New Release Blitz ~ Hellfire by January Bain (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Hellfire by January Bain

Book 4 in the Sin City Wolf series

Word Count:  59,066
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 231



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Book Description

Forbidden love.

Amara St. Clair is just out for a rare night of fun on the Vegas Strip. But when she discovers her fun-loving side in the Glitter Palace casino, a life-altering altercation with a deadly ancient vampire leaves her lying unconscious in an alley near the famous casino.

Doctor, geneticist and genealogy expert Dante Luceres, dedicated to research that will keep his fellow werewolves safe and healthy, is attending a mandatory yearly event of the House of Luceres. Coming across Amara, he saves her life, though vampires and werewolves are forbidden from interfering with each other in the supernatural world. There are dire consequences for interfering with another supe’s domain, and he expects that soon both the vampires and the werewolves will be after them, but he can’t leave the beautiful, vivacious little human to suffer alone.

Drawn to each other, the pair must hide from the world. But with everyone against them, including Dante’s clan and an evil vampire hellbent on having Amara for his own, how can they find a path to a shared future…and true happiness?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of mild violence, kidnap and abduction, as well as on-page violence.


I ripped off my headphones and threw them down beside my computer. The terrible words from the medical thesis that I had just started to edit for a grad student made me want to run screaming into the streets.

Calm down. Breathe.

The name of the disease that had taken my mother too early mocked me. I too carried the RPS25 gene, the hallmark of ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and I didn’t need reminding of the inevitable while I worked, though I did require the steady money from the various departments at the university that sent an ongoing stream of journal articles, papers and dissertations my way.

I had acquired the contacts during my time working in the administration department and I was grateful for them, needing to be self-employed at home to help my mom during those final months.

Crap. This moment had to happen sooner or later. I lived with the lurking symptoms every day of my uncharmed life. I thought I’d be better prepared for the inevitable. Apparently not.

“And I need a break from this,” I said, jumping up from my office chair.

I love you, Amara!” My parrot Rainbow began to prance back and forth on his perch, his dance moves timed in perfect sync with his words. Talented guy.

His colorful plumage of a deep blue head, orange-yellow chest and green cape, a hallmark of the little Lorikeet, gave my sweet baby a surreal appearance against the dying of the sunlight behind him.

Of course, I’d taught him to say, I love you, Amara since in my lonely existence, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic raging outside, I probably would never hear the words said by an actual human being. For me, this was as good as it got. But at least the restrictions had been easing of late, meaning I could join my fellow humans once more if enticed.

My cell phone rang and I checked the number. Aw, Shay, the best person in the world to take a person’s mind off their troubles…mostly because she had so much stuff going on in her own insanely busy life.

“Hey, girlfriend, what say we get all gussied up and hit the town running? I got the entire weekend free to be me! My sister’s arrived this time as locally advertised. She’s promising to look after Dad until the sun rises over Vegas Monday morning.”

I hesitated, though I longed for some forget-the-crappy-world time. How did a person who just turned twenty-five in August manage to find her way to such a boring existence? If it wasn’t for Rainbow, I’d go mad locked in my small apartment with just my computer for company.

That, and the endless line of work that needed editing with the ever-diminishing hope I might actually get to write my own stories one day. A minor in literature looked to go to waste at this juncture. “I don’t know… I got this thesis due next week. I promised the guy and I can’t afford a penalty for being late.”

“You always finish on time, Amara. One night off isn’t going to hurt. Please, I need this like the earth needs the rain, like the sun needs the stars, like the—”

“Okay, if you lay off the literary devices, I’ll bite. Where do you want to meet?” I handfed Rainbow pieces of cut-up apple while we talked, enjoying the bright alertness of his rich blue-and-red-rimmed eyes. We shared the same eye color, though mine were not normally red-tinged, unless I’d indulged in too many apple martinis.

“I’ve been dying to try out the Glitter Palace casino. I’m hearing their karaoke bar is insane. And free drinks for the ladies,” Shay said, her voice lilting with her trademark enthusiasm. “Of course, I can’t guarantee I’ll be acting like a lady after a few drinks, if you get my drift.”

I got her drift. Shay might not be going home alone like yours truly after a plethora of Singapore Slings, her drink of choice. “If you promise me I just get to listen and not sing.”

“No! Just one duet, please!” You can’t deny your best friend one measly song. Please, please with candy cane elves sprinkled on top.”

I laughed. Shay knew how to work me—hand-feed me a new image to fire my imagination. Candy cane elves indeed. Last time it was miniature chocolate marshmallow bears. “Fine. But only one. Now I gotta go if I’m going to have time for a shower and a bit of primping.”

“Sure. Meet me at the entrance at nine. I’ll be the one grinning ear-to-ear and doing a highland fling with an entire weekend off.”

“That would be fun to see.” I imagined my tall, thin friend high-stepping over crossed swords, her curly fair hair, the polar opposite of my extra-long ebony-blue locks, flying in the wind.

“And wear something red and showstopping.”

“Maybe, if I can be bothered to shave my legs. Later.”

I hit End on my iPhone and turned to Rainbow. “Can you do a night alone or should I call a babysitter?”

“Yes, I love you, Amara!”

“Your wish is my command. How about we see if Jeannie from upstairs is available on short notice?”

I glanced back at my computer and sighed. I loved novels that feature supernatural creatures that didn’t exist…my decadent escape from my boring existence. I’d pay that debt forward one day, if I could find the time—writing a slew of genre romances featuring über-bad boys tamed by the heroines.

“Too bad vampires aren’t a real thing. Not having to worry about getting sick would be sweet. Can you say fangbanger, Rainbow?”

“Can you say fangbanger, Rainbow?”

His words lifted my spirits. “Guess you can, sweetie.” Maybe I should be more careful of what I said around my exuberant tweetie friend. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time might end up biting me in the ass. Well, not like anyone ever visited me other than takeout service. I had them on speed dial. And the local liquor store.

“Time to call Jeannie.” I scrolled down to her cell number and clicked on it.

“Hmm, no answer.” Now what? I hated to leave Rainbow alone, thought in reality it was a common practice and it would only be for a few hours. Maybe I should cancel? But Shay seldom got a night off from looking after her dad. She deserved one. I couldn’t let her down after getting her hopes up. She wasn’t the type to head out on her own, no matter the brave front she always plastered on.

“How about I leave some music on? Do you want light jazz, showtunes, Christmas songs or classic rock?”

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.” Rainbow bopped up and down, seed flying everywhere. That was one thing about birds—they were messy little creatures. Endearing, but messy.

“Perfect. We have exactly the same taste, kiddo.” I was a big fan of Christmas movies all year long. I quickly turned my iPod on and found the perfect albums, setting them to play in a loop. Okay, time to get a move on.

I ended up taking the time to shave my legs, wash and condition my hair and put on makeup. Drying my long hair, I debated on curling it or not, deciding in the end smooth and sleek was easier, before pulling the red number Shay had requested from my closet. Did I dare? It was over-the-top for me. Cut low and short, riding my thighs.

If not now, when. I’m only going to be young once, right?

“Okay.” I approached the cage, my wrap and purse in hand, ready to head for the elevator that would take me downstairs. I’d already called for an Uber to the casino. “You be a good boy and I’ll give you some peaches tomorrow.”

“Peaches now. Peaches now.”

“No way, bud, I don’t want my dress covered in fruit. Not a good look.”

Rainbow was a notoriously messy eater, spilling and spitting food all over the place. But then what did I have to do other than look after him? A good friend is hard to find. And what was the other part? Oh yes, a hard friend is good to find too. I sighed again. I couldn’t remember the last time I got laid.

In the lobby, I enjoyed the moment of looking good when Gary, our doorman, gave a low whistle. Everyone liked the guy. He always had a kind word to say and was full of cheer.

“Special night, Amara?” he asked, coming out from behind his desk.

“Meeting a friend at the casino.”

“You be careful. Full moon’s rising. Means trouble’s on the way.”

I shivered. It wasn’t like our amiable doorman to be so maudlin. “You okay, Gary?” I glanced at him. His round face with the enviable dimples looked a bit paler than usual.

“Yeah. Not sure why I said that. Must be that song I was listening to earlier. I forget what it’s called.” He scratched the back of his neck. “You have a good time tonight, you hear. You meeting up with Shay, by any chance?”

“Good guess. Oh, there’s my Uber now.”

Gary opened the door for me, adding a small bow. “Say hello to Shay for me.”

“Will do.” I hurried toward the compact car, praying I wouldn’t twist an ankle in my unaccustomed high heels. But sometimes a gal has to look good and flats don’t do my petite frame much justice.

“Where to?” the driver asked, twisting around in his seat to give me a look.

“Glitter Palace, please.”

It was a short ride and I was soon standing on the street, waiting for my best friend to put in an appearance. Shay was notorious for running late. But I totally understood. Her dad always managed to need one last thing from her, even if her sister was there to help. I glanced around. Other people were meeting up and joining with friends before heading in. It warmed my heart. Social isolation sucked even worse than being height-challenged.

I pulled a mask from my purse in preparation for going inside. I was about to slip it on when a man sidled up, his eyes glittering strangely in the light from the marquee. His glance locked with mine with the kind of supreme overconfidence I could only dream of. But something about him sent my hackles into overdrive. Every instinct said he was the kind of creature I would move heaven and earth to stay right the hell away from. A whiff of something ancient and rotten confirmed it as he passed by.

My heart slamming, I worked to ignore the off-putting effect he had on me, but I took it seriously. Always pay attention to your gut instinct. It can save your life. Gary’s warning in the lobby came back to me in that instant. I busied myself with putting on my mask, not wanting to give the stranger any encouragement. Go away.

He leaned his head toward me just as he passed by, whispering in my ear. “I’ll be keeping an eye out for you, inside, sweetheart. You’re just my type.”

I reacted like he’d spilled fire down my dress. “Get lost. You’re definitely not my type.” I held the ground, staring him down. He seemed confused by my reaction. Good. I hated being singled out by a man I instinctively didn’t trust. Women. We get to choose who we go with. It’s not up to the male of the species.

My missile worked. The guy walked off, not bothering to respond.

I took a few deep breaths to calm myself, feeling satisfied I had handled myself well.

“Hey, Amara, you’re looking good, girl!” Shay said with a beaming smile as she came striding up.

“So are you,” I complimented her right back. And she did look great, her curls a cascade of loveliness down her back, her midnight-blue lace dress a marvel of creation the way it hugged every curve.

“Sorry I’m late. Dad wasn’t too happy tonight with me leaving.” She pulled a mask out of her purse and put it on.

“No worries.”

We took our time going inside, trying to catch up before we hit the casino. But we never would. That was the best part of being with Shay. Our depth of understanding of each other meant there was never an end to the conversation.

We found a choice table in the karaoke room, ordered our drinks from the friendly waitress then sat back to check out the scene. Singing was one of the few pleasures we both shared. Shay was much better than I was, but I could harmonize and keep us from looking too shabby.

“You guys here for the karaoke?” the waitress asked in a cheery tone as she placed our drinks in front of us.

“Yup. What’s the money tonight?”

“A thousand dollars for first place.”

“Wow, what’s the occasion?” I asked. That was a lot of money for singing a song, if a person wasn’t a professional. Of course, that meant the competition would be stiff tonight. We’d never win. But the entertainment value just went through the roof.

“Semi-finals and the owners wanting to get more people in here, you know, since COVID reared its ugly head.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

“You don’t have to wear the mask when you sing, if you have proof of vaccination on you?”

I nodded and pulled out my phone. “Here you go.”

Shay did likewise and we were all set.

An icicle of dread silvered down my spine. There was that creepy guy from outside again, staring at me from an alcove nearby. The look in his eyes made me pause. It was so ancient and cruel. If I didn’t know vampires weren’t real, I would think this guy could be one.

I had instantly disliked him outside and the feeling was growing stronger by the second. Stay the fuck away from me.

I shot the idea as best I could across the room at him, narrowing my eyes with dislike. He raised his drink at me as if offering a toast. Or asking if I wanted a drink? I shook my head—a firm no—and turned away. The sense of dread that seeing him again had brought on annoyed me. I worked to keep all my focus on my friend. I was safe here, right, surrounded by a growing crowd of people?

Full moon be damned. I wasn’t letting that asshole ruin my evening. An image seared my brain at that second. One of hellfire, of pain and ruin beyond belief. Then it was gone, leaving a trail of discomfort in its wake.

What the hell is up with the universe tonight?

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About the Author

January Bain

January Bain has wished on every falling star, every blown-out birthday candle and every coin thrown in a fountain to be a storyteller. To share the tales of high adventure, mysteries, and full-blown thrillers she has dreamed of all her life. The story you now have in your hands is the compilation of a lot of things manifesting itself for this special series. Hundreds of hours spent researching the unusual and the mundane have come together to create a series that features strong women who don’t take life too seriously, wild adventures full of twists and unforeseen turns, and hot complicated men who aren’t afraid to take risks. She can only hope the stories of her beloved Brass Ringers will capture your imagination as much as they did hers when she wrote them.

If you are looking for January Bain, you can find her hard at work every morning without fail in her office with two furry babies trying to prove who does a better job of guarding the doorway. And, of course, she’s married to the most romantic man! Who once famously replied to her inquiry about buying fresh flowers for their home every week, “Give me one good reason why not?” Leaving her speechless and knocking her head against the proverbial wall for being so darn foolish. She loves flowers.

If you wish to connect in the virtual world, she is easily found on Facebook, Twitter and writes a weekly blog about her journey on Blogger. Oh, and she loves to talk books…


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New Release Blitz ~ Famous Last by Brian Lancaster (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Famous Last by Brian Lancaster

General Release Date: 29th November 2022

Word Count: 92,304
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 366



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Book Description

One starry, starry night, romance blossoms during Christmas lockdown.

One glacial Friday night in late October, Spencer K. Wyrrell—Squirrel—sits hidden behind an evergreen bush, freezing his arse off on a stone bench in the deserted twentieth-floor rooftop garden of his boss’s London flat. Taking a break from volunteering to show social-distanced guests around her penthouse gallery of abstract art, he is waiting with an ice bucket and a bottle of champagne for the arrival of his habitually unpunctual colleague and best friend, Bev. But when the balcony door eventually slides open, the person who steps out is not his friend at all but the smoking-hot celebrity and chat-show host, Marshall J. Highlander. Unsure what to do, Spencer stays put and overhears Highlander’s private call. A newspaper is threatening to publish nude photographs of him and an ex-boyfriend from a holiday in France.

After more calls are made, an eerie silence descends on the rooftop. When a curious Spencer peers through the evergreen plant, he notices Highlander has climbed up onto the small wall surrounding the garden, looking out to the River Thames. In a moment of panic, Spencer decides to show himself, because, celebrity or not, everyone is only human and, as his mother has always drummed into him, most problems can be softened with well-chosen words, a little understanding, and a hug tight enough to make your eyes water.

And on that starry, starry night, an unexpected romance blossoms between two unlikely souls during a time of Christmas lockdown.


Rising from London’s busy River Thames, the maritime metropolitan symphony combined with the constant rumble of Friday evening traffic from surrounding roads reverberated around the rooftop garden. Add to that the rapid gunfire of rotor blades from a helicopter passing overhead, and, as impossible as it may have seemed, Spencer Wyrrell overheard every perfectly enunciated word.

Bundled up on a two-seater stone bench tucked away in the corner of Muriel Moresby’s penthouse roof garden, he had been alone when he’d first ventured out through the glass door some fifteen minutes before. Nobody else had been courageous enough to brave the bitterly cold weather, not even diehard smokers. Thankfully, floor-to-ceiling vertical blinds in slate grey covered the windows, closing off the toasty penthouse interior from the small garden of concrete statues and evergreen flora.

Freezing his arse off in the brutal late October air, Spencer’s original sparkling masterplan had quickly begun to lose its gleam. Placed next to him, an ice bucket stacked with unmelted ice cubes, an open bottle of vintage Dom Perignon and two crystal flutes awaited the arrival of his partner in crime, colleague Bev. After two hours of helping things run smoothly in the socially distanced exhibition, she had volunteered him to smuggle out the bottle while she finished off schmoozing friends of their boss, the snooty investment banking couple with the matching Versace face masks. Initially they had approached him about three of the paintings for sale, and after he had matched them up with the artist to secure the deal, Bev had taken over. Having managed to avoid any of the other waiting guests, he thought he’d won the better part of the bargain. He was certainly grateful to be away from earnest discussions about abstract artwork that, frankly, he had no idea about or interest in.

And when the patio door had slid open—after the lenses of his glasses had finally de-misted—the person stepping through had been not Bev but someone entirely unexpected. A someone who had peered around furtively to make sure he was alone before removing his mask and pulling out his smartphone.

And there Spencer sat, slowly turning into a human ice popsicle. All he wanted now was to be somewhere else, preferably warmer—the Caribbean might be nice—instead of sitting hugging himself, scrunched up and cowering behind a tall concrete jardinière, wishing the earth would swallow him whole. Or perhaps a sudden time corridor would open up and he could be transported back thirty minutes to before he’d made the imprudent decision to step outside. And definitely before he’d inadvertently overheard the telephone conversation of the smoking-hot celebrity, Marshall J. Highlander.

“Am I speaking in foreign tongues?” came the stern but sexy voice again, a deep baritone and eminently listenable. “As I’ve told you already. No comment. Which of those two words are you having difficulty with?”

Unable to help himself, Spencer lowered his mask and breathed heat onto the frozen fingers of one hand before dragging down branches of the juniper bush and peering at the man’s back. Standing poised and confident, with his trademark deep brown hair styled with wisps of grey drawn back from the temple, he appeared iconic, heroic almost. In real life, his height became evident. He was significantly taller than Spencer’s five-seven. Dressed in beige woollen slacks and an expensive silk jacket of dark chocolate covering a caramel-coloured roll-neck sweater, he epitomised the type of model adorning the cover of any number of men’s fashion magazines. As Spencer watched, mesmerised, Highlander reached his free hand behind himself, fisted the back of his trouser belt, and in doing so, lifted the bottom of his jacket to showcase his magnificent arse. Unlike many big names Spencer had met—and there had been a steady stream in and out of their magazine office—Highlander looked even more stunning in the flesh. He made an effort to take care of himself, and had cultured a calm, capable, wholly masculine persona, no doubt the result of spending many hours in front of a television camera. But unlike some of those egotistical here today, gone tomorrow personalities, Highlander’s magnetism reputedly ran more than skin deep. And right now his trademark honeyed voice, which had in equal parts charmed and challenged tyrants the world over, carried a stinging warning.

“And if you print a single one, you and your newspaper will go down in flames on a Hindenburg scale, slapped with more injunctions than even your blood-sucking owner can wriggle out of. That much I promise you.”

In the silence that followed, Spencer hoped Highlander had finished and would return inside. After a few moments, he peeped through the greenery and saw the man staring out over the Thames, raising the phone to his ear once again.

“Darcy. Hi. I’m good. Well, actually, no, I’m not. Look, I just had that little shit of a hack Wentworth from the Tribute on the phone. They have photos of Joe and me in the south of France from five years ago. Explicit, he says. Threatening to go to print Sunday. They’re obviously desperate for news right now. Yes, I’m fully aware of that. No, of course I didn’t, and before you ask, there is no way Joe would have… No, Darce. Joe would never do that to me. He’s not like that. Because I do. Okay, okay, I’ll call him. But in the meantime, what do you suggest I—? Would you? I was hoping you’d say that. You’re a sweetheart. I knew I could count on you. Sorry, say that again. Oh, at some art exhibit and benefit for Mongolian orphans. Muriel Moresby’s place. We’re being herded around two-by-two like Noah’s bloody ark. Crowd’s as dull as a duchess, but I know the charity organisers personally. Probably sneak out soon. No, it’s okay, I’ll get a black cab. You don’t need to do that. Okay then, if you’re sure. A chat and a drink would be wonderful. It’s on the Embankment overlooking the river. I’ll text the full address. See you in an hour. Bye, Darce. And thanks again.”

Spencer let the branch go, hoping Highlander had finished. But he felt intrigued at what he’d overheard. Highlander was gay? And was that common knowledge? It sounded like the poor guy had a lot on his plate right now. If only he would go inside and deal with matters. Instead, he appeared to be making another call. Spencer folded his arms across his chest to try to retain some warmth. He hadn’t wanted to come to the party in the first place. Muriel, aka Her Royal Highness, had only invited her key office staff to beef up numbers and work the room. Even the word ‘invited’ was a stretch. Refusal or prior engagement excuses would not have been tolerated.

“Joey. Yes. No, it’s not about that. Look, I need to ask. Did you sell photographs of us to the Tribute? From our holiday in St Cezaire in France? No, I’m not accusing you, I’m asking. Did you—? There’s no need to shout! I’m just trying to figure out how they managed to get hold of—”

As Spencer watched, Highlander expelled a deep, steamy sigh and his head fell forward, his chin hitting his chest. After a few moments of silence, his voice became soft, the anguished sound tugging at Spencer’s heart.

“Why? Why would you do that, Joe? Christ, what did I do to you? Did I really hurt you that—? Joe? Joey? Shit!”

Once again, a lull came from the railing. Had the call ended? When Spencer peered over, he saw the man’s shoulders shaking and heard gentle sobs squeezing through the hand closed over Highlander’s face. Once again, Spencer prayed hard for intervention. Maybe a member of the crew of the USS Enterprise’s transporter room would randomly lock onto his coordinates and beam him somewhere—anywhere—else. Or maybe if Bev would simply stumble out onto the balcony at that moment to provide the perfect comedy movie moment, Highlander would no longer consider himself alone and would leave. When everything fell silent, Spencer relaxed against the bench. Until he heard a soft scraping sound and an uncomfortable feeling nagged at him, prompting him to take another peek.

Highlander had climbed onto the concrete ledge housing the waist-high railing, stepped across, and now stood facing out to the river—and his doom. An odd sensation overcame Spencer then. A sudden rush of calm and an overwhelming emotion he had never experienced before had him jumping up from the bench. In doing so, he dislodged a glass champagne flute from the ice bucket, which shattered on the balcony floor, causing Highlander to spin around, grabbing the railing for support.

“Please don’t,” called Spencer gently and calmly, puzzled at the strength of his voice and suddenly aware that he had ripped off his mask entirely and stood in full view of the man.

One of Highlander’s feet slipped slightly, probably due to the residual frost. Fortunately, both hands maintained their firm grasp on the railing.

“You’re such an inspiration, Mr Highlander. If you’re about to do what I think you’re doing, it would be wrong in so many ways. Please. People look up to you. I do. And what is it you said on your show? ‘No problems are insurmountable in this world. Dialogue always helps even if only to highlight and appreciate our differences.’ You said those exact words to the Dalai Lama.”

“I say a lot of things—”

“And people listen. I say a lot of things and people don’t take the blindest bit of notice. Even my cat ignores me.”

Despite the potential gravity of the situation, Highlander’s shoulders shook slightly and Spencer heard a gentle chuckle.

“Tell you what, Mr Highlander—”


“Tell you what, Marshall, come and share a glass of champagne with me. Talk to me. And if you still feel like doing what I think you’re about to do, I’ll go back inside and pretend I never saw you. Of course, I’ll also never sleep through the night again, but I’m prepared to take that gamble. How does that sound?”

Highlander had gone completely still, staring out across the Thames. Spencer experienced a tremor run down his spine even though he found he had suddenly become immune to the cold.

“I must admit I never anticipated having an audience.”

“You won’t as long as you get down and join me now.”

“And you’re not going to cuff me, are you?”

“If I had handcuffs,” said Spencer, his mouth working independently of his brain, “and I promise you I don’t, I’d be using them to secure you to the bedposts of the metal bedframe in my bedroom, once I’d hauled you back to my flat, to cover your naked body in orange marmalade and whipped cream before having my wicked way with you.”

This time Highlander turned sharply to take in Spencer, a look of disbelief on his face, before letting out loud, steamy laughter into the night. He had a nice laugh, Spencer realised, not something the public got to hear often on his high-minded programme.

“Do you talk to everyone this way?”

“Just drop-dead gorgeous celebrities,” said Spencer, before placing fingers over his mouth, realising his terrible choice of adjectives given the situation.

After a few more moments of silence and after a deep heartfelt sigh, Highlander turned and began to climb back over the balcony. When Spencer moved forward to assist, Highlander held a hand palm up, warning Spencer away. Cooperating reluctantly, Spencer backed up a step.

As soon as Highlander stood on firm ground, Spencer rushed forward and threw his arms around him, held him tightly in a hug and buried his face in his chest. Without warning, sobs began to rise from inside Spencer, his body trembling, and in an odd turn of events, Highlander became the one comforting him.

“Hey, hey,” came the warm voice, a hand rubbing his back. “If it’s any consolation, I wouldn’t have done anything. But sometimes I find an inner calm reminding myself of my impermanence. Consider it a momentary lapse in sanity.”

Spencer barely listened, his head buried in the shoulder of Highlander’s jacket, smelling the beautiful combination of spicy aftershave and skin.

“Who are you?” asked Highlander, gently pulling Spencer away from him and holding him at arm’s length while Spencer swiped quickly at his eyes.

“People call me Squirrel.”

“Why? Let me guess. Something to do with you being nuts?”

“Wow, that’s original,” said Spencer, straight-faced. Fortunately, he’d begun to calm down and enjoy Highlander’s—Marshall’s—fond scrutiny. Except now he also began to feel a little self-conscious at his teary display. “Not heard that like a zillion times before.”

“Now I think somewhere in your earlier appeal you promised me a glass of bubbly?”

“Okay, but can we please step away from the railing? Maybe sit down? But mind the broken glass on the floor. I dropped a champagne flute.”

Spencer moved across to the bench hidden behind the large bush. Spencer waited for Marshall to join him. Without being asked, he poured champagne and handed the glass over.

“Did you want something to eat? I could pop in and grab a tray of finger food.”

“I’ll pass, thanks. Champagne is enough. And the food didn’t look terribly appetising.”

“I know, right? Even my mother could do better, and she’s the world’s worst cook.”

“That’s a tad unkind.”

“It’s true, though. I remember coming home from summer camp once and my dad catching me at the door and saying ‘we had a lovely leg of lamb while you were away. Until your mother cooked it.’”

Marshall laughed again, and Spencer felt himself calming a little more.

“How long have you been out here?” asked Marshall, taking a good gulp then handing the champagne back to Spencer.

“About forty frozen minutes. A little before you appeared.”

Spencer took a sip before topping up and raising the glass to Marshall. As he handed the glass over, he pondered the rules on sharing drinks given the pandemic but then shrugged them away. If the man sitting with him had just survived a crisis of self, he could survive a shared glass of bubbly.

“Did you catch any of my conversations?” came the famous voice.

“I did,” said Spencer, feeling his face burning but keeping his eyes on the man. “Not much. I mean, don’t worry. I wouldn’t dare breathe a word.”

“Shit,” said Highlander, turning away and sighing out a cloud of steamy breath.

“No, really, Mr High—Marshall.”

Marshall’s attention returned, his eyes looking deep into Spencer’s. After a few moments, his gaze softened and he relaxed.

“No, you wouldn’t, would you? You’re one of those kind souls that people in my profession rarely get to meet. So what do you do, Squirrel? Shit, I can’t call you Squirrel. It doesn’t feel right. What’s your real name?”

“Spencer. Spencer Kenneth Wyrrell. S. K. Wyrrell. Hence, Squirrel. School was brutal. I’m not sure my parents even realised when they named me.”

Once again his words made Marshall chuckle, and he felt sure, or at least hoped, his dark moment had finally passed.

“What do you do for a living, Spencer?”

“I’m a junior copy and online editor. For Muriel Moresby’s magazine outfit, the Blackmore Magazine Group.”

“Poor you.”

“I know, right? I’m also the office gopher. But it’s full-time work and pays the rent. And I’m still employed despite what’s happening in the world. So I have to thank my lucky stars. Not exactly highbrow, like you, but it’s a stepping stone. Even if at twenty-nine I’m still on the first step.”

“To what?”

“At college I studied journalism. Once I’ve got enough editing experience under my belt, I’d really like to try out for one of the online dailies. Even though the competition’s vicious.”

“You write?”

“Not professionally. But I hope to, one day. In university I edited the student magazine and wrote articles. I even had a couple published by a local newspaper. And I did pretty well, too. Every person in this world, no matter how inconsequential they feel they are, should dream big. Isn’t that right?”

“Are you quoting me again?” asked Marshall, tilting his head to grin at Spencer.

“What can I say? You’re very quotable.”

And very shaggable, thought Spencer but kept that to himself. As he went to top up Marshall’s glass again, a mobile began to ring faintly. Marshall reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out his phone. He let out a soft sigh after a glance at the display and handed the champagne flute back to Spencer.

“Looks like my ride’s here,” he said, standing.

Spencer put the bottle back in the bucket and stood as well. “I hope everything works out okay for you, Marshall. And promise me you’re going to use the lift to get to the ground floor.”

Marshall appeared confused for a moment but then stared at his shoes and chuckled while shaking his head.

“You’re a funny man,” he said before looking up. “And, yes, I promise to use the elevator. Sorry I worried you earlier. Goodbye then, Spencer. It was an unexpected pleasure meeting you tonight.”

Marshall held out his hand, and Spencer fit his own inside. Marshall’s strong, warm grip closed around Squirrel’s ice-cold fingers. The simple gesture of bare skin on bare skin had his heart beating faster, his cheeks heating, and even the beast in his underpants stirring. Marshall held his gaze for a moment before leaning forward and kissing a shocked Spencer firmly on the lips. When he released his grip and stood back smiling, Spencer simply stood there, his eyes wide and mouth hanging open. An amused Marshall winked once before putting on his black surgical mask and disappearing into the penthouse apartment through the patio door.

Spencer stood staring at the dark glass, wondering what had just happened. His senses returning, he knelt to the ground and had begun clearing up the broken glass when the door slid open again. A figure stepped out carrying a flute of champagne and a large plate of canapés.

Finally. Bev, his colleague.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry, Squirrel, honey,” she said, flustered then freezing when she saw him on his hands and knees, picking up shards of glass.

“Oh poop. You started without me. Did I miss anything?”

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About the Author

Brian Lancaster

Brian Lancaster is an author of gay romantic fiction in multiple genres, including contemporary romance, paranormal, fantasy, crime, mystery, and anything else that tickles his muse’s fancy. Born in the sleepy South of England where most of his stories are set, he moved to Southeast Asia in 1998, where he now shares a home with his husband and two of the laziest cats on the planet.

Find out more about Brian at his website.


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New Release Blitz ~ Your Christmas by S.J. Coles (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Your Christmas by
S.J. Coles

Book 1 in the Once Upon a Holiday series

Word Count: 11,664
Book Length: SHORT STORY
Pages: 59



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Book Description

It’s your Christmas, Nick. Make it what you want it to be.

Nick only agreed to return to Littleton for Christmas because Charlie, his movie-star ex, is throwing a Christmas Eve party. Charlie was the one who got away, and, regardless of what his old friend Seph says, Nick thinks he still has a shot.

But things don’t go according to plan. Maybe it’s being back in his hometown, maybe it’s the time of year, but Nick is looking at Seph in a whole different way.

Nick has to decide what he really wants for Christmas before he blows yet another chance at happiness.


“I got it,” Nick said as he stepped into the icy December wind. “I only bloody well got it.”

“Congratulations.” Nick could hear the smile in Seph’s voice, even though the mic on his friend’s pay-as-you go mobile made him sound like he was at the bottom of a well. “I knew you’d smash it.”

Nick also smiled as he hailed a taxi. Seph always made him feel good, even at times like this when his other emotions were harder to call. “Well, they couldn’t exactly pass me over after my big win last month.”

“You gonna phone your dad?”

“I’ll tell him Monday,” Nick said as he climbed into the taxi, wincing at Smooth Christmas blasting from the driver’s radio. “Mate, can you turn that down?”

The driver gave him a look and turned Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody down by one notch. Nick sighed. “Kensington please, pal. This is finally it, Seph. A shot at a partnership. The chance I’ve been waiting for… You still there?”

“I’m here.”

“Got something to share?” Nick said after a heartbeat.

“Why would you say that?”

“I know your silences, Seph. Come on. Spit it out.”

Seph sighed. “I dunno, Nick. Just last week you were telling me how you never have time for yourself—to have fun, to meet anyone. Won’t this promotion mean even less time for those things?”

“Yeah, but I’ll finally be getting paid enough to make it worth it.”

“Fair enough.” Seph’s neutral tone didn’t fool Nick, but he continued before Nick could retort. “So, did you make a decision yet?”

“About what?” Nick asked, gritting his teeth as Slade ended and Michael Bublé’s crooning filled the car.

“About this weekend,” Seph prompted. “You know…Christmas?”

“I can’t come. Gotta get caught up on my new caseload.”

A pause. “Not to be that guy, Nick, but your dad—”

“Dad wants to sit on his arse getting pissed. It will be no different from any other day, except on Saturday he’ll be drinking sherry.”

“He wants to see you, Nick. I know he does.”

“He told you this?”

“I can just tell. He’s lonely.”

“Stop with the guilt-tripping, Dr. Rose,” Nick muttered. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“Nick, Christmas is a time to be with those you love—even if you hate them at the same time.”

“I don’t hate Dad,” Nick said, loosening his tie. “I’ve just got too much on.”

“Even more reason to come. You need a break. Besides, didn’t it occur to you…?”

“What?” Nick prompted when Seph didn’t continue.

“Didn’t it occur to you that I might want to see you?”

“We just saw each other,” Nick protested, wincing when his work phone started buzzing in his pocket. His new secretary was emailing his schedule for the following week and requesting confirmations. He fought the sinking feeling when he saw the back-to-back court dates, meetings and corporate networking events. “What did you say?” he said when he realized Seph had said something else.

“I said my conference was eighteen months ago. And you’ve not been here to Littleton in, what? Christ…years.”

“Look… I’m sorry, Seph,” he said, opening the app to accept the appointment invitations. “There’s just nothing for me up there.”

Another pause, longer this time. But before Nick could decide what it meant, Seph spoke again.

“Come on, Nick,” he cajoled. “Even Charlie Kearney is spending Christmas at home this year.”

Nick started. “Charlie’s back?”

Seph swore under his breath. “Sorry. I didn’t think.”

“Charlie Kearney is going to be in Littleton for Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Seph said, a little tightly. “He’s having some big look-how-famous-I-am party at Arnold House on Christmas Eve.”

“And you’re invited?”


“He didn’t tell me…”

“Shit, Nick, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, no. This is a good thing,” Nick said, pocketing the work phone and smiling.

“It is?”

“Think about it. I’ve just got my new place, a new job. What better time to see him again? It’s, like, fate or something.”

“You really think it’s worth it? After all this time?”

“Things are different now,” Nick said. “I’m different.”

“His fiancé will be there.”

Nick snorted. “That designer he picked up in Paris? They’ve only been together for three weeks.”

“They’re still engaged.”

“I don’t care if they got married at Notre-Dame. Mega-star or not, it’s still just Charlie being Charlie. This feels like a chance, Seph, a second chance, and I’m gonna take it.”

“I just…”

“What?” Nick said, his friend’s tone sending irritation rippling over his skin.

“I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I’m not an idiot,” Nick insisted. “I’m not saying we’ll get back together. But there’s unresolved shit there. You know I don’t like loose ends.”

“Well, that’s romantic.”

“Fine. You want romantic?” He drew a deep breath. “He’s the one who got away, Seph. I’ve never stopped thinking about him. I deserve the chance to at least tell him that. Right?”

“Of course you do. But do you really think you’ll have anything in common anymore?”

“He’s a Littleton success story,” Nick said, swiping the steam away from the window to try to see what progress they’d made down Brompton Road. “So am I.”

“Well, can’t argue with that.”

“Too right.” Nick frowned as they passed Harrods’ festive shopfront display—plastic snow, garish ornaments, a smiling family in matching jumpers digging into mince pies in front of a blazing log fire that had to be a set in some studio somewhere. “Might as well get something out of this god-awful weekend.”

“So…you’re coming?”

“I’m coming.”

“Great,” Seph said, the warmth in his voice starting an unfamiliar tingling in Nick’s toes. “That’s really great, Nick.”

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

S. J. Coles is a Romance writer originally from Shropshire, UK. She has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to read them. Her biggest passion is exploring narratives through character relationships.

She finds writing LGBT/paranormal romance provides many unique and fulfilling opportunities to explore many (often neglected or under-represented) aspects of human experience, expectation, emotion and sexuality.

Among her biggest influences are LGBT Romance authors K J Charles and Josh Lanyon and Vampire Chronicles author Anne Rice.

Find S. J. Coles at her website and follow her on Instagram.


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New Release Blitz: A Chaperoned Christmas by Meg Mardell (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  A Chaperoned Christmas

Series: Christmas Masquerade, Book Three

Author: Meg Mardell

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/29/2022

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 47400

Genre: Historical, LGBTQIA+, historical/Victorian England, romance, holiday/Christmas, English countryside/Devonshire coast, homecoming, bisexual, lesbian, polyamory, masquerade ball, family gatherings, horses, non-explicit, reunited, coming out

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Candida Damerell avoids two things at all costs: her former hometown, Salcombe Bay, and her former lover, Broderick Carlyle. She’s worked too hard to shake off her sad family history in Devonshire and become a premier London hostess. To think she nearly threw it all away for a bohemian charmer like Broderick! He never understood Candida’s need to keep their secret romance, well, secret. Unfortunately, this holiday season, the fates seem determined to thwart her best efforts at self-preservation.

Broderick Carlyle is not surprised to see his estranged lover on the same coastal railway platform a fortnight before Christmas. Who else could tempt him into such a backwater at this dangerously jolly time of year? Not the country rustic whose need for Society chaperones is the alleged reason for the visit. What Broderick is not prepared to learn is that this windswept bit of coast is where Candida grew up. Even more alarming? The “country rustic” is none other than an earl’s daughter from the neighbouring estate.

Lady Sophia Luscombe has no intention of leaving her beloved Devonshire and her new horse breeding business for smelly, snobby London, especially not under the guidance of two Society chaperones. What if they managed to get Sophie married at last? No, she will distract her sophisticated visitors by making them fall in love with each other. The intimate entertainments of a West Country Christmas will make it easy to force the two together. It would be the perfect plan—or it would be if only the too-perfect Candida were not Sophie’s secret first love.

Just as the web of cross purposes frays to breaking point, a masquerade ball arrives to give these fierce spirits one last opportunity to tell the truth in time for Christmas. Is it too late for a second or even a third chance at love?


A Chaperoned Christmas
Meg Mardell © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Devon, 1879

Candida would have known that black, slim-fitted Saville Row greatcoat on those broad shoulders anywhere. Anywhere, that is, except on the platform of a backwater railway station two weeks before Christmas. The man who possessed such an enviable combination of shoulders and coat would never be stamping his feet on these chilled cobblestones beside the cooling steam engine. He would not be looking about irritably for a porter. No, Broderick Carlyle’s greatcoat must even now be hanging in the cloakroom of one of his exclusive gentlemen’s clubs on the Strand or else flowing behind him as he rode one of his equally well-turned-out horses in London’s fashionable parks. Or else, as Candida had spent the last year trying not to imagine, tossed over some strange sofa or bedpost.

Safe in London, Broderick Carlyle and his greatcoat would never learn that, though genial, porters in this little patch of the English southern coast did not hurry to collect a first-class passenger’s luggage. They did not compete with one another, as they did in London, for a tossed tuppence. Probably because there was only one of them. And that sprightly lad with the grey beard was busy unloading Candida’s own trunks and hatboxes. There were quite a few of them. She needed extra armour for this visit.

God, was there any place on earth colder than an abandoned railway platform? Candida pulled up the collar of her new winter coat in a forlorn attempt to block the chill. Made of modish alpaca wool, the deep-green coat fitted tightly all the way through her hips, and she could scarcely move the garment an inch in any direction. Usually, she enjoyed showing off her figure, when properly corseted of course. What was the point of forgoing treats otherwise? But, looking at the rippling folds of the gentleman’s greatcoat, she suddenly wished she might have thick folds of fabric to wrap and swirl about her.

As if sensing her desire, the man with the coat and the shoulders pivoted towards her on his impractical half boots of shining patent leather. The swirl revealed a number of disquieting facts. A flash of telltale crimson lined his unbuttoned greatcoat, a distinctive suit of monochrome check visible beneath the coat’s flowing heft. His unforgettable dark eyes were wary. The man did not know the Devonshire countryside, but unfortunately, Candida knew him.

No. No, no, no! It was bad enough that she had alighted at Kingsbridge Station for the first time in a decade. Fate wouldn’t force her to face two ghosts from her past simultaneously, would it? She was already braced against the gentle assault on the senses from the invigorating countryside air of her girlhood. The inimitable blend of sea-perfumed, winter-fresh air blew up the estuary from the English Channel. Was she now going to be forced to face her most adult of indulgences at the same time? Apparently, yes. There, not a dozen paces away, was the man with whom she’d foolishly tried to have a discreet affair last year. At least, it was supposed to have been discreet.

There was no time for Candida to upbraid herself for the umpteenth time for that disastrous attempt at playing the merry widow. The reason for her self-inflicted defeat was stalking towards her.

“My dear Mrs Damerell.” Broderick Carlyle cut her a leisurely bow, his dark hair sliding over his brow. “I thought I had forsaken all the delights of Town when I recklessly boarded this somnambulant train. But here I see we have imported into this rough wilderness one of Society’s best blooms.”

Candida did not much care for his allusion to her hothouse beauty. Not when she was so close to the coast’s wild magnificence. But she kept the smile on her face and inclined her head. “You do me too much credit, sir. Devon doesn’t need my adornment. But I’m sure the county is honoured to have lured one of London’s great clubmen out of the metropolis.”

This had been their pattern for the past year whenever they had accidentally met. They would smile and exchange quips—and then she would go home and seek out the dark meanings behind Broderick’s artful compliments.

He laughed in that low, insinuating way only she seemed to ever notice. “No mean feat, luring me from the safety of civilization in wintertime. But it’s admiration of Lady Belleville that brings me here. Well”—he winked—“admiration mixed with a touch of fear.”

“Sorry. Did you say Lady Bellville asked you to come to Kingsbridge?” A coincidence? Her rapidly accelerating heartbeat disagreed.

“Yes. It seems she has friends in these parts. You know the type of country gentry, titled but hopelessly out of step. Anyway, there’s an unmarried daughter of the house, and I suppose they’re making one last attempt to prevent her from going on the shelf.”

Candida forced her fingers to relax at his dismissive appraisal of the Luscombes and especially of Sophie Luscombe as some desperate spinster. Broderick didn’t know her. Or that Candida did. Or she had. Sophie wouldn’t be the same exuberant, courageous girl Candida had last seen on her own wedding day a decade ago. Life had a way of making girls like that grow down rather than up. Candida made her tone as droll as his. “And you’ve arrived with the feather duster to chase away the cobwebs?”

“I would never phrase it in quite such a, ah, ticklish way”—another impudent wink—“but that’s the sum of it. Accustom the girl to being around one of London’s great clubmen and then escort her up to Town in a fortnight for the masquerade ball.”

Candida’s worst fears were confirmed. She was about to spend two weeks in the countryside with Broderick Carlyle. At Christmastime.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Meg moved from the US to England because she fell in love with the Victorians’ peculiar blend of glamour and grime. After a decade of exploring historical excesses in a prim scholarly fashion, she realized that fiction is the best way to delve into that period’s great female-focused and LGBT+ stories. Weaned on the high-seas romances of the 1990s, Meg’s lost none of her love for cross-dressing cabin boys but any tolerance for boorish heroes. She’s delighted to now have a whole raft of quirky and queer characters to cheer for on their quest for Happily Ever After. She frequently breaks off writing for an Earl Grey tea (milk not lemon). She’s trying to learn Polish and Portuguese at the same time. She plans to escape Brexit Britain.

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Book Blitz: Better Than Beginnings by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Better Than Beginnings

Series: Better Than Stories, 5

Author: Lane Hayes

Narrator: Nick J. Russo

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: January 30, 2020

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 10 Hours 46 Minutes

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Established Couple, MM Romance, Gay romance

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Matt Sullivan knows he met someone special the night he spots the sexy man on the dance floor. However, he doesn’t know his life is about to change forever. First of all, Matt is straight. Okay, maybe not, but he doesn’t think falling in love and spending the rest of his life with a hotheaded, unapologetically fabulous diva is an option.

Aaron Mendez is confident, smart, and very comfortable in his skin. He knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go for it. And though he might have reservations about falling for someone newly out of the closet, no one has ever looked at Aaron the way Matt does.

Navigating a relationship has its challenges, but both Matt and Aaron are willing to deal with difficult parents, holiday blues, and learning curves. They know their happy ever after is worth fighting for and that true love is better than good.

*No/low angst, sexy fun! This collection of short stories follows the lives of Matt and Aaron from my first novel, Better Than Good. The end of one chapter is the beginning of a whole new story from ordinary everyday life to an engagement, a wedding, and more. This collection is dedicated to Matt and Aaron fans and those who believe that the real love story happens after the first “I love you”.


Better Than Beginnings Excerpt- From Better Than Wedding

“What’s Saturday?”

“A no-work day. And we’re meeting with our wedding planner. I was worried his ideas would be too pricey, but Vic will be thrilled when I tell him you agreed to spare no expense on the reception.”

“That doesn’t sound like something I’d say,” I huffed, blowing on a spoonful of chili, then taking a bite. “Mmm. This is delicioso.”

Gracias. Well, someone who looks and sounds a lot like you just agreed to a unicorn ice sculpture at our reception,” he deadpanned.

I snorted. “Yeah, right. You can’t use anything I say in the last few seconds of a playoff game against me.”

“Does that mean no to two champagne fountains too?” He snickered at my stone-faced expression as he reached for his wine. “Fair enough, but you’d better start weighing in before I’m tempted to do something crazy. This isn’t just my wedding, it’s our wedding.”

I turned to fully face him. “I thought we were set. We have a date, a place, and a minister. We agreed on invitations, and we even talked about our honeymoon. What am I missing?”

“The details, Matty! All the details.” Aaron flashed an incredulous look at me and smacked his hand on the island. “Look, you’re busy at work, and I know the last things you think about are table decor and cake toppers, but I’m busy too and I can’t stop thinking about them. And then my head explodes with more choices like roses or lilies, chocolate ganache or buttercream, and don’t even get me started on the seating arrangements. It’s making me crazy!”

“I can see that.” I chuckled and set my spoon aside, snaking my arm around his waist when he glared at me. “Hey, I’m kidding. Tell me what you want me to do. How about if I choose the flowers?”

“Oh, no. Definitely not. I know you too well, Matty. You’d wait until the last minute, then either ask your secretary or my future monster-in-law to help and there’s no way in hell I’d—”

“Hey. No need to get nasty here.” I threaded my fingers through his and kissed the platinum band on his left ring finger.

“I’m sorry. I know I told you I’d handle things, but you’re kind of strict about the budget.”

“One of us has to be if we want to buy—”

“I know.” Aaron leaned against me and kissed my shoulder. “I think it’s a great idea, but the problem is that you don’t really understand how much things are. You need to be part of some of the major decisions, so you get the picture. I have a proposition to make.”

“Oh, boy. What did you do, and how much is it going to cost?” I asked, slipping his glass from his hand and taking a healthy swig.

“Ha. Ha. I didn’t do anything. Yet. But let’s be real—this whole thing is going to cost a fortune, but it’ll be worth it. I’ve already done the bulk of the research, and Vic is a great resource, but I still think we should have a weekly powwow so I can go over things with you before we meet the wedding planner. So we don’t waste time or veer off course…because yes, Vic really did ask how my fiancé felt about a caviar bar.”

“Oh, my God.” I set the glass down and gulped.

“Don’t worry, Papi. I told him it wasn’t your style. But gosh, I could easily get talked into a champagne fountain. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it?”


Aaron snickered at my quick reply and gestured for me to eat. “See the problem? I promise I won’t make any rash decisions, but I need your input on some things if we’re going to make it to the altar without you wringing my neck when I’m ten thousand dollars over—”

“Ten thousand!” My jaw dropped as I widened my eyes comically.

“Calm down. I’m innocent. I’ve been so good it hurts,” he said with a sigh. “But if something is going to hurt, it should be in a good way. And preferably with an orgasm or two. Don’t you agree?” Aaron lowered his hand and rubbed his palm over my half-hard cock.


“We should have our husband-to-be chats once a week to discuss our plans.”

I lifted my hips slightly and cupped his neck to bring him closer. “Good idea.”

“But you’ll have to give me your undivided attention,” he purred as he pulled at the elastic bands of my shorts and boxer briefs. Then he slipped his fingers under the fabric and grabbed my dick. “I don’t want to compete with basketball, baseball, or anything else. It’ll be a special date. Just me and you.”

“Mmm. Yes.” I licked the corner of his mouth, pulled his pajamas and boxer briefs down, and kneaded his ass.

“We can be flexible about the day and time,” he said in a throaty tone, nipping my jaw as he stroked me from base to tip.

“What about location?” I asked, tracing his crack with my middle finger.

“Yes. Anywhere is fine.”


Lane Hayes | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a newly empty nest.


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New Release Blitz: Heartbeat by Nicholas Brown (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Heartbeat

Author: Nicholas Brown

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/22/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, romance, YA, high school, bisexual, pansexual, hurt/comfort, depression, grieving, therapy sessions

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Thomas Hart lives in the numb aftermath of his brother’s tragic death. After spending six months institutionalized for attempted suicide, Thomas returns home to build a new life for himself. He goes to therapy, starts over at a different high school, and makes new friends. All while completely abandoning his old reputation as a state champion swimmer. Or so he thought.

Thomas can’t seem to get resident star athlete Ethan Cooper out of his head. With dimples that have a track record and a kind touch capable of all but unravelling him, Ethan is everything Thomas can’t seem to have, or be. Because there’s no going back to the person he was before the accident that claimed his brother’s life.

So the question hangs. Can Thomas embrace his new existence, make peace with the past, and embrace a future that may include falling in love? Or will his old life continue to barge in, preventing him from moving on?


Nicholas Brown © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Waking Up

I didn’t remember much about what had happened. I remembered how it felt, waking up. How I’d had all these wires and tubes coming out of my chest and arms and how, as I looked around the room, there was no one there. I also recalled being tied to the bed—that I remembered quite well; I dozed off shortly after noticing it. Dr. Foster stood next to me, watching as she waited for me to come to. We talked for a bit. You know how it goes, if your brain is deprived of oxygen for an x amount of time things have a tendency of getting…messy. So we went through the usual questions. I told her my name, my age, where I lived, and who my parents were—stuff like that. Then she asked if I remembered how I’d gotten there.

I didn’t answer.

Not because I didn’t know, which I didn’t, but rather because I knew she’d tell me eventually, which she did. We’d both done this before, so I knew she must’ve had a good reason for not smiling like she usually did whenever we found ourselves in this particular situation. It was then that she told me Noah was the one who’d found me. It was also then that I began feeling like complete and utter shit and started sweating profusely.

Who lets their kid brother witness something like that?

I knew I didn’t. I fucking wouldn’t. He was supposed to be out. There was a party or a birthday or whatever it was that made him all but beg our dad to let him spend the night at Joe’s. He was supposed to be out.

Dr. Foster handed me her scarf, which I readily took, even though I had no idea what she was trying to do. It was pretty—black and blood-red with this sort of English pattern printed on it. She untied my left hand and touched her face, as if showing me something. I mimicked her. Turned out I wasn’t sweating. I’d started to cry, and the fact that I didn’t even recognize it immediately should have been enough to illustrate just how fucked up a person I really was.

I stopped talking after that. I didn’t say another word, except for when I told Dr. Foster I wasn’t going to repeat my behavior anytime soon. She looked pleased with the words that floated from my mouth, most of which were actual truths this time. One of Dr. Foster’s biggest talents had always been how good she was at discerning between truths, half-truths, and lies; one of my biggest talents had always been knowing just how much information to supply to keep our relationship well balanced. Basically, I knew when to shut up.

My name is Thomas Hart. I’m seventeen years old, and I live in New York City, NY. My parents are Jane and Lucius Hart, and I have a kid brother called Noah.

This was my second suicide attempt in as many years, and it earned me a six-month stay in the psych ward of St. Yve’s Hospital. It was also my last one—at least for the foreseeable future. I didn’t want to break anyone’s heart. I didn’t want my brother or anyone else to suffer too much. So, I’d wait. At least until I could be sure Noah would be okay.

I’d wait.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Nicholas Brown is a philosopher and an award-winning literary fiction writer obsessed with all things relating to infinity. Discovering new music he can write to and watching films—especially Nouvelle Vague cinema—over and over again are a few of his favorite things to do in this life. Nicholas would be the first to admit he is, in fact, a cynic, yet because life and the universe seem to have a somewhat twisted sense of humor, he cannot help but write love stories, nor can he help believing one of these days he will actually live one. That is perhaps the only paradox he accepts, for he has no other choice.

Nicholas calls certain versions of himself “his ghosts,” mainly because he’s lived a life divided into sections: the years he was not himself; the ones he was absent for; times when he felt better; times when he wished he could feel; moments he felt seen…versions of a self, of him.

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New Release Blitz ~ Obsidian by Rebecca Henry (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry

Book 2 in the Ambrosia Hill series

General Release Date: 22nd November 2022

Word Count: 41,846
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL



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Book Description

Sometimes you have to reveal the truth to receive love.

Ninth grade at St. Hope’s is everything Zinnia didn’t want it to be. Her life back in the city feels empty and her former friend Liv and her groupies are suffocating Zinnia with their daily taunts. As Halloween approaches, Zinnia craves the comfort and security of Ambrosia Hill and desperately wishes to be back with her aunts. But even more than that, she wants to see the green-eyed girl Billie, who Zinnia can’t get out of her mind. Right when Zinnia thinks she won’t be able to wait until the summer to see Billie, her mom shocks her with a spontaneous announcement. They are leaving for Ambrosia Hill.

But can Zinnia surrender her truth to accept love, and will Billie accept Zinnia’s path as a witch?


Ninth grade is everything I didn’t want it to be. I flung my backpack over my shoulder and made my way down the crowded hallway through a sea of royal blue blazers and plaid skirts.

“Five weeks down and only thirty-five more to go,” I muttered as my sneakers squeaked on the scuffed floors, my nostrils flaring at the intrusive scent of pine cleaning solution and freshly sharpened pencils.

I reached my locker, thankful to be out of the mob, and scratched at the neck of my collar. The wool fabric itched against my skin. I hate these uniforms.

Everything about ninth grade sucked, but nothing was worse than my classmates. How can we be the same age and be so infinitely different? I wondered for the hundredth time. I felt like a thirty-year-old woman trapped in a fourteen-year-old’s body, surrounded by babbling toddlers. I stepped to the side, shuddering as one of the boys hollered at the top of his lungs while slamming his friend into a locker, sending a shock wave of vibrations down the row of metal. I had zero to nothing in common with any of the boys in my year, and this adolescent display proved it.

I welcomed the cold steel under my fingertips as I swirled the dial on my combination lock, momentarily escaping into my favorite daydream—that I wasn’t at St. Hope’s High School but instead back in Ambrosia Hill with my Aunts Luna and Stella. And Billie.

Lately, my only escape from high school had been burying myself in the gothic novels I kept stashed away on a shelf in my locker. I found great comfort in sketching the characters from each book I read. Reading gave me an excuse to slip away from the teenage drama and tune out the gossip from everyone around me, but I couldn’t lose myself in the popular romance fantasy tropes. I found teenage vampire novels a joke. Even though I’d tried reading a couple of them for the sake of reputation, I’d never made it past page thirty. I reached inside my bag and thumbed through a copy of my latest read—The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling. I held it in my hands like it was a life raft in a storm, my only protection from the annoying teenage angst and sophomoric jokes that bombarded the halls of high school. All I wanted to do was sit in the back of my next class and get lost within its pages.

Liv screeched behind me, snapping me back to reality. I held the book against my chest like a shield.

“Omigod, the autumn dance is, like, happening so soon, and you girls still don’t have dates?”

I flinched as I turned around, bracing myself for Liv and her gaggle of sycophants. I glared as Liv flicked her buttery-blonde hair behind her shoulder.

“You do realize you’ll be a total loser if you show up alone?” Liv turned to face me, angling herself like a spotlight. I could feel the weight of everyone’s stares as Liv settled her cold eyes on her favorite target—me. She raised her voice, making sure everyone in the hallway could hear her say, “Only lesbos go to a school dance with other girls.”

I rolled my eyes, mentally preparing for Liv’s next words. She was nothing if not predictable, and I waited for her to toss her next barb.

“Isn’t that right, Zinnia?” She never missed an opportunity to call me out on being a lesbian, and her band of idiot friends giggled as if she’d told a hilarious joke. I flung open my locker door a bit too aggressively, hitting the boy next to me. He looked at me, startled, and I offered a small frown as an apology as I tried to steady my temper. Liv was coming for me, and I needed to be ready.

The annoying click-clack of her high-heeled boots came to a stop behind me. Her cloying perfume was a noxious cloud invading my space, threatening to make me sick. I sighed loudly, leaning my forehead against a shelf in my locker, buying myself a few steadying beats as I took a deep breath, tossed my backpack aside and turned around to face Liv. She was so close to me I could feel her warm breath on my neck, and it made me want to vomit all over her school blazer.

“Um, a little space, please?” I quipped as I placed a hand on her shoulder and moved her back a step. “I thought I was the gay one?” Liv’s band of morons grinned as they looked from me to Liv, elbowing each other in the ribs, their guffaws echoing off the metal lockers. Anger flashed in Liv’s eyes.

Oh boy, I just added fuel to this fire. But I knew Liv, and I knew to defeat a bully like her was to stand my ground. I was the only teen in high school who could out-punk Liv. Being her best friend all through elementary up until junior high had schooled me on what type of person she was. Even though she was St. Hope’s biggest jerk, I knew her secret— Liv was just as insecure and fragile as the rest of us. However, she was a champion at hiding it behind a veil of cruelty

“Ugh, try to keep your hands off me, gay girl.” Liv tossed her long hair over her shoulder. “Everyone knows you’re obsessed with me, but ew, I don’t want to catch your lesbo germs.”

I rolled my eyes before picking up my backpack. “Right, because being gay is a virus and you’re afraid that you might catch my lesbian bug and make out with me.” I turned my back on Liv as I swapped out my textbooks for my next class. “Get over yourself, Liv. Homophobia has been out of style for years.”

She growled as her lackeys tittered around us. I could feel Liv’s temper boil like water in a kettle.

“You’re just avoiding the truth—no one here wants to touch your lesbo-butt and go to the dance with you.” Liv looked behind her and raised her arms at the crowd that had gathered around us. “Anyone willing to be Lesbo-butt’s date to the dance?”

I cringed. Lesbo-butt, guess that’s my new nickname for the school year. Awesome. Thanks, Liv.

Thankfully, almost no one at St. Hope’s cared that I was into girls. The only one who was a bully about it was Liv. But that didn’t mean the school wouldn’t line up for one of Liv’s targeted rants. Everyone at St. Hope’s liked a good show, especially when it came at someone else’s expense.

Liv pointed at a random boy. Henry, a boy from my geometry class, looked over his shoulder, his face coloring when he realized Liv was talking to him. “How about you? The boy in the back? You’re not cute. I can’t imagine you have a date.” His face flushed crimson as he dropped his gaze to his feet. “Take Lesbo-butt to the dance. I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you can convert her to liking boys.”

I spun on my heel, my hand raised and itching to slap the smug look of cruel victory off Liv’s face. Instead I lowered my hand to finger the amethyst pendant at my throat, the heaviness of its chain settling me like an anchor. Needing to calm down, I willed my temper to ease.

“You’re such an idiot, Liv. You can’t convert a biologically gay person to straight and picking on Henry for not having a date is just low.” I glanced at the faces behind Liv and slowly returned my gaze to meet her cold blue eyes. “Why don’t you stop worrying about what everybody else is doing and just ask Jayden to the dance yourself, instead of making these pathetic attempts to get his attention?”

Liv flared her tiny nostrils as her eyes grew wild. Snickers were echoing behind her back, and I watched as her face turned as red as her lipstick. She curled her lips as she searched for a new insult. Liv’s pale hand whipped over my head to snatch a photo off my locker door.

“Who’s this, Lesbo-butt? Is this your boyfriend in Hicksville?” Liv pivoted on her heel to raise the photo to the crowd like a trophy. “I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but do you guys know if this is a photo of a boy or a girl?” Her eyes glittered with malice. “It’s just so confusing. It must be a girl because Lesbo-butt only likes girls. But omigod if it doesn’t look a lot like Harry over there.”

The boy ducked his head, staring at the floor as he mumbled, “It’s Henry,” but Liv didn’t pay him any attention.

Instead, she turned to face me, a defiant hand on her bony hip. “Does it have a name, Zinnia? Maybe that might help us decide if you’re into boys or girls these days.” Liv touched a finger to her chin and cocked her head, pretending to be in deep thought. “Wait, don’t tell me. Its name is Bobby.” Liv shook her head, her lips twisted in a cruel smile. “No, no, no, that’s not right,” she hummed, studying the picture before a flash of mischief danced across her smug face. “I remember now, its name is Billie. Am I right?” Liv shrugged with a malevolent laugh. “Guess that doesn’t help much with an androgynous name like Billie, does it?”

She turned to Henry, who looked miserable with humiliation. “Looks like you might still be in the running to take Zinnia to the dance, Harry.”

I lunged at Liv, snatching the photo out of her fingers. The photo tore in two, and Liv grinned at me as she waved her half of Billie’s photo in my face. I shook with anger as Liv hooted.

I held my half of the photo with shaking fingers. “Liv, you’re such a psycho! You know Billie is a girl, but you’re being a total jerk because you’re jealous that she’s hotter than Jayden.” Liv’s grin snapped shut and her eyes narrowed at me. Her idiot friends bounced their eyes back and forth between us, grinning like a pack of bloodthirsty hyenas. “And by the way,” I continued, “everyone knows you’re obsessed with him. You’ve been drooling over that boy since second grade, but you don’t have the guts to tell him.” My voice bellowed out louder than I had meant to, and I realized I was yelling.

I looked down at the torn photo in my hand. An emerald-green eye stared back at me. I snapped my locker shut and stuffed the photo in my back pocket. “And his name is Henry, not Harry, you bully!” I slammed my shoulder into Liv’s as I made my way through the snickering faces and stormed off into my next class.

I slid into my seat seconds before the bell rang and stared down at my desk. Everyone else was already seated, and I could feel their eyes on me. I sank deep into my chair at the back of the room, glowering. I was certain the entire science class had heard Liv roaring at me in the hallway. My science teacher Mr. Kurt lifted his head, glancing at me through his smudged glasses, his eyebrows raised in concern. I offered a weak smile and hung my head low.

My stomach churned as I cupped my mouth with my hands, swallowing hard to repress the urge to vomit. The classroom reeked of dill pickles and rubbing alcohol, and I moaned. Could this day get any worse? I had totally forgotten we were dissecting frogs this week, and my mouth filled with bile as the image of my aunt’s toad Merle danced in my mind. I swallowed hard against the rising nausea at the mental image of me dissecting the corpse of a helpless frog. The last thing I wanted was a dozen sets of eyes gawking at me while I mutilated a dead creature.

The teacher droned on about the upcoming dissection, and students were called one by one to the front to claim a dead frog. I ran my hands through my shaggy blonde hair before reaching for my phone. I needed a friend to commiserate with. A real friend, one who always made me feel better. Billie was a diehard animal lover. If anyone knew how to get out of dissecting a frog, it would be her.

Billie’s penetrating green eyes stared back at me as I looked at my screen saver. Her long, willowy arm was wrapped around my shoulder as we sat by Lake Cauldron, the sun setting behind us. It was a picture taken of our last day together before I had to leave my aunts’ house in Ambrosia Hill and return to the city with my mom.

My heart had broken the day I’d said goodbye to Billie. Even though Billie was not my girlfriend, my feelings for her were beyond platonic. The crush I’d tried to repress all summer long had exploded into full, deep feelings that I’d never imagined I could have at fourteen. But they were there, and I couldn’t deny that I liked Billie, thought of her every day and missed her even more than that. Even though we never spoke about any feelings for each other, I was confident she felt the same way, and I was eager to get back to her and confess my emotions face to face, like I should have before my mom and I had left Ambrosia Hill behind.

Liv attacked me, again.

I texted Billie, my thumbs flying over the screen.

And now Mr. Kurt has us dissecting amphibians.

I hit send on my phone with a sad face and frog emoji.

Billie replied immediately.

Tell Mr. Kill that dissecting a poor creature is against your religion, and you want to go to the library and do a report on the anatomy of a frog instead of brutally and inhumanely cutting open a dead corpse with a scalpel.

She sent an angry face emoji, then a gif that said, “Frogs are friends, not food,” with a pair of frog legs jumping off a table. At that moment, I missed her and her pet pig Bacon more than ever, almost as much as I yearned for my familiar kitten, Opal. I swallowed a lump that formed in the back of my throat and choked down my tears.

Billie was just getting started. I saw the three dots that indicated she was typing.

And tell Liv to go shove it. I hate that she bullies you! Don’t let her get to you, Zinnia! She’s just jealous you have the strength to be who you are. Her fake and bake tan butt could never be as strong as you.

I smiled at her text as I wiped a tear from my eye. Mr. Kurt called my name from beside the classroom’s freezer. Before I put my phone away, I saw one last message from Billie.

You’ll be back here with me before you know it, City Girl.

How I wish I were there now, I thought for the millionth time. Next summer seemed like an eternity away. I had begged my mom to move to Ambrosia Hill. After Dad had divorced her and moved away to Brazil, there was no reason for us to stay in the city.

“Dad’s gone, you’re not married anymore and our family and friends are in Ambrosia Hill. We belong with the aunts.” I had pleaded with her that morning before I left for school. Mom had only looked at me with a sympathetic face, the one universal to moms all over—the expression every mom has when their kid wants something they won’t give them. I loathed that look and wanted her to see things my way for once.

Because of her, I had to keep my identity a secret—no one in New York City could know that I came from a lineage of green witches. Over the summer, I had written my name in my own Book of Shadows and claimed my heritage as a hereditary witch. It angered me that my mom had forfeited her birthright to become a witch and instead chose to live a normal life. A normal life would never be available for me. Being fourteen, in high school, an openly gay girl and a witch? Well, that was an overload of baggage for one teen to handle on her own. What I needed most in my life was community, and my people were in Ambrosia Hill, not in the city attending high school at St. Hope’s.

“Zinnia.” My mother had sighed. “My career is in the city. I’ve worked too hard at the law firm to quit now.” Mom had tucked a strand of my blonde hair behind my ear as she inhaled a deep breath.

“But you could open your own private practice in Ambrosia Hill,” I had implored, “and do environmental work instead of tax law, which I know you hate.” I had wiggled my eyebrows at her, as if I were dangling a juicy worm as bait on a hook.

Mom had laughed as she shook her head. “You make everything seem so easy, Zinnia. Effortless, even.”

I had wrapped my arms around her neck, pressing my forehead to hers. “That’s because it can be, Mom. All we have to do is go. Let’s just pack up and go.” It was more of a plea than a request, and my voice had broken into a brittle whisper.

Mom had shaken her head, and I knew the answer was no. It was the same answer she had been giving me all through September and October since we’d returned to our small apartment, far away from my great aunts’ witchy house on Ambrosia Hill—my other home, my real home.

“It’s October, your favorite time of the year,” Mom had chirped, trying to distract me, but it didn’t work. Nothing cheered me up anymore. “How about we go to Autumn Week in Greenwich Village? I bet they will have cider and caramel apples. We can even get our pumpkins there and carve them later this evening.” Mom clapped her hands together, trying to convince me to muster up some enthusiasm for her plan. “We can watch a scary movie!” She pointed a finger in the air. “But not too scary. I will have nightmares without your…” Her words trailed off, and I knew what she was going to say. She missed my dad.

“Sure, Mom. Why not?” I had replied with a shrug as I slung my bookbag over my shoulder and drifted out of the front door for school.

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About the Author

Rebecca Henry

Rebecca Henry is an American author living abroad in England. She is a devoted vegan who gardens, practices yoga, crafts, travels the world, and bakes. Rebecca’s favorite holiday is Halloween, and she is obsessed with anything and everything witchy! Besides writing fiction, Rebecca is also the author of her vegan holiday cookbook collection. Her love for animals, baking with her family, having a plant-based diet and cruelty-free food all came together in her holiday cookbook collection.


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New Release Blitz ~ Screaming by Jayce Carter (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Screaming by Jayce Carter

Book 3 in the Larkwood Academy series

Word Count:  92,780
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 337



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Book Description


Run or fight—I’m not the same frightened girl they silenced anymore.

I did it—I’m out. After a year imprisoned and tortured in Larkwood Academy, I’ve finally escaped, leaving destruction in my wake. Now that I understand what Larkwood is actually doing, now that I know just how deep their evil runs, they’ll stop at nothing to find me and keep me silent. Since getting locked up, I’ve wanted nothing more than to go back to my old life.

However, my old life, my old friends, don’t fit the way I remember…

With the men I’ve fallen for, Wade, Knox, Brax, Kit and Deacon, at my side, I struggle to figure out exactly where I belong. Should we run? Hide? Fight? Can I turn my back on everyone and everything I’ve come to care about over the last year for my own safety, or will the siren’s song of Larkwood Academy draw me back to my own destruction?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of incarceration, violence and assault, as well as instances of inadequate parenting.



I might have escaped Larkwood, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were right behind me, that if I let my guard down for even a moment, they’d grab me again and drag me back to hell. Every sound, every person that passed, it all put me on edge.

“Here.” Knox made me jump when he caught my hand from behind and pressed something into my palm.

I glanced down to find a couple of folded twenties there. I frowned, then offered him a questioning glance.

“Don’t worry—I didn’t do anything weird to get it. I just used my powers to convince someone to hand over his wallet. Given the very nice sports car he was driving, I doubt he’ll miss it all that much.”

I let out a relieved breath. If it were Brax, I’d have worried he might have left a body behind. With Knox, a fear that he’d done something he hadn’t wanted to get the money had hit me. Hearing he hadn’t soothed my fears.

It had been nearly a week since we’d gotten out of Larkwood. The first trek through the open desert had been the worst, and we’d moved fast, pushing ourselves to our limits. Thankfully, with my hearing, I’d been able to identify helicopters and patrols before they got close. This was the second town we’d stopped at, since we hadn’t wanted to stay long in the first. We’d only remained in the first long enough to get a change of clothing.

We’d picked up some items from a thrift store, paying for it all with money Brax had—I sure didn’t ask him how he’d gotten it. It had left me in a baggy cable-knit sweater and jeans with large rips in them—far more casual than I’d been used to in my old life and yet not the clothing I’d had in my life at Larkwood.

Wade had found a pair of slacks and a long-sleeved shirt, Brax a large hoodie and jeans, and Knox wore a rather loud Hawaiian button-up short-sleeved shirt, a windbreaker and a pair of shorts that made him look like a surfer. We resembled hopeless fashion rejects, but at least we didn’t look like escaped prisoners. The long sleeves allowed us to hide our Larkwood bands as well.

I tossed food into my basket as Knox walked beside me, picking things with a good shelf life and plenty of calories. I had no idea what the future held, where we’d go, what we’d find there, which meant we needed to make the best out of what we could find when we got the chance.

I peered behind me, wondering where Brax and Wade had run off to. It was best for us not to be too close in public since a group of four brought more attention than a pair did, but I struggled not to worry when I couldn’t see them.

“They’re picking up some goods at the general store down the street,” Knox said. “I gave them some of the cash I’d gotten.”

I nodded to acknowledge the information, then reached for a pack of cookies from the shelf. They made me pause as I looked at them, the same brand that Brax and Wade had fought over in my room before.

“You sure we need those?”

I thought back to Larkwood, to the chaos we’d left behind. I remembered the way Wade had stood between me and the shades who had wanted to kill me. Next, I recalled Brax fully changed into his berserker form, blood dripping from his huge body, the way he’d taken out everything that risked me before he’d rumbled out “mine.”

We’d gone through so much, suffered so much pain to get us here. Cookies seemed a small price to pay.

Knox set his palm over mine, which made me realize my hand still hung in mid-air. He guided me back to drop the cookies into the basket while offering a kind smile. “Comfort food is important, right? In fact…” Knox pulled away and walked toward the end of the aisle for a moment. He plucked something from a shelf, then jogged back and tossed it into the basket.

I peered down to find a king-sized chocolate bar.

“You complained about the lack of chocolate before. I figured you deserved something nice, too.”

I couldn’t stop my smile, not just at the thought of tasting the candy but also at Knox’s sweetness.

Now is not the time to act all smitten.

We had bigger things to deal with than my feelings toward Knox.

“You haven’t been sleeping well,” Knox said, the words so unexpected I frowned at the change in topic.

I tucked the basket into the crook of my elbow so I could sign. “What?”

“You’ve been waking up from nightmares. Are you reliving what happened?”

I gulped but shook my head. “I’m tumbling into this endless void of darkness. It feels like I’m drowning, and no matter how I kick, I can’t reach the surface.” Even admitting the dreams that had plagued me every night made me shudder.


That took me by surprise, and I jerked to a stop.

Knox, however, kept speaking as if the topic weren’t awkward at all. “Your bond with Kit. I’m going to guess he’s trying to reach you through it, and when you resist, that’s why you get that sinking feeling.”

He wouldn’t hurt me like that.” I might not be certain of many things, but that I knew for sure.

“No, he wouldn’t on purpose, but he might not realize it’s causing you any distress. It might be like…being blindfolded and screaming for someone, not realizing they’re right next to you. He might be reaching for you but have no idea you can feel it.”

Now that sounded like the man I know. “What should I do?”

“Talk to him.” At my look, he laughed softly. “If Kit wants to find you, he can. You need your sleep, though, and you won’t get any if this keeps up. So talk to him.” After a moment, he added quietly, “You’ll probably feel better after checking in with him anyway.”

Which was true… Leaving the way I had without a real goodbye to either Kit or Deacon hurt. The memory of Deacon’s face, the way he’d stared at me as if I’d broken his heart, was almost as bad as the nightmares.

In fact, no matter how much I wanted to ignore it, the feeling encompassed more than just the two of them. I’d left so much back at Larkwood, so many people hurting. Why was I free when they had to stay there?

Instead of dwelling on it, I told myself that I’d brave that conversation when I fell asleep that night. I’d force myself to confront that darkness and Kit.

I owed him that much, didn’t I?

“Shit.” Knox’s curse took me off guard, pulling me from my little pep talk. He wasn’t the sort to swear much, and I hadn’t done anything to earn a reaction like that as far as I knew.

I pulled back enough to peer at his face, finding his gaze not on me but up and to the left.

I turned, my blood running cold when I realized what he stared at. On the television a breaking story ran, and above the newscaster’s shoulder? Knox’s, Wade’s and Brax’s faces stared back at me.

The words that ran along the bottom edge of the screen talked about the escape from Larkwood, though they only mentioned the other three. Nowhere did they imply a fourth person had participated.

Why doesn’t it include me?

“We should get going,” Knox said, his voice low. “You check out, and I’ll head next door to grab Wade and Brax. Meet us on the side of the building.”

After I nodded, he headed out, his face down. Thankfully, the three looked different enough in regular clothing than the sweats the pictures showed. Besides, most people ignored news reports like those, assuming that such things would never touch their lives.

I paid quickly, a gesture toward the large scar at my throat when the cashier had tried to strike up a conversation. My fingers ached from the heavy bags, but just as Knox had said, I found all three men around the side of the building.

And boy did Brax look angry. Still, the expression fit rather well on his face. In fact, if he really wanted to hide who he was, the best way would have probably been to smile. No one would recognize him like that.

Brax narrowed his eyes before swiping his hand out and taking the bags from me without asking. “No idea what you’re thinking, but I don’t like that smirk.”

I shrugged rather than admitting or denying anything.

“Looks like this might be our last family outing,” Wade said.

“Why wouldn’t they include Hera, though?” Brax asked.

“It has to be a ploy.” Knox pressed his lips together for a moment. “Maybe the Warden hopes that will get us stuck, that it’ll force her to act alone so guards can look for Hera?”

Maybe…though the more I thought about it, the less that made sense. “I think she doesn’t want it known I’m at Larkwood at all. She’s keeping it secret to leverage that information, which means she can’t admit I’m not there anymore. She probably can’t even tell my parents, because if she did, they’d stop helping her.” Even saying that hurt, making a deep spot inside my chest ache, the part that still craved a family.

Wade reached for me and entwined his gloved hand with mine, his tight grip reassuring.

His touch made his point loud and clear—whether or not my parents ever accepted me, I had people. No matter how hard it had been to lose my voice, it had taught me how much a person could say without ever speaking a word.

So I squeezed back as we headed off toward the empty store we’d broken into the night before to sleep at.

Things might look bad, and they might just get worse, but I wasn’t alone.

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About the Author

Jayce Carter

Jayce Carter lives in Southern California with her husband and two spawns. She originally wanted to take over the world but realized that would require wearing pants. This led her to choosing writing, a completely pants-free occupation. She has a fear of heights yet rock climbs for fun and enjoys making up excuses for not going out and socializing. You can learn more about her at her website.


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New Release Blitz: When the Glow Lights the Woods by Eule Grey (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  When the Glow Lights the Woods

Author: Eule Grey

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/22/2022

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 28200

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, alternate universe/dystopia, winter/Christmas festivity, gay, YA, coming of age, first love, teacher, animals, conflicting societies, rich vs. poor, physical difference, family drama, friends to lovers

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A snowy story of healing, birds, and the magic of connection.

The Wall? Who gives a snowman’s kiss about when the wars ended, or who built the divide that goes all the way around the planet? Whatever!

All anyone cares about is Christmas, when one lucky person gets to date someone from the other side. Who will it be this year?

Eighteen-year-old Kite Ripples loves birds, animals, and gazing at stars. He’s a good brother to leader, Mal. Mostly. As teacher, it’s Kite’s responsibility to dispel the rumours about people on the other side being robots—just a myth, right? Deep down, he understands no human is better, or worse, than any other. And, if he dreams of meeting a guy like him—who wants to kiss—it doesn’t mean Kite’s a rebel. Not he!

Manu Feathers, also eighteen, lives on the other side. Gets into trouble. Likes boys. Breaks laws and wants more. Like everyone, he’s fixated on those over the divide—simultaneously scared and excited by rumours of too much sex. It’s a lot to get your head round.

Kite is selected to climb under the Wall, and it’s the best Christmas present ever. But nothing goes to plan. Instead of picking the perfect boy, all he notices is the guy on the end, acting out. Who’d choose a nuisance like him?

Can the highest Wall prevent first love? Can a kiss heal a baby bird?


When the Glow Lights the Woods
Eule Grey © 2022
All Rights Reserved

By breakfast time on the first day of December, I was dizzy with excitement. Drunk from the intoxicating question on everyone’s lips. Barely able to focus. More talkative than normal and in no way fit for work.

Is the Wall glowing?

I didn’t dare hope he’d allow me to skip duties, but it was worth a try.

“Mal? Can I miss work today? How about it, huh? It’s very important to be mentally ready. You know—because of representing our side. You don’t want me nodding off. I’m extremely tired from the, er, stress.”

Is the Wall glowing? Is it?

My brother remained strict and inferred I was a lazy oaf.

“Stress? Ha-ha, hee-hee. Nice try. Get out there, eighteen-year-old grandad! Sooner you start work, the sooner you’ll finish.”

Normally, I’d have stayed around to point out the scientific flaws in his doubtful logic but didn’t fancy a battle. Not so close to Christmas.

Despite sparkling frost and breaky-necky ice, duties beckoned. I fed the chickens and collected eggs—fifteen, woo-hoo. Attempted to fix their enclosure fence and forgot to close the gate. The hens squawked with glee and galloped off over the frozen parsnip fields. Not even such catastrophe dampened my spirits—I hopped over to my brother and innocently raked leaves.

“Ma-aal? Someone’s broken the fence. The hens are free. Could you?”

With herculean efforts, I survived the day, even managing a sneaky read, albeit a quickie. We weren’t supposed to read during work time. If my sister found out, there’d be trouble. Bar knocking myself unconscious, what else could a guy do? Reading remained the only certain method of calming frazzled nerves. My equilibrium, tenuous at best, was ruined by the magnitude of the occasion.

Glow day! Man-o-the-moon. After a lifetime of wishing, my dream hovered within a snowman’s breath. I, Kite Ripples, teacher—chosen to sound the annual alarm. Maybe. Hopefully. If the time was right.

A guard’s duties were fairly simple: on the first of the month, the anointed—me—trudged the length of the fruit fields and across Troll Bridge. Through Frogs Wood and onwards to the Wall, I went with the question mentally lit like the brightest fire.

Is it Glow Day?

The distance to the Wall from our caravan wasn’t far. The ground between tended towards bogginess, conditions often cold enough to freeze resolve. Still, it was a very easy journey. Just…follow the Wall. It ran through our land and on forever, covering the planet, or so people said. Not even Kite Ripples could get lost, and I was extremely talented in that particular department. My brother liked to tell stories of tying toddler me to the kissing tree because of my childish wandering habits. Always curious, even as a tiny boy.

We each got a turn to be guard, even me. At eighteen, I was the youngest of my generation and the only member not yet anointed. People said going under the Wall changed your life and perspectives. My sister, Ana, claimed the experience made her crave stability. Following anointment, she partnered Rich and produced three gorgeous kids. When I asked why going under the Wall caused such an effect, she shrugged and said I’d have to wait to find out. It was different for everyone.

According to Mal, the magic occurred during the infamous meeting between anointed and special person. Nobody agreed on the details. Many argued it manifested as immense happiness. Mal stuck with his theory about magic emanating from the glow like green, seeking fingers.

What if all I sensed was a stomachache? Kite Ripples got the sicks, ha-ha-ha.

Halfway through the tunnel, the anointed reached a metallic doorway positioned between two worlds. Some fled. My friend Luca had swivelled around at that point and headed for home.

I was determined not to run. Not me. Like my brother and sister before, I was hell-bent on reaching the other side and helping my people on their journey towards self-dependency.

Mal declared the return journey the most profound aspect of the whole process. Nobody remembered exactly what happened. Whereas most agreed the meetings were impactful, my brother claimed to have been ‘unchanged.’

Not true. Mal had been affected all right. Though normally a private fella who didn’t reveal much, following his anointment, he wept into my hair. Ever since, on the day of the glow, his eyes became starry, and he reached for the guitar. Despite my best efforts, he wouldn’t talk about what had happened over there.

The purpose of the meetings was simply to enable both sides to learn, to have experience without judgment. Our visits were strictly regulated by both sides. Elders had signed the important documents, such as aims and agreements, long before my time.

According to community histories, the elders were our parents. Who knew? They vanished when I was a baby. They’d set off with the intention of making alliances with lands beyond, far away, in the forbidden direction. None had returned. Amazingly, we survived, flourished, and expanded, even without elders. We lived off farms, orchards, rivers, and allotments, as well as a small library. Some years, we did well, others, not so good. It depended on the erratic, unpredictable seasons.

When the longest afternoon waned, Ana gave the nod, meaning I was allowed to set off. “Time to check the Wall. Be careful, Kite. Don’t trip and twist your ankle like Gurti.”

My sister always looked out for me, same as everyone in our land. I loved her and hoped to bring home good news. “I will. Don’t worry.”

Mal waited by the fence encircling our camp. He grinned and opened his arms. “My little brother. Are you ready for the glow?”


During the night, he said he wished he could accompany me. But, rules. The anointed must travel alone to check for the glow. It aided the process of ‘finding yourself’, according to Ana. Knowing me, I’d find myself and not like the person I met. Kite Ripples, anomaly.

My brother passed across a bag. “Water and emergency sandwich. Come straight home, yeah? If you’re not back by and by, I’ll come find you. Okay? If you fall and get hurt, just stay calm and wait.”

Worrying was not new. Mal, Ana, and the other older members of our camp tended to fear the worst. Because they remembered the elders leaving…

My brother had always babied me. Mal liked to be in charge, and I wasn’t as physically strong as the others. It bothered me when I was younger.

Despite a dodgy track record, I determined not to fall or do anything stupid. “I’m eighteen. Old enough to—well—tackle the world. Ha-ha. See you later.”

He watched me leave with arms crossed and an expression like a summer storm. “Be careful!”

As one, my community cheered my exit from camp. “Kite, Kite, Kite! Find the Christmas glow! Is the Wall glowing? Good luck. Don’t let robots turn you to stone.”

I tutted and laughed. “Ha, ha. Very funny. Not.”

Mal said the rumour about the other side behaving like robots wasn’t true—a night story for kids, nothing more. Still, artificial people… With a shudder, I’d hidden the only book in the library about robots with blank eyes and metallic antennae. No point in dwelling.

Despite Mal’s warning about being surefooted, I ran. My emotions ranged from high—low—extra-high—low. By Frogs Wood, I was a mess, questioning if the time was right. What if I’d made a mistake about days and times? It was possible yet not likely, since I was a community librarian and teacher. Nobody else bothered with books or dates.

Head down, so as not to spoil the surprise, I finally passed the last tree of Frogs Wood and stepped into the clearing. High—low—high-high-high.

Man-o-the-moon! Green, pink, and yellow lights arched across our dense woods in a resplendent rainbow. Sparkling stars flashed and merged with the subtle shades of nature.

For a while, I was caught by the visage of ancient forces of light and dark squaring up for a fight. I stood, frozen by a green glowing pulse battering the gloom before retreating over the Wall.

When coldness bit, I stumbled towards home with an unsteady, painful gait—run—lope—run—trip. Frogs Wood and the winding river. A stitch. Run—lope—stumble—trip—stagger onto Troll Bridge.

Ahead, I made out the shapes of our caravans and the outline of my waiting brother. Excitement burst free into a yell-cum-shout. “It’s lit! The Wall is lit by the glow. I’ve never seen anything like it. Christmastime, Mal. Woo-oo. Tomorrow, I get to go under!”

Instead of cheering as expected, my brother gazed towards the woods, hands clasped together across his heart. His expression was difficult to decipher.

“Always,” he said. “Always, my darling.”

“Mal! Puke.”


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Eule Grey has settled, for now, in the north UK. She’s worked in education, justice, youth work, and even tried her hand at butter-spreading in a sandwich factory. Sadly, she wasn’t much good at any of them!

She writes novels, novellas, poetry, and a messy combination of all three. Nothing about Eule is tidy but she rocks a boogie on a Saturday night!

For now, Eule is she/her or they/them. Eule has not yet arrived at a pronoun that feels right.

Website | Facebook | Twitter


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New Release Blitz: Three Kings by Freydis Moon (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Three Kings

Author:  Freydis Moon

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/22/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 38300

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, fantasy/PNR, trans, gay, polyamorous, cozy romance, witches/modern witchcraft, cottagecore, shifter, interracial, magic, magical flora and produce, Icelandic folklore, lighthouse/small coastal town, stormy beaches, sexual tension, selkie

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A polyamorous modern-day fairytale filled with magical flora, cozy romance, and Icelandic folklore…

Ethan Shaw—lighthouse keeper and local witch—lives a charmed life in his chilly, coastal hometown. Blessed with a flourishing garden and a stable livelihood, Ethan can’t complain. But when his husband, Captain Peter Vásquez, brings home a wounded seal after an impromptu storm, Ethan is faced with a curious situation: caring for a lost selkie named Nico Locke.

As Ethan struggles with the possibility of being infertile, insecurities surrounding his marriage, and a newly formed magical bond with a hostile, handsome selkie, his comfortable life begins to fracture. But could breakage lead to something better?

With autumn at their heels and winter on the horizon, Ethan, Peter, and Nico test the boundaries of a new relationship, shared intimacy, and the chance at a future together.


Three Kings
Freydís Moon © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Ethan Shaw carried two knives, one for lilies, the other for veins. The blade in his left hand curved like a smile, clipping stems at a sweet, diagonal angle. The second weapon was concealed in a petite leather sheath, tucked neatly in his right palm.

The ritual called for innocence, and he had none to spare, so he searched the shoreline for white-petaled flowers—speckled with saltwater, yawning toward the sky—and remembered the folktale that wormed through Casper, spoken quietly at the pub, hollered by sailors on the docks, cooed in the apothecary, and sung by children on the playground.

Those Casper lilies, the story went, are filled to the brim with what we’ve lost.

Like snakes, the townsfolk shed their innocence, leaving it to stew in the bay, sink into the soil, and beat against the lighthouse. And like snakes, the lilies drew their outgrown magic into tangled roots and narrow stems and gilded pollen: an ouroboros consuming itself.

Most people refused to use the term—magic—but Ethan found it appropriate. Harvesting long-gone energy from a living thing felt like its very definition. Using said magic to reanimate a corpse felt less like magic, though, and more like recklessness.

He yelped and flailed before he hit the water, bracing for the icy shock. Panic shot through him. Salt water rushed into his nostrils, and seaweed snagged his ankle. Swim, idiot. November wind nipped his face when he breached, sucking at the air, clutching drenched flowers to his chest. Casper lilies never promised to be easy, of course. But Ethan Shaw still cursed as he slushed through tidepools and mud. He sighed, relieved, when his soggy shoes hit the gravel path outside the tower.

“We need a lightkeeper, Ethan,” he mocked, shouldering through the wooden door. He left his boots in a puddle on the cheeky welcome mat: You Better Be Beer! “It’s a solid wage, Ethan. Not like it’s a—” The first knife clattered on the rectangular table, then the second. Sopping flowers landed with a splat next to an unopened power bill. “—hard gig, Ethan. Just take it.” He whined through the last three words, mimicking his mother, and trudged into the washroom.

He hadn’t the time for a bath, so he peeled the wet shirt from his back, unzipped his jeans, and wrestled out of his drenched binder. The chilly water had reddened his beige skin and left his boyish face chapped and raw. Droplets clung to his chestnut hair, shorn behind his ears and around the back of his skull, and worn long at his crown, hanging in messy strings over his brow. He slicked his hair back with an annoyed swipe and scrubbed lingering sea grime away with a warm cloth. He dried with a towel that smelled like gardenia and tobacco, like Peter, and set his palms on the vanity, studying his reflection. Rabbit-framed, small-chested, wide-hipped, and delicately masculine, Ethan Shaw wasn’t the optimal lightkeeper type, per se. He hadn’t a beard, only annoying stubble, and carried himself on dainty, soft-pawed feet. Much as the townsfolk whispered about lilies, they whispered about him too.

Witch—hissed like a match strike in the nave and murmured by joggers at the park—wasn’t entirely untrue, but Ethan still preferred friendlier terminology. Alchemist, maybe. Magician, even.

“Take the job, Ethan,” he mumbled and huffed at the mirror. “Surely the lifestyle suits you.”

A job doing, literally, anything else would’ve suited him better.

The front door heaved open, and the clip-clopping of heavy boots filled the living quarters. “Why is the floor wet?” Peter repeated the question, hollering through the lighthouse, “Darling, why is the floor wet?”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “I slipped,” he called, toeing the washroom door ajar.

Peter rounded the doorframe, square glasses crooked on his nose. Surprise shot to his face, but the expression faded, chased away by a frown. “You didn’t,” he warned, snaring Ethan’s reflection in a hard glare. “Ethan, we talked about this—”

“I don’t need your permission,” he snapped and slipped past Peter, striding confidently into the adjacent bedroom. He opened a drawer and fingered through his clothes, settling on a red sweater and corduroy trousers. “I’ve got the flowers; I know the ritual. Either have faith in me, or say I told you so if it doesn’t work, but hovering like a—” He batted at Peter’s broad chest. “—damn moth won’t change my mind. How was work?”

“Long,” Peter bit out. “Choppy water makes for terrible fishing, as you know. Even the local wildlife can’t handle the riptide—as you know—and consistently get thrown ashore, as you know, and—”

“You brought it home, not me.”

“I brought it home while it was still breathing,” Peter said, exasperated. He trailed Ethan into the closet, craning over him while he searched for wool socks—matching, preferably—and then into the kitchen, sighing dramatically at the waterlogged lilies. “Where’d you put the poor thing, anyway? Is it still in the garden shed?”

“No, I tossed it in the bathtub.” Ethan shot him an impatient glare. “Yes, of course, it’s in the garden shed, Peter. You think I’d let a selkie loose in our home? Give me some credit.”

“Okay, wait, hold on—wait.” Peter feebly attempted to catch him while he bounced around the kitchen.

Ethan yanked a bowl out of the cabinet, slid both knives behind his leather belt, unfastened the lavender from a rope above the sink, and stuffed his mortar and pestle underneath his arm. Before he could make for the door, two palms clasped his waist, turning him, and his beautiful, ridiculous husband wrinkled his nose. His copper cheeks were sea-bitten, angular bones pressing hard against his skin. As always, Peter Vásquez looked dashing, exhausted, and worried.

“Ay Dios mío, just wait, okay?” Peter asked.

Ethan arched an eyebrow. After a strangled pause, he lifted onto his tiptoes. “You brought it home,” he whispered and pecked Peter on the lips.

“It’s a leopard seal, Ethan. Not a selkie,” he said patiently, as he would to a toddler. “And it’s dead because animals that get caught in bad weather sometimes die.”

Ethan patted his cheek. “Sure, yeah. So, the next time you’re caught in bad weather and someone plops you on my doorstep, I’ll cash in your life insurance and call it a day. How’s that sound?”

Peter winced. “You’re impossible.”

“And you’re in my way.” Perhaps that was a little too far, considering. But impossible? Ethan scoffed. He wasn’t the one who’d mistaken a fae-beast—an extraordinarily obvious fae-beast, by the way—for a run-of-the-mill seal, and he wasn’t the one who’d whimpered when said not-seal had stopped breathing, and he certainly wasn’t the one who’d dragged a goddamn selkie home from work.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Freydís Moon (they/them) is a biracial nonbinary writer and diviner. When they aren’t writing or divining, Freydís is usually trying their hand at a recommended recipe, practicing a new language, or browsing their local bookstore.



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