on m/m romance, baking, knitting, and occasional smut

Tag Archives: Free Reads

Pura Vida - Sara AlvaTitle: Pura Vida
Author: Sara Alva
Publisher: Self Published (m/m Goodreads Romance Group)
Length: 25,400 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: 2013 Love Has No Boundaries story, Free, Short Stories, New Adult, On Vacation, Diverse Pairing, Costa Rica, Second Chances, at the Beach, College, Summer Break
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Simon has found himself in an open relationship for the summer—though not by choice. Instead of wallowing, he’s decided to make the most of a family vacation to Costa Rica by hooking up with the first hot guy available. Trouble is, he has no clue how to go about doing that.

Luckily, he runs into someone with a little more experience. But when the moments of lust turn into something more, Simon isn’t so sure he’ll be able to return to his old relationship. And there’s no way to hold onto this new one, either, as thousands of miles will separate them in only a few short weeks. Either way, he’ll have to learn to let go.

REVIEW

I’m really happy that Sara Alva asked me to specifically review this short story of hers. Many of you will have read it, I know, because it’s a free short from the m/m Goodreads Romance Group’s LHNB event. I usually keep up a little better with the stories than I have this year and I also try to do a couple mass reviews of some of my favorites. But, I’ve really missed most of them, just because there have been too many new releases this summer! And way too many of them that I’ve wanted to review 🙂 Thankfully, Sara did ask me to review this one and I’m really glad she did because it was so cute and a real joy to read.

Simon is with his father, mother and sister on vacation in Costa Rica where his father is in development of vacation homes. It’s the few weeks after finals just at the start of the summer and Simon is in a bit of a quandary. His boyfriend back at college, Leo, has pretty much parted his company without much fanfare, giving Simon a “let’s see what happens over the summer” goodbye that pretty much means he just wants to fuck whomever he likes until Simon is back to be his bedwarmer throughout the year. Leo is a little bit cruel, but even if he isn’t what Simon really wants, he’s what he’s got and Simon figures that he shouldn’t give up on a solid thing himself.

What better for him to do than try to find a summer fling himself? At least so that he doesn’t go back to Leo having pined for him all summer. But Simon doesn’t really know how to go about catching someone’s eye. There are a lot of cute guys at the beach of their resort and it seems so easy for his sister Alyssa to catch a cute guy. It isn’t until he stumbles up on the local migration of sea turtles hatching on the beach at night that he meets Juan.

Juan is a local that doesn’t show much faith in another American tourist at first, especially when the two get off to such an inauspicious start. But Simon rallies and when he actually shows interest in the turtles, Juan invites him to help with his nightly duties. It doesn’t take them long to find a chemistry between them, but even if Simon did start to have feelings for Juan, there’s no chance of anything happening when he lives thousands of miles away.

This is such a perfect and sweet vacation fling story and this author does it in a way that sets it apart. There’s no easy out that things could continue in the future, that one could stay or the other could follow at the end of their fling. There are real differences between them. But we get to that point by getting to know the two of them in all of their awkwardness and by doing so their relationship has heart where other stories with a similar premise might not. And that’s because there are such differences between them. Juan is a local who has had only too many opportunities to get to know different kinds of people, but so many of them through the facade of the resort, bringing him into contact with a type of person that he can’t understand might not be rich or spoiled. He’s someone who has to work hard for what he has, battle his own family against his sexuality, and then battle the people he comes in contact with every summer to be seen as more than a stupid village boy. Though they come from different worlds, Simon is different. He can’t seem to make himself believe that their fling could be no-strings attached. He just doesn’t know how. And part of that is because he’s the type of person who would find interest in the beauty of the turtles and understand the beauty in what Juan sees everyday.

I don’t know Sara Alva well. And this is the first work of hers that I’ve read — no matter how many times I’ve remembered how much I want to read Social Skills. But, I can see from reading this story that she’s someone who really cares about what she writes and that she writes because she loves it. I’m not an author, but I can understand that. I want to read Social Skills now more than ever, because I feel into her prose and it was so easy and comforting to get lost in. I’m excited to see what to make of a longer story. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve had so many people tell me to read it by now 😉

If you missed this one in all the crush of the free stories this summer, then definitely go get it. It’s sweet and heartfelt and you’ll probably find a new author that you like.


Here’s a Repost of my review of Spirit Sanguine
Orignally posted on May 6, 2013

All New Review for Late Night Snack below!

SpiritSanguine72lgTitle: Spirit Sanguine
Author: Lou Harper
Publisher: Samhain
Length: 74,562 words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Vampires, Vampire Hunters, Veg/Vegan Vamps, Mystery, Action/Adventure, X-Dressing!, Chicago, Diverse Couple, Funny Guys, Las Vegas, Private Investigators, Roleplay
Rating: LOVED It!

BLURB

Is that a wooden stake in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

After five years in eastern Europe using his unique, inborn skills to slay bloodsuckers, Gabe is back in his hometown Chicago and feeling adrift. Until he’s kidnapped by a young, sexy vampire who seems more interested in getting into his pants than biting into his neck.

Harvey Feng is one-half Chinese, one-hundred-percent vampire. He warns Gabe to stay out of the Windy City, but somehow he isn’t surprised when the young slayer winds up on his doorstep. And why shouldn’t Gabe be curious? A vegetarian vampire isn’t something one sees every day.

Against their better judgment, slayer and vampire succumb to temptation. But their affair attracts unexpected attention.

When Chicago’s Vampire Boss makes Gabe an offer he can’t refuse, the unlikely lovers are thrust into peril and mystery in the dark heart of the Windy City. Together they hunt for kidnappers, a killer preying on young humans, and vicious vampire junkies.

However, dealing with murderous humans and vampires alike is easy compared to figuring out if there’s more to their relationship than hot, kinky sex.

Product Warnings
Fangalicious man-on-man action, a troublesome twink, cross-dressing vampiress, and role-playing involving a fedora.

REVIEW

I hadn’t planned on giving this book a proper review, but when Sunday rolled around and I was still thinking about this book, so I decided that it really needed one. For some reason, and I sincerely hope that this is just my 2D, rather limited view of the m/m romance reading community, this book hasn’t seemed to have had a real splash yet. And that’s a damn shame. Here’s what I said on Goodreads immediately after I finished the book Satuday:

This has the most eclectic mix of tags I’ve ever given a book. Surprisingly, they all went together! And even more, it kinda represents this book, which is a bit of a hodge-podge of different quirks and ideas, even plotting and pacing which I found rather refreshing. Definitely not typical vampire fare!

Now, the tags here are pretty much similar to the ones on Goodreads, but since I can more easily edit and add tags here at the blog, they of course have a bit more flair 😉 I have to admit that I’ve fallen into a bit of a pattern in my mismanagement of my m/m reading, where many of the most exciting releases seem to slip through the net (there are many factors, though it still makes me a dolt) mostly because of reviewing duties, but Lou Harper is perhaps one on the top of the list of those stellar authors that I haven’t given their due. Perhaps I should do a backlist read. Anyway, this book wasn’t just well written, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, for many reasons I’ll talk about later. But that brings me to another point. Another byproduct of my reviewing duties is that I tend to analyze first rather than enjoy the book first, and having not originally slated Spirit Sanguine as a review book and (imagine this!) actually making myself sit down and read a book for pleasure instead of work on reviews I should be getting up to date, meant that this one just slipped right through and knocked me flat. I didn’t really have to think about an analysis of the book, of styles and pacing and plot and characterizations, but… I just enjoyed it. It was a refreshing read, and not something I was expecting from the vampire angle.

Lou has an interesting take on her book up on her review on Goodreads, which you can read here. In it, she says:

Bloodsuckers are everywhere; you can’t walk down a dark alley without a couple of them jumping out and accosting you with their dark and broody eyes. They do that a lot–mope and sulk. That’s what got to me, all the melodrama. I mean, they are practically immortal, don’t get sick, grow old, don’t need to watch their weight or work out. What the hell do they have to bellyache about?

(That’s the truth.)

And that’s the point. In a sub-genre where melodrama rules and/or kinky vampire sex clubs are the forte, humor takes precedent here, brought forth by the vivacious and quirky Harvey (I love the name, and not just the Feng/Fang part, the fact that her vampire is named Harvey), who isn’t really like any other of his kind. In actuality, I’d rather not go into characterization here, because I’d rather not cut him into pieces to analyze him. He’s best enjoyed as it’s written… plus, you’ll find plenty in other reviews, I’m sure. The same goes for Gabe, who is perhaps the undervalued of the pair, though it’s important that he’s the lens we see the world through, and even more in which we see Harvey through. His understanding of and feelings for Harvey are how we understand him best, in reflection.

What was really refreshing about this book for me was also in a second part — the style, which is reflected in pacing but also the plot. Both were atypical in that they don’t follow the usual structure. Broken into three parts, each concentrates on a different aspect of the story while they, in succession, follow a continual arc. Some readers might find this off-putting. I’m not really sure. I quite enjoyed it. Because while the first is a typical setup to the story and introduces the relationship between Gabe and Harvey, the second and third both have a somewhat separate plot, though they’re tied together. But you do get the feeling, between the transition between Parts 2 and 3, that there’s a bit of a jog. And consequently, you’ll find two climaxes (one at the end of each part) around the 55% mark and the end of the book.

Nikyta noticed this as well and made a remark to me about it (in our many back and forth book gabbing emails) and probably described it better than I did, asking if I had noticed authors using this style more lately, the (in her words) “multiple mini stories in one book of the same couple” style. We both automatically thought of Megan Derr, who sometimes writes in a similar though pretty different style from what I’m describing in Spirit Sanguine. Perhaps it’s that Gabe and Harvey really only have two distinct adventures and Megan Derr often writes books that are split between the many adventures one couple has, a sort of extended vignette style. Nik thought that maybe it was a style that was becoming more popular. I’m not sure, but suffice to say that it is something that we’ve both enjoyed. And definitely something that I found made Lou Harper’s book infinitely more original — though, of course, anything with a vampire named Harvey Feng could hardly be called conventional.

Read the book. And please enjoy it!

latenightsnackcoverTitle: Late Night Snack (Sanguine #1.5)
Author: Lou Harper
Publisher: Self Published (Harper Books)
Length: 5k words
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Lou Harper Week!, Sequel, Short Story, Free Reads, Vampires, Vampire Hunters, Vegan/Vegetarian Vamps, Chicago, Mystery, X-Dressing, Roleplay, Playful Sex, Funny Men, Established Couple, Private Detective
Rating: Pretty Good

BLURB

Sometimes life takes strange turns. Gabe is a slayer but his lover is a vampire. And so is his boss. When Gabe is tasked with capturing a delinquent blood sucker, he’s determined to succeed, even if it means posing as bait. There is only one problem: Harvey, his possessive boyfriend, might ruin everything.

Warning: hot fang-on-man action, role-playing, and one pissed off vampire.

REVIEW

This is really a good story to read either before or after reading Spirit Sanguine. For the most part things are explained about their relationship and the story stands alone enough for this to be a good intro for those interested in reading that book and about Gabe and Harvey. Of course, I think it’s great to read after reading Spirit Sanguine, especially as I have — a few months later. It’s a really nice reminder of the couple and the fun I had reading that book and getting to know Harvey and Gabe. There is a short little mystery case that Gabe takes on from his boss, but mostly this works well as a reunion-type story, where you just want to spend a little more time with the main couple. Nothing really progresses in their story, but you get to re-familiarize yourself with the two.

The story is centered around a rogue vampire and Gabe’s job (down from on high, Augustine the head vampire of Chicago and Gabe’s boss) to find the guy, or girl of course. Two humans have turned up as newly-minted vampires, turned against their will. And conveniently for Gabe, or mostly Augustine, both were vegetarians. As Harvey always says, ‘Vegetarians really do taste better,’ and Gabe, who has recently stopped eating meat because of Harvey’s vegan vampire propensities, is neatly lined up as bait.

Of course, Harvey doesn’t want to go along with this. And no matter what Harvey tells Gabe and how much Gabe tries to pretend that Harvey will actually do what anyone else tells him, Harvey shows up to the club in full regalia to assist as only he can, so the two can take the rogue down together. They do work better as a couple, after all.

As I said before, anyone who really liked Spirit Sanguine will naturally want to read this. It’s free, so why not? But, I think that it would be fine for those who might not be sure if they want to read the novel to read this first and see if they like the couple. I don’t see how you couldn’t, they’re one of my favorites!


deepinthecountparkerTitle: Deep in the Count
Author: Madison Parker
Publisher: M/M Goodreads Group
Length: 16k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: 2013 Love Has No Boundaries event, Free Reads, Short Story, Baseball, Sports, Nerds/Geeks, Nerds/Jocks trope, College, Tutor, Strip Studying!, Cryptology
Rating: Really Liked It!

**Note: This story is not yet available in the 2013 Love Has No Boundaries even by the M/M Romance Goodreads Group. No specific date yet, but will be available sometime in the next 2 months.

BLURB

Brandon plays baseball for Virginia Tech. Although his coach is confident he has a successful career ahead of him, Brandon’s not so sure. What if he doesn’t make it? What will he have to fall back on? He wishes he were smarter. He looks at his friend’s roommate and thinks he’d give anything for that confidence and those brains. Because brains and confidence? That’s sexy! If only he could get Corey to notice him. He needs to find a way to appeal to Corey’s inner geek.

Corey’s degree program and academic standing are sure to land him a good job in his chosen career field: cryptology. Those popular kids? They think that because he’s a “geek” he’s missing out on life, but they’re wrong. He’s got his eye on the prize and doesn’t need the distractions of a social life. So why is he having such a hard time ignoring his roommate’s flirty friend?


This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group’s “Love Has No Boundaries” event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

REVIEW

This story is not yet available, just so you know. But, seeing it already on Goodreads meant that I just couldn’t wait! So, Madison sent me a copy and let me know I could post it whenever I wanted, since we don’t yet know when it will be posted. And this is me really, really, really hoping that it’s posted soon because it’s such a cute, sweet, happy story that I want to share my reading experience with all of you!

This Jock/Nerd college story doesn’t rely on the typical trope. The prompt that started this story specifically asked for a different take on that trope, so what we get in this story is a jock that doesn’t really like his own popularity and a nerd that doesn’t want or need any of his own. Corey relies on his own genius to move him further in life. To him, college isn’t a chance to party, but to make connections and actually learn. He’s a student of mathematics, but really loves cryptology. Brandon is the star pitcher of the college’s baseball team, but has always been uncomfortable of the popularity that and his looks give him. He’s out and no one cares, but getting a date is a different thing altogether. Most people expect him to want to date another gay athlete at the school, someone like him, but Brandon has always been attracted to men smaller and smarter than him.

When Brandon finds out that his best friend’s roommate is gay, he’s curious to know more from his friend. Just seeing Corey’s side of the dorm room gives him some ideas — a worn Rubik’s Cube, posters of Battlestar Galactica, and little armies of figures in their precise places. Corey is obviously a nerd, something that his roommate and Brandon’s friend continues to tell him. So when Brandon finally faces the fact that he’ll fail his statistics class without tutoring, he’s surprised that the cute guy who helps him is Corey. He’s cute, really smart, and just happens to say no to Brandon every time he asks him out.

The continued rebuttals force Brandon to get creative, but at the same time Corey is succumbing to pressure from his best friend to get out of his room, take some time off from his work and flirt with a guy. Brandon just happens to be cute and already interested in him…

Sorry for going on so long there. The prompt for this story is really why the story is so wonderful. That and the fact that Madison Parker is really talented at putting together cute/feel-good stories. But the prompt that wanted, specifically, a story with a Jock/Nerd trope turned on it’s head is what makes this story unique and special. Throughout the story, when we’d normally expect the jock to have all the power while wooing the pants of the nerd (literally), we have Corey holding the reins. Brandon has shown his interest in him countless times and seems like he’ll try to do anything to get Corey to recognize him in a romantic way and to make time for him among his math and cryptology work. But Corey already has firm goals placed in mind and is halfway to completing them. College for him is about forging the path to his future career, and he’s got both feet placed firmly on that path. A romantic distraction is not something that he needs, or wants; there will always be time for a boyfriend later, when he’s more established. So instead of what we expected form this trope, we have a nerd with all the power! Woo!

Madison has a lot of fun with codes and making codes in this story. Not only is it a GREAT way for Brandon to woo Corey, it’s also fun for us because we’re told a lot about different codes and how they’re encrypted. And in the end (this isn’t a spoiler!), the story ends with a code that we’re left to solve ourselves. I had a lot of fun with that. Madison talks all about the story and ciphers on her blog, which you should definitely check out. She even explains a basic keyword shift and gives us a message to decipher.

It’s good practice before reading the story!


walkinthedarkmcmurrayleadusnotindecemberhalloweenhowl

*Click the covers to be taken to the story/purchase info. Further info at the bottom of the post.
**”On the Stoop”, the DSP Halloween Howl story, is currently unavailable.

When I decided to review Kate McMurray’s backlist, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget any shorts. And while there aren’t many, when I did start making my list of the books I needed to read and to re-read, I decided that I’d go ahead and just do all of them. There are a very short list of short stories, most of them free. So, at the very least this is a good place for someone unfamiliar with this author to decide if they like her style and writing.

Also, I find it interesting to read short stories written by this author, who is definitely more well known for her novels. Both Kindling Fire for Snow and her newest, Save the Date, are shorter than most (the first at around 20k and the latter at around 33k words), but they aren’t really short stories either, which is a completely different style of writing in some ways. Some authors are terrible at writing shorts but write completely incredible novels, and vice versa. Of course, that’s mostly in the literary genre because short stories are much more valued there, but I always find it interesting to see how an m/m author I like transitions to writing shorts. And even though I’d read quite a few of Kate’s books, I had surprisingly read none of her short stories.

I started with the two that I already had: A Walk in the Dark (part of the 2011 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar) and Lead Us Not (one of the M/M Romance Group’s 2012 Love is Always Write stories). And… I can’t believe it but I loved them both. In fact, I think that this might be where Kate’s background in literature and literary fiction (mostly as a reader, as she said in her interview with me two days ago).

A Walk in the Dark tells the story of Jared’s unrequited love for his best friend and roommate’s boyfriend Brandon. Rex, Jared’s roommate, is a bit of a player, but in the way only best friends can still loves him and sees his good qualities no matter how much he hates seeing the guy he loves being dicked around and very possibly cheated on. I thought that the story did what it really needed to without giving us too much more, which is one of my biggest problems with short stories — when they try to be novels in disguise. The characters came through for me in a real way because of the awkward position they’re in and the story is good for the season, a sweet HEA for Christmas. I give it a Pretty Good.

Lead Us Not was really the surprise for me. I remember seeing the prompt that Kate chose and looking forward to reading the story, but somewhere in there I missed it and haven’t thought much about it since then. The prompt asks for a story about two actors and boyfriends who’ve moved to NYC to pursue their dreams and the temptations they face in order to get to their HEA. The story Kate gave us was simply beautiful, in emotion and in craft. Written in alternating first person between Sam and Jess, they each tell us about their own lives in NYC and how they’ve grown and moved from the naive boyfriends who moved there several years ago, two of them against the world. They recount how their lives have started to diverge and how no matter how much each still loves the other, how much doubt can harm a relationship. The temptations offered are in the form of two other guys, catalysts who seem to be a sounding board for all of their doubts about themselves, each other and their careers, which for both are going in directions they never really expected. The beauty of the story is how Kate shows us such a sweet love story without pulling punches. It’s a much more true to real life story than many sugarcoated fantasies in the romance genre and that gave it a real ring of authenticity that makes their hard-won HEA really worth it. I’ve only given Kate one 5-star review in the past, for Out in the Field, but this is my second. I Loved It. And it’s free!

The remaining two stories are both free stories. “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is currently available for download and read here, on Kate’s website. “On the Stoop”, the story that was released in October as part of the Dreamspinner Halloween Howls, is currently unavailable from their website, but is also up for download at Kate’s website.

Both stories are much shorter than the previous two. “On the Stoop” is the story of a recent transplant to NYC from St. Louis, a man who seeing the differences between Halloween celebrations in New York are different from his childhood in the suburbs in the midwest feels that they only reflect how out of place he feels. When he meets a cute guy sitting on his stoop in his neighborhood handing out candy to passing kids, he sits and talks and finally feels like he’s made a friend, or something more that could give him hope that he could call the city home. This was a cute, no-sex story. It’s quite short and doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but I still felt like Adrian was developed well for a story of this length. Because there isn’t a whole lot going on, I couldn’t really love it, though it was a nice read. So this one gets a cute So So 😉

And lastly, “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is the story of two men who meet at the top of the Empire State building on a lonely Christmas Eve. Both are at low points in their lives and seeing an old friend who they hadn’t seen in years gives them the energy to get through the night together when they thought they’d have to spend it alone and depressed. That night leads to a bonding between the two of them and eventually, more… I felt similarly about this story as I felt about “On the Stoop”, though where that story had less actual plot, I felt like this story actually had quite a bit going on. If Goodreads is right and this was made available (in whatever form) in 2009, that makes this one of Kate’s first public stories. I could see some of that in the writing. Perhaps the meeting atop the Empire State Building is a bit cliché, but the story quickly moves on and developed two really good characters, which showed me that Kate has a natural talent for writing realistic characters, even if her writing might have improved some over the intervening years. This one gets a So So as well.

For anyone interested, Dreamspinner recently published a free sequel short about Four Corner characters Jake and Adam’s anniversary on the DSP Blog, called “Shortstop.” I talked a bit about it (it’s cute!) in my review of Four Corners the other day. Here’s the link for anyone interested in read it.

Well, sadly that ends Kate McMurray Week 😦 I hope all of you enjoyed taking a tour through her books with me and also enjoyed our interview on Thursday. Remember, comment on the interview before Midnight, Tuesday June 11th for a chance to win a copy of her book, Save the Date!

Next Up: I do the same with Lou Harper the last week of June. I’ll be reviewing her entire backlist and interviewing her as well as talking about her upcoming book, Dead Man and the Restless Spirits, about Denton from Spirit Sanguine, available on June 25th. I hope you’ll join me for that!


I have a real treat for all of you today. I know that many of you, like me, are big fans of Sarah Black — so not only was I super excited last month when I heard she had another book coming out, but I was even more excited and honored when she wrote me to ask for a guest spot to post here on the blog. And when she asked me if I’d mind if she posted a story that she’s written, I couldn’t write back to her fast enough to tell her that (duh!), of course I wouldn’t mind! I was honored to even have Sarah come here, but getting a new and free story out of the deal? I was ecstatic!

So, I’ll turn it over to Sarah now, who is going to first introduce the post and then offer you the story — “Open Your Eyes to Water”.


I write about veterans more than not, because this is my tribe. When I first started writing, nearly ten years ago, I didn’t want to write about anything I knew. There was a whole world of interesting buff men and women engaged in shameless pornography to explore! God knows that wasn’t me writing anything I knew personally! It was fun, like watching a den of bunnies hop around.

But over time, I’ve come around to following that old sage advice about writing what you know. That means I can dig deep, and write subtle characters who are as real and human as I can make them. I grew up with Navy guys, and I did a career in the Navy myself. Since that time, I seem to naturally gravitate to vets. We speak the same language, have the same points of reference. If a man tells me he was Armored Cav in Korea, I speak up a little bit. His hearing is going to be bad. Anybody who tells me they were in Vietnam in 1968 gets a hug, homeless or not. So when I think up characters for a fictional story, they are very likely to be vets.

This short story, called “Open Your Eyes to Water”, is about a young vet coming home. It’s a very different story from The General and the Horse-Lord, out from Dreamspinner, but Cole has been kind enough to play host to this story, which I would like to offer to you as a gift. Stories are a gift of my heart to the world. In The General and the Horse-Lord, I wrote about a couple of guys my age who long ago gave up the possibility to be together so they could serve, and the consequences that rolled downhill from there. Young vets today don’t have those same constraints, but they still have their battles. I hope you enjoy the story.

Open Your Eyes to Water
Sarah Black

I was the third Grant Lathrop to stand on this porch in the early morning, holding a cup of coffee and looking out across the land. The Douglas firs rose silent and dark as sentinels, emerging from the fog where the hills spiked up toward heaven. The fields we planted were the wet, clear green of new grass, rolling toward the horizon. The plow turned up earth the color of bittersweet chocolate.

It was my grandfather’s land, now mine. When I got back from the army I told my father I wasn’t going back to college. My dad knew I wanted to plant the fields with grape vines and start a vineyard, but neither of us had told my grandfather. I got the feeling my dad was hoping this was a phase, some post-war traumatic something that would work itself out in time.

The foundations of the old church were still smoking, though the fire crew had put up their hoses and started to work on the barbecue pit. My grandfather’s church had stood at the bottom of the hill for longer than my lifetime, the big sign on the roof repainted every year in baby blue: Jesus Light of the World. It had been abandoned for ten years now, no money for repairs, the congregation moved on, died off, or too old to make it out to the country for their weekly redemption. My grandfather had agreed to let my dad’s firefighting crew burn down the old building, and they combined the practice burning with a welcome-home barbecue for me.

My dad was called by his middle name, Sam. He was the second Grant Lathrop, and the fire chief in our town. Chief of himself, he always said, since he was the only paid firefighter in Amity, Oregon. The rest of the crew were volunteers. My grandfather, the first Grant Lathrop, was called Preacher by everyone, had been called Preacher since he was nineteen. He’d preached for the first time standing in the middle of a dirt road, smoke twisting into the clean morning air from the black and broken timbers of a building he had burned to the ground. I wondered if the smoke from his church drifting across the fields reminded him of back in the day. The guys in my platoon called me G.

The old man was sitting in a big wicker chair, his back cushioned by pillows. He’d gotten skinny in the last few years, the skin tight over the bones of his face, little curves and dips on his skull visible to the eye. His eyes hadn’t changed, though. They were dark, nearly black, and kindled with a heat that looked at the world and saw all the sin that was so carefully hidden.

“Sam?”

“No, Granddad. It’s Grant. You want something? You need some more tea?”

He shook his head. “How does it look?”

“It’s down to the foundations. It burned pretty fast.”

“I was never much of a builder. How’s the land? Is it drying up enough for you to plow?”

“Not yet. Maybe a couple of days.”

Cody Hill climbed up the steps of the porch, handed me a beer. He was the only one of the firefighting crew who had been in combat. I got the feeling my dad had asked him to keep an eye on me. “How you doing, kid?”

“I’m good. Those chickens about done?”

“The chickens, yeah. I can throw you a drummie if you’re getting hungry. The ribs need another hour of slow smoking.” He looked over at my granddad. “Preacher, you want a piece of barbecued chicken?”

Those dark eyes were fixed on the beer bottle in my hand. He looked at Cody, stared at his bottle. Cody grinned, sat down on the porch steps. “Sorry, Preacher.” I sat next to him, took a long pull on the beer. “So, what’s your story?” he asked. “The war fuck up your head?”

I shrugged, took another pull of the beer. “How should I know? Crazy people never think they’re crazy.”

“You’ve always been a smart-ass.” He threw a big arm across my shoulders. “Don’t spend too much time bouncing around in that empty head of yours, okay?” He changed tactics. “So, what happened to med school?”

“I have developed an aversion to blood.”

My dad was down in the yard, spreading paper tablecloths over three long tables pushed together. I’d made potato salad and coleslaw. The bowls were sitting in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap.

“Yeah, you’re fucked up. I knew it.” He slapped me hard on the back a couple of times. “Things are gonna get interesting around here!”

He grinned at me and went off to tend the ribs, but his eyes were worried. I didn’t think there was anything I could say that would ease his concern.

“Son.”

I turned around, looked at the old man propped up in his wicker. “It’s Grant, Granddad.”

“I know who I’m talking to! You gonna turn around, or do I have to talk to the back of your head?”

He’d been living in an apartment for active seniors for the last two years. He was the only man on a floor of women. I suspected he’d holed up in his studio, barred the door against their entreaties of company and homemade snacks. The local women had been trying to take care of him since my grandmother had died in 1962.

“What’s he talking about? Are you hurt?”

I shook my head. “No. It’s just something soldiers joke about.”

I got a look that I recognized. “I guess I don’t get the joke.”

I turned back around on the steps, let him stare at the back of my head.

My granddad had been nineteen when a local girl had been molested by a group of men. They were coming out of the bar in town with whiskey spilled down their clothes and dirt on their hands. He’d preached for the first time to rouse a mob, but he’d taken an axe to the door himself, burned the place down with flaming pieces of pitch pine. He’d never told me the story, but little details came to me from the other kids, or from adult talk that I’d overheard. About the sound of the glass bottles exploding in the heat of the fire, how the sound of his voice had carried above the crashing of the timbers when they fell. The entire block had burned, the bar, the space next door where the illegal still was making whiskey, the cat house upstairs.

He’d just been a farm boy of no special talents, but after that night he became a preacher, married the girl, kept the moral compass of the town pointed straight north for two generations. He hated all sin, but he had a special hatred for the evils that occurred when men and alcohol mixed. I had not seen my father drink a beer until he was forty, and I still remember the look on his face, something between shame and fear when the cold glass bottle touched his lips.

My dad had asked me to reconsider when I told him what I wanted to do with the land, but he didn’t push it. This part of Oregon was wine country, only good for grapes and alpacas and Christmas tree farms. I was going to plant twenty-six acres in Riesling grapes and build a vineyard with my own hands. I intended it to last longer than my grandfather’s church had lasted on the same ground.

**

I’d ordered a thousand rooted year-old Riesling plants from a nursery certified as virus free. Those vines were going to plant two and a half acres and take about half my capital. I’d saved my Army money for four years, but it would only be enough to get me started. I had the property tax set aside, plus the fencing and trellis system. The rest I would have to earn as I went. The vineyard down the road belonged to an order of Benedictine monks, and they had agreed to let me apprentice.

Cody brought me a post hole digger. He wanted to stay and talk, but I just grabbed the tool and started working. He left when he got tired of staring at my back. The old man sat on the porch and watched me lay out the trellis poles and dig the holes for planting. It was slow work that put a strain on the lower back. I got blisters on the palms of my hands because I didn’t think to put on gloves. I tried not to think too much, but working outside, digging a thousand holes for grape vines, a person had a lot of time to think.

Sometimes I would taste concrete dust, and my throat would turn too dry to swallow. I’d hear the hoarse, tired cries of children who had been crying a long time, the incessant crying a backdrop to the sound of automatic weapons. My heart would start to race in my chest, a flood of adrenaline coursing along my nerves until I had to put the tools down and run through the rows, run back and forth, crisscrossing twenty-six acres until I could swallow again.

Sometimes I would stand in the rain, my eyes wide open, my mouth wide open, trying to catch some clean water on my tongue, enough to wash away the desiccated taste of Iraqi dust and concrete rubble. The old man just sat on the porch watching me.

I remembered hearing a story about him. He was going after a bootlegger. The story went that the bootlegger knew Preacher was coming and tried to move his casks, so they were all together on the back of a wagon. He’d pulled the wagon out in the middle of the night, but the road was already blocked. Preacher had a flaming torch in one hand and an axe in the other. The horses shied, tried to bolt. Preacher pulled himself into the back of the wagon, swung the axe into the splintery wood, and when the liquor was flowing down like water, he’d touched it with the torch, set it on fire. The explosion lit up the night, scorched the apple trees in the orchard down the road. People said the horses escaped, but I couldn’t imagine how they had gotten away in time.

**

Saturday morning the rain was falling hard, so I couldn’t work, and my dad asked me to drive my grandfather into town so we could meet for breakfast. There had been a time Granddad had coffee every morning sitting at the counter in the diner, and the people of Amity found their way in to talk to him, let him know what was going on, what was happening and what was going wrong. Now my dad sat in the diner in the morning, took the pulse of the town.

Dad had been in town since an early fire call. He looked tired, and I could smell a faint odor of creosote on his clothes. Granddad had his cane, and he was walking stiffly, bent over like his back hurt. I slid into the booth. “What was the call?”

“Chimney fire. I don’t know why people don’t burn hardwood.” My dad slid over in the booth, and the pair of them settled down, stared at me across the table. “How’s it going, son? I haven’t talked to you in a week. You’ve been going to your room by seven. Are you sleeping?”

“The planting’s going okay. I’m just tired. Not used to the work.”

“You’re out in the fields before sunup. Maybe you should pace yourself.”

I shrugged, stared into the coffee cup.

“I heard you were going to work down at the monastery.”

“The monks, they said I could work in their fields. Learn the ropes.”

My dad exchanged a look with his father, then they both turned and looked at me again. “Anything going on, son? You seem like…I don’t know. You’re working all day, not talking to anybody, going into your room and closing the door. Everything okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m just tired.”

“So if everything is fine, you can stop sulking around like a depressed asshole.” He was trying to keep his voice level.

It took me a second before I heard what he’d said. “What? What have I done?”

“You mean besides planting your grandfather’s land with wine grapes? Not speaking to your family? Avoiding Cody? If I didn’t know better, I would check your room for empty vodka bottles.”

“Yeah, well, not in this family, right?”

“Grant, if you want to find a brick wall and beat your head against it, then you go ahead and build one. But your grandfather and I love you and we would appreciate it if you would stop punishing us for whatever pain you’re suffering.”

I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. The waitress came by, filled our coffee cups without a word. She smiled at Granddad. “Hi, Preacher. You want us to make you some pancakes? Or how about some scrambled eggs this morning?”

He shook his head. “Just give me a fried egg and a piece of toast, Millie.”

I looked up at the girl. Her name was Sharon. She’d been in school with me. Millie was her mother. “Same for me. Dad, I got an email from my friend Kyle. He wants to come out and see the vines. Is it okay if he stays with us?”

“Sure, son. Who is he?”

“He’s a guy from my unit. He’s married, had a little girl when we were deployed.” I hesitated. “I got the feeling things weren’t going so well since he got home. He said something about his wife telling him they needed a break. Like, a ‘get the hell away from me’ kind of break.”

“There’s another one.” Granddad was staring at me again.

“Another one what?” I couldn’t stop myself from raising my voice. The challenge was harsher than I’d meant it to be.

“Another boy in trouble.” He put his coffee cup down. “Why don’t you tell me what happened to you?”

“Nothing happened! Why does everyone keep asking me what happened? Oh, wait, I know what happened. We went to war. That’s what happened.” I could hear myself shouting. “It wasn’t like a goddamn video game. It was real, and real people were hurt, you understand? Me, hurting people. How the fuck am I supposed….” Half the diner was pretending not to listen to us. My heart felt like a raven, black wings trying to tear free from my chest. I reached for the coffee cup, tried to keep my hand from shaking.

My dad pointed across the table at me with his fork. “So go talk to somebody at the VA.”

“They already offered me some pills to sleep, some pills for the anxiety, some pills for depression. You know what? I’m not going to take their pills. The problem is not inside my head. The fuck-up did not occur inside my head.”

“The VA’s got doctors, counselors, all sorts of people. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and shoving pills down your throat. You don’t want to talk to me or your grandfather, then go talk to one of those counselors.”

I forced myself to loosen my grip on the cup. “Forget it. Just leave it alone. My friend’s coming. I’ll talk to him. In the meantime I’ve got holes to dig.”

I waited behind the wheel of my pickup and let the old man climb into the passenger seat. He put his cane between his knees. His knuckles were white on the dark wood. “You gonna buckle up?” He ignored me, stared through the windshield. “Granddad, want me to drop you off at your apartment?”

That got me a look. “Grant, I moved back in with you and your father a month ago, just after you came home.”

“Oh, right. I knew that.” I was being a fuckhead but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

He wasn’t done. “Son, I wonder if you realize you’re spending a lot of time looking around for an enemy.”

“Yeah? So?”

“You don’t have an enemy in Yamhill County. But you go ahead and keep on looking at me like I’m a stranger, if it makes you feel better.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I see.”

We drove in silence down the road to our land. “Granddad, my friend Kyle, he drinks a little, just the amount normal people drink, okay? But I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t say anything to make him uncomfortable.”

“I won’t say a word. I don’t believe I ever have, son.”

No, he was a man of few words. He was holding that cane so tightly, his old hands knobby with arthritis, but he looked like he could still swing an axe. I wondered if it had ever occurred to him to get out his old axe and his flaming torch and cut down my grapes vines, destroy the evil before it had a chance to root.

“There’s nothing wrong with grape vines, Granddad.”

“I never said there was.” He was staring at me again, and I pulled up to the porch, turned off the truck.

“I need to get to work.” He didn’t sit out on the porch to watch me, like he’d been doing. When I went into the house to get some water a couple of hours later, his bedroom door was closed.

**

Kyle rolled up a few days later, the floorboard of his pickup truck full of a month’s worth of fast food trash. I could see the dark circles under his eyes, hair down over his ears. He’s stopped cutting his hair when he came home. He punched me, and I grabbed him hard. I could feel the bony shoulders, the knobs on his spine. “What the hell’s wrong with you? You got a tape worm? You stop eating?”

“I’m eating.” He pulled away. “You get caught in a trap? Try to chew your hand off to get away?”

I had a bandage on my right hand. One of the blisters had gotten infected. “I keep forgetting my gloves. It’s just a little blood poisoning.”

“This land don’t look like it needs any blood shed over it, Grant. Would you look at those pretty hills. Looks peaceful. You sure did plant a lot of grape vines.”

The vines were laid out in neat rows, the poles and trellis works lined up like little soldiers. Each small grape had a white plastic rectangle around the stem to help protect it while it grew. Kyle was shaking his head. “Jesus! Did you do that on purpose?”

I grinned at him. I guessed what he was seeing. It was what I saw every morning.

“It looks like Arlington, man. Those white plastic things, they look like…Jesus.”

I nodded. “Yeah. I didn’t do it on purpose. Vineyards always look like this when the vines are young. But I like the look.”

**

“See, these Riesling grapes, they really show the terroir,” I said. “It’s like, the history of the land is down in the earth, and it comes up through the vines, into the grapes. You drink a glass of this wine, you’ll be drinking a tiny bit of the land, the history, every bit of sweat and blood fallen here since God made it.”

He helped me out in the fields, punching down through the rich earth with the post-hole digger, giving each little vine its pole to lean on, and the white plastic cuff that would protect it while it grew.

“That’s cool, G. Sounds like a poem. You remember that poet guy you used to read when we were in training, the one who died of the mosquito bite?”

“Yeah, Rupert Brooke.”

“You showed me that poem, remember? On the plane to Kuwait. Something about a field being forever England. And then the Major looks back at us and says, ‘that’s bullshit, boys. If I die in a combat zone, box me up and carry me home.’”

“I used to think he made that up, but Tim O’Brien said it. He’s a writer,” I said. “See, the difference is Rupert Brooke died before the war burned the poetry out of him. Mr. O’Brien, he lived to tell the tale.”

“Like us.”

The infection in my right hand got worse, pus and blood staining the bandage by noon, but I couldn’t stop, the rhythm of the work keeping something in my head ticking along like a metronome. I was surprised every day when I took off the bandage the hand wasn’t black with rot. Granddad put a brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide on the bathroom sink, but he didn’t say anything.

Kyle took the vines from me, slid them from the pots and spread their roots over the black compost we set in the bottom of each hole. He told me about his daughter, the way she’d screamed the first time he picked her up. “She just didn’t know me, that’s all it was. I mean, I was a stranger, right? But Jody didn’t like the way she was crying, kept giving me these looks like I was hurting her. Shit. She was just looking for a reason.”

“Why?”

“She’s banging some guy. Half the town told me about it when I got home. It started while we were deployed, some guy she knew from school. I’ll tell you what bugs me, G. I didn’t even care. I’d be relieved if I wasn’t going to be paying for her apartment for the next twenty years.”

Preacher was back to sitting on the porch, watching us work. Kyle seemed to like him, liked hearing the old stories. “He’s watching you, G. Waiting to see red streaks go up your arm so he can haul your stupid ass off to the ER.”

“I just don’t want to lose my window, you know? My window of opportunity to get you to do half the work for me.”

He punched me in the shoulder. “Where the fuck else do I have to be?”

“Stay if you want. We can both go down the road and let the monks teach us how to grow wine grapes. But I’m still waiting for you to tell me whatever you came to tell me.”

Kyle reached up, gripped my shoulder hard. “Something happened, G. I got here, I didn’t want to make things worse. But something did happen.”

“I know something happened. I just don’t know what.”

“JJ. He’s gone, man.”

**

We took a trip into town after dinner, bought a bottle at the liquor store. We sat out on the porch, passing the bottle, talking about the kid. JJ had been eighteen. He’d hung up pictures of guitars around his rack, no girlfriends, just a poster showing a bunch of old Fenders and Lenny Kravitz with a guitar shoved against his crotch. We ragged him about it, but he’d just used the opportunity. He’d say, but, fuck, man, do you see the way that guy plays? Just watch his fingers, okay? Nobody could shut him up when he started in on the genius of Lenny Kravitz.

It didn’t matter why he’d done it. It was done. Some things you just don’t come back from.

“G, you think it killed our souls? I mean, you can still be alive without a soul, right?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“We could ask your granddad. He’s a preacher. I bet he knows about souls.”

“We’re not really speaking.”

“He watches over you, though. He sits in that chair, holding that cane like he’s getting ready to beat the demons of hell, if any of them have the fucking nerve to get near you.”

“Maybe if you’ve lost your soul, and you die, you can get your soul back,” I said. “Like, it’s waiting for you somewhere, purgatory or limbo. Then you can try again. You know, try to do things right. Try to be a good man, if you fucked it up this time.”

We passed out on the front porch. Kyle curled up on the swing. I lay down on the old wooden boards, watched the rafters spin over my head. The sky was soft and dark with clouds. Maybe it would rain and water my grapes in the morning.

Dawn came slowly to the horizon, fog rolling down from the mountains to settle across the fields. Preacher came out of the house. He had a couple of blankets over his arm, and he unfolded one over Kyle’s sleeping form. He wrapped one around my shoulders without speaking. He disappeared again, came back with a cup of coffee he handed to me. Then he settled himself in his wicker chair, looked out across the hills at the morning.

Kyle groaned, rolled off the porch swing and went down the steps to puke against the fir tree in the yard. He wiped his mouth, walked back to the porch and sat down next to me. I handed him my coffee cup and he drank it down. He looked back at Granddad. “Sorry, sir.”

We studied the hills. The vines were beautiful in the shadowy light, with their white boxes that looked so much like grave stones, marching up the hill.

“May you open your eyes to water.”

“What?” I looked behind me. Kyle leaned against me, his bony shoulder digging into my chest. “Did you say something, Granddad?”

“Lucille was your grandmother’s name, you remember? This poem was called Blessing the Boats. I always thought it was more a prayer than a poem. The lady that wrote it was called Lucille Clifton. They asked me to come down and say it at Crescent City, say a prayer before the shrimp boats went out. That was a line in the poem, may you open your eyes to water.

“I pray you can open your eyes, and let the rain wash away your pain. See the world again new and clean, see the love that surrounds you. I pray that this land, those vines you’ve planted, can sustain you and heal you. All I can think to do is pray, boys. It’s little enough, compared to the rain.”

I stared across the fields. I could hear some hoarseness in his voice, like he’d been praying all night, or reading poems out loud. Had he been in his room, praying for me, while I was sitting on the porch drinking whiskey?

“I thought you were about fire, not rain.”

“Your grandmother loved the rain.”

He went into the house and brought back the thermos full of coffee. He filled up the cup Kyle was holding, and when he was done, he laid his hand on Kyle’s head, stroked his hair gently. Just for a moment, and Kyle closed his eyes against the tears. I looked up at the old man, waited for him to touch me, waited for his hand to rest against my face.

GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]LGGIVEAWAY RULES

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Title: Mustang Hill (Falls Chance Ranch #3)
Author: Rolf & Ranger
Publisher: Published Online (see link above)
Length: around 120-140k ???
Genre: m/m/m/m/m Contemporary Western BDSM Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between (1 scene, Sweet and Fade to Black)
Keywords/Tags: Serial (Complete), Free, Online, Cowboys, Mental Health, Polyamorous, BDSM, Mysticism, Grieving Partner
Rating: LOVE IT!

**This review contains spoilers for those who have not read the first two books of Falls Chance Ranch**

REVIEW

This third installment in the Falls Chance Ranch series sees further exploration of the relationship and family of Dale, Paul, Flynn, Riley, and Jasper as well as the exploration of Dale’s issues as he finally starts to get a grip on his new life on the ranch.

After a tumultuous summer of getting caught in mines, the discovery of Gam Saan, and a very celebratory commitment among friends and family at the ranch, fall has set in and winter is quickly approaching. Dale is given a work project, his first real project since his breakdown, which brings back a lot of the problems he’s had trouble working through at the ranch. Combined with that stress, Dale continues seeing strange people and animals around the ranch. His analytical mind cannot leave an unsolved problem alone, and whether the origins are his own anxiety or a real mystical connection to the land doesn’t seem to matter until Dale starts having extremely realistic dreams that uncover clues about a spiritual place on the ranch they call Mustang Hill, a spot where nothing grows and Dale finds strange markings. New friends from Three Traders, Luath and Darcy, return in this book as Dale starts to really believe in his place on the land and that his extraordinary mind for facts and figures also relates to seeing connections between people and places that the others don’t.

This book is somewhat different than the previous ones, for several reasons. I’ve seen other readers have varying feelings about this book where most of them loved the previous ones for these reasons. For one, it is at least a third shorter. Where the second book, Three Traders moved beyond the internal and explored the whole of the ranch and the characters of the family, Mustang Hill is in many ways a retreat to the style of the first book. Without losing the connections made in the second book, this time the story is again a solitary journey for Dale. He’s regressed in several ways that remind us of the first book. He is also dealing with a very private understanding of the land and why he can see certain things that only Jasper can see, and sometimes sees even more than Jasper.

The mysticism is something that I am always interested in, so I really ended up enjoying this book, even though it is a bit more subdued and certainly less exciting than TT. This is also Jasper’s area of expertise. Having grown up Cherokee in the mountains of Virginia alone with his grandfather, learning the lore and essentially raised in isolation and of a lost period of time and Native American culture, he’s connected with spirit and land more than anyone else. We have seen and gotten to know Jasper the least of the 5 main characters at the ranch, but he’s one that I’ve always been really interested in. He’s quiet, an observer and he has immense respect for everything around him. The discovery of the spiritual site atop Mustang Hill allows Dale and Jasper to connect in a way that they haven’t before, and for us to see a side of Jasper up close that has always fascinated me. As a part of that, we get a lot more of his history and the history of the Shoshone area around this part of Wyoming.

I plowed through this book. It is the last of the completed books. The fourth book, Silver Bullet, isn’t finished yet. I tried to slow myself reading this book because I really don’t like to read WIP but this book was so much shorter that I found myself finished in a day. I’m really sad that I have to put this story down for a while. I have no idea of the schedule of releases, how fast these authors write, but I have a feeling that I’ll be waiting quite a while to read the next book. No matter how much I’m trying to talk myself out of it…. I love these characters too much and I wouldn’t be surprised if later today I can’t stop myself from picking up the first chapter of Silver Bullet.

It will be a while before I’m able to review Silver Bullet, even if I do start reading it as it is being written. So I really hope that you all have enjoyed my reviews (more of a lengthy profile!) of this series. This series has become quite important to me. Of course it isn’t without it’s own problems, no matter how much I have gushed about it. Still, it’s one of the best serials I’ve read. I have been really happy to see a lot of you pick these books up! It is such a good feeling to find a series that you love like this and then for them to be free. If you have the time and patience to read such long books, I couldn’t recommend these more!