Meet Miranda

In the world of Black Cats and Bad Luck where magic exists, familiars are especially mysterious. Obviously, they’re connected to magic. They take animal form, but they’re more than animals. Where they came from or what they are exactly is unknown. Witches can’t ask these animal companions since they take animal shapes and therefore don’t talk. And it isn’t as if they morph into humans and start living a new life. Not usually. Except in Horatio’s case.

Horatio isn’t interested in providing answers about familiars. He’s already bent some rules of the universe and isn’t keen on doing more damage.

Mason is a human who has dreamed of Horatio for years without knowing where to find him. When he’s checking on Horatio’s story, he talks to his best friend Miranda, who has some trouble processing the information she’s given.

~

Mason

“WHAT?” Miranda yelled despite being in a public lobby. “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?”

“Miranda.”

“Sorry,” she said to me, raising a hand towards the guy at the front desk too. “Sorry, I’ll use my indoor voice.” She turned to me with urgency as we made our way further into the hotel. “Horatio the familiar? The cat who works with Stella on her magic, he’s your Horatio?”

“So this doesn’t happen everyday, huh?” I tried to make it a joke, but the words felt strangled.

“Yeah, you could say that. Are you serious?” she hissed the words, quieter than yelling but with force. “Are you joking or are you being serious right now? Tell me the truth.”

“For real, I’m being serious.” At the elevators, I hit the button to call one.

“Okay, because it’s not wise to get into a prank war with a witch.” Heed my words or beware, her tone indicated.

“I’m not—”

“At least, it’s not wise to legitimately get one over on a witch in a prank war because that just makes the stakes higher for you.” She wiggled her fingers menacingly, perhaps threatening hexes or curses, if those were different things.

“Miranda, I’m not kidding.” Ding, an elevator arrived, and we stepped inside.

“Just checking.” She hit the button for our floor as she spoke. “Okay. Alright… no, one more time. Is this real?”

How the hell should I know? I tried to be patient. “I was hoping you would tell me.”

“Honestly, this does not happen often.” Oh god. “Or ever.” Oh god. “At least not that I’m aware of.” Oh god.

When Horatio and I went our separate ways, I immediately sought out Miranda so she could confirm his story. It wasn’t that I really thought he was lying. His story was just so incredible, it had trouble sinking in. I kept thinking it would eventually. Sink in. Not yet.

From all accounts, Miranda mastered the craft quickly. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen her baffled by something witch-y. Great. This was just fucking great.

“Wait, is this impossible?” she asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t think so. It’s… wow. Him showing up is a trip in itself, but being a familiar? Wow. Just wow. Wo—”

“Miranda.”

“Sorry.” Shaking her head, she snapped out of it. “How are you?”

“I have no idea,” I answered with feeling.

“Yeah, that sounds right.”

~

The rest of the novel is available here.

Wood…

Black Cats and Bad Luck is a magical fantasy novel with witches and familiars. And magic! Obviously. While one of the main characters, Mason, has strange dreams that might be magical, unless he’s crazy, Mason himself isn’t part of the magical community. He does have one strange power in this deleted scene from the novel.

~

Mason

Different elements resonated with different people. Some possessed the fiery temperament of a raging inferno. Others were steady and calm as a peaceful river. Many Pagans were at home in the forest, the earth welcoming them in while birdsong created a melody, the perfect natural soundtrack.

Mason Lewis wasn’t any of those things.

If I guessed my affinity, I’d go with… wood. Which either sounded boring or suggestive. Though if wood spoke to me, then the message it delivered was extremely specific. Maybe because I worked with wood often or because the jobs I did on the side had a magical component, the first time I rested my hand on a wooden piece, I could get a sense of its creation. Here in the reception area of the hotel, I rested my palm on the tall counter at the front desk and a clear sense of mass production filled my mind.

Heh, this place came across as rustic and woodsy, all the furniture resembling pieces someone could hypothetically craft with their own two hands. There were spacious, oversized wooden coffee tables, desks, and chairs, all polished until gleaming in dark browns. No woodworker in a secluded forest hideaway made any of it. I touched it and heard ‘assembly line’ loud and clear.

These were my idle thoughts as I waited for my guests. At this relatively early hour, the place still smelled strongly of wood polish with something fresh in the air too. An older couple leisurely made their way in, and the man checked in while the woman with him walked right over to me. Her honeysuckle perfume couldn’t be detected until she wrapped her arms around me in a hug.

Instead of saying hello, she greeted me with, “Aren’t you going to shave your beard?” A hand moved to pat my cheek and rub at the scruff there as if it could be scrubbed away with a little elbow grease. “The pictures from this event will be with us forever.”

“Good to see you too, Grandma,” I greeted, unable to keep the smile off my face as we separated.

~

Characters

Here’s a brief introduction to the main characters in Black Cats and Bad Luck.

Mason Lewis is a 23-year-old carpenter from Colorado. He has a tendency to keep people at arm’s length, partly because he had a difficult time with his Dad’s death as a teen. It’s also hard to get close to anyone due to his strange dreams of a potential soulmate.

Fun fact, his last name is Lewis for Lewis Carrol, who is mentioned and quoted a few times in the book.

I used a picture of Aaron Taylor-Johnson for Mason here. Other actors I imagine are age-fitting versions of Tom Hardy, Jason Momoa, and Ryan Hurst (Opie from Sons of Anarchy, except with less crazy hair and tattoos.)

Horatio is a magical being who used to live in feline form as a witch’s familiar. He’s a lot of fun because he’s the ‘fish out of water’ kind of character who is exploring the modern world for the first time. He’s sure of his connection to Mason, but less sure of things like movies, baseball, and ice cream.

For  him, I picture younger versions of Ian Somerhalder, Cillian Murphy, or Reid Scott. I also keep changing my mind on whether Ben Feldman (from Superstore) would work.

Meet Mason Lewis

Mason Lewis is one of the main characters in Black Cats and Bad Luck. While magic exists in his world, it’s not really part of his life growing up. Except for one thing. He’s been dreaming of his true love for as long as he can remember. The same visitor keeps appearing when he sleeps, a boy with black hair and green eyes. He grows up along with Mason. His name is Horatio.

Mason is eager to meet Horatio, though he tells himself the waiting makes the whole thing sweeter. It will all be worth it one day. Even if the guy is nowhere to be found and Horatio isn’t the most common name. He’s lucky. Not everyone gets this. The surety, the knowledge that their other half is out there somewhere, a comfort telling them to hold on because he’s not here yet but he’s coming. One day. He’ll hold the dreams close to his heart until he can hold the guy in his arms.

When the novel starts, the years have passed and things have changed. Mason is a 23-year-old who stopped waiting for Horatio. The death of his father put things in perspective and made him realize that the life he lives with his eyes open is most important.

The excerpt below comes from a scene where Mason is talking to his best friend Miranda about his strange dreams. They’ve become more frequent, which he doesn’t like.

I leveled with Miranda. “Look at us now. You’re about to be a High Priestess. I’ve got a great job lined up and a serious girlfriend. We’re downright stable and well-adjusted. When we first met, did you ever think we would get here? If past-you could see you now, what would you think?”

“Impossible,” she answered quietly. “I’d call this impossible.”

Miranda and I met in the Dead Parents Club. That was what we called our old support group. I lost my dad while both her parents were gone. If the ‘dead parents’ nickname sounded dark, the reality was even worse. As sullen, maladjusted teens, we sat on folding chairs in a church basement, scowling at everything and sobbing at the unfairness of the world in turns, trying to make sense of grief.

For a long time, I wanted to hurt. Screw moving on and healthy coping and whatever else the counselor talked about. Then I just wanted to breathe easier without every inhale feeling so labored, a near impossibility dragged from my lungs.

Somehow, I did get past the grief. I was doing better than I ever would have imagined. So maybe Horatio and I shared some impossible connection, but what I accomplished in the waking world seemed impossible too. My dad had been gone for close to a decade, which was a long time in some regards. And also not very long. I never thought I’d be able to pick up the pieces by this time.

“I need this, Miranda,” I said. “Because there’s always this thing, if not holding me back then holding me in place. I’m ready to go on. I need to go on.”

There was this moment not too long ago. My apprenticeship was wrapping up and there were two potential jobs waiting for me. The first one was a side project Miranda and I started on a whim a few years ago and could turn into a full-time business. The other was a position with an established home building company. The latter meant moving away, but a fresh start wouldn’t be so bad, and I was getting serious with Rachel. The future never looked better. Maybe I have things under control, I thought. I’m really going to be alright. That was when the dreams started again.

At the heart of every dream, the problem was the same. I desperately desired someone who didn’t exist, someone I never really met. The dreams had too much power over me. It felt like they could destroy everything I worked so hard for.

~

For my new novel and series, I put together some posts that are an introduction to the world and characters of Black Cats and Bad Luck. This paranormal romance is available for free. It’s a new adult gay romance about magic, familiars, dreams, and monsters.

Interesting gay romances

Here are some of the books that caught my eye from giveaways this month. They’re all free. Should I say more? I’m not going to! I can be brief occasionally.

Sometimes you have to fight for the thing you want the most, even if that means risking it all-even your own life.
The short story shows how the two men of Dark Flame fell for each other even though it took a while for Michael’s head to catch up with his heart

Stuck at a medical conference, Carter is forced to pretend that his relationship with Rafe is more than what it is, but maybe everything he’s hoped for.
Between a war, and a dangerous diplomatic mission, love can quickly become an unachievable goal.
Grim and Sinister Delights is a dark romance series based on classic fairy tales and stories.

Two lonely souls meet in this gay teen romance.

Former Feline Familiars (is this a tongue twister?)

For my new novel and series, I put together some posts that are an introduction to the world and characters of Black Cats and Bad Luck. This paranormal romance is available for free. It’s a new adult gay romance about magic, familiars, dreams, and monsters.

One of the main characters is Horatio, a former familiar who is seeking his true love. You know how shapeshifters are a hot trend in fiction now? This is kind of like that, except it only works in one direction and only once. He spent some time in cat form, though he isn’t really a cat. Because when I try to write shapeshifters, apparently my brain cooperates to a point and then does its own thing.

In this scene, Horatio meets up with the young witch he lived and worked with, her older brother Avery, and his friend Jonah.

~

Avery

“Horatio is a cat.” I went over the facts, seeking comfort from them. “He eats from a black dish with little stars decorating the outside. He gets hair all over my pillows, he smacks me in the face with his tail. Because he’s a cat, our—”

“I hope you weren’t going to say pet,” he interrupted sternly.

“He’s right, Avery,” Stella said. Great, they were both glaring at me. “We don’t own him, we never did.”

Rubbing my face with both hands, I groaned. What the hell I did not even believe in? What the hell? All I could say was, “He’s not Horatio.”

“I am Horatio,” the guy argued.

“And you were lonely, so you followed us here?” And also grew human parts.

“No, you’re where I need to be, and I can sense you strongly. You’re my bridge between worlds.”

Not sure what to do with that, I only weakly said, “Horatio is a cat.”

“I was,” he agreed. “But no longer.”

Everyone had gone insane. I did not have enough sanity on my own to bring them all back to reality. So I did the only thing I could. I gave up, falling back on the bed, closing my eyes, and wishing the world a fond farewell. It would have to get along without me.

“Oh my god.” Jonah laughed. “Awesome! Are you serious?”

Distantly, a reasonable part of myself tried to mount a defense. It argued I shouldn’t allow a naked, possibly deranged guy to waltz in here just because he guessed the name of our cat.

 If anyone else showed up out of nowhere buck-naked claiming to be a family pet, or a rough equivalent, they would be full of shit. But this guy? I believed him. While the shape of him changed, he was still Horatio.

— the rest is available here. For free!

Cover for Black Cats and Bad Luck

For this cover reveal I feel like I should have built up the moment more or done something fancy because I LOVE this cover. Instead, I’m going to wing it in my usual fashion. This book is new for me because it’s my first contemporary fantasy and new adult novel. It’s still a gay romance about magic, familiars, and a love story that began in dreams.

This complete, full-length novel of around 100,000 words should soon be available in many places, but is now only offered in giveaways like this one. It is abundantly obvious to me that I didn’t make this, though you might not be aware if you don’t know me. This cover was made for me and is probably my favorite cover for any of my books.

Here’s a scene from the book. During this section, Avery Ward and his family are arriving at a resort in the Colorado wilderness for a vacation and family reunion. Avery thinks he knows how much magic will occur on this trip (not much.) Avery is wrong.

~

Avery

Around the resort, everything looked picture perfect with fresh cut grass, flowers, and shrubs neatly lining walking paths. The well-maintained areas eventually gave way to the woods. A seemingly endless forest surrounded the property. Outdoorsy types, Pagans, nature lovers, and so on would really appreciate the place. The air was so full of an earthy scent, reminiscent of pine with other notes I couldn’t wait to uncover.

It was difficult to feel anything other than cheerful and optimistic when in a place so beautiful. This would be—

“Awful,” proclaimed Jonah Harris, the friend I’d been allowed to invite along. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard! We’re stuck here all week and there’s no magic? Not even a little bit? None? None at all?”

Stella and I exchanged a glance. You tell him, she wordlessly expressed. He’s your friend.

“Yeah,” I confirmed wearily. “None means none.”

“But…” He made a pathetic noise. “What the hell?”

Hefting his blue travel bag over his shoulder, Jonah sagged under its weight. He was mixed race with dark hair and brown skin. He stood much taller than me, yet he reminded me of a kid closer to Stella’s age, one who just discovered the fat present bringing man, uh, who… oh. Jonah resembled a kid who just found out Santa wasn’t real, desperately seeking confirmation from his parents, wanting to believe any alternative to the truth if given the chance.

“Did I forget to mention the ‘no magic’ thing?” I asked even though the answer was clear. Why should I have mentioned it? It wasn’t going to be any different from our regular life. Well, mine and Jonah’s.

Jonah kicked at the dirt of the parking lot. “Man, this sucks.”

“I know how you feel,” Stella consoled. “I couldn’t even bring my familiar.” She sent me a worried look. “I hope he’ll be okay on his own.”

“There will be magic after the ceremony,” I promised Jonah.

“That’s at the very end! The whole reason I came on this trip—” He cut off abruptly.

“No, keep going,” I prompted. “The whole reason you came on a trip with me, your very best friend—”

“Best male friend,” he clarified, suddenly able to carry his bag with ease and walking ahead.

We were both males so, “That’s the most important kind,” I told his back.

“How sexist,” he accused, wheeling around in outrage. “Really, is this the example you wanna set for your little sister?”

“I’m repeating what you said when you complained forever because I—”

“You invited Heather first over me! Thanks for reminding me. I’m still deeply hurt, by the way. We probably shouldn’t mention any of this ever again unless we want to ruin the trip.” Too bad Heather couldn’t come. She was busy. Jonah waited a few seconds before asking, “Did I successfully turn things around?”

“It is a free trip,” Stella noted. “Whether there’s magic or not, it’s a pretty good deal.”

“Thank you, Stella,” I said, smiling at Jonah. But I couldn’t help the feeling that it would be a long week.

–the full story is available here.

Writing About Writing, or what’s next for me?

I’m starting one project and finishing another. The finale book in the One More Thing Series is on pre-order and will be out in May. And I’ve just completed Black Cats and Bad Luck, which is the start of a new series. It’s currently available for those on my mailing list, hint hint, but will soon be out for everyone. For free too!

So as one series is drawing to a close soon, I figured I should tell you what I’m working on and what’s next. I’ve been dipping more into the fantasy/magical realm lately. If you don’t enjoy fantasy, I’m still going to be writing contemporary gay romances. I have some ideas for future books, but I’m just waiting until One Big Decision (the final book in the One More Thing series) is released before taking on another project.

This might be the longest I’ve ever written on one topic continuously. No, it definitely is, so this is still crazy to my ADHD brain. I’m adding some genre variety, but I’ll still be writing gay romance.

My main project right now is the Ward Magic series. I’m almost done with a novella for my mailing list about the main characters from that story, Mason and Horatio. They’ll be featured again in the third book, though the second book is about another character from the series, Avery. It’s called Instalove.

I’m also working on an email series, which is a fun and slightly terrifying new concept for me. The story I’m writing for this is called Sleeping Without Beauty. So it may or may not be about fairy tales. (It’s totally about fairy tales.) Some will be more fantasy-like, others will be magical realism or mostly normal. Sleeping Without Beauty takes place largely in someone’s brain, so it’s definitely the first option. That makes it sound like a delusion or something. What happens is a group of people take a field trip to someone’s mind. As you might have noticed, I have not yet written any promotional materials for this story.

I hope you have enjoyed me listing titles at you. That feels like what I’ve been doing. Which is a thing, right? I’ve seen authors do release date and title reveals before. It feels weird to not include an excerpt or quote or something, but I do that a lot, so I won’t this time. Variety!

LGBTQ Fiction Giveaway

Hello, I have been wrestling with WordPress and don’t have anything witty to say. I wanted to mention that the LGBTQ Fiction Giveaway is going on right now until Jan. 15. Here’s some of the titles that caught my eye.

There’s vampires, a prince, and supernatural mysteries in this 7 Chapter Sample of Dark Flame by Kat Silver. I maybe should have put a full story first instead of a sample, but I LOVE this cover. It’s so pretty.

Haunted by the death of his parents, Michael Blakeley wants answers. The twenty-six-year-old martial artist seeks their killer, but he also wants to know why electronics short out at his touch, and why his libido is a raging fire.

So when a group of soldiers calling themselves Guardians rescue him from a back alley ambush and claim to have the answers he needs, he agrees to go with them. Especially when they tell him the attackers were vampires. But nothing in this supernatural underworld is as it seems, and when the silver-eyed commander cages him instead, Michael’s answers slip further away.


Shapeshifters, psychics, and a love story that begins in dreams. This is Romp–A Fox Hollow Novella by Morgan Brice. The book I’m currently working on, Black Cats and Bad Luck, is about falling in love in dreams, so I’m excited to read this one. There is also kind of a shapeshifter.

When otter-shifter Dell Avery moved to Fox Hollow for a new job, he hoped that a change of location might also help him find a boyfriend. Then he discovers his cabin is haunted, and he starts having vivid, realistic dreams where he meets Mack, a man who checks off all his boxes for the perfect boyfriend.


Murders in a small town mean that a secret haven for shapeshifters could be exposed in Wild Retaliation by Ethan Stone.

Chief of Police John Dakota keeps two secrets close to his bulletproof vest. One is the truth about Seaside, Oregon—that it’s a safe haven for shifters. Including himself.

 The second is the nine-year-old mystery of why a series of brutal murders that rocked the sleepy tourist town simply…stopped. No one can know, especially not Trevor English. The local reporter who occasionally shares John’s bed.


In Tainted Life by Mel Gough, a detective going through a divorce doesn’t think he can handle anything other than a one night stand, but a mysterious photographer isn’t so easy to give up.

Desperate to forget his sorrows for a while, Pete seeks refuge in a Soho bar where he is approached by a sexy, funny, and clearly interested stranger. Photographer Liam Jackson is just the ticket for one oblivious night of perfect passion.


In Play On by Avery Cockburn, a hothead soccer player and a college student with a trouble past must battle inner demons before they can be together. Also Scotland.

Duncan Harris is on the edge. Scandal has shredded his LGBT soccer team’s history-making season, and now the once-unflappable striker is lashing out. Only one person can tame Duncan’s rage and make him feel like himself again…

Bullied by schoolmates in his wee village, Brodie Campbell lurked deep in the closet before coming to the city of Glasgow. Here at university he’s out and proud, but the years of abuse have left him emotionally paralyzed. Can flatmate Duncan help Brodie escape his past and heal his wounded heart?


A magical accident could turn the holidays into a very unhappy Christmas for a well meaning witch and his roommate. This is Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Magic by Daniel De Lorne.

Wannabe witch Will Brand’s attempts at making magic cookies for the kids at a local shelter go awry when his ex-boyfriend messages and turns Will’s good energy to anger.


Everything is starting to unravel for a hockey player, when the one who got away in college comes back into his life in Breaking Away by Van Cole.

Dan is a professional hockey player at the top of his game – but when his wife up and leaves him out of nowhere, it feels like game, set and match. How is he supposed to get through his upcoming games with an apartment empty of furniture and his wife off sleeping with some baseball player she’s supposedly been seeing for a while now?


In Forgive Me by Avery Katz, a prince and artist have a shot at a second chance, but overcoming the past won’t be easy.

The blizzard has trapped me with the one man I truly hate…and the only man I’ve ever wanted.

He can claim my body, but not my heart. I will never forgive him.


New novel, Black Cats and Bad Luck

As a writer of contemporary romance, one might not know that I love fantasy stories. Especially magical ones. Hey guess what? I’m working on a new novel called Black Cats and Bad Luck. There’s magic. And familiars. And soulmates. And more!

This is of course a gay romance, and this is the beginning of the book. The first part is about a transformation. The second part is two boyfriends shopping in an occult store. Or trying to shop while also trying to make out.

~

The Ward house rarely held such quiet. Sound always existed, from the voices of humans to the low hum of magic. Even the pixies in the garden were silent. Perhaps this warranted investigation.

Laying in a column of sunlight in the master bedroom, the cat raised its head— creatures such as him always stretched, just a little, past their limits. Seeing not only what there was, but what could be. Seeing with more than the eyes, reaching out to touch the swirling cosmos and twinkling stars, to—then again, it would be such a shame to waste this lazy afternoon on anything other than a nap. The cat rested its head back on the hardwood floor.

Awareness hovered somewhere, an insubstantial thing, easily batted away like a stray strand of yarn. He stretched, black tail swishing once in the air, before getting comfortable again.

An ordinary day can shift so quickly. After all, to go from idea to creation, it only takes a spark. The being in the empty house who currently wore black fur and moved on four legs knew all about that. It was his purpose. Mostly, except for the tiny piece of other. The call had been there for so long, a whisper echoing in his mind. He had never been able to answer. A force kept him in place, always with the same song, not yet, not yet, not yet, a melody he’d long since gotten used to.

After a nap in the sun, the perfect next step was up and to the right, a nap atop the comfy pillow on the big bed. He moved, curling up on the softer surface. Yes, perfectly content, he could stay there for-oh. Something was different.

Lifting his head, ears perking, no sound reached him from the still house beyond. Inside, no sound either.

The melody had stopped.

A sound, perhaps fingers snapping. The scent of jasmine lingered in the air. The shift began.

Mystical forces swirled and coalesced on the being indulging in an afternoon nap and… things changed. Transformation, accompanied by only a slight popping sound. Limbs twisting, body bending, almost naturally, like the back when arched, making a bow of the spine in the stretch he knew so well.

Life expanded beyond instinct, beyond black and white. While he hadn’t moved, the bed no longer held a feline. This was something new. He was something new. Even his thoughts were transformed, into the kind with words.

A jumble of images poured into his head like milk from a saucer. Magic. Grace. Whiskers. All of it him and not him. Paws to hands. Hands and hearts. Holding a heart in one’s hands, feeling it beat, and knowing what it meant to live.

He lived. Alive. A person, a man. One with an opinion, small, yet his own nonetheless. His first viewpoint boiled down to this: yes. His mouth stretched up; the thought felt good.

“Meow,” he said. It didn’t feel right.

“Now,” he tried. That was better.

No more time to rest when he could do instead. He rose from the bed on two human legs. Larger than before, yet almost entirely compressed into this place called flesh. The world no longer laid out neatly to view with ease. Whatever came next, it wasn’t for him to know anymore. Time to experience life in a new way, second by second.

The world held endless possibilities, more than even he could conceive of. Whatever came next, it would be amazing. How could it not be? The world was full of wonder. Seconds ago, he used to be one thing. Now, he was another.

* * *

Mason

When his clever hands and nimble body pressed me against the shelves, the strongest urge rose within me to flip our positions and forget about how we were in a public place with a job to do. Putting a respectable distance between us seemed impossible, even though anybody could turn onto the last aisle in this occult store and see us between the portable cauldrons and apothecary kits.

His green eyes sparkled with mischief. The only explanation for why I crave him so much and the way he’s more intoxicating than any whisky? It had to be a spell.

Then again, I know absolutely nothing about magic. My best friend says a good witch recognized when to call on the supernatural and when to let nature run its course. Yes, it would be simple to invoke attraction by dabbing a little love potion on the neck. However, there’s no substitute for the real stuff. Lust felt so much better when truly earned.

“Relax,” Horatio said, the word more coaxing than soothing. “No one can see us back here.” Tall shelving dark as night hid us from the customers browsing through crystals, candles, and whatever aromatherapy oil I surely needed to calm me down.

“Can’t you keep your hands off me for a second?” I grumbled, though I don’t exactly have complaints about our position.

Horatio drew his hands away, amusement in those bright green eyes as he counted the seconds he kept his hands to himself. One, two, three. Then came the smirk, and he rolled his hips into mine, because no one said they were off limits and—

Dammit. My hands settled around his waist and drew him closer. I tried to protest. “Don’t we have more important things to focus on?”

“Oh, I am.” He pecked my lips quickly with his own. “I assure you.” Another peck. “I’m focusing on—” his mouth began a journey to a spot just below my ear, and he punctuated each word with a kiss. “—the most important part.”

The record would show I tried valiantly to keep us on track. I gave up, getting lost in him instead. Surely our task couldn’t be as important as putting one hand in his black hair and slipping my tongue inside his parted lips. Despite the shoppers in the next aisle, we might as well be the only two people in the world. Our mouths danced together hungrily and—

“Ahem.” Someone cleared their throat.

We froze as if we were guilty teenagers sneaking around, only our heads turning to the noise to see two older women eyeing us with amusement. One stepped forward, the beads on her bracelets jingling, as she reached by my shoulder for what she needed from the shelf.

My beard hid the flush on my face from being caught, though Horatio’s own clean-shaven face showed no embarrassment. Only smug pride, the cat who caught the canary or something.

“Sorry about this,” I apologized to the women without being able to look directly at them. “We were just, uh—”

It had been pretty clear what we were doing. They both smirked, letting the humiliation continue another moment before one took pity on me. “Relax,” she said and then looked to her companion. “We were just as bad before our own Joining, weren’t we?”

“Worse,” the other said with a wicked grin. She looked to us. “Congratulations.” They moved on, chuckling while they went.

With a slight head tilt, Horatio considered me. His pale neck curved only slightly, not showing off the full stretch of skin I loved. I sounded kind of vampiric, lusting after the curve of a neck. With Horatio, there was so much to lust over. I wanted to join our mouths again, but…

“About that ceremony of ours,” I reminded us both. We were here to pick up supplies for it.

Sighing, he pulled away, the reluctance short lived as he remembered something. “Did Miranda put any thought at all into this rite? Maybe I have high standards for a High Priestess, but it’s like she picked the first thing she saw on the internet.”

“Something wrong?”

“If it weren’t for the lavender, our candle would have no masculine scents, and it’s all a little obvious.” He made a distressed noise. “And don’t get me started on the cinnamon and moon water, is this a serious rite or a teenager’s love potion?”

Question seemed rhetorical but he stopped talking, so it was my turn to provide input. “Uh, get whatever you want.”

“You don’t have an opinion?”

“None of this is exactly my area of expertise.” One suggestion did pop into my mind, yet for some reason, the words wouldn’t go past my lips due to a sudden unease that made me hesitate. Pushing away the misgiving, I said, “We’re here now, you might as well grab what you want.”

His eyes fell on my body as he considered the suggestion, then he shook his head. “Alright, though it’s your ceremony too. I’d think you would care.” He began walking away.

Catching him around the middle, I pulled him to me once more, brushing our lips together. I whispered, “There’s nothing I care about more.”

Appeased, he grabbed me by the wrist as he led me around the store, plucking items from shelves and displays and handing them to me to carry, creating his own ritual in his head. Anyone else, I’d worry about unexpected side effects. With Horatio, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had magic running through his veins instead of blood. Uh. Not sure where that thought came from. It felt true, but unease crept over me again.

The whole ceremony was a formality, so there was no reason to have doubts. As far as I was concerned, he was already a part of me. We didn’t need an incantation to bind us together. People didn’t get closer than us.

When he requested my input a moment ago, only one suggestion came to mind. Dandelion. Those little scrubby flowers growing free in fields and unchecked corners of dirt. A weed by some definitions. The same things kids plucked out of the ground and pulled the petals from, playing games of does he love me, does he not, trying to summon their true love, and I…

My true love stood right beside me while we waited in line to pay. He wrapped an arm across my waist, and I didn’t need to look to know he was grinning because no way he would keep it ther-yep, his palm moved lower, cupping my ass. My noise of warning only made him grin. We—

“It’s your turn,” someone said. When it came to Horatio, nobody else better be getting a turn-oh. In line. It was our turn in line, so the person behind us wanted us to move ahead.

Okay, going to the store and paying for this stuff? I could do that much. I really couldn’t contribute anything else. Which herbs and flowers are masculine, and which are feminine? No idea. Nor could I find flowers to represent passion and sincerity or select crystals to aid in a long and healthy bond. I might not even be able to list all the possible steps in this upcoming ritual we were taking part in. I only knew that we would stand up in public and declare our love for each other. I wanted that part.

In fact, the amount I wanted the public declaration seemed almost bizarre. Why did displaying our love out in the open in front of witnesses and the daylight appeal to me so much? We did that all the time. As our actions in this store proved, we weren’t very good at keeping our feelings private and our hands to ourselves.

Screw it. “You go ahead,” I told the person behind us, pulling Horatio to me so the customer could step around.

I laughed and his mouth covered mine before the sound could be heard, so did it even count as a laugh or was it only an idea? Nonsensically I thought, when it comes to him, everything counts. Wrapping my arms around him, I kissed the hell out of him.

And then I woke up.

Groaning, I glanced to the alarm clock. 6:45 in the morning. My girlfriend was already up and out of the room for a morning run. With a sigh, I got up. Even though my guests wouldn’t arrive until after 10. I should make a pot of coffee. I had a feeling it would be a long day.

The trouble with dreaming about a guy who didn’t exist? He was never there when you woke up.