Posted in wip

March 1st

Happy first day of the new month, readers!

It has been a blurry two weeks. The wife and I got the flu. Besides managing to drag ourselves to some work shifts, we’ve mostly taken up residence on the couch and watched a number of cartoons.

Since I was last here, I finished reading Fairytale by Stephen King. After taking almost two months to read the first half, I finished the second half in a record two hours. It was a sprint to the finish. Definitely a book I’d recommend if you’re looking for witty societal commentary stuffed inside the trimmings of a hundred different fairytale tropes. It was such a fun story!

It was impossible to stare at my keyboard last week, so I took a short hiatus from writing Henri and Ashby’s stories. They’re back up and running this week. Henri is getting edited tonight and will be sharing his next episode with the prince this Friday!

Click here to catch up on his story so far: A Secret in the Thorns

Ashby is taking a little longer. We’re introducing yet another new character, spending time with his brothers, and looking for a ring to give to Lucy while slowly weaving in bigger themes for my main novel.

Catch up on Lore here for a fun vampire romance: Lore

What else, readers???

Life keeps moving. Some days it’s a hundred hours to get through a single work shift. Others, I blink and I’m back home, scrambling to not burn dinner while singing to too loud music from the kitchen speaker.

There’s plants to water and a dog to feed.

I have twenty characters vying for my attention. All have more stories. All of them think they’re the next most important project.

After putting it off since last November, I picked up my novel once again and wrote a single starting paragraph for this latest revision. Hopefully, I’ll be able to carve out time to work with Tamyra more often this coming month.

Here’s to watching some more silly television and snuggling under three blankets to stay warm. It’s a good month for being kind to myself and resting for a few minutes instead of racing from one project to the next without taking a breath.

Thank you to everyone who reads these posts. You give me the motivation to keep coming back to write again and again.

I’ll see you next week 🙂

Posted in Character Stories

Midnight Moon

“Callisto, come on down, honey bear.”

I blow out a sigh. This is temporary. I have to keep reminding myself over and over again that tonight is no longer than every other night of my life. It might drag itself out for as long as it can, clawing at the remnants of time as it makes every single second unbearable, but I’ll make it through like I have each day since the beginning of my life. 

I survived last year when Niko decided to play by the dam that inevitably burst and sent him careening into the next village. His stunt probably shaved off six years of my life. If we were closely related to cats, I would still have plenty of time. Since we live our lives connected to the moon and the beasts that came before us, I really can’t afford anymore scares or infirmary stays. 

I survived three years ago when dad went out to an inventors’ meeting and never came back, throwing me in charge of this entire farm while mom took to the streets looking for any little sign of him. 

I’ve survived and that is all that really matters in getting me down the stairs and out towards the group that’s gathered for tonight’s event. 

We don’t have any typical farm accessories here, I think, as I stand at my window and look out at the expanses of fields that belong to our family. There aren’t horses or cows or sheep. There’s enough human farms that can take care of those needs. We don’t use traditional pulley systems or build silos to hold grain for the next year. The Hati family farm is a special place. 

“Callisto, it’s nearly time.”

Grandmother’s tone is not to be trifled with tonight. She’s more on edge than anyone else. This means more to her than to anyone else, too, I suppose. 

It’s an old tradition. I thought it would be one that I skipped completely, but my life has fallen out of my hands since both of my parents disappeared. No longer a woman fiddling with the pieces on a chessboard, I’m merely a checker being moved about the simpler game with ease. 

Go here, Callisto. Make your family proud. Hold your chin up when you speak to these men, Callisto, and know that someday it will not matter that you managed to keep your family alive for years without help because you’ll still be expected to marry one of these under-qualified oafs. 

I should have gone down earlier when there were less people and attempted to drown myself in the punch bowl. Grandmother is going to be at my side every step of the way from here until the dawn’s first lights. My fingers curl around the windowsill. There’s a crack in the next moment. I stare down at the dark claws extending from my hands and then glance at the splintered wood scattered over the floor. 

I’m supposed to be able to trust my instincts. Instead, they seem to be getting the better of me. I sweep the bigger pieces under my bed while Grandmother calls for a third time. 

I really have to go down there. 

Soon, the clouds will pull away from the sky and the full moon will wink down on our lush fields and we’ll know whether or not the Midnight Goddess is going to bless us for another year. If I miss an appointment with the lady of the sky, my grandmother will never forgive me. 

Here goes absolutely nothing. 

Trudging downstairs in the lavender, silk gown Grandmother had designed specifically for this night, I tilt my chin up and assume the haughty expression demanded on eldest daughters. Grandmother is at the foot of the stairs. She’s unconvinced by my stiff shoulders and casual movements. No matter. The point is to trick the people into appointing me to this annoying council. Grandmother is stepping down and her vote has already been cast for me. 

“Took your sweet time, honey bear,” Grandmother grumbles as I curl my fingers around her elbow and allow her to lead me into the greater part of the house. 

I’ve known this place my entire life. It’s my home, my shelter, my forever and always if the council has their way in determining the course of my life. It, however, looks nothing like the memory of my childhood. 

The shadows are darker in each of the corners. All of my nicknacks have been removed and replaced with ancient relics meant to bring good luck and well being to the head of the household. To me. I have no idea if any of it is working as I sneeze on a breath of lavender and sage and wish that I didn’t have to go through with this entire ordeal. 

“Head up, Callisto. We cannot show weakness in front of the council.”

I know. She has told me a thousand times in the last fortnight. 

Don’t scuff your shoes, Callisto. Head up, eyes forward, keep your face expressionless. Be a leader. Prepare to be led to your doom. 

Well, she didn’t say the last part, but I feel it in every vein of my body. Something is going to go wrong here tonight. 

And it’ll probably be my fault. 

“I’m ready,” I answer instead of confiding my concerns and insecurities. 

We don’t have time to deal with negative emotions. We hardly have time to recognize celebrations and good moments. It’s incredibly hard work to keep magic alive in the world. Humans don’t even understand the importance of our work. The council takes us for granted. It’s best to keep a stern expression and shoulder the weight of reality without murmuring a complaint. 

We make it out of the den and past the dining room. I try not to think about the way my stomach grumbles. I don’t think I’ve eaten since yesterday. I forgot. I keep forgetting. There’s so much to do and so little time for myself between it all. 

I hope there’ll be some ham left over for me. 

The thought almost tips me into a fit of giggles. Almost. I’m a mature adult. I’m the head of my household and positioning myself for an esteemed seat on the council. Thoughts about food are frivolous. 

Besides, my brothers aren’t going to leave a morsel for anyone else. 

We’re outside in the next moment, Grandmother and I stepping through the large, open door as one. She doesn’t offer any final pieces of advice. Perhaps she’s just as nervous as I am. 

Little lights flit throughout the tall grass in the fields. Fireflies, humans say. Fairies, I think to myself. Evidence that magic is real and alive here in the Hati farmlands. 

A single path has been mowed through the grass. Grandmother and I enter it together, the bits of greenery seeming to lean closer and brush our shoulders. It’s a caress of good luck. It’s a warning to watch our backs. Some of them linger longer than others. All of them wish for our safe return. 

The council is erected in a large circle somewhere fifty yards away from the main house. We’re directly under the fullest point of the moon. It’s here that my fate will be decided. 

Entering the main area, I keep my chin high as Grandmother bows. I don’t dare stoop into a curtsy. It’s far too early in my life to be throwing respect to everyone around me with the kind of enthusiasm of a child tossing confetti. These men should be tipping their heads for me. Instead, we stand across from each other with tension thickening the air. 

“Callisto Hati, your arrival was predetermined in the stars.”

It wasn’t. I keep that to myself, though. Nobody knew my parents would be gone by now. These kinds of rituals are more interesting when we blame the stars rather than the people who hurt us. 

“Are you prepared to receive your share of the Midnight Goddess’ power?”

“I will take whatever she deems appropriate,” I answer carefully, heeding Grandmother’s warning to not be too excited for power in front of these hyenas. 

There are more speeches. They go over my history, my lineage, and some of my successes of the last few years. None of them truly understand who I am. To them, I’m a data sheet with a couple of major accomplishments. I’m not a person. Soon, once they know what kind of magic fills my veins, I’ll be no more than a possession. 

Run, the wind seems to whisper as it whips by my face. 

There isn’t time. The clouds begin to part. Candles around this circle are extinguished. We bask in the coming glow of the moon. 

The next moments pass by in a haze. Moonlight dances over our circle. It seems to shrink away from the men in an attempt to sidle closer to me. My veins are on fire. There’s power and magic tingling along my skin. 

Potential. Something big. 

“Are you ready for this, Callisto Hati?”

It’s a woman’s voice, but not my grandmother. The Goddess. I can’t answer. My voice is frozen somewhere with the air in my lungs. 

Yes. No. I truly hope so. 

“You’re meant for more than this world,” she murmurs so close to my ear that I feel she’s really in my head, looking at my soul and poking around in my personal bits. 

I don’t know what that means. I don’t get a chance to ask. The Midnight Goddess wraps her arms around me and chooses my fate. 

The world I’ve always known disappears with the blink of an eye.

Author’s Note

Happy stormy Saturday!!! Thanks for visiting my page. I hope you enjoyed a little family story with a little magic and a lot of potential. Callisto Hati is a spur of the moment character I crafted for this particular story, so leave likes and comments down below to let me know what you think!

As always, please take an extra moment to read my writing partner’s story on the same prompt. Bridgette White:

And if you’re looking for more, please check out Lore: Lore by Angelica Reece

We’ll see you next weekend!

Posted in Character Stories

Enemy Fire

Somewhere in the rafters above me a parakeet squawks. My father’s friend refuses to have a normal pet. She signed up instead for a service bird who has managed to escape every attempt she’s made to take him to Sunday service. 

Maybe he’s a demon trapped in the tiny body and trying to run away from this cathedral before the singing commences. 

In that sense, he and I would have some common ground. 

My heels drag with each step. There’s a pounding in my skull that gets incessantly louder the further I make it into this holy place. My skin doesn’t burn, though. I don’t feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust or puke out the virus that has attached itself to my system. 

The virus that I had hated until it saved my life.

My limbs heavy, I press forward past a handful of bystanders who pretend not to see me. Everyone says help is at the church. It sure is for the wealthy and the affluent. Me, though, in my bloodstained shirt and bare feet, I look like a dead man walking, a bad omen that they would rather avoid than face head on. 

Ash coats my tongue from laying face to face with Death all last night. Some might argue that destiny finally caught up with me. I’d argue that a coward with a hammer caught me off guard. 

There has to be cracks in my skull from the impact. At least, there were several hours ago. I heard the crunch and then laid on the cold concrete while the insidious disease I contracted a few weeks ago carefully put my fractured bits back together like they were only pieces to a simple puzzle. 

My vision wavers as I take another step forward. My right side swings forward fine. My left leg drags. I continue in that movement as wave after wave of nausea tries to overtake me. I continue anyway, my limp more and more pronounced with each step closer to the front of the cathedral. The bishop is speaking over my movements, pretending that I’m not getting closer and closer to his precious grasp on this audience. 

“Where’s my mother?” I gasp over the pain lancing from my shoulder down through my ankle. 

He doesn’t even bother to look at me. Someone nearby tries to hush me. I’m not about to be silenced. My life on the line, the life of my family as it currently stands is in danger. I won’t just be shushed and pushed aside. 

I make it almost to the first step up towards his lifted podium before someone actually gets up to stop me. The bishop never stops speaking. He doesn’t hesitate to spread lies to these gullible people. 

“Let me go,” I growl, my hold on the virus slipping as my vision turns red and claws extend on my left hand. 

I haven’t had nearly enough time to come to grips with the supposed vampire variant. I didn’t even believe it was real until a few days after my run-in with the savvy businessman. The guy who exposed me to the virus left me a number to call if the shit hit the fan. He wasn’t exactly in a place to educate me while I fought to suck in a simple breath of air. He, though, had more civilized compassion than the person who attacked me last night. 

The good samaritan who came to my side is babbling about a hospital when he notices that my eyes aren’t a normal shade. Jumping back from me, he clutches at the crucifix around his throat while some kind of garbled prayer sprays from his lips. If I was a Dracula knock off, that might have done something. Since I’m a very real, likely an invincible recreation of Stoker’s first imagined creature, it does absolutely nothing. 

I make it up the first step before another voice rings through the confused din of the audience. “Erik!”

Mom. Mother. The high heeled attacker who left me for dead in a cold alley. 

Glaring at the Bishop, I watch as his hands tremble over his text. Another time. I’m not going to forget the person who brainwashed my mother and then sent her after me. 

I am going to deal with her first. 

Staggering away from the front of the cathedral, I follow her out the side door and into a dim hallway. She’s uninjured and far faster than me. While the beast resting just under the surface of my skin wants bloodshed and revenge, I only want to talk. 

She’s nowhere to be seen.

Leaning against the stone wall, I squint into the next room. Some kind of archive. Maybe just an individual prayer room with a stack of ancient texts for every need. 

She’s in there. 

“Does Dad know?” I ask the room as I step past the door frame. 

She seemingly materializes from an exit across the room. Hiding. It’s not really the way innocent people act. 

“He knows you got into some trouble.”

Right. Dad runs a bakery. He was injured in the army a long time ago and now she coddles him from the real nasty bits of our world. 

“So, you left out the part where you tried to kill me?”

She doesn’t flinch at the statement. I thought she would show some emotion. Maybe she would take a breath to beg for my forgiveness. Instead, she straightens her shoulders and looks down her nose at me even though I’ve been taller than her since I turned fifteen. 

“When you started sneaking around with questionable men, you betrayed the family. You’re not human anymore, Erik. If you cared for any of us, you would take care of this mess yourself.”

I’m going to puke. 

“Kill myself,” I breathe, the words barely penetrating the thick air between us. 

She shrugs, her thin frame wrapped in a jacket. Like this, she just looks like the woman who used to stand in the kitchen and ask about my grades. That’s not who she is now. It’s more than the additional lines around her lips and eyes or the gray strands she can’t seem to keep covered with expensive dyes in her hair. She chose the goddamned Bishop over the rest of us, vowing her life to his secret society. 

One that dislikes anyone who strays from the traditional path and despises vampires. 

“It’s the best choice for the family.”

Of course. The family is the most important thing. We’re not supposed to upset Dad’s life or distract Malcolm from his booming security business. We’re just expected to keep our chins up and our mouths shut. 

I haven’t ratted Mom out in years. She’s been moving family funds around and going to these secret meetings with the Bishop and his followers. I open my mouth to argue with her and then firmly shut it. 

There’s no point. I dragged myself off of the ground and came here to make a statement. 

But it doesn’t matter. 

“Tell Dad I died. I’ll get out of your life.”

For the first time since we came face to face, her stern mask cracks. There’s something else underneath. Likely not sadness since she was already prepared to wipe me off the planet with nothing more than a hammer and her personal conviction. 

“Where will you go?”

That has to be a ploy. She isn’t really going to let me walk out of here. Is she?

I shrug, the action making everything on the right side of my body ache. “Anywhere that isn’t here.”

“You can’t reach out to your brother.”

“I know.”

It would defeat the purpose of faking my death if Malcolm was aware that I was alive. I’m not willing to keep playing these games. I’m mad, really fucking mad about all of this, but it’s not a fight I can win on my own. 

We’re at a standstill. I don’t know if we’re supposed to say more. There’s no way that I’ll be trading statements of love and well being. 

This sucks. 

It really, really sucks. 

But I know when I have to throw in the towel. 

I didn’t stumble through college just to die in an alleyway. 

I’ve got dreams and I know there’s places for me to follow them. There’s a mysterious number in my phone for me to call. I’ll see where that lead takes me while I buy a ticket out of town. 

Still, I don’t know if there’s something else to do. I went through all of the effort to chase her down and say something. Is this really how we’re going to leave things?

I don’t get a chance to make that decision. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone, clicking through several screens before her dark eyes, the same dark eyes I inherited, pin me to my spot. 

“I can buy you eight minutes. Get out. The others are coming.”

A last minute show of loyalty or just a way for her to force me out of her life, I don’t think twice about turning away and limping down the next hall. The door closes behind me with a final thud. Half dead, rage and disgust and grief rampaging through my intestines, I keep my eyes forward. 

It’s time to see where life will take me.

Author’s Note

This writer is physically and mentally exhausted. November has been a very long month packed with keeping up with all of my usual updates and working on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

I started this prompt this morning with a vague idea that I would introduce yet another one of my characters. If you enjoyed The Last Dance a couple of weeks ago, I’m happy to introduce Erik as the stranger that whisked Miles away at the end. Erik’s story is going to play with familial tension and a resistance to religion as he tries to find himself in this terribly complex world.

As always, thank you for coming to read this blog and support my dream to write. It has meant the world to me these last few months.

Please check out Bridgette’s story as well on the theme of chasing an enemy: Chalky Hands

And if you’re reading Lore, come meet Erisa Nabil through Ashby’s eyes: Lore by A D Reece

I’ll see you next weekend, readers! ❤

Posted in Character Stories

Florida Isn’t Far Enough

Still dressed in the same tux I wore to the funeral, I step into the Florida sun. Erik has several weeks on me and this is the only lead. The humid air settles around my shoulders as I leave behind the private plane and slip into the black Hummer waiting for me. 

My driver is a woman in a leopard print dress with red headphones looped around her thin neck. She slides sunglasses down her nose to look at me in the rear view mirror. “Looking hot as magma, Mr. Firoli.”

I shake my head at her. Any other time I would give into the gentle teasing. I would probably say something back about her appearance and wind up getting her number to meet me at my hotel room. It’s definitely my reputation preceding me that she felt safe enough to say something. This isn’t that kind of trip, though. 

Taking out my phone, I start to scroll through my notes while she pulls out of this makeshift lot in the middle of swampy land. Erik vanished three weeks ago. He called me the day before and joked that he would put me in charge of his funeral if anything happened. Well, something happened. 

I saw the crime scene. His apartment was destroyed. There’s no way my brother staged it on his own. I had the blood spatter tested. All of it came back as his. There’s no evidence of a single other person in that place. 

I saw his body. Just the one time after I got the call. I wouldn’t let my parents make the identification. 

I went to the damn funeral and I’m no closer to having any real answers. 

God, I can’t breathe. Sticking my fingers under my tie, I pull it away from my neck. Not enough. I’m not here to look nice for anyone. I take the black tie off and toss it onto the seat next to me. My jacket is next. This woman works for my family. She’ll have it cleaned and sent back or I can just buy a new tux before the next funeral. 

“You hungry, Sir? I know a place that does great spaghetti and Italian doughnuts.”

She’s being kind. I know that. I understand it, but I do not have time for it. “Just take me where you were previously instructed.”

Her hands tighten on the steering wheel. “My apologies, Sir. I just didn’t take you for a guy who likes tiki huts.”

I’m not. I quite frankly don’t like most of America, especially not tourist areas that hand out alcohol like it’s the source of fortune and health. If it was my choice, I would never set foot out of Italy. However, my brother is missing and I’ve promised to not leave a single stone unturned in my search for him. 

I don’t give her an answer. It doesn’t matter what kind of man she thinks I am. She’s in charge of driving me there and then we’ll go our separate ways. 

There’s an important meeting I need to take care of between me and the “tour guide.” 

Erik mentioned the guy once in the last six months. They met on a dating app. Erik thought he was funny and might plan to come out here to see him in person. 

That was it. 

Not something for his big brother to worry about or stick his nose in. At least, it wasn’t until all of the research I could obtain through hacking his computer turned up this guy as the last person to talk to Erik. 

Not three weeks ago, but three days ago. 

While I stood through funeral arrangements and recitals for the big event, this guy was texting Erik. He told my brother that he was enamored with him, that he hoped his new life was going to work out, and that they would meet again. I cringed by the way he mentioned his love for Erik, not because they’re both men, but because nobody should ever say they’re “magnetized” to another human being. 

The armored car cuts through the crowded streets, leaving behind beach shops and girls in bikinis as we maneuver our way to the bar this guy is known to work. He’s expecting my brother. I changed all of the passwords and took over Erik’s accounts two days ago. He’s either going to have to go through me or continue to pretend that he’s a dead man living in this country. 

I haven’t told anyone else my suspicions. I held my father as he sobbed by the closed casket this morning. My mother stood over the grave as they piled each and every last bit of dirt back onto the grand plot. They’re good people. They shouldn’t have to live through losing a child. 

They especially shouldn’t have to when it’s all fake. 

I let my fingers tap away at the phone until I pull up my text thread with my mother. Be careful. She said it twelve times in the span of a couple of hours. I’m her only remaining child, for as much as she knows, and she’s terrified that something is going to happen to me as well. Scrolling to the bottom, I type out a quick message to let her know I’m okay, I’ve arrived, and I’ll be out of contact for a few hours while I deal with business. 

She thinks I’m out here expanding my body guarding enterprise to American soil. I probably should do that while I’m here just so I don’t have to deal with the guilt of lying to her. There’s no reason to get her hopes up that I can bring Erik home until I have my hands on the motherfucker and find out why he put us through this in the first place. 

It has to be something bad. Erik has always had a rebellious spirit. He fights for the smaller guy. There’s at least a dozen scuffles I’ve pulled him out of or had to clean him up from because he wouldn’t let someone be bullied. It’s a good look on him. The hero. Even after coming out queer, he was a part of the family life and welcome at ever function. Our distant relatives don’t understand it so much, but our parents and I have always been there for him. 

This has to be something else and it has to be really, really bad for him to not mention it to any of us. 

I don’t want to string together false theories, so I let my eyes mindlessly browse images on my phone. There’s no telling if this is drug or gang related. My family has had problems with those topics in the past. I’m old enough to understand that my parents don’t run a regular bakery. There’s shady deals made in the back of the store and odd shipments that come in during the late hours of the night. My father is the face of the business, passing down age old recipes from his mother and his mother’s mother and keeping people happy with his desserts while my mother does more than just housekeeping at the end of the night. 

She has never told me more about her extra activities and I’ve only asked once. Just before I left for college. It was late at night. There had been blood on her apron. I asked if it was safe for me to leave or if she would rather I invest in the family business and stay to help her. 

Go. Make a better life. She wouldn’t condemn me to carry the burden of her career. 

Erik stayed home longer than I did, though. He didn’t leave for college right away and I was gone for a handful of years while I completed my business degree. Could he have known more? If so, is this the reason he has gone into hiding? Wouldn’t my mother know something?


Her eyes were rimmed with red this morning and her fingers shook when she pulled me in for a hug. That wasn’t an act. She lost a son and almost couldn’t bear letting me walk away. 

I’m going to fix this for us. No matter what this takes. Erik is going to come home and my family will be whole once again. 

The car eventually stops. I slip the woman a twenty as I thank her for the ride and then excuse her of her duties. I won’t be needing someone to pick me up. I’m plenty capable of taking care of things on my own. 

My black carry-on in my left hand, I stride towards the bar. Neon lights twinkle around the roof, beckoning tourists to stop in and try a fruity beverage. There’s wood etchings of Hawaiian deities and some signs with quotes dangling around the door. Well, the curtain. This place has beads covering the entrance. 

I blow out a sigh. I can make this quick. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot the guy I need after all of the mostly naked pictures I’ve gone through in the last forty-eight hours. He’ll give me my answers and I’ll be on my way. No need to stay and try a coconut hurricane.

As if to prove my point, I step into the dim interior and blink to clear my vision, my eardrums immediately accosted by the awful singing of a clearly inebriated man. Not any man. TourGuide1986. Got him.

Waving off a waitress that offers me a drink menu, I watch the man finish his song. Thin, dressed in a tank top, board shorts, and flip flops, he has no chance of getting out of here without dealing with me. He falls to his knees as he finishes the ridiculously long note at the end of the song. I am going to be merciless about teasing Erik. This cannot possibly be his kind of person. My brother is so level-headed and kind. This man, Mr. TourGuide1986, is a fool. 

He waves for the crowd to demand an encore, but they boo him off of the stage. Helped down by a security guard, he staggers down to a booth in the back corner. Clearly, he spends a lot of time here. Nobody steps into his way and the table is clearly filled with all of his empty beverage glasses for the night. 

I waste no time joining him there, setting my bag amongst the chaos on the tabletop as I slide in next to him, cutting off any chance for him to escape. “We need to talk.”

TourGuide1986 lolls his head from one side to the other, cracking his neck in the process as he moves his thigh against mine. “Well, hello there, Sir. Are you extremely happy to see me or is that a revolver in your pocket?”

“Sober up or you’re about to find out,” I snap, more frustrated by the second as I come to understand that this worthless human being is the only tie I have to my lost brother. 

Erik better be healthy when I find him. He better be in the best shape of his life because I’m going to strangle him when we finally have a moment alone. This man, this entire situation, is a ridiculous detour from my otherwise perfect life and I do not have time for it. 

Seeming to use all of the effort in his body, he blinks his eyes a few times and then reaches across the table for an empty glass, slurping the last bits of the long gone drink from the ice cubes. “Look, if Benji sent you, I’m getting his money together. We don’t have to play hard to get. I’ll even take you to a private room and-.”

Nope. Not what we’re here for. I don’t let him finish the thought and offer before curling my fist in his flimsy shirt and pressing him into the darkened corner of our booth. 

“My brother, Erik. What do you know?”

“Erik,” his glass falls out of his hand, spilling ice into his lap as he wraps shaking fingers around my wrist. “Erik, Erik, Erik. I don’t know man. I don’t think I know an Erik. You must have the-.”

I slam my fist on the table. Another person has started singing at the front of the room. It covers up the clinking of glasses in our area as I dip my face into his and drop my voice to a threatening whisper. 

“Do not tell me I have the wrong guy right now. Erik Firoli. You’ve been in contact with him.” Blowing out a deep breath, I switch tactics. “QueerItalian93. That ring a bell?”

“Ooooooh.” He excitedly taps my wrist. “Yeah, man. I know him.” Eyes rolling back in his head, he lets out a hearty laugh. “Do I know him. That guy is one fine-.”

Why am I putting myself through this? Is my brother really worth it? He’s clearly gotten into some bad shit with bad people and it isn’t really my responsibility to clean up after him. 

Even if I wanted to, I can’t walk away until this is finished. I won’t go home to my parents without Erik. I’m going to fix everything. 

It is my goddamn job. 

“I don’t care what you think of him. I know you’re not really a tour guide and I’m pretty sure he saw you a few days ago to pick up some forged papers. Where the Hell did you send my brother?”

The red-faced fool fumbles his words. “Look, man, I can’t just be telling you these things. There’s like client confidentiality or whatever.”

I tighten my grip. “You can tell me or we can go outside, so I can show you what the fuck’s in my pocket. Where is Erik?”

Snot dribbles from his oversized nostrils and his long, blond bangs fall into his eyes as he tries to shrink out of my hold. “No, man. It’s okay. We don’t have to do any of that. I got him an I.D. That’s it. He could go anywhere with it.”

I swear, if he makes me ask him again…

I don’t have to, though, as his nervous tongue keeps talking. “Vegas, okay? He told me that there’s a job waiting for him in Las Vegas. Nevada. You need a map. I’ll mark it down for you. Vegas. I promise that’s the best place to go. He probably didn’t even need fake I.D., but he’s covered now and anyone out in that godforsaken desert will employ him without a question. Vegas,” he repeats, his bloodshot eyes wild as he searches my face for a scrap of mercy, “I know it’s Vegas. Vegas is my final answer. You wanna find your brother, you go there.”

It’s a lead. Not the most concrete evidence out there, but I’m already grasping at straws and in over my head. I’ll take what I can get. 

“I find out that you’re lying to me,” our faces are an inch apart, his acrid breath washing over my face as I keep my threats between us, “I’ll be back. It wasn’t hard to find you.”

There’s no reason to wait for his response. Dropping my hand, I slide back out of the booth and pick my bag off of the table. No one turns to watch me leave. 

Las Vegas, Nevada. 

I thought Florida was far for him to run. 

I still don’t know what’s wrong with Erik, but if he felt the need to fake his death and get fake identification in a different country, it’s something real bad. It won’t be today and likely won’t be tomorrow, but I’m going to find him and get to the bottom of this. Family matters more than anything else. No drunk forger is going to stop me from finding my brother. The Devil himself could try to chain me down and I would break away. 

My phone buzzes and I answer without checking the screen. “Yeah?”

“Is this Malcolm Firoli?”

The full force of the Florida sunset beating down on me, I pause at the accented voice on the other side of the line. “Who’s asking?”

“Gideon Carter. Your secretary passed on this personal number. I have an urgent job for you.”

I shake my head. I’ll have to reprimand Amy for that. This is the third time she’s given a potential client my personal number. “I’m sorry, Sir, but I’m out of town right now. I won’t be able to set up a new account at the moment. If you want to call back at my office, then-.”

“Money isn’t a problem. There’s a woman in trouble. I am willing to do anything I can to get her the best security in the world right now.”

How am I supposed to say no to that? Erik’s currently evading me. I may as well set up an American account while I’m looking for my brother. 

“Where is she?”

“Las Vegas.”

Well, that’s just purely convenient. “Name?”

“Lucy Lore. She’s a burlesque dancer.”

I don’t need to ask anymore questions. “Fine. You’ve got a bodyguard. Call the office back to finalize details. I’m on my way to Nevada for another job anyway.”

He doesn’t hang up right away. “Mr. Firoli, there’s something else I can only tell you.”

Shit. This is about to be one of those prank calls. “What?” I bite out, fighting every instinct to just hang up. 

The next statement out of his mouth makes no sense and all the sense in the world at the same time. I know why Erik left. There are greater evils in the world than those brought forth by regular men. Plenty of good men fall ill or are overtaken by this specific evil. My mother is terrified one of us will fall prey to the disease online articles are coining as Stoker’s virus. 


They’re real and they’re going to hurt this girl. 

Their influence has been growing in Italy. Erik must have made a bad connection with one of them. He fled the country to keep us safe, to keep us from being the next victims of this growing bioweapon. 

“I understand the danger, Mr. Carter. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

He murmurs his thanks as I turn off my phone and tuck it back into my pocket. There’s some supplies I’ll need to gather before I head to this job. Enough gear to protect myself and this girl and my brother. 

It’s a good thing that playing the hero pays well.

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this far! I hope you enjoyed the introduction into Malcolm Firoli’s mind and the tiny peek at the end of his importance to the overall story. I cannot wait to come back next week with something else for you all!

As always, please take a moment to read through my writing partner’s story, too!

Bridgette White: