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The Dark Alley

This is an unusual post, in that it has many authors. Yesterday in a writers’ group I’m in, we had a “Tantalizing Tuesday,” where we posted flash fiction (500 words or fewer) or poetry, using one of a set of photos, or one of four sentences as an inspiration point. Bonita Franks and I, with the authors’ permissions, of course, are posting the resulting fiction or poems to our blogs. Bonita has done half (a link to follow), and this is my half. They were all done using the same photo. Here it is. I’ll add similar images as we go.


Intriguing, isn’t it? Here are the submissions:

Yikes! Somehow I missed grabbing a submission! I’m so sorry! Here it is, in pride of place, to make up for my goof. (Forgive me, Kathy?)


Kathy Griffith

Dark Alley

The young man approached the narrow staircase with quite a bit of nervousness; this was the first time he’d even thought to explore his sexuality, and he was prepared. He patted the pocket of his coat where he had stuffed a few condoms. He heard soft sighs and grunts coming from the shadows.

Was he really ready for this?

He leaned against the cool brick, waiting his turn, sweating. In his peripheral vision, he saw a bear of a man fumbling with his zipper, tidying himself up before exchanging a few dollars, then moving on. Apparently, oral was the specialty here, and he wasn’t really ready for anything else anyway. He shuffled forward when the prostitute crooked his finger, and as he approached, seeing the man in the soft glow of the dirty lightbulb, his eyes grew wide and he gasped.




Kelley York

The atmosphere is too much. The smoke, the smell of cigars permeating the room, the raucous laughter and buzz of hundreds of conversations going on all at once. Coming here was a mistake, one Ben has to rectify. 

He ducks out a back door into the rainy night, yanking loose his tie and the top button of his shirt. With a few heavy breaths to steady his nerves, he slouches back against the cool brick, gazing down the steps to the street below, studying the reflections of street lights off parked cars. Alexander brought him here to unwind with a few drinks, and here he was, running out on him. Hardly polite.

The door creaks open, momentarily allowing the chaos from inside to escape, and Alexander steps out, brows twitching into a frown. “There you are. Everything all right?”

Ben squares his shoulders and offers an apologetic smile. “Sorry. It was a bit much, is all.”

The taller man crams his hands into his pockets, coming down a step to stand before him. The door swings shut, plummeting them into near silence again. “We didn’t have to come here, you know.”

“You wanted to.” 

“I didn’t care where we went, really. I just wanted to spend time with you.”

The confession makes Ben lift his startled gaze to Alexander’s face. “That’s… That’s a bit of a strange thing to say.”

Alexander shrugs, smiles, leans his shoulder into the wall beside Ben, putting them far closer than Ben ought to be comfortable with. “I suppose I’m a bit of a strange man.”

The proximity brings heat rushing to his cheeks. Were anyone to see them out here, like this, they’d never hear the end of it. And yet he can hardly muster a complaint when Alexander closes the remaining distance between them. Just like that, the rest of the world ceases to exist, no longer consisting of anything except them, an eager mouth against his in an empty stairwell.



Erik Schubach

He strained, pulling hard on the fabric of reality of the Victorian London alley around him. The warm, fluttering light of the oil lamp illuminating it, steadied into the cold lifeless glow of electrics. The carriages on the street below bled into the heartless steel automobiles of this century.

Gasping, he stepped through to this new place in time. Looking back, he smirked. Let’s see them follow him now.





Neve Wilder

Frenchmen Street, #103

You walk by it every morning, the rough cinderblock flanks of the building, the sleek channel of stairs between. A safe deposit box of memory to which you still hold the key. You stop and plant your feet as you have every day that came before this one, stiff rubber soles dimpled by cracking pavement that will never be strong enough to contain the wildly beating heart of the city beneath. The heat from your coffee bleeds beyond its paper sleeve and fills in the lines of your palm. That psychic who once traced them with the edge of her thumbnail, she knew nothing. She was dead wrong. So you stand there and close your eyes and turn the key: 

After midnight in New Orleans, everyone is a ghost or demon. 

Between the two of you, you were never sure which was which. The breath that passed hot over the back of your neck could have been a spectral breeze, but the lips that followed were pure devilry.

You held onto the railing, fingers twisted around wrought iron so cold and damp it felt like a fever breaking. His fingers curling on top of yours, sliding between skin, the jigsaw fit of hands and bodies. When he moved, you did also, helplessly attuned to the primacy of his need and the way it moved through you like a riptide, sucking you under in a grip so tight and relentless you thought your bones might be ground to powder he could sprinkle in the coffee of other lovers. And you wanted it, oh god, you wanted every ounce of that voodoo alchemy between you. Craved it so much that the places he fucked you became so many love bites pressed into the broad shoulders of the city.

But that psychic was dead wrong and now what do you have but a head full of unwanted keys to safe deposit boxes of ghosts spanning the city where you once loved him and he once loved you back.





Naomi Aoki

Yohei stumbled, banging into the rough stone wall of the alley and he winced. His breaths came in ragged gasps as he allowed himself a moment to rest, confident he didn’t need to run anymore. The men chasing him far behind, lost hopefully.

He moved again, fingers digging into the cracked morter not wanting his descent to be hurried. Tumbling was still a possibility, his jellified-legs protesting loudly about the previous activity. Yohei stared ahead, cars whizzed past on the wide street below casting red and white light into the shadows illuminating each step still to be taken. It promised him crowds. People rushing from one pub to another, businessmen taking detours on the way home from work. 

It promised him safety. A place to hide; to disappear. Yohei needed to disappear if he wanted to keep breathing. 

The information he carried need to be delivered to the right hands, ones that would use it and not bury it beneath layers of corruption. But he could worry about that tomorrow. Tonight he needed to stay alive.

Yohei breathed deep, easier and the scent of food filled his lungs. His stomach grumbled, reminding Yohei he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Since he’d made the decision to take what he’d found and escape. Yohei ignored it, pushing on toward the promised safety. Too dangerous to stop and eat now. He couldn’t risk being found.

Two more steps.

He paused at the end of the alley and hesitantly peered at the bustling street. Carefully he took in the people passing by assessing them for danger and relaxed when he couldn’t see any. Danger might lurk in the shadows, but he couldnt see any sign that he’d been tracked down. Yohei took a breath calming his panicked nerves and stepped out.

“You had to run, didn’t you Yohei?” A sinister voice broke through teh shadows into the light and one Yohei knew well. He froze. “Lead my men on a merry chase.”

Yohei tried to step back and find another route to escape. His shoulders slumped as he collided with a wall of muscle. “I thought they could do with the exercise.”

He should have realised escape was not possible. Ever.

“Let’s go home, Yohei and I’ll forget that you tried to leave me. But I wont be so generous if you try it again.”





Jason Griswold

The City isn’t Safe at Night

Nick knew better than to walk home alone at night. His mother always warned him that the city isn’t safe at night. The walk from work was only five minutes, though. What was the harm?

The echo of footfalls behind him began three blocks back. He contemplated ducking into a restaurant or bar, but he passed into a residential neighborhood, so that wouldn’t work. He sped up, his footfalls clicking faster as he looked for refuge. 

He knew not to glance back. His mother always said that was dangerous. But so was walking alone at night. Bad things can happen. 

Up ahead he saw a group of people walking in his direction. Just act like you’re meeting them, then walk back toward the restaurants. Call for a ride.

Instead, he walked past the group, ducking into a dark alley up ahead. There was a single light at the bottom of a set of stairs, leading up into darkness. As he pondered if he should ascend, He felt a jolt, as he was pushed from behind.. 

his assailant was large. He was armed with a knife, and a snarl. “Listen up!” he growled. “Empty your bag, buddy.” Nick looked at him. “Open your bag. Empty it. Give me your money, jewelry, and wallet.”

“Please…” Nick said. “Please, sir. You don’t want to do this.”

“Oh yeah? Why not?” He asked.

“Because, it isn’t safe at night. You never know what bad things might happen.”

The man pointed the knife in his face. “Money. Wallet. Now.”

He paused. Nick stood in front of him, eyes closed. When he finally opened his eyes, they gleamed yellow. His face contorted into a monstrous grimace. his teeth became razors, his skin furred. The beast that once was NIck leapt forward, grabbing the brute by the throat, and dragged him up the stairs into the pitch black.

As he tore out the mugger’s throat, the beast that once was Nick had a strange, human thought. His mother was always right.

The City isn’t safe at night. For anyone.


All images credited to user hotblack at

As promised, here’s the link to Bonita’s post.

Winter 2018

The winter that robbed us of our children,
The winter that took away our souls,
The still, silent, purity of snow annihilated, made nihil, nothing
By violent sprayed blood
By shrieks and running feet
By terror, muffled, sobbing, knee-wrapped
In a corner, praying
“Don’t let them hear me, don’t let them find me,
I’ll promise you anything, but don’t let them hear me!”
The shame-filled joy that the scream
Ripped from a young throat
Was thank god someone else’s
And not their own.
The winter that destroyed our innocence,
The winter that fractured our dreams——
Does it yet hold a spring?

Review – The Harvested by Kindra Sowder

I gave this one 5 stars —

Review: Harvested by Kindra Sowder
CONTAINS semi-spoilers
Harvested is the first book in a five-book series, the finale of which will be published in June, and as the opener, Harvested is a well-crafted introduction to the setting and the characters. Mila and her friends Julius, Nero and Cato are taken by the government, along with others, to an isolated secret laboratory complex, to undergo testing due to their unusual powers and abilities. There, they are subjected to various biological tests, isolation and constant surveillance. While no one in their group knows what’s going to happen to them, or what’s being done to the others, they do know that the head of the government, Dictator King, is power hungry and wants to rule the world as well as the United States. Because he is so singleminded, they suspect that their kidnapping and disappearance is part of his plan, but have no clue what he envisions as their role.
Mila is the central character, and she is put through many incidents of laboratory testing, having blood drawn and biopsies taken with no explanation and usually under intense sedation, all without explanation. Gradually, she comes to trust her doctor and her guard, until King forces her into a “test” with the threat of death for all of her friends and family if she refuses. After that violation, Mila changes and becomes determined to fight in any way she can, though she will not use her power—the ability to cause another person’’s blood to boil.
Julius and Mila, along with new friend Caius and her guard and doctor plan an escape. It does not go well, though the book ends on a positive note.
This book is fast-paced and, as it was designed to do, leaves the reader wanting more, though this portion of the story is completely contained in Harvested. I recommend reading it when you have time to sit and read cover-to-cover; it is a page-turner and you won’t want to put it down.


It’s been a long time. I’ve thought I was ready to come back before, and I just wasn’t. What’s different this time? I’m writing again. (It’s OK to cheer, if you like.) I’ve been working on a revision of Bittermoon, and that’s done, in the hands of my publisher and about to be released as part of a box set of the three books in the series. I’m currently revising two books, one a contemporary M/M romcom and the other an epic fantasy saga. I really mean it with the “epic” thing—it’s running, in its unrevised form, a million and a quarter words. It won’t be that big when I’m done, but it will still be pretty long, 6 or 7 books. That one is M/F, M/F/F, M/M/F/, M/M/F/F and other wild things when the dragons involve the humans in their rituals. Also rumbling around in my head are a couple of other ideas, a sequel to Raveneye, and a stand-alone set in the Fallow Moon universe (the guys in the trilogy will likely make cameo appearances in that one.). I’m excited about writing again!

Be prepared, get ready — the Fallow Moon box set will be released on 1 September. There will be a brand-new opening to Bittermoon (book 1), some tweaks and the like to Stygian Moon and Fallow Moon, and gorgeous new art by my cover artist extraordinaire, Rebecca Poole of Dreams2Media. Look for more activity here, too. Some of it will be political, most of it not. I can’t close my eyes to the horrible things happening in this country and the world, but I will try to keep a civil tongue at least nearby if not in my head.

It’s good to be back! As always, feel free to comment. I enjoy hearing from you.

Raveneye is live and I’m giving away stuff! I’m a Rafflecopter virgin, so I’m not quite sure how this is working, since I have multiple prizes, but if it doesn’t work properly, I’ll set up separate giveaways for each prize. The prizes are:
$5 Amazon gift card
Copy of Roman (Saints and Sinners) by Kennedy Streath
Copy of the box set Burns mysteries by Erin O’Quinn
Copy of your choice of books by Sessha Batto
$25 Amazon gift card

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’m SO excited!


Guess What?

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be running a giveaway here on my blog in conjunction with the release of my new book, Raveneye! It will run through the end of the week (until October 28, midnight CST) and the prizes are great – Amazon gift cards, copies of my book Raveneye, a copy of Roman (Saints and Sinners) by Kennedy Streath, and gorgeous silver chopsticks from Sessha Batto! There will be more than one gift card and more than one copy of my book. (Only one from Kennedy and only one set of chopsticks, so cross your fingers hard!

Here’s a bit of the book to whet your appetite. [WARNING: 18+ only]

Edie laughed and retreated to her station. After a few minutes, she looked up and said, “He checked out early. Did you know that?”
“At least you didn’t say, ‘who’. He had booked a month here, Teo, but he left after… Teo, he was only here four days. He checked out on the twelfth.”
The day after I saw him in the desert. Damn.
“Something happened while he was here.” She turned to stare at Teo again. “Do you know what it was? You do, don’t you? Oh my God, Teo, did he try something funny with you?”
“No! He’s straight, Edie, as he was at pains to let me know.”
“Oohh. Did you try something funny with him, then?”
“Do you want those drinks or not?”
“You know I do, sweets.” She glanced up at the clock. “In fact, the late shift should be here any minute. You ready to go?”
“I need to change.”
“Go on and do that. I’ll meet you there, all right?”
He nodded, shut down his computer, and headed for his cottage, arguing with himself until he was standing in his bedroom, jeans and a tee in hand. Why did I agree to drinks? I don’t want to do this. I can’t tell her what happened. Damn. We’ve smoked together often enough over the years, and the peyote isn’t exactly secret from her either, but Raveneye? No, I can’t tell her that. I won’t go. But I can’t stand her up. I’ll have one shot, then make an excuse and come home. I could call her and cancel. I need to know what the gossip mill is churning out. I need to know why he left. My God, he left! Because he saw a bird in the desert? It was more than that. He made us… Raveneye welcome to perch with him. We should have… I should have… damn!
The mirror he’d been avoiding confirmed Edie’s assessment. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his favorite jeans slipped low on his hips. Rode hard, and put away wet, if at all. I can’t let him get to me like this. He was threading a belt through the loops on his jeans when the knock sounded.
“It’s me, Teo.”
“It’s open, Edie.”
“Brought us a bottle, baby. No need to get all dolled up. Or all GI Joe’d up in your case. Shot glasses in the same place?”
“Yeah. Thanks. Be out in a few.”
“Oh, you’re not dressed? I’ll be right there. I know I can’t have any, but I can look, can’t I?” She walked into the bedroom. “Teo, what the hell is that?”
Teo scrambled for his t-shirt and yanked it over his head. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Edie stood close enough to pull up the tee and run her fingers over the marks. “Teo, those are wounds on your pecs. They look like claw marks. Oh, God, have you let some asshole hurt you?”
Edie raised a brow.
“Okay, yes, but the asshole was me, all right?”
“No, not all right.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the living area. “We’re doing twofer shots until you start talking.”
Teo let himself be dragged to the counter while Edie lined up an entire set of shot glasses, and began filling them. She held up a small bag of limes and said, “Wedge them,” as she rummaged in the cabinet for the coarse salt. “Counter?”
“You know I’d rather sit on the floor.”
“Good. It’ll give you a chance to look up my skirt and see I’m not as much a woman yet as you think I am.”
In spite of himself, Teo chuckled. Edie could lighten the atmosphere without really working at it.
“Are you the only gay man in the world without a tray in his kitchen? Help me carry all this to that thing you use for a coffee table.”
“It is a coffee table. A table anyway,” Teo protested as he stacked the plate of lime wedges atop the bowl of salt, and did a finger-dip-and-grip with three of the shot glasses. Edie grabbed the others and followed him to the low table that was simply two planks on cinder blocks, covered with his grandmother’s Navajo blanket. “And don’t start. I know, you want to do that ‘decorate’ thing, but this suits me.”
“Wasn’t going to say a word.” She folded herself neatly tailor-fashion, leaning back against the utilitarian futon Teo was certain she would call ‘boring’. She lifted a shot glass, tipped it toward him and said, “To friends who listen.”
He grunted. “To friends who don’t pry,” he replied and slammed the shot back.
“Another, dude. It’s going to take a lot to get you to spill it.”
“Edie, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You do. You just want me to persuade you. Drink that.”
Four shots later, Teo found himself wishing he’d eaten. Today. Maybe yesterday would have been a good idea, too. The tequila was buzzing between his ears, warm in his belly, and loosening his slurring tongue.
“He’s… It was hard… tough, having him there on my table, naked. I want him, Edie. Shit, I want him.”
“Don’t blame you. Day-yum.”
“No, no, not like that. OK, like that, but after I looked at him with my Other Eyes, it was worse.”
“Other eyes?”
“Yeah, the ones that see the deep stuff, the real and true.”
“I have no clue what you’re talking about, but keeping talking. Maybe I’ll catch on.”
“He’s so beautiful, Edie. And so different. Nobody’s like him.”
“Nobody’s like anybody else.”
“Not him. He’s not-like-anybody-else-r than… anybody else.”
Edie laughed, and the tequila she was pouring sloshed over the edge of Teo’s shot glass.
“Hey, don’t waste that! You brought the good stuff.”
“‘Course I did. Not gonna get my best friend drunk on the stomach-chewers.”
“Am I?”
“Am you what?”
“My best friend. Your best friend.”
“Oh, fuck, yes, honey. You accept me, like no one else does. And that’s why… why something. Oh, yeah, why I want to help you. You’re gonna let me help you, aren’t you, doll?” She leaned toward Teo and laid a hand on his arm. “Tell me what happened. Why you hurt yourself.”
Teo focused with an effort, and looked into her eyes. “It hurts, Edie. It hurt then and it hurts worse every day. The only way to make it stop was to… to try to dig the hurting place out. It didn’t work. I quit before I got deep enough.”
“Oh my god, Teo, you were trying to claw the pain in your heart out?”
He nodded.
“Were you tripping?”
“I… not exactly.” I can’t tell her those were Raveneye’s talons. She’ll want to take him away. If he ever forgives me for forcing him to do that.
“You either were or you weren’t. It’s like being pregnant. You can’t be a little bit pregnant. It’s yes or no. Drink this and tell me which it was.”
“I don’t think I can do another, baby.”
Her raised eyebrow told him she hadn’t missed the ‘baby.’ “Sure you can.”
It was futile to argue with her. Or maybe I really need to get out of my mind drunk. He tossed it back. “Set ‘em up again.”
“Good for you. Now, tripping?”
“Coming down. Coming… damn I wish I’d been coming.”
“I can make that happen for you, doll.”
“Shit, Edie, that sounds good. But friends shouldn’t…”
“Bullshit. Friends are the best fuck buddies.” She leaned closer, brushing his lips with her own. “I want it, too, Teo. All my junk is still there, baby. It’s just the boobs, and they’re nice and small.”
“Can you still… I mean, the hormones…”
“I haven’t been on them long. Can I get it up? Touch me and see.” She took his hand and slid it under the skirt that had inched up far enough he’d quit wondering about the surgery and lingerie choices. Commando seemed to be her preference.
“Oh, god, Edie. You’re hard.”
“Yes, baby. Hard for you.” She whispered into his ear. He shivered and she went on, “Yes, Teo, yes. Pull it out, baby. Let me see. God, let me get it good and wet before you fuck me with it.”
“Edie, I…”
“You need it. I need it. What’s the problem?” She fumbled with his belt buckle.
“We work together. We shouldn’t.”
“That’s not stopping you from taking a good grip. And it’s not going to stop me from riding you.” She kissed him, demanding his mouth, as she swung a leg over his lap to straddle him.
Teo groaned. “Don’t. Don’t take that cock out of my hand.”
She threw her head back and ground against him, and Teo was lost.

First Meeting… and “Dayyum”

Here’s the first chapter of Raveneye, which will introduce you to the three main characters and their interactions, as well as a peek into Teo’s unusual beliefs and practices. Enjoy! And feel free to comment. I welcome your input, and ask only that you be polite, even if you have something unpleasant to say.

“Hey, Teo, your 2 o’clock’s here, and dayyum.”
“Gracias, chica.” Teo grinned at the lanky blonde standing at the doorway to the candlelit massage room. “I’m ready.”
“Uh, no, Teo, I don’t think you are. Wait till you see this one.”
“Just show…” Teo glanced at the appointment sheet, “…Mr. Sokolov in, Edie.”
“That won’t be necessary,” a deep voice sounded from behind Edie. “I’m already in.” The man eased his way past her.
Edie was right. This guy merited a ‘dayyum.’ Not a body-builder, but his fitness was obvious in the long lean lines of his torso, tapering from invitingly broad shoulders to slender hips. High cheekbones, different than Teo’s own, but still pronounced. The man’s eyes were a deep tawny brown, with flecks of gold scattered through the irises, and Teo was sure they could read him as if he were a—not even a book. Maybe a children’s book. Few words, but lots of simple lines and interesting shapes and colors.
“Dusan Sokolov. They didn’t tell me your name when I made the arrangements.” His accent was subtle, but it was there. Even without the name, the voice would have confirmed one of the Eastern Bloc nations as his home. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of the man’s wide mouth. His grip as they shook hands was firm, his hand an odd mix of soft and rough, as if he worked with his hands, but also took pains to care for them.
“I apologize, Mr. Sokolov. I’m Mateo Velasco, but everyone calls me ‘Teo’, sir.”
“Teo. Where do I undress?”
“Here is fine, Mr. Sokolov. I’ll step out to give you some privacy. I’ll knock after a few minutes.” Teo headed for the door.
“All right.”
Teo closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it. Edie looked over at him from the reception area and winked. “Told you,” she mouthed.
“Where’s his jacket?” Teo pushed away from the door and looked around for the file folder that should have been on the reception counter.
“Well, that’s the thing. There’s not one. Management said not to worry about it.” Edie shrugged. “Some important person on the down-low, I figure. Can’t be his real name, so I didn’t google him.”
Teo nodded. “It’s not that unusual. Many of our guests don’t want it known they’re gay, after all.”
Edie grinned. “You’ve kneaded some famous backsides, all right. And some whose congregations would give a lot to know about it.”
“I don’t like that look, Edie.”
“Teo, you know I’m not going to jeopardize these cushy digs. Living at a resort? Not gonna risk losing that. It’s just that little devil in me, enjoying thinking about it.”
“Is that the bit that hasn’t had the surgery yet?” Others might gossip about where she was in the transition process, but Teo saw no point in changing the way they interacted simply because Edie was no longer Ed.
“You’re into fur?”
Edie grinned and pantomimed throwing a pen at him. “If I didn’t think you’d be busy later…”
“Too much woman for me, girl.”
“What’s a lady have to do to find something to stick her dick in around here?”
“Not a question I’ve ever needed the answer to.” He brought his mental shutters down. Edie was a friend, a work-friend, but he needed the solitude inside his own head to get himself under control before working on Sokolov, or he’d be too close to a line he would not cross. Massage wasn’t about sex. It never had been, and never would be. Not for Teo. If that’s what his clients wanted, they left with blue balls. What happened in the massage room was sacred, and he wouldn’t profane it with the sweaty slapping of flesh on flesh. If they were attractive, and offered, he might meet them later. But never in the room, and never, ever for money. I’m not a whore, he repeated to himself. I’m not. But Raveneye, my friend, sometimes I wish I were.
In the space between his ears, a raven croaked. An avian chuckle, perhaps. It could be hard to know, unless they were—
The door opened. “Teo.”
Edie peered around him, but Teo carefully blocked her view. Not that there was one. When he stepped into the room, his client was already sitting on the table, draw sheet across his lap. Sokolov moved fast. Maybe there was more than his obvious attractiveness about this client that would require careful handling.
Teo led Sokolov through the pre-massage questions about temperature, lighting and music preferences, about areas that needed particular work. They were questions he asked every client. Comfort and relaxation were key, after all, and while he was especially gifted at detecting trouble areas before touching the client, it was good practice to know where they thought the problems were, even if they were wildly wrong. How anyone could fail to recognize the body as a whole that works as a whole was beyond Teo. It was obvious, just as it was obvious the spirit world is a whole and works as a whole. But many couldn’t see that either.
The last question was always, “What do you hope to gain from massage?” Sometimes the client would mention sex at this point, or sometimes that would come later as he worked certain areas. Most often, sex wasn’t mentioned at all.
Sokolov’s answers had been terse. Not rude, simply direct. Like Teo’s own nature, though he had learned early to wear what he called his ‘robe of sociable’ at work. The answer to this question wasn’t exactly terse.
“You need to know something, Teo. I’m straight. I have no interest in sex with a man. None. And that’s not going to change.”
“And yet you’re staying at Aguajero Azul, a gay resort.”
“This is a good area to withdraw and recharge, so it makes no difference. I’m straight. Do you understand that?”
“Certainly. It’s unusual, but I have no trouble understanding either the need to recharge or that you don’t want sex with me.”
“There is a line with this massage, Teo. If you cross it, you will regret it.”
“Never, Mr. Sokolov. I’ve never crossed that line in this holy place—the massage room.”
“Holy place? Did you say holy place?”
Teo cursed himself. He rarely used profanity and almost never in a holy place. He could see the affect of the words after all, and once someone had seen that, they were much more careful about how they spoke in anger or frustration, especially in the sacred places. Sokolov refused to look away from Teo’s eyes. There would be no bull—no evasion with this one.
“Yes, sir.”
“This is just a room with candles and incense and music. What makes it a holy place?”
Teo sighed. “It’s not what a place looks like that makes it holy, Mr. Sokolov, or what’s in it, or not in it. It’s what happens in a place.“
Sokolov nodded slowly. “And what happens in this room that makes it holy?” He seemed intent on pressing for an explanation.
“My work, sir.”
“Rubbing backs is holy?”
“Massage is more than that. At least it is to me. Sir, could I explain this to you as I work? I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a 3:30 scheduled and—“
Sokolov grunted and swung his legs onto the table.
“I’ll work on your back first, please, sir.”
As Sokolov turned and lay down on his belly, Teo continued. “The body is only one aspect of a person. It’s connected with a person’s spirit in ways that many people don’t understand. What I do with a body, I also do with the tensions and injuries of the spirit. Because of that, massages are… perhaps sacred is a better word than holy.”
“And you believe that, do you?”
“I don’t have to believe it, sir. I know it. There’s a difference.”
Sokolov snorted softly. “That’s woo-woo nonsense, surely.”
Teo bristled. He didn’t discuss his spiritual practices for that very reason. They were sacred. He knew some religious figure his mother had tried to tell him about, probably Jesus, said a thing about tossing pearls before swine. It fit. Though Sokolov was hardly a pig. Teo pulled his hands away from the man’s neck.
“Why are you stopping?”
“Because you have insulted me and though you may be a client, there is nothing in my job description that says I have to touch a man who insults me.”
“I have paid you for an hour massage.”
“No, sir, you haven’t. I’ll see you’re not charged for it.”
Sokolov raised his head and turned to look at Teo. “You mean that.”
“Yes, sir. I don’t speak untruths in my holy place. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll leave so you can dress.”
Sokolov grabbed his wrist as he passed the table. His grip was surprising, what some would call an iron grip, but Teo’s father had called it the talons of the eagle, and shown him how it could be used to control a man who had a desire to harm him. Does this man wish me harm, Raveneye?
“No. Don’t leave.”
“Let me go.” The skreigh of a raptor fluttered through Teo’s command. There were barbs in it.
Sokolov loosed his grip. “Don’t leave. Please.” He pushed up to a sitting position, letting the sheet slide away. “I apologize. I should not have spoken so harshly of something I do not understand. Please, stay. Finish the massage, and tell me more about how you know with such surety. Tell me about your people. Where do they come from? What are their beliefs?”
Teo raised an eyebrow. His wrist ached, but he’d not give the man the satisfaction of rubbing it in his presence. “Why?”
“Why should you stay, or why do I ask?”
“They are the same, truly. Because I am genuinely interested in what other people believe and where belief itself comes from.”
Teo studied the man’s eyes, the soul-lookers. It was there, the thing he said, wanting to know about things of the spirit. Raveneye, my friend, my companion, guide me in this speaking, that I may honor life, and preserve what is sacred.
“What you ask is complex. It cannot be spoken all at once. It’s a journey, and journeys are made of steps.”
“Then tell me the first step.”
“You aren’t ready. I’ll show you that I know, that I do see into both worlds. If you wish after that, I’ll complete the massage. If you want to take that first step, seek me out. When you’re ready. Then… we’ll see.”
“You make me no promises.”
“No, I don’t. You’re a stranger. We’re very careful with strangers.”
“Native Americans. I’m Navajo as well as Latino.”
“I see.” Sokolov was silent for a moment. “I understand that. I spent my early years in Transylvania.”
Teo smiled. “I get Tonto, you get Dracula.”
“Here’s how you will know that I know.” Teo closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath. When he felt the raven within, he re-opened his eyes. Then he opened his other eyes, the ones that see what is, and not what appears to be. He ran his gaze over Sokolov seeing rather than his well-muscled and unblemished body, the flow of his energy.
He laid a hand on Sokolov’s shoulder. “Here, you have a knot of tension. Not unusual.”
Next, he touched his lower back, just above the pelvis, on the right side. “Here, a nearly recovered pulled muscle. You were reaching for something. Something you wore on your back. It was out of place, just beyond your reach. You stretched badly.”
Sokolov drew in a breath.
“Here, a bruise. Eighth rib, not ninth. Not from the same incident. You slipped, likely on something damp on your kitchen floor, and stopped your fall when you caught the corner of the counter.”
Sokolov’s eyes rounded. “You… you cannot know that.”
“But I do. Lie down. I’ll finish your massage.”
“You said you could see wounds to the spirit.”
“I can, but there are rituals necessary that I won’t perform here, certainly not with another client due in little more than an hour. Lie down. Let my truth as well as my hands speak to you. When you know enough to put words to your questions, I will answer.”
Sokolov huffed, but settled onto the table again. The remainder of the allotted time passed in silence, as Teo worked his client’s tensions away with his hands and with his own energy flow. He watched with both sets of eyes as he worked down from his back, then up from his calves. Rather than tensing when Teo drew his hands lightly over the smooth globes of Sokolov’s ass, the man took a deep breath and held it, longer than most people untrained in yogic breathing could manage.
This man knows things most do not. And he is pleasing to my eyes, warm and yielding to my hands. He would be salt-sweet to my tongue. I want him, Raveneye. Shame at profaning the sacred work with his lust tightened the sinews of his arms.
Sokolov’s head came up and he rolled over. Teo jerked his hands away and stepped back, making sounds of regret and apology as Sokolov levered himself to sit on the edge of the table. Teo saw the path of his eyes, followed his gaze down his own torso.
“I… I’ll leave,” he stammered.
“Why? Because you are aroused, or because I know that you are aroused?”
“I am not—”
“You have told me you do not speak untruth in your holy place. Will you now make yourself a liar?” Sokolov’s voice was flint, and yet spoken as softly as the feathers that line a nest.
Teo’s shook his head. “No. My saying was that I am not clear within myself which it is. You see my desire. I feel shame.” He held up a hand. “Perhaps because I am aroused in my holy place, or perhaps because I cannot control that I am aroused.”
“Why is that shameful? You have surely been aroused by clients before.”
“No. Not like this.”
Sokolov lifted a brow toward the ceiling, even as he allowed his eyes to drop to Teo’s tented pants again. Teo squirmed under the pressure of this desirable man’s scrutiny, as his traitor cock stiffened into an even more pronounced tent pole. Finally Sokolov lifted his eyes to Teo’s and said, “I see no reason for you to feel shame. You find me attractive. Though I’ve told you I have no interest in sex with you, that does not mean I’m repulsed by your desire. I find it flattering. As you can see,” he looked down at his own motionless groin, pulling Teo’s gaze with him, “I don’t find it arousing, but I assure you, I am not repulsed by it. Stay. Finish the massage. You have already eased much of the tension, and yes, the pain also. Complete the work. Please.”
Perhaps I could speak about it more clearly, Teo thought, but I won’t try. Especially not after seeing… He cut off his thoughts abruptly. Dwelling on the thick dark curls nestling an uncut cock and tempting balls would serve neither man’s best interests. He gestured for his client to lie down once more. “No, Mr. Sokolov, lie on your back, please.” Help me, Raveneye, to put aside this desire. It is time to test my resolve.
Sokolov permitted a small smile and a twinkle in his eye. He laid back and made no move to cover his genitals with the sheet.
Is he tormenting me? Teo moved to the head of the table and began, as always, with his client’s scalp and facial muscles, working his way downward, working first one arm and then the other. He forced his thoughts toward only the energy flow and the alternately knotted and relaxed muscles he worked, until his erection was all but non-existent. It remained that way as he began on Sokolov’s chest, his fingers gliding easily over the dusting of dark hair that marked the beginning of a trail downward. He had reached his client’s abs when the talons of the eagle once again made themselves felt as Sokolov grabbed his wrist.
“Cover me,” he spoke gruffly.
Teo reached for the sheet and drew it across the man’s groin. He kept the smile to himself as he noted that Sokolov’s cock wasn’t quite as uninterested as it had been previously. The tightness around his client’s eyes and mouth made it clear that there had been nothing to see, that if Teo thought he had seen something, he had been mistaken. Fine, Mr. Sokolov. Not telling lies does not mean that everything must be spoken.
When the massage was complete, Teo slipped out quietly to prepare himself for his next client. Edie knew better than to speak to him as he shed the energies of one client in order to be fresh for the next.
When the door to his room opened, Teo looked away. Clients were often uncomfortable meeting his eyes after a session. Much is written on the pages of the body and some of the phrases aren’t pleasant. Sokolov walked up to him and stood, waiting silently for him to make eye contact.
“I want more,” he said after a moment.
“Edie will—” Teo looked up.
“Not just of that. The other, too. But not today. You were correct. I am not ready. Where can I reach you?”
‘The other, too?’ What other? Your disguised arousal? “When you are ready, close your eyes. Be still in your mind. Look for me with the eyes of your spirit. They will see me. Follow them.”
“Your schedule…”
“When you are ready, come. I will be waiting.”
Sokolov drew back. “An hour ago, I would have said that was psychic bullshit. Now, I am no longer certain. You are an unusual man.”
“As you yourself are, Mr. Sokolov.”
“Dusan. Call me Dusan, Teo.”
With that he was gone.