Catnip and Hockey Sticks Out Now!

4720catnipandhockeysticks510w-430x645Catnip and Hockey Sticks

The most painful thing of all is to have what you want the most to be within you grasp, yet you are forbidden to touch it.

When the council names Hansen the Alpha of his Stray pack of Cat shifters, at first he is reluctant. His father, the former Alpha, hadn’t exactly been a good example, so Hansen feels as if he doesn’t have a clue. But to his surprise, he finds that he is actually good at the job, and he soon has a thriving pack. One of Hansen’s steadfast rules is that he never favors one member of the pack over the other. They are all treated as equals, and that plan works out perfectly, until Hansen finds a homeless runt who needs a home. One who is sexy, alluring and draws Hansen in—Nevel.
Nevel didn’t even know he was a Cat shifter until he first transformed into his animal form. Kicked out of his home, he drifts around until Hansen takes him home and gives him sanctuary. Before long, Nevel finds himself in love with the Alpha, but no matter how hard Nevel, tries Hansen won’t give Nevel the time of day.
Will Hansen ever take Nevel as his mate? Or will Nevel be destined to live the rest of his days with a broken heart?

Excerpt:

Damn it! The runt was missing yet again.

Hansen let out an aggravated sigh as he looked down at Nevel’s bed. While the same old zombie-themed bedding was there, there was no sign of the smartass, hotter than hell House Cat shifter. All that remained was a small dent in the pillow, messed up blankets, and the scent that Hansen had come to savor, the one that only Nevel carried. It was a sweet smell with just a small twist of muskiness, and every time Hansen inhaled it, he was filled with lust. Damned if it wasn’t going to be the death of Hansen, too. Because, the last thing he needed was to fall for a brat who had the penchant for not following rules and acting as if life was one big game and he was the starring player.

Not that Hansen could let anybody aware of his secret desire for Nevel. As leader of their small pack of Strays, Hansen always made a point of never showing favoritism. Call him crazy, but Hansen felt pretty sure that pinning down the smaller man, fucking him for hours, then claiming Nevel as his mate would be a very clear violation of that practice. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t go that far…yet. But, if he allowed the others to see all the sideways glances, the desire that lingered in his eyes, the way he was always overprotective of Nevel, Hansen knew that the cat would be out of the bag. So instead, Hansen did his best to hide his feelings…by avoiding them. If Nevel entered a room, Hansen would leave. Hansen took all his meals in his office. Whenever they all went out, Hansen made sure he was never in the same car as Nevel.  Hansen did just about anything so he didn’t have to spend any time around the runt. It was just too risky.

That still didn’t mean Hansen wasn’t going to leave ASAP to search for the runt. Hansen would do the same for any of his Strays—only he wouldn’t be full of terror that his heart pounded so hard it was a wonder the organ didn’t burst through his chest. Any more than he would be sweating so hard that he didn’t even have to worry about putting on his heavy down jacket to protect him against the cold Michigan weather.

Hansen tried to fool himself into thinking that his reaction was only due to the fact that Nevel was so much smaller than the rest of them. That it had nothing to do with his emotions, though. After all, if he ran into another Stray pack, Nevel wouldn’t stand a chance of getting away unscathed. In the end, Hansen came to the stark realization he was afraid because it was Nevel. Runt or not, Hansen cared deeply for the other man, and as such he couldn’t deny the strong urge to protect Nevel, to the point thatHansen would sacrifice himself if necessary in order to protect Nevel.

Spinning on his heels, Hansen rushed toward the front door. Unfortunately, he had to pass through the kitchen to get there. That would mean he would run into at least one of the others.  They were going to grill him like hell, too. After all, the phrase curiosity killed the cat didn’t come from nowhere. House Cats, shifter or not, could never keep their noses out of others’ business. Sometimes, Hansen felt like he was living with a house full of old ladies, instead of twenty-year olds.

Sure enough, Vince was at the stove. That wasn’t a big surprise. Even though the twenty-five year old shifter was as thin as a rail, he ate more than all of them combined. Vince turned around, his dark green eyes filled with confusion.

“Where are you going? Your shift at the bar doesn’t start for hours,” Vince asked, predictably.

“Since when has that been your business?” Hansen snapped harshly. He swore that he couldn’t even use the bathroom without the seven other members of his Stray pack knowing about it. Hell, they all probably gathered around the door and waited for him to get out. Hansen couldn’t be for certain, but he could have sworn that the Stray medic, Tyson, kept a record of Hansen’s bathroom habits. Tyson probably thought it was his duty as Hansen’s caregiver to do so. Hansen, on the other hand, found it annoying as hell.

Even so, as soon as the harsh words passed his lips, Hansen wanted to take them back. While Vince was as withdrawn as he used to be, he still was wary of others. Vince seemed to shrink back, his pale face stark against his dark hair.

A Holiday in Hell Out Now!

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A Holiday in Hell

What are two guys going to do when they both hate the holidays? Run fast and don’t look back.
Fallon and Raven have been together for over a year now. The world has changed around them, and they fight daily to keep the world from ending. Now, it’s the holidays, and they are forced to share it with not only their flock but the Michigan flock as well. They’ll have to endure holiday dinner with the likes of Buzz while Sebastian and Wren try to get everyone to wear ugly holiday sweaters. What are two guys going to do when they both hate the holidays?
Authors’ Note: This holiday edition is out of timeline from future releases. Thank you.

 

Excerpt:

“Move!” Fallon turned and shoved Raven into the open path. They fought their way through just as a Jeep came screeching up into the open Detroit street. Sebastian was driving with his mate, Wren, in the passenger seat. They barely slowed down as Fallon shoved Raven into the open back, then rushed to get in behind him while the Jeep kept moving. With one more burst of effort, Fallon jumped, grabbing onto Raven’s hand, his feet still dragging until he gained purchase and pulled himself into the vehicle.

The Jeep swerved as it sped down the street.

“You could have slowed down!” Fallon shouted at Sebastian, who he looked at as a brother.

Sebastian hiked his thumb over his shoulder. “And let them join the ride? I don’t think so. Move your ass next time, and you won’t be dragged for a city block.”

Fallon turned and watched out the back window as a few of the remaining Blood Demons stared at their vehicle. Their lifeless eyes always chilled Fallon. It had been a year since the world had turned upside down. Nothing would ever be the same. Sure, some areas still were uninhabited by Blood Demons, but for how long? Most of the major cities had been taken over. The good news was that Fallon’s death army along with the military was keeping them contained to the cities.

There was no more secrecy or hiding in the night. They fought in broad daylight now. The world really had changed in the last year, and everyone was having to adapt, even those who lived in areas not yet affected.

Raven sidled up next to him and began to check him out. “What are you doing?” Fallon asked in confusion.

“You’re hurt, dammit!” Raven poked at a sore spot on his cheekbone.

“Stop! Fuck, that hurts.” Fallon grabbed his lover’s hand and pulled it from his face. He turned the tables on Raven and began checking out his wounds. They had been cornered, and Raven had taken a few kicks and punches. Raven had a cut above his eyes, and his knuckles were bloody but appeared to be in one piece. Thank fuck.

“Fallon, stop it. This is so…unlike you. You’re scaring me more than the swarm of Blood Demons back there.” Raven pushed his hands out of the way.

“What?” Fallon glared at Raven.

“Knock it off and come here.” Raven pulled Fallon in for a deep kiss. Okay, so he wasn’t known for his nursing skills. He was more the kind to bulldoze his way into getting what he wanted, and he wanted Raven.

Now this was more like it. Fallon palmed the back of Raven’s head and took over the kiss. The wind blowing around them from the open windows as they kissed grew in strength. Their tongues dueled, and Fallon’s hand began smoothing down Raven’s damp body. Damn, his man had fought hard.

There was a slight cough from the front seat, and Fallon used his other hand to flip off Wren. Laughter came as a response as Raven straddled him.

“Guys, guys, we’re about to hit the blockade. I’m sure the death army wouldn’t want to see you two fucking in the backseat.” Sebastian yelled.

Fallon was pretty sure they wouldn’t care. As their leader, he did what he wanted, especially when it came to his mate. Hell, they were happy to see him mated to someone.

The Jeep slowed, and with reluctance, Fallon pulled away from the kiss. Raven ground their cloth-covered cocks together one more time before he went to slide off.

Fallon grabbed onto his ass. “Stay here.”

Passion Under Fire (An Unconventional Chicago book) out now!

23461389 Passion Under Fire

This story has been previously released as part of the An Unconventional Chicago anthology by Totally Bound Publishing.

Can their love overcome the danger coming their way, or are they doomed to die?

Georgio is the third son in a powerful mob family, but he has never agreed with their violent or illegal ways, so he joins the resistance in an attempt to right the wrongs that his family has done. But, by doing so, he puts himself at great risk of getting caught. And if he is, his older brothers would have no problem ordering him executed, their sibling or not.

Tito is a runner for the family. While he hates the gang, he has a sick brother at home to take care of, so he has to take the job because it pays so well. The last thing Tito expects is to form an attachment to Georgio.

While Georgio tries to deny his feelings for Tito, he finds himself drawn to him as well. But, if they were to be caught together, they could be killed on the spot. Will their love be able to survive so many obstacles? Or can they find a way to happiness?

Excerpt:

Smack! The sound of flesh hitting flesh reverberated through the large office. Georgio barely held back a wince as he watched one of his good friends and closest allies, Dirk, take another blow from one of his brothers’ enforcers. They had him on his knees right in front of Georgio’s brothers’ desks. They were both watching the show with cold smiles on their faces, their dark eyes intense as if they didn’t want to miss a moment of the action.

As it was, Dirk was already bleeding from his now crooked nose, he had a split lip and his eyes were beginning to swell. It wouldn’t take long before they expanded so much that Dirk wouldn’t be able to see at all.

Thud! This time the blow hit Dirk on the jaw and sent him reeling to the side. Were it not for the two men holding him up, Dirk would surely have fallen to the floor. Georgio gritted his teeth together as rage boiled through him. At the same time, he held tight onto the arms of his chair. If his brothers really knew how close he and Dirk were, then things could get even worse.

The funny thing was, while Dirk and Georgio were both gay, they were far from being a couple. Sure, they had fooled around a few times. Every encounter had been awkward and unfulfilling for the both of them. So in the end they had decided that they made much better friends than lovers. Still, if Georgio’s brothers were to catch wind of just how tight he and Dirk were, Georgio knew it would send them into a rage. They already suspected that Georgio was gay—this would be the fuel they needed to add to their great big gay fire. They were just looking for a way to confirm that Georgio was indeed gay. Then they would have a legitimate reason to off Georgio without pissing off the rest of the family members.

Whack! Yet another blow, this one hitting the side of Dirk’s jaw. His blue eyes rolled into the back of his head, but he somehow managed to stay conscious. More blood began to run, mixing in with his blond hair.

What was Dirk’s sin? The fucking irony of it all was that Dirk hadn’t done a damn thing. It had been Dirk’s youngest sister who had committed the transgression, and boy, was it a doozy. She had done something so dangerous that it had earned her a kill-on-sight order. She had joined the rebellion group that was determined to overthrow the gangs that ruled Chicago. But she was buried so far underground that the leaders of their gang, Georgio’s older twin brothers, couldn’t find her. They had decided to take out their frustration on the poor enforcer.

Georgio had to give big kudos to his friend—Dirk was taking the beating like a man. While he let out an occasional grunt, he never cried out. He never begged for mercy either. But that was Dirk, he was as stubborn as a mule and he would never give Michael or Luciano that satisfaction. He hated Georgio’s brothers just as much as Georgio did. The only reason he worked for the twins was because it had kept his family safe…until now. That had all changed. Dirk would still be forced to work for the twins because Georgio knew that they would want to keep close tabs on him. Meanwhile, the rest of his family would be in trouble as well. Any one of them could disappear, and there was nothing that Georgio or Dirk could do about it. Damn it, life really sucked sometimes. The ironic thing was that Georgio didn’t blame Dirk’s sister. He just wished that he had the courage to do the same thing. He would love nothing more than to bring down his brothers and put an end to their tyranny.

Lifting the Veil (a note from Stephani)

Some of you may have wondered why I’ve been having to move back release dates and why I haven’t had as many books coming out as usual. I always replied with the same answer, that I’ve been sick or in the hospital.

That was true, but I never share the reasons for my hospital stays, other than when I had my gallbladder out. That one was true and I don’t care what people say about how it’s such an easy surgery. It hurt like hell and threw me for a loop for a while.

Now is the time where I’m going to lay it all out and share with you one of my biggest secrets. All the other reasons I’ve been in the hospital was because I was having mental health issues. I tried to hide from it, tried to ignore it, but late one night it finally exploded in my face. So, I went to my bedroom, woke up my husband and told him that he needed to take me the ER.

While I was there the doctor if I had any thoughts about self-harming to myself. Although, to be fair, I don’t think it’s fair for a doctor to ask writers that question. We all know that we have the idea of what would be the perfect murder, the perfect jewel heist, bank robbery….

Well as soon as I opened my yap off to the mental hospital I went. Let me tell you, those places are not fun at all. You do have some great staff, but there are plenty who are lazy and just go through the motions. It was my stays at these hospitals that inspires me to write Pretty Little Word in a Bottle.

When Robin Williams died, there were so many people called him a coward and being selfish for leaving his family behind. What they don’t realize is severe depression has a nasty habit of slithering through your mind and making you believe and think things that aren’t even remotely true.

I should know because I suffer from severe depression, anxiety panic disorder. It’s to the point that I have trouble being out of my house at times. Malls, movie theaters and other places where large groups of people gather can send me into a severe panic attack. Sometimes, I even go into an attack if I lose an article of clothing and can’t find it. In other words, the simplest of things could make it so I have a very bad day.

There was one acceptation, however. To my surprise I found that the only crowd I can stand is the one from GRL I’ve been friends with some of our wonderful group for several years. I, also, that you would all make a point of being there for me.

There are days where the depression kicks into high gear and all I can do is stay in bed and watch TV all day. Very often it will make my fibro act up and ever bone in my body will ache and set off my migraines. All of which had made writing a near impossible act.

I’m not telling you all this, so you’ll feel sorry for me. It was because of a conversation that took place at a convention.  There was a writer who was talking about her latest release. She treated the male MC in her book with contempt because he had tried to commit suicide with his gun. Instead of dying, though, he lived, because, “he can never get anything right.” The comments left me so numb with shock that I didn’t even bother to tell that if he shot himself in the direction and in the position that she described, that there was no way the MC would have survived. I didn’t even manage to get out that one of my uncles had committed suicide and I still am very sensitive about the issue. I loved my uncle dearly and he was neither a coward or just seeking attention. He had just been so overcome by his disease that it had finally overpowered him, making him do something that never would have considered had he been in a stable state of mind.

People fail to realize that depression has a way of hunting you. Even though one can feel it coming, there is nowhere to hide or no way of avoiding it. I often liken severe depression to a parasite that makes you a prisoner in your own body. Once it gets inside you, it branches out through your brain, making you think things that are totally untrue and irrational. In short, it changes who you really are and makes you a totally different person.

After I cooled down a bit I decided that I would educate people a little bit. Maybe if I do so, it will be one tiny step in making the subject of mental illness less taboo or at the very least, help others more understanding.

  1. Depression is a disease, just like diabetes, asthma or even a common cold. It’s not contagious, it’s usually passed genetically. It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain and there is not one magic pill that will cure you. Each person is different, so the doctors have to spend months, if not years, finding out what combination of pills will make you stable.
  2. You don’t have to be sad to have depression. I know that may sound weird, but it’s true. I have a comfortable life. Great, family and great kids. Yet, while I may be smiling on the outside on the inside I am suffering.
  3. Which brings me to another point. Even though I have this condition it doesn’t make me a coward or weak. It just adds some road bumps in my life here and there.

I have heard people describe how depression feels like to them in several different ways. However, there is a music video that I feels really shows how it is to live with depression. It’s in such an obscure way that many who have seen it misses the message, but it’s there if you look closely enough. I’ve posted this song on my FB page many times. Now that you’re all in on my secret, you’ll know why.

 

 

 

Storming Love – Bradley & Mike Out Now!

SLS4_Bradley_and_Mike_Hecht Storming Love – Bradley & Mike

Bradley is just a normal, unassuming man. He works as a banker during the day, then goes home to his dogs and his grandfather. There may be the occasional speed bump since Gramps has several medical conditions that keep him home bound, but that nothing that Bradley can’t manage. It’s not like he even has a social life. Not so soon after breaking up with Mike, the man who Bradley had thought would be the ‘one’. Only to find out that Mike was a jerk.

 

When ex-PJ, Mike finds out that his ex is planning to ride out the upcoming hurricane, he doesn’t know whether to strangle the man or to go help him. In the end, love prevails and Mike rushes to Bradley’s side. Will they survive the hurricane? Or are they doomed?

 

Exerpt:

Chapter One

“Damn it!” Bradley exclaimed, as he hit his finger with the hammer for what had to be the umpteenth time.

Taking off his heavy work gloves, he glanced down to see the damage he’d caused this time. When he saw that it was just a minor injury, he let out a sigh of relief. As it was, he’d already broken one finger and two others were bruised and swollen. Okay, maybe he was exaggerating a bit about the one being broken, but it was a real pretty shade of purple. At least he hadn’t done too much harm to them that he couldn’t use them. He was behind as it was. The hurricane was about to hit within hours and Bradley had a ton left to do.

He still had more than half of the house to finish, too. As such, Bradley needed every bit of his body functional. So, he would have to be more careful with the hammer. The last thing he needed was to hit one of his fingers and really break it. Bradley knew he had to keep moving, hurt or not. Even if he did want to run inside, jump under his blankets and hide for the next day or so. But, as always, that just wasn’t possible.

He, fool that he was, had to step forward and be the only responsible one in their large family. So, while they all ran for the hills whenever there was any sign of trouble, they left Bradley behind to clean up the mess. Which at that moment really sucked since a huge-ass hurricane was coming their way and Bradley felt as if he had a giant bull’s-eye stamped on his back. He just knew it was going to hit them hard and there was little he could do to stop it.

To add even more crap to the pile, Bradley also was the only one who stood up and took care of their sick grandfather. So, while the rest of the family was going to be nice, dry, and comfy, Bradley had no choice but to ride out the storm.

If Bradley didn’t get things prepared he, Gramps, and Snoopy would be flying through the air Dorothy-style. That was something that Bradley didn’t want to happen. Not only was Snoopy too fat to fit into a little basket, but Bradley would never be able to pull off the ruby slippers. Red had never been his color.

“We’re getting ready to go to the shelter. You sure you don’t want to go with us?” his neighbor, Trent, asked, as he walked out of his own house.

Trent was as white-bread as they came. He was married to a beautiful wife, had two kids: one girl, one boy. They went to church every Sunday. Hell, Trent and his son even threw the baseball to each other in the front yard. They were like a Norman Rockwell picture come to life. Only his neighbors were a bit more annoying, because they were perfection come alive and they talked.

If Trent only knew how much that Bradley would love to go to the shelter and ride out the storm there. Not only would it be much safer, but Bradley wouldn’t be alone and have to be in charge of other’s lives. As it stood, he was going to have to face the hurricane in his house that had been built years ago. Plus, he had to take care of his ailing grandfather, who could be as mean as a one-eyed rattlesnake, and Bradley’s dog Snoopy. While Snoopy may be big, fat, and ugly, Bradley loved that thing and he couldn’t bear to leave him behind. If there was any flooding, there was no way Snoopy could swim to safety. He would just sink to the bottom, with that same dumb look that was on his face. The one that was a combination of “feed me” mixed in with “I love my human.”

“The shelter said no pets allowed. I don’t want to leave Snoopy,” Bradley said, before he took off his hat and wiped the sweat away with the back of his hand.

“It’s stupid to die, just because of a dog,” Trent pointed out.

“Not to me. I love that guy too much.”

Trent let out a sigh. “He’s a dog, not your lover.”

Bradley barely refrained from gasping. How could Trent be so cruel? Didn’t he understand how much somebody could love their pets? Probably not. He was too busy trying to project the image of the perfect husband and father to worry about that. Bradley could just imagine Trent standing in front of the mirror, perfecting his facial expression, to see what would make the best impression.

“Well, I’m still staying with Snoopy,” Bradley replied calmly, trying really hard not to let his anger show.

“Fine, but you do know that if you run into trouble that police and fire have said that they aren’t sending out anybody until the storm is over? So, you’ll be on your own. Once that hurricane hits us, there’s no changing your mind,” Trent said.

Bradley let out a sigh. “It’s just not Snoopy; I can’t move my grandfather, either.”

“Why don’t you just toss him in a wheelchair and go?” Trent asked.

Yeah, Trent was just a treasure’s trove of compassion. Maybe they weren’t as Norman Rockwell as Bradley had previously thought. The more Trent talked the more he was beginning to sound like a would-be serial killer. All that was missing was Trent wetting the bed and starting fires and then the trifecta would be there. Of course, Trent could be peeing the bed and his wife just hiding the sheets, so nobody ever found out.

Bradley ran his hand through his hair as he tried to think of a good answer. One that wouldn’t get him killed and buried in a shallow grave. “I wish I could, but with all the chemo, his immune system is so weak that he can’t be around that many people. If he gets any bug or virus, it could kill him.”

“Shit, I guess you are stuck. I’m sorry there, buddy. I’d stay behind and help you, but I’ve got my wife and kids that I have to look out for. The weather station said that this is going to be one hell of a hurricane, so I don’t know how crazy things are going to get.”

Bradley was touched by his neighbor’s concern; maybe the guy did have some empathy after all and Bradley had jumped to the wrong conclusion about his neighbor. But Trent was right; he did have his own family to consider. “Go ahead. We’ll be fine. Even if my grandfather wasn’t senile, he would still insist on riding this one out.”

“Even though this is supposed to be a category four hurricane? This isn’t your everyday normal storm.”

“That would make him all the more eager. He used to always love to do crazy stuff like that. Do you know he bungee jumped and parachuted out of an airplane? For fun. Not because he had to. Hell, he even paid them for the honor. Before he got cancer he was planning on trying to climb Everest.”

That made it even harder to see his grandfather in the condition that he was currently in. Nothing was sadder than having to see a loved one fade away and become a shadow of what they used to be. It was a million times harder to handle, watching them die, only the death was stretched out over years.

“I wish you luck. I would stay and help you out some, but I have to go and pick up my family,” Trent said. “I hope you make it out of this okay. If you don’t, can I have your car?”

Okay, so maybe Trent was a little off after all. Bradley made a note to have a very good security system installed in their home when the hurricane was over.

“We’ll be fine. My grandfather is too grumpy to die just yet.”

At least Bradley hoped they would be okay. As it was, it was beginning to rain and the winds were picking up. Bradley knew he didn’t have much time to finish prepping the house. Trent drove off, then Bradley got back to work. It seemed to take forever, plus he had push back his fear of heights, but he managed to get all the windows covered.

Bradley was climbing down the ladder, when he saw a truck pulling into his driveway. As soon as he saw the familiar red vehicle, Bradley let out a curse. Of course, Mike would have to pick this moment to show up. As if Bradley didn’t have enough on his plate as it was. Now he was going to have to deal with his ex, too. Damn, damn, damn! With the way things were going Bradley wouldn’t be surprised if a zap of lighting came down from the sky and hit his ass. But, then again that may be a good thing, because then he wouldn’t have to deal with Mike.

Try as he may, Bradley still had strong emotions for Mike. The pain of Mike turning his back on Bradley was still raw and fresh. So much so that Bradley could barely look at the other man, for fear of breaking down. Even though they had been apart for just over a year.

Mike climbed out of truck. Damn it, why did he have to still look so good? It would have been such poetic justice if Mike had gotten fat with a face covered with pimples. But Bradley knew that would never happen and he was right, Mike still looked as good as ever. With a muscular body that just begged to be licked, dark hair, and piercing blue eyes, he still made Bradley’s breath quicken. Even though Bradley wanted to hate Mike, he couldn’t stop himself from getting hard from just looking at the man.

“What are you doing here?” Bradley snapped as he went to the garage and put the tools up. Just because his dick could be forgiving didn’t mean the rest of him followed along with that plan.

“I wanted to check on you and make sure that you got to a shelter.”

“Why would you care?”

“Because I’ve heard some crazy rumor that you actually are thinking about trying to ride out this storm.”

Bradley whipped off his gloves and instantly winced when pain shot through his injured fingers.Nice move, dumbass. Why don’t you just get the hammer out and have a go at all of them right in front of Mike. That way your humiliation could be complete. Bradley wondered to himself why he was always making himself look like a fool in front of Mike. It had been that way when they’d been dating, too. If there had been a crack in the sidewalk, Bradley would find it and trip over it. If somebody accidentally knocked over their drinking glass while at a restaurant, it was always him. Bradley also had the uncanny ability to call others by the wrong name. He tried as hard as he could, but he couldn’t seem to keep track of all of Mike’s friends. No doubt Mike had been so relieved when they had parted, he’d probably been glad to wash himself clean of Bradley and his clumsy ways.

Mike’s gaze honed in on Bradley’s bandaged fingers. “You used a hammer didn’t you?”

“Well, I had no choice. Somebody had to cover all the windows. So, if something hit them during the hurricane we didn’t have all kinds of crap flying into our living room.”

“How are your grandfather and Snoopy doing?”

Funny how it touched Bradley so much that somebody actually showed that they cared a damn about him, even if it was his ex. The ex who had broken Bradley’s heart just a year ago.

“Snoopy is great. It’s my grandfather that I’m worried about. He’s so bad that he’s bedridden now and has to have his meds at certain times around the clock. To make matters worse, I think he may be starting to developing Alzheimer’s. He likes to wander at night. It’s gotten to the point to where I have to use restraints, so he doesn’t go outside and get lost. Do you have any idea how hard it is to do that night after night? I can’t get any sleep because I’m afraid that he’ll manage to get free and I can’t sleep during the day, because I have to work and take care of him, because the day nurse just isn’t doing enough.”

Bradley realized that he’d just admitted to somebody all that was going on in his life. And that somebody just happened to be his ex whom Bradley hated and was angry with, too. But, it had felt so cathartic to unload on somebody. Bradley even felt some of the weight lift off his shoulders.

“Fine, but I’m staying with you,” Mike said.

“What?” Bradley was tempted to rattle his head around to make sure that nothing was blocking his ears.

“I’m not letting you do this by yourself. You’re going to need all the help you can get, so you better take it, even if it’s from me.”

“I’d rather die than spend ten minutes in your company,” Bradley said with a growl.

“That’s about how long you’re going to live if you don’t let me stay,” Mike shot back.

“Since when have you given two shits about me?”

Bradley glanced down at the ground, so Mike wouldn’t see all the emotions that were playing out on his face. Out of all the men…all right, make it a few… men that Bradley had ever dated, none of them had the power to play with Bradley’s feelings like Mike did.

“That’s not fair,” Mike countered. “I had my reasons for letting you move on.”

“You mean the reasons that you refused to share with me?”

Mike kicked at a rock on the ground. “Look, we’re going to have plenty of time to talk about that, later. Let’s just finish getting your house as ready as it can be. As it is, we’ll be lucky if the old thing doesn’t fall down around us as soon as the hurricane hits.”

Since Bradley knew that Mike was right, he gave him a curt nod and got back to work. Most of which consisted of Mike redoing the wood that covered the windows. Okay, Bradley wasn’t exactly a carpenter, kill him. Still, Bradley hadn’t done that bad of a job that Mike had to redo it all…had he?

Bradley looked down on the ground to see the comically small amount of sandbags he’d surrounded the house with. He had wanted to put up a ton more, but that had been all he’d been able to find. The entire town had been stripped clean of hurricane survival items. As it was, Bradley had to get into a tug-of-war for one bag with an elderly lady. Bradley had eventually won that battle, but not before she’d gave him a good dozen wallops with her purse. They had hurt, too.

“How was your last deployment?” Bradley asked.

Mike was a Pararescuer for the Air Force, or a PJ as they were more commonly known as. Since they were among the first on the ground after an attack, their job was very dangerous and they suffered both higher losses and injuries in their own ranks. As such, the training was as rigorous as any Green Beret or SEAL. The bad thing is there were only so many PJs to go around, so they were deployed more often than most units.

“It sucked. I took a bullet to the leg,” Mike said.

A wave of worry went through Bradley. “Oh my God, that must have hurt like a bitch. Are you going to be okay?”

“Yeah, they had to reconstruct the whole thing, but at least I didn’t lose it. But it was bad enough to make it so that I’m unfit to ever serve again.”

Bradley felt as if somebody had come over then punched him in the gut. Which was odd since he was supposed to hate Mike. “I’m so sorry. I know how much being a PJ meant to you.”

“Yeah, I’ll just have to find a new job. Maybe one of the EMT crews needs another man. Hopefully they’ll still take me, even with my leg issue. I only have a small limp from it. It’s at night when it’s a bitch. Then it hurts like hell. My doctor says it’s because I don’t rest it enough, but you know me. I’m not the sit around and watch the world go by kind of guy.”

“No, that’s never been you and I don’t think that this wound will ever slow you down,” Bradley said.

The entire time Mike was talking he was rubbing at his right leg. He was doing it in such an absent manner that it made Bradley wonder if Mike was aware of the fact that he was doing it at all. It could, also, just be that Mike still had lingering pain there and was rubbing out the hurt.

“You’d make a great paramedic. I know that I’d feel a lot better if I knew that you were out there protecting me,” Bradley said.

The wind began to pick up more, blowing their hair and bits of debris into their faces. When part of a bush nearly decapitated Bradley, he knew that they had to get inside, quick. He, also, knew that the elderly woman who lived across the street was going to be good and pissed. She’d always babied that thing, pruning it every day. There were times when Bradley swore he even heard her talking to it.

“Thanks for the words of reassurance.” Mike looked up and squinted into the light. “I guess it was only a matter of time before they got me. I was on my fifth deployment. If you stop to think about it, I was lucky that I made it out alive. The odds weren’t exactly stacked in my favor.”

“Still, I know it’s been your dream since you’ve been a kid.”

Mike gave Bradley a jaded look. “I learned a long time ago that we always don’t get what we want out of life.”

Another gust of wind blew. This one was so hard that Bradley was almost knocked off his feet. He must have slipped a couple of inches, because Mike reached out and grabbed Bradley’s shoulder to steady him. Great! Not only did Mike have to redo all of Bradley’s work on the windows, but he had to save Bradley from blowing away. Bradley was beginning to think that he was playing the damsel in distress role, which pissed him off. He may be tall and skinny, but he was still a man and he could take care of himself, damn it!

“Well, at least it looks like you’re going to get one of your classic order-Bradley-around anyway. There is no way you can drive in these conditions,” Bradley said, having to raise his voice to be heard. “We better get inside and get everything ready there.”

They both ran up the stairs of the porch then went inside the house. As soon as he shut the door, the first thing Bradley realized was how quiet it was. Without the wind whirling around him, the inside seemed almost deafening. It had such an eerie effect on Bradley that a shiver ran up his spine.

“Brady boy, is that you? I need you to come help me. I need to change the channel off this woman talk show crap and put the game on instead,” his grandpa yelled. “If I have to watch one more commercial about feminine protection, I’m going to throw something at the TV.”

Well the silence was over. It had been so nice while it lasted. Bradley let out a sigh. He knew that he was going to have to move his grandfather upstairs soon and the old man was going to be a terror the entire time. If there was one thing his grandpa didn’t like was to be carried. Most likely because it reminded him of how sick he was.

“Come with me. You can be a witness to my grandfather’s joy when he finds out that we’re going to have to move him,” Bradley said with a falsely sweet voice.

“Why don’t I trust you? This reeks of a setup,” Mike counted as he narrowed his eyes.

“Probably because it is.”

Bradley decided it would give Mike a little taste of what he’d had put off for the past year. While Mike may have been doing a noble job and fighting for his county, Bradley had been alone had been fighting a battle of his own back home. Both jobs were terrible in different ways and they left scars, be it on the outside or on the inside.

“You do have to admit, I owe you one. You broke up with me via text. That was a low blow there.”

“I just couldn’t say it to your face,” Mike said as he ducked his head and looked down at his boots.

“Yeah, well we’re going to be together for several hours. That will leave you plenty of time to explain everything to me,” Bradley warned.

Bradley meant it, too. Before the hurricane was over, he would finally have all the answers that he deserved.