Friday, December 2, 2016

Holiday Spirit Downunder - Giveaway

It's December, and if you haven't already realized it, Xmas is just around the corner. For most of those in the Northern Hemisphere there'll be a layer of the white stuff, so that means snowmen, ice-skating, snowball fights, and wrapping up in winter woolies. For those of us in the southern part of the planet (downunder), we'll have sunshine, beaches, barbeques, and bikinis.

So, we're a little different, and our authors like to reflect that in their writing. In order to give you a chance to check some of them out, Nic Starr has interviewed several fantastic authors who have offered books and other great prizes for you to win.

1st prize: $20 Amazon GC, 2nd Prize: $15 Amazon GC (courtesy of Meg Bawden), $10 ARe GC (courtesy of Beany Sparks), and 4th Prize is a bundle of 4 ebooks (1 back list title from Renae Kaye, Penny Brandon’s “His Heart’s Desire”, LJ Harris’ “The Haunting of Angus MacGregor”, and a backlist title from N.J. Nielsen)

To enter, just leave a comment below (tell me which book you'd like to win from my backlist), and then click here to enter the Rafflecopter. The winners will be drawn at the end of the blog tour.

Here are the authors you can check out:

DATE                    AUTHOR

1st Dec                  Susan Reeves
2nd Dec                 Kevin Klehr
3rd Dec                 Beany Sparks
4th Dec                 Brooke Edwards
6th Dec                 Anne Barwell
7th Dec                 Bronwyn Heeley
8th Dec                 LJ Harris
9th Dec                 LJ LaBarthe
10th Dec               Laura Andrews
11th Dec               Renae Kaye
13th Dec               Penny Brandon 

14th Dec               Pelaam
15th Dec               Meredith Shayne
16th Dec               A.B. Gayle
17th Dec               Toni Griffin
18th Dec               RJ Jones
20th Dec               Meg Bawden
21st Dec               Sean Kennedy
22nd Dec              NJ Nielsen
23rd Dec               Nic Starr

Just click on their names on their interview date and you'll be taken to Nic Starr's blogpage.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Steve is jaded, working hard but passed over for promotion more than once, unable to find love, and frustrated by his neighbor who plays the same song on repeat at full volume.

Nathan is said neighbor, though the two men have never met. Nathan has been wallowing in his own unhappiness since his partner, Rob, moved out of their apartment, taking all of their belongings. Nathan is unemployed, has no gas or electricity, and sits on his only piece of furniture, a mattress, torturing himself by playing his and Rob's song continually.

After another disappointing day at work, Steve returns home, only to be driven into his bedroom by the incessant music playing from the adjoining apartment. Steve feels his anger rising, frightened by his reaction and the strange appearance of a doll on his bed, which unbeknownst to him bears an uncanny resemblance to Nathan. Steve feels compelled to start banging angrily on his neighbor’s wall and thus Nathan and Steve meet.

Although their meeting is tense, with Steve raving about voices and a doll, little do they know that their paths will merge as they go on the run in an attempt to escape the voodoo curse apparently placed on Nathan, and their lives are going to change forever.

Save Me is unlike any run-of-the-mill contemporary gay romance. Penny Brandon has written a suspenseful novel, which is utterly compelling and I found myself finishing it in one sitting.

Steve and Nathan are the protagonists, but the novel is really centered around the voodoo doll who appears intent on causing Nathan harm. It is easy to ridicule a story that features a murderous doll only made from crude materials, but Brandon really makes Save Me work. I became totally sucked in by the palpable fear felt by Steve and Nathan, finding it totally conceivable that a doll could be responsible.

As someone who has suffered from depression, I perhaps related to Save Me on a level that the author did not intend; depression is the demon who feeds off negative emotions and who is not content until the sufferer is destroyed.

Both Steve and Nathan are complex characters who I cared about more as the story develops. Their feelings for each other are really the only thing that they have control over and I could believe that these emotions are genuine. I wanted Steve and Nathan to be safe and their romance offers some relief from the tension and danger which dominates the plot of Save Me.

Save Me is clever, fast-paced, and gripping. It would be an ideal book choice for readers who enjoy horror or thrillers with an edge. I really look forward to reading the next book in Penny Brandon’s Voodoo Dolls series.
kirsty sig

Available at:  Amazon and All Romance E-books
Add it to your shelf: Goodreads

Friday, February 19, 2016

Four Star Review of Save Me (Voodoo Dolls #1)

Book Review: Save Me by Penny Brandon

Reviewed by Susan65 @ The Blogger Girls


Author: Penny Brandon
Series: Voodoo Dolls #1
Heroes: Steve/Nathan
Genre: MM Horror
Length: 217 Pages
Publisher: Loose Id
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Available at:  Amazon and All Romance E-books
Add it to your shelf: Goodreads

Blurb: From the first moment Steve sees Nathan, he knows he’s in trouble. First, Nathan looked just like the doll he’d found on his bed, and second, Steve couldn’t stop thinking how it would feel having Nathan in his arms and under his body. He’s never desired anyone so strongly before, and he’s reluctant to show it, but then Nathan gives him something he hadn’t been conscious of wanting. Stunned, he craves more, but starts to worry what he feels might not be real.
Alone and vulnerable after being dumped by his ex, Nathan longs for the security of being in a relationship. With no money, no job, and now a Voodoo Doll out to kill him, Nathan doesn’t think things could get any worse, but then he starts falling for Steve. Problem is, it doesn’t look like Steve feels the same way. Even after Steve finally lets Nathan in, Steve unexpectedly withdraws, refusing to explain why.
Unable to cope with another rejection, Nathan succumbs to the evil of the doll. Steve realizes he needs to own up to his feelings, but are they enough to save Nathan?

Review: This book scared the crap out of me…and I love when that happens. Why is it that I always start horror books at nighttime? There I was, comfy in my warm bed, but too afraid to turn out the light. I don’t know about you, but scary dolls with knives freak me out.
This is book one in a new series about voodoo dolls, and if the next book is anything like this one, you can count me in. I must admit when the book first started, I thought Steve was kind of mental. He was off the wall whacked out, and if I was Nathan, I would have run for the hills. Of course, they do end up running…but for their lives.
Not really sure if I would consider this a voodoo doll story, but more a doll possessed by a demon story…either way, Penny Brandon might want to consider writing more horror stories because she nailed that aspect of the book. The romance was a little off for me, though. I wasn’t too convinced of the chemistry between Steve and Nathan, but I read this for the scary parts so that was okay. In my case, a little gay romance thrown into a horror novel is just a bonus.
So, if you are like me and want to switch up your reading and add a little scary time, then I would definitely recommend this book. But be warned, though romance has its parts, it is still scary as hell and you might have a little trouble sleeping.

Overall Impression: I really liked it

*I received a copy of this book from the author in return for a fair and honest review.*

Available at:  Amazon and All Romance E-books
Add it to your shelf: Goodreads

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


TALLON was inspired by this picture.

 The challenge was to write something that was less that 1000 words.


“Leif? Are you ready yet?”

Josh rounded the corner to the bedroom and stopped short at the sight of his boyfriend, sucking in a little breath as he came face to face with the most gorgeous creature he’d ever seen. “Wow, that’s stunning.”

Leif, dressed in a long flowing silver cape with a wide collar the color of burnt umber, frowned.


Josh grinned, stepping up close to get a better look at the costume. “Yeah. You look so… real.”

“Real?” Leif tipped his head to the side, the frown marring his perfectly made up face. Josh couldn’t quite believe the difference a few strokes of eyeliner would make.

“Did you put in contacts?” Josh looked closer, surprised to see pale blue eyes looking at him instead of the usual brown.


“Your eyes, Leif, you’ve changed their color, and why are you repeating everything I say?”

“Who’s Leif?”

Josh rolled his eyes. So Leif was going to play that game, was he? Every time Leif dressed up, his whole personality changed. It was like he wasn’t the same person anymore, which was a little disconcerting at times.

“You are,” Josh answered, not playing along.

“I’m Tallon.”


“I’m Tallon.”

Josh turned to face his very exasperating boyfriend. “Fine, you’re Tallon. I don’t really care, but if you want to make the party we have to get going.”


“Oh for fuck’s sake, Leif. You know I don’t like it when you do this.”

Leif tilted his head to the side again. It wasn’t a normal characteristic for him, and Josh wondered if he was using it as part of his ‘Tallon’ persona, but it was such an odd mannerism, nothing like Josh had ever seen Leif do before.

“I’m not Leif.”

Maybe it was the tone of voice, or maybe it was the shot of blue light from a long fingered hand that finally convinced Josh he wasn’t talking to Leif anymore.

“Fuck!” Scrambling backward, Josh slammed into the wall. “What have you done to Leif? Where is he?”


“What the hell are you talking about? Leif can’t be gone. He’s mine!”

Tallon’s lips thinned. Josh knew Leif’s were full, and no matter how pissed off he was, Leif could never get them to thin out the way Tallon did. Somehow, Leif’s bodily form was changing the longer Tallon possessed it.

“He wasn’t yours. You never bonded.”

“Bonded?” Now it was Josh’s turn to repeat what Tallon was saying.

“You never gave him a ring.”

Josh’s stomach twisted as he remembered the look of disappointment on Leif’s face when Leif had asked him for a ring, and Josh hadn’t thought it necessary. “I don’t have one,” he whispered, feeling sick.

Holding out a hand, Tallon turned it palm up. Nestled in the middle were two rings, intricately designed, intrinsically beautiful. “Maybe you both need one,” he said.

It was more than awe that had Josh reaching out, it was the knowledge that what Tallon was offering was not just a gift of rings, but Leif. As he touched one of the platinum circles a tingle flowed into his arm causing him to almost recoil, but this was for Leif. He would do anything for Leif.

“I’m not sure this costume suits me. It’s too…, I don’t know. It feels wrong.”

Startled, Josh stared into warm brown eyes. “Leif? Is that you?”

“Of course it’s me.”

Profound relief had Josh pulling Leif into his arms and holding on to him with all the strength and love he possessed. “Oh my god, Leif! I thought you’d gone.” Leif’s beautiful eyes were back, and so were his beautiful, kissable lips. Josh smothered them with his own, tasting Leif, devouring him.

“Hey!” Leif pulled back, though by the look in his eyes he was more surprised by Josh’s enthusiasm than by the kiss itself. “Are you all right?” Concern edged his voice, one which Josh wanted to alleviate immediately.

“Leif, I love you, you know that, right?”

“Of course I know you love me. I love you too.” Leif’s concern still hadn’t abated if the frown he wore was anything to go by, but Josh felt so much better hearing those words from him.

“Well, I think it’s time I did something to prove to you how much.” Josh opened his hand and showed Leif the rings.

“Really?” Leif’s face lit up, his frown disappearing.

“Yes, and I’m so sorry I didn’t realise how important it was to you.” He moved Leif to sit down on the bed. He picked up one of the rings, feeling the tingle flare up again. Searching Leif’s face, and seeing no sign of Tallon, Josh smiled. He held onto Leif’s left hand and placed the ring on the third finger. “With this ring I bond my soul to you,” he said, not sure where the words came from, but knowing they were right.

Leif’s grin warmed Josh’s heart, but what set it on fire was when Leif picked up the other ring and slipped it onto Josh’s finger.

“With this ring I bond my soul to you,” Leif repeated.

Leif’s gaze riveted Josh, the love in them unquestionable. Josh hoped Leif was able to see the same love in his eyes, because he never wanted Leif to question it or think otherwise.



“I don’t think I want to go to the party now.”

“Good, because I don’t think I ever want to see a costume again either.”

The End

Friday, January 8, 2016


Welcome to the All Cocks no Bull Blog Hop, an exclusive for m/m writers and readers. Whether you are a fan of the genre, or new to reading about men who love men, then I'm sure you'll enjoy what our writers have to offer for you.
Below you will find links to other authors who will give you a little taste of what they do, and to offer you a chance to enter a draw for a giveaway. I have FREE short stories you can read online (see above Menu) or you can download from SMASHWORDS.

For this blog hop I'm offering up an excerpt from a WIP "His Heart's Desire". The third book in the "Looking Glass" series.


He opened the door to the place he’d called home for the past ten years. This had been his haven, his refuge since becoming the mirror’s keeper. He looked around the small room. Really looked. All it contained was the kitchenette, his bed and… There was nothing else of his in here. He owned nothing, and that was what his life had now become. One big fat nothing. While pulling off his tie, Simon walked over to the tiny bathroom and stepped inside. He started the shower, and then stripped, needing to distract himself from the pressure closing in around him. Once Alex left, Simon knew he was going to be alone, permanently, but wasn’t that better than not having his perfect man? The man he could love, cherish and be happy with? Unwilling to contemplate his future right now, Simon ignored the uncertainties running riot in his head. He stepped beneath the warm spray, intent only on washing away the thick grime of the day and the tension he couldn’t seem to purge. The water beat upon his head and shoulders, but it did little to ease the sharp pain behind his eyes or the lingering ache in his muscles. He grabbed the shampoo and poured a generous amount into his hand before rubbing the thick liquid through the strands of his hair. It was an effort to achieve a lather, to put any energy into soaping up and actually getting clean, but after a few minutes, Simon rinsed and turned off the water. Then he stood there, his forehead resting against the tiled wall, wondering if he had the strength to walk out and face Alex. “Simon?” Simon sighed. A part of him wished Alex had given up and gone home, but maybe this was the time to explain things to him. Not the mirror’s magic, but that Simon simply wasn’t interested and that Alex would be better off pursuing someone else. Someone more suited to him. Someone better. Simon gave himself a couple of seconds before he slid back the curtain and stepped out of the shower. His suit pants were still hung over the chair where he’d left them, but his shirt had fallen to the floor, and was now sitting in a wet puddle. Great, just great. He eyed the door, wondering what would happen if he went out there shirtless. Would Alex think Simon was coming on to him? Simon huffed out a small laugh, seeing the funny side of that thought. More than likely, Alex would take one look and demand Simon cover up. Looking down at his torso, Simon realized he should have put a little more effort into building some muscles. He wasn’t flabby, but he was never going to be buff. It didn’t matter what Alex thought of him though. Simon toweled himself dry then pulled on his pants, sans underwear. He ran his fingers through his damp hair then opened the door into what he hoped would be the last time he saw Alex. The young man was sitting on the bed, which wasn’t all that much of a surprise since there wasn’t anywhere else to sit. Simon ignored the look he received and rummaged in the drawer next to the kitchen. The drawer held his clothes and the few small possessions Simon owned from his life before the mirror. They evoked memories he sometimes tried to forget, others he wished he knew more of. While he was the mirror’s keeper, however, he’d never get a chance to find out more, never know where he originally came from or where could have ended up. He drew out a white T-shirt and self-consciously tugged it over his head. He could feel Alex’s gaze on him, burning into his back, and though Simon didn’t want to react, he couldn’t help but clench his jaw. It would be stupid to show Alex how disturbing it was having him here. Alex would probably say something about it, and Simon didn’t need Alex to do, say or feel anything. “I wasn’t expecting that,” Alex said, his voice soft. Simon turned while pulling his T-shirt partway over his chest. Alex was staring, and Simon’s skin prickled at the heat he thought he saw in Alex’s eyes. “Wasn’t expecting what?” he asked before remembering it was probably best he didn’t. “Your abs. I mean, wow.” “My abs?” Simon frowned, and then glanced back down at his flat stomach. There was some definition, but he certainly wouldn’t have said it was noteworthy. He automatically ran a hand over the tight muscles, and then realized what he was doing. Embarrassed, he quickly dragged his T-shirt the rest of the way down. “I’m assuming the food is here,” he said, distracting himself from thinking about what Alex’s comment meant. At Alex’s nod, Simon opened a cupboard and pulled out the two plates that came with the apartment. Plain white, they matched the two bowls and two mugs that were also here when Simon moved in. He hadn’t any need for anything else, but as he held the plates in his hands he became aware of how lacking his home really was. There was nowhere to eat. Not wanting to sit next to Alex on the bed, Simon didn’t particularly want to sit on the floor either. He considered the antique dining tables and chairs in the shop, but wasn’t sure that was a good idea. Alex might spill something and— “I’m not going to bite, you know. But if you feel more comfortable I can scoot right over to the edge.” Alex indicated the end of the bed, his smile both easy and knowing. Feeling like he’d already made a fool of himself, Simon didn’t want to appear more of an idiot. He perched as far away from Alex as possible without it seeming as if he was doing just that. Alex untied the bag holding the cartons of food, and then flipped open the tabs holding the carton’s closed. “I got a mixture because I wasn’t sure what you liked. There’s chicken curry, sweet and sour pork, Mongolian lamb, satay beef, dim sims, fried rice and noodles.” Appreciating Alex’s choice, Simon wanted to thank him, but would that constitute encouragement? Caught between politeness and a need to keep his distance, Simon handed Alex a plate, and then using the provided chopsticks, helped himself to some rice, chicken and one of the dim sims. He loved the crunchy, deep fried dumplings stuffed with pork and vegetables. They were his favorite. He dipped the morsel into the plum sauce they came with, and then took a bite, unconsciously moaning in approval. “Good,” he mumbled, glancing up at Alex. Alex was staring again, his mouth slightly open. Simon dropped his gaze, awkwardness suddenly eating at his appetite. He fidgeted, playing with the food on his plate. “I like them too,” Alex replied. “If I’d known how much you did, I would have ordered more.” “No, this is fine. Thank you.” Risking another glance, Simon observed Alex as he copied Simon’s movements; dipping the dim sim into the sauce and then taking a bite. A drop of sauce caught on the edge of Alex’s mouth, and as Simon watched, Alex stuck the tip of his tongue out and licked the little droplet away. For the first time in years, Simon found himself completely mesmerized. It had been so long since he’d sat opposite someone while they ate that he’d almost forgotten the simple pleasure of such an act. Alex seemed to enjoy his food. He didn’t rush, but he didn’t delay in trying the different dishes and their flavors. “Eat up, it’s going to get cold,” Alex said after he’d swallowed a helping of noodles. At least he didn’t talk with his mouth full. Simon forced himself to pick up a piece of chicken, and popped it in his mouth, but he was seriously self-conscious of Alex watching him. Alex smiled, and then nodded in satisfaction. He leaned back against the wall, seemingly at ease in a situation Simon found anything but.

I hope you liked this little bit of Simon's story. The full story should be released later this year. Look out for news. To get more information on new releases and other competitions, please sign up to this blog.

To enter the draw, please leave a comment below and tell me which e-book you'd like to win. Please also leave a way for me to contact you.


Now, to check out other writers who have joined this blog hop CLICK HERE  or click their names below:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Note from the author: Though I  now live in Australia, I grew up in England, so Christmas is quite different, mainly because of the seasons. Though a lot of traditions are the same, I think moving from one country to another can be a bit of a culture shock. David, from Murphy’s Law certainly thought so, and while trying to emulate an English Christmas in his new home town in Outback Australia, he came across a few variations.

Warning: LGBT Characters.

“What do you think?” David stood on the ladder, precariously balanced on the second to top step as he readjusted the star.
“I think you should get down.”

Scott’s frown had David sighing. “I’m fine. I’m only three feet off the floor.”

“I know, but that’s enough to break an arm or sprain an ankle if you fell.”

If it hadn’t been such a possibility, David would have come back with some sharp retort. He hated being reminded how much of a klutz he was, even if Scott had every reason to be on guard.

Ignoring the worry on Scott’s face, David once again pointed to the star. “Well?” he asked.

“It’s beautiful, but I don’t understand all the fuss.”

“Fuss?” David twisted, glaring at Scott as the man instinctively put out his hands to stop him from toppling off the ladder. “You know this is my first Christmas away from home.”

“I thought this was your home.” Scott’s frown deepened.

“You know what I mean. An English Christmas is so different from an Aussie one.”

“Of course it is. We’re in opposing hemispheres. It’s cold up there, and warm down here.”

“Warm?” David used his forearm to wipe the sweat off his brow. “It’s forty degrees outside.”

“Which is why we’re inside with the air conditioning on.” Scott’s pragmatic point of view frustrated David because Scott just didn’t get it.

David was used to days curled up in front of an open fire, with a mug of hot chocolate while wrapped up in a soft blanket. Granted, being wrapped in Scott’s arms while sitting on the front porch and having a cold beer wasn’t bad either, but it just didn’t feel like Christmas. Here he was greeted with Galahs and Wattles, not Robin Red Breasts and Holly Bushes. In England there would be snow on the ground, and the air would have a crisp sharpness to it that took your breath away. Whereas the heat in outback Australia was hot and dry, and everywhere was covered in red dirt.

Knowing he couldn’t change the climate, David at least wanted to re-create the cosy atmosphere he’d experienced while growing up in England, and that included a decorated Christmas tree. He glanced at the tinsel and baubles, the twinkling lights and the star on top, and thought it was perfect. Now all he needed were the gifts to put underneath.

“Um, did you pick up the turkey and ham?” he asked, hoping Scott had forgotten so there was a chance to grab the hidden presents from the bedroom closet.

“Yes, and the prawns.”

“The what?”

“Prawns. You know, for dinner.”

“Christmas dinner?” David stared at Scott, aghast. Surely he couldn’t be serious.

Scott grinned at him, his pale blue eyes lit with amusement. “Yes. It’s a tradition of ours.”

David was all for traditions, but prawns, on Christmas day? “Why?” he asked.

“My grandmother started it. She didn’t want to be cooking on a hot summer’s day, so she got my granddad to go and buy something that could be eaten without her having to cook it. He came back with prawns.” Scott tilted his head to the side. “We’re not the only ones to do it. A lot of Aussie’s have prawns on Christmas day.”
“Do you still have pudding and mince pies?”

“Of course, but we have cream or ice-cream instead of hot custard.”

“Oh.” David liked custard. His mom used to make it from scratch. Not that he’d be able to do that himself, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to go without it completely.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I got you some.”

“You did?”

Scott wrapped his fingers around David’s ankle, absently rubbing a scar David got while learning to ride his bike as a child. “Of course I did. I also bought all the ingredients to make a trifle, just in case.”

So maybe Scott did get it. David smiled then leaned down to capture Scott’s firm lips. They were warm, and tasted of…well, Scott.

“Do you think we can start some traditions of our own?” David asked while sliding his arms around Scott’s neck.

“Yes,” Scott murmured. “And that’s letting me put up the star every year so you don’t have to climb a ladder ever again.”

“Okay.” David was quick to agree, but he was thinking of a different kind of tradition. One in which they removed all their clothes.

To read more about David and Scott, click on their page above.

BLURB FOR THE BOOK: Fed up of trying to fly under his step family's radar, David sets off to Australia to get away from their constant harassment. Maybe there he can be himself, be free, be with someone who can help him forget about his problems for a while. Meeting Scott, who not only thinks he's sexy but shows him how much over and over again, is perfect. And Scott doesn't care that he's accident prone. Well, David is everything prone; what can go wrong does. And falling in love with someone he nearly kills is about as wrong as it can get.
Scott likes his sex uncomplicated, preferably with someone just passing through, but his family want him to settle down with some nice young man. To get away from their meddling he heads to Bondi Beach. That's where he meets David, a man who just pushes his buttons, and the fact that he's looking for the same thing Scott is, makes him ideal. However, he falls in love with David--sassy attitude, accidents, and adorable accent included. But how is Scott going to persuade David to stay with him, especially as David's seriously upset about nearly getting him killed?

To win a FREE e-book copy of Murphy's Law, or any of my other books, leave a COMMENT below with your e-mail address and state which book you'd like and why.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SAVE ME (The Voodoo Dolls #1)


From the first moment Steve sees Nathan, he knows he’s in trouble. First, Nathan looked just like the doll he’d found on his bed, and second, Steve couldn’t stop thinking how it would feel having Nathan in his arms and under his body. He’s never desired anyone so strongly before, and he’s reluctant to show it, but then Nathan gives him something he hadn’t been conscious of wanting. Stunned, he craves more, but starts to worry what he feels might not be real.

Alone and vulnerable after being dumped by his ex, Nathan longs for the security of being in a relationship. With no money, no job, and now a Voodoo Doll out to kill him, Nathan doesn’t think things could get any worse, but then he starts falling for Steve. Problem is, it doesn’t look like Steve feels the same way. Even after Steve finally lets Nathan in, Steve unexpectedly withdraws, refusing to explain why.

Unable to cope with another rejection, Nathan succumbs to the evil of the doll. Steve realizes he needs to own up to his feelings, but are they enough to save Nathan?


Nathan wondered if he’d made a mistake coming around. The guy who’d opened the door looked like some lunatic. His eyes were wide and feverish, his hands were covered in blood, and the way he stared at Nathan like he was some vision of the dead was not really how Nathan had expected to be greeted when he’d rushed over to help.

As soon as he heard the banging and screaming, Nathan thought the guy was being murdered or something. Nathan had been about to call the cops when the banging and screaming had stopped. Not sure if he should still call them, Nathan had decided to find out what was going on first. He wasn’t really fond of the cops, not since they’d failed to help him when he’d been robbed a few weeks ago. Granted, this was different, but calling triple zero when it wasn’t an emergency could get him fined, and Nathan couldn’t afford a fine. He also couldn’t ignore the fact his neighbor was in some sort of trouble. Mercifully, being murdered wasn’t it, but the man was definitely injured.

“Are you all right?” Nathan asked again, eyeing the blood covering both the guy’s hands and face, and trying to figure out where it originated.

“Something’s wrong.” The slightly wild look in his next-door neighbor’s dark brown eyes told Nathan as much, but he still wasn’t sure what.

“Are you hurt?” He took another step over the threshold. This time the guy didn’t try to stop him. From where Nathan now stood, he could see the blood was coming from cuts in the guy’s hands, and the blood on his face was from secondary contact. “How did you cut yourself?”

“I didn’t. I mean… Did you put the doll on my bed?”

Confused and a little wary, Nathan shook his head. He had no idea what the crazy man was going on about, but it was obvious he needed some help.

“It looked just like you.”

“Pardon?” Totally confused now, Nathan thought about scarpering back to his own place. Maybe trying to be the Good Samaritan hadn’t been the right move.

“The doll. It…”

Nathan worried his neighbor was going to have a breakdown. The man looked really scared, terrified actually, but then he frowned.

“Who are you?” he asked.

For a few moments, Nathan didn’t know if he should answer—if it was actually safe to do so—but then decided he couldn’t be rude. “Nathan Davis. I live next door.”

“Of course you do. My day just couldn’t get any better, could it?” Though the words sounded sarcastic, the tone his neighbor used wasn’t. He sounded tired, resigned, beaten. He stared at Nathan, his face showing all the signs of fatigue. “You honestly don’t know anything about the doll?”

“No, I don’t. I heard you pounding on the wall, and I thought you might be calling for help or something.”

“I didn’t imagine it. There was a doll.” Every word the guy muttered sounded like he was talking to himself. He stopped staring at Nathan and started glancing around his apartment as if he was searching for something.

Nathan surreptitiously took a look around the apartment as well. It was nicely furnished, which had Nathan quirking up his lips a little. Then again, any furniture would have seemed nice to him, considering he didn’t have any. The large couch was a sectional, which looked comfortable. There was a low timber coffee table, a couple of lamp tables, but what impressed Nathan the most was the entertainment center that fully covered one wall. It held books and DVDs, CDs, and a few pictures, but best of all was the large flat-screen television. Eyeing it with more than a little envy, Nathan sighed. The sound brought a dark brown gaze arrowing back on him again.

Nathan hadn’t really taken a proper look at his neighbor when he’d opened the door, but he did so now. He’d never spotted the guy around the building but knew he’d moved in about six months ago. He was around the same height as Nathan, maybe an inch taller, but he was a lot heavier. Nathan wouldn’t have called his neighbor fat or even overweight because his broad shoulders did taper to narrow hips, but there was just a little extra meat around his middle. His hair was a dark chestnut-brown, cut short, and not really all that stylish, but it looked soft, and his face was, well…pleasant. His best feature though was his mouth, luscious and full and perfectly kissable. Nathan also would have said his neighbor had nice eyes, except for the way he was looking at him.

“Do you need any help? Because if you’re okay…?” Nathan took a step back toward the door, finally deciding it might be prudent to not get involved.

“Why did it look like you?”

Definitely time to go. Nathan smiled, though it was all for show. “If you’re okay then,” he said, taking another step backward.

“No. Don’t go. I should say sorry. My name’s Steve. Steve Forbes. I live here.”

Nathan knew he’d never had such a stilted or baffling conversation before. He’d never felt so uncomfortable before either. He generally got on well with people, even strangers. Everyone said he made them feel at ease. This guy, however, looked anything but. He was still strung-out tighter than—well, every cliché Nathan could think of—and it actually made him start to worry about his own safety.

“Well, nice to meet you, Steve, but you don’t have to say sorry. I was just being neighborly. So…” Nathan pointed over his shoulder, indicating the open door, basically telling the guy he was leaving.

“The banging. It was wrong of me. I promise I won’t do it again. It was the music. It was driving me nuts, but it wasn’t just that. When I heard the voice I just snapped.” Steve’s eyes suddenly narrowed. “It said, ‘stop him.’”

“Stop who?”

“I assume you.”

Okay, this was getting more than weird. Ignoring the part where Steve had said he’d heard a voice because, well, how did you react to that? Nathan tipped his head to the side. “Stop me from doing what?”

“Playing the music.”

Music? “You mean the tape?”

“It blares through the walls, and you play it over and over again. Every night.” Steve didn’t sound like he was complaining, more like he was justifying his actions.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d be able to hear it.” Nathan frowned, really surprised the song he’d been playing could be heard by Steve in his apartment. It wasn’t like he played it loud or anything, and he thought the walls had good insulation. “I won’t play it anymore if it annoyed you that much. But why didn’t you say anything? You could have asked me to turn it down or turn it off.”

Steve suddenly looked abashed as if it never occurred for him to do so, or maybe he’d been afraid to confront Nathan about it.

“I really wish you’d said something. I feel pretty bad about disturbing you.” Nathan felt a need to apologize again, just in case Steve decided banging on the wall hadn’t been enough.

Steve nodded. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that. I honestly don’t know what came over me. It just seemed like I…” He ran his fingers through his hair, grimacing as he noticed the blood still covering his hand.

“It’s okay. Really.” Nathan gripped the frame of the door as he backed into the hallway. “Sorry,” he said again but decided that was the last time. If Steve didn’t have the guts to tell him to stop before now… Well, that was Steve’s fault.

Nathan left the door open and headed back to his apartment. As he did, he thought he saw a shadow dart across the wall. He stopped and searched the floor. A few months back, the building had suffered problems with rats, but he’d been told they’d all been eradicated. Wondering if one or two of them had survived or if there was a new infestation, Nathan checked along the baseboard to see if there had been recent signs of activity. Seeing none, he nevertheless decided to notify the building caretaker, just in case. He shivered. He hated rats.

Once safely ensconced within his own place, Nathan thought back to Steve. The man had obviously been very stressed, and Nathan truly regretted causing Steve’s breakdown or whatever it was, but a doll? What was that about?

Nathan wouldn’t have said Steve was a recluse, because he heard his door close occasionally, but Steve never used any of the building’s facilities like the gym or the pool. If he did, Nathan had never seen him, and none of the other tenants had mentioned seeing him either. It could mean Steve was simply antisocial, but what about the doll he claimed looked like Nathan? There was something wrong with that. Seriously wrong.

He checked his door again to make sure it was locked. He never usually bothered because it wasn’t as if there was anything in his apartment to steal. All he had was a mattress, his sleeping bag, a few clothes, and the tape player. Right now the little handheld machine was sitting on the floor in his living room. It was where Rob had left it, and that was where it had stayed.

Ignoring the living room, Nathan continued to his bedroom. That was where he spent most of his time, since that was where all his possessions lay. Rob leaving had been a shock, but on reflection his stripping the apartment down to the bare walls was something Nathan should have expected. He wouldn’t have said Rob was vindictive, but recently there had been times when Rob had shown levels of being overassertive. Even so, Nathan had no idea Rob had been unhappy or that he’d wanted to break up. That loss, however, was tempered by Rob taking everything with him, even the things belonging to Nathan. So instead of Nathan being devastated when he’d come home, he’d been pissed.

The cops had done nothing, and Nathan had suspected it was because he’d told them Rob had been his boyfriend and not just a flatmate, but Nathan had never hidden he was gay, and he certainly wasn’t going to start. So he’d been left with nothing and was forced to buy a mattress, a sleeping bag, and essential clothing, since that was all he could afford. The rest of his money he used for rent and food. He didn’t even have electricity, relying on a battery-powered torch for light.

Throwing himself onto his “bed,” Nathan sighed. The past month his life had been a struggle—still was—but he’d managed to keep himself afloat. Next week he was supposed to start a new job, and he’d have a little more cash. Not enough to go crazy, but he’d be able to get the electricity turned back on and pay the couple of weeks’ back rent he owed. He’d only needed to work part-time when Rob had been there, and he’d found it difficult to find a full-time job after Rob left. The restaurant Nathan had sometimes worked for had offered him a position, but he’d had to wait until one had become available, and no one else had anything, making every effort at finding work frustrating and depressing.

He lay there for a moment, thinking of Rob and the life he thought they were building together, but then decided there was no point dwelling on what wasn’t to be. He’d eventually find someone who would love him for who he was; he just hoped it wouldn’t take too long. Being alone unnerved him. It made him feel edgy and vulnerable, and Nathan hated feeling vulnerable.

* * * *

A sharp, stabbing pain woke Nathan from what had been a restless sleep. He slapped his hand over his neck and almost fell off the mattress in shock. Sweat covered his body, and his sleeping bag lay in a mess at his feet where he must have kicked free of it. His torch sat beside him, and on instinct, Nathan grabbed it and turned it on, illuminating his room. He pushed up into a sitting position and then tentatively checked his neck. His fingers came away smeared with blood.

“What the fuck?” His first thought was he’d been bitten, but when he probed at the site again, he found a long, shallow gash and not something that felt like puncture wounds. Looking around to see what could have caused the damage, Nathan saw spatters of blood making a ragged path across the carpet, but nothing else.

Shaken, he climbed to his feet, and with torch in hand made his way to the bathroom. The mirror showed what he’d felt—a one-inch cut. It looked sliced and was most definitely not a bite, but he had no idea what could have caused it. It wasn’t deep enough to need stitches, though the red drops that still oozed from the cut slithered down Nathan’s neck and soaked into his gray T-shirt.

Grimacing, he pulled his T-shirt off over his head and dumped it onto the floor with the rest of his dirty clothes. He didn’t own a laundry basket, but as he was due to wash his things tomorrow, he wasn’t too worried about leaving it there. What he was worried about was taking care of the cut.

His supplies were limited, but he had antiseptic cream, which he smeared on liberally, wincing as it stung. Then he checked out the rest of his body, but there were no other marks or cuts, no scratches or bruises, nothing to indicate what had happened to him. Though more confused than ever, Nathan decided it had to have been a rat that attacked him, despite it being unlikely, because what was the alternative?

Before heading back to bed, he took a quick look around his apartment, even pulling open the doors of the kitchen cupboards though there was nothing stored in there. There was nowhere else for rats to hide, but to make sure, he inspected the skirting board and architrave. Nothing. No evidence of the little fuckers whatsoever.

Creeping back into his sleeping bag, Nathan decided he couldn’t sleep. His brain was too wired, his body too galvanized, so he picked up the book he’d borrowed from the local library, and tried to read. For some odd reason though, his mind kept wandering back to his next-door neighbor.

Steve had clearly been suffering from anxiety or something. Nathan had never seen anyone act so strangely. Most of what Steve said hadn’t made sense, and the thing he’d spouted about the doll had seemed almost maniacal. Even Steve’s complaint about the music being loud hadn’t really added up. Granted, the tape held the same track—their song, which Nathan played over and over in a masochistic, macabre way—but he barely heard it from his bedroom, and he always left the door open, so how could Steve hear it through an insulated wall? And if it was that loud, why hadn’t the other neighbors complained?

Giving up on reading, Nathan put the book down beside him. He clicked off the torch, but the idea of rats sneaking up on him in the dark forced him to turn it back on again. Agitated and unable to ignore the uneasy feeling that something wasn’t quite right, Nathan got up and paced his small bedroom. His pile of washing beckoned, and though it wasn’t the ideal time, Nathan decided to do his laundry. Anything to keep from thinking a rodent had tried to make a meal of him.

He pulled on a pair of shorts and the slightly cleaner T-shirt he’d been wearing earlier, gathered up everything he needed, then set off for the basement where the washing and drying machines were situated. Some of the apartments had their own machines in situ, but for the tenants who didn’t, the building’s facilities were perfect. It was usually there that Nathan got to know most of his neighbors.

The building was made up of three sides that formed a U shape. The center held the pool and a courtyard for those who wanted to sit outdoors. The space under the one-bedroom apartments, which was north facing, had the gym and the laundry; and the two and three-bedroom apartments, which were south and east facing, had underground parking. All the apartments had balconies, both on the outside and looking over the inner courtyard and pool, so the tenants had a choice of which to use. It was a great place, and Nathan liked living there. The only problem was the rent, which was pretty high for the neighborhood, but the building was always clean and well maintained. So it was with surprise that Nathan noticed all the lights to the basement stairs were out.

It took him more than a few seconds to decide whether to go down into the depths. Not that he was afraid of the dark, but if there were rats in his apartment, they could be in the basement, and Nathan wasn’t afraid to admit he was scared of them. He fingered his neck, revolted at the idea that some rodent had been gnawing on it.

He could do his washing later; it wasn’t as if he had anything else to do with his day. However, thinking about it, he decided he wasn’t going to let a few rats stop him from doing what he’d set out to do, and anyway, maybe the lights were on in the laundry proper. With that in mind, Nathan grasped the handrail on his right and started down the stairs. He’d barely taken two steps when hot pain pierced his ankle. Shocked, he dropped his washing and let go of the handrail, but before he had a chance to regain his grip, another stabbing pain hit him. His scream echoed off the painted brick walls, becoming louder as he fell.

Trying vainly to stop the plummet to the bottom, Nathan reached out, but that was when he felt his face smash into the edge of a step. Stunned, he could do nothing more until he finally landed on a solid concrete floor in a bruised, bloody, and agonized heap.

Fighting back unwanted tears, Nathan lay where he was, trying to take deep, fortifying breaths. A trickle of blood oozed from his cut lip into his open mouth, the metallic taste against his tongue almost making him gag. He moaned, cautiously shifting to assess the damage, but stopping when that small movement caused his body to convulse as if he was being tortured.

Frozen in place, in time, his pulse thundering in his ears, Nathan barely registered the scamper of little feet approaching until they were so close they sounded right next to his head. He flinched, fearing a rat, but quickly realized it wasn’t the scrape of claws on concrete he heard, but the shuffle of soft cloth. For some reason, the sound was distinctive, as if it had been magnified by the cramped space between the bottom of the steps and the wall behind him.

Terror, irrational but unmistakable, swept through Nathan. He blinked in an attempt to clear his eyes of the white spots dancing before them. Something was ready to pounce on him; he could feel its presence, watching, waiting. As his limbs tightened in panicked trepidation, he tried to tell himself there was nothing there, that it was all in his imagination, but the minute puffs of air he could feel on the back of his neck told him otherwise.

“Get away from me. Get the fuck away from me!”

Unmindful of his injuries, Nathan lashed out, but it made no difference. Little hands tugged at his hair, and just before he blacked out—the crack to his head finally taking its toll—a tiny, manic laugh cackled in his ear.

Copyright © Penny Brandon

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