New Release Blitz: JFH: Justin F**king Halstead by GiGi DeGraham (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  JFH: Justin F**king Halstead

Author: GiGi DeGraham

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/16/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 80200

Genre: Contemporary Sports, contemporary, new adult, gay, friends to lovers, geeks, sports, athletes, university students, professional football, celebrities, sexual assault, disabilities, closeted, family dynamics, hurt/comfort

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Ethan Andrews never saw Justin Halstead coming. A broody jock with a propensity for studying. A hot-mess conundrum who, for some reason, continues to show up at Ethan’s dorm room door.

Something is happening between them, but one particular sport stands in the way. Ethan never imagined falling for an overbearing, overprotective athlete with a Hall of Fame future and a secret heart of gold.

Taking the giant leap out of the closet nearly killed Ethan, and no one seems to understand his desire to close that door and stay inside his safe place. Strangely, Ethan finds he’s not alone, and it’s with the last person he ever expected to be his biggest supporter…

Future NFL Quarterback—Justin F**king Halstead.
(A trope-bending love story)


JFH: Justin F**king Halstead
GiGi DeGraham © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Justin ran his hand over his jean-covered thigh and brought the other up to his forehead, shielding his eyes as he focused on his textbook, seeing nothing. Don’t look, don’t look, he told himself as his knee began to bounce. His fingers pulled the curved and frayed brim of his ballcap lower as if it could camouflage him. Justin pinched the bridge of his nose, and he knew he was going to do it. Down to his soul, he couldn’t not look. He couldn’t resist it—this undeniable urge. It happened every time.

And he looked.

It was the guy.

Ethan Andrews was supposed to be studying for an end-of-the-first-week fall quiz just like Justin, but currently, he joked around with his study group, who all shushed one another through their bouts of laughter in the library. Ethan grinned, nodding convincingly through his fight, gripping his side as if in pain. His shoulders shook, his head moving back and forth in what seemed like a desperate plea to make it stop. The others in the group were nearly goners, too, as they tried to abide by the library aide, who warned them once again. This was her third trek back to their table. Something over there was beyond funny. The entire group was on the verge of getting kicked out of the fourth-floor study lounge.

Justin’s cheek pinched as he tried not to smile himself. He’d seen Ethan Andrews in action like this before. He was just funny, or so Justin thought, though he’d never actually been in on the joke since he didn’t even know the guy. When Justin would see him on campus, Ethan was always with others: a friend or someone from a class. Justin rarely saw him alone. There never seemed to be an opportunity to strike up a conversation or accidentally bump into him. Not that Justin would.

But he’d turned this strange obsession into a terrible habit, this expert-level Ethan-watching. So, Justin wasn’t buying it, not when he caught the brief moments that made him wonder. The ones overlooked by others when Justin saw those barely there glimpses of sadness concealed behind brave smiles and mixed in with the guffaws. He peeked between his fingers. And there, that little swallow, the quick glance downward, and Justin waited for it. The telltale subconscious rub of fingers across the forehead before Ethan went right back to laughing.

The girl working as an aide approached the table again. This time, her firm fists were pissed-off-planted on her hips. She waved around at the other students trying to study, and Justin quickly looked down again. The entire table turned to take in the only other student on the floor: him.

Justin flipped the geology lab workbook page so he wouldn’t look suspicious, but he hadn’t read a damn thing since Ethan had arrived and joined the group. This guy was everywhere, all the time. At the Coffee Stop, in the science lab, in his geology class, running around the track, in the gym, and now, in one of the last places Justin thought he’d see him, in the library. The one place Justin thought he’d be safe from his one-and-only distraction and the constantly nagging question: Which was the real Ethan?

Realizing he couldn’t do it, not with Ethan-ology overshadowing geology, Justin packed up his things, slipped out, and headed back to his dorm. He’d have to try to study there. Though it was nearly impossible to concentrate in his room, with all the testosterone and adrenaline-driven antics in the hallways, a football always flying, or someone knocking on the door every five minutes to see if he wanted to join them or go to a party.

Despite the chaos, at least he’d be free from the close proximity of Ethan Andrews in the library. Justin sighed; his reaction to the guy confused him more every time. Yeah, he knew what his mind and body were trying to tell him, but it was also something he could never pursue. Sure, the world had changed in leaps and bounds, but if he wanted to play ball, he had to keep that shit locked down. Oh, the NHL had tried it with “Pride Night” and special jerseys, but even they’d skated that back faster than a five-hole slap shot.

The media vultures were waiting for someone else to get outed in any sport, not just football, and it wouldn’t be Justin. At least two big leaguers had come out, but still. Not when he was only in his second year of college ball. Not when he didn’t even know for himself. And his parents, he didn’t think they would care. They weren’t the problem. Justin knew exactly who the problem was.

Justin unlocked the door to his dorm room, dodging bodies roughhousing, and dropped his backpack on the bed. Frustrated with himself, he pulled out his books and began again. He was a good twenty minutes into preparing for the quiz the next day when he realized he’d left his phone and some of his notes at the library. Justin squeezed his eyes closed tight for a moment.

I can be such a dumbass sometimes.

Justin knocked on his suitemate’s door. He used Shawn’s phone to call himself, hoping someone, the aide—he prayed—would hear it buzzing on the plastic seat. That hope died, swirled a few times, and went right down the drain when someone else answered his phone.

“This is Justin Halstead’s phone,” a guy said, and Justin ran a frustrated hand over his face, already knowing who had his phone.

“This is Justin,” he said.

“Oh, hey, Justin, this is Ethan Andrews,” Ethan said.

Of course, it is.

Justin could only shake his head. This is what he got for being so distracted, a lurker—an Ethan-watcher—and here came karma. Maybe not a lurker since that was creepy, but Justin was…well, very aware of Ethan, like, constantly aware. Yeah, he was going with that word choice and steering clear of anything sounding more stalkerish. He definitely wasn’t that guy.

Ethan’s bright and teasing tone didn’t falter. “Yeah, I guess you figured out you left your phone in the library. And who knew you took such copious notes, Justin Halstead.” Then, he laughed.

Justin was momentarily distracted by the sound of Ethan’s great laugh. He could hear papers shuffling in the background and then a pen being intentionally clicked several times.

“Nice pen, too,” Ethan said.

“Uh…” Justin had no words, hoping Ethan would keep talking. Keep laughing. And holy shit, Ethan knew his name, his full name.

“It’s really smooth; the ink just glides. No wonder your notes are so neat,” Ethan said.

Justin silently agreed. It was a great pen, a wide-point TUL, and it was like writing with soft butter. Justin liked it because it felt faster than most, and he could get everything down before his professor moved on.

“Yeah, um, I like it,” Justin said, sounding like an idiot. He shook his head; Jesus, he could do better than this.

Ethan belted out a laugh. “Tell me how you really feel.”

There was a pause Justin didn’t fill.

“All right,” Ethan continued, “down to business, it seems. Where are you? I’ll swing by and drop off your things. I’m about to leave the library now.”

“Yeah, I’m at the football dorm.” Justin’s knee was at it again, and he pressed his heel to the floor to make it stop. He glanced at Shawn’s phone screen when there was no response.

Ethan let out a nervous laugh. “Eh, maybe you come pick it up from me, then?”

“Nah, man, it’s cool. You guys were studying for the quiz, right?” Justin asked, slightly panicked as his suitemate walked into his room and glanced at him.

“‘It’s cool,’ he says. Me in the football dorm,” Ethan said slowly, questioningly.

“It is. Just come up the stairs, and I’m in 214. And thanks for finding my things.”

“Yep. Anything good on here I can snoop through?”

Justin thought for a moment. “Hardly, but, hey, thanks again.”

“Yeah,” Ethan said and hung up.

Justin thanked Shawn as he handed the phone back to him. “I left mine at the library.”

Glancing around, Justin made sure his shit was squared away in his room after Shawn left. His heart hammered, and the shirt beneath his armpits began to feel sweaty.

Holy shit.

Ethan Andrews was coming to his room. Justin could finally get his answer. He frowned. Maybe getting his answers wasn’t the greatest idea because then Justin would have no reason to continue keeping an eye on Ethan.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

GiGi DeGraham lives, plays, and learns in New Orleans. She is a proud southerner and enjoys fixing up old houses and writing. Most of her story and character ideas develop while sanding and painting. She loves to roller skate and has a favorite author-named cat called Irving, after Washington Irving. You’ll always find her with an audiobook in her ear and listening to everything narrated by Kirt Graves.

GiGi prefers the outdoors when the weather permits, going on rock and fossil hunts or visiting local rock shops. Otherwise, she’s clacking away at her keyboard until the wee hours. GiGi firmly believes downtime should be spent on a porch swing. GiGi is a life-long supporter of the LGBTQ+ community.

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New Release Blitz: The Quicks, The Deads, and Me by Don Hilton (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Quicks, The Deads, and Me

Author: Don Hilton

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2024

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 58600

Genre: Horror/Thriller, Paranormal, new adult, interracial, nonbinary, trans, questioning, serial killer, ghosts, mythical creature

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Mazie’s a serial killer. She’s been one for a while. She knows that, of course, and does an excellent job of hiding it.

Then, there’s Sk’doo. Something less than a ghost, it’s doing its thing, zooming around its cemetery, listening to Deads. Its routine changes when a body is placed in a nearby pond. In learning how it hap-pened, Sk’doo discovers its Quick friend, Kaz, is in danger.

Who’s Kaz? She’s lonely, afraid, and confused. She’s ghosting her way through life, preferring the peace of a cemetery to the pain of living. At least until Sk’doo causes her to meet Mazie who brings light and excitement.

Mazie is manipulative, opinionated, and cunning. She decides to “”educate”” Kaz, taking delight in creat-ing a series of uncomfortable situations for her more-than-willing victim. Kaz begins to blossom and falls hard for her new friend.

All the same, Sk’doo must warn Kaz of the danger Mazie brings. The problem is how, when Kaz has no idea Sk’doo exists.


The Quicks, The Deads, and Me
Don Hilton © 2024
All Rights Reserved


“Things are different when you see the other side.”

“Cousin Freddy is the smartest of us all.”

“There’s no use arguing, I just won’t do it.”

I call myself Sk’doo. Not because it’s my name, but because I know everything is called something and I’m part of everything, so I need to be called something. It’s early morning in this place where I am. As usual, just the Deads and me. But that’ll change when the Quicks begin to arrive.

Quicks always do the same things the same way, so the first is due soon, running. After that, it’ll be the one with the dog, walking. Then the caretaker, if they’re working. After that, any number of Quicks throughout the light of day.

And, sure enough, here’s the first Quick: Lady Runner. For years she has passed through almost every early morning. When her hair’s long she pulls it back from her face, especially when the weather’s warm.

I have no legs, so I’ve never run. But I wonder about it. Wondering is one of the things I do. I know Lady Runner enjoys gliding through her every-morning circuit of Outside Road. Her face is calm. I hear her breathing, but it’s not labored. When the kind-of-portly Quicks run, it looks painful, but they do it anyway.

I have something I suppose is pain, that hurts, but when it hurts, I stop. I used to feel it only during lightning storms which always make me zoom to hide. But that changed when they started stringing cables on the tall posts on the far side of Roadway. Even though I can’t get too close, I feel zings from them too.

“In-out-in-out-in-out. The cats are worse than kids!”

Besides the lightning and the cables, the zing comes from machinery. Now, it comes from the Quicks.

I enjoy being near Quicks. Feeling what they feel and helping them find calm. Now, it hurts to approach most of them. It started with the watches they wear and grew from there. Lady Runner, for instance, carries a box and has small objects in her ears that cause zings. So, I keep away.

I don’t know what the zing-things are, exactly. I know Quicks talk to them and voices come from them. Music too, sometimes. But I can’t get close enough to know because they hurt and I don’t do things that hurt.

I am fascinated by Quicks, even when I have to keep my distance. But though I like, wonder about, and help them, I don’t know them.

What I know are the Deads.


“I like it when you kiss me like that.”

“Don’t get near Buddy. That dog farts!”

“Yes, shrimp are treyf. I still eat them.”

I don’t remember not being here. I sometimes wonder if I am here. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But I know what I do during the time I’m somewhat certain I’m here.

I listen to the Dead—just listen.

I used to try to talk to Deads but gave up when I came to know they don’t listen. I wonder if, maybe, because Quicks don’t listen.

Deads talk all the time. They don’t all talk all the time, or all talk all at once. It’s just that there are plenty of Deads, so one of them is bound to be talking. I used to think they waited until I was near to speak but now I wonder if they talk when I’m not around. Not that it matters, because I’m the only one listening.

“Get out of that tree before you fall and break your neck.”

I remember everything I hear, from both the Quicks and the Deads. I know what I know of Quicks because of what they feel, say, and do. With Deads, it’s all what they have to say.

Deads don’t say all they have to say all at once. It comes out a little at a time. They don’t tell stories. They don’t tell things in order. And they repeat—all the time—they repeat. But if you listen and remember, you can put things together.

A few things about Ezme Evans, for example: Ezme holds Edge on Hill. She became Quick in 1824 and Dead in 1828. She spoke and knew her letters by the time she was walking and reading and doing numbers before catching Summer Disease. Her favorite colors are blue and yellow, the name of her favorite cat is “Skipper,” and her papa calls her “Peapod.” Her last words as a Quick were, “I see where I am going.” Ezme has never said what she saw or where she was going as she moved from Quick to Dead. Maybe, someday, she will.

It takes a while to learn about any Dead. Some of them talk right away. Some of them hardly ever do. What they say usually comes slow and gradual, like water seeping into stone.

I wonder if, maybe, I’m a stone.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Don Hilton was raised the second of three sons in a small Pennsylvania town. Easily bored, his life has been a broad mix of experiences. He’s struggled with the blues and is pleased that time grants some measure of peace. He prefers his peanut butter sandwiches with strawberry jam.

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Book Blitz: Brotherhood Vol. 3 by Willa Okati (Excerpt & Giveaway)


Title:  The Brotherhood Vol. 3

Author: Willa Okati

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: July 5, 2024

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 272 pages

Genre: Action Adventure, Box Sets, Dark Fantasy, New Releases, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Comedy, Urban Fantasy

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Under Hill and Over the Bar — It’s a Midsummer’s Eve nightmare for Laurence, who has set up camp deeply in the closet. Keelan’s more interested in encouraging him to embrace his true self.

Tunnel of Love — Christian, the youngest member of The Brotherhood, is also a male stripper. Ewan treats Christian like a real person. Still, Christian will have to accept more than Ewan’s geekiness when his fantasy comes to life.

Salt of the… Earth? — A former male escort, Alex is hot, he’s hip, and he knows how to play the dating game. He’s out at Amour Magique with one goal in mind: find someone absolutely down to earth, have a fabulous night, and hopefully get laid. What he finds is Dylan.

Once Upon a Liam — Jordan’s just been through a really special level of Hell, and desperately need to work off some stress. He wants Liam — and Liam is what he gets in his bed, every way Jordan and Liam could possibly want.


The Brotherhood Vol. 3
Willa Okati
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Willa Okati
Excerpt from Under Hill and Over the Bar

This isn’t a dance club — it’s an insane asylum. You could get arrested for doing that in public in, oh, I don’t know, how many states?

Pressed tightly against the wall of Amour Magique’s dance floor, Laurence couldn’t help admiring the way tight leather trousers were put together on a pair of dancers, lacing up the sides of either leg with long thongs. He watched wide-eyed as the two men, undulating to the driving rhythm of the music, stripped off their pants without once losing the beat, strips of leather now slithering loose like snakes. He also really couldn’t help seeing and admiring the fact that neither dancer wore anything underneath but their bare skin.

So? He was male, and gay. As were they. Very much of the gay persuasion, if the visual was anything to go by. Naked and erect, the two gyrated chest to chest and kissed each other as if they wanted to drink one another’s essence from the mouth down. They were a sight to make any artist weep, both tall and thin, brown as nuts, corded with runner’s muscles, and with nearly identical cocks pressed up against one another’s stomachs.

And no one else around looked like they noticed a damn thing!

Well, no, that wasn’t exactly true. The two got a few looks — of admiration. Envy. Desire. But no one was jumping in there to tell them to get their pants back on, oh, no.

Laurence felt as though he should look away but couldn’t seem to make himself. If, however, one of those men happened to turn around, and… oh. Oh, wow. Yep, face about and present — bending over to grasp his bent knees, ass in the air, a look of utter abandon and excitement written across his face. The man’s partner spread those ass cheeks that were already shiny with some sort of lubricant and rubbed deep inside the cleft. The dancer’s mouth fell open with a wanton sort of lust.

So did Laurence’s.

Male! Gay! Free show! Hello?

Leaning down to press a score of kisses to his lover’s bowed spine, the dominant man began to thrust himself inside what must feel like a wet, silken iron fist. Laurence breathed in deeply as the man seated himself with short, sharp thrusts, not stopping until his balls slapped his partner’s thighs. The look on the other man’s face made something twist up and ache in Laurence’s stomach. God, but it had been so long since he’d…

As the two men began to have sex in earnest, Laurence forced himself to look away and walk on, out of earshot of their exclamations of pleasure. Free porn was all well and good, but when it brought home the truth that you weren’t getting any and hadn’t had any for a few years, the feeling of being an outsider cut too sharply.

Yeah, he hadn’t had sex since the nasty breakup with his last partner, a man whom he’d loved not wisely but too well. The bastard hadn’t respected Laurence’s wish to keep their relationship quiet, and he’d gotten Laurence fired from his job. Oh, sure, people said you couldn’t lose your employment for being gay, but it still happened. And then the jerk had had the nerve to blame Laurence for being too uptight! From there, things had only gone further downhill. He would have sued for palimony, but he just wanted to get as far away from a hostile ex-lover as possible. Anyway, once Laurence got to Charleston and had sought legal advice, Simon had advised against it.

He shook his maudlin thoughts away.

All the eye candy aside, he was a man, and he had a mission: get out. Amour Magique was weirder than Liam, and that was saying a lot.

As he walked, Laurence kept his back against and clung tightly to the walls of the dance club, easing his way past the throng of gyrating men on the main floor, feeling behind him with his hands for a way out. Wall, wall, wall, wall — uh oh, not wall —

“Oh, um, sorry about that. I, uh, I…” Laurence’s voice trailed off as he looked up, then up some more, at the pile of muscles vaguely shaped like a man, dressed up in tusks and a piggish snout as if it were Halloween. He swallowed hard. “What the hell?”

The man’s companion, a slim, almost lissome type, painted a pale blue all over with a head full of quills instead of hair, giggled. He was the one Laurence had groped without meaning to, but he kind of thought Mr. Pig objected more. Quills just giggled and oozed closer to the heaps of man he seemed to be attached to.

“Quigley,” the gropee crooned, “aren’t you going to do something? Defend my honor?”

Quigley — and wasn’t that a cute name for someone who could bench-press The Rock? — growled around his tusks and took a step toward Laurence, balling his hands into fists.

Laurence had never been one to pick a fight where the odds were better than even that he’d end up a greasy stain on the carpet rather than the winner. He backed up, shaking his head. “Sorry, guys, sorry. Didn’t mean any hassle. I’m harmless, see? You two go back to… whatever it was you were doing. I’ll just be on my way.”

“Hmm.” Quills tossed his head with a slightly clashing sound, like window blinds coming together. “He doesn’t seem properly sorry, Quiggy. Hit him one for me. One good punch for your little prickly-bear?”

Quiggy let loose with another ominous rumble.

Laurence panicked. “Holy shit, it’s Batman!” he blurted, pointing over the couple’s shoulders. When, of all things, they actually turned to look, Laurence took the low road out and rushed past another crowd of dancers. Once he had cleared them, he looked back but couldn’t see the pair.

Letting out a huge breath of relief, Laurence leaned against a patch of wall he was sure was wall, and wiped a hand across his forehead. Like I said, insane asylum. From the moment he’d stepped through the door, he had pegged Amour Magique as a nuthouse, and he wasn’t inclined to change his mind now that he’d gotten close to yet another pair of its more colorful clubbies.

Of course, seeing his friends, Liam included, seemingly vanish in puffs of smoke the moment they walked inside hadn’t helped. As Laurence had stood by himself on the edge of a dance floor he could have sworn hadn’t been there a few moments before, staring at it owlishly, he’d received his first threat from an absurdly tall, thin man with really big fists who’d asked what he thought he was looking at.

Damn Liam for not telling him this was masquerade night, or whatever. Everywhere Laurence turned, he saw strange thing after stranger thing, most of them on two legs, sometimes three, acting as if they were having the time of their lives. Most of them bristled when they caught Laurence staring and made various threats, most of which he’d been able to talk his way out of… though his ear still rang from where a beefy type had smacked him upside the head.

He’d been against the idea of coming to Amour Magique from the beginning. No way could Laurence afford to be outed — again — not when he taught elementary school. As it was already, rumors were bad enough; being spotted here would kill his teaching career.

Running one hand over the goatee and mustache he’d grown at David’s suggestion to disguise himself a little, Laurence shook his head. A Darth Vader mask would have done the job better in a crowd like this.

Getting the hell out of Dodge would have been ideal, but for some reason, Laurence couldn’t seem to find the exit — and he’d circled the dance floor three times. If he were superstitious, he’d swear the club wanted to keep him there. If he were claustrophobic, he’d have begun to panic about the walls closing in. Being Laurence, he was becoming desperate for a bar and a drink. Away from the madding crowd, if at all possible.

And there, like a beacon of light out of the darkness, a way opened up and shone before him. A short hallway. Didn’t look to be an exit from the club itself, but any port in a freak-show storm was a welcome sight. Laurence made as quick a beeline for the warmly lit corridor as he could, narrowly missing another couple of bizarre types and bypassing, with effort, one man down on his knees, eagerly swallowing a tall blond’s cock while kneading his lover’s thighs like a giant cat.

Laurence might even have looked twice at them.

Then, he was out of the crush, in the hallway and, oh, yes, blessed be, there looked to be a bar at the end of it. He could smell the beer. Sweet beer!

Laurence all but raced to get there and didn’t give a damn about how desperate he must look. If the shoe fit, right?

One, two, buckle my…

Purchase at Changeling Press


Meet the Author

Willa Okati (AKA Will) is made of many things: imagination, coffee, stray cat hairs, daydreams, more coffee, kitchen experimentation, a passion for winter weather, a little more coffee, a whole lot of flowering plants and a lifelong love of storytelling. Will’s definitely one of the quiet ones you have to watch out for, though he — not she anymore — is a lot less quiet these days.

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New Release Blitz: A Little More Forgiveness by Pauley J. Ray (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  A Little More Forgiveness

Series: Hot Property, Book Three

Author: Pauley J. Ray

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/02/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 120100

Genre: Contemporary, grief, polyamory, throuple, triad, menage, white collar, attorney, mountain man, real estate developer, forced proximity, one bed, enemies to lovers

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Gabriel Sanchez is a man running away from his past, unaware it’s about to catch up to him. Stuck in an isolated cabin with two strangers is the last thing he planned. One guy, a bear of a man shouldering intolerable emotional pain, Gabe instinctively wants to soothe. The other, kinder, gentler, and just wishing to be seen, Gabe desperately wants to show him how visible he is. However, the harder he tries to keep both at bay, the more they fight and the closer they get until his heart begins to desire things he’s promised himself it can never have again.

Leo Taylor has yearned for approval his whole life, and as the lawyer negotiating the sale of a run-down cabin and its land, this time he may just earn it. But, trying to keep the peace between a cocky New Yorker and the grumpiest man alive is slowly taking its toll. During their confinement, secrets are uncovered that will force Leo to make a tough choice. Close the sale and gain the approval he craves, or follow his heart and fight for the men for whom he’s falling head over heels.

Mitchell Houghton is drowning in grief and guilt following the death of his wife four years ago. Then, along comes a lawyer with an outsider who claims to own 50 percent of his home, his land. After years of self-imposed isolation, Mitch is now trapped with them both in his small cabin. Determined to make their lives a misery, he almost succeeds, until their unwanted interaction and attention makes him remember the man he used to be—the one he thought lost forever—giving him another chance at a happiness he’s not sure he deserves.


A Little More Forgiveness
Pauley J Ray © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

“I want that property and its land sold, understood?” My stepfather’s voice rasped out of the phone’s speaker, the harshness of his tone echoing around my tiny office space. “You hear me, boy?”

Grinding my teeth together, I swallowed down the retort on the tip of my tongue exactly the way he’d taught me, instantly resenting how automatic it was to not answer back. Instilled from childhood, Malcolm Taylor’s words were the only ones allowed to be voiced while he spoke, so you’d better keep quiet or else.

The beating I’d taken for interrupting him the one and only time I disobeyed had been a swift lesson in what to expect if I stepped out of line again.

I was a damn quick learner and since the age of six had kept my end of the bargain.

“I said, do you hear me, boy?”

Now I could speak. “Yes, sir, I hear you.”


“No, sir, I won’t screw it up.”

He let out a harrumph. “Make sure you don’t. You’re well aware of the consequences if you do.” Asshole. In addition to my inadequacy being the reason he would lay off his own staff and turf me out of my office, as he owned the building and a whole load more in town, he’d also gone for my one major weakness.

My sister. He’d stop paying the medical bills for Caitlin.

“This is your last chance, Leo.” Then there was silence as he abruptly ended the call.

I’m twenty-fucking-nine for Chrissake, and he still treats me as if I were that same cowering six-year-old. More disturbing was the fact I allowed him to do so. I slouched in my chair, exhausted by the whole conversation and annoyed at myself for kissing ass. Again.

You’re well aware of the consequences if you do.

He’d used the same threat, for years, to ruthlessly keep me in line. My overwhelming guilt had made me the perfect target to assuage his own. It’d been fourteen years, half a lifetime ago, but the sight of Caitlin’s inert body floating face down in the swimming pool never diminished. Arms extended, skin pale, her long black hair fanning out around her…

Deliberately pushing the haunting images away, I carefully packed them in my imaginary mental box, shut the lid, and locked them up tight.

Swiveling the cheap vinyl chair around to face the street beyond the picture window beside me, instead of the relic-of-the-seventies, wood-paneled, second-floor office I worked in, I stared out at the snow lazily drifting down for the fifth day in a row. The amount this year had been unusually heavy, but unlike everyone else, I welcomed it, watching in fascination as the fat flakes covered the sidewalk in a thick white blanket, concealing all the imperfections underneath. With little over a week until the holidays, Melrose Bay had turned into the perfect picture-postcard scene. The large Christmas tree standing tall in the town square had been decorated in the same multicolored lights strung along the rest of Main Street. The silver star on top glowed brightly, and with the snow falling all around, the whole place felt magical—my favorite time of the year.

A large black Mercedes SUV glided by below my window, snagging my attention. The car slowly drew to a halt before the driver parallel parked like a pro on the other side of the street.

A minute later, the door opened wide, and a man emerged. Same as the vehicle, he’d dressed head to toe in black. Heavy, tailored, black, woolen overcoat, black suit, black leather gloves, black shoes, he was a stark contrast to the blinding white of the snow all around him. His coat shifted open as he moved in the cold air, revealing a white shirt and the pale lilac of his tie, the single hint of color in the monochrome attire.

With his naturally olive-toned skin and dark, almost-black hair pushed up and off his face, he could have stepped right out of a gangster movie from the 1950s. Looking both ways before crossing the street only accentuated the strong set of his jaw, the high slash of his cheekbones, and his perfectly straight nose.

He walked with a confidence I’d rarely ever seen, even in Boston, causing my pulse to tick up a couple of notches. Cocky? Very likely. Arrogant? Almost definitely. But on him the lazy swagger and don’t-fuck-with-me attitude worked like a charm, making him seem larger than life.

Still ogling him as he made his way toward the sidewalk on my side of the street, it wasn’t until he disappeared from view, directly below my window, things rapidly fell into place.

He’d come here to meet me, and taking a quick glance at the sunburst clock on the wall, I noted he’d arrived a half hour early.

This guy is the one I had to try to persuade the prickliest man on earth to sell his cabin and land to. The man who’d make the difference between me basking in my stepfather’s praise for five minutes, or being made to feel like the inadequate disappointment Malcolm had come to expect, responsible for him having to lay off his staff and my sister losing complete funding for her medical care.

The footsteps on the stairs grew louder, until my 12:30 p.m. appointment stood outside the glass-paned door to my office. “Do not fuck this up, Taylor,” I mumbled under my breath. “Do not fuck it up.”

My eyes locked onto the man’s beautiful face, and when he raised his head to look straight at me, our gazes connected. The intensity of his eyes hit me right in the chest, and thank goodness I remained sitting because when he smiled at me, I actually went dizzy at the sight of those gorgeously full lips parting as the corners of his mouth tilted up.

The door opening, the sound grating loud on the hardwood floor, and him walking inside immediately brought my gawping to a halt. I had to be smart, professional, and make a good impression on the guy, so how come it got more and more difficult to concentrate on doing so, the closer to me he got?

He paused in front of my desk, the exotic fragrance of his cologne teasing my senses as blackcurrant and spice assailed me. I breathed him in deeply, sucking his scent into my lungs, imprinting his essence. He removed his gloves, taking his time to pull each manicured finger out of the leather encasing them before extending his right hand. I stood and absently noted he wasn’t as tall as I’d originally thought. Not surprising as I’m well over six feet. He was likely five ten, five eleven tops. Amazing how his persona made him appear so much bigger, and so much more confident.

As I gazed down into his face, this close, I clearly saw the color of his eyes. Dark jade green around the pupil but growing paler closer to the edges of his iris. They were mesmerizing, and being the sole focus of his attention was slightly unnerving, yet oddly exciting at the same time.

“Mr. Taylor?” For some reason, I’d expected his New York accent to be stronger, likely the result of watching too many cop shows. Instead, the hard edges of his voice were rounded off, making it sound deep and silky smooth.

I nodded, extending my own hand, and liked the feel of his fingers when they enclosed me in his grip. His handshake was firm and full of business but didn’t prevent the heat of his palm from warming me right through as I glanced down to the single connection we’d created. He squeezed a bit tighter, sending a jolt of electricity zipping along my arm and had my gaze flicking up to his face.

“Leo, please,” I eventually replied, unable to prevent the huskiness from creeping into my voice.

He maintained eye contact, his gaze assessing, my hand still encased in his. “Leo,” he replied, his voice dipping, and damn did my name sound good coming from him. His lips quirked, like he knew the effect he had on me, making me realize I had to get my act together, pronto, or I’d lose myself in him completely.

“Mr. Sanchez.”

He shook his head, amused. “Gabe, please.”

In all the correspondence between us, he’d always signed his full name of Gabriel Sanchez. Now, being allowed to use the shortened version of his name gave me the strange feeling I’d somehow been rewarded. “Gabe,” I replied, savoring the feeling of familiarity. His smile returned and so did my gawping as I reluctantly released his grip to offer him a seat.

“Can I get you a coffee?” I needed something to do for a few minutes to try to regain my equilibrium. Getting coffee was normal, mundane, and I jumped at the task when he agreed.

“With a little creamer, please.” After moving to pick up the carafe off the polished chrome coffee maker, I poured us both a cup, added his creamer, and returned to my desk. “Thank you.” He reached for the cup as I placed it in front of him, our fingers lightly touching. Was he doing this on purpose to unnerve me? Technically, I should be looking out for Mitchell Houghton’s best interests, after all, despite the man’s clear reluctance to sell, so maybe he was trying to keep me off-balance.

He needn’t have bothered, as unknown to him, we both had the same agenda. I needed the sale to go through, likely more than he did, so any underhanded tactics on his part were pointless. Though I’d be interested to see what happens when he meets my client and tries his subtle flirting act on him.

“What time are we meeting Mr. Houghton?” he asked.

I glanced out the window at the snow currently falling a lot heavier now than earlier, meaning the roads would be getting tricky. “I think we may have to postpone today’s meeting.” I gestured outside. “I’ve not visited the cabin yet, but I know the route isn’t great, and by car at least, it’s one way in and one way out. The snow will be laying thick on the trail so I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”

Gabe’s eyes narrowed. “Good idea or not, we have arranged the meeting for this afternoon, and I have specifically driven up from New York to be here.” He placed his coffee on the desk, his relaxed demeanor gone, replaced by a serious expression. “We will be having the meeting today, Mr. Taylor, or the deal is off.”

Shit. I was back to being Mr. Taylor. I held up my hands in defeat. “If that’s what you want.”

“It is.”

I nodded. “We can take my 4×4. As nice as your SUV looks, I doubt we’d make it on the road to the cabin without getting stuck.”

He appeared about to disagree, but another check outside and he must have decided against it. Instead, he stood, picked up his leather gloves, and adjusted his overcoat. “Then I suggest we get moving. The sooner this deal is done, the sooner we can return before the roads become impassable.”

Standing, too, I walked over to the coat rack, grabbed my ancient and worn-out jacket, and shrugged it on. After slinging my messenger bag containing all the relevant paperwork over my shoulder, we headed out the door and down the stairs. Pulling open the main entrance door, the blast of cold air swirling around my face made me shiver. I stepped aside, allowing Gabe to slip by me and exit onto the sidewalk, and took another discrete sniff as he passed. He really did smell good.

“My car is out back.” I locked up and turned to walk down the street. “Please, follow me.” We walked behind the office to my beat-up Jeep, with Gabe trailing quietly behind me, too quietly if you asked me. I guessed this might be another tactic to keep me off guard, because sensing him close but not seeing him definitely made me nervous and caused me to wonder if I’d pissed off the only people who’d expressed a serious interest in buying Mitchell Houghton’s property.

After initially contacting me when he received the sale offer letter from Skyscraper Construction, Mr. Houghton emailed the details to my office for me to review. I’d tried suggesting we meet at his property, so I fully understood what, exactly, the company intended to buy, but my newest client promptly disabused me of the notion when he flat out refused. His prerogative. of course, but not getting a chance to see the cabin and land left me at a distinct disadvantage. How could I fully represent him if I had no clue as to the scale of what the deal included?

After my own investigations at the planning department and library to evaluate the size of the property and relative costs for land in the area, I concluded the offer was an impressive one. Yet, my client remained reluctant to sign on the dotted line.

I’d also done some digging around for more information on Mitchell Houghton himself and discovered how close he was to losing everything. In arrears with his mortgage and having taken out numerous personal loans with no clear way to pay them off, he didn’t have many options left open to him. Selling offered him the ideal way out, but he kept digging his heels in, and I had no clue why.

Adding an errant brother into the mix, who may also have a claim on the property, had only increased my confusion, leaving me with more questions than answers. The original copy of the deed to the cabin had been lost in a fire at the county offices a number of years ago, so I couldn’t tell if Mitchell owned the place outright or if his brother Jared owned a share too.

All I did know was I had a lot of work to do to persuade my client to at least listen to what Gabriel Sanchez had to say before he threw his whole life in the dumpster.

I keenly heard Malcolm’s words reverberating inside my head to not screw it up.

I would, of course.

It’s what I did, after all.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Pauley J Ray has been making up stories in his head for as long as he can remember, and now gets to write those stories down in his own gay romantic fiction, involving sexy, complicated, and flawed characters searching for their happily ever after.

When not writing, he loves meeting up with friends and can’t wait to get outdoors with his husband, hiking, camping and traveling to new and exciting places as often as they can.

He feels extremely lucky to be able to sit at his laptop, all day, every day, creating the heartfelt, angsty and passionate romance books he himself loves to read.

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New Release Blitz: Siphany and the Whale by Susan Jane Bigelow (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Siphany and the Whale

Series: Siphany and Lurbira, Book One

Author: Susan Jane Bigelow

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/25/2024

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 93700

Genre: Science Fiction, sci-fi, lit/genre fiction, action/adventure, trans, cyborg/undead/altered beings, space battles, kidnapping/abduction, social anxiety, violence

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You blow up one crappy little space drone, and everything goes to hell.

Siphany was just trying to be nice when she returned the drone she’d sort-of-accidentally blasted a hole in. But when its owner tries to kidnap the reclusive space mapper and steal her beloved ship, Siphany teams up with pint-sized robotic psychopath, Lurbira Call, to make a daring escape.

Soon Siphany and Lurbira, along with unwanted passengers Isan, the undead teenage cyborg; Siphany’s enigmatic former lover and Sovene spymaster, Qas; and moody, electrically beautiful fighter pilot, Pati, are all caught up in a deadly game of spies, starships, and interstellar war. When everything comes to a head, Siphany and Lurbira must find a way to face their tumultuous pasts in order to really, truly find freedom at last.


Siphany and the Whale
Susan Jane Bigelow © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Lurbira could hear the past calling her.

She extended her sensor range, then quickly drew it back in again. She could barely tell the direction.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” she seethed, and she punched the hull of the Junk so hard that it actually made a dent. Fine! Open the damn tin can to space; let it be nothing but vacuum inside. It wouldn’t bother Lurbira; the replica lungs she had didn’t work anyway.

She rapidly flicked her gunports open and closed, over and over.


She spun around and put on her most innocent face. “Yes, Mother Junk?”

Mother Junk was tall and wiry, her white hair pulled back in a bun and her mouth set in a permanent frown. “Don’t you have work to do?”

“I’m sure I do,” said Lurbira brightly.

Mother Junk let her gaze drift down to the dent in the hull the size and shape of Lurbira’s child-sized fist. “Be careful I don’t send you off with the Loyans, Artificial,” she said icily and brushed past.

Lurbira watched her leave, fuming.

“She would,” said a faintly static-laced voice from nearby. Lurbira turned to focus on Isan, who stood awkwardly in the corridor, watching Mother Junk go. The girl still looked remarkably like who she’d been, just with more ashen skin, less hair on her scalp, deep bruises, and silvery implants on her face and arms.

“What do you want, corpse?” Lurbira snapped.

“Mother Junk never lies. She won’t hesitate if she thinks you’ve become a burden.”

“Great.” Lurbira turned her back. “I’ll keep that shit in mind.”

“Be careful, Artificial.” Isan’s voice hardened. “And be careful of me too.”

“Pff,” said Lurbira as haughtily as she could manage. “Don’t make me laugh.”

She stood there, back turned, until Isan finally gave up and left.

This had become completely intolerable. It was time to get off this miserable station in the middle of nowhere. And Lurbira knew just how to do it.


Leshandre Siphany woke to the howling of proximity alarms and screamed in panic.

She fought for control of herself. Siphany had dreamed she was back in the institution on Sovena, confined in that awful too-large, too-bright room. Control, the nurses and wardens had shouted at her. Control!

You must learn to show us your outward, smiling self.

You must control yourself, Siphany.

These outbursts and tantrums are un-Sovene!

And then she had seen the unmistakable shimmer of bluenet surround her. She screamed as it molded and shaped her body back into what it had been before she’d set foot on Derstan Station a decade ago.

The present pierced the nightmare fog, and she steadied herself.

She was on her ship, she was alone with her cat in the middle of deep interstellar space far from Sovena, and the nurses and the institution were a hundred light years away and thirteen years in the past. I’m okay. I’m safe. Safe.

But the proximity alarms were still blaring. Siphany tumbled out of bed, cursing, sending poor Kit flying off the sheets in a furry panic.

She sprinted into the cockpit, dove into her chair, and ordered the computer to feed her as much information as possible. A ship was near. Where was it? What was it? How close? Heat signature? Movement? Threat potential?

Information came at her in a steady stream; Siphany let it wash over her as she awakened to the universe around her.

The proximity alert had automatically switched on her bright and shiny high-end defense systems. Her scans swept the sector and quickly fixed the offending object in her target sights.

The sensors weren’t giving her anything conclusive, and the old familiar panic rose. What was it? Pirates? Not out of the realm of possibility, but pirates were rare. Piracy wasn’t profitable enough for many people to risk it. Loyans, maybe? She was close to the border with Haeld space. The Loyan military had their fingers all over Haeld’s long-running civil war, so it was possible. Might be Sovene, too—the Sovenes were in just as deep.

“No,” she muttered to herself as the scans resolved. “Not a ship. Way too small.”

Debris? A random unmapped rock? She trained active scanners on it, trying to gather more data. Frustratingly, she wasn’t getting a lot of readings from it at all, almost as if it were only half there.

Then, as she settled on the idea of an inert piece of debris or rock, it changed course.

“Ah!” Siphany said, surprised. A drone, then. That’s what it had to be, though she’d never seen one quite like this before.

Drones could be bad for business. Mappers like Siphany made money because it was cheaper to pay people who already owned their own ships to head out into space and run the sensor turret rather than send unreliable, expensive drones.

But if someone had figured out how to make a better, cheaper drone…

She ought to just vaporize the damn thing.

Kit jumped onto the console top next to her and peered intently out at the void. His whiskers curved forward, and his eyes darted around. Kit thought space was fascinating.

He’d love this, then.

“Watch this,” she told her cat and stabbed the fire button. A white-hot beam lanced out from her starboard cannon, puncturing the hull of the drone where Siphany suspected its drive section must be.

She lazily targeted a forward section as the drone tumbled out of control, when, to her shock, the speakers crackled to life.

“Unknown ship!” a frantic female voice said. “Stop firing! I surrender! I mean no harm! I’ll give you whatever you want! Please don’t kill me!”

“Oh, no,” Siphany cried, leaping to her feet. What did I just do?


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Susan Jane Bigelow is a librarian and writer from Connecticut. She loves reading, spending time with her spouse and their cats, and wandering the green hills and wide valleys of her home state.

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Book Blitz: Ripple Effect by Alex Winters (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Ripple Effects

Series: The Deep End #3

Author: Alex Winters

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: June 21, 2024

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male/Female (Male/Male interaction)

Length: 109 pages

Genre: Bisexual, Multisexual, & Pansexual, Gay, Multiple Partners, New Adult

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Brady Sampson and Myer Joyner met in college, quickly bonding in their business classes and both landing gigs at nearby Global Initiatives in scenic Lost Lake, Tennessee. Combining their signing bonuses to invest in a rental house beside the lake together, the two take to being roommates the way they have every other challenge they’ve faced over the past two years — secretly pining for one another while never speaking a word about it.

That is, until their sexy new coworker, Carly Carmichael, produces an uncommonly sensual stirring in both men. When Brady invites their new neighbor over for a meet and greet, she takes him up on the offer on the one day he’s out. While she and Myer sip wine and get to know each other better, both let it slip that they have a crush on Brady, unleashing a series of events that threaten to topple everything they thought they knew about each other.


Ripple Effects (The Deep End 3)
Alex Winters
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Alex Winters

“White or red?”

Brady Sampson glanced over at his new roomie, Myer, holding up two wine bottles and wearing an almost face-splitting grin. He struggled to ignore the equally cataclysmic ripples of desire that rang through his body as he kept a placid look on his face.

“Which do you prefer?” Brady answered.

Myer glanced from bottle to bottle as if he’d never seen them before, giving Brady time to openly adore his big, veiny hands as he held each aloft. “I always drank beer before now.”

Brady chuckled, never less than amused by Myer’s vaguely off-kilter outlook on life. “So why don’t we grab some beer then?”

Myer wrinkled his nose, nostrils flaring under a spray of cheery soft freckles to go with his mop of strawberry blond stubble. “I dunno, this seems so grown up right now, you know?”

Brady steered his own shopping cart closer, inching into the liquor aisle to join his new roomie. “Beer is grown up,” he suggested, studying the labels next to the shelf where Myer lingered. “And cheaper, too.”

Myer gave him a “spoilsport” frown but set the bottles back just the same. “Dude, you’re not going to be one of those cheap-ass roomies who puts his food on one shelf and mine on the other and pro-rates the rent if I happen to steal a grape or two, are you?”

Brady chuckled. “No, of course not. I just don’t really feel like paying for stuff I’m not going to drink, you know?”

Myer considered this as if he’d never thought of it before. “Valid point, I suppose.” His big fingers did unspeakable things to Brady’s already lurid imagination as he moved down the aisle, touching several brands of champagne. “Bubbly then?”

Brady nodded, as if equally inspired. “That’ll work,” he agreed, taking one of the two bottles from Myer’s hand.

“Hey!” Myer’s youthful face — oh yeah, he was definitely getting carded, for sure — broke into a surprised grin. “I thought I was in charge of alcoholic beverages this time.”

“You are, but that doesn’t mean you’re paying for it all.”

Myer’s gaze quickly assessed the running total of Brady’s half-full shopping cart. “You’re paying for the steaks already, though.”

“Cuz they come in a two-pack. You want me to tear them in half and get the butcher to rewrap them?”

Myer frowned, looking effortlessly casual in a mustard-colored V-neck and striped blue Madras shorts, the clothing seeming to hang off his lean, rangy frame the same way his shirt and ties did at work every day. “Fair is fair, though.”

“Now who’s the cheap one? Huh, Myer?”

Myer glanced at his own cart, only slightly less full than Brady’s. They were facing each other in the liquor aisle, carts side by side, just two bros out shopping like any other two bros out shopping. And yet, to Brady at least, the seemingly humdrum errand had such an intimate feel to it he had to struggle to keep from sweating.

“I mean,” Myer teased, nudging Brady’s elbow with no idea of what that little tremor from his touch felt like racing through Brady’s body. “Have you seen the price of yogurt lately?”

Brady snorted, romantic reverie suddenly broken. “No, Myer, because I’m not a retired housewife on a diet.”

They chuckled together, drifting onto the next aisle and quibbling over potato chips and pretzels like an old married couple. Brady struggled to keep things light when all he wanted was to reach out and grab Myer’s hand and cling to it like they were an actual couple.

He swallowed the desire, as he had all his life, and played it cool instead. Said the right things. Glanced Myer’s way just long enough, but never too long. Walked just close enough to him as they argued over wheat bread versus rye, and never too close. Laughed just hard enough, smiled just wide enough, sending all the right signals like he always had.

He’d leapt at the chance to room with Myer when they both got transferred to the Tennessee branch of Global Initiatives after their internship at the corporate offices in Latham, Georgia. They’d hit it off as interns, sharing lunch breaks and chatting it up in the campus gym after weekend workouts. Brady thought it would be the perfect way to solidify their friendship, even if he knew they could never be more than that. He thought he could be strong, thought he could fight the temptation, thought it would be easy, like it had been back when they’d just shared a cubicle.

But now? Sharing a sprawling house out on secluded Lost Lake, shopping together, padding barefoot down the same halls in various stages of undress? Suddenly Brady wondered if he was strong enough to weather the ups and downs of living with someone who only wanted to be friends.

When obviously, achingly, frustratingly, Brady wanted to be so much more.

Purchase at Changeling Press

Meet the Author

Alex Winters is the pseudonym of a busy restaurant manager whose curious young staff would love nothing more than to follow him around the dining room reading his steamiest, most romantic passages aloud! When not writing romantic holiday stories of various heat levels, he enjoys long walks with his wife, scary movies and smooth jazz. Visit him online to see what stories are brewing up next!

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New Release Blitz: Entwined by Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Entwined

Series: Darklight, Book Three

Author: Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/18/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Male/Male Menage

Length: 85100

Genre: Paranormal, MM romance, reunited with mother, menage sex scene, fae, witches, war, spiders, voyeurism, public sex, telepathy, psychic ability, psychologist, autism

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After learning his mother is alive, Cameron, a telepath, travels across the country to find her, accompanied by Nathen, his neurodiverse vampire lover, and Syn, his best friend and sister of the heart. Once there, they find she is involved in a much larger war of her own and has been trying to keep him out of harm’s way for years.

In their quest to help her, they make enemies, of course, but they also find several new allies. And when they are swept up in fae politics and looming war, the result is an entire paradigm shift that will have far-reaching effects on all their lives forever.


Sean Ian O’Meidhir / Connal Braginsky © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One


Cameron lay flat across the warmed, humid tiles, the sweat seeping from his pores and trickling down his naked legs, arms, and sides. The steam room of the Silver Stream Gym, run by his best friend and roommate, Cindy “Syn” Rodriguez, had become his refuge in so many ways. He reminded himself to breathe deeply as the heat initially choked him, but soon the waves of warmth worked magic to soothe.

Cameron’s mind reeled from the “job offer,” from the idea his mother could possibly be alive, and from the evening; though one centering thought remained: Nathen. The curve of the muscles of his arms and chest, his short ebony curls, his gorgeous face with those brilliant blue eyes, and his mouth—that mouth had brought him so much pleasure. He wondered how he had ever existed before he met Nathen, how he ever enjoyed being with a normal human?

His once orgasmless life was dedicated to bringing his partner pleasure without focusing on his own. Now every time Nathen sank his fangs into him, Cameron’s release was immediate, explosive. Every kiss pulled him in and narrowed the ever-present intrusive world in Cameron’s mind.

The voices, thoughts, fears, expectations of hundreds of minds that sometimes threatened his own sanity all melted when Nathen kissed him. Being a telepath was a double-edged sword, allowing Cameron to stay ever vigilant to danger and to help others subtly, though it also acted like a loud radio of thoughts and emotions bombarding him at all times, day and night.

But with Nathen’s kiss and bite, everything evaporated, including Cameron’s own doubts and self-consciousness. His negative self-talk about not being good enough, worthless, a failure—all abolished when Nathen’s tongue rolled around his own. Cameron unconsciously ran his tongue over his lips with memories of kissing Nathen and took a deep, halting breath, sniffing back tears and feeling a little stronger.

His thoughts went to the night before when he escorted his friend Kat, a blood mage, from the hospital to the private ambulance her cousin Theo, a technomage, had arranged to pick her up. Cameron, Nathen, and Syn had hired a couple of hitmen to rescue Kat from a vampire who had abducted her for blood for a mysterious ritual.

Cameron had opened a telepathic link between them. “Kat…I need to know. Can I get addicted to Nathen?”

Kat had laughed lightly as she took Cameron’s hand. “His blood is not addictive, at least not physiologically so. You won’t develop a tolerance or craving for it. But you might develop a psychological reliance on it. The rush it gives? The way it enhances your abilities and senses? I only use vampire blood sparingly when I’m doing a ritual. But it won’t hurt you to use it more.”

Cameron had known he didn’t have much time as they reached the ambulance and he watched the paramedics help Kat up into the bus and make her comfortable. He had given a silent mental instruction for them to wait, which they followed, standing outside the ambulance talking, giving Kat and Cameron privacy.

“That was cool,” Kat communicated, grinning.

Oh. Thanks. I hope you don’t mind. I just don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff.”

“It’s okay,” she’d said and taken his hand again, squeezing affectionately even though they had only actually met in person for the first time less than an hour before. “There are other benefits, health benefits. It will slow your aging. I also doubt you will ever get sick as long as you use it,” she imparted, her smooth mocha brow furrowing with compassion.

I’ve known him only two weeks, and I love him,” Cameron admitted, wiping a tear with embarrassment. He chewed fretfully on his lower lip. Cameron rode the wave of a flash of surface thoughts as they tumbled through Kat’s mind. Memories. One of a ravishing woman of Asian descent, naked, luminescent in the moonlight. Her raven hair trailed down past the backs of her knees and caught on the breeze as she knelt beside Kat. The woman was smiling softly around her fangs when she kissed Kat, sending a familiar sensual rush before she cradled Kat’s head and very gently bit her neck. The other memory passed in an instant, of Kat and a very large and powerful-looking man. They were on the balcony of their home in Greece, the crashing waves below them, Kat dwarfed in the man’s arms wrapped around her as he playfully nibbled her neck. A jolt of arousal ran through him with his own memories of anticipation before Nathen bit him.

Kat smiled with the memories, unaware that Cameron had seen them too. “Then love him,” she had said simply. “We mages are very long-lived and when you’re ready, I will help you extend your life even further. So, there will be no need for the blood of others. But I suggest at least another fifty years or so before we embark on that. You’ll find you look the same as you do now for a very long time. And as painful as it might seem, you will find you two may grow apart. Or maybe not. Relationships mean something different to those of us who do not need to worry about time. But you both are still so young.”

Cameron thought about that for a moment, deciding to file the information away to ponder later. “But can I get addicted to the bite…to his kiss?” Cameron had asked, trying to stay neutral and keep his mind from projecting the fact he had seen two of Kat’s more intimate moments.

No.” She shook her head. “There’s nothing quite so good as the bite of a vampire. At least not that I’ve found. Think of it this way: Did you get addicted to masturbating when you were an adolescent?”

Cameron flushed scarlet, mentally stammered and looked away. His response to the unexpected question made Kat laugh. “The answer is no. But you enjoyed yourself, I’m sure. It’s a sensation, and a great one. But not something you need to worry about.”

“But how do I know I love him for him?”

“Ah, the difference between infatuation and true love? Time will tell, as with all relationships. Won’t it?”


Cameron stretched out in the steam room, lengthening his muscles and taking comfort from the sage wisdom of his friend. He reminded himself he had been in Nathen’s mind. A pure, kind mind devoid of malice or hatred. Nathen was not corrupted by the things Cameron knew or had seen…or had done. He hated that he had shown Nathen images like how he thought his mother had died, or the rapists and child molesters Cameron had slaughtered after he was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend—an ex-boyfriend that Cameron had accidentally mentally suggested commit suicide. It was something that would forever haunt him. But Nathen had seemed to be able to compartmentalize the images, remove his initial disgust, and step away from emotions. Cameron didn’t know if it was Nathen’s autism that allowed him to sort so well. Being a psychologist, Cameron had learned to separate himself from the lives of his patients. But Nathen had stayed with him, something that still brought tears to Cameron’s eyes. How Nathen could stay with him knowing his secrets was beyond him, and something Cameron marveled at.

Cameron settled into the warmed tiles as droplets of water from the ceiling splashed around the small room. Alone despite it being morning, a busy time for the gym with people getting their exercise in before work, Cameron cheated and passively scanned for anyone interested in the steam room and mentally implanted disinterest so he could have it to himself. It was not a practice he often engaged in because he knew it wasn’t fair, but this morning…

Cameron replayed the conversation with HR over and over, as he had been doing throughout his workout. He knew they knew he was a mage. And he knew vampires hunted mages for their blood too. Cameron had come to the conclusion Impetus had not yet made a move against him because Nathen was his boyfriend. But HR had called and said his mother was alive!

This new piece of information, which he couldn’t even fathom, brought Cameron to the gym. Information so shocking, it had sent him into an emotional spiral, so he came to work out and get some clarity. Since the age of sixteen, when Cameron saw a monstrous arachnoid fae’s scythe-like arm skewering his mother, and he ran, escaping at her insistence, he had known his mother was dead. She had to be, right? He had seen her die…

The muscles of Cameron’s tense back and shoulders ached from the workout he endured. He had always hated going to the gym and exercise in general, but Nathen was chiseled perfection and he wanted to look good for him. The brutal workout had punished him physically, allowing him to turn off his thoughts for a moment. Cameron idly touched the colorful fractal tattoo over his heart, smiling at the memory of the night he and Nathen had declared love for each other and gotten them. He took another deep breath. Centered. Safe. Loved. Nathen… Throwing one arm over his eyes, Cameron frowned as his anatomy betrayed him, though covered with a towel, and he actively scanned to make sure no one would be coming into the steam room.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Sean Ian O’Meidhir is a psychologist who lives in San Francisco, California. Sean is a hedonist who believes in living for today, living every day to the fullest, and enjoying as much as possible. Sean has been gaming since adolescence and has written about and played hundreds of lives, reveling in the chance to take on new personalities, dramas, even disorders.

Connal Braginsky is a software engineer who lives in San Diego, California. Diagnosed with high functioning autism, Connal sometimes struggles in social situations, but has an inner world that is always incredibly rich. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge about many esoteric things, Connal brings a lot of personal philosophies and interests to writing.

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New Release Blitz: Witch in the Wind by Damian Serbu (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Witch in the Wind

Author: Damian Serbu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/11/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 87400

Genre: Fantasy, witches, pirates, Royal Navy, military, action/adventure, magic/magic users, religious extremism (Puritans)

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A winter storm blows through Salem, Massachusetts, setting young witch Alexander MacBeth on a perilous path to adulthood as his dying mother gifts him an heirloom and pleads for him to use it to survive.

To do so, he will need to perfect his inherited witchcraft to protect himself from those who want him dead. In his journey to adulthood, he falls in love with dashing nobleman Crispin Nottingham. Abandoned by Crispin and pursued by the Puritans, he finds he must harness the wind to assist his escape and flee his homeland aboard a pirate ship led by the handsome captain, Henri the Twisted.

Struggling against distrustful pirates, an evil witch, and his continued longing for Crispin, Alexander sharpens his magical skills and falls into a romance with Henri. Chaos and danger confront him at every turn, even as he searches for love and belonging. A new sail on the horizon may signal hope or more danger than ever before—if Alexander can survive to meet his future.


Witch in the Wind
Damian Serbu © 2024
All Rights Reserved


December 1692

Salem, Massachusetts

Alexander hid in the loft of the old barn despite the bitter cold blowing between the boards and swirling around him. He had traipsed through the snow from the nearby house to his secret hiding place in the hay to spend a few moments alone.

His body was undergoing major changes. Other boys went through transformations at this age too. Alexander learned as much from the gossip and stories he heard of expanding muscles, hair growing in new places, and voices deepening. Except those alterations hardly worried him.

He jumped when the violent wind slammed a door shut beneath him. He reached over and grabbed the small doll his mother had made him long ago, which he played with until his father announced him too old for such things. After that, he’d hid his toy up here.

No, nothing going on physically alarmed him, not even his emerging sexual excitement. The pastor’s warning against sinful thoughts seemed out of touch. Though he’d never say it aloud, Alexander thought that a bunch of rot.

He came to his hideaway today because of the memory of his mother’s lesson from last summer when he’d turned thirteen. Alexander curled up in a blanket, clutching his doll, warding off the freezing temperature as the blizzard covered the landscape outside the barn.

One hot summer evening after dusk, his mom had taken him out to a darkened field and spoken in a whisper.

“Your body is changing,” she had said. He blushed at the memory, embarrassed that his mother noticed such things in him. “But that’s not all. Listen closely, Alexander. It’s a dangerous time. Not everyone understands your family. They’ll come for us if we’re not careful. There’s a legacy in you that will blossom in the next year or so. I’ll teach you about it. You must promise to keep it a secret. Come only to me as the changes stir and when you have questions.”

He had nodded and said nothing else, too humiliated by the thought of talking to his mother about his body’s transition.

Since then, he had asked a number of times about this mysterious new power in him, only for her to admonish that he was not ready to learn more. If his father ever overheard, he scowled and told them to keep quiet.

There came an alarm, as if a wisp on the tail of a storm, blowing a chill into his very brain. He reached for his mother’s crystal, one she allowed him to examine from time to time if he promised to keep it hidden and never speak of its magic. The glass orb fit in the palm of his hand, smooth and clear. Peering into the crystal, he saw a vision of men: the pastor, the sheriff, and others, riding their horses hard through the storm and coming toward the farm. In the last month, images of the present had flashed into the crystal, a power he understood to come along with the other alterations to his being. No doubt his mother referenced these forces during that warm night in the field on his thirteenth birthday.

Minutes later, Alexander heard horse hooves pounding outside, and a horse whinnied as the posse came to a halt. The fact they ventured out on such a horrid night caused Alexander’s heart to race.

Alexander peeked out a crack in the barn to see the men gather together after tying their horses to a post. The family’s old dog bellowed a warning as the men approached the house.

“Goody Macbeth? Come out.”

Instead of his mother, his father came to the door and held his musket.

Alexander shivered at the cold and then ducked under a pile of hay when he heard someone climbing up the ladder toward him.

“Alexander?” his mother whispered. “Show yourself. I know you’re up here. We haven’t much time.”

Alexander sensed the urgency in her voice, so different from the gentle way she always spoke to him, even after a transgression. He saw her crawling toward him.

“Hush yourself and listen, child.” She took him in her arms as if again a babe. He thought better of resisting, despite the adult in him protesting this infantile turn of events. “You remember what I told you about the changes you’ll experience? I wanted to teach you about them at the appropriate time. I wanted to do it as my mother did for me. But they’re going to take me away.”

“I won’t let them.” Alexander reached for his own musket, but his mother held him tightly.

“Listen to me. You can’t do anything.”

Alexander frowned at the thought of cowardice. Except, he loved his mother too much to disobey. He relaxed again in her arms.

“Good. That’s a good boy. If you lash out, they’ll get you too. I need you to survive.” She leaned over and glanced out the crack in the barn for herself. He glanced over her shoulder and saw his father in a heated discussion with the men.

Only when his mother pulled him back into the hay did he notice the tear trickling down her cheek.

“These are evil times in which we live, son. Not the evil they’ll speak of, with Satan coming into their midst. No.” She shook her head. “It’s the innocent they kill. The complete misunderstanding of the power. This is what you must learn, and I’ve but a few minutes to teach you. You have power in your blood. To see the present, no matter where it may take place. To heal. To control the wind. Alexander, believe me, it’s not from a demon. It’s from your grandmother, and your great grandfather before her. Use it to protect yourself. Use it for good, no matter what you may hear otherwise.”

“Where is your wife?” They both jumped at the sheriff’s screaming voice.

“Are you a witch?” Alexander whispered to his mother. “Am I a witch?”

“Give me your hand.” Alexander held his hand out to his mother, who took it and then pressed their index fingers together. A warmth cut through the biting cold that had taken hold of every other part of his body and then seemed to course through his veins. He felt dizzy for a moment, but then a new powerful control overcame him.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Damian Serbu is an author of gay horror/speculative fiction. After over twenty years of teaching history at the collegiate level, he now writes full time. He lives in the Chicagoland area with his husband and two dogs.

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New Release Blitz: The Proposal by Penny McLean (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Proposal

Series: Flavors of the Month, Book Three

Author: Penny McLean

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/10/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Female/Female

Length: 59700

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, contemporary, humor, menage/multiple partners, bisexual, ice cream parlor, marriage proposal, Paris

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Cynthia Blake has a problem. She was sure dating twelve people in one year and then marrying one at the end was a great way to find a partner, but with six suitors down and six to go, her little experiment has gotten out of hand.

Someone clearly has it out for her and is doing their best to trash her reputation, threatening to take down her beloved chain of ice cream stores in the process. And even though she’s having fun (a LOT of fun) with each of her Flavors, choosing one is going to be harder than she ever imagined.

In the final installment to this sexy, funny, and riveting trilogy, follow Cynthia from summer through December as she makes the biggest decision of her life. Can she get things back on track before her dream of love melts away?


The Proposal
Penny McLean © 2024
All Rights Reserved

June 17

I am numb the whole way home. After Giuseppe graciously let me cry on his shoulder for a truly uncomfortable amount of time, I asked his advice on how to get to the airport from his apartment. Briefly, I considered rushing over to St. Peter’s Basilica for my previously scheduled tour of the church and the Vatican Museum, but the idea of seeing the Sistine Chapel on my own leaves me with a hollow, empty feeling in my chest.

I don’t deserve to look at anything so beautiful today.

“I can drive you to the airport, signora,” Giuseppe says, his eyes full of pity. “I do not know what he is thinking, leaving you like this.”

I burst into tears again, then go to gather my things from the bedroom. The sound of cheerful voices below the window makes me want to throw up or maybe kick something. I am fitful and sure that I’ve never felt so low before in my life. I desperately wish I had someone to blame for all of this, but the logical part of my brain shuts down any chance of that quickly. This is all on me.

I get through security easily and find my way to the gate about two hours before my flight. I know I can’t just sit there, so I wander around the shops for a bit, not really seeing anything. I pick up two books to read on the way home without even looking at the titles.

“Doesn’t matter,” I mumble to myself, making the woman next to me look at me with a startled expression. She’s probably not used to seeing disheveled Americans at the airport. I hope I ruin her day.

No, I don’t. Ugh. I’m the worst.

I board my flight to Chicago and down a couple of the sleeping pills that Carter gave me my first night here. I threw a couple in my toiletry bag before we left for Rome in case insomnia reared its ugly head, but now I want nothing more than to just shut out the world.

I wake with a start when we touch down at O’Hare and realize I have magically slept through the whole thing. I try to smile but can’t quite muster it, being completely devoid of feeling and all. I pick up the phone after finding the gate for my connection to Phoenix and call Kim.

“Hey!” she says, pure joy in her voice. “I didn’t expect to hear from you till next week—wait, what’s wrong?”

I know she can’t hear me crying, but her Spidey-sense is kicking in. Through heaves and sobs, I tell her I’m on my way home. Alone. Good friend that she is, she is furious at Carter on my behalf.

“I can’t believe he sent you home,” she fumes. “That immature, self-righteous, son of a—”

“I’m the one who’s a bitch,” I interrupt. “I thought I was doing okay after the whole sex tape thing, but I was just bottling it all up and it all came out last night. I took it out on him. I was horrible. We could have talked it out, I’m sure, but I don’t blame him for not wanting to see me.”

“If he wants to be with you, this is exactly the kind of thing you need to be able to talk through,” she says.

I nod and my brain changes course. “You’re right. We both said shitty things. How dare he just leave without talking to me. I can’t believe I was starting to think he was the one.”

“You were? Did he, uh, mention where else you might go on the trip?”

“He told you about Paris?”

“He mentioned it was a possibility. He wanted to see how the trip went, but I know he was hoping it would end there.”

“So he was going to propose,” I say, the tears coming again. “How could one fight take him from wanting to marry me to not being able to be around me?”

“That’s what I’m saying. If he could waver that quickly, that’s a huge red flag.”

The numbness falls off my shoulders as a million thoughts swirl through my head. Am I angry? Yes, but it’s more than that. Am I hurt? Again, yes, but that’s not the right word to capture it all. I’m so many things that I secretly hope the numbness will come back. Looking up, I see a way to make it happen.

“Kim, I’ll call you when I get home,” I say, walking toward the nearest bar.

Numbness, thy name is alcohol. Come bring me thine sweet relief.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Penny McLean is a careerwoman by day, writer by night, mother at all times to three incredible children, and wife to a loving husband. Born in San Diego, California, she now hails from Gilbert, Arizona where she especially enjoys giving back to her community by volunteering at schools and libraries, with Girl Scouts, and for any causes that benefit marginalized communities, especially LGBTQIA+ youth. She began her career as a writer at the age of 17 when she was hired to cover movies, arts, and features for a youth-oriented page in the Arizona Republic. With twenty years of writing experience for magazines, newspapers, social media, and more, she is thrilled to have her first novel out in the world. Find out more about Penny on her Website.


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Book Blitz: Brotherhood Vol. 2 by Willa Okati (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Brotherhood Vol. 2

Author: Willa Okati

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: June 7, 2024

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 277 pages

Genre: Action Adventure, Box Sets, Dark Fantasy, New Releases, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Comedy, Urban Fantasy

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The Out-of-Towner — Liam takes Micah to Amour Magique, where he’s about to get entangled with a bizarre out-of-towner who calls himself Joey. Micah knows better. He really does… But Joey isn’t just from out of town. He’s more from out-of-planet-Earth…

Tezcatli’s Game – When Quentin’s forever love dies, Liam drags Quentin to Amour Magique, hoping he’ll find something to live for. Quentin’s not interested. Until he meets Tezcatli, the powerful Cat shapeshifter who claims him body and soul.

Single White Fang — After surviving domestic battery by a former boyfriend, David’s lost the ability to trust — until he meets Jory. The man seems to be perfect. At least at first…


The Brotherhood Vol. 2
Willa Okati
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Willa Okati
Excerpt from The Out-of-Towner

Eight forty-five and showtime, showtime! Micah all but wiggled in the back seat of the nicely appointed taxi he’d splurged on. Not as good as a limo, but if he’d gone the stretch route he wouldn’t have been able to afford his gym fees for a month. He’d weighed the decision carefully, gas fumes against looking good in the future, but in the end he hadn’t been able to bear the thought of letting himself go to seed.

God! Micah made a moue of distaste. He’d end up like David, or Collin — or worse, Bree. Shameful, all of them, and they should have known far better. Who would they ever manage to catch, the way they looked? So many people who needed savvy fashion advice, so little time!

Speaking of looking… Discreetly, so he wouldn’t catch the eye of the uniformed driver — this was an excellent taxi service, catering only to the rich elite — Micah checked himself over. No wrinkles, sags, tags, tears, or rips? No. Good. He’d been delighted when Luis’s outfit had fit him, and all through the hour he’d waited, he had hardly dared move for fear of mussing anything.

Of course, the situation was about to change. Micah let himself smile broadly, indulging the stretching of his facial muscles. Pity, that to avoid plastic surgery and having a mask for a face, one couldn’t really show any emotions, which made for another type of mask. Ah, well. He’d live. And if he got lucky at Amour Magique… well, he’d be able to afford any enhancements he might need in the future.

Oh, if only this were a limo, Micah lamented. I’d pour myself a glass of champagne and toast the night ahead.

He checked his watch. Eight-fifty. They were supposed to be at Amour Magique by nine, but whoever heard of fashionably early? No, no, looking too eager just wouldn’t do. He’d step out of his lovely taxi at about nine-fifteen, cool and polished, looking slightly bored — he paused to practice the expression, though not long, as it was familiar to him — and ask, “Is this the club?” Just as if he’d had a dozen better things to do instead, but had decided to grace them with his presence. The perfect impression to give the locals and the hopeless blunderers waiting in lines.

Oh, yes, there would be lines. Micah wasn’t any stranger to Amour Magique. He kept up on his gossip. It could take hours to see if you’d be allowed inside. They skimmed the silver and tossed the dross.

Lucky for Micah his little pass made him shine.

He shifted uncomfortably. If there did happen to be a deliciously rich fish nibbling at his bait, would he have to display all his goods to hook them? He hadn’t… not since Luis… and, well, the body had to adjust, didn’t it? He might have always been a bottom, but the body had elasticity. Things snapped back into virgin tightness if they weren’t put to use for certain purposes in a while, and Micah just couldn’t fathom himself bending over without a lot of TLC to ease the way. Unfortunately, men with the kind of money he hoped for weren’t usually big on taking sex slow and gentle. He’d tried easing his way back into things — so to speak — with a few toys, but he knew they weren’t anything like the real McCoy. Silicone didn’t compare to meat.

Well, he’d just have to coax them into a romantic mood. With any luck, like the best clubs out there, Amour Magique would have several rooms besides the main dance floor. Surely there’d be something with elegant classical music and candlelight in one cranny or another. He’d just have to tease his catch in and soften them up. He knew how to do the job. Melt them like butter in his mouth, or possibly melt them in his mouth, if push came to — well.

Sounded like a plan to him. Satisfied, Micah leaned back, careful not to wrinkle, and peeped at himself in the rearview mirror. Looking good, looking fine, he reassured himself. Hair falling attractively into his eyes, eyes sparkling with excitement — better tone that down, he warned himself — and clothes worth a fortune hugging a body fit to kill for.

Oh, yes. He was more than ready to knock the metaphorical socks right off Amour Magique’s feet.

A cell phone trilled politely from its mount on the dashboard. Micah cocked one eyebrow in mild curiosity. Of course, a company like this wouldn’t be so crude as to use walkie-talkies or a CB system, but he’d thought their schedule was appointments-only. Surely no one would be calling in to direct the driver to his next “fare”?

The driver seemed surprised by the interruption. Clearly resisting the urge to turn and apologize to Micah, he lifted the phone with one gloved hand and rested it carefully by his ear. “Yes?” he murmured.

Silence. The driver’s eyes widened with first confusion, then indignation, shifted briefly to indignation again as a voice warbled loudly and overly cheerfully from the other end, then finally settled into mostly concealed disdain. He pulled the car gently onto the shoulder of the road and turned to Micah. “Sir?” he asked, nodding his head in a show of respect. “I do believe this call is for you.”

Years of training kept Micah from bellowing “What?” and snatching for the phone. He managed to keep it to a blink and a slight tic before gracefully extending his hand. If there was ever a call he didn’t want to take… not that he minded people craving his presence, but only one person knew he’d be taking an escort service instead of his own low-class car to the club. Only one person, who, coincidentally, would be the one with enough balls to wreak havoc in the careful order of the company and track him down like a common country dog…

He put the phone to his ear, asking without really needing confirmation, “Liam?”

“Micah!” The crazy little freak’s voice bubbled exuberantly out of the speakers, loud enough that Micah was sure the driver heard. He could almost see, all but floating over the man’s head, another check-mark going down in the “unsuitable client” list.

Hiding a wince, he lowered his voice to murmur. “Liam, quietly, please.”

“Oh! I suspected I was perhaps too ebullient for such rarified company,” Liam said pertly. “Really, how rude people can be in the name of genteel manners! Don’t you find this to be the case?”

“Liam, please,” Micah hissed. He could see the driver watching him in the mirror now, no longer trying to hide his distaste. “Do you need something?”

“A kind word would not go amiss, but I’ll get none of those from you, now, will I?”


“Oh, go on with your scolding and your lessons on what is and what is not done. You are late, Micah. Five minutes late already. I said nine o’clock, did I not? I recall being most specific on that point. All of us are gathered here save for you and Bree.”

“Yes, well, Bree probably won’t be coming, that prick.” The words escaped Micah’s mouth before he could censor them. Another check-mark appeared on the driver’s list. Micah scooted down a bit, still careful of his clothing but too humiliated not to hunch. “Liam, I’m on my way. I can’t be more than ten minutes away.”

“You do not seem to appreciate the importance of this gathering,” Liam said, disapproval radiating from his voice. “I paid a price to ensure our entry into Amour Magique tonight. Just because it would not register on your scale of costliness does not mean I did not sacrifice to make certain this night would be perfect. Perfect, I tell you! And you? You have the nerve to play at being so in style and late enough to drive us to distraction?”

Micah felt his cheeks coloring. Another thing he hated about Liam: after all the modeling and the lifestyle, no one should have been able to make him blush or feel small, but let the tiny man set up a rant, and he flattened Micah every time.

At the moment, Micah almost hated him. “I? I have nerve?” he snapped — softly. “Liam, let me inform you that you don’t understand me. I’m doing you all a favor by joining in with this little spree. I’m in demand. You should see the stack of invitations I turned down, hear all the phone calls where I said ‘no’ to –”

“I could not, because they do not exist.”

Micah fell silent, stunned.

“You still think yourself so much better than everyone,” Liam went on, sounding angry himself. “Very well. I will do what I had hoped I would not have to do, and you will not like my plan.”

“What are you going to do?” Micah flung back. “Revoke my invitation?”

“Yes. I am.”

Micah’s mouth fell open most unattractively. When he gathered himself enough to speak, the line had gone dead. “Liam? Liam!”

No answer, of course.

At some point, the driver had started his taxi up again. They purred to another stop, this time with the sounds of music and the chatter of crowds surrounding them.

“Sir?” The driver no longer bothered with respect; he sounded bored. “We have arrived, sir.”

“We have?” Micah said, half-dumbly.

“Yes, sir.” The driver’s eyes were sharp in the mirror. “Please return my phone to me, sir.”

Heat flooded Micah’s face again. Did the man actually think he’d steal? Angry and not bothering to hide it, he slapped the phone into one outstretched hand and tugged at the door handle. Normally, the driver would come around and let him out, but he wouldn’t stay in there a moment longer.

He had a bill tucked into one flat pocket for a tip, but would he pass it over? He thought not. In fact, he thought he might just write a letter of complaint to the company. They owed him for interrupting his privacy with Liam’s call, for their driver’s rudeness, for everything that had gone wrong.

Revoke his invitation? Liam couldn’t! The passes were for the whole group, and Micah was part of the group. Liam would just have to see reason.

Slamming the taxi door behind him, he barely registered the sound of the car pulling away in a most rude sort of hurry, an automotive “fuck you” if he’d ever heard one. He stood on the curb, staring up at Amour Magique. His Taj Mahal. The stately pleasure dome. If he couldn’t get inside, if he couldn’t try to seize his chance —

“Micah!” he heard Liam call out — warningly? Frowning, Micah glanced across the way, toward the entrance, and froze. Solid as ice in his tracks.

Liam appeared to be breaking up a fight. He had his hand planted on Collin’s chest, and he was shaking his head at the other opponent, dressed in black leather that would shame a prostitute.

Himself. No, someone who looked just like him.

Wearing horrible clothes.

Micah thought he might die of humiliation — after, that was, he figured out just what the hell was going on. What had Liam done, gotten an impersonator? He’d show the runty twinkie a thing or two about respect and manners and timing and —

Micah didn’t see the obstacle coming, because to all appearances, it wasn’t there. However, he certainly registered it as, with a resounding clang, he ran head-first into something invisible and fell backward, too stunned to yelp.

Micah himself wasn’t what he would call a truly moral man. After all, just like good old Luis, he’d fucked and sucked his own way into small-time stardom — but he did live life by a code.

Never scowl or frown or pout; it makes wrinkles. Never show your fears or shed your tears. Outer perfection is what counts, so stifle your inner voices. Be as two-dimensional and pretty as your pictures, because they’re all anyone wants to see when they meet you in person.

When he thought about where he’d ended up, and why, Micah found himself swimming in a sea of confusion. Like a child or a very old man who’d dropped his ice cream, he found all the good times and tasty bits of his life missing, but couldn’t figure out where they’d gone… or how they’d led him here.

So he’d done what he always did, more or less. Applied his code to life when he went out in public, let his inner bitch rip at The Brotherhood, and kept searching for a way back into the good life he’d loved to live. Realizing day by day his chances of finding another doorway leading inside the golden circles were getting slimmer and slimmer.

Who wanted a has-been?

Amour Magique had been his shining star ever since Liam had mentioned the group would be visiting en masse. He’d clung to a slender, fragile hope that inside the club, he’d find himself a prince. Whether old and fat and ugly or young and strong and beautiful, he didn’t care. Just someone to take care of him, because he had no idea how to live life on his own two feet, and he wasn’t about to ask anyone like Simon or Liam.

He’d known he would get lucky.

Which was why, as Micah raised himself from the pavement, dazed, his ears still ringing, he stared at the sight of The Brotherhood and his doppelganger vanishing inside Amour Magique, and would have screamed out a protest if he’d been able.

Instead, he scrambled up off the pavement, did a frantic pat down of his doe-supple pants for rips and his ivory shirt for smudges, breathed a prayer of thanks when he found nothing but a tiny stain dim light would hide, and ran hell bent for leather to catch up with the others.

He did pause long enough to test the whatever he’d run into. Felt pretty foolish, but he thought he was discreet in how he handled things. A slight kick of the foot, a lean forward with one shoulder — and nothing there to get in his way. Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, he slowed his pace to a sexy, “The world is my oyster, and woe betide the fool who doesn’t know it” lope.

The lines of men behind the velvet ropes set up a growling as Micah walked past. He heard everything muttered or shouted behind him as he moved forward outside the queue with deliberate carelessness.


“Hey, you can’t cut in line like that, man!”

“Who does he think he is, fronting everyone?”

“Who is he?”

“I know I’ve seen his face before. Maybe in a magazine?”

“Is he a movie star?”

“I don’t know. He kinda looks like that guy who was in the film about the aliens, you know, the one with the messy hair…”

“Honey, his hair is not messy. It takes a couple hundred dollars at the stylists’ and a few dabs of hair gel worth its weight in gold to get his ‘tousled’ look.”

“Like you’d know.”

“Sweetie, this kind of glamour you don’t see on ordinary mortals. I’m telling you, he’s either someone famous or someone rich.”

Micah hid his smile at the campy praise and kept moving. To his pleasure, the mutterings were turning more or less positive.

“God, he’s gorgeous.”

“You’re telling me? I’d do him in a heartbeat.”

“You should be so lucky.”

The two men who’d made that particular exchange burst into laughter. Micah stopped his frown of confusion just in time and kept on slinking at his own leisurely pace.

“Maybe he’s a porn star,” a youngish voice said, just about college age and finally, eagerly legal to drink. “I think I saw him in Little Gods of the Big Top.”

“Oh, yeah, right! He was one of the Nelly bottoms.”

“You’re crazy. Someone as smooth as he is? No way. Top.”

“I’d put money on it.”

“Put the cash where your mouth is, then.”

Micah fought to hide a scowl. He did not look like the cheesy, sleazy actor they were comparing him to. He was… Micah almost wilted… younger. Better endowed. Indubitably higher class.

Stop thinking. Keep walking. Don’t let them know you’ve heard what they’re saying. A star never stoops to gossip. Almost there.

“Me, I think he is beautiful.”

The simple statement almost stopped Micah in his tracks. Despite all his training, he couldn’t stop turning just a bit to see who — oh, God. His eyes flickered up and down the huge man waiting in line, muscles bulging deliciously beneath his tight button-down shirt. Ugh, department store goods! Expensive, yes, but so common! A shame someone so gorgeous didn’t have better sense…

He realized he was staring when the giant gave him a timid smile. “Hello.”

Micah quickly looked back toward the bouncer. Just a few feet away. He’d be there in no time. He didn’t mean anything harsh by ignoring the ill-spoken big guy, honestly. But who on earth said men were beautiful? Add that to his complete lack of clothes sense and Micah’s radar pinged, Loser!

He couldn’t afford a loser, no matter how nice he seemed or how downright cute he was. No matter how much he might wish otherwise.

Wait a second! What, was he slipping?

Micah boggled at his thoughts. He did not go and fall for every Johnny Hayseed who happened to have a cute face and a voice made of pure sex. He was there at Amour Magique for one reason and one reason only: to hook a huge prize out of a vast pond. There’d be competition, sure, but if he knew anything, Micah was well aware he had the face, the body, and the inner wellspring of charm to draw on when he felt like making use of his infrequently tested talent.

Just a few more steps. Micah carefully regulated his breathing, dropped his eyelids to half-mast, and ignored the men behind him hooting at Babe the Blue-Shirted Ox.

Think sultry. Project confidence. Exude sensuality. No one can turn you down. Now, come on, boy, and get this party started!

He pulled to a stop in front of the bouncer, tilted his head fetchingly to one side, and began, “My friend Liam said I should mention his name –”

A huge hand flew through the air to land palm-first fractions from his nose. “Liam?” a voice welled from the pit of the bouncer’s burly chest. “I already let him and his friends in. Twelve guys altogether. Them’s all who get to get in VIP and free.”

“Yes, but there had to have been some mistake –”

“Nuh-uh. I counted. Twelve. T-w-e-l-v-e. One guy who looked kinda like you, ‘cept he was about to bust through his go-gos.” The crowd behind the ropes burst into laughter. Micah’s ears burned. “You might be his twin or somethin’, but you weren’t with the group Liam said could go in.”

“But I was supposed to be with them! I — he — me –”

“Duh, duh, duh,” the bouncer mocked. “You think I give a flyin’ fuck, Miss Priss? Get your pretty ass to the back of the line. You weren’t with Liam, so you don’t get no special treatment.”

Micah stared, mouth hanging slightly open.

“I don’t take bribes, neither,” the bouncer said, flicking Micah’s lip with his thumb. “But, hey, maybe you come see me later, off shift, huh?”

“Why, you ill-bred, unmannered –”

“Oh, get to the back, Princess.” The bouncer shoved Micah, hard enough to make him stagger. “No one wants you up here. Just about don’t want you at all. Ain’t no one here who’d let you jump them in line, either. That right, men?”

Crowds, always so fickle. As if delighted to see Micah brought low, every last one of them, from the hecklers to the admirers, burst into a ragged cheer.

All, that was, except one. A familiar voice, as husky and dark as molten sugar cane juice, burred out, “He can take my place in line, if he would like to.”

Purchase at Changeling Press

Meet the Author

Willa Okati (AKA Will) is made of many things: imagination, coffee, stray cat hairs, daydreams, more coffee, kitchen experimentation, a passion for winter weather, a little more coffee, a whole lot of flowering plants and a lifelong love of storytelling. Will’s definitely one of the quiet ones you have to watch out for, though he — not she anymore — is a lot less quiet these days.

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