Skylar was silent all through dinner, his mind spinning on everything that had happened that day. His first time talking to a human that wasn’t one of the Coldbrooks had resulted in him having a date. He still wasn’t sure how it had all happened. Like, really, Josh was a human—a human. He wasn’t even really supposed to be talking to them. Humans were just so different, not to mention extremely complicated.
Josh was also really gay. A fact that was probably going to bite him on the ass.
Skylar’s backside gave a throb as he remembered how Josh had pulled him by his tail. Fuck. He ducked his head and pushed more of his food around on his plate. He probably shouldn’t have done that. Probably shouldn’t have let him kiss him. Really shouldn’t have kissed him back. It was just leading the weirdo on, really. Probably shouldn’t have agreed to go out with him either…
Come on, the guy liked fucking sparkling ponies. Sure, Skylar might happen to shift into one but it didn’t mean Josh wasn’t totally weird for liking him. Really weird.
The guy could kiss though…
Skylar jolted, his hand coming up to block the roll of bread that was sailing towards his face. Carter flashed him a wicked grin from his side of the table. Blinking back to reality, he realized that Carter’s dad, Allen, had already left at some point, the room empty except for the two of them.
Oh, this was bad. Was he seriously losing time over this weird Josh guy? Crap.
“So, are you going?”
“What?” Skylar focused back on Carter, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “How do you even know about that?”
Carter shrugged cryptically, his smirk only growing. “Josh is a nice guy. He never gets into trouble, always stands up for his friends. He might not look it, but he’s got three little sisters, and he’s always taking care of them with their mother working all the time. He’s a cool guy, Stormcloud.”
His glare turning assessing, Skylar finally nodded. “He wants me to meet some of his friends. He said… said if I told them I was a shifter, they wouldn’t freak or anything,” he added, his unspoken question hanging between them.
“Then they won’t,” Carter assured him. “Josh wouldn’t hang with guys that discriminate. He’s honorable.”
More confused, Skylar shot back, “If you know so much about him, why aren’t you friends?”
Carter gave a weak smile. “Dude, I spend my days hanging out with a fucking magical sparkling horse shifter. I get enough shit from the other sorcerer kids as it is. Humans are going to think I’m a total loser.”
Huffing, Skylar went back to not eating. It was difficult to figure Carter out. He was a powerful sorcerer, respected enough that he had started to accompany his father to Skylar’s realm to help find stallion shifters that were open to talking to humans. But Carter didn’t act like any sorcerer he’d ever heard of. Sorcerers were usually arrogant punks, or far above worldly problems depending on the individual. Carter was, well, really weird.
He was pretty sure the guy was indifferent to most things. Even though he liked to tease the fuck out of him—something Skylar had started to wonder might be some weird repressed flirting thing. He really knew nothing about humans and their mating habits. At least, he had thought he knew nothing. Josh had kind of clued him into the reality that if Carter was flirting with him, he was doing a totally shit job. The sorcerer was a hard read on the best of days and not knowing much about humans had only made him an interesting puzzle to figure out. Well, when he wasn’t ready to beat him bloody.
“He’s not bad,” Skylar offered, meeting Carter’s eye. “Don’t get me wrong, Josh is totally weird as fuck, but he’s not bad. It’s okay to make some friends even if they’re just human.”
Grinning wide, Carter stood, his hands braced on the table as he leaned forward. “Yeah, well prove it, Stormcloud. Go make yourself some friends and show me what it’s all about.”
Skylar rolled his eyes but couldn’t stop his grin. “You’re such a douche. Seriously.”
“Whatever, man. I’m not the one that was letting some guy suck on my horn.”
His face heated up uncomfortably and Skylar glared. “It’s not like that.”
“It’s totally like that. He’s crushing on you hardcore.”
“He’s a guy,” Skylar stressed. “Guy.”
Carter was completely unfazed. “Yeah, a gay guy and a nice one at that, so don’t fuck around with his heart. I’m pretty sure he fell for you the second you moved here.”
“Oh.” Stilling, Skylar thought back to the first day he had attended Carter’s school. He had been really nervous that day. But Josh had come right up to him. He had introduced himself and had even complimented him on his nail polish. “Oh.”
Done pretending he could eat while his stomach was swirling so much, Skylar stood, swaying as he stared down at the tabletop. He wasn’t really sure what he was going to say to Josh. He had wanted to have a chance to get to know some humans but never had it occurred to him that one might like him romantically. It complicated things. A lot. If he were smart, he’d call the whole thing off now before Josh got the wrong idea.
It would be the wrong idea. He really couldn’t be with a human. It just wasn’t possible. Especially with a guy.
“So, you going to need a lift or is he picking you up?”
“Uh, he’s driving me.” Licking suddenly dry lips, Skylar glanced at the clock on the wall. “Like, in fifteen minutes.” He caught Carter grinning at him, this time with a knowing look in his eyes that was determined to piss him off. “What?”
“You’re not going like that.”
Skylar glanced down at his clothes, his brow furrowed in confusion. “I’m not?”
Carter shook his head. “Not for a date.”
“It’s just to meet his friends.”
“It’s a fucking date, idiot. You totally have to change.”
Rolling his eyes, Skylar huffed as Carter dragged him to his room. “You humans are so stupid. You make everything so complicated.”
Carter looked at him curiously from where he was rummaging through his closet. Most of the clothes had been purchased by either Carter or Allen. Carter, for whatever reason, seemed to take glee in dressing him up in human garb. “Oh, and just what does a shifter do for a date?”
“We don’t date,” Skylar said matter of factly, catching a shirt when it was thrown to him. “But if we’re interested in someone, we take clothes off. Who cares what you’re wearing when it all comes off minutes later?”
Carter snorted and turned back to the closet. “I’ll keep that in mind. All pony shifters are total sluts.”
Biting nervously on his lower lip, Skylar glanced from the shirt in his hand to the human he considered a friend. There was a lot Carter didn’t know about the horse shifters, a lot he wasn’t sure if he was comfortable fully disclosing with him. “Actually, just the stallions. The girls only get horny once a year when they go into heat. It’s freaking hell.”
Carter paused from what he was doing. “What, even in human form?” He stopped himself and turned to meet Skylar’s hesitant gaze. “Right, I forgot. Your girls are always in horse form. You know, there’s a reason you need to learn to get along with humans. Otherwise, your village could be taken over or some shit.”
Skylar sighed at the tangent. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved to avoid the conversation or annoyed that Carter had once again missed the fucking point. “I’m not worried. Getting along with humans or not, my village has enough magic to hide us away for a thousand years easy.”
Carter threw a pair of jeans on the bed while nodding to himself. “So… What exactly do you stallions do when you’re all human and the girls aren’t?”
His stomach tightened uncomfortably when the topic of conversation abruptly ended right back to what he had yet to decide if he wanted to disclose. Skylar tried to shrug nonchalantly. “There aren’t that many guys. Like, a handful to each village if we’re lucky.”
“Still. I mean, if your mares have mating cycles and you stallions are always horny.” Carter turned back to him with arms folded. A wicked grin was plastered on his face as his gaze fixed on Skylar’s currently smooth forehead. “Do you guys, like, help polish each other’s horns?”
His cheeks flushing, Skylar grabbed for the jeans to hide his fluster. “It’s not something we talk about.”
“But you do, right?” Carter pressed. “It’s a year long fucking sparkling gay orgy until your girls go into heat?”
Gnawing on his sore bottom lip, Skylar nodded once. “It’s not a gay thing. It’s not,” he insisted when Carter snorted in disbelief. “It’s just to, uh, help relieve tensions—Don’t fucking tell people.” He turned away abruptly. “They think we’re weird enough as it is.”
Carter exhaled heavily. He studied Skylar with something new shining in his eyes. “Fuck, I thought I was teasing you again. My dad won’t tell me shit about that kind of stuff. I should probably warn you that meeting Josh’s friends doesn’t mean it’s going to turn into a, um, pile of sex.”
Skylar fought back a grin and failed. “No shit. You humans are more repressed than our fucking mares. It’s gay this and gay that and everyone wants sex but rarely anyone is having any—and when they are, it’s with themselves. Complicated,” he stated.
“And since Josh likes you, he might not like the idea of you, um, sleeping with other people while you’re dating,” Carter added after a pause.
Skylar nodded, his eyes downcast. That was the big problem. Horse shifters didn’t grow attached to anyone the way humans did. Relationships were fluid, selfless. And Josh, well, he was the kind of guy that would fall for another guy and want to stay with him forever. Like some sort of life mate.
It was impossible.
Sighing, Skylar kicked off his sneakers and slipped out of his current jeans. “Josh is alright. I mean, he has a nice smile. And I really think he likes my sparkles even if they’re girly as fuck. Even my own get annoyed when we get too sparkly. He really is kind of weird.”
Josh would be an interesting friend. That’s all. That’s all it could be and he really shouldn’t think anything more of it. So what if he was horny? He was always horny. Just because Josh was the first human that had actually caught his eye didn’t mean anything.
Zipping his fresh pair of jeans up, Skylar looked at the other shirt Carter was trying to hand him. “You layer them,” Carter explained. When Skylar raised his brows skeptically, he added cheekily, “Hey, you can’t make it too easy for him. Guys like a chase. Well, human guys do.”
“It’s a fucking rainbow. You’re dressing me in a blue and purple rainbow,” Skylar said with a growl.
“Josh will like it. He’ll love it, for real.”
Glaring at him warningly, Skylar took the shirt. “Stop looking at me like that.”
Carter’s annoying grin only grew. “Like what?”
“Like I’m going to suck your dick if you stand here long enough.”
Carter didn’t laugh. He gave a tug to the shirt Skylar was holding and pulled him closer. “Would you? You’ve been here a month after living a lifestyle of orgies, right? You must be feeling really desperate.”
Skylar slowly looked Carter up and down, allowing himself to notice his broad shoulder, handsome face, and shining blond hair trimmed short. The guy was hot, and if he had been a shifter, it wouldn’t have even been a question. “I’m not that desperate, jackass. You should have been nicer to me and stopped making those stupid ass pony toys.”
“Damn it.” Carter huffed good-naturedly and stepped away. “Guess I’m stuck with my hand.” He watched Skylar shrug into the second shirt. “Bet Josh is going to be happy.”
Combing his hair in place with his fingers, Skylar paused as he stared blankly at the bed. “Don’t assume. We have these strict rules about not messing around with humans.”
“What, like you’re not allowed at all?”
Skylar pushed his sleeves up agitatedly. “It’s not in writing or anything—no one actually says it. But we do think it’s kind of, like, unfair to be with humans.”
“Why?” Carter none to subtly looked down at his crotch. “Just how big are you?”
Blushing, Skylar shoved his hands into his pockets with a scowl. “Not that, idiot. Humans are non-magical. Ignorant. And that sexual freedom thing? That tends to freak them the fuck out. Most humans can’t handle that kind of stuff and—”
“Wait, so what, he needs to pass a test?” Carter broke in. “Like, trial by orgy? Do you have to bring him home and have all the stallions fuck your boyfriend before you’re allowed to date?”
“Fucker—why the fuck do I talk to you again?” Skylar exclaimed. “You’re such an asshole.” Scowling, he turned towards the mirror and busied himself making sure all the glitter was free from his hair. That Carter was partially right only made it more embarrassing. There was no way he could date a human that wasn’t open to his herd lifestyle.
“Hey, I don’t think he’d mind.” Carter leaned against the wall, his smug grin back in place. “You shifters are all super hot, even with the glitter.”
Skylar glared at him through the mirror. “We don’t leave our village, like, ever. This training thing with your dad is new and a big freaking deal, which is why after a year of Allen searching, I’m the only dumbass that was willing to try this thing. If I fell for some human, he or she would have to live with me in my village. He’d be isolated, the only one of his kind, lonely and different. And he might start getting stupid ideas, like I’m not supposed to do the same shit I did before I met him. Like breed the mares once a year,” he stressed.
Nodding silently, Carter’s smile slowly faded and the joking twinkle left his eye.
“The future of my entire village depends on me not being selfish and falling in love and leaving them,” Skylar muttered. He fixed on his reflection, afraid he was going to see something worse in Carter’s eyes if he kept looking. Like pity. Humans didn’t know shit. Sure, things were routine back home, boring, but at least he had a purpose. He protected his herd and made sure they continued on. It was important. So what if his life was forfeit when he had an entire village that needed him? He wasn’t the first stallion to be disregarded for the greater good.
“Can we just let this drop?” He turned to Carter. “Dating humans is just too complicated.”
“Sorry,” Carter said quietly. “That sounds like shit.”
“It is. It’s part of why I haven’t really been trying to make friends.” Skylar crossed his arms over his chest. “This place is cool and all, but it’s temporary. There’s no point getting caught up in stupid romance shit.”
He had thought that would be the end of it, but then again, Carter was very good at annoying the hell out of him. “Then why Josh?”
Skylar gave him a long side glance, then shrugged and returned to studying his shoes. “He’s interesting.”
“You like him!”
“Fuck off,” Skylar snapped.
Carter grinned winningly. “You totally like him. Pull that stick out of your ass, Stormcloud. It’s not the end of the fucking world if you have some fun while you’re here. Go make some damn friends and stop acting like everything is life and death.”
Skylar rolled his eyes and huffed. He would try to make some friends but nothing more. “Still not sucking your dick, dumbass.”
Josh’s friends weren’t anything like Skylar had feared. They were on the level of nerd reaching towards gamers and anime spazes, but they were good-natured enough and none of them said shit about his rainbow of hair and clothes. They were hanging out at Riley’s—Skylar was learning that humans had a lot of things to do that wasn’t actually considered doing much at all. Just hanging. Riley apparently was very good at this occupation and had a basement full of games and space for doing a lot of nothing.
It was his first time outside without either Carter or Allen, and Skylar really hadn’t known what to expect. He was still surprised by an entire world designed to accommodate his human form. Door handles, beds, chairs—they were things most humans took for granted. Many things he didn’t have at all back home. And now this. Video games.
If there had ever been anything made more specifically for hands than a game controller, Skylar didn’t know it.
Josh was currently trying to teach him how to play a racing game much to the combined cheering of his friends every time Skylar’s character fell of the edge of the track.
“Shit, you suck at this.” Josh quickly pointed left but it was too late.
“I know—Damn it!” Staring wide-eyed as his car crashed into a cliff face and promptly exploded, Skylar broke into a wide grin. “Wow. Did you see all those flames?”
Josh snickered. “Yeah, it has great graphics… But maybe you shouldn’t try to drive too soon in real life.” He leaned down from where he was hovering behind on the couch to whisper in his ear. “I don’t think your hooves could handle it.”
Biting his lip, Skylar blushed as he glanced back, taking in Josh’s bright blue eyes and dark, messy hair for a frozen moment. Fine, maybe he did like Josh. He was sweet, funny, and whenever they touched, it felt like a spark of magic.
His mouth felt particularly dry. Skylar held his hand up, the controller loose in his grasp. “Did anyone else want to play?”
“Hey, don’t worry about it, man. It just takes some practice.” Riley was quick to snag the controller and sit down next to him, corn chips scattering when the couch sank from the extra weight. “Besides, it’s not like it’s easy to focus with Josh all over you.” He flashed them a knowing look. Glancing back where Josh was still leaning over the couch, Skylar found him blushing this time. He couldn’t help but grin at the sight.
Okay, maybe he liked him a lot. Damn it.
“Wyatt has this really cool v-device thing if you want to try,” Dylan prompted from his seat on the floor. Dylan, the smallest out of all the guys there, had been giving Skylar quiet side glances the entire night and seemed very interested in the iridescent nail polish he was wearing. Skylar was doing his best to ignore it seeing as he had yet to meet any human males with nail polish. Where he was from, painting hooves was an everyday kind of thing. Painting fingernails passed the boredom okay when in human form but not quite as well as driving cars off of cliffs.
“It’s not actually virtual reality,” Josh explained. “But it is really cool.”
Wyatt, who had previously been fighting for the spot to race Riley, immediately dropped the controller and pulled out a device from his back pocket. “Oh, it’s a fucking trip. Like, it might make you really dizzy, actually. But they have five different full immersion worlds already and they started making it so people can create their own towns and upload it to one huge world—Oh, and the soundtracks! Dude, you have never heard music like this.”
While Skylar nodded politely at the very enthusiastic Wyatt who was determined to explain everything about the game that seemed to consist of just walking around looking at things, a phone buzzed behind him. Moments later, Josh stepped away, standing in the downstairs doorway with his cell to his ear, his expression growing darker as the minutes ticked by.
“Yeah, but can’t Marla…?”
Skylar strained to hear what Josh was saying but Wyatt suddenly pushed a viewscreen in front of his face, his gaze consumed with an overly bright, hyper-realistic view of what he could only assume was the ocean. A very purple ocean with green sky.
“Okay, so you can adjust the colors here—I mean, you can really make it look alien if you want, you know?”
Blinking rapidly, Skylar raised his hands and gently pushed so the screen wasn’t the only thing he could see. “Sorry, it’s just a lot. It’s so bright.”
“Huh? Oh.” Wyatt pulled the device back and began fiddling with the contrast controls. “I really like how you can make things look more real than real, you know? Like crazy colors. Like your hair,” he added offhandedly. “Beyond real.”
Surprised, Skylar patted down his hair, carefully checking to make sure his ears and horn weren’t showing again. “What, you don’t have hair color like I do here?”
“Dude, I don’t know how long it took to dye it, but no one around here has hair like yours.” Wyatt paused from what he was doing, studying Skylar carefully over the rim of his narrow glasses. “You do dye your hair, don’t you?”
Realizing his mistake, Skylar jumped up from his spot on the couch. “Yeah, I dye it. Duh. Like, that would just be crazy otherwise.” Stupid—what a fucking stupid slip to make. He could feel Dylan watching him again, and now he had to wonder if he had put something together.
This had been a bad idea. He had already slipped once that day and that had been with Carter feet away. Now he didn’t even have Carter there to save him if things went bad. Sure, Josh had handled things well, but he was, well, really weird.
Ducking his head so that no one would be able to see the lie written all over his face, Skylar sought an escape, only to run right into Josh’s chest.
“Careful.” Hands wrapped securely around his biceps and Skylar exhaled roughly as the world tilted for a moment. “Alright?”
Not sure what he was anymore, Skylar just nodded silently. He was hot all over and having Josh so close reminded him all too well of just how nice he kissed. How just having him stand close to him had gotten him hard, and when he had touched him, pressed against him, he had felt like he was going to lose his mind.
Horny. He was just horny. It didn’t have to mean anything. Skylar glanced up, finding Josh’s deep blue eyes studying him, concern clear in his gaze. The urge to kiss away that worried look hit him hard and he had to look away.
Damn it. He liked the guy. He had assumed he just wouldn’t ever be into a human—they were just so different, so difficult. But fuck this day; he was totally into Josh.
“Sorry about this, Sky. My mom called.” Josh indicated his phone with a sigh. “She has to stay late for work and the lady that lives in the apartment below who sometimes babysits can’t tonight. I’ve got to get back and make sure my sisters don’t get into trouble.”
“What… you’re leaving?” It took him a moment. Thinking was decidedly difficult with Josh standing so close.
“I have to. Jenny’s fifteen and she’ll probably be fine, but Carrie is only seven and her and Jackie will destroy the house if given a chance. Whoever said girls are well-behaved never had sisters.” As if realizing for the first time that he was still holding him steady, Josh dropped his hands. “Uh, I can drive you to Carter’s, if you want. I mean, did you want to stay and hang for longer? We could call Carter and see if he’ll pick you up if you do and…” Josh sighed again, clearly disappointed with how the night was going.
“Can I, uh, go with you?” Skylar asked, his face immediately heating up once the question was out. “I mean, I know you’ll probably be busy with your sisters and all—”
“No, busy is not the word,” Josh said quickly as he grabbed Skylar’s hand. “Just, I dunno, would you be bored? I don’t have much for video games and stuff. But, you know, I’d really like to, well, spend more time with you. I could drop you off at Carter’s after my mom gets home.”
Josh’s cheeks had gained a new flush and a sparkle lit his eyes. Skylar was having a hard time looking away. The prospect of spending more time with Josh, alone, thrummed through his entire body like a hot flame. “Yeah, that, uh, sounds good. Really good.”
Someone snickered, the noise breaking into an overly loud cough. Glancing around, Skylar realized they had at some point become the center of the room’s attention. “Um…”
“Ignore them,” Josh said. “Guys, we’re going to head out.”
“Have fun studying anatomy,” Riley called cheerfully, the others erupting into laughter.
“Go fuck yourselves.” Beaming, Josh gripped Skylar’s hand and pulled him towards the door.
“It was nice to meet you, Sky,” Dylan called, sounding like he meant it.
Pausing, Skylar turned and gave a flustered wave before disappearing through the door to the warm night air outside. “What did they mean by—oh.” His question was cut off by Josh’s kiss. His back hit the closed door and he sighed as arms wrapped around him and pulled him into a dizzying tangle of lips and heat.
“I really do have to make sure my sisters are okay,” Josh whispered breathlessly when he finally pulled away. “But I’ve been dying to do that since I saw you again.” His gaze moved down Skylar’s form, taking in his colorful shirts and tight jeans that betrayed just how turned on he was. “You look really good, Sky.”
Dazed, Skylar met his hungry gaze. His tongue flitted out to wet his lips. “You do too.” He did; Josh had changed into fresh clothes and smelled amazing. It was really hard to remember why he wasn’t supposed to get close to humans when his gaze burned over him the way it did.
Leaning down, Josh kissed him again, their lips brushing when he whispered. “We should probably go. Before we get distracted.”
Skylar nodded dumbly. It was difficult to focus on anything but the heat from their combined bodies. He was so hard it hurt. Before Josh could pull away, Skylar grabbed his ass and ground forward, his erection rubbing along his length.
He knew he shouldn’t but he had to know. He had to know if Josh actually wanted him the same. That was where it always went to hell with humans. The few that stumbled into the villages just didn’t understand them, couldn’t communicate even though they were speaking the same language. This though—how could you not understand this?
“Sky.” Breathing his name out, Josh rocked his hips against his. Skylar’s head tipped back a moment, his eyes fluttering shut as pleasure shot through him. Josh was so hard, and could feel that he was hard. This was when a stallion would make a move. If he wanted it just as much, they’d help each other get off. But as hard as Josh was, as strained as he was breathing, he was only softly kissing his jaw and Skylar had no idea how to respond. If Josh wanted him, they’d already be in each other’s pants. That was just normal.
Unfortunately, Josh was human and his normal wasn’t remotely the same.
“Come on. Before it gets too late.” Josh pulled away reluctantly and brushed his hair from his eyes. Skylar watched him from where he was resting on the door, beyond bewildered at what to do next. Was he supposed to make a move? What if he was reading it wrong and Josh got extra human and freaked out?
Damn it, why were humans so difficult about sex?
Skylar followed slowly to the car. Silently he wondered if maybe once they were hidden from view, Josh would stop being so shy. Except once in the car, Josh, who was trying to calm himself, seemed more interested in the mp3 player and what kind of music Skylar liked. He spent the entire drive asking him questions about himself when it would have been a perfectly good time to touch, or pull to the side of the road and fuck the crazy heat out of them.
It was maddening, as was the sudden kiss Josh surprised him with once they pulled into the parking lot of his apartment.
“Josh—fuck.” His eyes closing, Skylar opened to his driving tongue, his hands scrabbling to find purchase as Josh leaned across the seat and pushed him back against the door. Lips crushed his, wet heat stealing all sensible thought from his mind, and quickly his breath.
“Sorry… sorry, I shouldn’t…” Josh kissed heatedly down Skylar’s neck, nipping his flesh lightly. “You’re driving me crazy.”
Sky fought to find his breath enough to explain if anyone was going crazy, it was him. Josh’s lips sealed over his again, tongue stroking his in intoxicating touches. Pulling blindly at his shirt, Skylar sought out the bare skin beneath, only to have Josh slip away before he could get under the hem.
“Sorry, we should… yeah.”
Confused, Skylar forced his eyes open at the sound of the car door shutting.
Groaning into the empty car, Skylar silently counted to himself as he tried to get his body under control.
Would humans find it rude to demand to fuck on the first date? Did he care if he was rude if he could just get some relief?
Wait, hadn’t he told himself that he was going to make friends and not give in to his stupid dick?
This was a bad idea. Fighting with Carter was way less annoying than the sexual frustration of just being in the same room as Josh. Licking his lips, Skylar slowly got from the car, his eyes glued on the disheveled human who was waiting for him. His cheeks were flushed, lips swollen, and given the bulge in his jeans, at least Josh was just as frustrated as he was.
Was this normal for him? Some cruel tease of a mating ritual? Was this what humans did when they wanted sex? Not have it?
A month in their world and Skylar was certain humans were about the stupidest creatures he’d ever met.
Alright… Where to start? Lot’s of stuff going down, babes, and I’m not even talking about all the politics—But holy, fuck, right? O_o I don’t know whether to be really worried we’re crossing into a dictatorship or totally assured that this is the beginning of the end for old Trump. I’m leaning toward blind faith of him going down; it makes things far more bearable. Apologies for the length of this, btw. I added some info at the bottom about KU and it got long.
I’m building a subscription site. It hit me a couple of days ago as to how I’m going to solve my KU problem. I first looked at Patreon but their content guidelines gave me pause. I’m sick of people telling me what the fuck is appropriate or not. Even if I never write the stuff they’re talking about, I don’t want to deal with the possibility of everything I built being destroyed over some content policy. Not to mention, I hold back writing my darker stories because of Amazon’s content guidelines. I make most of my money on Amazon and I can’t risk getting a book banned… but this is going to allow that all to change.
Once I’m done battling my computer to the death over building this website. XD Although, it’s coming out super pretty… the stuff I haven’t updated yet. The site looks like a total mess atm but it’ll be gorgeous once I’m done.
So what am I offering in a subscription site?
Free members get 1/2 off all my books. Every title you get a discount. Costs you nothing to sign up and I’ll have some freebies, including Awakening that I’ll be updating again if this works. I want to help the people that can’t afford my books. Plain and simple. If you’re a fan, I want to make sure you can get my stuff even though I had to cut out of KU. Just… I gotta figure out how to set it up still. >_< I might end up selling straight from my website if I can’t figure out some sort of Payhip model.
$10 a month gets members:
*Access to every single story I have written so far. Everything. It’s worth… fuck, just at $100 if you paid outright and only bought the bundles of Bullying Teacher and Demon Bonded. All free if you subscribe.
*You’ll get daily chapters as I write what I’m working on now. This is everything—novels and short stories. You’ll be able to read the first draft months before these books are even published. My goal is at least 20,000 words a week (think 2 short stories or one ‘Heat’ length book.)
*Extra stories and content I probably won’t be publishing. Basically fanslashing my own stuff. I was thinking I could take some requests on this, btw. Like I’ll put up a comment section in this area you guys could request what you like and if an idea strikes me, I’ll write it. Oh, maybe have it so you guys can submit fanfics too of my stuff—Is that like the most fucking pretentious thing to think ever that someone might want to write a fanfic of my characters? O_o Sorry. My ego might have blown a bit too big there for a moment. But yeah, fun shit.
If this works, I’ll end up having serial episodes (Demon Bonded, City Howls, Bronicorn) written for member eyes first. Then, when the entire book/saga is finished, I’ll edit and publish that and release it to the rest of the world. It keeps me from having to drop everything to edit and make a cover and all that time consuming stuff. And it makes that final product more affordable to those who want to pay instead of having to buy episode by episode. But it also means a longer time to release day… maybe. Seriously, I’m going to be writing a lot faster if this subscription thing works. I could dedicate funds to an editor and designer and keep my focus on writing.
If you read my blog post on what it takes to be a self published author, there are a lot of tasks I do that eat my time outside of writing. And the writing I am focused on is currently a long ass novel that’s going to be 200,000 words of content once done. Until I get a book done, I can’t get paid. It’s the self-publisher’s dilemma. You don’t get paid for writing, you get paid for selling a product; the completed book. It pushes me to drop everything and write shorts—that’s why Bronicorn and My Broken Angel happened instead of Sorcerer Slayer. I have to put something out monthly to keep income stable.
My ability to write has been severely limited by all the other things that need doing. If I can make a system where I am paid for my content—where I write daily and share it with readers for a monthly fee—I can get back to writing the stories I love and readers want. I can go back to writing Awakening. The first book is all outlined, I just haven’t had time because I’ve had to be so profit centric these last months.
So that’s the plan and I would seriously like to know what you guys think. I’m excited about it but this only works if people find this interesting and affordable for them. I can love this idea all I like but if you, my readers, don’t, I’m wasting all my time fucking around with the website instead of cranking out a shit ton of short stories.
So, do you actually want to read these stories as they’re written or are you more interested in waiting until a final book is out? Is $10 for this a ludicrous amount of money, or does it seem fair? Maybe it’s fair but you just can’t afford it? Do you like the idea of a free membership giving fans a price cut or do you think it really doesn’t do much to replace what KU is for you? I want to know what you think.
Speaking of which, I’ve gotten some recent compliments on my newsletters. I’m really glad you guys enjoy them and I’ll be continuing them weekly no matter what goes down. I seriously need to get on top of another Author Spotlight—that was really fun. I did a blog post for any blossoming authors out there who are wondering what it takes to make a newsletter work. It’s not what you probably think and I invite you to all take a peek at my informative, slightly ranty post.
And while you’re looking at super cool shit XD OptimuMM Reviews reviewed My Broken Angel! Freaking love these guys. Reviews are so important for authors and OptimuMM keeps pushing to make sure the MM genre is supported.
I had someone ask me if, since they already signed up for my mailing list and received a free book, if it was okay to get the free books I offer in this newsletter as well. The answer is yes, and I just want to inform you all, because, dear fuck, it would really suck if any of you were holding back from getting a free book over something like that. Free books are a reward for you guys and, well, it makes me feel good to give shit away. I like giving gifts. I like that people like my writing enough to want to read it—this is all fun shit for me. Don’t feel guilty. Giving brings me fucking joy, so let me share it, damn it. XD
Oh and fangirl time! No, seriously, I fucking—Alright, you know I have no fucking time for shit. But the last week I’ve been fighting insomnia. It’s been brutal and my ability to function very limited. So I snagged this book (cus the cover was pretty—I’m a simple human being here) and I so fell in love with it. Any of you read Greta Stone before? Is she new, old? I have no clue but I love her style. It’s like these little bursts of fragrance and flavor with each description. And her characters—this is my first time reading a demon fox shifter and I’m just so fucking charmed. What the hell was the name… Cry Wolf. It’s cute, violent with bloodspray. I actually laughed the first time she used the word fuck because it was so perfect. She needs an editor but other than that, yeah, delicious. Fuck, let me throw the link and image up. It’s a sexy cover.
Kitsune shifter. That’s all I’m telling you. XD Check it out.
Sex, Murder, And Mystery
There’s murder in town, and when it strikes his escort service, the Midnight Brotherhood, Kato Black finds his world turned upside-down. Turning to the police to search for answers and peace of mind, he encounters special agent Andrew Dole, a handsome newcomer who desires justice as much as he does, romance.
The faceless killer continues upon Kato’s trail, putting both the escort and the young officer in danger. All while rushing to crack one of the city’s toughest cases, Kato and Andrew must choose between the safety they keep while apart and the happiness they find with each other.
The couple is soon thrust into a whirlwind of passion, lust, and suspense. Featuring love blossoming amid a race to prevent more death from happening, this story is a fast-paced, sexy thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat and begging for more.
If you haven’t heard about this yet, update your Windows. A new ransomware with NSA technology is targetting PCs. I care about you guys and I’d hate to see your computer be compromised. Check out the info here— https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibLaCEL8E4E&feature=share
A KU reader emailed me and asked if I might explain what the thing with KU is all about. I know I’m not the only author that’s going through this. It’s not a new problem. I’d like to share what I can about it for those interested in joining the program either as a writer or reader—and to be clear, if you are a KU reader, this is not your fault. I don’t want you to feel guilty or bad or any of that bullshit. You bought into a system assuming it was fair and there are some nice perks to being a KU reader—I know. I’m a reader and even as I pull my books from KU, I’m going to remain a KU reader. $10 for as many books as I can get my hands on? Fuck yeah.
Alright, the basics of KU from an author’s viewpoint. KU demands that for 3 months, the title I enroll in their program must be exclusive to them. In exchange, KU will make my book available to the KU readers (those peeps that throw $10 down every month) and as the author I get a chance at that pool of money. It’s millions of dollars because there are millions of KU subscribers. But there’s some math involved, and to be honest, there is very little transparency in this process (lack of transparency is a big fucking theme with KU.) Amazon tells us how much money is out there in the KU pool (they don’t tell us how many exact subscribers are in KU,) and they say they know exactly how many pages are read a month (this number is not shared.) That million dollar amount is divided by those page reads and it gets broken down.
On average it’s been about $.004- $0.045 per page every month. Little less than 1/2 a penny. That’s about $1.20 to $1.50 for a 300 page novel. That might seem like crap, but it can add up. The more KU readers reading your pages, the more you get. If you have 1000 readers that read all 300 pages, that equates to 300,000 page reads. Multiply by .0045 and you get $1350. As long as you account for taxes, that’s not bad for a novel for a month—if you manage to get 1000 people to read your book and those pages are actually counted. I have over 30 books in KU. If someone were to read through my entire catalog in a month (this is a rough estimate) I’m looking at about $20. Now if 100 people read through my entire catalog that month, that’s $2000.
How do you get people to read through your catalog? Ranking. So KU does another thing for those books in the KU program. For the first month, they give a boost to ranking. Ranking is dictated by page reads and, even more powerfully, actual sales. When an author releases a book at $0.99 (I keep forgetting to do this shit >_<) do not feel bad for snagging that baby cheap. You are helping that author boost their sales ranking on that book, and books with a good sales ranking get seen by more people, which opens them up to being sold/read more.
So because I write a lot of short reads, my strategy is the long game. It’s about attracting new eyes to my books all the time. Free and $0.99 helps with that. Reviews help with that. The whole point is to get someone to find one of my books, fall for the writing (maybe the characters—I love my characters) and go read more of my stuff. And as those other books are read, KU page reads go up. My KU reader doesn’t pay anything extra, and ideally it funds me to continue writing.
This is why I never bother to price books high. I don’t need a big payout—I don’t need one person to throw down 9.99 on every novel I write when with hundreds of people paying 1-2 bucks, everyone can be happy. It’s a quantity goal, instead of a focus on scarcity and the ‘value’ of content. Sure, some people might pay more but why alienate everyone else? Why go running for some bigger payout when I write so much and I just want to reach as many people as possible? Books are made to be read—that’s why they exist. As long as there is a sales model that can support as many people having access to those books and the author making a living, then why not utilize it?
Ku is great for that model… when it works. And to be clear, this shit did once work.
When KU rolled out, every book download resulted in a flat payout toward the author. Didn’t matter how long the book was or if it was read. It was like a library where a borrow was a borrow no matter the book or content. Erotica saw a huge rise because of this, as did short stories, but the novelists were upset. They felt their books were being ignored or undervalued when a short fuck fic was getting the same amount of dough as their epic memoir. Enter the next evolution of KU. Counting pages.
This was when I started self publishing. I think it might have been either 1/2 or a full year after they rolled in the version of KU where they counted pages instead of downloads. Not just pages as a value of the book being downloaded, but pages read. This was to make everything ‘fair.’ Novelist with long ass books wouldn’t automatically get a pay out if they were boring. Erotic fics wouldn’t be valued the same as a long novel and you had to read that story now so it better be good to deserve that cash. This, on the surface, seems like a very fair idea when everything is working.
Of course, people were quick to work the system. Those erotic shorts with a million bonus pages? Link at the beginning of the book that takes you to the end to read something ‘super fucking important?’ These are dubious things people try to do to get their page reads up and not surprising, when you stumble upon these books, the writing tends to be poor quality. Some authors just gave up, others started writing novels or getting more wordy. Bundles suddenly became big—because hey, word count.
So something happened the summer 2016. Page reads started dropping for some authors significantly. Many of these authors were erotica authors who focused on short reads; already in a fringe culture, their complaints were largely ignored. This occurred the same time Amazon unrolled the page flip system. Amazon has reimbursed some authors who complained—this suggests there is an actual bug with this program—but I would not say for a moment that anything was changed or fixed. No, authors started adapting to the new low numbers. They got used to seeing their KU reads 1/2 to a 1/3 of what they used to be. New authors didn’t even know things were once different. It’s like slowly being strangled and not noticing the world is going black until you reach those last breaths and feel the panic.(Guess where I am…)
What many authors have premised is that short books aren’t being counted by the page flip system. Even some novels have this problem. I couldn’t tell you how many days I woke up to find Blackthorne with 1 or 3 page reads. But I was sick and I wasn’t really paying attention too much beyond my own health during this time.
A few months back I did an experiment when I found my page reads unnaturally low after releasing both Demencious Saga and Apprentice Saga. I was noticing how page reads weren’t increased by new book releases or free books on Amazon like they were half a year ago. I used an svg image in all my books because svg images are known to disable page flip when used in formatting. My page reads increased by 300% immediately, and held. I was, to say the least, pretty fucking pissed off about it all to realize the last half a year and more, I was being fucked over. I sought out proof to build a case.
I did an experiment, a month long data gathering process. I don’t know if you guys know this about me, but I’m a total nerd. My interests range from science, math, and the arts. Put a problem in front of me, and I will solve that shit. I might be smart.
My conclusion after a month of data collection? There is no way to prove anything. Yes, disabling page flip gave me an increase in page reads, but I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t prove that I wasn’t ‘breaking’ the system and magically getting more page reads instead—it’s very unlikely but I have to keep that open as a possibility. I couldn’t prove that all of a sudden hundreds of new people didn’t start reading my books. I also couldn’t prove anything because every bit of data I get is sent to me from Amazon. That means that it could already be compromised before it reaches me. Let me explain that better.
So, when someone buys a book from me on the Amazon site, there is a transaction that occurs. Money is being sent somewhere, and a receipt issued. It’s traceable. I do not get to see this information; I am just informed by Amazon that the transaction occurred and I have to take that at face value. There is at least a way to prove a transaction occurred if I were to ask for proof. This is not the case with KU. I am not told how many people download my book and then how many pages were read. I am just given a number for page reads. Amazon does not reveal their exact process but pages are supposedly counted and sent to Amazon hourly/daily/whenever the ebook is closed. If those pages aren’t being counted on the device level of the reader, then the correct number won’t be sent to Amazon and there is no way to know if something wrong has happened.
Why do I even question if Amazon’s data being sent is accurate? Because Demon Arms, which hasn’t been in the KU program for half a year now, has gotten KU page reads monthly. They’re low reads, but they have been happening; 11 pages so far this month. Whenever I release a new book—ever since @ Nov—I do not see a spike in page reads until the next day. For hours, that brand new book I just sent out to everyone in this newsletter would see immediate sales but no page reads. Is no one reading on a Saturday night? Is there a 24 hour delay before page reads are sent to Amazon? I can’t prove fuck, except to compare to before page flip when my fanbase was much smaller and I saw those page reads counted when the book was released.
So if a book not in the KU program can get reads that clearly could not have been read, and I’m seeing a pattern of no reads during large releases (did you guys know there are 3500 of you on this mailing list now?) how can I trust any of the data being sent to me from Amazon? The reality is, I cannot. As long as I was making enough money to pay my bills, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But it looks like that svg fix I used has been disabled—Oh, yeah. Don’t think for a moment that this hasn’t been a silent battle with Amazon from the very beginning. Every author that fights back finds the page flip system flipped back on within 30-60 days. This time the damn thing didn’t even officially ‘turn on,’ I just watched as I started getting 1 page reads again and all my reads drop at once while my sales maintained. If I didn’t have a scientific mind, it would be pretty damn easy to just assume no one was reading. But I’ve been studying this shit carefully for the last 3 months, have gone through my data since I joined Amazon, and the patterns are very telling even if there is no way to conclusively prove anything.
As things are, KU is not sustainable in any sense and I will not be able to continue to afford to write if it stays this way. At my current rate of income, I won’t break $1000 this month. To give you some perspective on that, the last time my numbers were that low was May 2016. I broke the $1000 mark with Demon Arms that first time and it never slipped under that number since. Yet here I am looking at a very clear possibility of being lower than a year ago when I had a mailing list of under 300 readers and had never promoted a single book.
If you are a KU reader, I want to repeat, this is not your fault. You did not break Amazon, you did not seek out to not pay your authors—when KU works, it is lucrative for an author. If you’re concerned that your authors aren’t being paid, there is a very simple thing you can do when you do read a KU book for now. Go to the last page, bookmark it, and close the book. The pages will be counted. I do it every time I read a KU book, just in case. I know that author took a gamble in a broken system (and they probably don’t even know it’s broken) and I want to make sure it pays out the little I can contribute.
I would like to think this problem would have been addressed and fixed by Amazon by now but after a year, I have no hope that it will ever be. Remember that strangling thing? If Amazon suddenly fixed this problem and reads returned to normal and everyone saw a 300% increase in reads, what do you think everyone would do? They would demand their money for when it was broken. We’re talking millions of dollars and I’m sure Amazon wants nothing to do with it. I also don’t feel comfortable going to Amazon with my findings. They have banned two of my books without the courtesy of letting me know why. Their behavior has made it impossible to feel like I am on equal footing with a business partner. There is no actual terms stating that the specific content in those books are not allowed. There are no terms stating that using an svg image in an ebook is against the rules, but I have to consider if my account will be suspended for my experiment. Maybe I’m paranoid—but again, my livelihood is too important to fuck around with.
I am an innovator. I will adapt and smile doing it. (Learning is fun!) I think people should be educated even if the topic is uncomfortable. And again, I want you KU readers to feel empowered, not like you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. If you want to do something about it, just bookmark the last page of that KU read before you close it. KU can do amazing things for up-and-coming authors and like any market, if a system fails, it will be punished for it eventually. The content will be stripped away by writers that are tired of the bs so that there is no incentive to continue, and readers will leave. There’s always another way, even against a huge giant like Amazon. When you don’t think something is fair, you don’t have to put up with it.
Hope you have a great Mother’s Day. Lol, and if you got to the end of this Newsletter, you’re a total champ. Peace, beautiful.