T-minus eleven days, folks! *whimpers*
It doesn’t matter how early I start, there are always last-minute projects that I take on: ‘just one more thing. I can do it! There’s still plenty of time.’ I do it to myself EVERY. YEAR. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now…
At least I had the good sense to relax the reins on my next book release. Geared-up for Adventure is nearly finished, but I’m releasing it next month. I have other things on my plate at the moment.
Just released and currently available at Amazon, this fantastic collection of bite-sized Christmas indulgences features eighteen holiday-themed flash fiction works, including my own “Wings of an Angel”, a story from my Firebend universe with Wyvern and Wes. It’s only $0.99, so grab a copy and a mug of cocoa and get your holiday cheer on!
It’ll be available at other vendors as well, and I’ll put up a page on my website with those links when I have them.
I wrote three stories for the anthology, all from the world of Firebend. I want to share the ones that weren’t chosen for final publication here. Bonus: “Heat Stroke” is a sneak peek into the characters and story of Geared-up for Adventure.
Enjoy and MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Zander shivered and hugged his arms around his body. “Why am I here again?”
“Because you love me and like to see me happy.” Nick leaned forward to gather his lover in his arms, pulling Zander close to his body and wrapping the blanket tighter around them both.
“I must love you a lot, then. Because I sure wouldn’t freeze my butt off outside for just anyone. Heck, even Newt had the good sense to stay indoors.”
Nick chuckled softly, pressing his lips to Zander’s dark hair. “Newt gets sluggish in the cold. You know that.”
Turning his head, Zander nuzzled his cheek against Nick’s icy nose. “I thought you were working on a heating unit for him, like you made for Wyvern.”
“I am. I’m hoping to have it ready to give to him for Christmas.”
“I wasn’t aware that robots celebrated holidays.”
“Newt loves Christmas.”
“Well…” Zander smirked. “He is a bit of an oddball. Like you.”
Nick shoved at Zander’s shoulder. “Normal is overrated.”
“Did you invite Wyvern to come out with us tonight?”
Nick hesitated. “Because I wanted to share this with you. If you’re not going to appreciate it…”
“I appreciate it!” Zander gripped Nick’s arms as Nick tried to pull away. “But mostly, I’ll take any opportunity to spend time with you.” He stared up at the star-studded night sky for a minute. “What does Newt like most about Christmas?”
“The lights,” Nick answered with a smile. “When we lived in Nythn Thalor, Christmas was the only time of year when no one cared about conserving our limited energy. For one day, everything sparkled with light. Newt and I would go out into the city for hours, just looking at all of the colors. I miss that, being out here in the Fringe. Even at Christmas, there aren’t many lights here.”
Zander smiled at him, fondness warming his gaze. “Newt’s very smart, then. I love Christmas lights too.”
Nick huffed a laugh, all too aware that Zander knew Nick hadn’t been talking about Newt at all. He looked up at the blanket of stars. “Never got a view like this in the city, though.”
“These aren’t Christmas lights, Nicky. The stars come out every night.”
“Well, I still think they’re amazing, but you’re right. Tonight’s light show is special.”
Zander snuggled back into Nick’s embrace, getting comfortable. “Tell me why?”
Even though Zander couldn’t see it, Nick gave him a wary frown. “You want to hear me spout scientific nonsense?”
“Yeah,” Zander said, shrugging. “It’ll keep me warm. Or put me to sleep. Either way, I’m happy.”
Nick pushed on his head. “You’re such a brat.”
Zander laughed. “Get spouting, Einstein. My toes are going numb.”
“I’ll spare you the really boring details,” Nick said. “Suffice it to say that the same solar particles responsible for creating the Blast that changed our world can also paint curtains of color across the sky.”
Zander stiffened in his arms. “Are we in danger of another Blast?”
“We always are, Zan. Our sun is always blasting energetic particles out into the universe. But the lights are pretty harmless. Aurorae are less intense manifestations of solar energy than the Blast was.”
Zander relaxed again. “How did you find out about this?”
Nick shrugged. “Read about it. Like everything else I learn.”
“Wait.” Zander sat up, regarding Nick critically. “How did you know that the lights are happening tonight?”
“I don’t. Not for sure. But I do know that the likelihood is high right now.”
Zander’s brows shot up in silent question.
Nick heaved an exasperated sigh. He really didn’t want to go into the science of it. “It has to do with the eleven-year solar sunspot cycle, maximum solar energy, and coronal mass ejections. I read about such a period in the past and figured out where we are right now in the sunspot cycle. Okay?” He rolled his eyes as Zander glared. Nick shrugged. “Christmas miracle, then?”
Zander gave him a withering look. “You know that your intelligence is wasted here in Firebend, right?”
“No, it’s not. Right here is where it’s needed. Besides, here is where you are.”
“And here is where we freeze to death out in the desert, looking for lights in the sky.”
Zander was quiet as he settled back against Nick and turned his gaze skyward. “You’re too smart for me.”
“Shut up and just share this with me.”
As if on cue, a ribbon of light streamed across the sky, shimmering and waving lazily like a flag in a breeze. The hues shifted, from green to blue to red. It obscured all but the brightest stars, lighting the night in tendrils of color. It was unlike anything that Nick had ever seen and he stared at it with his mouth hanging open. A river of winter light. A Christmas gift from the heavens.
“Nicky…” Zander’s tone was reverent. “It’s beautiful…”
Nick could only nod, his eyes fixed on the sky and his breath puffing warm clouds in the chill air.
“Nick…” Zander paused long enough to capture his mate’s awed gaze. “Do you see?” He pointed up. “Green. And red.” He grinned. “They really are Christmas lights.”
“You’re right.” Nick’s gaze snapped back up and he laughed in sheer joy. “Christmas lights,” he breathed. “Thank you, Zander.”
“Thank you, Nicky. For dragging my butt out here and thinking I’m important enough to share this with.”
“I want to share everything with you.” Nick pulled Zander down next to him on the ground and covered them again with the blanket. He watched the lights dance over their heads. “Merry Christmas, Zander.”
Zander rested his head on Nick’s shoulder. “Merry Christmas, Nicky.”
Alex saw Taggart slump gracelessly onto one of the long benches at a table. “Pardon me,” he apologized to the acquaintance with whom he’d been swapping archaeological theories. Then he went to join Taggart. “How ya going there, mate?”
“I think I’m dying,” Taggart groaned.
Alex rolled his eyes. “Oy. So melodramatic.”
“Fine. I’m having a heat stroke, then.”
“You’re from a desert climate in the Fringe, Tag. You should be used to this.”
“Not at Christmastime! It should be cold and snowy, not dusty and sweltering.”
Alex shrugged. “Welcome to the southern hemisphere.”
Taggart shot him a glare. “This isn’t hot to you?”
“Tag. Mate. I grew up spending my Christmases cooling off at the watering hole and lounging around in swim trunks.”
“That’s just wrong.”
“Just because it’s different…”
Alex got up. “Stay here. Be right back.”
Taggart rested his forehead on the table. “Couldn’t move if I tried.”
Alex chuckled under his breath. Sometimes he thought Taggart just liked to complain. When he returned to the table, he thunked a tall glass in front of Taggart. It was sweating in the heat too, the condensation making a puddle on the weather-beaten wood. “Beer,” Alex announced. “Beer cures all ills.”
Turning his head to look at Alex, Taggart smirked. “I think I read somewhere that alcohol makes heat stroke worse.”
“You don’t have heat stroke!” Alex threw his hands up in frustration. “Cripes, Tag! This is a Christmas barbecue. We’re here to spend the holiday with my long-time mates. If you’re going to be a snarky killjoy, then I’ll go hang out with them instead.”
“No! Wait!” Taggart grabbed for Alex’s hand. “I’m sorry. I’m just… This doesn’t feel like Christmas to me.”
Alex smiled. “It takes time to adjust to something new. But give it a chance, yeah?” He lifted his half-full beer glass. “Cheers.”
Taggart nodded and lifted his beer too, clinking their glasses together. “Happy Christmas, Alex.” A frown flickered over his face. “That is how you say it here, right?”
“There’s no right or wrong way to wish someone a happy holiday, mate. Merry Christmas, Tag.” Alex took a large swig of beer.
Taking a healthy gulp for himself, Taggart groaned in appreciation. “Mmm… Good.”
“Cures all ills.”
An ear-piercing squawk split the dry, heated air. Taggart jumped, his green eyes flying wide. “What the—?” Mere seconds later, an entire raucous chorus of dissonant shrieking obliterated all other sound.
Alex made a disgusted face and rubbed at his temple. “Bloody obnoxious birds.” He glared up at a nearby tree, its branches weighed heavily with dozens of huge white interlopers.
“Definitely don’t have those in Firebend.” Taggart had to lean into Alex’s ear to be heard.
Alex gave him a withering look. Then he motioned to his pet monkey Gwen, who was busy stuffing her fuzzy cheeks with peanuts. At Alex’s summons, she leapt onto the table and climbed atop his shoulder. “Wanna give me a Christmas present, Gwennie?” She chirped in response. He pointed at the offending flock of annoyance. “Keep those blasted birds away from our party?”
Gwen bounced a few times and then stroked her little hand down Alex’s nose. She bounded away, scaling the tree in a few short seconds. Swinging from branch to branch, she yelled at the birds, answering each squawk with one of her own. The partygoers applauded when the flock was banished. Gwen made herself comfortable in the crook of a branch, settling into her position as the party’s designated peacekeeper.
Alex hoisted his drink to her. “Good on ya, girl!”
Taggart grinned. “Sure is handy having a monkey in the family.”
Alex hid his surprise behind a long sip of beer. When had Taggart started thinking of them as a family? Alex nodded, his mind reeling from implications he’d never taken the time to consider properly. He knew that they must have been there all along, but Alex had never been one for long-term commitments. Well… What better time than Christmas for heartfelt promises and opportunities for change?
He brushed his fingers over the small box suddenly weighing much too heavily in his vest pocket. It had felt so right when he’d chosen the gift, but now doubt left him questioning his impulsive confidence. Should he wait? It felt like the right moment, but…
The box was out on the table. It sat there in all of its velvety incrimination, smug in its audacity. Alex didn’t even remember putting it there. He stared at it in horror. What on earth was he thinking? He bit his lip. His heart hammered on his ribs, attempting a desperate jailbreak to avoid its death sentence. Holy hell… He was going down in a raging inferno that he was powerless to extinguish. He was falling, falling…
Alex’s breath hitched audibly and his body jerked as he slammed into the unforgiving solidity of reality. He couldn’t take it back now. Taking it back was never an option. His mouth was a desiccated wasteland. He tried to swallow anyway. “Christmas gift?” His voice came out raspy and wrecked, razed by anxiety.
“Alex…” Taggart frowned at the box, his gaze brimming with anguish. “I didn’t know… I don’t…” He heaved a sigh. “You shouldn’t have.”
“I wanted to. Please just open it. If you don’t want it…” Alex shrugged. He had no idea how to finish that thought.
“I don’t have anything for you.”
Alex shook his head. It didn’t matter anyway. He watched Taggart pick up the box, handling it so carefully. He held his breath as the lid creaked open.
Taggart stared. Alex couldn’t read his expression. His heart stuttered, wavering between the promise of eternal joy and the despair of crushing destruction. Please… his soul implored. Please… He swiped a bead of sweat from his cheek.
Taggart’s gaze finally lifted. He grinned. The entire universe lit in a flash of breathless exultation.
A slightly manic exhalation of laughter left Alex as he beamed back. Taggart had lied. He’d had a gift for Alex after all.