Two different short stories of mine recently got some love, which is awesome. Brief Encounters reviews took on Different Spheres, where Jenre had this to say (I'm paraphrasing a little here):
Despite some niggles, I really liked this short which showed two older men in their 40s/50s, getting to know each other and falling in love. Gil’s illness is sympathetically shown and doesn’t shy away from the realities of living with MS and the sacrifices that have to be made, but wasn’t overdone. The tone is resigned and even hopeful, rather than maudlin. If you’re looking for a nicely written story of a mix-matched couple finding love, then this could be the story for you.
Obviously not the whole review, the rest is here: Brief Encounters review.
Opening Worlds got a new hit too at The Romance Reviews.com. Valentina says:
I loved the world and the physical characteristics of Perels but if not for the feeling I got while reading the romance part of it, it would have been a four star rating for me. Cari Z. gave their story a beginning, hot middle and a fantastic conclusion and I can honestly say nothing was missing for me. I could feel the desire as well as love and that is exactly how it should be.
Again, the rest of it's here: Romance Reviews.
Why do I share these reviews? It's not solely an exercise in narcissism, I swear. Reviews can help a person who's on the fence about a particular story tip one way or the other. And they're only 2.99 each.
Yeah, but Cari, that's like, 2/3 of a gallon of gas. Do you get that gas prices are rising everywhere?
True, but how far can you go on another 2/3s of a gallon of gas?
Are you kidding, I have a super hybridized car that makes my neighbors cry tears of shame and envy. I can drive to China on gas like that.
Oh. I didn't realize.
I forgive you.
On to the good stuff. Reclaimed is the third novella in the Treasured series, and it should be out in May. I don't think I've given the beginning out yet, so here y'all go. And I know: over-long post. This is what happens when I'm pressed for time. Enjoy, dahlings. Oh, and it's R-rated, so don't read if you're not in the mood.
By Cari Z
People say that you get what you deserve. One of the few theological constants the world over, at any time in history and with almost any culture, has been the idea that the things you do directly affected the things that were in turn done to you, whether by God, or man, or nature itself. It was the concept that, barring instances of extreme good or bad fortune, if you treated others well, then you would be treated the same way. If, however, you treated others with disdain or abuse, then the wheel would turn and life would punish you for your arrogance. Well, somewhere along the way I must have made a hell of a jerk out of myself, because life had taken me into its jaws and was shaking me hard enough that I thought my neck might break from whiplash.
I had always considered myself to be a fairly average person, not especially good or kind, or brilliant, but definitely not bad either. I didn’t steal, tried not to lie and was raised to be respectful. I didn’t cry out for attention or notice and always stayed within the lines of correctness that society had drawn for me. I was a student, a scholar and an introvert and happy to be that way. I didn’t ask for anything incredible in my life but incredible happened to me anyway in the form of Reese Daveth. From the second I met him, I knew in my heart that my life would never be ordinary again.
If nothing else, Reese Daveth was a constant source of wonder and surprise to me. He was a fun companion, an incredible lover and he seemed to like me, really like me, and enjoyed my company even when all I was doing was research, rewrites, and agonizing over finishing my doctoral thesis. He was surprisingly patient and amazingly good at lifting me out of whatever study or mental rut had me stuck, and I loved him more than was probably good for me.
All of his good points were accentuated by the lengths Reese went to see me when he was supposed to be keeping a low profile, hiding from a dozen different governments and one very shady organization that had already kidnapped him once in an effort to get him to work with them. It was fairly easy for Reese to keep a low profile: in addition to being a highly skilled thief, he was a doppelganger, the kind of shifter than could imitate another human being if they had enough of their target’s DNA to work with. I had no idea how many “shells”, as he called them, Reese had, but since our disastrous trip to Venice last Christmas, he’d come to visit me six times. Each time he’d worn a different shell, and none of them were the tall, dark-haired seducteur I’d first met. It became kind of a game, with my trying to spot him before he could approach me. I picked him out first about half the time, and always if I could see his eyes. They took on a certain look when he was with me, and whether the eyes themselves seemed old or young, brown or blue, they were always warm and soft and welcoming, and I knew it was him despite how the rest of his body appeared.
For example, the last time Reese came to visit he wore the shell of a young woman, blonde and pretty in a New York kind of way, model-thin and standing out in the crowd in black leather and silk. It was striking in part because Southern women generally had different taste in attire, but I still didn’t pay her much attention until she took her sunglasses off. Her eyes were grey, brightened with heavy eyeliner and mascara, but I knew instantly that she was Reese. As soon as she realized I recognized her, a perfect white smile split her face, and she rushed across the university café, students parting before her like the Red Sea, and engulfed me in a hug.
It felt so strange to hear Reese’s pet name for me come out of a female throat. At least the British accent was still there. Still, holding her was more than a little disconcerting. I liked women, but I didn’t like women.
“So demure in public,” she grinned, shaking her head. “As if any of these people care that your lovely Cousin Reese from London is visiting. Besides,” she continued, taking my arm and leading me out of the café, “I hate how we can never go out these days. I want a night on the town with you, Danny boy.”
“We could go out with you as a guy, you know.”
“Nah, pet, would never work,” Reese replied blithely. “Everyone round here knows you’re not the type to sleep around, yeah? If they saw you out with a different bloke every third week they’d think something was up. Better we have a nice time without having to look over our shoulders. The really fun stuff can wait ‘til we get home.” “Home” being my tiny apartment, but it felt good to have him call it that. We’d ended up going out to dinner at a five-star seafood restaurant, then to a club I’d never even heard of before, even though I was the one who lived here. By the end of the night Reese was nicely buzzed and I was mostly over the fact that he was wearing a female shell, and just enjoying his company.
Once we were alone again, though, he always took the shape I knew best. It wasn’t that Reese wasn’t willing to look like someone else in bed. The thought of it kind of excited him, honestly, but for my part it mostly creeped me out. I was just made to be monogamous, and even though I knew intellectually that Reese was the same person inside whether or not he looked it on the outside, I was very partial to the shell in which I’d first met him. He knew it too, and back in my apartment he indulged me with my favorite. God, did he indulge me. I couldn’t sit easy for a week after he left.
When we first met, I was working in the campus museum at the University of Arcane Studies. We’d just put a collection of ancient Turkish amulets on display, a loaner from the much larger collection of magical artifacts that was part of an exhibition at the Museum of Art and Science. Reese had walked in, and I fell for him so fast it’d almost gave me vertigo. He wined and dined me and treated me like a prince, and a few days later he took my shape and robbed my museum, getting me arrested before he and his crew went on to rob the larger exhibition and the police realized that the first robber couldn’t have been me, despite what the security cameras showed. Yes, to say that our initial relationship was somewhat rocky was definitely downplaying the issues I had with him. Liar, imposter, thief: Reese was all of these things. He owned his life, and refused to apologize. It was up to me to decide whether or not I could live with him the way he was, or whether we needed to go our separate ways.
Yeah, he still wanted me even after our introductory fiasco. I really had no idea why, because as far as I was concerned I wasn’t anything special. My doctorate was in the history of magical artifacts, with a focus on museum studies. Not exactly riveting for most people, or exciting like the subjects that people with more magical talent than me were encouraged to pursue. I couldn’t heal so much as a paper cut; I couldn’t move things with my mind or make things grow, and I had no offensive magical capabilities whatsoever. I had a slight ability with futuresight, and I did a decent job of deciphering a magical artifact’s purpose, but that was about it.
Well, not entirely it. After the museum heist, Reese had given me one of the amulets he’d stolen, an ancient Turkish God’s eye that opened the wearer up to new experiences. It was terribly hypocritical of me to keep it, but I had never been given anything by a lover before, especially not something so rare and special, and so I held onto it. Keeping the amulet on me at all times (carefully wrapped and protected from damage, of course, I knew I could never wear it openly) had the effect of increasing my ability with futuresight. What used to last just for a second or two now gave me visions that could sometimes see over a minute into the future. Of course, seeing the future changed it, or could, but so far it had been far more useful than not. Seeing a little ways into the future had saved my life more than once.
There was also the other side effect that had sprung up as a result of using the amulet, but that one I didn’t have as good a handle on. That didn’t mean Reese and I didn’t take advantage of it, though.
“What did the doc have to say about our little connection, Danny?” he asked languorously over the phone one night. Muggy winter was finally giving way to spring, and it was so nice outside that I left my apartment’s single, dinky window open so I could smell the fresh air.
“I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m making it up,” I replied, laying back on my couch and looking out at the sky. It was just turning evening, and broad strokes of peach and lavender filled the sky as the sun slowly sank. “He said he couldn’t be specific unless I gave him the amulet to study, and I wasn’t about to do that.”
“Had some theories though, didn’t he?” Reese pressed. I could hear him shifting around on something, probably silk sheets, knowing him. I had no idea where he was or what the time was there, but Reese was never the kind of person to deny himself a luxury, and he liked to sleep on silk sheets. He’d bought me two sets for Valentine’s Day, and we’d gotten both of them dirty before that particular night was over.
“He said it all depended on the magic. You carried the amulet for a little while before I did, and once it had a taste of both of our abilities it might have decided to bind us together for some reason of its own, an intrinsic part of its spell that we just don’t know about. Or it might have something to do with my futuresight, or it might be something you’ve absorbed off of one of your shells.” On very rare occasions, when Reese took the form of someone very magically gifted, he also had some of their gift while he wore their shell. That was how he had learned over twenty languages in a single evening, by seducing a prominent linguist who apparently had more than enough ability to go around.
“Or the Eye could just be the trigger for a spontaneous connection,” I continued, joking, and Reese chuckled into the phone. Spontaneous magical connections were the sort of things that hack romance writers chucked into plots when they needed two people to fall in love fast. They were a one in a million sort of thing, where two people bonded to each other so intimately that they could influence each other’s thoughts and emotions.
Reese and I could do that with each other, to a certain extent. When he wore my shape I could see what he saw as though I were him, and when he focused he could see and feel what I was doing as well, although not as often or as easily. The bond affected my dreams too, so I experienced hours of his actual day while I was sleeping. To my surprise the sudden lack of privacy didn’t bother me at all, and it certainly didn’t bother Reese. I had never felt so close to anyone before this, and I never wanted it to end.
I was pretty sure the whole strange mess had something to do with the God’s eye. Yeah, the first time I saw him in my dreams Reese hadn’t even given me the amulet yet, but that was probably just a fluke. We weren’t the stars of some teenybopper angst-ridden romance; we were grown adults who happened to have some very odd abilities, and who enjoyed each other’s company. A lot. Unthinkingly I brought my free hand to my chest and closed my eyes. “Reese…are you wearing me right now?”
“How could you tell?” he asked, a grin in his voice even as it got lower, huskier.
“Because I can feel a hand on my cock, and I know for a fact it’s not one of mine.” The sensation wasn’t exactly like a hand, I couldn’t feel the heat of him or the individual press of his fingers, but the pressure and the sense of connection was definitely there.
“Caught me, pet.” Reese was absolutely unrepentant. “What can I say, I wanted to touch you.”
“You realize you aren’t actually touching me,” I told him a little breathlessly, unzipping my jeans and pushing them down my hips. “You’re just touching yourself while you look like me. It doesn’t do anything else for you.”
“It does, a little,” he replied, surprising me. “I’m getting better at it these days, Danny, getting more of a feeling of you, instead of just you in me. You’re…on your couch, got your head on the armrest—you’re gonna hurt yourself lying on that thing, y’know, ’s bad for your back.”
“I’ll be fine for a few minutes,” I said, but I did put another pillow under my shoulders for extra support. I unbuttoned the top half of my shirt and slipped my hand inside. “What else am I doing?”
“I can feel your…hands. No, just one hand. Fingertips on your collarbone, stroking slow and pretty just the way you like it, pet.” He was right. I rubbed the pad of my thumb in a circle over my right nipple, and hearing him groan with my voice was an incredible turn on. I didn’t have fantasies of being with Reese while he looked like me, that was a little too far on the side of weird for me to get into, but I did love this, this ghost-touching we could do for each other.
“’S perfect, pet, just like that,” he murmured over the line. “Just enough to tease. That’s what I’d be doing to you if I was there right now, once we got the need out of the way. You’d be all sweaty and sticky and red from the first round, bruises startin’ to come in where I held your hips still, luv, you always fight so hard to move when all I want is to hold you down and take you. And it was hard, the first round, always is, no time for easin’ you onto my hand or one of those long, messy blowjobs you like when all I can think about’s fillin’ you with my cock.”
“Fuck, Reese…” He was right, when we first got together after being apart, even if it was just for a week, we were always rougher. Usually he’d push me up against a wall or a door or the inside of the shower and give me one of the most incredible blowjobs I’d ever experienced, and then when I was coming down from that high he’d open me up and take me hard and fast, without giving me a chance to catch my breath. After that, yes, then we could take our time and go slow, and Reese was great at slow, but God, right now all I wanted was fast.
“You’d be on your back, pet, and you’d put your hands in my hair and guide my mouth all gentle over your cock until it got hard enough to fill my throat.” Reese’s invisible hand moved faster at my groin, stroking me all over, not hard but persistent. I pulled my legs back, panting into the phone as I licked my fingertips, then sent my hand down between my thighs.
“Jesus, Danny, yeah.” He felt that, then, my fingers pressing at my entrance, slick and seeking to enter that inviting tightness and heat. “Think about me touching you there, a little sore, a little red and raw but you don’t care, do you, luv? Not when you want me inside of you so bad.”
I did want him inside, I wanted him in me right now, thrusting over and over until he flooded me, but all I had for that was myself. I pushed two of my fingers into my body, as deep as I could go from that angle, and the choked sound Reese made over the line made me laugh around my sigh of pleasure. “I do want you in me,” I whispered. “I want you to fuck me. I want your hand and your dick and your mouth all working on me, making me come.” The pressure on my cock increased, and it felt like another hand was scratching over my chest, stroking my tightening abs and tracing the cords in my neck as I started to arch. “Reese, God, I’m going to—I’m coming—Reese-”
“Now, pet, do it,” he told me, his voice heavy and straining, and I curled my fingers so that they touched my prostate, shoved them deeper, raised my hips off the couch and came, hard, fluid flying up my chest and oozing over the phantom fingers of my lover as he stroked me off from wherever he was. Reese came a few seconds later, and it was like potent aftershock from my own orgasm, making my body tense and try to shoot even though there was nothing left to give. I was so strung out it almost hurt to come down, and neither of us said anything for a couple minutes, just listened to the panting on the other end of the line. I had a stupid smile on my face by the time I caught my breath again.
“I miss you,” I informed him.
“Apparently,” he laughed, and he sounded happy and carefree, which was a rare way for Reese to sound these days, since he’d gone underground. “I miss you too, Danny. Was thinking I’d come see you soon, actually, I’ve just got a few things to finish up on this side of the pond before I can.”
“M’kay,” I said sleepily, not really listening other than to register that he said he’d come visit me. “This’ll be the seventh time since Christmas. Lucky seven. That’s a lot.”
“I can’t go without you for too long, pet, it gives me the shakes,” he joked. “And I am planning on getting lucky, so take care of yourself between now and then, yeah? Stock up on lots of food and get plenty of sleep so everything goes perfect and you don’t keel over from exhaustion in the first hour.”
“Hah, you wish,” I mocked him, but I knew he really was concerned. I tended to ignore my body’s needs when I got into working on my thesis. Thankfully the thing was at the printers now, so even when I had the urge to add another reference or put something else into the bibliography I couldn’t, because it was finally out of my hands. As a result, you could actually see the surfaces in my apartment as opposed to nothing but stacks of paper. It was the neatest my apartment had been in years. “Don’t worry, I’ll be ready for you.”
“I’m counting on it, Danny,” Reese replied, and then he hung up the phone. I held onto my handset for a few more minutes before dropping it to the floor and sitting up with a contented sigh. Life was pretty damn good. I was graduating with my doctorate soon, I had several job interviews already lined up, and my incredible boyfriend was coming for a visit.