For the few minutes it took to walk back to his apartment, Damien Collier kept half-expecting the wolf next to him to disappear – to turn out to have never have been there after all; just a daydream, a figment of an overactive imagination.

Seriously, what were the odds? Naomi Peltier had been his great high school sweetheart – maybe not the first girl he’d dated, but the first one he’d really clicked with. They’d given each other their virginity – anxious to do it right, he’d studied up, thanks in large part to a guide he’d found online that had been targeted at curious teens and somehow not been shut down for “providing pornography to minors;” he thought it had gone okay, a positive experience for both of them, even if it had involved more giggling than actual passion. That had come later, as they got used to each other, and they’d had it in spades. Neither of them had been plagued by the jealousy that seemed to break apart so many of their fellow dating students. They’d compared notes about their attractive peers; Damien rather suspected that Naomi had a touch of the bi, too, whether or not it was enough to actually act on like his had turned out to be.

Then, with their passion still burning ever-brighter, he’d been dragged across the country by Dad’s promotion. He hadn’t had any means of contact that wouldn’t be lost in the move; she’d given him her email – but apparently her family had recently changed providers and she’d given him the old one. All he got in response to his “here I am” mail had been a bounce. He’d got permission for a long-distance call, only for that to be a wrong number. And with Naomi’s dad a teacher who’d rather not be pestered in off-hours by random students – or the irate parents of same – their number wasn’t in the phone book.

That had been hard. He’d tried not to show it to anyone, but suddenly being without even that distant connection to her had left him reeling and off balance. School had been a struggle; teachers and parents alike had chalked it up to just getting used to the different expectations of a new school, but the truth was that for a little, he just couldn’t be bothered to care enough to put in his best work.


She recognized him instantly, of course, even from halfway across the park.

No matter that they’d moved apart four years ago, in the tumultuous midst of adolescence; one didn’t soon forget his like, with the brilliant, fiery plumage and a body that had only become more fit and athletic over the years, and that wasn’t counting what they’d had together. If she hesitated a little before changing course to cut across the park, it was because she almost thought she might be imagining him, not because there was any doubt about the face in her mind.

He turned toward her, and paused, looking right at her and apparently going through much the same mental double-check; then he grinned, lifting a hand up high and waving. “Naomi! Hey, Naomi!” He started towards her at a dash, weaving around a few indignant passersby in the process.

He knew her – that clinched it. It really was him. She lunged forward, colliding with the bird a half-dozen steps later in a tangle of limbs.


It had been a reasonable request. When a student who missed school – through no fault of her own, at that; sickness happened whether it was convenient timing or not – wanted some extra coaching to catch up, that was initiative that Matthew Zweigart wanted to reward and encourage. So it took some extra time after school; for a worthwhile cause like that, he’d make time. And the student in question was a decent student; he’d never regretted juggling those hours around to make those sessions happen.

The way the dog lit up under his direct attention didn’t hurt, and while it might not have been just the look of an eager student getting the instruction she needed, there was enough of that to disregard the possibly-lurking less-proper things.

So, once again, that brought them to his classroom for the hour after school. Jessie-Belle had put in good work between sessions, and he had no problem telling her so. Especially not with the way it made her smile.


Charlie’s sudden departure left the impromptu picnic feeling somewhat strained. Blake returned after seeing his friend off, but conversation had become decidedly brittle, and the quagga soon excused himself as well.

That just left the girls.

“I wonder what that was about?” Melly said, going over the conversation in her mind.


My first foray into what one might call serious biology happened when I was eight. Botany, to be exact.

Springtime was always a big thing for my dad. Not just because the snow was gone, which was news that any red-blooded child knew ought to be met with horror and dismay. But that was when he got the garden ready for planting and tidied up the beds of things that stayed in the ground year-round or, in the case of the dill, inevitably came back whether he wanted them to or not so he might as well cultivate them properly. Watching him till the soil and put the seeds in their neat little rows had passed a few springtime evenings for me already. That year, though, I’d asked if I could have my own garden.


I’m sure my mom was upset by how often I wound up in the ER. It wasn’t that often, but I was an active kid, so it did happen. Besides, I’m sure once was more than enough for her.

On the other hand, sometimes I think she must’ve had the patience of a saint not to put me there herself.


It wasn’t all that comfortable. It wasn’t even all that discreet – if anyone saw them there in the garage, and especially on the bed of Mom’s truck, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out they were up to something. But it was away from prying eyes, and specifically the prying eyes of Blake’s little sister.

“You’re sure about this, stripey?” The rat gave the edge of Mom’s emergency blanket a twitch, spreading it out a little better.

“It’s okay, Flynn. I’m not twelve.” Blake smiled, reaching out to touch the other youth’s jaw. “I haven’t done it before, sure, but I know what it is.


Whatever some people thought or said, Zack could tell when someone was not available to him.

Oh, he liked to keep his eyes open. And if he didn’t know, he was always willing to ask. Sometimes he got turned down, and that was all right; sometimes the turning-down was downright aggressive, and while he thought those people needed to not take it quite so seriously, he had no problem leaving them alone once he knew they were off-limits.

Sometimes, of course, he didn’t need to ask. Like that caracal, the one that had come in with Toni’s stripey roommate. Charlie. Zack had overheard him at the bar, turning down another guy with an easygoing “Thanks, but I’m straight.” Zack wasn’t stupid; he didn’t need to pester the guy himself just to get that confirmed firsthand.

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t dream a little.


The door swung into the tiny little room. Two burly tigers strode through it, taking up positions on either side of it. In their wake followed a much smaller man, a unicorn with pure white fur and blue eyes, in a fine white suit that was as distinct from the darker, simpler dress of the tigers as his body was from theirs.

The tigers glared at the room’s other occupant, a similarly large black dragon. The unicorn, on the other hand, seemed to hardly notice anybody else there at all, sauntering over the wooden floor with a light clatter of hooves. He ran a finger along the bare surface of a side table and held it up, as though inspecting for dust.

“I suppose,” he said at last, in a voice heavy with resignation, “you’re not going to make this easy, are you?”


It was all so strange.

Mark Cunningham wasn’t the sort of guy who went on dates. He wasn’t hot or athletic or popular, he was just a geek. He wasn’t the sort of guy that girls noticed, or gave the time of day to, never mind went on dates with.

And yet here he was, at Darcy’s with one of the prettiest girls at school. After she asked him out.

He’d said yes, of course. How could he not? It wasn’t as though he’d get another chance anytime soon.


Someone, somewhere, was very lucky.

Ian didn’t know who. He didn’t even know if that someone knew about it. But the bear’s roommate certainly had his eye on somebody, and whoever that was, they had quite something to look forward to.

It wasn’t just the physical aspect – although, seeing the polecat dozing in bed, it was easy enough to think of times when Ian had seen rather more than his head and shoulders exposed. Too easy, in fact; it took an effort of will to bring his attention back to his schoolwork, back to the composition he was supposed to be writing. His eyes didn’t want to stay focused on the notes he was nudging around the staves; they wanted to turn behind him, to strain as though they could see right through the sheets, to drink in the sight of, well, however much of Judas wasn’t clothed under those covers. Maybe more.

But no. It wasn’t Judas’s mere appearance that made Ian envy that mysterious someone. It was the intensity of the slender youth’s need.


Fabian Springvale.

That was how everyone knew him, now. Everyone at the studio, everyone who saw his work, all his friends and acquaintances – even he himself was starting to think of him with that name. It was a good name, his agent had said, a beautiful name. A name that’d draw more attention than Darren Cooke.

Well, it and he had certainly drawn attention, all right. Maybe the world of adult entertainment wasn’t the grandest arena out there, but he’d found his place in it, and it had brought him enough success to be happy with. A job he enjoyed – even on the days where things didn’t go quite right and sex felt like work, he was still in his element. A nice flat – not the biggest of spaces, but big enough, and well enough appointed, to feel luxurious. And good company.


Tristan Summers knew he was hot. Oh, he tried not to make a point of it; he’d encountered plenty of people who were a little too aware of their own good looks, and he tried to avoid becoming one of them. But what was the use in denying it, even to himself? He was tall, broad-shouldered, and muscular – all those masculinely attractive traits. He was also very distinct – he was, after all, a dragon, and a very visible example of one at that, with glossy black scales, claws like jet, curling black horns like a ram’s, and batlike wings on his back which, while they still didn’t let him fly, were larger than most. So, yes, he was quite aware that he was eye-catching and attractive.

Getting paid to be hot, essentially, would still take some getting used to.


Blake had been right about one thing. It was bloody hot.

The evening should have brought with it a bit of relief from that heat. But even after he’d returned the rental truck and caught a bus back to the dorm, he’d still needed to actually unpack the things Blake had helped him move in. And unfortunately, the dorm room only had a single window.

Goddamn dorms. Blake had no idea how good he had it, moving in off campus. A proper house. No massive horde of students around. A proper room, with a chance for some actual air movement. Space that wasn’t shared by dozens of people.

As Charlie pushed back into the room, shirtless and still damp after a badly-needed shower, his gaze settled on the unoccupied bed, and he glared at it.

No roommates. Housemates, sure, but no roommates. Damn it. He hadn’t seen hide nor hair of his yet, but he could hardly expect that luck to hold all year.


The door closed, shutting out the noise of the world. The bolt turned under the marten’s fingers, and he sank back against it with a sigh.

If he were a little more vain, he might think people were going out of their way to cockblock him. But Adam Stone wasn’t that vain. He showed himself off to advantage, and that was normally enough; not so much lately, though. The few girls who’d made eyes at him tonight really weren’t his type, even if his arrangement with Sam had allowed other girls; and the guys, while fair game for him, had apparently all been either committed themselves or after something else. He’d thought he was close – three times, at that; a nice wild turn on the dance floor, happening to rub hip to hip, eyes meeting, a bit of a spark greeting his gaze… and then, suddenly, nothing. Three times.

He’d never been so close to that much cock without getting at least some action out of it. And it had left him acutely aware of a deep-seated need to get stuffed.

Oh, well. He was a big boy now; he could take care of things on his own. (more…)