Follow Me Into Darkness, an Anthology

cover-anthology-followmeintodarknessCarnivale is a time for decadence, for revelry, and for mischief. A time when we shed the figurative masks we wear in everyday life in favor of new ones… ones that allow us to be a little bolder, a little more adventurous, and perhaps a little truer to ourselves. Follow Me Into Darkness is a compilation of original tales of queer romance by five of the premier authors of contemporary romance.

Hurricane by Santino Hassell

Interesting things never happened to Zay. He was the wallflower everyone forgot about as soon as the booze began to flow, and Mardi Gras had never been an exception. But after a chance encounter with a devil-may-care grifter, this year’s celebration brings adventure and whirlwind romance.

If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis

Seventeen-year-old Ven should be flying high—he’s playing the title role in a new TV drama about Hamlet’s teen years, and tonight they’re having a Mardi Gras cast party in a possibly-haunted castle. But Ven’s lost all his mirth since his boyfriend suggested they “take a break,” so he plans to skip the bash and brood in his trailer all night. Then the exasperating guy who plays Horatio challenges him to a Shakespearean soliloquy-off, and Ven knows his actorly honor is at stake. He says yes to the duel, trudges off to the the party to meet his fate–and finds that more awaits him onstage than a battle of wits and words.

Masked by J.R. Gray

Blistering heat and half-naked masked men as far as the eye can see, but Heath runs into the one face it’s taken him fifteen years to forget. Javier is plagued with a life of regret, but when a second chance confronts him, can he let go of his hang-ups and seize the moment?

The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper

Isah plays the role everyone expects: malleable and cautious, a true queen. But what others see as a queen’s appropriate modesty is really just a disguise for what Isah has never told anyone, the thing no one can ever know.

This body, dressed in the queen’s gowns, is a lie.

Once a year, at carnival, Isah dons someone else’s clothes and becomes them for a night. A young cook in stained whites, or a stableboy in worn breeches. As long as no one gets too close the pretense holds.

Until two strangers look past all the characters and Isah finally exposes the person behind the mask.

Touched by Roan Parrish

Sometimes when he touches people Philippe Rondeau sees their future. It’s erratic and inconvenient, but mostly he’s learned to deal with it. Sure he hasn’t found true love yet, but he has friends and lovers, and is kept busy running his family’s jazz club in Prohibition-era New Orleans. But now it’s Mardi Gras and all bets are off. In the space of one night, Philippe falls under the spell of jazz musician Claude and learns a terrible secret about his powers. If Philippe is certain of anything it’s that the future can be tricky, but the chance at love makes it all seem worthwhile.


Cover Artist:
February 4, 2016
Open Ink Press
189 e-book pages
See the book on Goodreads

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Ratings are 1 to 5 stars and based mostly on GoodReads standards.
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NOTE: My ratings for anthologies reflect overall satisfaction rather than any individual rating or average.


Short stories are very much about glimpsing a pivotal moment. Successful framing is dependent upon a balance of brevity in backstory, setting, and characterization but just enough detail of those elements in just the right places to make the moment shine. It’s the merciless and crafty author who can strike a balance between efficient and artful word choices that paint a complete and tiny portrait.

Here are my brief thoughts on five short stories.

Hurricane by Santino Hassell

“There was a secret in his eyes and a hint of mischief in his smile.”

This was a decidedly different tone for Santino than I’ve become accustomed to — and I’ve read a lot A LOT of Santino’s work. But, as ever, Santino shows his knack for sketching out characters that are relatable and lovable and producing a story with momentum that forces the reader to hang on for the ride. Hurricane steps out from behind the comfort of a mask and into the light of the sparkling Mardi Gras madness with a shady character of a chaperone for one hell of an adventure. With a quick-step pace we see that living in the moment to try new things with just the right person can be a rollicking good time — and also a bit criminal and scary. Hurricane was a lot of fun and packed an emotional punch without a word wasted. FANTASTIC!

If We Be Friends by J.C. Lillis

“You dwell on the ends so much […] that sometimes you miss the beginnings.”

As things go, this was my first experience with J.C. Lillis — and I’ve wanted to read her work for ages now. I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME. This was…this was SPECTACULAR. It took me a minute to figure out what I was getting into with a Shakespearian Soliloquy-off …but THEN. This was hilarious, witty, and super smart. The transformation and growth of the main character within such a fast-paced, short span of time was exceptional. There’s not a huge lock on an HEA sort of love, but the door is opened widely with a spark that’s nearly as flashy as the fireworks at the end. I don’t know quite what my expectations were — but this confounded and exceeded them.

Masked by J.R. Gray

J.R. Gray is another new-to-me author I’ve had my eye on. And…well…Masked didn’t go over too well for me. The story is bogged down with way too much meat and not enough bone structure that made for a disjointed short story without clear intentions. Cliches and improbabilities abounded in the form of arbitrary geography, problematic characterizations, an inhuman speed of healing after a bashing…all the et cetera. These characters were so all over the place (figuratively and literally bouncing around between different settings) that the focus of any critical moment defining this Second-Chance Romance got lost. Not a win.

The Queen’s Reflection by Kris Ripper

“That’s how it feels. Like a theft. Like I don’t deserve to be known, or seen.”

Okey Doke, I have BIG HEARTS for Kris Ripper, and I really liked The Queen’s Reflection. Just…I have no idea what genre this was — like at all. The time and setting were way over my head and completely out of my grasp. Fantasy? IDK. There’s not much room for it within the confines of a short story, but a little bit more world-building would’ve helped steer me to the right spot in my imagination. But, the THEME grabbed me by the throat and captivated me for the duration. This story of a queen who is hiding in plain sight from their True Self, every day wearing a mask that doesn’t fit, and only shedding that mask once a year in exchange for one that allows them to breathe — and finally, FINALLY being seen as-is by two kind strangers. It’s a story of self-acceptance and maybe, just maybe, seeing a way to live out loud. This was gorgeous and erotic as all get out. Loved it!

Touched by Roan Parrish

“Night was day and day was empty and emptiness was constant.”

New Orleans is one of my most favorite places on earth. There’s a relaxed energy where just about anything goes as long as it goes with gusto. Touched steps back to 1929 and into some of the hoodoo mystique the city is known for. The story is sentimental and artful, a tad hedonistic, and a bittersweet reminder to make the most of the present. This isn’t a typical romance with a solid HEA where the characters go forth together into the sunset — but none of these stories really are. It’s romantic nonetheless in the way it captures the time period, the vitality, the vibe and characteristics of New Orleans. And, I think it’s pretty romantic in the sense that there is an overwhelming calm that descends when we embrace living in the here and now — even when the future looks bleak.

Advance Review Copy generously provided by the publisher.

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About the Authors:

Santino Hassell

Santino Hassell is a writer of queer romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

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J.C. Lillis

J.C. Lillis writes contemporary YA novels about fandom, friendship, love, and art. Her Mardi Gras story was inspired by crazy days and nights in her college theater, where part of her heart still beats under the floorboards. She lives in Baltimore with her patient family and a cat who intends to eat her someday.

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J.R. Gray

When not staying up all night writing, J.R. Gray can be found at the gym where it’s half assumed he is a permanent resident to fulfill his self-inflicted masochism. A dominant and a pilot, Gray finds it hard to be in the passenger seat of any car. He frequently interrupts real life, including normal sleep patterns and conversations, to jot down notes or plot bunnies. Commas are the bane of his existence even though it’s been fully acknowledged they are necessary, they continue to baffle and bewilder. If Gray wasn’t writing…well, that’s not possible. The buildup of untold stories would haunt Gray into an early grave, insanity or both. The idea of haunting has always appealed to him. J.R. Gray is genderqueer and prefers he/him pronouns.

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Kris Ripper

Kris Ripper lives in the great state of California and hails from the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris shares a converted garage with a toddler, can do two pull-ups in a row, and can write backwards. (No, really.) Kris is genderqueer and prefers the z-based pronouns because they’re freaking sweet. Ze has been writing fiction since ze learned how to write, and boring zir stuffed animals with stories long before that.

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Roan Parrish

Roan Parrish is currently wandering between Philadelphia and New Orleans. When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.

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