SLAVE is now a full time reviewer for Guys Like Romance, Too!

Please note that SLAVE's Erotic Review is on hiatus to catch up on reviews.

Friday, August 29, 2014

99 cent through Labor Day!

Thank you for having me as a guest today! I’m thrilled that Blue Skye is available for .99 cents at all vendor sites through Labor Day (thank you Musa Publishing!).

Blue Skye is dear to my heart. It’s one of my first published m/m romances, and not only does Blue Skye kick off my popular Woodland Village series but I have a soft spot for the characters Drew and Skye. This post allows me to reflect on these characters and my own writing.

I’m partial to best friends falling in love as well as second chances, which are both elements in Blue Skye. Skye Taylor and Drew Adams have been best friends since high school, and always had an attraction for each other. But Drew, born of wealth and privilege, had his life planned out from the moment he was placed in the cradle. With his future decided, Drew hadn’t the courage to climb out of his box created by his father’s expectations.

In contrast, Skye was raised by unconventional parents to express and be true to himself. His parents accepted he was gay, and were proud of Skye’s artistic accomplishments. They accepted Drew as part of their intimate family since he was Skye’s best friend. Though Drew loved Skye’s family, his own familial pull was to conform, especially since he’s the oldest son. Drew’s one rebellion against his father was choosing architecture over business in college.

I enjoy writing stories about characters’ finding the courage to embrace their originality and expression. Skye Taylor doesn’t have a problem with expressing his desires. In fact, sometimes this gets him in BIG trouble. But Skye’s ability to go after what he wants is also his strength, and Drew must draw on this strength to break free of his confines

I was surprised to find that after I had finished the second and third book in the series, I had woven within all three love stories an exploration of the father/son relationship. Drew has to stand up to his father in book one. In book two, Ryan’s Harbor, Martin has to accept that his conservative father will never fully accept him as gay. In book three, John’s Match, John has to accept his father’s illness and face losing the last of his family and being alone.

I believe parents sometimes put children behind imaginary bars without harmful intent. Expectations can play a major role in decisions a child makes, especially the desire to please a parent. I had a good relationship with both my parents, and yet, especially when I was younger, many decisions I had made were based on my parents’ expectations and their beliefs, not mine.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t live in a box of some making. I believe we are put here on Earth to learn to break down these imaginary walls that we built up with our negative thoughts or someone else’s dreams. Maybe that’s why I love writing romances. Love has a way of blasting down walls to the heart. Usually, it’s a hell of a ride getting to the happily ever after, but that’s what makes writing romances challenging and fun!

Award winner, Viki Lyn is a successful writer of sexy romance, both gay and straight. Many of her books are All Romance Ebook best sellers. She is a Rainbow Award winner and runner-up in the paranormal category. She likes to try new things, and at times, breaks the rules of her genre. But always, it’s the romance that drives her stories to their final happily-ever-after.

You can find Viki at:


Buy Links:

Blue Skye

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hump day with Dreamspinner Press: August Li



Hello everyone and thanks for stopping by today. My name is Gus Li, and I’m happy to be here.

For me, stepping “outside the box” means something different than it might for others. Most of my work is fantasy and steampunk on a large scale, full of magic, political intrigue, and battles—things which often involve entire countries or kingdoms. I like to write plots that are sweeping, long, have repercussions for the entire world, and are full of subplots and twists. There’s usually an element of romance, or several elements, since my books usually include a large cast of characters, but it isn’t the focus of the story. The relationships between characters influence the events of the story, as characters might be motivated to do something they normally wouldn’t for someone they care about, but the conflicts are often much larger.

I’m in my comfort zone writing stories like these. I love to write about large-scale battles, assassinations, and conspiracies. In my newest novel, Wine and Roses, I stepped beyond what I’m used to to write what I consider my first real “romance.” It takes place in the universe of my Blessed Epoch series, so there is magic and the world is in a precarious state and fairly brutal, but I wanted to focus on how “average” people functioned in that world and what their lives would be like. Previously, the characters in the Blessed Epoch have been powerful mages, assassins, princes, and knights. The main characters in Wine and Roses are Alain, a farmer and wine-maker, and Breeze, a mercenary.

Before I began writing the novel, I wondered how I would make it as interesting as the other books in the series. I realized at an early stage that it all came down to the characters. Their struggles might not be on as grand a scale as some other characters in the series, but it hardly made them less important. Alain’s battle to keep his centuries-old vineyard afloat after much of it is destroyed by a fire might not be the same as trying to keep two kingdoms from war—but it’s just as important to him, as is Breeze’s desire is find self-worth in a world that has told him he doesn’t have any.

Wine and Roses has a little magic, a little conflict, but a much lower body count than most of my work. It’s an exploration of how two men find what they need in each other and work to build a life they can both be happy with. It’s a bit of a departure from what I usually write, but I found myself just as involved with the characters and their struggles. There are some outside conflicts (when in life aren’t there?), but the point of the story is two very different men seeing past their prejudices and the pain of their pasts to find something special together.




Book Blurb:

Mage Yarroway L’Estrella decided the Battle of the Starlight Bridge when he summoned fire from the heavens. The blaze decimated much of the vineyard that has been in Alain Lamont’s family for nine generations. Mountain Shadow Winery may no longer be able to support Alain’s family or the dozens of others who call it home, but Alain vows not to fail all those depending on him.
Mercenary Fabrezio Orvina d’Caelus, Breeze to his friends, appreciates Alain taking him in when he’s badly wounded after the battle, but he has no intention of living the dull life of a farmer any longer than necessary. Though he likes the vintner, he sees Alain as soft and sheltered, hardly a man who can understand a warrior’s calling. 
As they live and work together, Alain realizes Breeze isn’t exactly the amoral opportunist he suspected, and Breeze sees more strength in Alain than he thought possible of a simple winemaker. Life on the estate is richer and less boring than Breeze first imagined. With ingenuity, courage, and cooperation, they may devise a way to revitalize the vineyard and move beyond the pain and loss of their pasts.

Excerpt:

Alain looked wan and pale when he came in with Breeze’s breakfast the following morning. The dark crescents under his blue eyes made Breeze wonder if he’d slept at all. He suspected Alain’s restlessness might have been his fault. He hadn’t realized Alain had lost his wife in the fire. What an ass.
Still, Alain offered him a smile as he set a tray bearing some porridge, boiled eggs, a slice of ham, and a bowl of beans on Breeze’s lap. He sat on the edge of the bed as he always did and poured wine. “How are you feeling this morning? Did you sleep well?”
“Better than it looks like you did. Why is that?”
“I’m fine.”
Breeze put down the forkful of bacon-flavored beans he’d been about to shovel into his mouth and took Alain’s hand. At his touch, Alain flinched and tried to pull away, but Breeze held firm, and eventually he relaxed. “Look, Alain. I’m just a sell-sword. I never claimed to be a scholar, but I feel like a stupid ass for not realizing you lost your wife in the fire. I hope that damned mage rots in the rankest pit of the Shades’ Abode. But I’m sorry for being dull-witted, and for letting my tongue wag like the fucking fool I am. I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry.”
When Alain looked at Breeze, tears glittered in his summer-sky eyes but didn’t fall. He shook his head. “No, I’ve never had a wife.”
“But Courtenay and Fenn?”
“My twin sister’s children. My niece and nephew. My brother-in-law, their father, died in the fire. I’m all they have left now. I… I don’t know if I’m good enough to raise them on my own. I love them, but I’m afraid I’ll fail them.”
“What happened to your sister?”
Alain caught the single tear he let fall on his fingertip and looked away to hide his grief. “She died giving birth to Fenn. Six years ago.”
Breeze didn’t know what to say, so he squeezed Alain’s hand a little tighter, and Alain squeezed back. What he really wanted to know was how Alain had remained unmarried. Breeze freely admitted he was a handsome man, with his rose-and-honey coloring and those expressive eyes. And lips—pink, firm, and full without looking pillowy or slack. Add to that his estate, and he could have his pick of the buxom country girls. If he wanted help with the children, why not take a wife? Could he be…. Damn, out of nowhere, Breeze really wanted to know whose body Alain imagined when he slid into bed and slipped his hand into his trousers. He could see it: Alain’s teeth denting his lower lip, red rushing all the way to the tips of his ears—
And he was a fucking pig for thinking about that while Alain struggled not to break down. Besides, it was none of his damned business who or what the vintner fucked, if anyone. Hopefully, in another month or so, he’d be long gone. On to better things. Still, he didn’t like seeing Alain suffering. “I’m sorry.” What a platitude. Breeze just wasn’t used to men who needed comforting.
Alain nodded. “Thank you. You should finish your breakfast so I can change your dressings. Best to get it over with.”
After a few more bites of food, Breeze asked, “Do you have a bathtub? I’m as rank as a whore’s underpants, and I’d kill for a proper wash.” He set his fork on his plate and scratched his chin. “And a shave.”
He didn’t know why that made Alain smile, but seeing it pleased him. “Why do you want to shave off your whiskers?”
“That’s just how it’s done in Espero. Men shave every day. The heat, I suppose. I’m just not used to these whiskers. Why, do you like them?”
Alain tensed visibly, and Breeze felt like horse’s ass. Again. He was making this a habit. Why had he said that?
“I don’t care about them one way or another. I just wondered. Most men in Selindria don’t shave their whiskers.”
“You do,” Breeze observed.
Alain touched his soft-looking cheek with the fingers of his splinted hand. The way Alain worked and took care of him, Breeze found it easy to forget about the other man’s injury. Truth be told, he bore it like a warrior. “Mine comes in all patchy. I can’t grow a proper beard, just little scraps here and there. I look like a fool when I don’t shave.”
Breeze wondered if the hair grew in little golden swaths down the center of his chest, his soft belly, between his legs. Bleeding Shades, he had to drive off the pictures in his head. They’d make an Elvaran street slag blush. “So, could I trouble you for a bath? I’m sure you’ve had your fill of my stink.”
“You’ll have to come down the stairs, to the kitchen. We have an indoor well and a tub in a room just beyond it. I can help you, if you think you can make it.”
“I think I can. I feel heartier than I have since I woke up.” And if Alain looked beneath Breeze’s sheets, he’d see plenty of proof. Probably best to get rid of that before Alain helped him bathe. He struggled to focus on his breakfast and think about anything else. Luckily, Alain helped distract him.
“So, I guessed you were from Espero. I haven’t met many people from the island. How long have you been away?”
“About seven years.”
“You must have been quite young when you left home,” Alain said.
“Yes, I’d just come of age.”
“Why did you leave?”
“Wanted to see the world, I suppose. Don’t you?”
Alain laughed. “No! I have everything I need right here. This land has been in my family for nine generations—almost five hundred years. Since my ancestors accepted this property from the valen of Lockhaven, it’s taken care of us. I love this place. I can’t imagine leaving. Espero wasn’t like that for you?”
“No.” Silence fell between them as Breeze finished his breakfast. He didn’t want to talk about Espero, and it wasn’t anything Alain would be able to comprehend. “You don’t want more for yourself? Something grander? Adventure and glory for your name?” What young man didn’t?
“No. I have no one to prove anything to. I love tending the grapes and the land. The goddesses have blessed us, and I’m thankful. My heart is here.”
Sounds frightfully dull, Breeze thought, if comfortable. “No aspirations at all?”
“Maybe just… someone to share it with. But that won’t happen.” Alain seemed ready say more, but stopped himself and paused before rushing to quantify his statement. “Not anytime soon, at least. I have too much to do to get the vineyard back to where it can support us. Buildings need repaired, and over half of the vines will have to be replanted. I can only pray we’ll be able to harvest enough come Berris’s Moon to produce enough wine to sell next year. What we have to take to market this summer will barely get us by. Too many of the cellars caved in when the support beams burned. Luckily, last year was good, and we’ll fetch a good price for what’s left. And we have the ice wine. I’m sorry. You probably don’t care about any of this.”
To Breeze’s surprise, he found he did, a little, and he caught himself imagining ways to help the vineyard thrive. Not that he knew a thing about it. “What is ice wine?”
“We leave the grapes on the vine until the frost, let them freeze before harvesting. The water in them turns to ice, and it concentrates their sweetness. We press them while they’re still frozen, and it produces the most exquisite wine, as golden as the sunlight, sweet as honey, and with a taste of the mountains and the winter. It can be sold for exorbitant prices; the nobles here in the north adore it. Ice wine is risky, though. First off, if the frost comes too late, we chance letting the grapes rot on the vine and losing an entire crop. Secondly, the frozen grapes produce much less juice than they would if we picked them normally, so of course they produce less wine.”
“That seems the thing to do, then. You might end up with less wine, but you’ll make more gold in the long run, won’t you?”
Alain wiggled his fingers in Breeze’s hand like he wanted to tap them on something as he considered. “Possibly. Not all the grapes will work, though. And there’s a good chance the goddesses and seasons won’t cooperate. We usually only risk a small portion of the grapes for the ice wine, those we can afford to lose. If we made them all into ice wine, we would do quite well, but if we lost them to rot, we’d be doomed.”
“Octavian always tells me destiny smiles on the bold man and ignores the timid.”
“You speak highly of him,” Alain said.
“He’s a good man, as I explained. Shrewd, though. Sharp as a dagger. And, I suppose, he was good to me. Gave me a chance.”
Alain looked at him intently, batting his long golden lashes, so Breeze continued. “He could have turned me away. I wasn’t much of a warrior when I went to join the Roses. But I told him my story, and he told me his, and it turned out they weren’t so different. He gave me a place to belong. Saw some worth in me that no one else ever had. I owe him a great deal.”
“You didn’t feel like you belonged in Espero?”
“No.” Dammit, he didn’t want to talk about this. He pulled loose of Alain’s hand and took a long drink of wine to avoid speaking.
“Why?”
“I just wanted a different life from the one laid out for me there. Same as Octavian. I wanted to make it on my own like he did. He’s not much older than us, you know.”
“He sounds like a remarkable man.” Alain looked like he wanted to say something else, but he busied himself with stacking Breeze’s empty dishes onto the tray. “I suppose we should see to your bath.”
Alain left the tray on the floor next to the bed and helped Breeze to stand. He arranged Breeze’s arm over his shoulders, and Breeze caught his own scent. Goddesses, he really reeked, and he felt suddenly self-conscious.
The trip down the stairs and through the cheery kitchen hurt less than Breeze expected, but by the time they reached the small, whitewashed room at the end of the long corridor, the side of his left thigh trembled and threatened to cramp. Alain helped him to sit on a wooden chair while he filled three metal pails from the pump and suspended them over a raised pit of coals in the corner of the room. Then he picked up a pair of shears. “Oh no. I have to take your bandages off, and you didn’t take your elixir.”
Breeze laughed. “I can hardly wash and shave myself if I’m fast asleep. Or were you planning to do it?”
Alain colored. Goddesses, that was alluring, and Breeze wondered how far the dusky-rose color spread down his neck. Even his lips darkened when he spoke. “I have done it, you know. Bathed you.”
“I know. Thank you. I was only teasing. I did not mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset. I just don’t like doing this. I know it’s necessary to the healing, but I don’t like seeing you… seeing anyone suffering. I should go back to your room and fetch the tonic.”
“I’d rather do without it,” Breeze said. “I’ve had enough of feeling fuzzy.”
“You really should—”
“Alain, I will be fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve been injured.” He didn’t add that it was by far the worst, or that he wanted to experience what was about to happen without the haze of the elixir.
“I’ll at least go the kitchen and get you more wine to dull the pain.”
He returned with an open bottle, and Breeze drank. Goddesses, this would spoil him. This tasted like wine from Espero, bright and bold with notes of bitter cherry, currant, the black stone Pherara had pulled from the sea to form the island, leather, and tarberry. He almost moaned as it slid down his throat to warm his belly. “Amazing. You made this?”
“It takes a great many people,” Alain said as he emptied the buckets into the round wooden tub.
“But according to your instructions,” Breeze pressed.
“Yes, I suppose.”
“You, my friend, are an artist.”
“Thank you, but that’s hardly the best we have to offer. Just table wine, really.”
“Goddesses.”
“Your bath is ready. I should take your dressings off. Drink some more.”
Breeze didn’t need to be told twice. After a few long pulls, he carefully rolled the loose brown trousers the children had given him to his ankles and lifted his feet out. Aside from the linen strips, he was completely naked. Not that he was shy—at Rosecairn, the men swam together in the summer and helped each other on and off with their armor. Besides, Alain had seen him, so he didn’t bother covering himself. When Alain turned and saw him sitting with his legs open, everything on display, he blushed almost as burgundy as the wine and tossed Breeze a towel.
Breeze chuckled but draped it across his sensitive bits. “I’m sure you’ve seen it.”
“I have seen it,” Alain said a little shortly, “not that I was trying to look, or staring at it, or something. I kept it covered up when I could!”
“I never meant to imply otherwise, friend.” Alain did not like being teased. Breeze was used to the back and forth jibes between the warriors at Rosecairn, and sometimes they grew quite vicious, but he didn’t want to make Alain uncomfortable. “You know me. Not used to the company of civilized men. I apologize.”

Links:


The Blessed Epoch series:

Gus’s Books at Dreamspinner Press:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Days of Wine and Spaceships



“Warp speed, Mr. Sulu.” “We'll be safe enough once we make the jump to hyperspace.” “…have you ever wondered what would happen if you opened a jump point while inside a jump gate?”

Anyone even a teensy bit familiar with Science Fiction in film and TV will understand the quotes above. You might not be able to place each quote with the correct work, but you know that each of these statements refers to a starship about to travel at some faster than light equivalent speed. We’ve dealt with this concept for so many years now, that many science fiction authors take for granted the existence of a “warp” or “hyper” drive or some sort of wormhole/hyperspace junction and use them as shorthand, as the “stuff we haven’t invented yet but will” short cut to inter-system travel.

Sometimes that’s not the focus of the story, so perhaps it would detract from the exploration, peril, politics, romance, and so on we often encounter in our space-based stories. But isn’t it fun sometimes to think about the possibilities? What will the new tech look like? What undiscovered links in the physical world do have still to stumble upon that would allow interstellar transport?

Just last week, NASA confirmed that the EmDrive, a propellant-less propulsion system that converts microwave energy into thrust, actually does work despite being physically impossible. Mind you, the thrust generated was incredibly tiny – but the point was there should have been none, no thrust at all. I saw the name of this thing and wondered if they’d stolen it from me. ;) (Not really – the similar name is a coincidence and my GEM drive was developed several years ago.)

The point is we’re still learning, all the time. What we thought was ridiculous ten years ago, turns out to be possible after all. The GEM drive, the method central to my novel Gravitational Attraction, (and used throughout the ESTO Universe ever since) stands for the gravito-electromagnetic drive. It’s an absurd notion in many ways if we use today’s absolutes – but given the weird discoveries of the past few years, no longer as farfetched. My son and I discussed the possibility a few years ago now, the thought being that there is a yet to be discovered unifying theory or gravity and electromagnetism.

We have a whole history of GEM theory mapped out – I won’t subject you to that here – as well as the discovery of lumanium, the necessary, radical isotope of lead, devoid of any neutrons needed to shield a ship from the destructive forces generated by the GEM drive. Lumanium is the first ever discovered gravitational insulator, capable of nullifying gravitational forces. To clarify, this does not mean that it is not affected by gravity, only that it does not transfer gravitational forces. So the lumanium Mondal shields insulate the ship from the forces of gravity. In essence, the gyroscopic drive creates an ever-expanding gravity well that propels the ship and would crush it without the lumanium Mondal shields in place.

Unless you’re a science geek, I’ve probably put you to sleep. The novel, being a novel about people and not exclusively tech, doesn’t go into detail about how the drive works. However, because of the way it does work, the drive becomes not only a central motif to the story but also a way to explain what happens to Turk’s brain after experimental surgery.

Really. You’ll have to take my word for it unless you read the book. Sometimes the shortcuts are fun – sometimes it more fun to think what might actually be.

Gravitational Attraction
M/M Science Fiction from Angel Martinez

Where brain induced gravity wells meet alien landscapes…


Blurb:

A mysterious distress call draws the crew of courier ship Hermes to what appears to be an empty, drifting troop vessel--empty except for the blood and gore spattered corridors and a lone survivor locked in a holding cell. Drawn to the handsome, traumatized man, the crew’s comm officer, Isaac Ozawa, makes Turk his personal responsibility, offering him the kindness and warmth he needs after the horror he experienced.

Isaac knows firsthand what it’s like to be different and an outcast, and this cements their bond. Once a promising pilot, Isaac was left with a damaged body when his brain didn't meld with the high-tech implant needed to fly fighter ships. Turk’s brain is no better. The result of a military experiment gone wrong, his natural abilities have been augmented to a dangerous degree.

When an amoral, power-hungry admiral kidnaps Isaac and uses him to convince Turk to become the cataclysmic weapon he’s hungered for, it will take Turk’s strength, the ingenuity of the Hermes crew, the help of the enigmatic Drak’tar, and Isaac’s own stubborn will to save them.

About Angel Martinez:
Angel Martinez, the unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for over twenty-five years) and gave birth to one amazing son (now in college.) While Angel has worked, in no particular order, as a state park employee, retail worker, medic, LPN, call center zombie, banker, and corporate drone, none of these occupations quite fit.
She now writes full time because she finally can, and has been happily astonished to have her work place consistently in the annual Rainbow Awards. Angel currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.
 
Website: http://angelmartinezauthor.weebly.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amartinez2
Facebook Author Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/495188947277007/
Twitter: @AngelMartinezrr
E-mail: ravenesperanza@yahoo.com



Friday, August 15, 2014

Zombie romance?? Huh?



Hi Everyone
Jaxx Steele here to share zombies with you. I Love You to Death is my first zombie story. I will admit that I am not your average zombie fan. I found the whole ooey gooey falling apart thing totally disgusting actually until I watched an episode of the Walking Dead. I was surprised at how good the show was. The zombie thing didn’t overwhelm the story line like I thought it would which is why I didn’t bother watching it in the first place. That was my issue with all the books, movies or shows with zombies. That, and...well, they’re disgusting looking.
Then I decided what the hey. It was outside my comfort zone, but so what. I popped into a few zombie lover chat rooms, asked them a bunch of questions, then tossed around a few ideas and volia! I Love You to Death was born a short time later. Granted, it isn’t your typical zombie story, but those who read my stuff know I don’t do typical anyway. :-)




To start their lives anew, Mike and Bill are leaving the chill winters of Chicago behind for the warm breezes of San Fernando Valley. On their cross country road trip they experience different foods, cozy country towns and…zombies??

Excerpt:
Mike chuckled while pulling the menus from between the condiments, then slid one across the table.
Bill crinkled his nose as he looked it. The ink was faded and the wrinkled paper had grease stains everywhere. He pinched the corner and flipped it back and forth.
“You’re not seriously considering ordering something to eat from here are you?”
“Yup. You cook enough healthy mumbo jumbo to keep us around for the next thousand years. I planned on eating my way across country with this trip. Every little dive we hit I’m blogging about the food they serve.”
“After four years of being with you, it still amazes me that you will put anything in your mouth,” Bill mentioned leaning on the table.
Mike lifted his eyes from the menu giving him a sly grin. “That may be true, but only special stuff returns to my mouth over and over,” he said with a wink.
Bill laughed. “You’re such a horn dog. So I guess Blakely’s famous Green Bean and Mountain Oyster Pie will make your blog?”
“Oh hell yeah. Who the hell is going to believe me if I don’t chroniclize that?” Mike added quotations in the air and burst into laughter.
Their fun was cut short with Mabel’s return. She placed their glasses before them, then stood silently, pen poised.
“Okay, well I will have the double cheese burger with fries and a piece of that delicious sounding mountain oyster and green bean pie,” Mike said returning the menu.
Bill grimaced again hearing Mike’s order. He opened his mouth to say something, but the heat of Mabel’s stare made him turn his head in her direction.
“Uh, yes, I’ll have the grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad with whatever vinaigrette dressing you have.”
Her stare lingered a moment longer before she scribbled on her pad. “All right then. Be right up.”
Bill released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding and slumped in the seat. “That woman hates me.”
Mike laughed. “Hates you? She doesn’t even know you. Now break out the map. After we eat we need to get some gas and get out of this one horse town.”
Bill shook his head and spread the map across the table. As they figured out their next move, he couldn’t ignore the burning eyes of the town’s people. With a clear plan of action, Mike pulled the paper off the table and folded the map expertly before putting it in his pocket to give Mabel room to set their plates.
“Here’s your food and the bill.”
“Thanks, Mabel. After we eat we’ll need some gas. Can you—”
“Blakely doesn’t have a gas station. You’ll have to go on down to Gideon. It’s about a half hour down the road. I suggest you eat fast, boys. The sun is already setting. The normal town’s folk don’t stay out after dark. Just pay over there when you’re done,” she told them before leaving.
Mike pulled out his phone to take a picture of his plates. Bill’s eyes widened looking at Mike’s food. Mike put his phone away and delved into his food without hesitation.
He scoffed. “God, how can you eat that, Mike?”
“What?” he muttered with his mouth full. “Eat your food.” Mike pushed his plate across the table.
Bill recoiled. “Are you kidding me?” he screeched, his tone a mixture of panic and amazement. He looked around conspiratorially and lowered his voice. “That burger is sitting in a puddle of dark yellow grease.”
Mike took two more huge bites, then stuffed some fries into his mouth and shrugged. “That’s the flavor’s essence.”
Bill made a face at him. “I swear, you must be an alien to have a cast iron stomach like that.”
Looking down at his plate, Bill had never seen a more deplorable salad. The lettuce, pitiful wilted pale green leaves with brown edges. Six pieces of what looked like petrified chicken sat in the center with shriveled cherry tomatoes, croutons and a small dose of blue tipped shredded cheese. Curling his lips in disgust, he pushed the plate away.
“I am not eating that,” he said, wrapping his arms around his chest.
Mike wiped his mouth on his napkin and pulled his other plate closer to him.
“Suit yourself, baby, but all we have in the car are energy bars, trail mix and waters. It was your idea to stop in the ma and pa spots along the way to Cali to eat our main meals for the experience.”
Mike wiggled his head from side to side emphasizing the last word with a dramatic, wavy voice.
Bill stared at the food in front of Mike. Though he couldn’t tell what the ingredients really were the dark brown, lumpy piece of meat wrapped in pastry didn’t look like any pie he had ever seen, nor did it have same effect on his olfactory senses. Instead of the sweet smell that tickled your nose and made you smile when one came in proximity with pies that were considered desserts, its aroma made him want to hurl. When Mike’s fork scraped the tip away, the pie made a sick squishy sound. Bill’s breath caught as he watched in awe as the utensil rose to Mike’s mouth without hesitation. Mike ate the foul smelling dessert with gusto.
“Well,” Bill asked eagerly.
Mike pushed the plate away. “Oh, yeah, that tastes gross.”
“This surprises you?” Bill asked on a chuckle.
“Not really. I figured it would be, but I didn’t want to assume,” Mike admitted with a laughing grin.
Bill rolled his eyes and his arms relaxed. “Can we just get out of here now? Everyone is leaving,” he said nodding his head.
“Oh yeah, I’m done.” Mike looked around. “What the—”
Bill followed his gaze. “Where did everyone go?”
“Everyone started leaving just before you started in on that delicious pie of yours. See, only those two bubbas are left at the counter,” he added in a lower tone.
I guess these little country hicks are afraid of the dark.”
“So how do we pay for the food?”
A mischievous smile spread across Mike’s face. “I guess it’s free.”
“Now you know we can’t do that. Regardless to how nasty the food was, I think that’s too much like dining and ditching.”
“Okay, you boys ready? We’re closing right now. It’s past time,” Mabel said returning to their table.
“I’ll wait in the car,” Bill said hurrying away from her.
Mike chuckled and followed Mabel.
The sky darkened quickly with just the glow of the sun behind the mountains in the distance. Bill lingered a moment to take a picture of the beautiful colors in the distance. Grinning at the image, he continued across the parking lot to the car. Before pulling the door open, he caught sight of a man coming toward him. Dressed in dark blue with a wide brim hat, the man had a large intimidating presence like the cops Bill knew in Chicago. A dull golden star on his shirt pocket glinted in the dwindling light as he came closer. Bill turned toward him to intercept.
“Hello Sheriff. We just ate in the diner and were wondering if you could tell us how far the next town is. We need to get some gas.”
The officer didn’t answer but continued to close the distance between them. Bill stopped walking and his brows furrowed. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.
“Sir, is everything all right?”
The sheriff reached Bill, grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him forward. Bill gasped, trying to pull away, but couldn’t break the strong grip.
“Hey! What are you doing? Let me go!”
The man’s pale skin and vacant stare was horrifying. He continued to pull on Bill trying to bring him even closer, but Bill jerked himself from side to side struggling. The cop gave no explanation as he leaned down to bite Bill on the shoulder.
“Oww!”
Shock shot through his system followed by pain. Swinging wildly, he beat the man on the head. Finally, the sheriff reeled backward, tearing a chunk of Bill’s shoulder away. Bill screamed again. His assailant’s grip loosened momentarily as he chewed Bill’s flesh. He took the opportunity to jerk away and make a run for the car. As Mike came from the diner, Bill waved frantically to get his attention.
“Mike, get in the car quick!”
Bill swung the door open, then slammed it shut behind him. He reached toward the backseat to grab his jacket. Balling up one of the sleeves, he pressed the material to his arm. He looked out the window. To his horror the sheriff was walking slowly toward the car. Other people were coming from around the corner as well. He pushed the lever down to lock his door. The driver’s door swung open and he screeched.
“What the hell is going on?” 
*****
 
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