Friday, September 25, 2020

Special Offer on my Patreon!

 Hi darlins!

 

 


 

Just an FYI, anyone who joins my Patreon before the end of the month will be entered in a drawing to help me plot out a Halloween story for the blog. Totally new content, and Patreon friends will get it first, but it'll still come here in the end.

Want to read a story about vampires? Werewolves? Witches? A spooky, sentient cactus? All this and more could be yours! 

https://www.patreon.com/Cari_Z 

 

Patrons also get first access to revisited stuff, so as I start to edit Bonded, Pandora, Paradise, etc., it'll go up there first. 

If the blog is still your first love, no worries! There's always new content coming here too :) 

Thank you all so much for being great readers and helping me to love what I do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Eight, Part One

 Notes: It's a lovely long chapter this time. Also, mildly R-rated, so if you don't like "special alone time in the shower" scenes, don't read!

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Eight, Part One

***

Chapter Eight, Part One


You’ve lost your mind. Lost. Your. Mind. It was the only reason Johnny could think of that he’d willingly volunteer to spend time with Charlie Verlaine. This isn’t high school anymore! You don’t have a crush! You have a high-maintenance job helping a bunch of kids who need you now more than ever, and they’re going to need all your energy!

It was true…but it was too late to take any of it back. And as much as he kind of hated to admit it, Johnny didn’t even want to take any of it back. The part of him that he tried to forget, the part that had had hopes and dreams that felt almost foreign to him now, bits and pieces that he’d tried to bury under work and training and more work—that part was ecstatic.

Charlie Verlaine! You get to spend more time with him!

Yeah, because he had crushed the man’s car in an effort to keep people safe. It had never even occurred to Johnny that Charlie wouldn’t be able to protect himself. He’d been so good at shielding, so strong, even back when they were still in school. When had he lost that?

Probably when he lost his arm, Johnny realized. He should have thought of that sooner.

Not everyone’s knacks were like his. That was good—Johnny had a devil of a time with his ability, and so did the scientists who were testing him left, right, and center. There was always something more to learn with his knack, and it kept him…flexible. Elastic, in a way. More like the way a child would learn to use their knack, perhaps—he couldn’t take anything about it for granted. But for people like Charlie? People whose knacks had come in young, who had been training to use them from an early age and gone on to refine their skills so keenly as adults? Losing the ability to train the way you were accustomed to could be enough to make you lose the ability to use your knack, period.

And Shields had always trained with both hands, Johnny remembered. Two hands. Not just one.

He can’t shield. Johnny frowned. And he’s teaching a class on knacks? How does that work? It had to work, though—somehow. From the look of Charlie, though, and from the look of the car he’d been driving, he hadn’t been living the life of teaching a bunch of posh little shits for very long. When had he even gotten his teaching certification? Who had gotten him the job at Euryale Academy?

These are all things you can ask him in person, the little voice in his head said mockingly. Use your words.

“Damn. Shit. Motherfucker. Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into?”

Yeah. That felt better.

It was after midnight by the time Johnny got home. He might, might get five hours of sleep, if he was lucky, before he had to get up and get ready to stare down another day. He shouldn’t check his email, he should just go straight to bed.

He checked his email. The only pressing thing in there was a new message from Camille, Roland’s caseworker. Meeting with Judge Ramsey at the courthouse tomorrow morning at nine. Sorry for the last-minute notice, but it would mean a lot to Roland if you could be there.

Tomorrow morning at nine. When he was supposed to be helping integrate over a hundred high-powered, hormone-fueled students together in Euryale. When he should be meeting with teachers and keeping principals in line and a hundred other little things that fell to a guidance counselor that they didn’t tell you about when you picked your path. Johnny wouldn’t change it for the world, but he did occasionally look at his life and wonder why he’d chosen something so time-intensive as a career, when he already had so little time to himself.

It certainly explained why he hadn’t had a successful date in far too long. Online dating was supposed to make things easier, cut out the middleman of bar or club or workplace or whatever it was. Guide you toward someone who shared your interests, that you had things in common with. So far, it had mostly guided Johnny toward total jerks.

Wonder what that says about you.

Tonight had been a total nightmare, but he couldn’t say he regretted any of it. Well, no, he regretted Charlie getting hurt, he should have found another way to stop the car. He had so many different methods at his disposal, sometimes it was hard to focus on picking one. Hesitation, that had always been Johnny’s biggest problem when it came to his knack. If he’d hesitated much longer, it could have been him in the ER last night.

He regretted Charlie’s injury, but the conversation they’d had, the little bit of time they’d managed to spend together…he didn’t regret that. Like it or not, he was interested in Charlie Verlaine. Ignoring the fact wouldn’t make it go away—it never did, not when Johnny was infatuated. He couldn’t push things aside and hope they’d resolve on their own. He had to push, to pick, to scratch and wear away until they were clear to him. Right now, Charlie was opaque. Johnny wanted to clarify him. He wanted to spend time with him, and he was going to get his wish.

He was also probably going to be exhausted, but that was his call to make as an adult in charge of his own life. And it seemed like Charlie really did need help, even apart from providing a ride to school. He’d seemed so caustic last night, so…empty. Abandoned. Why hadn’t he asked Johnny to call anyone for him? Was there no one else to call?

For all that he’d been a mess, Charlie had also looked unfairly gorgeous. He’d always been good-looking, almost pretty when they were in high school, but now his smooth, sleek jaw had lengthened a bit, and he’d grown into the breadth of his shoulders. His hair was beautiful, long and sleek, and Johnny’s fingers itched a bit at the thought of working their way through it. He was slim, probably slimmer than he’d been in the army, but still fit, still handsome despite the fatigue that seemed baked into him and the loss of his right arm.

Honestly, while Johnny had of course noticed that he was missing an arm, he hadn’t focused on it at all until Charlie brought it up, and Johnny had known a verbal trap when he saw one. No, that was a topic to be avoided for now, he got that.

Maybe not forever, though. After all, they had a lot of rideshares in their future. Who knew what would come up?

Speaking of up…Johnny groaned and looked down at his crotch. “Not now, I have to sleep,” he muttered. His erection remained insistent. Did just thinking about Charlie really do it for him? Just imagining the feel of Charlie’s warm skin, a hand maybe, stroking down Johnny’s chest while he—

“God damn it.” Johnny stalked off to the shower. Whatever, he needed to clean up after the hospital trip anyway. He turned on the water, stripped down, and grabbed his toothbrush before getting in. He brushed and soaped up vigorously and fast, then slicked his hand with bodywash and rubbed his palm over the head of his cock.

“Mmmm.” Fast and hard had never worked well for Johnny—he couldn’t touch himself like he wanted to feel anything other than softness and expect to come. He’d never welcomed pain with sex, which had been a real disappointment to some of his one-night stands who’d been hoping to spank him, or fuck him without prepping him first. Fuck them, if they wanted to take a cock up their asses without getting stretched he’d oblige, but that wasn’t going to be him.

Speaking of…he stroked down his cock and cradled his balls, rolling and tugging them just enough to make them start to draw up, then moved down. He set one foot up on the edge of the tub, slicked his fingers up, then stroked them over his hole.

“Aahh…” He touched himself there, just rubbing, circling without any pressure. It felt so good…when was the last time he’d gotten off, two days ago? A long time, for him. He leaned his shoulder against the wet tile to help support himself, then reached for his dick with his other hand and glided his fingers along the length of it. That was good, even better—fuck, did he have time to get his dildo?

No. You need to go to sleep.

Good point. Johnny focused on the sensation, just the feel of his own two hands working him over. He gently pressed one of his fingertips inside of himself, his breath catching. He didn’t need to work his prostate over—the skin around the edge of his hole was so sensitive, so pleasurable, it was enough just to touch himself like this, to curl his hand around the tip of his cock and twist, gently, to think about nothing but his own body, his own hands…well, maybe someone else’s hand as well…

Just the thought tipped Johnny over the edge, making him gasp as he came in a rush. He hadn’t meant to bring Charlie into this, he really hadn’t, but god, he felt the pleasure of that thought all the way down to his fucking toes. He eased his finger out, straightened up and grabbed for the bodywash again with a sigh.

One more thing to keep to himself tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Hello there, Patreon!

 Hi darlins!

Right, I've done it, I've made a Patreon. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's basically a site that lets people become subscribers or "patrons" of my work, with different tiers for different levels of interest and access. 

https://www.patreon.com/Cari_Z 

The first level is a newsletter detailing my current and upcoming projects, which will always include a lengthy excerpt from something exclusive. 

The next level gives you access to all my other excerpts and WIPs, including covers and custom art I'm commissioning. 

The third level includes a monthly Q&A where I will answer any and all questions about my projects, as well as giving people a vote on where to focus my time and have a say in some creative input. 

The final tier, which is limited, includes me writing you a personal story from 1-3k words once a year on the characters (that I've written) of your choosing! I'm super excited about this one--anyone who knows me knows I love to write for prompts.

This is basically the beta version of the site for me, so I appreciate people taking a look and letting me know if my setup seems reasonable even if you don't want to subscribe. The blog won't change, the blog story will continue, there are still reams of free and paid work out there you can access (please access them!). But the Patreon will, hopefully, be a fun and interesting community that supports me in projects I wouldn't otherwise be able to take the time for. 

Sincere thanks to the readers who reached out to me about this before the fact. I've been wary of putting a Patreon up because I'm always wary of charging people more money for things, but I also have so many stories to tell, and so many others that could be revisited with the right motivation. (I'm looking at YOU, person who talked about a Changing Worlds sequel to me.) So, thank you for reading, thank you for your support in any way it comes, just...thank you, in general.

Also, sign on before the end of September and you might be picked to help me plot out a short story exclusive to be posted on Patreon, then on the blog :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Seven, Part Two

 Notes: Conversations about emotions! Well, kind of. Whatever, it's still two steps forward to one step back.

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Seven, Part Two


***


Chapter Seven, Part Two


 

“I’m really sorry about this.”

“It’s not a problem.” It was the third time Johnny had apologized in the past half hour, and as novel as it had been to hear the first few times around, Charlie still felt like it wasn’t necessary. It was getting kind of painful, actually. “You did what you had to to keep other people safe.”

“I wish I’d found a way to do it that didn’t involve smashing your car.” Charlie didn’t have to open his eyes to know that Johnny was staring at him. Wait for it, wait for it… “Is everything, um…I mean, I get that things must have changed for you when you lost part of your arm, but why…”

Yep, there it was. Charlie smiled caustically but still didn’t look over. “Why didn’t I cast a shield?”

He heard Johnny shift in the driver’s seat. “I was actually going to ask why you were having a panic attack and trying to drive at the same time in the first place.”

Huh. That was actually a pretty good question. If only Charlie felt like he knew the answer. “I don’t have panic attacks all that often.” Usually when he woke up from a nightmare, way less often when he was awake and had time to gather his control of himself. “I didn’t realize that the party tonight was going to be so big. I haven’t spent a lot of time in crowds, and…” And this one had all the charm of a basketful of badgers. “And it got to me. I didn’t know how bad I was going to get when I left, I thought I’d calm down pretty quickly, but then I couldn’t stop hyperventilating.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d had a panic attack that bad, but it was the first time he’d been in the position of operating heavy machinery at the same time. Really, he was lucky Johnny had smashed him. If he’d hurt anyone else by freaking out on the road…well. It didn’t bear thinking about.

“In that case, I’m glad I was there.”

“Yeah, me too.” The car took a left. The sound of traffic was slowly diminishing—they were off the freeway, then. Charlie felt better not looking at the passing headlights on the highway, possibly the product of the minor concussion that was really nothing at all, but if they were off the freeway, then he’d be home soon. Good. He needed a shower, and bed, and…to just not think, for a while.

Charlie felt his lips turn up without his say-so as a thought that didn’t hurt occurred to him. “Did it feel weird?”

“Did what feel weird?”

“Being on the other side. Watching me in the hospital bed.”

“It actually felt awful, thanks.”

Aw, shit. That wasn’t how Charlie had meant for Johnny to take it. “I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable, I swear. I just…of all the ways for us to meet again, after a decade on opposite ends of the world, that it was like this is kind of…funny. Poetic, almost.”

“I don’t see anything poetic about hurting you so badly you got stitches.”

Charlie made a derisive noise. “Fewer than ten stitches, that doesn’t even count as hurt.”

“Yes, it does.” Johnny paused. “Why don’t you think it counts?”

Charlie shrugged. “I’ve had a lot worse.”

“Just because you’ve weathered worse doesn’t make what happens to you now insignificant. I mean, obviously a hit to the head and some stitches is no…is no…”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘field amputation,’” Charlie supplied, taking a perverse pleasure in Johnny’s discomfort. The poor guy was just trying to be nice, Charlie knew that, and he shouldn’t be taking advantage of that, but it was so easy to rile him. You need to not piss off the guy who’s giving you a ride home, you jackass.

“I’m not going to make light of something I’m responsible for just because you don’t mind being hurt,” Johnny said after a moment of silence.

Charlie wondered if that was how he’d taken his own hospitalization, back in the day. If he’d thought Charlie had been a royal asshole for only visiting once, for hardly saying he was sorry, for letting his pride get in the way of kindness. There was no going back in time, though, no going back to that seventeen-year-old boy and saying, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I truly didn’t mean to. I reacted badly, I pushed too hard, and I’ll never do it again.” All he could do at this point was go forward, and he wanted to do it in the right way. If that meant reining in his sarcasm and black humor for a while, he could manage that.

Or you could be a real boy and have a genuine conversation about your time in the military and how it makes you feel for once in your damn life.

Nope. Better to stick to the first option. “I understand you feel bad about it. Just, don’t feel too bad, okay?” Charlie finally cracked his eyelids open, and didn’t even wince under the light of the street lamps. Definitely doing better, and his apartment was only a couple turns away. “It really could have been a lot worse, and I’m happy that no one else got hurt. Especially you. How, um…” He didn’t ask about your knack. The polite thing to do is not ask about his. “Never mind.”

Johnny just nodded. Apparently not talking about it was the right choice. Great. Perfect. They were both emotionally constipated, no wonder the ride home had been filled with such scintillating conversation. Which was to say, none at all until a few minutes ago.

“Here is it,” Charlie said, and Johnny nodded and pulled in in front of his building. “Thanks.” He wasn’t looking forward to the trip to the third floor, especially with the elevator not working for the past three days, but he’d manage somehow. He undid his seatbelt, opened the door, and gingerly eased out of the car with a grimace. Everything had stiffened up now. A hot, hot shower, then bed, that was what he needed. Then—

“Let me take you to school tomorrow.”

Charlie blinked down at Johnny. “What?”

“Let me drive you in to school tomorrow. Or until your car is fixed. It’s the least I can do.” For all that he seemed genuine, Johnny wasn’t quite meeting his eyes. Charlie sighed.

“Seriously, I don’t need you to perform some act of penance over this, okay? I’ll find a way to get to school, it’s—”

“You’ll what?” Johnny asked sharply, and ooh, now he was looking straight at Charlie, and it stung. “Ride a bus there? You’d have to get up at five in the morning and you wouldn’t get home until seven at night. Get a rideshare? Sure, but that’ll cost a ton over the long haul. Get a new car, or get yours fixed? That’ll still take a while. Let me give you a lift until you figure it out.” You asshole, he seemed to add without saying. Against his better judgment, Charlie grinned.

“Okay. You win. You can be my chauffeur for a while.”

“Great,” Johnny said with equal sarcasm. “See you at six-thirty.”

He drove away before Charlie could complain about how damn early that was. Well, shit. Did I just figure out the world’s most terrible way to make a friend?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Updates and a "hi!"

 Hey darlins!

 


 

Just in case you're new here or coming back after a while away (I saw that comment!) HI! Also, I still can't comment on my own freaking blog, so sorry if this is impersonal, it's all I can do right now. *grumbles for fiftieth time*

In news you'll probably want to know, I just signed a contract for Mutable to go up on a serial story app in the next few months, so...if you've been wanting to re-read it, do so now before I take it down.

I'm writing a different story for another serial app company that I'll post more about later--hopefully this turns out to be a good decision. That one will be a really fun m/m/m fantasy story, so we'll see!

I'm re-releasing Cambion: Dark Around the Edges at the end of the month. I have a gorgeous new cover, a new edit on it, and a new title (dropping the "Cambion" in the beginning). This is a very long urban fantasy/suspense I wrote in six installments back in 2013, and then the publisher folded and I got it back and I had no idea what to do with it until I got a handle on the basics of self-publishing. I hope you'll enjoy it!

I've got a book I co-wrote with Marie Sexton (back before/during my pregnancy--no wonder we shelved it for years, lol) coming out next month--science fiction with very little romance, but it's a hugely fun and hopefully very approachable story. More on that soon!

Hmm, I'm writing another novel with L.A. Witt that's going swimmingly, I finished edits on a Middle Grade retelling of The Odyssey (yeah, I did, I know--what?), and I'm working on a YA ghost story, all in addition to the other stuff up there and the blog story. I'm...so busy, and that's not counting my freelance work. I love it though, no complaining, I just hope some it pans out in a big way so I can be more focused with it in the future.

Speaking of, is there any interest among you, my faithful blog readers, in me doing a Patreon? I've never gone there, in part because I feel like I don't do very well in what is essentially a popularity contest, but I've got lots of content I could work with and I'd be willing to tailor it to my patrons. For example, someone asked me about a Changing Worlds sequel. Readers here know I've written those characters into the Pandora universe, but honestly it's hard to track down anything in that series without a lot of time on your hands. One Patreon project could be dedicating time to compiling and editing those for you to access better. I could also buy custom artwork for stories, better covers, more formats...idk, there are lots of options.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I'm open to all kinds of feedback here, you guys are the best :)

Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Rivalries: Chapter Seven, Part One

 Notes: Back to Charlie's POV! What's going on in that head of his? Even he's not very sure at this point.

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Seven, Part One


***


Chapter Seven, Part One

 


When Charlie came to, it only took a second to realize that he was in an emergency room. There was something about the feel of the place, scents and sounds and the stiffness of the bed under his back informing him immediately that he was in a sterile, noisy, uncomfortable place meant to provide fast care, not comfort. That had to mean he wasn’t so bad off. But what had happened to him, anyway? He tried to focus.

You were at that god-awful party. You talked with someone—a teacher—what was her name? She mentioned lesson plans, mentioned all the new students, everything you still have to do…it felt like to much. You had to leave. You excused yourself, ran out to the lot, started to drive…and then…then… He could recall a pale, stern face beneath the streetlamps, feel his foot scrambling for the brake and not being able to find it, and then…

Nothing. Not until he woke up here.

There was a man nearby, talking to someone else—a doctor, a nurse? No, there was no audible response. He was talking on his phone, then. “—right into the steering wheel. No, they won’t tell me much because I’m not family, but apparently he’ll be okay. Maybe a concussion…I don’t know! No, trust me, I know this person’s knack like the back of my hand, he’s a shield, a high-level one.”

Wait a second, who was this person? How did he know Charlie’s knack? There was something a little familiar about the voice, he had to admit. He kept his eyes closed, but listened more intently.

“I thought he would stop me… Yeah. I do. I told you how he was driving, right? I think it’s because he was having a panic attack. So he must not have been able to shield by the time he saw me, or even stop the car. No. No, of course not, are you crazy? Tha—that was a decade ago, you’re nuts. Of course not. How would he even know who I am anymore? I don’t look that much like I did in high school. No…no, he doesn’t either.”

Someone Charlie had known from high school, then. Someone who had a reason to remember his knack, someone who also thought Charlie would have no reason to remember him. It wasn’t like he had a wide circle of friends when he was at Stheno, though; mostly jocks and other kids with knacks that destined them for military service. The only other person he could think of was—

Oh.

Oh, shit. Johnny Gibilisco. The kid he’d put in the hospital when he slammed him with a shield hard enough to break bones. And now, apparently, he’d almost run the guy over. Great, just fucking great. Charlie was so sued. He was sued into oblivion, even if he didn’t go to prison for reckless endangerment or whatever it was cops charged you with when you almost hit someone with your car, and then he’d go to prison and never get to talk to Ari again, and Huda would fucking murder him for it.

His heart rate sped up without permission, and a corresponding monitor started to increase in tempo.

“Oh hey, wait, I think he’s waking up. I’ve got to—yeah. Okay, bye.” There was a faint beep, and a second later Charlie felt a warm presence right beside him in the cold of the room. There was no touch, but it was awfully close. “Hey,” Johnny—and yep, no way that wasn’t Johnny, his voice sounded almost exactly the same—said gently. “How are you doing, Charlie?”

Charlie took a deep breath and forced himself to open his eyes. He stared up at Johnny, who looked older but somehow kinder, and croaked out, “I’ve been better.”

“Right, shit.” To his surprise, Johnny seemed kind of distressed about that. “I’m so sorry. When I stopped your car, I had no idea you’d get hurt. I thought you’d shield.”

There was…a lot to unpack there, but Charlie decided to start with the easiest part. “How hurt am I?” It couldn’t be that bad—he wasn’t even on the good drugs, if the pounding in his head was anything to go by.

“Let me get the doctor,” was Johnny’s unsatisfying answer, and he left the curtained enclosure. A moment later a dark-skinned man in a white coat wearing a Garfield tie walked in.

“Mr. Verlaine, nice to see you awake! I’m Doctor Singh.” He smiled encouragingly. “How are you feeling?”

Like I got hit in the face with a steering wheel, I guess. “Sore. I have a headache.”

“Mmm, that’s to be expected. You took a fairly hard hit to the very front of your forehead, and got a slight laceration just below the hairline there. No breaks, though—you have a hard head!” He seemed pleased by that. “If you’d let me look into your eyes for a moment…”

They went through a diagnostic song and dance for a bit, and then Doctor Singh said, “If there is a concussion, it’s very mild. Your companion thinks that your unconsciousness was more the result of the panic attack than the impact, and I’m inclined to agree. Do be careful about those stitches over the next week—you’ll need to have them taken out by your GP after that—and I’ll send you home with a prescription for extra-strength Tylenol, if you think you need it.”

“Nah.” He already had a bottle of the stuff at home, along with a bunch of other meds that he generally tried to avoid taking. “I’ll be all right. Thank you.”

“Of course. Now, there’s just the paperwork to finish…” He handed over a clipboard and a pen.

“Right.” Of course, the insurance information. Fuck, but it had been so much easier getting injured when he was in the service. He hadn’t had to keep track of any of this shit. Now he fumbled for his wallet, surprised when he didn’t feel the bulge of it in his pocket.

“Sorry, I have that.” Johnny handed it over. “They wanted an insurance card and your ID when I got you here,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t take anything else out, promise.”

“You brought me here?” Charlie had absolutely no memory of that.

“Um, yeah. You were out of it earlier, but not completely? Enough to let me know you didn’t want me to call an ambulance. I figured a hospital visit was non-negotiable, though.”

Damn. Well, at least he’d be spared the expense of an ambulance ride. “Thanks.”

“Really, it’s no problem. Especially since it’s my fault you’re in here.” Johnny touched the side of his forehead with a wince, indicating Charlie’s wound. “I’m really, really sorry about that.”

Wait. Was it possible that Charlie wasn’t going to get sued into nonexistence? “It sounds like I should be sorry,” he tried. “Seeing as I almost ran you over.”

“I could have gotten out of the way,” Johnny said. “I was only standing there because I didn’t want you to get into an accident on the road. Then I caused one anyway.” He shook his head. “I didn’t really think it through.”

What kind of knack did this guy have nowadays, that he could stop a car coming at him? Charlie was tempted to ask, but even in his muddled state he knew that would have come off as rude. “Does the car still drive?”

“Um, no. Sorry. I moved it to the back of the Academy’s parking lot for you, but…no.”

He moved it there…but he didn’t drive it there. Had to be some sort of strength knack. Kind of ironic, all things considered. “It’s fine.” It wasn’t, he needed a car, but he’d figure something out. “I’ll call a rideshare home.”

“I can take you,” Johnny immediately offered. “It’s the least I can do.”

Definitely not going to be sued into oblivion. Charlie tried not to let on how relieved he felt. “Thanks.”