pull my hair” didn’t mean “just give it a little tug”. He knew it meant “fucking pull it and make it hurt”. Isaac, on the other hand, was gentle, almost tender. Some of that may have been timidity because of inexperience. If I remembered our semi-drunk conversation beforehand, he’d never been with a woman before that night.

“You wouldn’t know it,” I whispered to my reflection, shivering at the memory of his touch. Sex with them was like sex with fire and water. One hot, one cool. One gentle, one violent. Completely different, completely complementary, and easily the most intense sexual experience I’d ever had.

The most disastrous too, apparently. I closed my eyes and swore again.

Okay. Okay. Get it together. Stop bitching to the bathroom mirror and…and…do…something.

I exhaled. I desperately needed some advice. Or at least someone to tell me that the world would not, in fact, implode in the next forty-five seconds and yes, I could get a handle on this. Somehow. Maybe.

I gave the test one last glance, then tossed it in the trash and left the bathroom to see if my sister could spare a few minutes for Carmen in Crisis.

Rose was in the kitchen, flitting around and tidying up. My heart sank. She must have been about to leave. Her Bible and keys were on the counter beside her purse, and she already had on her jacket.

“Hey, kiddo,” she said over her shoulder. “I’m heading to work, and I’ll be home a little late tonight because I’ve got Bible study. You’re welcome to whatever’s in the fridge, and I made some—” She cut herself off when she looked at me. Her brow furrowed. “You okay?”

I swallowed that lump in my throat again. I am not going to cry, damn it. “You’re on your way out, so…” Damn it, stop shaking, voice. Come on.

She tilted her head a little. “I am, but if you need something…”

I dug my teeth into my lower lip. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Her approaching footsteps didn’t help matters. Don’t cry, Carmen. It’s just hormones. The ache in my throat intensified. Hormones that wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t pregnant. Oh, God, I can’t believe this.

She put her hands on my shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

I sniffed, willing myself to keep it together. “I’m…” The word stuck in my throat. Shifting my weight, I whispered, “I’m pregnant.”

Rose’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re…what?”

“Pregnant.” I exhaled and ran a hand through my hair. Just saying it made it more real. I looked her in the eye, steeling myself against whatever reaction might come.

“You’re pregnant.”

I nodded.

“Oh.” She chewed her lip for a moment, then gestured at one of the chairs at the kitchen table and took a seat in another. “Come here, come here.”

“Rose, you’ll be late, you don’t have—”

“I can be late. Now sit.”

Sighing, I pulled out one of the chairs and sat.

“How far along?” she asked. “Or, do you know?”

Six weeks, four days and a few hours. “About two months.”

Her eyes lost focus, and she was probably mentally calculating how much time had passed since my divorce. “I don’t want to pry,” she said softly. “But I didn’t even think you were dating yet.”

“I’m not,” I said.

“But you…” Her raised eyebrow finished the question.

I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and avoided her eyes. “The night my divorce was final, I…”

“You had a one-night stand?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Sort of?” Her chair creaked as she shifted slightly. “What do you mean, sort of?”
“I mean, it wasn’t just some stranger or anything, but it wasn’t exactly…” I paused and released a sharp breath. “It was a friend.”

She nodded slowly, eyes unfocused again as she processed what I’d said before she finally spoke. “Well, I guess that’s better than a stranger.” There was no judgment or disgust in her voice. Finding a pro among the cons, something that would make even this situation a little easier to approach and deal with. Ever the pragmatic one, my sister. She inclined her head. “So, how exactly did it happen?”

“I kind of got a little drunk.” I exhaled, my confession weighing heavily on my shoulders as I worked up the nerve to say it. “So did Don. And, um, so did Isaac.”

Rose’s eyes widened. “Don and Isaac?”

I nodded.

“Aren’t they…” She shook her head, blinking a few times. “I thought they were gay.”

“They are.” I paused. “Well, they’re actually bi.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“I didn’t either,” I said. “I mean, I knew Don was, but not Isaac. Anyway, they are, and we…” I made a flippant gesture. “And here I am.”

She didn’t say anything for a long moment, instead staring at the table and thumbing her chin. “Well, to be perfectly honest,” she said at last, “I don’t think you could have picked a better man to knock you up than one of those two.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re both good men. If you’d both been single and I’d known Don was even interested in women, I’d have been forcing you on him from the day you met him.” She paused. “And let’s face it, with DNA from one of those two combined with someone from our family? That’s going to be one gorgeous child.”

I laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

She patted my arm. “Always have to look for the silver lining, sweetie.”

“Can always trust you to find it, can’t I?”

“It’s what I’m here for,” she said. “And you know, I still can’t believe they’re not gay. I never knew they went both ways.”

I scowled. “To be fair, we were pretty drunk.”

“Come on, Carmen. If he was sober enough to…” She pursed her lips. “Well, anyway, if they were sober enough for this to even happen, then I highly doubt it was just the alcohol.”

“Maybe not,” I muttered.

We were both quiet for a moment. Then Rose cocked her head.

“So, what are you going to do?”

Do? Oh, crap. There were decisions to be made. Actions to be taken. I was still reeling from the test results, still trying to get my head around the reality of it. I hadn’t even begun to think about my next move. About any move. Like the fact that, somehow, I’d have to figure out how to handle this financially.

And, I thought with a panicked shudder that almost resulted in a whimper, the baby still had to come out at some point.

That thought sent my head spinning, and I groaned, rubbing my temples. The room listed beneath me, and the contents of my stomach tried to lurch upward.

Rose touched my arm. “Hey, you okay?”

I nodded. Through my teeth, I said, “Just a bit queasy.” A bit. Yeah. Just like I was “a bit” pregnant. When the nausea and dizziness had receded a little, I opened my eyes and lifted my head. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said. “You sure you’re all right?”

I nodded. “Anyway, what was it you asked me?”

“I asked what you’re going to do.”

“I don’t know.” I rested my elbows on the table and rubbed the back of my neck. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead.”

Rose put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to tell them?”

My blood turned cold. On some level, I knew that was a conversation that would have to happen, but her question brought its inevitability to the forefront of my mind.

“I have to tell them,” I whispered. “But, my God, what if this hurts their relationship? I mean, only one of them can be the actual father, and—”

“Carmen, hon.” She squeezed my arm. “Breathe. Don’t work yourself up over all the what-ifs until you actually talk to the guys.”

“I just can’t help worrying.”

“I know you can’t,” she said. “But I would go talk to them. Sooner than later. Then you can worry about real concerns, not the ones your mind is creating.”

“Good point,” I whispered.

“So, before you work yourself into a panic over it all,” she said, “I’d suggest talking to them. It’ll be easier to figure out where to go from here if you’ve got their support.” She paused. “They’ll be supportive, won’t they?”

I chewed my lip. They were my two closest friends in the world. I couldn’t imagine either of them turning their back on me now. Then again, I’d never put them in this kind of position before.


I looked at her and nodded. “Yeah, I think they will be. I hope they will be, anyway.”

“I’m sure they will. They’re both good guys, hon.” She glanced at the clock. “Do you need me to stay, or—”

“Go ahead,” I said. “I’ll call them. Maybe I can talk to one of them one-on-one.”

She patted my arm. “Good luck. And if you need anything, or just need to talk, you know I’m here too.”

I smiled. “Thanks.”

She stood and hugged me gently. “Any time, kiddo. And I’ll pray for you.”

After she’d left, I went into the living room and sat on the sofa, staring at my cell phone. She was right. I needed to call them. If I didn’t, and even if I did, I really would spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with every possible what-if scenario until I’d worked myself into a panic attack or something.

What if they resented me? What if this damaged their relationship? What if this screwed up our friendship, assuming having sex hadn’t already taken its toll? What if? What if? What if?

There was only one way to find out, and Rose was right. It was better to tell them than sit here and worry myself sick. Well, sicker.

I pulled up Isaac’s number on my phone. Don was probably on duty at the firehouse, but Isaac would be at his office, so I’d try him first. I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to try twice. That, and push came to shove, if Don was on duty, I could speak to Isaac one-on-one. Hopefully Don would forgive me for that. He was reasonable enough and knew me well enough to chalk it up to the need to not be outnumbered, or to just get it off my chest sooner than later, whatever.

In fact, he was probably reasonable enough to be less concerned about who I told and when, and more concerned about the more pressing issue of what I’d said.

I cringed inwardly and hit Send.

Isaac’s receptionist answered. “Family Counseling Services, Angela speaking.”

I cleared my throat. “Hi, um, is Isaac in the office?”

“He’s with a client,” she said. “Can I give him a message?”

I hesitated, but then said, “Yes, please. Would you have him call Carmen? He knows the number.” I considered adding that it was urgent, but that would only make him worry. Might as well save his blood pressure until I dropped the bomb.

“I’ll give him the message,” Angela said.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

We hung up, and I stared at my phone, wondering if it was the anticipation of his call or these damned hormones that made my stomach twist and turn.

Not that it mattered. I shoved the phone in my pocket and hurried down the hall.

EXCERPT: Cold Feet in Hot Sand

Title: Cold Feet in Hot Sand
Author: Lauren Gallagher
Publisher: Carnal Passions
Format(s): ebook

THIS TITLE IS CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT. Information on re-releases can be found on my website, or follow me (@GallagherWitt) on Twitter for updates.

EXCERPT: The Healing & The Dying

Title: The Healing & The Dying (Tooth & Claw, Book #2)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): ebook, print (coming soon)

Chapter One

I could live forever—which I quite possibly will—and still never understand how Ian or Levi slept that day.

Not that either of them slept soundly. Sometimes Levi was so eerily still and silent that, had I not been able to hear his heartbeat from the other bed, I’d have worried he was dead. Then he’d startle awake, release a weak, painful moan, and slip back into what sounded like a fitful, restless sleep. He had to be in agony, both emotionally and physically, but his exhaustion must have taken over. I wished mine would do the same.

Beside me, Ian was also still and silent, but he woke up constantly. Almost every fifteen minutes like clockwork, he’d jerk awake. His heartbeat shot through the roof, he breathed so hard he was almost hyperventilating, and more than once, I swore he was shaking. But before long, time and time again, he’d slip right back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stared up at the motel room’s water-stained ceiling. Thick curtains kept out the sun’s deadly midday rays, but vampire eyes saw as well in darkness as human eyes did in daylight. Every bronze-ringed, asymmetrical stain in the cheap, ages-old ceiling was perfectly visible and gave me something to focus on. Something to hold my gaze, anyway. The two men sleeping fitfully in this bed and the next one kept a death grip on my attention.

Levi worried me. None of his injuries were life-threatening as near as I could tell, but what if there was something I hadn’t noticed? If there was any internal bleeding, any slow time bomb of an injury or blood flowing in places and directions it didn’t belong, I’d have sensed it. But I was no doctor. What else could the impact of a motorcycle crash do to him? None of us were sure how badly he’d broken his ribs, and I had visions of a piece puncturing his lung. Or a splinter off his broken collarbone getting into his bloodstream and fucking something up.

Taking him to a hospital was too risky. Especially after we’d left Selena’s body outside an ER in the early hours before dawn. I’d kept my face as hidden as I could when I’d carried her to the door, but a security camera might have picked up our license plate. And the car had likely been reported stolen by the wolf pack. This shady backwoods motel was reasonably safe, but once we set out on the open road, we were fucked.

I could convert him. He’d begged me to last night. With his closest friend dead on the pavement and his entire world crashing to the ground at his feet, he wanted to abandon everything he’d ever known and become one of us. But I couldn’t. Though it would heal his injuries and relieve his physical pain, a conversion was not something that could happen in the heat of the moment. That, and conversions were especially dangerous for wolves. It couldn’t be an impulsive decision.

Closing my eyes, I listened to Ian’s slow, steady breathing and his heartbeat. Almost half a century as a vampire myself, and I still expected to listen for his heart and hear nothing. Like we really were the walking cadavers legend had painted us to be, with neither breath nor beating hearts. But like me, he breathed, and his heart thudded dully in the stillness, marking a relaxed, slumbering pace that I hoped would last several restful hours.

Converting him was still one of my deepest regrets. There hadn’t been any other options, and even if there had been, there wouldn’t have been time to consider any of them because he’d been seconds away from death. Still, I’d hated this existence for all the decades I’d lived it, and regardless of the circumstances, my conscience wouldn’t let me forget that I’d condemned him to the same.

And now, in no small part because of that decision to convert him rather than let him die on my apartment floor, here we were. Question was, what the fuck did we do now? Were we safer staying together or splitting up and hoping for the best?

I banished that thought as quickly as it crossed my mind. Levi was in no condition to go on alone. Even if he were, we’d worked too hard to find Ian, come too close to losing each other, and already lost Selena. The wolves wanted to hunt us down and kill us because Ian and Levi had broken one of their sacred rituals? Fine. They’d have to catch all of us, because we were in this together, and that was the end of it.

We should have all been in it to the end. Selena’s death hit all of us hard, especially Levi, and I cringed at the memory of her slipping away after the motorcycle crash. I didn’t know if Levi heard it, but I couldn’t forget the silence that had followed her heart’s last feeble beat.

Of all of us, she shouldn’t have been the one to die. Hadn’t she suffered enough already? Destined from childhood to be bonded—spiritually married—to Levi, and then destined to be alone when he turned out to be gay. She’d selflessly given him her blessing to bond with Ian, and she’d kept Levi and me from killing each other while we’d tried to find Ian. When another wolf pack held us all prisoner, she’d used herself as human collateral to give us a fighting chance at getting to Ian before the pack found and killed him.

And last night, after the cars and bikes had stopped and the bullets had finished flying, it was Selena—Levi’s best friend and the only wholly innocent one among us—who’d died on the blacktop. She’d had no part in causing all of this to happen, and in my eyes, her suffering and death were the biggest crimes.

If only to honor her memory and keep her death from being pointless, the three of us had to continue.

I turned my head, watching Ian sleep. If there was one advantage to being a vampire, it was this spectacular night vision, and like the ceiling above me, Ian’s features were clear as day. He lay on his stomach, the pillow obscuring one side of his face, and looked deceptively peaceful. I resisted the urge to brush a few unruly strands of his dark hair back into place. Much as I wanted to touch him, just to remind myself again that he was really here and really alive—as much as a vampire could be, I supposed—I didn’t want to disturb what little sleep he’d been able to get.

On the other bed, Levi was almost completely motionless. We’d propped his injured knee up on a couple of pillows, and he hadn’t moved all night except whenever he startled awake. A dark bruise peeked out from beneath his collar and climbed the side of his neck. Just from the way his shirt rested across his chest, the swelling from his broken collarbone was unmistakable. I shivered; I’d long since converted when I broke my own collarbone some years ago, and it had healed in a matter of hours, but it was still beyond excruciating. Between that and his ribs, he’d be in a world of hurt for a while.

Beside me, Ian’s pulse and breathing shot up again as he jerked out of unconsciousness for the hundredth time. I closed my eyes, cringing on his behalf. Maybe lying awake like this was the lesser of two evils. At least then I didn’t have the dreams that must have been kicking him awake four times an hour.

His breathing slowed. So did his heart, both returning to a more normal cadence.

This time, though, he spoke.

“You ever going to sleep?”

I turned on my side and ran my hand up his arm. “Says the man who keeps waking up.”

Ian shuddered. “That’s a double-edged sword, believe me.”

“Trade you.”

“Be my guest.” He rolled over and faced me. “You’re more than welcome to these dreams.”

“On second thought…”

“Yeah, I figured.” Ian closed his eyes and sighed. “If I wasn’t so damned exhausted, I wouldn’t even try to sleep, because I just keep seeing last night happen again and again.” He shivered. “It was one thing when I killed the wolf in Grants Pass. I know he was a man too, but seeing him as a wolf… I guess…”

“Made him less human?”

“Yeah, I guess. I know that sounds cold. Killing an animal isn’t very high on my list either, but it just made it easier to deal with.” He rubbed his eyes. “Last night, though…”

“You did what you had to do, Ian.” I stroked his cheek with the backs of my fingers. “The wolf in Oregon was self-defense, and last night was keeping Levi alive. You’re not a murderer.”

“Semantics,” he whispered. “Yeah, I had to do it. Yeah, I could probably convince a jury it had to happen. Doesn’t change the fact that I’ve killed four people.”

“I know.” I rested my hand on his waist and leaned in to kiss him gently. “Believe me, I know.”

“So what’s keeping you awake?” he asked.

I laughed dryly. “You want the whole list?”

He slid his hand over my leg. “Okay, maybe I should ask if there’s something specific keeping you awake, or if it’s our whole situation?”

“Just trying to figure out our next move.”

“Any ideas?”

“Not really.” I propped myself up on my elbow and looked past Ian at Levi, who was still asleep. “He’s not going to be in any condition to drive any time soon, which means we’re limited to traveling at night. And I’m…” I hesitated.

Ian ran his hand up and down my arm. “What?”

“I’m worried about him,” I said, barely whispering. “His injuries. What if something gets worse, or I’ve overlooked something?”

“If anything serious was going to come up, it probably would have by now.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“What can we do? We can’t take him to the hospital.”

“We might have to.”

Ian scowled. “Darius, odds are he’s fine. He had a helmet on. He probably wishes he’d lost some sensation, and if you knew Selena was bleeding internally, I’m guessing you would have known if he is or was.” He raised his eyebrows.

I nodded. “Yeah, we both would have.”

“Okay, so he most likely isn’t and wasn’t. There isn’t much anyone can do for a broken collarbone. He’ll be hurting for a while, but beyond that…”

“Yeah, but what if it’s something worse?” I asked. “A rib puncturing his lung, or some loose sliver of bone, or…”

Ian glanced over his shoulder at Levi. Then he faced me, and his expression was deathly serious. “I think you and I both know what can be done.”

“What do—” I stopped midbreath when the piece fell into place. “No. Absolutely not.”
Ian rolled his eyes and sighed. “It’s the least risky option here.”

“Is it?” I gestured sharply at Levi. “The conversion alone could kill him. It’s dangerous anyway, but for a wolf?” I shook my head. “Way too risky.”

“Why? How is it worse for a wolf than a human?”

“I…I really don’t know. But I’ve watched a wolf convert. Years ago. He very, very nearly died.”

“So did I.”

I met his eyes, trying to ignore the pang of guilt in my chest. “You were almost dead anyway. Had you been a wolf…”

Ian gulped. “Good thing I wasn’t.”

“Why weren’t you, anyway?” I nodded toward Levi again. “Wouldn’t that have made things easier with his pack in the very beginning? If you’d been a wolf?”

He shrugged with one shoulder. “Maybe. I still would have been a half wolf in their eyes, which I guess is better than being human, but I just didn’t want to be a wolf any more than—” He cut himself off.

“Any more than what?”

He shifted his gaze away from mine. “Any more than I wanted to be a vampire.”

I flinched. “I’m sorry, Ian.”

He touched my face. “I told you, I didn’t leave you a choice. You could have just let me die, but looking back, I never should have put that decision on your shoulders. I wasn’t… I wasn’t thinking clearly, or I never would have put you in that position.” Before I could speak, he gestured over his shoulder at Levi. “But he wants to convert.”

“He’s grieving.” I paused, listening to Levi’s heartbeat. When I was satisfied he was still asleep, I went on. “He’s spent his entire life being taught vampires were to be at best scorned, at worst killed. Becoming one of us is not a decision he can make that quickly. He’s got a lifetime of indoctrination to shake off before he can be remotely rational about it.”

“Maybe so,” Ian said, “but the fact is, we’re all in very real danger now, and his injuries could slow us down and get him or all of us killed. Converting him may be the best option we have.”

“It might be, but we don’t know that yet. Let’s see what our other options are first, because once we convert him, there’s no going back.”

“Getting killed isn’t terribly reversible either.”

I said nothing.

Ian put his hand on my arm. “It’s not a decision that has to be made this minute, but whether any of us like it or not, it’s an option we have to consider.” He tilted his head slightly in Levi’s direction. “And it’s what he wants.”

“It’s what he wants right now,” I whispered. “While he’s grieving Selena and the only life he’s ever known. It needs to be a rational decision. One he’s given a lot of serious thought. Two weeks ago, he hated our kind enough he was willing to kill you.”

Ian shivered. “I know him, Darius. He’s not going to change his mind.”

“Then he’ll still want it later, and we can convert him then. After I’m convinced he’s not being impulsive and making a choice based on grief and anger.”

Ian took a breath and was probably about to argue, but I said, “More immediate concern, though, is that somehow or another we have got to get out of this province.”

“Where do we go?”

I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. “Therein lies the problem. I have no idea. There’s wolves everywhere. Even a vampire-friendly place like Kayenta won’t do us any good now, because we’d have to get across the border and cross too damned much ground between here and there.”

“How did you guys get across the border to begin with?”

I scowled. “By walking through the snow and right into a wolf pack’s territory.”

Ian’s eyes widened. “Oh.”

“Yeah. Probably not a technique we ought to repeat.”

“Ya think?” He sighed. “Good thing I decided to hide from you two in Canada, isn’t it?”

I stroked his face. “You didn’t know how things would turn out. To be honest, it was a pretty smart move on your part.”

“And look where it got us.”

“We’ll figure it out.” I kissed him lightly. “Before we go too far, though, we’ll both need to feed at some point.”

Ian groaned. “Great.”

I laughed. “Still haven’t acquired the taste, have you?”

“I don’t think I ever will,” he muttered.

“Give it time. God knows you have plenty of it now that you’re more or less immortal.”


“Trust me. You’ll get used to it.”

“Ever learn to like it?”

“Well, I don’t know that anyone ever gets to the point of being a connoisseur, but…”

Ian snorted. “Oh, wouldn’t that be a sight?” Adopting a snobby tone, he said, “This Type A is ambitious and has a lovely bouquet, but the aftertaste suggests it was donated on someone’s lunch break with a rusty used needle and a cholesterol-filled tube.”

I snickered. “Oh, come on, it’s not that bad.”

“Says the man who’s been sucking this shit down long enough to not notice how awful it tastes anymore.”

“You’ll get used to it. I promise.”

“I’m holding you to that,” he grumbled. “Anyway, what do you suggest for feeding? We can’t exactly go wandering around out in public.”

“Every town has its bars,” I said with a half shrug. “A shithole like this, we’ll be able to find someplace where someone’s willing to trade half a pint for a few bucks.”

“Right, except we’re getting a little low in that department too.”

“We’ll figure that out. For tonight, it’s what we’ve got.” I absently trailed my fingers up and down his arm again, and he slid a little closer. “As soon as the sun goes down,” I said, “I’ll go find another car.”

“Okay, but where do we go?”

I blew out a breath. “Best thing I can think of is Prince Rupert on the northwest coast of British Columbia. It’s a hell of a drive, but there’s a vampire commune there kind of like the one in Kayenta. Best option I can think of.”

“Works for me at this point,” he said. “I don’t have any better ideas, and I don’t imagine Levi does either.”

“I don’t imagine we have too many other options.” I touched his face and leaned in to kiss his forehead. “We’ll find a way out of this. Somehow.”

“Here’s hoping.” He raised his chin and met my eyes as he pushed a few wayward strands of hair out of his face. Then he drew me closer to him. “Try to get some more sleep,” he said, letting his lips brush mine. “Neither of us will be worth a damn if we’re too exhausted to move.”

“Easier said than done, right?”

“Easier said than done,” he whispered, and kissed me. As he parted his lips at the gentle urging of my tongue, I wrapped my arms around him. I wasn’t horny in the least—God, I didn’t have anywhere near the energy to even think of sex—but I’d take every reassurance I could get that Ian was here. That I was here. That we’d survived so far, even if the future was anything but certain.

Ian broke the kiss but didn’t let go just yet. “We really should get some sleep.”

“Try to, you mean?”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, try to.” He kissed me once more, and then we separated. He rolled onto his other side, and I molded my body to his, draping my arm over his waist.
I kissed the back of his neck. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” he murmured.

Before long, he was out cold again, leaving me with my thoughts and his reassuring scent and body heat. I wanted to promise we’d get out of this, that we’d elude the wolf packs and the authorities and fuck knew who else, but I had no idea if we would or not. The only thing I was sure of was that I wouldn’t figure anything more out tonight, so I tried—and failed—not to think about anything.

Eventually, though, exhaustion got the best of me, and I drifted off to sleep.

And like Ian and Levi, I dreamed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

EXCERPT: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, book 1)

Title: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, Book #1)
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Amber Allure
Format(s): ebook, paperback

Welcome to Tucker Springs, Colorado: Population, 70-something-thousand. Home to beautiful mountain views, two respected universities, and a ridiculously high cost of living.
 Jason Davis can handle a breakup. And an overwhelming mortgage. And a struggling business. And the excruciating pain that keeps him up at night thanks to a shoulder injury. Handling all of it at once? Not so much. When his shoulder finally pushes him to a breaking point, he takes a friend’s advice and gives acupuncture a try.
 Michael Whitman is a single dad struggling to make ends meet. When a mutual friend refers a patient, and that patient suggests a roommate arrangement to alleviate their respective financial strains, Michael jumps at the opportunity.
 Living together would be easy if Jason wasn’t so damned attracted to Michael. Good thing Michael’s straight, or the temptation might just be too much.
 Well, their mutual friend says Michael is straight…


I made the call on Monday morning, and on Tuesday, I followed the receptionist’s directions across town to a shopping center a couple of blocks from the freeway. Nothing screamed credibility for a medical professional like setting up shop in a strip mall, but I also knew just how difficult it was to find a place with a reasonably affordable lease and some actual visibility. That was why my nightclub lived in an old converted warehouse on the not-quite-as-nicely-kept side of the Light District. Glass houses, throwing stones, etc.

Still sitting in my car, I took a deep breath and stared at the clinic.

The sign over the windowed storefront read Tucker Springs Acupuncture between a black and white yin yang and another symbol I didn’t recognize. Seth had been after me for two years to do this, and middle of the night desperation had finally convinced me, but now, I wasn’t so sure.

I was here, though. I’d made the call, made the appointment, and had the cash in my wallet in spite of the fact that I could not afford this. What did I have to lose? It wasn’t like that shit was dangerous or anything. I couldn’t imagine there were too many side effects, and I didn’t see myself getting addicted to it.

I just stared at the letters and the yin yang and the tinted windows below them, silently demanding they justify themselves. Offer proof. Offer some reason for me to believe it would be worth it to walk through that shining glass door.

Whenever my mom tried to sell me on acupuncture—and she had since the day I’d fucked up my shoulder—I’d just brushed it off as another miracle cure she’d taken at face value. My mom had chronic pain too, and gladly put her faith in anything that held even the slightest promise of relief, whereas I regarded every potential treatment as not only snake oil, but the snake itself. At best, quackery. At worst, dangerous. And no matter what, fucking expensive.

Seth? Not so much. My mom wasn’t stupid by any means, but Seth was one of those people who refused to buy into anything until he’d exhausted every reason to avoid it. For that matter, the man had a “Professional Skeptic” bumper sticker on his truck, and one of his tattoos was some symbol that apparently identified him as an atheist. He demanded empirical proof for everything, and I do mean everything. If it didn’t have at least a dozen peer-reviewed studies published, it was bullshit in his eyes. To say the least, Seth wasn’t the type to buy into snake oils and homeopathic nonsense.

What did I have to lose? Money, mostly. That wasn’t something I could throw around frivolously right now, not with words like “foreclosure” and “bankruptcy” looming in my near future. But at the same time, if it meant pain relief, and thus fewer refills for my expensive and never-ending painkiller prescription…
I still wasn’t completely buying it. I still didn’t believe there was anything a couple of needles could do for an injury like mine unless those needles were being used to inject something.

But after the last couple of nights, I was desperate.

So what the hell? I’d give it a try.

I got out of the car and started toward the clinic. I stopped on the sidewalk to read the sign in the window beside the door. It echoed the name and yin yang overhead, and in smaller font, listed various ailments that the acupuncturist claimed to treat.


Drug addiction.

Vision problems.


On and on and on. God, this smacked of a snake oil salesman. One tincture to treat every ailment under the sun! A miracle cure! Hallelujah! That’ll be $79.99 please, cash, check, charge, or firstborn.
But I hadn’t slept last night. My shoulder still throbbed relentlessly, and my head was still light from lack of sleep and the second dose of painkillers I’d taken at six-fifteen.

Maybe I was desperate, maybe I was as gullible as the next person, but in spite of my skepticism, two words on that lengthy list drew me through the door:

Chronic pain.

The clinic smelled oddly…herbal. Something pungent, vaguely familiar, and slightly burned. Just strong enough I couldn’t ignore it, not powerful enough to be nauseating. And I could have been mistaken, but I swore I smelled one particular herb that I was pretty sure wasn’t legal without a government-issued license and a compelling reason.

The waiting area itself wasn’t all that different from what I’d expect in a doctor’s office, though it somehow lacked the sparse, sterile appearance. Framed prints of tranquil landscapes lined the dark green-painted wall between two mahogany bookcases. Beneath a small table, a plastic milk crate tucked beneath the table held brightly colored plastic toys, and a few well-worn magazines leaned on each other inside a metal magazine rack. Between a Buddha statue and a fan of books on Chinese medicine was a trickling fountain in a clay bowl. Water ran over pebbles and fake jade, and a tree that resembled a Bonsai tree stood on top.

“You must be Mr. Davis,” a voice sing-songed, and I turned my head.

He was a cute kid, probably a college student. Square-rimmed hipster glasses, stylishly messed up hair with highlighted tips, and just a little flamboyant. I wondered if he was part of the reason Seth came over here on a regular basis. This kid was a hundred percent his type, right down to the tan that did not happen naturally in Colorado this time of year.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m Jason Davis.”

He smiled. “Right on time. Dr. Whitman just needs you to fill this out as best you can,” he said, handing me a pen and clipboard. “And just be blunt and honest, because…” He waved a hand and sighed dramatically. “He’ll get the answer out of you one way or another, so you might as well not try to hide anything.”

I laughed. “Is that right?”

“Trust me.” The kid had a mischievous sparkle in his eye. “He’s one of those people; you might as well just tell him what he wants to know. He’s kind of like the CIA, minus the car batteries and waterboarding.”

“Good to know.”

I took the form and clipboard to the waiting area, and sat beside the table with the books and fountain.
The form was about what I’d expect from anyone else. The usual crap about injuries and ailments. And of course, Are you currently taking any medications, including over the counter?

I chewed the inside of my cheek, tapping the pen on the form. I’d heard holistic practitioners frowned on modern medicine. Something about poisonous chemicals and evil pharmaceutical companies or some crap like that. Whatever. The last thing I needed to hear was a lecture about why I shouldn’t be taking the pills that sometimes meant the difference between one hour of sleep and three.

He’s one of those people; you might as well just tell him what he wants to know, the receptionist’s voice echoed in my head. He’s kind of like the CIA, minus the car batteries and waterboarding.

I sighed and wrote “OTC anti-inflammatories + doctor-prescribed Percocet for pain.” The man would probably have heart failure when he found out I was sucking down pain pills instead of meditating or drinking purified water blessed by a unicorn. Oh well.

After I’d filled everything out, I handed the form back to the receptionist, then returned to my seat. While I waited to be called back, I fixed my gaze on the trickling fountain. The fact that I was here at all bugged the hell out of me. There was a heavy sense of hopelessness in the realization that everything had come down to this. That I was desperate enough to try anything that had the slightest promise—mythical or otherwise—of relieving my pain.

What if it didn’t help? What if nothing did? After five years, I was at my wit’s end, but what would happen in ten, twenty, fifty years if I couldn’t find some sort of long-term—even short-term—relief?

“Jason?” The receptionist’s voice brought me out of my thoughts. He raised his chin so he could see over the high desk. “Dr. Whitman’s still with another patient, but he should be out in a few minutes.”

I forced a smile. “No problem.”

My stomach fluttered with nerves. As if I didn’t have enough to think about, it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked Seth about this guy. They’d been good friends for a long time, which said a lot since Seth didn’t trust anyone any farther than he could throw them.

But I was curious. What kind of guy went into acupuncture, anyway? I could only imagine the banter between these two. Seth the hardcore prove-it-or-it-didn’t-happen atheist versus “Dr.” Whitman the acupuncturist. Of course, the guy had persuaded Seth to get this kind of treatment. That more than anything made me raise my guard. What was I dealing with here? A guy who could sell used cars and snake oil? Or a New Age, hippie type who bought into this as much as his clients did?

Give him a chance, Jason.

I closed my eyes and released a breath. I would give him a chance. After the other night’s excruciating episode, I’d believe in unicorns if someone told me it would help. Well, not really. I was desperate, but I knew that was when I was most vulnerable to a convincing sales pitch. The proof had damn well better be in the pudding, or I wasn’t buying.

Down the hall, a door opened. As footsteps and a male voice approached, I turned my head. An elderly woman appeared first, and when the source of the male voice came into view, I almost choked on my breath.

Apparently that was the kind of guy who went into acupuncture. Holy. Fuck.

I couldn’t say if I was expecting dreadlocks and hemp or glasses and a lab coat, but what I wasn’t expecting was six-foot-plus of oh my God with a heaping dose of please tell me you’re single. He looked like he’d just stepped out of a laidback business meeting: pressed slacks, a plain white shirt with the first button casually left open and the sleeves rolled to his elbows. His hair was almost black, and short but not severely so. Short enough to be neat and professional, long enough it just started to curl. Long enough for a man to get a grip on if—

Jesus, Jason. You get a grip.

A thin string of twisted brown leather hung around his neck and disappeared down the V of his shirt, and he had a beaded hemp bracelet on his left wrist, so he wasn’t entirely without the signs of his “hippie lifestyle” as my brother—and Seth, whether he admitted it or not in this case—would call it.

While the acupuncturist and his patient exchanged a few words, I just stared. Goddamn, he was hot. He’d taken that old cliché “tall, dark, and handsome” and made it his little bitch. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, tall enough I’d have to look up at him, and he had a perma-smirk that hinted at something dark and devious hiding inside that mind of his. And handsome? Good God, yes. The perfect amount of ruggedness roughened his edges, tempering his borderline pretty boy look like an invisible black leather jacket and sunglasses. If the receptionist was Seth’s type, Michael was undeniably mine.

And then he looked right at me. “Mr. Davis?”

I cleared my throat and stood. “Jason.”

He extended his hand. “I’m Dr. Whitman, but most people just call me Michael.”

“All right,” I said. “I guess I’ll call you Michael.”

He smiled, which crinkled the corners of his eyes just right to draw my eyes right to his, and suddenly nothing was on my brain except and I thought I was a sucker for blue eyes. Apparently brown ones did it for me too.

“Follow me.”

Don’t mind if I do…