The Christmas Accomplice

The Christmas Accomplice cover image

A vacation mix up.
A job promotion on the line.
A fateful roll of the dice.

Welton Monroe is on his first vacation in a very long time. He’s not a winter sport enthusiast, but the cozy cabin at the Snowcapped resort, and Reece Donaghy, the hunky employee who checks him in, seem perfect to finally put his relationship with Dean in the past. That is, until Dean arrives. In an effort to make up for past wrongs, Dean offers to help Welton win Reece’s heart, an offer Welton grudgingly accepts.

Reece should be focusing on the Assistant Activities Director promotion he’s put in for, but he’s more than distracted by Welton. In a whirlwind week of activities, Welton and Reece discover the Christmas magic in snowman building, karaoke, and tobogganing. But when the secret Welton has been keeping comes to light, and a final, large-scale challenge is assigned to Reece for his chance to win the promotion, it seems a week’s worth of Christmas spirit may not be enough to keep them together once the holiday is over.

Excerpt:

The song ended, but they continued to dance, moving slowly, hands clasped. When the unmistakable bulge of Reece’s erection grazed across his own, Welton let out a quiet gasp. As he stared into Reece’s eyes, his heart pounded and his scalp tingled. There was no denying now Reece was gay and attracted to him. All Welton had to do was move a little closer, close his eyes, and Reece would undoubtedly kiss him.

But why should Welton have to wait to be kissed? Why couldn’t he simply take the first step and initiate the kiss? All his life he’d been waiting for things to come to him: the right job, a nice apartment, the perfect boyfriend. He could change all that right now by taking the lead and kissing Reece. That was all there was to it. One simple kiss, and Welton knew his life would change.

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Before Welton could make his move, the radio clipped to Reece’s belt let out a burst of static, and a woman’s voice said, “Reece? You there?”

They jumped apart like two teenagers caught making out in a dark basement. They laughed and Reece grabbed the radio and brought it to his lips. His full, perfect lips that Welton was kicking himself now for not kissing.

COLLAPSE

Dread of Night

Something big is prowling the woods around Parson’s Hollow, and Demetrius Singleton is afraid it’s another wolfman. The sudden arrival of Cody’s niece, Summer, and the strange behavior of Demetrius’ Aunt Amelia distract the two newlyweds from investigating until they learn some people have gone missing and others have been violently murdered. Demetrius and Cody now realize they are the only two with enough experience to stop whatever lurks in the woods.

Refusing to believe in a paranormal entity, Deputy Lucia Durant calls in a State Police sergeant, and Cody and Demetrius are surprised to find it’s Hap Blanchard, an officer they’ve worked with before who’s more open to paranormal possibilities. Soon, Demetrius, Cody, Lucia, and Hap are joined by a number of familiar friends who help them race the countdown to the next full moon and solve their most deadly and personal case yet.

Excerpt:

“Okay, so we have a lot to do, and we’re going to need some fuel to do it," Demetrius said. "What’d you two find for dinner?”

Cody exchanged a look with Summer. “Ketchup surprise.”

“Didn’t you two just go shopping?” Demmy said.

“You guys eat out a lot,” Summer said. “Do you ever cook?”

“Sometimes,” Cody said. “When we’re not hunting monsters.” He stood up and said, “Let’s get our fancy clothes on and go to Antonio’s.”

“What?” Demmy looked surprised. “Did you win the lottery or something?”

“Nope. Just think we should treat ourselves once in a while.”

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“Is it like Margie’s?” Summer asked, looking at him suspiciously. “Is Antonio Margie’s brother or something?”

“Antonio’s is the nicest restaurant in town,” Demmy said.

“Tablecloths and cloth napkins and glass goblets for water.”

“Won’t Margie miss you?”

“If you want, we could stay here and you could make us all dinner,” Cody said.

“Antonio’s sounds nice.”

“I thought you might see it that way.”

“Back to Parson’s Pines afterward?” Demmy asked. “Check on Felicia?”

Summer got up from the table and ran toward the guest room. “I’ll get changed! Do I need to wear long pants for such a fancy restaurant?”

“We’ve created a monster hunting monster,” Cody said.

“Let’s hope she doesn’t get a taste for it,” Demmy said, giving him a quick kiss before walking to the bedroom to change.

A note taped on the inside of Antonio’s glass door read: Sorry, closed due to family emergency.

“That sounds ominous,” Demmy said.

Cody had been thinking along the same lines. “How old is good ol’ Antonio?”

Demmy shrugged. “Not sure. We don’t eat here often enough to really know him.”

“Correction,” Cody said, “we don’t make enough money to be able to eat here often enough to really know him.”

Demmy grinned. “I stand corrected.”

That grin helped Cody feel a bit better in spite of everything. It let him know things probably weren’t as bad as they seemed. Yet.

He turned away from Antonio’s door and stopped at the sight of Summer standing just behind him with her arms crossed and a sulky expression.

“I take it we’re going to Margie’s again?” she said.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, there aren’t a lot of options here in town,” Cody said.

“Have you considered going to another town?”

Cody frowned. “Why would we do that?”

“Ugh.” Summer turned toward Margie’s Diner, several storefronts away. “I put on long pants for this.”

COLLAPSE

A Tangle of Secrets

Town of Superstition: Book Four

An old enemy creeps closer than ever before, intent on extracting revenge.

New challenges arise as family dynamics are suddenly shifted following the great battle in Iron Gulch.

Thaddeus Cane has returned to the town of Superstition a very different boy. Even with all the changes he’s experienced over the summer, however, Thaddeus must still attend classes at yet another new school. But this school year, he has a completely different mindset. Now he’s a wizard who can perform magic.

Keeping his abilities secret, however, proves more complicated than Thaddeus anticipated, especially when he’s confronted by the school bully. In addition to the challenge of high school, Thaddeus is continually reminded of the dark forces aligned against him, and now it appears they’ve set their sights on Teofil and his family as well. New friendships at school and Teofil’s fixation on finding the answers to painful family secrets strain the bond between Thaddeus and Teofil. The truth they seek to uncover may prove to be too much for their very new relationship.

Excerpt:

Teofil looked around the library to make sure no one was near before he leaned in and lowered his voice. "Try something less specific, like how an un-gifted would explain something unusual."

"That's interesting."

Thaddeus stared at the computer screen as he thought about Teofil's suggestion. A thought came to him and he leaned forward again to type. He had no luck with the words "strange," "unusual," "weird," or "odd." He sighed and looked up at the ceiling as he thought about all of the things he had seen. The trolls near the Lost Forest, the reaper grub they had saved Dulindir from, and then the water sprites in the Wretched River. All of those creatures paled in comparison to the goblins and ghouls, which in turn had fallen under the terrible claws of the Bearagon inside the mine.

The Bearagon.

"I've got it," Thaddeus whispered.

"What?" Teofil looked to the screen. "I don't see anything."

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"Not yet." Thaddeus typed WEREWOLF and pressed Enter.

One article was returned, and Teofil drew in a sharp breath.

"The Bearagon," he whispered.

They smiled at each other before Thaddeus clicked on the link. The article was from the previous November and told of how two hunters from out of state were stalked by a large animal while camping one night. They had first thought the animal to be a bear, but when they left the tent to investigate, found a much larger and more ferocious beast waiting. One of the men went so far as to call it a werewolf.

"That's got to be it," Teofil said.

Thaddeus nodded. "I agree. This was months before my dad and I moved to Superstition. The Bearagon was sighted here in the area before we moved to Superstition and it started stalking me."

"Does it say where they saw it?" Teofil asked.

Thaddeus scanned the article. "Nothing specific. Just says in the woods northwest of town, a little north of Evergreen Pass."

"I wonder how far away that is?" Teofil sat back. "Maybe we could take a look there before we need to get on the bus for home."

"Let's ask." Before he got up, Thaddeus clicked the Print button and grabbed the printout of the article from a printer located near the librarian's desk.

When they asked the librarian about the location of the woods north of Evergreen Pass, she shook her head. "You're much too young to be out there on your own. If you're hunting, you'll need a license and an adult to accompany you."

"We're not here to hunt," Thaddeus said. "We just heard the view is especially nice in that area."

The librarian narrowed her eyes. "You may fool your parents or teachers with that kind of malarky, but you're not fooling me. There's been no sign of the monster for weeks, now you both scoot on home."

"Weeks?" Teofil exclaimed.

"We just knew about the sighting from last November," Thaddeus said.

"You'll not be hearing anything more from me," the librarian said and turned away to check out some books for a woman.

Thaddeus and Teofil returned to the room with the wide and shallow drawers. Pulling open the drawer marked AUGUST, Thaddeus grabbed all of the issues and carried them to the table at which they'd previously sat.

"We need to read more carefully," Thaddeus said as he moved his gaze down the copy on the front page.

"How did we miss it?" Teofil wondered.

"We fell into a routine," Thaddeus said. "Or they covered it up."

A few minutes later, Teofil let out a quiet gasp. "Here it is. The article's title is a bit misleading though. It says 'Another Large Bear Sighting?'"

"Where was it sighted?" Thaddeus got out of his chair and rounded the table to sit beside him. "Was it the Bearagon?"

"I don't know," Teofil replied as he ran his finger down the copy. "It's kind of vague."

They sat close, heads nearly touching as they both read the article. It was short in both word count and details, but as he read it, Thaddeus could put together the scene quite easily.

COLLAPSE

The Battle of Iron Gulch

Town of Superstition: Book Three

The Battle of Iron Gulch cover art

A strange mining town in the shadow of a mountain.
A hidden enemy, dangerous and… hungry.

On their hunt for the missing dragon, Thaddeus and Teofil find themselves stuck in Iron Gulch, a mysterious town at the foot of Wraith Mountain. With no cash, their group’s only choice is to exchange chores for lodging at a local B & B.

As they explore the town, Thaddeus and Teofil soon discover some of Iron Gulch’s more eccentric residents might actually be dangerous. Snooping one night in the mines, they uncover the new and deadly enemy and a bloody battle breaks out in Iron Gulch.

Thaddeus’ magic is new and untested, but he’ll have to master his powers quickly to save the people of the town and the family he loves. When the dragon suddenly returns, the tide of battle takes a drastic and fatal turn that changes their lives forever.

Excerpt:

The fire crackled, and tiny sparks and embers spiraled up toward the velvety purple sky that stretched overhead. Something rustled in the grass a dozen or more feet away. Thaddeus got to his feet and Teofil stood alongside him.

“Did you hear that?” Thaddeus whispered.

“I did,” Teofil replied.

“Where’s your father?” Miriam asked, and when Thaddeus looked around, he found her and Astrid standing and looking off into the darkness as well.

A chill of fear went through him, leaving him as cold as if he’d swallowed water from the Wretched River. He was in motion before he realized it, sprinting out into the darkness that surrounded their small campfire. The grasses parted around him, the sounds of the tall blades like conspiratorial whispers.

“Dad?” Thaddeus called. Nathan did not answer, and so he tried again, a little louder, squinting into the dark.

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A warm glow suddenly appeared, revealing Teofil standing a few feet behind him, shoulders and expression tense. Then Thaddeus realized that Dulindir had followed him as well, his hair glowing with starlight and illuminating the immediate area.

“He was walking off in this direction the last I saw him,” Dulindir said and pointed.

A shout that sounded like his father prompted Thaddeus to break into a run.

“Dad!” Thaddeus shouted. “Where are you?”

“Thaddeus, wait!” Teofil called, and Thaddeus could hear him coming up behind. But Thaddeus could not wait. His father had been gravely ill just days before, grazed by a troll’s poison dart, and Thaddeus worried that Nathan might not be strong enough to fight off another threat.
In his panicked rush to find him, Thaddeus very nearly passed his father by. A rustling off to his left brought him to a stop, and then Dulindir stood beside him, illuminating the area. Nathan lay on his back, struggling with a small creature he was trying to pull off his chest.

The creature was small and dark in color. It had short but powerful-looking limbs, each of which appeared to end in hands tipped with claws. Spikes ran from the crown of its slightly flattened head and along its spine to a stubby tail.

“Dad!” Thaddeus exclaimed as Nathan struggled to keep the thing from biting his neck.

“Stay back!” Nathan shouted without looking at him.

“Goblin,” Dulindir said and looked over his shoulder as he pulled out his sword. “They are rarely alone.”

Frustration, fear, and anger seemed to collide within Thaddeus as he stood helplessly by, watching his father fight for his life. He clenched his fists and bit his lip as a warm tingle started within his chest. It traveled down his arms and seemed to pool in the palms of his hands, stinging slightly as it instilled within him the need to act, to move, to do something, anything.

Thaddeus thrust out his arms, fingers curled into claws as he released a shout of rage. The heat in his palms seemed to leap from his hands, directed right at the goblin. With a jolt the creature stopped struggling with Nathan and looked over its scaly shoulder to fix Thaddeus with a hostile look. It felt to Thaddeus as if he now held the goblin in his hands, even though he stood at least a dozen feet away. And the goblin seemed to be feeling Thaddeus’s touch as well, because it pulled out of Nathan’s grasp and turned to face him, still standing on his father and holding him in place.

When the goblin moved, it seemed to move within Thaddeus’s grip, and the sensation was so startling, and the feel of the creature so disgusting, Thaddeus reacted without thinking. He flung his arms to the side as if throwing it far away from him. To his astonishment the goblin was hurled off his father’s chest and sent spinning high into the air, an annoyed and surprised yelp fading away into the night.

The heat in Thaddeus’s palms cooled immediately, and he stood staring down at his hands. Dulindir, Teofil, and Nathan all stared at him as well, and then Nathan broke the stunned silence by falling flat on his back and laughing long and loud up at the night sky. After a moment, the rest of them followed suit. The laugh felt odd but refreshing to Thaddeus. He approached and reached down to help his father stand.

Nathan clapped a hand on Thaddeus’s shoulder and squeezed. “Apparently either you or someone you care about needs to be in danger for you to conjure magic.”

Thaddeus grinned and shrugged. “I guess so. Hopefully I can learn to do it without the danger.”

“We’ll work on that,” Nathan promised him.

“We should move back to the fire,” Dulindir said. He had his back to them and stood staring out at the grass, which was shifting quietly in the slight breeze. “Goblins rarely travel alone, especially this far from a mountain, and light hurts their eyes.”

Thaddeus helped Nathan pick up the wood he had dropped when the goblin attacked him, and they made their way back to the fire.

COLLAPSE

The Well of Tears

Town of Superstition: Book Two

A massive forest populated by creatures both dangerous and trustworthy.
A source of power stronger than anything previously known.

Far from his home in Superstition, Thaddeus Cane is in a race against dark forces to track down a dragon and break a curse.

Teofil, his neighbor and new boyfriend, accompanies him, bravely standing by his side and facing down dangers as they search for a place whispered of in legend. Along the way, Thaddeus feels the first stirrings of love, as well as the awakening of a power he never imagined possible. When old secrets are finally revealed, will his new-found family be strong enough to survive the devastating shock?

Excerpt:

“Long ago,” Astrid explained, “there came a great sickness that swept across the land. It infected those who lived in the forest and surrounding country, and it was quite deadly. Many died from it, and those who cared for their loved ones who were first infected caught it as well, until only a handful of survivors remained.”

“How awful,” Thaddeus said.

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“They never found out where it originated,” Astrid continued. “And so they buried all the bodies in a long pit, somewhere deep inside the forest. After many years, the infected blood from all of those bodies found its way into the soil and, finally, the roots of the trees around the grave. Those trees grew darker and twisted, and bore fruit that tasted vile and sour. The foul fruit attracted evil into the forest, and as time went on, the magical creatures who had survived the sickness left the forest and the darker beings took over. The gravesite has since been lost, and any who have gone in search of it have never returned.”

“Wow,” Thaddeus whispered. “That’s quite a story. And we have to go through this forest?”

“Just keep in mind that’s what it is,” Nathan said. “A story.”

“Suit yourself,” Astrid said. “But I’ve heard the story from more than one source.”

“You forgot the best part,” Fetter piped up.

“What do you mean?” Astrid asked, her voice edged with annoyance.

“About the well,” Fetter said.

Astrid sighed, and Thaddeus glanced back in time to see her roll her eyes. “You and that ridiculous well,” Astrid said.

“It’s the best part of the story!” Fetter nearly shouted.

“Keep your voices down, both of you,” Miriam scolded them gently. They all fell silent a moment, then Miriam said, “And you did leave out that part, Astrid.”

“See?” Fetter immediately said. “I told you!”

“Shut up!” Astrid snapped.

“Oh, for the love of geranium, both of you keep still!” Miriam said. She marched up to get between Astrid and Thaddeus and lowered her voice as she told the part of the story Astrid had skipped. “You see, the people who lived within the forest had no idea what was making their loved ones so sick. It could be something they were eating, or maybe the water they were drinking. To be safe, they dug a new well far outside their village. At first, the water they pulled up from this new well was cool, clear, and plentiful, but soon it dried up, with no explanation or reason. Those who still remained would gather at the edge of the well and lower the bucket with hopes of finding just a little bit of fresh water, but there was none to be had. They cried as they circled the well, so very thirsty and still heartbroken from the loss of their loved ones, and soon their tears filled it up, but that was too salty for them to drink, so they had to move away.”

Miriam gave a nod and adjusted her pack across her shoulders. “To this day, that well remains, somewhere deep within the Lost Forest, filled with the shimmering tears of a great number of magical beings. The magic contained within that Well of Tears is powerful indeed, because it’s the collected power of all of the enchanted creatures.”

“The Well of Tears?” Thaddeus whispered.

“That’s what they call it,” Fetter said from the back of the line. “Isn’t it a great name?”

Astrid made a disgusted sound. “It’s a horrible name. Ridiculous and romantic, and not even a good part of the story. No one’s ever seen it, and do you know how many tears it would take to fill a well? It’s not even possible!”

Thaddeus followed his father, who forged a path through the tall grass. As he walked, his thoughts strayed to a mass grave filled with the bones of magical beings surrounded by dark, twisted trees and a well filled with tears, and he wondered—not for the last time, he was sure—if he would ever stop being surprised by this strange new world he had discovered.

COLLAPSE

The Midnight Gardener

Town of Superstition: Book One

The Midnight Gardener cover art

A lonely teenage boy whose father has moved them too often for him to make lasting friendships.
A mysterious neighbor his own age who hums as he gardens... at night... surrounded by fireflies.

Superstition is the town Thaddeus Cane and his father, Nathan, have settled in this time, and every evening Thaddeus becomes more intrigued with his new neighbor. When Thaddeus finally works up the nerve to visit his neighbor, the crush blooming underneath surfaces, and he realizes that Teofil, the midnight gardener, is lonely as well.

When his father finds out where he's been spending his time, Thaddeus is forbidden from returning. But the attraction is too strong, and soon Thaddeus is back in Teofil's yard, leading to the revelation of long held secrets that upend Thaddeus' quiet life and sends him on the adventure of a lifetime.

Excerpt:

He had left his windows open a bit to enjoy the night air, and the sound of someone humming drew him to the one that faced west. Thaddeus peered down into their neighbor’s yard where the light of the moon bleached the color from the flowers and the grass. Someone was out in the yard, moving from flowerbed to flowerbed, humming an odd tune. Fireflies danced around the figure, and Thaddeus frowned as he watched them move along with the person. He’d never known fireflies to trail after someone like that. This deserved a closer look.

The grass was wet and cool under his bare feet, sending a shiver up Thaddeus’s legs. He crept along the tall, wooden privacy fence, looking for a space between the boards or a knothole he might be able to peer through. But the fence was solidly built, and Thaddeus couldn’t find even the smallest crack to try and get a glimpse of the mysterious neighbor.

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On the other side of the fence, Thaddeus could hear the humming gardener moving closer to the fence. A few fireflies drifted over the top and circled Thaddeus’s head, their lights flashing in rhythm. He moved a few steps back, and the fireflies spun around the place where he had been standing before rising up and slipping back over the fence.

Just as Thaddeus parted his lips to call a greeting over the fence, the skin at the back of his neck prickled, and he stopped. Someone was watching him.

He turned slowly toward the wooded area at the edge of their property. Just inside the closely spaced trees, Thaddeus saw something standing very still and staring at him. It was an animal of some kind, a big one, but he couldn’t tell if it was a dog or a wolf, or maybe even a cougar, as the moonlight didn’t reach far enough between the trees to illuminate it.

Chills rattled through him, stilling his voice and freezing him in place. He stared at the creature in the woods, trying to decipher form from shadow. It stared back, not moving or making a sound, and that was more frightening to Thaddeus than if the thing charged him.

The humming grew louder as the midnight gardener moved to a flowerbed just on the other side of the fence from Thaddeus. Thaddeus swallowed and tried to find his voice to shout a warning to his neighbor, but decided it would be unnecessary since his yard was completely closed in. Instead, he willed his legs to move and stepped backward toward the house. The shadowy creature remained standing in place, but it lowered its large head, and moonlight flashed within its eyes.

That sparked a reaction within Thaddeus, a thawing out of his fear, and he turned his back to run to the house, glancing over his shoulder every second step. Nothing pursued him, and he stepped through the side door and quickly closed and locked it behind him. Now that he was safe inside, shivers took him, and he stepped up and down in place to get them out of his system.

He crept upstairs, being quiet so as not to wake his father whose room was at the top of the steps. After pausing in the bathroom to wipe the grass and dew from his bare feet, he entered his bedroom and leaned out the window that overlooked the neighbor’s yard. The mysterious gardener was gone, and the fireflies now meandered around both yards, sparking and fading like normal insects. Thaddeus leaned a bit farther out of the window to see the place in the woods where the animal had stood and watched him. He squinted but couldn’t tell if the creature still lurked in the shadows.

With another shiver, he drew back inside and closed the window. After a second’s hesitation, he latched it even though his bedroom was on the second floor. Despite the excitement of his midnight sojourn, or maybe because of it, a yawn crept up on him. He slipped beneath the sheets and curled up on his side. He yawned once more before drifting off to sleep, where he dreamed of walking through a dense wood while a large creature followed him, both of them trying to track down the person who was humming a tune among the trees.

COLLAPSE

Swamped By Fear

Critter Catchers Book Three

While in Florida visiting Demetrius’s parents, best friends and business partners Cody and Demetrius realize their feelings for each other run deeper than just friendship. As they each struggle with emotions that promise to either detonate or deepen their relationship, Demetrius must also deal with his mother’s health issues. When a missing person’s case hits a little too close to home, the two tangle with a creature so frightening it’s scaring alligators out of the Everglades and into the swimming pools!

Excerpt:

“Hey Mr. Gator," Demetrius said as he dipped the end of the leaf net in the water and made some splashing sounds. "Let's get you out of there, okay? You've got to hate the chlorine, don't you? I bet it's messing up your eyes, isn't it?"

The alligator floated closer to the edge of the pool. Demetrius took a step back, extending his reach to keep the edge of the leaf net just above the water.

"Careful Demmy," Cody said in a calm, gentle voice.

"Yep, absolutely."

He knew alligators could move fast, but when the thing lunged at the leaf rake, as prepared as he thought he was, it still surprised him. The gator grabbed the leaf rake in its strong jaws and twisted as it dove beneath the water. Demetrius reacted without thinking and tightened his grip instead of releasing the rake. As the gator pulled the leaf rake under, it pulled Demetrius into the pool and under the water as well.

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Fear flared inside him, hot and suffocating. He remembered to release the leaf rake and struggled up to the surface. This section of the pool was ten feet deep, so he couldn't touch the bottom. Every moment he expected to feel the alligator's jaws clamp down on his foot or his leg and drag him underwater for good. Demetrius swam toward the pool's edge that seemed miles away instead of just a few feet. Cody was shouting something, but Demetrius couldn't make it out over the sound of his own panting breath and splashing water.

Something hit him in the back of the head and Demetrius screamed, thinking it was the alligator. But then he realized it was the life ring that Cody had thrown to him. He grabbed the ring to hold himself up and looked across the length of the pool as he reached out for the concrete edge. The alligator swam right for him, its snout creating a furrow through the water. Demetrius's heart pounded, and his breath came in short pants. He was never going to see how his mother's surgery went. He was never going to see his parents again. He was going to die with a whole list of things he had yet to do.

Cody was shouting his name over and over again, but Demetrius could not understand what he was saying. All he heard was the blood rushing in his ears and the sound of his own breathing. The alligator lifted its nose up out of the water and started to open its jaws. It was only a few feet from him now, and coming fast like a speedboat.

Demetrius pushed off from the wall, dragging the life ring along without thinking about it. The alligator missed him and hit the edge of the pool, sending a tidal wave of water out onto the deck. It thrashed its tail in anger. Demetrius did the sidestroke, heading for the shallow end of the pool as he kept the gator in sight, his left arm hooked through the life ring.

The alligator dove under the water and a sense of panic enveloped and consumed the fear inside him. The panic built on the fear, quadrupling then octupling it until it lived within him like some kind of invasive spirit, making it difficult for him to breathe.

Something tugged on the life ring, pulling him off his course and toward the side of the pool closest to the house. At that moment he felt the swell of displaced water behind him and it pushed him even closer to the house side of the pool. The alligator had surfaced right where he had been swimming, and if he hadn't been pulled out of the gator's path, it would have dragged him beneath the water and drowned him.

Cody crouched on the side of the pool, Hubert right behind him, both of them pulling on the rope tied to the life ring, dragging Demetrius through the water. Both men were shouting, but Demetrius still couldn't understand what they were saying as his heart pounded, his breath rasped in his throat, and the water sloshed around him. He touched the side of the pool and then reached up, feet kicking, stretching for the bottom but still unable to find it. How fucking deep was this pool, anyway? Then Cody had hold of his hands and lifted him out of the water and into his arms.

"I've got you," Cody said, holding him tight. "I've got you. You're safe."

Demetrius's heart pounded, and he could feel Cody's heart beating in time. They both had been frightened by his fall into the pool.

COLLAPSE

Screams of the Season

Critter Catchers Book Five

The holiday season pounces on Cody and Demetrius like one of the monsters they’ve tangled with. After their first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner as a couple, the two travel to Colorado to visit Cody's parents for Christmas. With all four of Cody's brothers expected as well, they're in for some pretty intense Bower family time.

When Cody's father drives his truck off the road and goes missing two days before Christmas, tensions run high within the Bower family. After Demetrius discovers some unusual clues at the scene of the accident, he and Cody suspect Greg Bower's disappearance might be tied to something more monstrous than icy roads. As often happens when the guys start working a case, some bizarre twists and turns leave Cody cursing monsters as he wonders if his parents' relationship is as solid as he's always believed.

In between samples of Cody’s brother’s primo cannabis product, the two deal with the rest of Cody's brothers, Christmas shopping with his nieces and nephews, a movie stuntman with a terrible sense of direction, and a police sergeant with some secrets of his own.

Excerpt:

Cody stopped and leaned against a hardwood tree to catch his breath and looked back. Demmy had paused as well, propping himself against a different tree as he panted. His face was red, and sweat stood out on his forehead just beneath his hat.

"This deep snow is hard to walk through," Demmy said.

"This may not have been my best idea."

"Better than trying to skateboard down my road by holding onto the back fender of my bike."

Cody chuckled and flexed his knee. "I still have the scars from those scrapes."

"I'm very aware of every one of your scars." Demmy grinned and waggled his eyebrows.

"If I weren't afraid of passing out trying to peel off all your layers, I'd be all over you right now."

"You say the sweetest things."

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Before Cody could suggest they turn back, he heard a sound. From Demmy's expression, he'd heard it too. Cody looked into the trees ahead of them. The sun was sinking fast, and the light played tricks with his eyes, making shadows seem to move. He held up a hand for Demmy to stay where he was and took three long, careful steps.

Something moved behind a tree about ten feet in front of him. It was tall and broad and looked like it was covered in hair.

Fucking hell. It could be a bear. Or Demmy might have been right about that footprint.

Cody started to look back at Demmy and motion for him to retreat, but the tall, broad, hairy figure moved. It faced away from them, shifting position as the muscles in its back flexed. It lifted its leg, pulling a massive foot out of the snow and planting it behind for better support.

And then it turned and looked over its shoulder right at him.

"Run!" Cody shouted.

He turned away from the thing and took off running. Demmy wasted no time asking what he'd seen. He had already turned and started running back the way they'd come.

Cody heard the thing rumble some kind of growl, and the sound urged him to move faster. Demmy was a few feet in front of him, high-stepping to clear the snow, both of them grunting and panting.

A mix of growls and snorts from behind sent shivers through him. He expected to feel a big hand grab his shoulder and spin him around, and then the thing would choke him until it crushed his neck.

How far had they walked away from the wider animal run? It felt like they had been trying to escape forever.

He risked a glance back, and his heart hammered even faster.

The thing was bounding after them, the fur around its face dusted with snow, highlighting the simian appearance. It reached out for him, but Cody was a few feet out of its reach.

"Faster!" Cody shouted.

Demmy looked back, his eyes big and his mouth a dark O of shock and exertion.

"What the fuck?" Demmy managed to shout between gasps.

"Just go!"

They burst out of the trees onto the animal run. Free of the thigh-deep snow, Demmy sprinted through the more widely-spaced pine trees and out into the open field. Cody was just a few feet behind him, and he could see people standing around the police cruisers in the gas station parking lot on the other side of the field.

He looked back and gasped with relief. The thing had not pursued them across the animal run. Cody could barely see its outline, glaring at him from behind a couple of trees.

Cody slowed a bit and managed to say, "Demmy… It's okay… It stopped."

Demmy looked back and then tripped over his own feet and went down on the snow. He reached Demmy and dropped to his knees beside him. They were both out of breath as they looked at each other.

"You okay?" Cody asked.

Demmy nodded. "Was it…?"

"Bigfoot? Most likely." Cody looked back, but the thing had moved back into the trees out of sight. "Fucking monsters."

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The Devil of Pinesville

Critter Catchers Book Four

It's business as usual for Critter Catchers Demmy and Cody, with one pretty major change. Now, they're not only juggling their animal control business and decades of friendship, but the beginnings of a romance as well. Cody's always put a time limit on his past relationships, and he's certain he's going to mess things up with Demmy. For his part, Demmy is pretty sure Cody will, too. But trouble arrives in the form of one of Demmy's ex-boyfriends who contacts them about a case they might be able to handle in Pinesville, New Jersey. Sensing not just physical but romantic danger, Cody makes certain to accompany Demmy on the trip.

In Pinesville, they meet up with a handful of residents just as colorful, if not more so, than those in Parson's Hollow. And both are surprised to find they have some competition on this case, namely the Critter Ridders, a pair of very competitive women operating their own animal control business.

As the case intensifies, tempers flare and loyalties are tested, bringing Demmy and Cody to the point where they must decide if they're willing to save the business, their friendship, or their romance.

Excerpt:

Cody set the flashlight on the ground, beam pointed at two of the cages occupied by pacing skunks. He hefted the wet towels, one in each hand, as he looked for the one remaining skunk, of which there was no sign. "And the towels are going to keep their spray from getting out of the cage?"

"That's what the site claimed," Demmy said.

"Well, if it's on the internet, it must be true."

"Are you ready?"

"No."

They stood in place, towels in hand, flashlights on the ground and aimed at the cages.

"How about now?" Demmy asked.

"I'd like to know where that other skunk got off to."

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Barking erupted from behind them. It was frenzied and high-pitched, intermixed with shouts of surprise from Jugs. A string of harsh curses quickly followed, and the stink of skunk floated to them on the evening breeze. Moments later, Jugs rushed past them, eyes wide in the glow of their flashlights. His arms were stretched as far out as he could reach, and he held a frantically wriggling Enid Helen.

"She's hit!" Jugs shouted as he ran past. "It got her."

"Guess that answers my question," Cody said.

Demmy nodded. "Let's go."

Cody managed to drape a towel over the first cage with no problem. As he moved to the second cage, he stooped to pick up his flashlight and directed it toward the area of the yard where they'd been sitting. Jugs's lawn chair lay on its side, but there was no sign of the skunk.

With his attention diverted, Cody didn't realize how close he was to the next cage until his foot bumped against it. He cursed as he stumbled over it, the flashlight tumbling from his grip as he stretched out his hands to break his fall. A pungent stink exploded around him. He gagged and turned away to draw in a breath of fresh air as he scrambled to try and stand. His feet went out from under him and he fell flat on his stomach, face turned so he stared at the business end of the elusive skunk. He had just enough time to squeeze his eyes shut and turn his face away before he got blasted a second time.

"Shit!" Demmy shouted from somewhere nearby. "I got sprayed."

Cody kept his eyes closed and held his breath as he got to his hands and knees. He crawled blindly away from the skunks, lungs aching for fresh air. He ran into something and fell on top of it, rolling onto his side as he gasped for breath.

"What the fuck?" Demmy said from beneath him. "Oh, god. You… Skunks!"

Another blast of awful stink erupted around them. Cody's eyes burned and tears streamed down his face as he coughed and gagged, trying to catch his breath. Demmy squirmed beneath him, gagging as well, and suddenly Cody was rolled to the side. He got to his hands and knees and crawled a few feet away. The smell was everywhere, he couldn't get away from it. His nose and throat burned. It felt like steel wool had been packed into his lungs.

He gasped and drew in a deep breath. The searing odor filled his chest and his stomach twisted in revolt. Moments later, everything he'd eaten came up in a burning rush. He blurted out curses between each ugly clench of his gut until there was nothing left. Fuck, he hated throwing up.

A hand touched his back and ran slowly up and down his spine.

Demmy.

And from the lightness of his touch, Cody thought — hoped — that Demmy had forgiven him.

"I covered the three cages," Demmy said. "Can you stand?"

"I can't see anything," Cody said. "It got in my eyes."

"It's all over you. And pretty much all over me as well."

Demmy helped Cody to his feet and they moved away from the cages. The air cleared with each stumbling step, until they reached the chairs. A lingering cloud of skunk stink washed over them and Cody gagged again and went down on one knee.

"Shit." Demmy grunted as he tried to keep Cody on his feet. "This is where Enid Helen got sprayed. Over here. Come on."

Demmy directed Cody across the yard. After they'd staggered a distance from the chairs, Cody went down on his hands and knees. He could barely see his fingers splayed in the thick grass from the tears blurring his vision.

"Fuckin' skunks," Cody managed between coughing fits.

"Stay here," Demmy instructed. "I'll get the hose over here so you can wash your face and flush your eyes."

Cody put his forehead against the cool grass. He took deep, gulping breaths and kept his eyes squeezed shut as he muttered, "Fuckin' skunks."

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Stakes & Spurs

Venom Valley Book Two

Stakes & Spurs
Part of the Venom Valley series:

Dex Wells, former deputy of the prairie town of Belkin’s Pass, awakes to the sound of screaming. He is chained to the wall of a cave, prisoner of the powerful vampire Balthazar, who has turned many of the residents of Belkin’s Pass into vampires like him, and used most others as food. Balthazar keeps Dex as bait, hoping to lure Dex’s lover, Josh Stanton, into the caves and capture him. There is something different about Josh, Balthazar senses it, but what that difference is he can’t quite tell.

Josh Stanton can raise the dead. It’s a power he’s always had within him, and something he’s considered a curse. Now, however, he’s discovered that the risen dead can bite through vampire skin and bones. If he can just learn to control the power and, with it, the dead he’s resurrected, he might be able to save his lover, Dex, from Balthazar’s caves. But there’s still a bounty on Josh’s head for a murder he did not commit, and he ends up back in Belkin’s Pass with Glory, a half Indian, half white former saloon girl watched over by a Native American spirit. Together, they gather the few residents left alive and make a stand against the rampaging vampires and the wolves under their control.

The arrival of two members of the US Army, however, throws their careful plans into uncertainty as Josh is taken into custody. Can he convince the Army men the truth of their outrageous claims? And can Dex be saved before Balthazar turns him into a vampire as well?

Excerpt:

The rain had not let up, and Josh was soaked through, cold to the bone, which made the first flush of heat inside of him that much more noticeable. It started in the middle of his torso and slowly spread through him the closer they rode toward town. As the heat slid through his veins and dug into his limbs and organs, Josh swallowed past the fear in his throat and looked at his surroundings, because he knew what the sensation meant.

Death was close.

Staggered towers of rock gleamed dark in a flash of lightning, and he realized with a start the route Sheriff Haden had taken to get back to town so fast. It was passable but seldom used by travelers due to the rugged terrain.

And it would take them right past the Belkin’s Pass cemetery.

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Josh closed his eyes and focused his energy and attention away from the bodies buried ahead. He was tired, though, and could feel them lying there, starving and cold. He could almost smell the damp earth pressing in around them, feel the cold in their bloodless limbs, the hunger for flesh should they awaken.

He needed to learn how to control this power, harness it, and use it only in extreme situations. Raising the dead was a sacrilege, an affront to the natural law of life and death. He needed to understand it, work through this power, and use it to keep the dead in their graves and not lurching toward people, hungry for blood. The power ran deep inside him, though, and he didn’t have a firm grasp on it. If he got near a body, it would rise and attack him and anyone with him, hungry for flesh, for life.

“Dark’s comin’ fast.”

Glory’s voice brought him out of his thoughts, and he looked at the sky swollen with thunderheads. She was right. The sun, hidden by heavy thunderheads, would almost be down.

“Shut up back there,” Deputy Wallace snapped.

“We need to get inside,” Josh called up to the men. “It’s not safe out here after dark.”

“I wouldn’t think you’d be so eager to be inside,” Sheriff Haden said over his shoulder, “seeing as how you’ll be spending a long time inside a jail cell.”

“The men who took your daughter will return when the sun goes down,” Glory said. “They’ll take anyone they find on the street or anyone who invites them into their homes. No one in town is safe anymore, don’t you see?”

Haden reined in his horse and turned in the saddle. A quick movement brought his gun up, and Josh found himself impressed with the swiftness of the man’s draw even as a tremor of fear worked through him. He never knew the sheriff was so adept with his weapon.

“You’re not to speak about my daughter!” Haden shouted. “Not a word about my Hattie should come from your dirty whore mouth, do you understand?”

Josh looked over at Glory, watched her jaw tighten, and saw her sit up high and straight in the saddle. The muted final rays of light behind the storm clouds glittered in her dark eyes. Just when he thought she might say something to encourage Haden to shoot her, Glory surprised him by giving the man a single nod.

Relief unwound within Josh’s gut, and he looked back at the sheriff, continuing to slowly work his wrists within the wet and loosening ropes.

“What in God’s name…?”

Haden stared between Glory and Josh, past them, and his expression changed from anger to confusion and then to fear. Josh looked over his shoulder to see a number of figures striding toward them through the rain, a line of wolves just behind.

“Vampires,” Glory said.

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