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Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.

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NEW! Mock Suns by Linda Hines

NEW from DreamCraft! 

by Linda Hines

ISBN # 978-0987232809
Word Count: 70,000
Heat Index - 4
Cover Art:  Jade
Publisher:  DreamCraft
Genre: Cowboy/Western • American Historical
Price: $5.99


In an age of empire building in the American West, powerful men lock horns over land and cattle, women and lovers -- and over the sons in whom they perceive their own future. It's a hard yet magnificent world, a time of outlaws and raw justice in the aftermath of war. For Sully van Steed, a place called Solitude has become his refuge. He returned from the Civil War scarred, lame, and might have spent his life alone if the region's most notorious outlaw had not claimed him for his own.

Charles Moor might have been a rancher with an empire to his credit, but the traumas of his young manhood steered him onto renegade paths that would surely have led to his destruction. It was Sully who steered him back -- Sully who's kept him safe, free, while the outlaws with whom Charles once rode want only to seduce him back into raiding and violence, at war with the territory's cattle empires.

Worst among the outlaws is Spence -- nursing dark desires for Charles, fueled by rage and inspired to terrible acts. He'll be the end of Charles Moor, if Sully can't stop him ... and Spence will be the death of van Steed, if he can manage it.

And then an innocent blunders into the midst of this ferment, and everything will change. His name is Archer -- a boy forced to become a man long before his time. He's spent half his life searching for the last of his kin, the uncle he never knew. Archer is the catalyst who could end twenty years of war between outlaws and cattle men ... if they can survive to make peace. Mock Suns is a tale of ambition and power, treachery, family, and the enduring love between men, set against a vividly-drawn backdrop of historical America in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains.

From ChapterTwo

The ancient forest guarded a land of harsh terrain and terrible beauty. Disguised by low-lying shrubs and climbing vines, giant boulders formed a natural arch into the regions of Charles Moor’s secluded domain. The cave-like gateway was dark and winding, its walls narrow and rough to the rider’s touch. Soon enough, pale light silvered its earthen foundation, as the liver chestnut emerged onto a balcony of stone.

From this vantage point the landscape was rugged, and a rambling rocky aisle descended from the heights of the canyon rim. Still, the stormy sky threatened. Sully loosed his reins and allowed his mount to find the way. Within the borders of high narrow ridges, Rune jogged briskly along the pebbled ground, passing sprigs of foliage and a few spindly pines. Sully admired the raw and dangerous beauty of this canyon, its granite surfaces often threaded in shades of silver and copper and gold.

Abruptly, the big chestnut turned, and an observer would have said he seemed to disappear. Disguised by nature, a high, narrow crevice was hidden in the ancient rock. Following a well-worn passage under a stony archway, the horse and rider passed into it, through it, and emerged beyond.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains were the majestic background for the vast fertile valley which was Charles Moor’s sanctuary. Suddenly thunder rumbled, and lightning streaked across the deep, dusky sky. Hurried now, Sully grabbed the slicker from behind his saddle and pulled it on. Loping the horse across the broad verdant fields, he reached the river they called the Spur, which formed the eastern border of their land. Now he followed its winding course toward the heart of the valley. Rune jogged through the narrow river crossing, and Sully reined him toward the home they called Solitude.

The gates were in sight now, and he urged the gelding on, but they could not outrun the storm. Reaching the guardian outpost, he discovered the barrier. Under a torrential rain, he sat his horse and impatiently rang and rang the bell.

“Open up, Joe!”

Soon a hooded figure ran out of his cabin to pull the mechanism which raised the elaborate iron and wooden gate. Loping the horse through, Sully offered the guard a wave and a shout. A quarter-mile ahead was the stately dwelling which was his destination.

Urging the chestnut on beyond the house, he rode Rune through the doorway of the spacious new barn. Quickly, he dismounted, still laughing from the excitement – and danger – of the daring ride through the storm. From the darkness, the big black-and-tan hounds, Jack and Paddy, bounded from their beds of straw.

“Hey, boys.” He rubbed each sleek head. “I’m glad to be home.” Flinging off his dripping Stetson and bulky slicker, Sully lit a lantern which hung on the post nearby.

Along the shadowy stable hallway, horses shuffled about in their stalls and rattled their buckets, always eager to eat one more time. Stripping his steaming chestnut of saddle and bridle, Sully grabbed a thick, tattered cloth from a stall door. Gently, he patted between Rune’s wide-set dark eyes, about his foreface and deep jowl, speaking softly as he patiently rubbed the muscular body of the gelding safely cool and comfortably dry.

Only then, with feed and fresh water waiting, did he lead the horse into his own stall. Tired and hungry, he slapped on his hat and pulled on his slicker. Blowing out the lantern, he closed the barn doors. True night had fallen. Again, thunder rolled and lightning struck – a tempest mirrored in Sully’s own heart.

Under the deluge, he hurried toward the fine home he and Charles Moor had built for themselves. Skipping up the ten stone steps which led to a great stone porch, he stomped his boots hard and pulled off his slicker. Crossing the threshold, he turned into a secluded alcove off the entryway, where he shucked his wet boots and hung his Stetson to dry.

*What am I walking into?* Yet a reckoning was due. Standing unseen within the darkened entry, he gazed about the parlor. Logs burned in the stone fireplace. Tall shelves of beautifully-bound books and ornately framed paintings of horses graced the sand-colored walls. The fine furnishings and thick carpets reflected more a country home than an outlaw’s hideaway.

His manner insolent, the elusive Charles Moor stared across the room as the man who had defied him slowly stepped out of the shadows.

Sully knew well the power of his piercing gaze. Arrogance suits you well, my Charles.

At forty-three, Moor was of imposing height and haughty mien, and his countenance remained hawk-like and striking. His thick hair was black as night, his skin was bronzed from years in the sun. He was dangerous, he was mean, and the wolves he ran with knew better than to cross him – and dared not disobey. Charismatic and seductive, his vivid blue eyes could be fierce or impassioned. And yet for Sully they were often soft, and sometimes sad, when Moor spoke of obscure events, which had wounded him so long ago.

Only Sully knew how weary Charles was of the ruthless role he played. Pretence, once begun, became habitual and expected among the savage men who rushed to ride at his side. Tonight, a white shirt accentuated the breadth of Charles’s shoulders and black pants molded to his muscular thighs.

Gathered about him now were two of his trusted few – all well-armed and plainly dressed. These were the gunmen who had ridden with Moor since the last days of the Mexican-American War. Known for his cruel pranks, the stocky Fannen had red hair and a ruddy complexion, as well as a hair-trigger temper. Short and wiry in stature, dark-haired Chase was intense, conniving and often unpredictable. Absent tonight was Bryce. Tall, lean and sandy-haired, he was the most dominant and cunning of the three.

These were men to be feared, and Sully had learned to distrust them all.

Expressions tense, Fannen and Chase watched Sully approach.

“Enough,” Moor snapped, gesturing toward the door.

Ambling past him, Fannen paused long enough to nudge Sully’s arm. His voice was low. “After you left, I heard he pitched a fit.”

His expression grim, Moor stepped to the elegant sideboard. Grasping a decanter, he poured himself a shot of whiskey and quickly threw it back.

Tonight Chase seemed hesitant to leave the room, as if measuring Sully with his dark, predator’s eyes. Apparently seeking acknowledgement, he peered at Moor, but when Moor ignored him, he hurried away.

Pondering this curious event, Sully’s tone was mocking. “What? Another idol has displaced me?”

“Don’t be a fool,” Moor growled, downing a second shot, and then a third. “There are things you don’t know.”

“Damn right, there are.” Sully approached him. “You had no right!”

“I’ll do as I damned well please.”

Sully stared at him. Moor’s handsome face appeared drawn, and he sounded exhausted. “Why, Charles?” he asked earnestly. “For God’s sakes, Metairie has herds spread across the territory. We’ve prospered well working from the shadows. And never at the cost of a single life. Why did you force this confrontation?”

“I just wanted to prick Ruark a bit, that’s all.”

“Hell you say! You stole his woman. You think the Metairies are gonna forget that?”

Moor shrugged. “They got them back quick enough,” he retorted. “Thanks to you, I heard.”

“Yeah,” Sully declared, “just barely – with Metairie men on my heels – and at the risk of my own hide!” He poured himself a stiff drink. “Oh, just in case you wondered, I last saw Rodriguez and Mees hanging from a tree.”

Moor scowled. “And the others?”

“Smit and Blekly wanted the women – and then turned on me when I said no. The others, the Metairies finished off.”

“You expect me to mourn? You know what kind of men they were.”

Sully was not surprised by his indifference, but he was by the senselessness of Charles’s plan. “What possessed you to do this?”

With narrowed eyes, Moor considered him before he slowly turned away and approached his tall shelf of books. Fondling the gilt titles of several favorites, he selected a small volume bound in marbled boards and green Moroccan.

“Did they say anything?”

“Rod or Mees?”

Moor nodded.

“Plenty – but not about *this* place.” Sully stared at Charles’s back as he abruptly left the room.

Tired and hungry, Sully ambled toward the table, where a generous portion of the evening meal remained. Devouring juicy beef between thick slabs of bread, he poured some wine. Only then, glass in hand, did he follow Moor, as he had so many times before.

Sparsely furnished, the quarters the two men shared were distinctly masculine in character. A few fine chests, small tables and bureaus were situated about the spacious room. Comfortable wingback chairs, a pleasing soft blue in hue, flanked the elegant mantel, and a blaze crackled in the shadows of the stone hearth. Mounted above the fireplace was a painting of a handsome dappled gelding, iron gray in color with flashy black legs. His mane and tail were silky and black, and his thick forelock rested between soft brown eyes. A horse as spirited as the man who loved him – this was Charles Moor’s Ash.

Beyond, an antique writing desk and spindle-backed chair were centered between tall windows augmented by wine-colored drapes. A few gilt-framed pastorals and landscapes hung on the walls and carpets warmed the floor. With its stylishly-carved headboard, the focus of their quarters was a massive bed.

Now, their only illumination was candlelight from the mantelpiece and the hearth’s soft, golden glow. Moor had settled into his fireplace chair. A small volume lay open, cradled in his palm, yet he had not turned the page.

Slowly, Sully finished his wine and placed the glass on a nearby chest. Arms crossed, he leaned against the doorcase. “You didn’t answer me, Charles,” he prodded. “You forced this confrontation. Why?”

Moor glanced up, yet seemed moody and preoccupied. “I amused myself with thinking of it. The free will tempted me, and the power to do – or not to do.”

“By using the women?”

“So it was a disgrace – what then?”

“Stop talking like a damned footnote!” Now standing tall, arms by his side, Sully stared at him, knowing how unwise it was to provoke this man. “Whose vulnerabilities were you exploiting in this sudden raid, Charles? Metairie’s – or was it *my* attention you were seeking?”

As Sully approached, Moor abruptly stood, placing the book aside. His piercing blue eyes were accusatory. “You left me.”

They were so close, Sully felt Charles’s warm breath on his own stubbled cheek. “I was scouting,” he said softly. With his roughened fingers, he massaged his lover’s neck. “You knew exactly where I was – and when I’d be back.”

Moor pulled away. “Francis said he saw you with a man in Copley, thirty miles away.”

“Frank Spence?” Sully demanded angrily. “That bastard’s been here fueling your jealousy and obsessions. Does he seek to separate us now, by lying about me? No matter the history you share, Charles – Francis is not your friend. Why do you give him so much power over you?”

Even Charles Moor had vulnerabilities, and Sully van Steed reckoned that over the years Spence had learned how to manipulate them to his advantage. He seemed to choose his rare visits carefully, and now showed up here only when his friend’s closest companion was away.

For five years the pattern of their operation had been shadowy and restrained, greatly varying their range. Sully’s cautious ways were the curbing reins to Moor’s more destructive capabilities. Nevertheless, Frank Spence seemed determined to recast Moor in the role of the vicious raider he had been before.

“I won’t allow it!” Sully growled.

Moor turned to him with apparent distain. “You don’t give the orders here.”

“Charles, all was going well. Choosing the shadows, we stole just enough to meet our needs. Sure, the ranchers knew they were losing cattle, but in such small numbers, they were merely irritated – not outraged.” Sully was furious. “Do you really believe I abandoned the honest life I led before, the ranch I built, and the friends I cared for, to become a goddamned cattle rustler – or to end up like that other scum, at the end of a rope? Hell, I was once an honorable man, not the renegade you see before you now. I walked away from all that – for you – because I love the real man behind that mask you choose to wear.

“Once again, you allowed Spence to goad you into another act of stupidity. Charles, can’t you see what’s happening here? Because I sure as hell can! I think your friend Francis won’t be content until he sees you hang.” Sully’s manner softened, and his voice conveyed only his concern. “Even worse, you seem bound and determined to assist him in your own destruction. And that is what I will not stand by and willingly allow.”

*So like a forest is the human heart,* Sully thought, *with all its hidden paths and tangled ways.*

His voice husky, Moor turned away from him. “You care for me?”

Sully pressed against his broad back, sensing the warm, wild spirit of the man. “Yes, God help me. I do. But why must I protect you from yourself?”

Sighing deeply, Moor slowly turned back. With gentle touch, his rough thumbs caressed the fading scars which marred Sully’s cheeks. “You think I’m worth saving?”

Sully tightened his embrace. “I know you are.” They spoke in whispers, as if afraid that other, disagreeable ears might hear. “But we must take care to preserve our love – and the good life we’ve built for ourselves here.”

“And let no others interfere?”

“Please, Charles.”

“Are you asking me to choose?”

“Yes. I will *not* stand by and allow someone like Spence to threaten your life.”

“What would you do?”

“Killing the rogue would be a quick fix and, frankly, a solution I’m seriously considering. But violence wouldn’t solve the real problem. You know well enough how far I’ll go, in this career you pursue. If the ‘renegade Moor’ is so susceptible to the machinations of a bastard like Spence, I’ll have to go.”

“Would you? Could you?”

“Please, Charles – don’t force the issue. If you care for me, you’ll protect what we share.”

Moor’s hands were hard. Sully sensed his desperation from the power of his clutch. But his kisses were tender, as his tongue played about the corner of Sully’s lips and traced the deep scars which marked his cheeks. One hand cradled the back of Sully’s dark head while the other rested on his back and held him close. Capturing Sully’s lips, Moor deepened the kiss until their breaths were one breath, and their tongues tangled like lovers’ limbs in those warm, moist depths.

Held possessively in the close embrace, Sully felt the hardened length of him. “Don’t leave me,” whispered Moor. “My wicked heart wouldn’t survive the parting.”

Sully nipped the lobe of his ear and nuzzled along the line of his sculpted jaw. “Love you,” he murmured, relishing his leather and whiskey scent, before their firm lips met in another long, consuming kiss. Then he pulled away. “I must wash.”

“No, I want you just the way you are.” Moor pulled his shirt over his head and stepped out of his britches, impatiently kicking the garments aside. His arms were strong, his chest broad and well-muscled.

Sully unbuckled his holster and placed it on his bureau. He stilled. Charles’s naked strength made his loins ache.

“Hurry,” Moore insisted.

Sully stripped. Brow arched, he circled Charles slowly, licking his lips like a predator contemplating his prey. Fingertips burned a path down Charles’s spine, boldly brushing through the crevice in his muscular cheeks.

Amused, Moor widened his stance, encouraging him to play.

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