Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Author Extra: Loving Aiden by Ashavan Doyon

Loving Aiden by Ashavan Doyon

Samuel Riley is gorgeous - tall, muscular, and intelligent. The girls love
him. And so does his roommate, Aidan Flemming. Secretly, of course, because
Aidan is as gay as Sammy is straight - and even the out and proud Aidan
knows there are limits to Sammy's acceptance. Cursed to watch as Sammy dates
half the co-eds on campus, a lonely Aidan spends his time writing, helping
Sammy and his friends survive literature classes, and recovering from a
disastrous love affair that left Aidan heartbroken.

But when happiness finally comes for Aidan in the body of his roommate's
fellow rower, all that changes. In Steven, Aidan finds happiness and
romance. The rower, a blond, blue-eyed Adonis, makes Aidan feel desired and
appreciated. But their very public courtship stirs up controversy and
violence, and Aidan's life gets very complicated.

Attacks rock the campus community, and in the middle of the upheaval, Aidan
finds himself noticed by the last person he'd expect. Samuel Riley, his
roommate, his impossible dream, and just possibly, a very jealous suitor.
But the jealous suitor has a girlfriend. And she is not happy.

buy link:

Author Extra:

Aidan turned onto the narrow service road that led to the dorm. He pulled up
near the building and onto the grass. This early there weren't many students
about yet. Aidan stepped out of the car, wincing a little at the sudden
heat. He was dressed as he always did in a long sleeve shirt and a buttoned
waistcoat. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and lightly dabbed at
the sweat that had immediately broken out on his forehead. 

"Oooh. Hey, guys, here he is. Our resident piss-ant fag."

Aidan turned and gave the line of lounging young men a glance. He conceded
only a single raised eyebrow as he passed them by, ignoring the ongoing
catcalls. He should report them. But nothing was ever done about it.
Instead, he entered the small residential office at the side of the
building. A student asked his room number, and more numbly than really
warranted at this early hour offered him his key. He took it and looked at
the label. Samuel Riley.

"This isn't mine," he said to one of the students handing out keys.

The perky young woman glanced at it quickly. "Oh, sorry. That's your
roommate's key." She ruffled through the box. "Ah, here it is. Sorry about
that," she said, taking the key back from him and handing him another.

"Thanks," he muttered, and turned to leave, barreling into a very tall young
man. He looked up and all he could think of was dark. The man's skin was
charcoal black, and slick from the heat. Aidan stammered a quick apology

"Ain't no skin off my teeth," said the man with a smile, his cheeks showing
deep dimples.

Aidan was sure his heart was going to stop, and he quickly looked at the
ground to hide the red in his cheeks even as he hastened his way to the
door. He was hit immediately with another catcall. The row of young men
stood idly by cars still stuffed with boxes. The staff would help people
later on as more keys were picked up, and they were waiting, as they always
did. Most of them wouldn't carry a single box of their own.

Aidan did not glare, though he wanted to. Instead he went to his car and
pulled out the first box. 

"Showing off that ass? You maybe want som--" the young man yelped suddenly.

Aidan turned to see the man he'd run into in the office staring down the row
of young men.

"Have a problem with him?" asked the man.

"Come on, Sammy, kid's a fag. Look at him!"

And Sammy looked. Aidan was being given a thorough once over. Sammy
chuckled, showing his dimples again and slapped the other man on the
shoulder. "Don't know what you're worried about. His eyes are on me." Sammy
stripped off his shirt, stuffing it into a back pocket where it hung loosely
against his leg. "See?"

"Sammy, he's looking at you!"

And Aidan was. His eyes were locked on Sammy, on perfectly chiseled abs,
gazing across the broad, smooth chest.

"Has taste," said Sammy with a grin, showing dimples again. "Clearly you lot
of cowards got nothin' to worry about."

Sammy walked away from the row of young men and stepped up to Aidan. "Need
some help?" he asked.

Numbly, Aidan nodded.

Sammy smiled, clapped him on the shoulder, and took the box from his hands.
"Let's get these boxes upstairs."

Aidan gulped and softly murmured a thank you.

"Ain't no problem, roommie."

Aidan's eyes widened. Sammy. Samuel Riley. Dear God, this was his roommate.

New Release Day

We hope you enjoy our weekly new release email each week.  We love to know our readers thoughts so email our General Manager at

Loving Aidan
By: Ashavan Doyon
323 pages / 86000 words
ISBN: 978-1-61040-508-9
Buy Link:
Also available in paperback from
Samuel Riley is gorgeous - tall, muscular, and intelligent. The girls love him. And so does his roommate, Aidan Flemming. Secretly, of course, because Aidan is as gay as Sammy is straight - and even the out and proud Aidan knows there are limits to Sammy's acceptance. Cursed to watch as Sammy dates half the co-eds on campus, a lonely Aidan spends his time writing, helping Sammy and his friends survive literature classes, and recovering from a disastrous love affair that left Aidan heartbroken.
But when happiness finally comes for Aidan in the body of his roommate's fellow rower, all that changes. In Steven, Aidan finds happiness and romance. The rower, a blond, blue-eyed Adonis, makes Aidan feel desired and appreciated. But their very public courtship stirs up controversy and violence, and Aidan's life gets very complicated.
Attacks rock the campus community, and in the middle of the upheaval, Aidan finds himself noticed by the last person he'd expect. Samuel Riley, his roommate, his impossible dream, and just possibly, a very jealous suitor. But the jealous suitor has a girlfriend. And she is not happy.

Falling From a Height
By: AR Moler
72 pages / 20700 words
ISBN: 978-1-61040-509-6
Buy Link:
Navy SEAL and Division P operative Jonas Nightengale is sent to Ft. Detrick, MD to determine who tried to divert a highly secret experimental missile. Sergeant Sarah Quilleran is in charge of security for the weapon and is overseeing the site where the missile landed-"in" the side of a cliff. While trying to use his psychic abilities (the talents that make him a part-time Division P agent) the two nearly fall from the cliff. Jonas saves Sarah's life and still manages to retrieve some information about the instigators of the security breach.
Sarah Quilleran is on emotional lock-down. She has spent her whole life denying that her psychic abilities are anything more than an occasional really accurate hunch. Her erratic, untrained gift often leaves her with either too much or too little information about the people around her. Things get sticky when the folks who want that weapon decide that they really want it, and are willing to do anything to get it. Will a bullet end the beginnings of Jonas' and Sarah's relationship?
Publisher’s Note: The Division P series is primarily GLBT in nature. However, this volume contains non-GLBT relationships.
Originally published by Shadowfire, and self-published.

Fourth of July Fireworks
By: M. Durango
12 pages / 3000 words
Buy Link:
Matt and Christian from Where You Least Expect It are back! It’s Fourth of July and Christian wants to go to the fireworks show; Matt’s hot and bothered and wants to stay home. Christian promises to make it up to him later and they head off to the park to watch things explode. Christian might be focused on the fireworks, but Matt’s still focused on Christian. Lucky for them, the night is chilly and no one looks twice when they cuddle under a blanket. Even luckier, no one can see what Matt’s hands are doing to Christian.

Heart of Stars
By: DC Juris
25 pages / 7000 words
Buy Link:
It takes a bloody battle, the death of several of his men, and a near death experience of his own for Afron to see what lies in his heart for Makara. Now the barbarian won't let anything stand in the way of their destiny -- not even the prostitute's petulant (if half-hearted) refusal to see him.
Coming Next Week...

One Warlock's Love Story
by Shad O. Walker
One Warlock's Love Story is the supernatural coming of age story of warlock Zander Knight. This epic tale spans twelve installments with villainous vampires, sexy shape shifters, wild warlocks, fierce fairies, great sex, and the kind of drama only found in the best urban literature. This is real Black magic!
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Box of Nails: This Young Stud
by Sean Michael
There's something wrong with Paul -- he breaks Doms. So when he falls for Jeff, the new house "mom", the best thing he can do is stay away. Too bad his heart is already hooked.
Genre: Contemporary, BDSM

Get Him to the Geek
by DC Juris
Two years is a long time to swear off love, but John Daily is doing just fine. His best friend, Sylvia, has other plans, if she can just get him to the geek...
Genre: Contemporary

On Sale This Week

This week we have books by M. Durango, DC Juris, and AR Moler, on sale at 20% off.

Check them out!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Meme Monday: Expensive Gift

What's the most ridiculously expensive gift you gave someone? Did you regret it afterwards?

New This Week

Hearts of Stars by  DC Juris (Short Story, M/M) 
Afron won't let anything stand in the way of his destiny with Makara -- not even the prostitute's petulant (if half-hearted) refusal to see him

Falling From a Height by AR Moler (Novella, M/F) 
When you’re falling off a cliff, what do you wish for?

Fourth of July Fireworks by M. Durango (Short Story, M/M)
Christian wants to watch the fireworks, but Matt just wants Christian. Lucky for them, the cover of darkness—and a strategically placed blanket—let both have their way.

Loving Aiden by Ashavan Doyon (Novel, M/M) 
Aidan's roommate Sammy is straight. So of course Aidan is in love with him. But when happiness comes for him in the body of a gorgeous rower, will his roommate get jealous?

Look for them on Wednesday July 31 at Torquere Books

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Author Extra: Beneath the Mask by Mychael Black

Beneath the Mask by Mychael Black

Lance Shaw has achieved the impossible: secured an interview with the
enigmatic and reclusive leader of the Inferi Brotherhood, a splinter group
of vampires that broke off from the Romanorum in the 13th century. When he
meets Triarius, he's instantly intrigued. The vampire is petite but
possesses a personality that far exceeds anyone Lance has ever known.
Triarius isn't beautiful by any means, and the silver mask he wears over
half his scarred face attests to the brutality of his world. But just when
Lance thinks he's done, Triarius changes the game. Abducted and dragged deep
beneath the Snowdonia Mountains in Wales, Lance discovers an entire world no
one has ever seen, and, in time, he discovers the true man behind the silver

Originally published in the Spiked anthology.

Buy link:

Author Extra:

Triarius was my first anti-hero, and he quickly developed something of a
cult following. He's not pretty like many vampires, and he's got a pretty
big cruel streak when the situation warrants it. But he also has a heart. He
was once mortal, after all. Lance Shaw captured it and never let go. This is
their debut story, but they have others, and a cameo in another novel. The
reading order for the Legends of the Romanorum and Inferi Brotherhood books
are on my website, from top (first) to bottom (last). Though they are
separate series, they all are connected through the same world, and some
characters. Triarius and Lance, and their third companion, show up in the
third Romanorum book, which would take place after Necessary Evil. Sound
complicated? Try writing it! *grins*

Reading Order of both series combined:

The Prince's Angel
And the Two Shall Become One
Beneath the Mask
Sight Unseen
Necessary Evil
Forever May Not Be Long Enough

Friday, July 26, 2013

Author Extra: Hitched, a Hammer story by Sean Michael

Hitched, a Hammer story by Sean Michael

The proposal was the easy part, but can Marcus and Jim survive planning the

Jim asked Marcus to marry him on Valentine's Day and his master said yes.
That should have been the hard part, right? Jim goes into full perfectionist
mode, though, wanting everything to be just right for his master, and soon
he's stressed and unhappy.

When the planning also interferes with Marcus and Jim's usual routine,
miscommunication and misunderstandings follow. Is a wedding really worth all
the aggravation?

buy link:

Author Extra:

How this all began…

So I was doing little bits of fun stuff to post on my livejournal for
Valentine's Day and as I was wrapping it up, this happened:

Jim hands Marcus a tiny box Happy Valentines
Marcus: What's this baby? Marcus turns it over in his hand 
Jim: Your present.
Marcus opens it to find a black sapphire ring Oh, baby. It's beautiful.
Thank you.
Jim: Marry me?
Marcus stares and his smile slowly gets bigger and bigger: Yes.

I couldn't leave it there, could I? So Hitched happened :)

In lieu of gifts, Jim and Marcus would like donations made to your local
glbt youth organization.

But you know, if they were to register it would be at a custom tools
manufacturer and a sex toys shop. After all, you can never have too many
tools or too many sex toys.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Putting the Excitement back in their Menage

Blurb: “Untamable”:
Jewel, Donovan, and Oscar live together but the excitement has gone out of their relationship. She makes holiday plans to spice things up. Jewel's thought of everything, but will Donovan and Oscar rise to the challenge?

WARNING PG 13 Excerpt: “Untamable”:
Jewel never thought she'd have to say it, but frankly, her ménage relationship with Donovan and Oscar had become boring, predictable, and stale. The three of them acted more like old married fifty-somethings than three trendy, young, ménage-sharing twenty-somethings.
They should be eager to jump into bed together or fuck up against the wall, filled with raw passion for each other. Instead, Oscar was so tired after work he fell asleep on the sofa in front of the television, while Donovan sat at the table surrounded by a mountain of paperwork he'd brought home from the office. At night, in their apartment, instead of screams of passion, there were soft snores from Oscar, and groans of frustration from Donovan as he hunted for missing pieces of data.
"We're all still young. We should be in bed having sex," she said aloud in the living room.
Neither man paid any attention to her.
She had the feeling that even if she stripped off, Oscar wouldn't wake up, and Donovan wouldn't notice unless she started dancing on the table between him and his spreadsheets.
"You're not listening, are you? I may as well be invisible!"
No response.
The way Jewel saw it, she had two options -- find herself a new relationship or kick the men into action and reignite some passion in their existing threesome. Jewel slitted her eyes and gazed critically at the men. Donovan had short, blond hair, deep blue eyes, was a fraction over six feet tall, and looked like a muscular Viking. Under that boring, plain, navy blue sweater, he had the most intricate tribal tattoo across his right upper arm. He also had a large cock that he knew how to use to hit her just right to bring her to a screaming orgasm. Not that they'd done that too often lately.
Oscar slumped on the sofa, his red head thrown back against the top of it. He had the very fair skin and pale blue-gray eyes common to redheads. He also had a lean, lithe, runner's build, making him appear taller than his six-foot-even height. His cock was a mighty fine piece of equipment, too. Oscar and Donovan were both bisexual, comfortable with fucking each other, or fucking her, or fucking as a threesome.
It wouldn't even be so bad if the men were fucking like bunnies. At least I could watch them. But lately, no one here is getting any!

Buy link:

Berengaria Brown

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Researching Can Be Fun

Hi, everyone. Laney Cairo here.

The re-release of "Marginalia" has reminded me of the research I undertook while preparing to write the novella, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about my research process.

My research tends to fall into broad categories of information and experience, acquired either opportunistically or deliberately. Writers have a reputation for being a lazy lot, lolling around at their keyboards, drinking endless mugs of coffee and not doing much except thinking.

This is sometimes true, and I have to admit that I consider the dress code the best perk of being a writer. The relentless repurposing and mistreatment of my health science background is an excellent example of opportunistically acquired intellectual research, requiring little additional effort. I already know a lot about how people's bodies do and don't work and it's easy to tell stories using this. I do wonder if "write what you know" is necessarily the wisest advice, or whether it is exactly what a group of people who think a bathrobe is work attire would choose as an aspirational slogan.

 For "Marginalia", I did fill some information gaps for world building. I didn't know the shape of the harbor shoreline around Rose Bay, or where the existing train lines exactly were, or many other small details. Future Sydney is somewhere between Current Sydney, Current Buenos Aires and a nightmare. At the time I wrote "Marginalia", I hadn't taught a university unit on climate change or travelled as much as I have now, and I wish I'd made the world harsher. My next dystopia will be meaner!

Travelling (this blog post was written in Bergen, Norway) is not something I do directly and intentionally as part of writing. I don't go places just so I can have experiences and write about them. Even while I'm mooching around a new city, being a tourist, stories don't start. Later on, though, the opportunistic part of creativity happens, and I'll write using something I've experienced, like catching the night train from Milan to Paris. Or I'll look at my photos and wonder at the shadows in the corners in Nimbin. I don't have a feel for what stories will come out of this current journey yet, but Bergen is a beautiful, beautiful city, and I hope there will be stories here.

"Marginalia" stands out as the story I have deliberately and intentionally set out to acquire the most significant experiences for, while researching and writing. I didn't feel like I could write about body mods with an authentic voice without getting modded. So I made an appointment with the piercer my modded friends endorsed. According to the piercer, the usual pattern for piercings is slow escalation, starting with eyebrows or nose and working down. And people usually bring friends along to appointments, especially for the more exciting piercings. I broke this pattern by turning up alone, not bothering with any of the escalation process and going directly to a major piercing. What did it feel like? Exactly like it should. It was what it meant to me that surprised me. I'd had the idea that once the story was written, I would take the piercing out. After all, it was the getting of it that had mattered in terms of research. Turns out, I *really* like being modded. The two seconds of pain were insignificant against the comfort of owning the piercing. This, rather than the mechanical process, was what I needed to learn through experience.

Of all the things I've intentionally done so I could write about them, getting pierced was the most intense. It still doesn't match Sean McMullen's exertions in reality testing endurance hiking the Australian desert in 12th Century armor while researching a speculative fiction novel, but I got to keep the piercing at the end, and Sean probably got sore feet, so I'm okay about this. I don't regret it at all. Putting the piercing on my tax deductibles for that year? So sweet.

How far would you go to research a story? How much research do you want in your fiction? I'm not sure I'm willing to hike across a desert in armor, but I would eat weird things or attempt to learn obscure skills, sure.

If you would like to read "Marginalia", it is available as a standalone story here.

New Release Day

Hitched, a Hammer story
By: Sean Michael
62 pages / 15000 words
ISBN: 978-1-61040-507-2
Buy Link:
The proposal was the easy part, but can Marcus and Jim survive planning the wedding?
Jim asked Marcus to marry him on Valentine's Day and his master said yes. That should have been the hard part, right? Jim goes into full perfectionist mode, though, wanting everything to be just right for his master, and soon he's stressed and unhappy.
When the planning also interferes with Marcus and Jim's usual routine, miscommunication and misunderstandings follow. Is a wedding really worth all the aggravation?

Beneath the Mask
By: Mychael Black
66 pages / 19500 words
ISBN: 978-1-61040-505-8
Buy Link:
Lance Shaw has achieved the impossible: secured an interview with the enigmatic and reclusive leader of the Inferi Brotherhood, a splinter group of vampires that broke off from the Romanorum in the 13th century. When he meets Triarius, he's instantly intrigued. The vampire is petite but possesses a personality that far exceeds anyone Lance has ever known. Triarius isn't beautiful by any means, and the silver mask he wears over half his scarred face attests to the brutality of his world. But just when Lance thinks he's done, Triarius changes the game. Abducted and dragged deep beneath the Snowdonia Mountains in Wales, Lance discovers an entire world no one has ever seen, and, in time, he discovers the true man behind the silver mask.
Originally published in the Spiked anthology.

Ginger and Gentlemen
By: Ari McKay
113 pages / 34500 words
ISBN: 978-1-61040-504-1
Buy Link:
Ian Pierce has always resented growing up in the shadow of his older brother, executive chef Stephen Pierce. But when Stephen asks Ian appear on his television special, “Mouth of the South”, Ian has no choice but to accept in order to save his diner from bankruptcy. However, not even the encouragement of his best friend and business manager, Matt Davis, can make Ian happy about it.
Matt has been in love with Ian for years, and he would do anything to help Ian save his diner. Ian won’t accept Matt’s money, so Matt secretly puts up the cash for a bonus in Ian’s contract with the Gourmet Network. With Ian and Stephen crossing verbal swords and a series of mishaps plaguing the filming, the success of the entire project is thrown into doubt. When Ian learns about the bonus and accuses Stephen of manipulating him, Matt is faced with a choice: does he let Ian’s rift with his only sibling stand, or does he come clean and risk destroying all hope that their friendship might ever become something more?

Untamable, a Torquere Menage
By: Berengaria Brown
20 pages / 5000 words
Buy Link:
Jewel, Donovan, and Oscar live together but the excitement has gone out of their relationship. Oscar falls asleep on the sofa in front of the television each night and Donovan brings work home to do. Jewel makes holiday plans to spice things up. She's thought of everything, but will Donovan and Oscar rise to the challenge?
Coming Next Week...

Loving Aidan
by Ashavan Doyon
Aidan's roommate Sammy is straight. So of course Aidan is in love with him. But when happiness comes for him in the body of a gorgeous rower, will his roommate get jealous?
Genre: Contemporary

Falling from a Height
by AR Moler
When you’re falling off a cliff, what do you wish for?
Genre: Urban Fantasy

Hearts of Stars
by DC Juris
Afron won't let anything stand in the way of his destiny with Makara -- not even the prostitute's petulant (if half-hearted) refusal to see him.
Genre: Fantasy, GLBTQ

Fourth of July Fireworks
by M. Durango
Christian wants to watch the fireworks, but Matt just wants Christian. Lucky for them, the cover of darkness—and a strategically placed blanket—let both have their way.
Genre: Contemporary

On Sale This Week

This week we have books by Mychael Black, Berengaria Brown, Ari McKay and Sean Michael, on sale for 20% off!

Check them out.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Meme Monday: Crazy Dare

What is the craziest thing you have ever done as a dare?

New This Week

Beneath the Mask by Mychael Black (Novella, M/M) 
Sometimes it's what beneath the mask that counts.

Ginger and Gentlemen by Ari McKay (Novella, M/M) 
Ian Pierce doesn’t like accepting help from anyone, not even his best friend and business manager, Matt Davis. But when circumstances force Ian into appearing on his older brother Stephen’s television special, will Matt’s plan to secretly help Ian backfire and destroy any hope of their friendship becoming something more?

Hitched, a Hammer story by Sean Michael (Novella, M/M)
The proposal was the easy part, but can Marcus and Jim survive planning the wedding?

Untamable by Berengaria Brown (Short Story, M/M/F) 
Jewel, Donovan and Oscar live together but the excitement has gone out of their relationship. Jewel plans to spice up their relationship with a White Christmas. 

Look for all four books on July 24 at Torquere Books.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Christmas in July Sale!

We're celebrating Christmas in July! We're offering you 20% off your purchases to mark the occasion. Just put 'julymas2013' in the coupon code box any time you check out at Torquere Books before midnight on Monday to get 20% off your order.

Sale good now through Monday July 23 at Midnight est.

Celebrate Christmas in July with some books from Torquere Press today!

Discount codes are provided as a courtesy to our customers. Torquere Press Inc. cannot be responsible for discounting purchases made before coupons/sales are announced, and cannot issue discounts to customers who fail to use the coupon or discount code during the purchase process.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Free Ideas for Everyone

Hello! My name is Lynn Townsend and I'm a writer.


What, you mean there's not some sort of 12-step program for writers?

Sorry... ::checks notes, looks around:: Oh, right... no, wait...

Well, botheration, it appears that I'm unprepared. So let's just open the floor to questions, okay?

Yes, you there...

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Seriously? Seriously, that's the best question you have? ::shakes her head::

I'm sure other professions get asked similar awkward questions that they really have no answers to. Doctors, lawyers, and mechanics are often asked to fix things - for free, no less - over drinks at those stilted dinner parties that no one really wants to go to, but feels some sort of love for the hosts.

Let me set the record straight right now; Ideas are the easy part. Everyone has ideas.

Believe me, one of the most common things I hear right after "I always wanted to be a writer..." is "I have a great idea for a book, why don't I tell you my idea, you write it down, and we'll split the money 50-50." Tell ya what, why don't I describe a house and you can build it, then we'll sell it and split the money, 50-50. What? No? You think that's too hard? Well, of course you have the money laying around for the construction materials, you're a carpenter, aren't you?

I get ideas by sitting in a chair on my balcony and looking into the woods at the kudzu. I get ideas in that weird foggy period between going to bed and actually falling asleep. I get ideas watching television, movies, reading other books, while talking to my friends, sitting still, or walking around. I get ideas when I see a woman in the grocery store attempting to balance a coconut on her head. I get ideas at the laundromat while watching my clothes spin round and round in the dryer. Ideas are free. They're just laying about, everywhere you go. In the impossible shade of blue in an old man's eyes. While hanging around in the aquarium. Life is ideas, with some solid bits attached.

The writer is the person who picks up an idea, dusts it off and sees whether or not it's worth keeping. We push at them, prod at them, open them up to see what's inside. And it's really rough stuff, ideas.

I once heard a joke about making a sculpture; How do you make a statue of an elephant? Easy, you chisel off everything that doesn't look like an elephant.

Writing is kinda like that; taking a big marble block of idea and chipping out stuff that doesn't look like a story.

Bio: Lynn Townsend is a geek, a dreamer and an inveterate punster. When not reading, writing, or editing, she can usually be found drinking coffee or killing video game villains. Lynn's interests include filk music, romance novels, and movies with more FX than plot.

Blog: Paid by the Weird
Amazon Author Page
At Torquere

Read her latest, Synchronous Rotations, from Torquere

In a reimagined 1890's London, where steam-driven airships rule the skies and monsters roam the streets, Duncan Farnsworth is discovering that being a vampire is not exactly good for his chances of finding love, continuing the family line, or getting a bite to eat. Maneuvering his way around a sarcastic butler, his spinster sister, a run-in with an amorous werewolf, and finally confronted by a dead soldier and a French airship captain, Duncan finally finds exactly what he is thirsting for.

Continuing the storyline begun in the Shifting Steam anthology and continued in The Blister Effect, Synchronous Rotations takes a look at another player from that infamous card game, Duncan Farnsworth. If you like your steampunk with a little supernatural on top, Synchronous Rotations should wind you right up.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Excuses, Free Story, and a Giveaway

Lee Benoit here.

I haven’t been around lately. I've missed being around.

Where was I? Working the day job like an overextended maniac who had a say-no-ectomy. I took on too many projects, and those projects, in very project-like form, grew and grew like kudzu. Working so hard (even at a job I love and believe is worthwhile) does bad things to my life. And because family, kids, and keeping heads and water in the right relationship don’t shrink to fit, other things must. Unfortunately, the things that shrank (let’s face it, that *I* shrank) were writing, exercise, contemplation -- my basic building blocks of sanity. I was still playing brain-fix from having quit smoking in 2011 when the work-tornado blew in, and so I added in a toddler’s-worth of weight gain (hello hypertension and fatigue). I haven’t finished a story in almost a year, and I feel the paradoxical weight and emptiness of that every day.

But, hey:

I’m deliberately teaching less during this second summer session. I’m getting my house in order (literally -- I seem to have replaced my household staff with a couple of teenage boys and a quartet of quadrupeds). And that means moving my body, so I started a modest Qi Gong practice last week. It also means reopening my writing life, hence this post. I've made a summer-long commitment to retool my online presence and finish one new piece.

But in the mean time, I have a question: At the moment I have a web site and a blog, both shamefully outdated. In the interest of simplifying, I’m thinking of getting rid of one of them. Which one should I keep? Answer in the comments and be entered in a drawing on Saturday morning (7/20, sometime before noon EST) to win a $5 Torquere Gift Certificate! I’ll notify the winner here and via email and the Torquere Social Yahoo Group.

Also, how about a free story? Below the cut find PACK HORSE! This 7k-word short was originally published in the Torquere anthology SOMEPLACE IN THIS WORLD in 2010 and now out of print). Blurb: Wendall’s congressman father exiles him to the hinterland to ‘make himself useful’ after a series of indiscretions. Working as a pack horse librarian, Wendall meets Henry, and the isolated man changes Wen’s mind about getting back home.

I hope you enjoy Wendall and Henry’s story, set in 1930s Appalachia and inspired by the history of pack horse librarians.

Pack Horse

By Lee Benoit

Skinny children swarmed the mail truck as it unloaded crate after crate of books and magazines -- the first new material since the first snow had closed the roads to all but the sturdiest mules.

"One'a these is for you, Doll," Miss May-Ellen called, startling Wendall from his futile efforts to get the children to clear a space for the unloading. None of them was interested in a fortieth reading of Aesop, no matter how much drama Wendall injected into the old stories. Another day, their attention would have been his for the captivating, but this early spring day had brought a cold snap, a firming of the roads, and the mail truck. The children, usually more subdued than Wendall could credit, were agog over the imagined treasures within.

"Come see what you got, Mister Wen." Grubby little hands towed him over to the old Model A.

The postman handed Wendall a letter and turned away to wrangle the last wooden crate -- the one with Wendall's name on it -- out of the truck's bed. Wen burned to read his letter, but one look at Miss May-El and the other adults still busy with the delivery had him sighing with resignation. The smaller children, evidently, were his responsibility until the mail truck left. Wen supposed he should feel grateful that the adults trusted him, practically a stranger. "You kids want to help me get this box inside?" It was a stupid question. Wendall had promised to ask Graham to send the small library of books from his childhood back when he'd first arrived in Harlan County a month ago, and the crate was evidence that the man hadn't forgotten. Neither had Harlan's children, who pushed and pulled the box, unbalancing it with their small hands more than once, until they were inside the door of the storefront library.

The letter would have to wait.

It didn't have to wait long, however, because the first books out of Wendall's crate were the oldest of the bunch, illustrated volumes of geography, history, and mythology bought for him before his father began to insist he become educated rather than entertained. The children abandoned the crate as the older ones gathered the younger ones around the stove with admonitions to have a care for the pages. Their excited chatter and the noise of the adults outside faded as Wendall drew the letter from his pocket and examined the envelope. The return address was his father's house in Georgetown, but the handwriting was far more welcome than the Congressman's would have been.

"I expect this past month has been dreadful, Wen. But I also expect you to bear up, even if only to spite the old man, eh?"

Graham was Wendall's father's personal secretary, and also the person the Congressman had designated to manage his son. Wendall had resented Graham at first, but that had been almost ten years ago. Graham had become a good friend to Wendall as he grew up, knew Wendall better than Wendall's own father did, and more than once showed willing to bare his vitals to the Congressman on Wendall's behalf. Graham was the reason Wendall was allowed to attend the university of his choice, rather than the Congressman's alma mater. For that and a thousand other interventions during their acquaintance, Wendall knew he should be grateful. But Graham was also the chief architect of Wendall's current exile in the furthest hinterland of his father's constituency. He read on.

"You may blame me for your current circumstances. I accept that. But I beg you to remember that it was I who proposed a way out of this mess. Perhaps your sojourn in the mountains is for the best. Your gadding about playing the swell couldn't have lasted after your father discovered your peccadilloes. I tried to help you, Wendall."

Graham's idea of help had been to present himself as the only safe lover in all of Washington. When Wendall had rejected his advances as gently as he could, Graham had involved the Congressman, though he purported to regret the necessity. The sneaking suspicion that Graham had been watching and waiting for his moment to pounce crept into Wen's mind. He bit back a more colorful curse than the tenderest ears of Harlan County were used to and settled for a derisive snort. Some of the kids looked up from the maps of the Orient but mostly left Wendall alone with his letter. He didn't want to think ill of his friend and forced the idea away.

The letter, however, was proving poor company and so Wendall folded it up, stuffed it back into its envelope, and walked back outside where he was just in time to help give the mail truck a push over an icy patch and on its way.

With it went Wendall's chance to post any reply to Graham's letter, which was probably just as well. His anger at Graham was still hot enough to produce another thaw. Gadding about playing the swell, indeed! So he'd had a few affairs, so what? If his lovers had been female prosties, Graham would have laughed it off and his father would have looked the other way. After all, the old man had his share of romps on the wrong side of the sheets, and with girls no older than Wendall. But Wendall's taste had run to low-rent b-boys, and he'd learned too late that his kindnesses to them were, to say the least, misinterpreted. The Congressman had done some red-faced spluttering about bottomless pits and finding money down there before packing Wendall off to pay his penance by working on his father's latest project.

Wendall hadn't heard of the Pack Horse Library project before he found himself part of it. He and his father cultivated cordial disinterest in each other's daily lives. Wendall lived with his father because it got him out of the doldrums of Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District. When the old man, out of ignorance or foresight, became one of the first bigwigs to buy and renovate a townhouse in the run-down Georgetown neighborhood, the surrounding rough neighborhoods became Wendall's playground. Boarding school and college hadn't changed what Wen did with his free time, and his father never should have been the wiser. Graham's proposition had made Wendall reckless, and now Graham was sitting pretty in D.C. while Wendall cooled his heels -- and every other part of himself -- in one of the remoter county seats of his father's domain. Wendall hadn't ever crossed his father on the important stuff, and so when that final meeting in the Congressman's study had included his Press Secretary, it was sure sign that his indiscretions were important stuff and no mistake. Wendall had acquiesced to a leave of absence from school and a sojourn in Harlan.

"Doll, if this snap holds, we're gonna send you out."

Miss May-El was one of those women who stopped aging at twenty-five, and thereupon looked forty forever. She wore trousers and punched mules in the nose and Wendall had never once seen her sitting down. Much as he resented his exile, he knew his mother's ghost would haunt him eternally if he were rude to Miss May-El. So he didn't correct her horrid nickname for him, and instead listened attentively while she explained a route to him that would have him winding his way up into the mountains.

"So long as you stay out of Farnham's Bottom, you'll be fine."

The flutter in Wendall's stomach was the first hint of laughter he'd felt in the weeks since he'd arrived on the last mail truck before today's. First flicker of amusement in this destitute, godforsaken place and he couldn't voice it for fear he'd have to explain why it was funny to be warned away from some mook's bottom.

The effort cost Wendall his concentration, so he didn't hear the beginning of the sentence that ended with Miss May-El declaring, "But the bears shouldn't wake up until there's a true thaw. You should be fine."

Well, damn.

The Harlan County library was a makeshift affair, funded by Mister Roosevelt's W.P.A., housed in a former dry goods shop, and staffed by Miss May-El with a few volunteers. The local kids ribbed Wendall about being the only boy. He shut their little mouths with a rousing reading of the first chapters of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, his favorite from when he'd been their age. They loved Denslow's illustrations and clamored for more as the sun set and the older ones dragged the younger ones off home. Wen promised to read more if he didn't get "et by a bear" in the mountains. Even Miss May-El busted a gut at his ridiculous accent.

"I declare," Miss May-El sighed as Wen stoked the old cast iron stove with wood from the last cord under the library's eaves. "That stove done got skinnier and skinnier all winter long. Spring don't come soon, it's like to turn inside out."

"Better the stove than you, Miss May-El. Or the children." A bad winter in bad times wasn't something Wendell understood, even after a few weeks in Harlan. Oh, he and Graham had shaken their heads over the multitudes around the Capitol sleeping under their Hoover blankets, and he realized the coal country of his father's district was especially badly hit. But skinny kids and jokes about starving stoves losing their pot-bellies weren't anything Wendall had answers for. He said as much to Miss May-El, who just smiled sadly on her way upstairs to the cold water flat she kept above the library. Her departure left Wendall to the silence and dark of the library. He fell asleep on the cot he dragged out from the library's storage room watching the embers die through the grate in the stove. He didn't reread Graham's letter.


The next day's dawn was pallid, only brightened by Wendall's blush as Miss May-El approved his wardrobe. His unfashionable and unflattering Sacque jacket passed muster, as did serviceable woolen trousers and a boiled wool waistcoat.

"You won't freeze, anyway," she said, and then asked him what he wore under it all.

"Why, Miss May-el," Wendall stalled. "Surely you--"

The librarian's sardonic grin and no-nonsense response cowed Wendall into accepting a worn but serviceable set of woolen underwear, and he was forced to admit that the added bulk would warm him.

Two saddlebags, almost wide enough to qualify as panniers and loaded with books and magazines, along with provisions for three days, awaited him on a placid-looking mule called Hizzoner.

After changing into the warm underwear and fortifying himself with coffee and a breakfast of mostly potatoes, Wendall mounted his mule and accepted a hand-drawn map from Miss May-El, along with parting advice. "Don't offend anyone, least of all the bears, and you'll be fine, Doll."

With that, Miss May-El tromped back into the library and Wendall was off on his first run as a Pack Horse Librarian.

As he kneed Hizzoner towards the mountain road, he thought he heard Miss May-El call out, "Farnham's Bottom ain't marked, so steer clear. Don't want to have to tell your daddy I lost you there."

There just might be more to Harlan County's librarian than met the eye, Wendall thought as Hizzoner started to climb.

If Wendall had judged Hizzoner a placid beast back in the Harlan County seat, she proved him wrong at the first opportunity. And the second and -- to the amusement of every resident of the first homestead he stopped at -- the third. She had a long, supple neck and nipped at him every time he mounted or dismounted. By suppertime Wendall was sure Hizzoner was the get of a horse and a demon instead of a donkey. Rather than dismount and risk losing another chunk of his flank, Wendall gave the hell spawn her head and examined Miss May-El's map in the fading light.

She'd marked all the homesteads with crosses and circled the ones where Wendall would be most welcome to spend the night. If his orienteering was up to snuff, he'd make the first one before full dark.

He raised his head to get the lay of the land just in time to see a low-hanging branch come at his head. He ducked with a cry, which sent Hizzoner capering off the narrow track and into the underbrush. No amount of pulling on the reins turned her and no amount of swearing swayed her from her headlong rush down into a creek bed.

What finally stopped her careen, Wendall would never know, but stop she did as if all four demonic legs had turned to stone. Wendall, for all his father insisted he was touched by the devil, had none of the demon in him and continued his all-too-human momentum right over Hizzoner's withers to land in the creek. Badly.

Trying to lever himself up only caused Wendall to gouge his hands as they broke through the thin ice of the shallow creek. A gingerly test of his left ankle suggested standing would be a foolish idea, so he settled for cursing a blue streak as Hizzoner picked her ladylike way to the opposite shore and insouciantly nuzzled some early cress growing under the sparse shelter of a leafless shagbark hickory.

Undignified as it was, Wendall started to crawl towards the evil mule. The sooner he got out of his wet clothes, the sooner he could rig a camp until they dried. He made slow progress, dragging his bum leg behind him while humping forward on his forearms to save his sore hands.

He was about halfway across when Hizzoner gave a derisive whinnying hee-haw and walked farther into the understory of the forest, far enough that Wendall could barely see her.

"Devil bitch spawn of Satan's shite-hole," he muttered and put his head down and back into his labor. The creek hadn't looked so wide from the opposite bank.

"That's no way to talk about a lady," Hizzoner protested from her vale of shadows.

"You're no lady, you evil whore's cunny," Wendall growled back before the uncomfortable realization that he was answering a mule took hold. He raised his head again and squinted into the gloom beyond the hickories.


Suddenly Wendall's shivering had little to do with being wet and cold. The bear was reared up holding Hizzoner's bridle.

"You go ahead and eat her, grizzly," Wendall offered. "Just leave me the books." Miss May-El would never forgive him if he didn't at least try to defend his inventory.

"Man with his priorities straight, I respect that," said the bear.

"Glad you approve," Wendall replied. He'd reached the bank, but even a city boy like Wendall knew better than to continue to approach a bear.

Seemed the bear had missed the wire about that, because he looped Hizzoner's reins around what looked like a mountain laurel and advanced on Wendall.

Miss May-El and the Congressman would be getting strongly worded telegrams about arming Pack Horse Librarians. "Don't come any farther, grizzly!" Wendall shouted.

Hizzoner whimpered. The bear laughed. "No grizzlies in these hills," it said. "How long you been in that creek, boy? Or maybe you're a fish."

The bear went down on all fours and thrust its shaggy head toward Wendall. Wendall scooted back, scraping his already raw hands, and whimpered like a girl. Or a mule. A huge paw reached out and made a grab for Wendall's jacket and Wendall desperately fought it off, mindless of razor like claws.

Until same razor like claws failed to rend his sturdy jacket and Wendall cast a frantic glance downward. Well. Most bears he knew -- not that he knew many -- didn't wear knitted mittens. Certainly not blue ones.

"You're not a bear," Wendall said as he sagged back into the weak, cold current of the creek.

"Not a grizzly, anyway," the bear assured him, and hauled him one-handed out of the creek. "My human friends call me Henry. Henry Farnham."

Humiliation flooded Wendall, heating him from the skin inward. His feet dangled above the scree and his ankle throbbed, though surely not as viciously as if the bear -- Henry Farnham -- had set him on his own two feet. The name rang a bell in Wendall's already addled brain.

"Henry Farnham," he repeated. "Of the forbidden Bottom!"

Wendall didn't hear Farnham's chuckling retort because he passed out.


Waking up in an unfamiliar bed wasn't Wen's bag seeing as how his escapades had mostly been limited to dark corners of public parks and the occasional brick wall. So coming to himself half-submerged in what had to be a feather bed was a new and not unwelcome experience.

Then the facts of his presence there resurfaced, and Wendall searched the dim room for his bear. He found him sitting in a wooden chair by the doorway bent over something in his lap. The something produced a sweet, tinkling music.

"Looks like even the guitars are skinny in Harlan County," Wen teased from his shelter of quilts.

"City boy," Henry replied. "This here's a mountain dulcimer." His retort didn't stop his playing.

Wen snorted. "I know that, grizzly. I grew up in Kentucky, too." That scarcely felt true sometimes, as Wendall had spent recent weeks cataloging the differences between Harlan and the horse country of his childhood. "I even recognize the song. 'Wildwood Flower.'" Henry played well; Wen had recognized the song even without the lyrics.

Henry finished the tune with a humble flourish and said, "Now that we got your country-boy credentials sorted out, how about some supper?" He left the room and Wen drifted for a few minutes, weighed down by Henry's quilts and buoyed up by Henry's music.

In no time at all, Henry stood leaning in the doorway with something steaming in a mug in his very human hands. The winter gear was gone, which greatly diminished Farnham's menace.

Even so, now that he was more fully awake and not lulled by old songs, Wen couldn't be sure whether he was among friend or foe. The man had rescued him from the creek, sure, but Miss May-El had warned Wen twice to stay away.

"Where's Beelzebub's favorite quadruped? Did you eat her after all?" Wen was mindful of the small stable the Pack Horse Librarians kept, and his responsibility was to bring Hizzoner, the books, and himself home in once piece. In that order, he conceded ruefully to himself.

"Naw. She's a sweet gal. Thought maybe venison stew might set you up better than mule chowder anyway." Henry advanced across the room with a slight hesitancy to each step, just as Wen imagined he might track a particularly skittish woodland creature. That shyness or care or whatever it was went a long way to resolving the friend-or-foe question in favor of "friend."

Wen tried to shove himself to a sitting position, but sharp protest from his twisted ankle and passive resistance from the feather bed made it awkward.

The awkwardness intensified when Henry sussed Wen's difficulty and crossed the rest of the room in two long strides, set the bowl of stew in the washbasin atop a small commode beside the bed, and wrapped Wendall in his arms to drag him upright. He kept one arm wrapped around Wen's shoulders while he rearranged the soft pillows behind Wen's back, and Wen's senses were flooded with the nearness of the man. He smelled smoky and a bit like pepper, and Wen breathed deeply.

Henry must have mistaken Wen's inhalation for a gasp of alarm, for the moment Wen was out of danger of being swallowed by the bed, Henry stepped back, reached to the commode, and offered the stew.

"Must be a bad sprain," he ventured in his soft, deep voice. "'Cause you didn't pass out when you thought I was a bear, just when I picked you up."

In truth, the combination of cold and wet, thrown and frightened, were the culprits. None of those conditions warranted Wen's embarrassment, nor his intense feeling of vulnerability. Sitting in a strange bed, in nothing but Miss May-El's second-hand long johns, Wen grasped at whatever straw he could. "Aw, ya big galoot," he teased, "you just overwhelmed me out there." He put a lot of Myrna Loy into his voice, with a little Mae West on the finish, just to see how Henry'd react.

He didn't. Not one bit. He just stood there, glancing from the stew bowl to Wen's mouth like he really wished Wen would get on with it, get better, and get the hell out of his cabin.

Play it straight, then, was the name of the game. Wen tried it on for size. "Did you carry me here?" Wen made a show of appraising Henry's size. So much for playing it straight.

Henry only narrowed his eyes a little and said, "No, Satan's four-footed handmaiden did." He waited a beat until Wen started to laugh and then looked embarrassed to be caught being sassy. "I'll get you a drink," he grumbled and left Wen to finish his venison stew alone.

Henry returned with an earthen tumbler of cider, which went right to Wen's head and bladder. He scooted as best he could to the edge of the bed -- his palms still stung -- and swung his legs over the side. "Gosh, this is higher than I thought," he said, and no sooner were the words out of his mouth than Henry was there, all wooly heat and smoke-scent, helping him upright.

"Ow," Wen said, pressing one hand to his forehead to ease the sudden throb behind his eyes. "I don't remember hitting my head."

There was a longish pause before Henry said, "Sorry. I might have knocked you into the doorjamb on the way in. Ain't used to toting around damsels in distress."

Compromising position notwithstanding, Wen defended himself. "I'm not a damsel." The clarification should have been unnecessary, given how his long johns stretched over his groin.

"Sure ain't," Henry said which he followed with a murmured, "Pretty as a girl, though."

The b-boys never said such things. "Don't go getting ideas, grizzly," Wen said to buy himself time.

"If you was a damsel, I wouldn't."

Well. Wen abandoned playing it straight once and for all, and turned in Henry's arms. "Come closer and say that." The best defense was a good offense, right? Bless his classical education, or was it Jack Dempsey?

"I would," Henry retorted, if such a quiet man could be said to do anything so assertive as retort. "But then I'd have a hard time stopping myself doing this."

"This" was a kiss so gentle and quick Wen couldn't be sure it had happened between the breath before it and the one after.

There followed a shuffling, humiliating trip to Henry's outhouse and the deeply shattering moment when Wendall realized Henry intended to share the bed. That kiss, that one tiny kiss, had cast a spell of reverent silence, and Wen allowed Henry a liberty none had enjoyed since Wen had left short pants behind.

He let Henry tuck him into bed.

Three times in the night, pain in Wen's ankle woke him and each time his body was wrapped around Henry. The intimacy should have shocked Wendall.

Instead, the shock came when the cock crowed, which felt like five minutes after Wen finally fell asleep for the fourth time. Henry grumbled adorably and stretched long and hard, hard alongside some of Wen's most interesting parts.

"If that's my stiff drink, I'll skip breakfast and have another," Wen teased right into Henry's bare chest. It wasn't nearly as hairy as Wen expected, and he ventured a friendly nuzzle before Henry pulled away.

"Wake up joking, don'tcha?" Henry grumbled back. "Come on. Let's go have a piss, then I'll make coffee."

"Mister Romantic," Wen joked. But he let himself be all but carried out through the near-dawn gloom to the unconscionable outhouse. On the way back, he tested his weight on his ankle and was more than grateful for Henry's supporting arm, no matter that it was attached to a growly old grizzly bear.

Wen realized he'd been thinking out loud when Henry objected, "I ain't grizzled. Probably ain't more'n a few years older'n you."

"Your accent's thicker in the dark, you know that?"

"Ain't the only thing," Henry replied. "Sorry about that." He deposited Wen carefully in a chair near the stove and set about lighting it, drawing water from a small pump under the window, and starting coffee in an old enameled pot. After long moments during which Wen suspected the man had fallen to sleepwalking, he said, "You gotta know I'd never take liberties."

"More's the pity," Wen commented, unaccountably put out by the news. "I'm told I have a special talent for liberties."

Henry poured two cups of coffee but didn't join Wen at the table, instead deftly mixing up a batch of something sticky and setting it to bake on a griddle atop the stove. Wen finished his coffee in that time and still the silence stretched. Wen wasn't much for early mornings, but Henry's silence appeared to be about more than an antipathy to sunrise.

"Well, maybe that's why I won't be taking any, then." Henry seemed pissy, not that Wen would know. Henry was a stranger. Queer but not queenie. Randy but restrained. The contradictions were bringing back Wen's headache.

Henry served Wen a plate of corn cake and refilled their coffees before it finally occurred to Wen to defend his honor. "Don't take on like I'm some kind of floozy," he muttered.

"Then quit acting like one." And that was the last Henry spoke until after the dishes were cleared and the coffeepot emptied into their bellies.

When Henry finally broke his silence, it was to say, "Let's cover up your skivvies and I'll bring you back to town. Doc ought'a peek at that sprain."

Henry went outside to saddle Hizzoner for the trip to town, and Wen used the opportunity to rifle through the saddlebags Henry had brought inside the night before. He found what he was looking for -- a first edition of Leaves of Grass that Graham had sent -- and scribbled a note on the flyleaf. "For electric songs we could have sung. -W." He left the book on the kitchen table because his ankle wouldn't bear him into the bedroom, and pulled on his hat.

In short order, Wen was mounted on Hizzoner and they were climbing the gentle slope that divided Henry's bottom land from the trail to town. Not having to guide the mule, Wen noticed how much closer spring seemed around Henry's cabin. The rude trough beside the lean-to that had house Hizzoner overnight had no film of ice to break, and there were even some valiant crocuses ready to bloom in the dooryard.

Henry was a lot less talkative on the trail, which Wen wouldn't have credited back in the cabin. He followed a different route than Wen had taken, and it seemed both more circuitous and more direct than the way Wen had come. He took out his map to note his best guess of their direction.

"Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, Doll?"

Wen's pencil skittered over the rough paper. "What'd you call me?"



Though he didn't stop his forward motion, Henry appeared to shuffle his steps. "Your name, is all. Wen-dall. Doll for short. It was a liberty. I apologize."

"Someone else here calls me that," Wen said, but his words didn't put Henry at ease.

"Hizzoner has a nickname for you?"

Wen laughed out loud. "No, my boss, May-Ellen Walsh, she calls me Doll."

"Must run in the family," Henry muttered. He handed Hizzoner's reins to Wen and stalked off the trail muttering something about "traplines" and "skinny old coneys."

His absence gave Wen a few minutes to think. Henry returned empty-handed and Wen pounced. "Miss May-El's a relative of yours?"

"My sister."

"But she warned me away from your land. Said to steer clear." What did May-El know about Henry? Was he dangerous in a way Wen hadn't yet seen? A flutter of apprehension made Wen sit straighter in the saddle and clutch Hizzoner's reins. Hizzoner whimpered softly as he clenched his thighs around her.

"I ain't much welcome in town," was all Henry would say on the matter. He didn't explain why strangers wouldn't be welcome at his homestead, and maybe that was the crux of the matter. Certain strangers were more than welcome.

Too soon, the trail they traveled joined the main road into Harlan's county seat. Hizzoner stopped walking when Henry did, despite Wen still holding the reins.

"Take care, Doll," Henry said and reached his right hand up to shake.

Wen took it and used it for balance as he bent in the saddle and kissed Henry. It wasn't gentle and sweet like their kiss in Henry's bedroom. It started out awkward as Henry tried to avoid Wen's advance, but Wen didn't give up. He released the saddle horn and wrapped his hand behind Henry's neck where his skin was smooth and warm under his shaggy hair. Henry had to hold him or let him fall.

"Don't sell yourself cheap, Doll," Henry said, and he gently but firmly rebalanced Wen on the mule.

"That was the dearest kiss of my life," Wen replied. "And cheap at twice the price," he finished as he heeled Hizzoner and walked away.


Wendall's stomach growled as he turned the final page of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and looked around at the children crowded around the stove. They looked like he felt -- all pinched in at the middle like Henry's dulcimer. He wished he had something besides a good story to give them, and wasn't that a fearsome thought?

A month and a half ago, his own hunger would have been the only thing on his mind. Well, to be honest, hunger would have been prominent, but wouldn't have edged out his chief concern -- getting back home.

Now, he wondered how far the turnip pie on the windowsill would go towards sending these kids back home satisfied. Delight in having been declared "better than listening in at the radio" by the younger kids felt good, and his sense of pride at the older kids taking turns reading from Baum's fantasy surprised him almost as much as the realization that he hadn't thought about D.C., or Graham, all day. The same could not be said of a certain bottom-dwelling bear of Wen's acquaintance.

The thaw had come and gone with violent weather and a plague of flies, and signs of spring were everywhere in the small town. Even Miss May-El had switched out her drab overcoat for a spring jacket of calico quilting. It was hideous, but it made Wen smile.

Now that the ankle-deep mud of the thaw had dissipated, Wen turned his thoughts to taking Hizzoner out on a circuit. Folks he'd visited on his first, abbreviated pass through the county must be keen for some new books and magazines. And he could visit Henry.

Maybe even convince the man that Wen was sincere in his affections.

The kids drifted off homewards; their fathers would be home from the mines and supper would be on -- at least Wen hoped so for their sakes. Miss May El was busy packing up for a trip of her own carrying books to the northern part of the county, and Wen's feet were itching to go. Wen lit a lamp and dragged Hizzoner's saddlebags into the circle of heat from the coal stove, found his map, and examined it closely. If he modified the route he'd taken last time, he could make an entire circuit and end up at Farnham's Bottom. The name of the destination made his lips quirk, and other things down lower quirked in answer.

"What's got you grinning, Doll?"

The nickname -- even from Miss May-El's stolid mouth -- warmed Wen's heart. "I want to leave when you do tomorrow," he said. "Little Sam can keep things going here, right?" Little Sam was the daughter of the smith, Big Sam, sharp as a tack and "womanish" at sixteen. Miss May-El was training her up in the librarian business.

Miss May-El nodded and then confirmed, "It's what you're here for, after all."

Wen didn't say so, but he was starting to think that might not be true, precisely. He handed over his map so May-El could see the markings he'd made on the way from Henry's place. "I thought of trying a different route this time, maybe get out a little farther toward the Bell county line."

Frowning at the map, Miss May-El said, "Roads should be sound, and you won't have to go cross country except to get to some'a these steads west of the main road." She sat and smoothed the map over the knee of her nubby trousers. "But I thought I told you to stay away from Farnham's land."

"I wish I knew what you had against your own brother," Wen said, feeling reckless. Folks around Harlan didn't pry about personal matters, nor welcome such prying. He held his breath. Miss May-El looked like she might swallow her lips, and she wouldn't meet his eyes.

"So you did meet up with him." There followed a long pause. "I know why you're here," she said.

Oh, that. "My father thought it was time I was of use and service." Wen parroted the party line.

"And he wanted to get you out of reach of...certain influences," Miss May-El said shortly.

Understanding dawned. "He'd never believe there'd be such...influences out here," Wen said. "You don't have to protect me, you know."

Finally Miss May-El looked him in the eye. He'd never noticed how her eyes looked just like her brother's until the moment they gleamed with passion. "Maybe it ain't you I'm protecting. Listen, Doll. Henry's my baby brother. All the others left the county and it's just the two of us. He ain't welcome in town since his ways make folk around here...tetchy. But he's a home boy and that still counts for something in Harlan."

Wen nodded. A month ago, he wouldn't have understood that. He still didn't understand what kept Henry at home, but he supposed that was a question for the man himself.

The man's sister answered anyway. "He stays 'cause he ain't never had a reason to leave more powerful than making do here. You going to give him one?" There was a touch of challenge, colored with fear, in her voice.

Wen looked down at his hands. "Miss May-El, Henry helped me when I hurt my ankle. I don't know what he wants with me. Probably nothing. All I want is to see him again."

To his everlasting surprise, Miss May-El guffawed. It made her seem even more butch, but somehow suited her. "I lay it all out for you, and you laugh?" Wen protested.

"Aw, Doll, you got it bad. I'll see you in the morning. Don't forget about the mail truck. You'll be on the road when it comes through, so if you want to send a letter home, you should leave it with Little Sam." She stood and returned his map. As she left the room, she turned and said, chuckling anew, "Just you take care with him. For both your sakes."

Grinning, Wen returned to sorting through materials, swapping out old inventory for new, making sure the painstaking scrapbooks of recipes, quilt patterns, and news items Miss May-El labored at all winter were packed flat. He folded his little map and opened a pocket on the front of one saddlebag to tuck it inside but met resistance. Thinking he's packed the bag too full, he rooted around until he found the obstacle -- not surprisingly, a book.

It was not a book he'd packed.

Leaves of Grass. But not his lovely first edition. This was a battered old pulp edition, the boards obviously replacements for lost originals, the spine repaired with a strip of birch bark.

There was only one way the volume could have found its way into Wen's bag. He pictured Henry finding the fancy edition Wen had left on the cabin's kitchen table and hoped the man hadn't fretted about his gift. Holding the lovingly repaired volume felt almost like touching Henry, and Wen couldn't imagine valuing anything more highly. With trembling hands, Wen opened the front cover. On the flyleaf, in best-penmanship lettering, was an inscription.

"No more primal solitude, but dense and joyous company. -H."

Like Wendall had done weeks before, Henry had paraphrased America's bard. For him. Wen wondered if his own inscription in the book he'd left for Henry had caused such a bolt of lustful fellow-feeling to strike its reader. He'd ask, now that he had decided to take the chance.

Wen packed his clothes next, leaving out the long johns for the springtime nights and mornings still chilled him.

He wrapped what perishable food there was in the larder, filled a pair of canteens from the tap, and finally sat down to write his letter home.


In the weeks since Wendall's spill in the creek, he and Hizzoner had come to an understanding that mostly comprised Wen giving the mule her head on all but the roughest terrain. She did, he admitted, know the country better than he did.

So it was that a week after leaving the Harlan County library in the capable hands of Little Sam, on the first truly warm day of the spring of 1938, Wendall's mule picked her way down into Farnham's bottom and splashed right into the creek to stop in the middle.

"Girl, you are the very devil in fancy dress," Wen hissed. Henry's place was so close he swore he could smell it. "Walk on." He nudged her with his heels.

Hizzoner stood still.

With a shrug and a last imprecation against Hizzoner and all mules past and future, Wen dismounted and splashed his way towards the far bank.

Naturally, the moment his boots hit the water, Hizzoner started walking and beat him to shore.

And the woods gave a great laugh. "I see you ain't lost your winning ways with the ladies." There within a stand of pink-laced mountain laurel stood Henry, magnificently shirtless and speckled with tree-pollen like gold dust, spreading wet laundry over low birch limbs.

"I got your book," Wen said past the obstruction in his throat where his air met the frog that lived there.

Henry nodded and descended the bank, coming to a stop where Hizzoner nuzzled him. He didn't close the distance to Wen, but he stood close enough that Wen could see the rapid breaths that lifted his chest.

Wen struggled up the bank and stood before Henry. "'I am surely far different from what you suppose,'" he quoted.

It would have surprised him a month ago, but now Wen only smiled when Henry quoted back from the same Whitman stanza. "'Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?'"

Words of his own fled and Wen could only continue the poem: "'Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy'd satisfaction?'"

Henry smiled in recognition and finally moved toward Wendall. "Oh, no, Doll, I don't expect my satisfaction to be unalloyed at all. I expect to work at it. Hard."

Breathless with the smell and skin and solid presence of Henry so close, Wen whispered, "I'll match you, you know. Hard work and I have been getting better acquainted." He couldn't help but rake a glance down Henry's body to his groin, well-hidden in a pair of trousers that sagged from a pair of suspenders to ride the crest of his hips. "I think it's time hard work and I became...intimate."

Hizzoner led the way to Henry's cabin, and Wen joined Henry at the well trough to rinse pollen and sweat from their bodies. Wen carried his saddlebags inside while Henry settled the mule. Wen's copy of Leaves of Grass and Henry's dulcimer sat cozily together on the kitchen table.

Wen smiled as he pumped water for them to drink. He carried two tumblers full into the bedroom and set them beside the washbasin. Then, feeling calmer than he'd expected, he stripped off his clothes and waited, bare, for Henry.

Henry entered, likewise bare, and drank deeply before reaching for Wen. "Oh, Doll, how I waited," he growled.

"And I imagined you so often." Wen pushed and wriggled to arm's length so he could drink up Henry with his eyes. "I can't imagine I'll ever get enough, though."

Wen had no idea what kind of experience Henry had, and the details could wait. Accustomed to taking the lead with men, Wen had known even at the time that his control was illusion -- all of his partners had been much more savvy and jaded than Wen. He had no idea how to take the lead for real.

He needn't have worried.

Henry hooked a powerful arm under Wen's legs and tipped him onto the bed, where Wen sank instead of bouncing and tried to struggle up in a flailing effort that had them both laughing by the time Wen gave up. How much nicer to welcome Henry's mass atop him! Wen opened his mouth for kisses, which Henry gave without quarter.

The electric song Wen had dreamed of played free and wild. Henry's mouth and fingers drew melodies Wen struggled to accompany. A deep bass line thrummed in his spine and when he raised his hips their cocks met driven by frantic, throbbing drumbeats.

Wen threw his legs open to his lover with the abandon of drunken fiddles and Henry lined up like a swing band's horn section. Before entering, Henry gripped Wen's skull between hardworking hands and drilled a look of fierce need and untamed wonder through Wen's eyes and into his soul. Wen answered with a ragged kiss and thrust upward, capturing Henry. They rutted like beasts and soared like raptors, and when they reached their finish it was as rivers and oceans, flow and tide leaving them inseparable.

Wen had often flirted lightly before parting from the men he bedded. He had no idea what to say when he intended never to part.

Fortunately, Henry didn't seem to suffer the same dilemma. "I do love you, Doll."

Short, sweet, and to the point. Wen followed suit: "And I love you, my grizzly."

Hours later, Henry's rooster gargled its wake-up call and Henry rose to make coffee, pressing Wen down into the bed when he would have arisen to help. Wendall thought muzzily of the letter he'd left with Little Sam, the letter in which he'd put paid to Graham's illusions of a future for them under the congressman's thumb. His thoughts meandered to the library, and May-El, and the Harlan County kids who needed him. Inevitably, his mind wound its way back to Henry, who wanted him. Him and no other. Wen burrowed deeper under the heavy quilts and listened to the world awaken around him. It might not be his world, but it was his home.

(c) 2010 Lee Benoit