New Release Blitz: The Spell by Nancy J. Hedin (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Spell

Author: Nancy J. Hedin

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/07/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 46600

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Lit, paranormal, lesbian, bisexual, magical realism, humor, painter, magic user, spell, real estate broker, police officer

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Description

What if you could enter and roam around in any painting and then return to your own reality—or not? Would you do it? Would you sit in on the Lord’s Supper, snuggle the Mona Lisa, or have a painting made of something—or someone—in your past or future you long to visit?

Waverly Ames is given that ability through a spell book she finds while on vacation. What’s more, her brash, beautiful neighbor, friend, and dog-walker Jewel is a painter who can fulfil any commission. And then there’s Camille, the married woman who captured Waverly’s heart—the woman Waverly can’t get over.

What happens when lust meets magic? What happens when being somewhere, anywhere is as simple as a painting and the artist’s intention behind it? Can you truly have your heart’s desire?

Excerpt

The Spell
Nancy J. Hedin © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Broken Heart
Waverly Ames had regrets, but none bigger than losing her first love, Camille. She wept and petted the thin leather cover of the spell book that was her only remnant of their week-long love affair the year prior. That was, the only remnant if Waverly ignored her ruminations, incessant second-guessing, and full-body ache to be with Camille again. The affair had ended without goodbyes, promises, or any way to contact Camille. They each returned to their own lives: Camille returned to her suburban home with her husband and two daughters, and Waverly returned to…what? Her apartment in a co-op building, her former job in real estate, and her unrealized dream of being a poet. She felt robbed.

She heard a key snick in her front door lock, the door creak open and click closed again. Waverly’s dog, Stella, barked and bounded to the kitchen. Baby talk and padded footfalls in the galley kitchen followed by the rattle of condiments and juice bottles inside the door of her refrigerator as it was opened, robbed, and slammed shut again. She wiped her eyes, dabbed her nose, and hid the spell book under her couch pillow. She didn’t want Jewel to see her being a baby. How could she have any tears left? She’d cried every day since Camille had left her. Waverly had made a resolution to be a grown-up.

She supposed it was time. Hadn’t most people set aside their childish dreams and taken on the mantle of adulthood by age thirty-five? She took back her old job in real estate, which she hated, and she had bought a condo she couldn’t really afford. That was what grown-ups did, she told herself. Grown-ups did not plan to be poets, fall in love with married women, and live in month-to-month apartments based on whether there was a good vibe for writing poetry there. She hadn’t written a single poem since she moved into the place.

The cupboard doors clicked, dishes clinked, and silverware jangled against glassware. The noises used to frighten Waverly, make her hold her breath, look for her phone and a weapon, but over time, she only found the intruder annoying. It was just Jewel.

Jewel Cartwright, beautiful, brash, sinewy, younger than Waverly, on the early rungs of her third decade. Jewel lived in an unusually large studio apartment on the same floor as Waverly. Jewel’s space had no furniture other than a futon on the floor, but the windows were the size of garage doors and looked out on both downtown St. Paul and the bluffs and winding Mississippi River. Jewel was a painter. She sporadically worked a job restoring fine paintings, but mostly, Jewel painted her own work and filled her apartment with her paintings and the copies of other great paintings she replicated. She never grocery shopped and was always hungry. Shortly after Waverly bought her place and only days after she’d met her, Jewel insisted she was the best person to fill the dog-walking job Waverly posted on the co-op message board.

Jewel became Waverly’s official walker for Stella, Waverly’s seventy-pound shepherd-lab mix. From that point on, Jewel had a key to Waverly’s place, but came in at non-dog-walking times—no knock, no advanced warning.

Jewel stepped out from the kitchen and scanned Waverly’s face. “What? What’s that look? You don’t want me, change the locks.” It was complicated. Waverly did want her to walk Stella, so she put up with Jewel coming in at her leisure and often making herself a sandwich or eating Waverly’s leftovers. Stella, too, was eating a giant sandwich but not before she had peed a trickle on the floor in her excitement to see Jewel.

Waverly didn’t want Jewel to see her crying again.

“What’s wrong?” Jewel asked.

“Allergies.” Waverly blew her nose. “Why does my dog like you better than me?”

“Duh, I take her on walks, let her eat whatever she wants, and I tell her adventure stories where she is the femme fatale, the secret agent, the top dog.” Jewel kissed Stella on the head and stared at Waverly. “Don’t tell me you have been crying about Camille again.”

Jewel sat. Stella jumped up on the loveseat beside her as Jewel unloaded her stash. Once her hands were free to rub Stella’s ear, Jewel again talked baby talk to Stella. “Your mom is a silly goose obsessing about that naughty Camille when she could have lovely Jewel.”

Stella’s hair wafted into the air and onto the rug, furniture, and Waverly’s black jeans.

“Stella, tell Jewel to mind her own business.” Waverly sat up straight on the couch, reached back to snag her russet-brown hair, twisted it in a coil on her head, and secured it with a pencil. She took deep breaths. She noticed that Jewel stared at her breasts as she chewed. Waverly took the book out from beneath the pillow and held it in front of her chest. “Are you staring at my tits?”

“Cows have tits. I’m staring at your perfectly lovely breasts. They’re like warm kittens or hamsters under your shirt. Can I touch them?”

“No.” Waverly threw the spell book at Jewel and immediately regretted it. She didn’t want to damage the book, and she didn’t want anyone else touching it.

Jewel ducked. The book hit the wall, ricocheted back, and lay at her feet. She picked it up with her free hand. “Oh, Christ, haven’t you burned this thing yet?” Jewel crammed part of a pastrami and cheddar on sourdough sandwich in her mouth and gave the remainder to the dog. Stella planted herself on the rug like Jewel might change her mind and ask for the sandwich back.

Jewel stood and unloaded some of her plunder onto the coffee table, smearing the latest issue of Architectural Digest. She flopped down again on the love seat and flung her leg over the armrest without any embarrassment that the skirt she wore was entirely too short and she wore no underwear. “I’ll burn it for you. I have a lighter in my pocket. I could torch the thing right on this table.”

“No, you can’t.” Waverly tossed a throw blanket to Jewel. “Cover your junk! I can’t think with genitals in my face.”

“Excuse me, but I have no junk only jewels! Besides, you could use some genitals in your face so you’d stop obsessing about Camille.”

Stella burped. Jewel burped.

“You don’t understand.”

“What’s to understand?”

That was the thing, really. No one seemed to understand how important Waverly’s first real love affair had been. Maybe no one understood because they hadn’t had Waverly’s beginning. They hadn’t been orphaned at age six, shuttled between foster homes until finally, Waverly’s mother’s sister relented and said she would “take the girl.”

Who else knew of the shock of losing parents being compounded by being placed with loud, disinterested foster parents with homes that smelled of urine and Hamburger Helper? After three of these nightmares, Waverly finally landed where her parents had informally and unofficially wanted her to be if, God forbid, anything happened to them. God should have forbidden all of it, starting with the car accident that had killed her birth parents and continuing into Waverly’s school years in the care of cold, withholding, puritanical custodial parents who rationed their affections.

Add to that Waverly wasn’t her aunt and uncle’s birth child, and she didn’t want to be a nurse or schoolteacher. She wanted to be a cowboy briefly, and then she wanted to be a poet. She didn’t want to marry a man. She was attracted to women.

She was an orphaned misfit like an extra piece of hardware in the IKEA box. She didn’t fit anywhere. College was a dream in most respects. She was expected to be independent. In college being queer wasn’t a big deal. It made her almost interesting. She’d had girlfriends before—brief flirtations, one-night stands, and brief stints of cohabitation in college and graduate school that faded like fad diets and new year’s resolutions. Of course, Waverly clung to Camille. Camille was the first woman who had loved her with tender passion. Camille had swaddled Waverly in attention and adoration as Waverly nuzzled in Camille’s arms, drinking her in with her eyes.

Jewel dug a squished package of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls from her tank top. “How many people do you know who can hide chocolate-covered, crème-filled snack cakes in their rack?”

“I don’t know many.” Waverly shook her head. “Don’t give any of that to Stella.”

“I know dogs can’t do chocolate. Anyway—” Jewel licked her fingers. “What’s to understand? You met a woman, a married woman, a straight married woman, I might add…”

“Camille was not straight, I can assure you that.” Waverly’s head bobbled a bit, and she gave an impish grin.

“I know, I know, you made love every day, many times a day. You’ve told me a million times.” Jewel drank milk directly from the carton—Waverly’s carton. “I’m telling you, Waverly, plenty of straight women won’t say no to a week of orgasms independent of some guy slamming against them. But Waves, she went back to her husband and left you with what? A hole in your heart and that dumb book. You need to burn that book and cauterize the hole in your heart so that you can heal. Give the book to Stella as a chew toy. I gave her a Bible and two self-help books. She’ll be shitting psalms, proverbs, and platitudes for days.”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Nancy Hedin, a Minnesota writer, has been a pastor and bartender (at the same time). She has been a stand-up comic and a mental health crisis worker (at the same time). She wants readers to know that every story she writes begins with her hearing voices.

In 2018 Nancy’s debut novel, Bend was named one of twenty-five books to read for Pride Month Barnes and Noble, and was named Debut Novel of the Year by Golden Crown Literary Society and Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for GLBT Adult Novel of the Year.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Linkedin

Giveaway

One lucky winner will receive a $50.00 NineStar Press Gift Code!

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This competition ends on January 4th 2022 at 12am EST. Competition hosted by NineStar Press.

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New Release Blitz ~ A Spoonful of Sugar by AE Lister & Mistletoe Menage by Lily Harlem (Giveaway)

A Spoonful of Sugar by AE Lister
Mistletoe Menage by Lily Harlem

Genres:

BONDAGE AND BDSM (A Spoonful of Sugar)
CHRISTMAS
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS

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A Spoonful of Sugar
Mistletoe Menage

Book Description

A Spoonful of Sugar


A kinky interlude over the holidays brings three men closer as their unconventional relationship evolves from casual to serious.

Scott Vernier met Jericho Griffin and Pascal Olejatz at a Halloween party in October and soon became casually involved with the kinky, committed pair.

Over the course of the holidays, the men struggle to find time together outside their busy schedules and finally make space for each other over Christmas week. Scott finds himself craving more of a committed relationship with these wonderful men and tiptoes around the issue to find out if Jericho and Pascal feel the same.

Scott’s dreams of expertly delivered medical play already a vivid reality, the men introduce him to more deliciously subversive scenes including teacher-student role play and invite him to dabble with imaginary non-consent.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of enema play and imaginary non-consent.

Mistletoe Menage

The winter days might be frosty, but a new guy in town is sure to heat up Father Nicholas and Dr. Zach!

Reverend Nicholas Simmons has traveled a bumpy road before landing in the small town of Mindle with his doctor husband. So, when a new, very sexy, very enticing young man shows interest in them both, he’s reluctant to rock the boat.

Zach, however, can’t keep the flashes of desire from his eyes. He’d never cheat, of course not, but visions of hot threesomes dance in his mind. Will Nicholas ever agree? If so, what would it be like? How hard would they all come?

Brandon isn’t looking forward to his first Christmas in Mindle. He’s alone. Exhausted. Friendless. That is, until he meets the Reverend and Zach. From that first moment he’s equal parts fascinated and turned on by them. Sure, they’re older than he is, but that just heightens his lust and increases his need to get hot, sweaty and naked with them.

Will their romance have a backdrop of tinsel and holly? Can three strong, passionate men truly connect with absolute honesty? And on Christmas night, will they each get the ultimate present—one another—under the tree?

Purchase one or both at First For Romance

About the Authors

AE Lister

AE Lister/Elizabeth Lister is a Canadian non-binary author with a vivid imagination and a head full of unique and interesting characters. They have published 10 books, one of which received an Honorable Mention from the National Leather Association – International for excellence in SM/Leather/Fetish writing.

“Sensual and visceral BDSM.” – Amazon.ca

Find out more about AE Lister at their website, and follow them on Instagram and Facebook. You can join their Facebook group and find out more at their BDSM blog.

Lily Harlem

Award-winning, bestselling author Lily Harlem lives in the UK and is a complete floozy when it comes to genres and pairings, writing from male/female contemporary to gay paranormal and everything in between.

One thing you can be sure of when you pick up a Lily book is heat will rise from the pages and you’ll be reading late into the night! Enjoy!

Giveaway

Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card!

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Notice: This competition ends on 4th January 2021 at 12am EST. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

New Release Blitz ~ Need for Three by Emma Penny & Temporary Angel by Elizabeth Coldwell (Giveaway)

Need for Three by Emma Penny
Temporary Angel by Elizabeth Coldwell

Genres:

CHRISTMAS
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
FANTASY (Need for Three)
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS
REVERSE HAREM

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Need for Three
Temporary Angel

Book Description

Need for Three

Haunted by her past, present, and future, Jericho only has one decision to make—all or none.

Jericho is in the prime of her life, but she can’t shake the feeling something is missing. She loves her current boyfriend with all her heart, but often dreams of her ex-boyfriend and a future guy she’s never met. She wants a family, one of her own choosing, one who loves her with everything they have.

Given the order to haunt, Linwood, Milo and Dominic take their case seriously. Haunting Jericho throughout the week before Christmas, they set out to convince her to focus on her present and give up her dreams. When the haunting goes wrong, the three ghosts sent by The Order and Jericho must decide—stick to tradition or follow their hearts.

Temporary Angel

Taking on her best friend’s identity brings three men into her life—but can she keep them for longer than Christmas?

Jess Morgan dreams of having the self-confidence and adventurous sex life her best friend, burlesque dancer Angel Golightly, enjoys.

When a freak accident lays Angel low over Christmas, Jess steps into her shoes and accepts an engagement to perform at an intimate gathering at the home of wealthy hotelier Daniel McAndrew. What she doesn’t know is that the only guests are Daniel’s closest friends, Ray Stockhill and Etienne Barbeau. The three men long to find the perfect woman who they can share in bed and out, but no one has come close to fulfilling their fantasy until they meet Jess.

Over the course of an unforgettable Christmas, Jess has sex with Daniel, Ray and Etienne, singly and together, and grows increasingly close to all three of them, but she’s aware that she’s playing a dangerous game. What will happen if her real identity is exposed, and can she really have the harem of lovers she craves?

Purchase one or both at First For Romance

About the Authors

Emma Penny

Emma Penny is a millennial living in the US. She often moves and loves experiencing new adventures and letting her mind wander to new possibilities. She currently lives north of Denver, CO and has fallen in love with writing steamier romance. Emma started writing when she was a teenager and has never looked back from the creative side of her life. She particularly loves to explore worlds beyond the believable, worlds that stretch her imagination but still root her in the very real personalities of her characters and their relationships.

Follow Emma on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and find her at her website.

Elizabeth Coldwell

Elizabeth Coldwell is a multi-published author and editor whose stories have appeared in a number of best-selling anthologies. She has written novels in a variety of different genres, from paranormal to BDSM and contemporary romance. She is the former editor of the UK edition of Forum magazine and the proud winner of an International Leather Award. When she is not busy writing, she is an avid supporter of Rotherham United Football Club and can be regularly found on the terraces at weekends, cheering her boys to victory (hopefully!).

Find her online at The (Really) Naughty Corner, http://elizabethcoldwell.wordpress.com

Giveaway

Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card!

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Notice: This competition ends on 4th January 2021 at 12am EST. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz: The Holiday List by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Holiday List

Series: The Script Club #4

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: December 3

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 39K

Genre: Romance, Nerd/Jock, MM Romance, Bisexual, Single Dad, Grumpy/Happy, Holiday Romance

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Synopsis

The Mars maestro, the single dad, and a wish list…

Chet-

Boy, am I lucky! Finding a living situation with a houseful of passionate scientists just before the holidays is ideal in every possible way. As the newest member of the Script Club, I feel it’s important to step up and tackle the to-do list my friends would prefer to avoid. Item one, address the tutoring request from the neighborhood-hottie-slash-single-dad on the next block. I’ve got this!

Or do I?

Handsome, older, sporty gentlemen intimidate me. And Mr. McSwoony doesn’t like the holidays. This may be a daunting task.

Sam-

What do you do when a new neighbor shows up on your doorstep with cookies and a wacky plan to spread holiday cheer? I don’t need cheer, but I could use help with some of the experiments my son wants to try. I know football, not science. Hopefully, I can talk Chet into a mutually beneficial trade. The only snag is that I’m seriously attracted to my local Mars expert. He’s unintentionally charming…in the very best way.

Don’t quote me, but this holiday elf with thick glasses and a mile-long list might be exactly what I need.

The Holiday List is an MM bisexual, geek/jock romance with a holiday twist featuring a lovable scientist and a single dad who’s probably on the naughty list!

Excerpt

“Who said I was lonely? I’m not lonely. I’m just tired of being with myself. That’s not the same thing,” I argued.

“Close enough. One thing that helps me fight the blues is an immediate change of scenery,” Chet pronounced with a wide grin.

“Thanks, Doc, but Linc is coming home this week. I’m not going anywhere.”

“You don’t have to physically go anywhere. You can just switch up your routine and add—”

“Let me guess…holiday cheer?”

Chet beamed. “Yes.”

I had to give the guy credit…he was tenacious.

I couldn’t let him think he’d won too easily, though. I furrowed my brow, giving him my best cranky scowl, and huffed. “You really want to decorate my house?”

He frowned. “No. I want to reset your karma. And mine. You’ve done a good deed here tonight, and I owe you one in turn. I also owe my roommates for their kindness.”

“Putting up a tree is going to help your karma?” I snorted.

“And yours.”

Somehow, I doubted that, but I liked the idea of having an excuse to see him again. “Fine. You can decorate my house.”

Chet whooped as he jumped to his feet. “A nice noble fir would look perfect in that corner of your great room near the fireplace. But of course, closer to the window. We don’t want to worry about fire hazards. What’s your ornament situation? I’m happy to purchase some if needed. Simple red and silver balls are always nice and—”

“I’ve got plenty of balls.” I stood, testing my shoulder to be sure I didn’t do any real damage, as I met him at the door. “It’s getting late. We can talk about this later. You seem like the kind of Christmas elf who needs parameters.”

He snickered, pushing his glasses to the bridge of his nose. “There might be some truth to that statement.”

“Just so we’re clear, I’m not gonna want to wake up in a winter fuckin’ wonderland.”

“Right. Got it.”

I braced my hand on the doorknob, scanning the dimly lit foyer briefly. “Come over Saturday. We can talk about it then. And…you can meet Linc.”

Chet narrowed his eyes. Not gonna lie, his immediate transformation from skinny geek to bad-ass science guy was kinda hot.

“Is this trickery?”

“No, but it might be a good trade. We’ll see.” I shot a lopsided grin his way as I opened the door, pointing at the chair that knocked me on my ass. “This is not an adequate security system. I’ll give you my number. If anything seems suspicious or if you need anything, call me.”

Chet typed my contact info into his cell obediently, then pressed Call so I had his number too. Courtesy complete, he fixed me with a no-nonsense look. “Thank you. For the record, while I appreciate your help tonight, I didn’t agree to—”

“I know, I know.” I stared at him for a long moment.

This had to be one of the oddest yet most interesting nights I’d had in a while. This was probably a good time to remind myself that Chet was my neighbor. My much younger neighbor.

But damn it, he was tempting.

I leaned in and pressed my lips to his. It was featherlight touch, hardly a real kiss at all. It was just enough to make him blush. Chet’s cheeks pinkened, and a flush rose low on his neck.

“Mr. Rooney…”

“Sam,” I gently reminded him. “Good night.”

Don’t ask me how I did it, but I somehow managed not to turn around as I headed down the pathway and up the street to my house. My lips twitched in amusement, giving way to a smile that grew with every step. When I finally got home, I let it fly, grinning like a madman as I chomped on a rosemary shortbread cookie made by my own personal elf.

Was I vaguely alarmed at the concept of letting him put a bunch of holiday crap up in my house? Fuck, yes, I was. Hot kiss or not, nothing was going to happen between us. And I was okay with that. Mostly.

Maybe he was just the diversion I’d needed, ’cause hanging out at home for the next couple of weeks suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

Purchase at Amazon

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, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | BookBub

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New Release Blitz: Love on the Rise by A.C. Thomas (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Love on the Rise

Author: A.C. Thomas

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 42100

Genre: Contemporary Holiday, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, Christmas holiday, Italian bakery/ baker, banker, soulmates/ love at first sight, money woes, small-town community, pastry love

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Description

Matteo Leonelli is getting by, running his old-fashioned family bakery in the heart of Belleview, North Carolina. He’s struggled to keep the place going since his parents passed, and his cakes don’t taste the same without someone to share them.

Then, Matteo meets Ethan, a thoughtful, handsome artist, who sees Matt in a way no one has before, who touches him as if it’s a privilege. One date, and Matt is in love, dancing among clouds of meringue as he bakes up a storm to prepare for the holidays.

Ethan Price is getting by, running his family banking firm. He had to abandon his dreams of becoming an artist, but he gives it his best effort in his father’s memory. Then, he meets a man who makes his stress melt away like butter on warm bread. Matt, who smells like cookies and looks like a Caravaggio painting. Ethan is in love, head over heels as he rushes through the business of the day so he can see Matt again. He plans to sweep him off his adorable feet.

Disaster strikes as Matt’s bakery loans come due during the holidays. The news is just as shocking as the man who delivers it. Ethan isn’t the sensitive artist of Matt’s dreams, but a cold-hearted banker, and Matt’s heart crumbles like shortbread. As Christmas draws near, Matt works to save his bakery, while Ethan works to win him back. Beneath the sparkling lights of bakery windows displaying holiday treats, they must decide: can Ethan reconcile his passion for art and his love for Matt with his obligations to the family business? Can Matt forgive Ethan and open his heart to a love so sweet it outshines his pastries?

With determination, well-placed mistletoe, and a dash of cinnamon, they just might.

Excerpt

Love on the Rise
A.C. Thomas © 2021
All Rights Reserved

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and Matteo Leonelli had finally gotten laid.

He whistled some Sinatra as he patted down the dough for the next morning, then covered it with a clean flour cloth to rise overnight.

Suppressing a yawn, he piped the last batch of the cupcakes of the day with lemon cream. Lemon was the theme because Matt felt like a tart in the best way possible. Sweet and sharp and bright with satisfaction. And, notably, like the guy who had gone home with his date the night before.

Nothing could bring him down, not even the slow grip of sleepiness tugging on his heels. Matt’s date had kept him up all night, and he’d only gotten a few hours of rest. Matt had stayed over, even though he needed to be in the bakery by 4 a.m. to start the bread and pastry for the day.

It had been worth it.

He could have happily worked all day on zero hours of sleep if his date, Ethan, hadn’t curled up around him after round two, long limbs wrapped as tightly as the wisteria vines that climbed the bakery porch. He had been big and warm and whispered sweet nothings into Matt’s sweaty hair until they’d both fallen asleep.

Matt hadn’t even minded being the little spoon, although sometimes it rubbed him the wrong way when people just assumed. They thought since Matt was small, that was where he belonged. Ethan had never commented on his size. In any measure.

Matt was short and compact, not svelte by any means, but he wasn’t muscular either. He existed somewhere in the soft, gray area in between. Strong enough to haul fifty-pound bags of flour but equipped with a layer of padding from tip to toes.

That used to bother him, but as he’d gotten older, he’d only grown more comfortable with himself. He didn’t worry about his perpetual lack of abs so much anymore. He was a baker, not an athlete.

Sure, things had been rough when he was a kid, and his classmates had called him names like “doughboy.” But now? He was finally comfortable with himself.

Comfortable enough to fuck with the lights on.

All the better to appreciate the view of his partner. And, oh, what a spectacular view it had been.

Ethan was classically handsome, like an Old Hollywood heartthrob, and deceptively willowy in his clothing, but all wiry muscle underneath. His height merely gave the impression of slenderness because he was so stretched out. But there was plenty of him to hold on to.

His broad shoulders had provided a firm, solid ledge for Matt to cling to, and his big hands had caressed Matt’s few extra pounds as if they were something to covet, a bonus in his eyes. As if there weren’t an inch of Matt that was extra or overflow. It had felt as if he truly appreciated every ounce of him.

Matt could count on the thumbs of both hands how many times a lover had treated him like that, as though he were nothing less than irresistible.

It was addictive.

So today, Matt was floating on a cloud, lighter than his nonna’s famous meringue. He bit back a grin as his phone buzz-buzz-buzzed with a text notification, the fifth one from Ethan since Matt had reluctantly crawled out of his hotel room before dawn.

The guy had no chill, but Matt wasn’t exactly complaining.

Can’t stop thinking about you. It’s impossible to focus on work when I know you smell like cinnamon sugar and sex. I just want to lick you all over to see if I can find the source.

Oh, cheese crepes, that was hot.

His cheeks burned after reading that one, hotter than the antique brick oven at his back.

Matt fanned himself surreptitiously while he checked the clock. All he had left for the day was a meeting with the bank, and then he could leave the bakery to Miz Rose to run upstairs and get ready for his date.

His second date in as many days. Matt had big plans. He was even going to exfoliate, and he didn’t do that for just anybody. He hoped Ethan would appreciate the snickerdoodle scent of his sugar scrub.

Neither of them had been able to pretend they didn’t want to see each other immediately after last night. It was refreshing to meet someone who laid all his cards on the table, who didn’t play games.

Maybe Matt was acting like a lovestruck fool, but so was Ethan. They were in the same ridiculous romantic boat, and he had never felt better. He was finally lucky in love. It had only taken a decade.

He hurried to finish the cupcakes, prepping for the lunch rush before his meeting with the bank. The bakery usually flooded with locals around noon, and he didn’t want to run out of cupcakes again. Last time, the lovely ladies of Central Presbyterian had threatened a riot.

The year-round jingle bells attached to the bakery door rang out their cheerful call, and Matt set down his pastry bag to turn with a smile on his face.

A smile that immediately froze once he saw who had walked through the door.

Ethan.

He looked much less approachable than he had the night before, in his soft sweater and jeans, rangy limbs sprawled around the table to brush up against Matt wherever he could, charming smile framed by an artful scattering of dark stubble.

Now, he wore a black suit and carried a briefcase. A man of the exact same height and coloring followed him, dressed so similarly he’d be identical if not for the bald patch on his head contrasting with Ethan’s thick chestnut waves.

Ethan stumbled, staring wide-eyed across the shop at Matt as his companion walked right into him with an irritated curse.

Ethan’s pale skin flushed pink as he stepped aside and avoided Matt’s searching gaze. Instead, he lifted his briefcase to the nearest tabletop to fiddle with the latch.

What on earth was he doing here? Matt hadn’t given him the address to the bakery. They hadn’t even exchanged last names last night, the chemistry between them so strong they’d barely finished their meal before stumbling love-drunk to Ethan’s hotel room.

After that, they’d been too busy for conversation.

Sure, they’d talked a little at dinner, but all Matt really recalled was the insistent thump of his heart when Ethan had first raised clear gray eyes to his. The low rumble of Ethan’s voice as he’d mentioned his hotel with a searching glance.

The scrape of wallpaper against Matt’s shoulders when Ethan had pinned him to the wall the moment the door clicked shut behind them.

All memory of their light conversation had faded in comparison.

The balding suit held out his hand with a perfunctory approximation of a smile. “Mr. Leonelli? Preston Price. We’re here representing Price Banking. Where should we conduct the meeting?”

Matt wiped his flour-dredged hands on his apron, then caught Price’s grimace as he gingerly shook his hand. Afterward, Price held it slightly out from his body as though he didn’t wish to touch any of his belongings until he had washed it first.

Ethan just continued to stare into his briefcase as if it held state secrets.

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Meet the Author

A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself.

She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.

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New Release Blitz: When Love Calls Your Name by LBJ Harris (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  When Love Calls Your Name

Author: LBJ Harris

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Male/Male

Length: 91100

Genre: 1970s Historical, LGBTQIA+, 1970s, promiscuity, in the closet, college, bisexual, sexual discovery

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Description

When Desmond goes off to college, he allows himself to be more open about his attraction to men rather than the secreted-away experiences he’s had in the past.

As Desmond grapples with the pressures and expectations society forces upon him, while trying to understand what his heart is telling him to do, he is initiated into a high-class gay underworld and attracts the attention of an influential—and potentially dangerous—closeted businessman.

Set in the fictional coastal town of Oakvale, New Jersey in the mid-1970s—a decade of alternative eroticism, experimentation, and promiscuity—When Love Calls Your Name follows Desmond as he discovers who he is and who he is expected to be.

Excerpt

When Love Calls Your Name
LBJ Harris © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Fantasies. What teen doesn’t have them? We’re taught that boys’ fantasies revolve around lust, while girls dream of love and romance. As a young man, I certainly fit that mold. And while my boyhood fantasies came true—to an extent—they evolved somewhere along the way, from lust to love. Moreover, they ended up clouding my judgment so completely and ruling my heart so firmly that they changed my life forever.

That evening, thoughts raced through my head as I stepped onto the field at the Oakvale High School stadium. The band played “Pomp and Circumstance” from the stands, and I wondered to myself, How many times have I sat up there, playing this same damn song for past graduates? How many times have I watched others walk the full length of this football field and wished it was me? Now it was my turn!

I scanned the stands for my family, but the crowd of faces was a blur. Carla—my senior-year sweetheart—was by my side, and she had never looked prettier. Now, it had taken a little manipulation on my part to get her there next to me, but it had been worth it. Or so I thought.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect. Ask, visualize, claim it, and it will be so.

At the height of the day, it had climbed to eighty degrees: warm enough for us to catch a swim at the Ocean Club. Around four in the afternoon, a light breeze cooled the air down to seventy degrees. The glowing full moon peeked over the eastern horizon, the sun not yet having set, far to the west, with a cool pink and blue salutation. High above, the heavens were a dome of sparkling diamonds. The stage was set. My high school graduation had arrived.

My name is Desmond Cameron Dawson. I am a Pisces, born on March 19; the middle of three children. My older brother is Calvin Vincent Jr., aged 25, whom we called Vinny. He attended law school at George Washington University in DC. My younger sister is Nina Nicole, who was to be a freshman at Oakvale High that upcoming fall.

I had what was known as bougie parents (upwardly mobile Black people), who achieved their success ten years ago. They decided to move us away from Newark, New Jersey, to this white, ocean-side town called Oakvale. It was just off the Garden State Parkway, halfway to Atlantic City.

Calvin Vincent Sr. and Mildred Nicole (Cal and Millie to each other; Mom—or, endearingly, Momma—and Dad to us) owned a small but prosperous advertising firm, with the original branch in Newark and a newer one here. Business was good—so good that my folks had achieved upper-middle-class status. They were good United Methodists too, raising their children in a predominantly African American church. We kids were acolytes; we sang in the choirs, did youth ministries. If you’re a United Methodist too, you know the drill.

So, what the hell were we doing in good old Whites-ville, USA? To hear our parents tell it, they’d moved us down here to ensure we’d get a good education.

And speaking of education, isn’t it funny, the things that run through your mind at milestones in your life? For instance, standing with my fellow seniors, waiting to march across that field, I thought to a time when—only five years old—I had been so sick I was unable to start school with the other kids my age.

I’d spent a year visiting over a dozen specialists, undergoing every test conceivable, trying out all sorts of medications—all to no avail. My illness had been so bad, making me weak to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed even to go pee, that doctors had finally given up hope, telling my parents the devastating news they would likely lose their youngest son at some point that year.

Momma wouldn’t accept it—not at all! She prayed long and hard—feverishly hard—and God answered her prayers. Miraculously, some weeks later, I had a full recovery. From then on, she would always tell me I was her prizewinning fighter.

I skipped from this memory to a present one—to what I considered my second major accomplishment of my life (after surviving my illness). Imagine this, if you can: I was about to become the first African American in my predominantly white high school to graduate at the top of my class. First out of three hundred and ninety-six students! Yep—I beat all those white folks to the top of the list! And despite being in law school, my brother Vinny hadn’t come close to matching me in the brains department: he graduated high school forty-fifth out of three hundred and fifty.

My parents were proud of me, to say the least. Their crazy-acting, late-blooming middle kid managed to get his shit together and come out on top. Top of my class, awards in French, history, and politics, captain of the debating team, top track athlete, and in the marching band, to boot. Momma cried tears of joy when the guidance counselor called to give her the news; Dad couldn’t stop calling our relatives to boast about his boy.

You want to know how hard it was to become valedictorian? Well, I knew for a fact the girl who finished second to the top hated me with a passion. Miss Dirty-Blonde-Bombshell-With-Glasses had worked her ass off for every top grade she earned. But as for me? By the time grade nine rolled around, I’d figured out the game. From that point onward, I found all this school shit straight up easy. Yeah. I’m one of those kids.

To an outside observer, everything in my life looked pretty good, right?

The truth was, I couldn’t wait to be done with it. I was ready to leave this small, meddlesome, dysfunctional community that would have chewed me up and spit me out without even blinking an eye, had I let it.

It was all good, though—I was on the verge of being done and had a foolproof plan to get out of here: I’d aced all my courses in school, gotten involved in the “right” extracurriculars, and scored 1600 on my SATs. And halfway through my senior year, I found out I had been accepted to some pretty prestigious universities, most of them with full scholarships: Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Temple, and Dartmouth.

Not wanting to be too far from Momma but needing to put a bit of distance between me and Oakvale, I chose Temple University in Philadelphia—an hour and a half down I-95. Temple had a great communications and journalism program there—rated one of the top ten programs in the country. I’d decided I was going to be a television correspondent, and come September, I would be taking my first step toward television stardom!

But back to graduation day. That ended up being a condensed reminder of the things I wanted to forget about high school, beginning—and not ending—with the memory of Samuel Garrison, an unexpected fantasy twist.

I guess I need to explain some things before I go on.

Samuel Garrison. My best and oldest friend in all of Oakvale. He and I had both been having…problems with our girlfriends that whole year. We’d ended up talking and consoling each other for much of that time. And before you ask the all-important question of who was getting poontang and who wasn’t: well, I was the less fortunate.

Samuel and I spent a lot of time barhopping during that year as well. Two years prior, they had lowered the legal drinking age to eighteen. We had died and gone to heaven, my posse and I—they turned eighteen at different points during our senior year, while I had reached the drinking age the year before. And believe me, they didn’t miss a beat trying to catch up to me. We quickly established some favorite watering holes we took girls to, but we also reserved a spot for gents only.

Every Friday night, we would sneak out to this strip club called The Cabaret. We couldn’t get enough of the place. Well, at least, Samuel couldn’t.

Back to the posse—there were four of us who went through Oakvale High School together: Matt, Samuel, Michael, and me. We all played trumpet in the band together. We ran indoor and outdoor track. Two of us were on the yearbook committee. Matt and I acted in school plays together. We may as well have lived together, we spent so much time in each other’s company.

I was the oldest of our group and the only brother. Did that make me feel uncomfortable at times? Yes! I was the butt of Samuel’s too-frequent racist jokes, and as I look back now, he was a real redneck. Yet there was more to him than that.

When I moved to Oakvale, I was just an average seven-year-old kid. I didn’t know anything about racism or prejudice. All I knew was that I wanted a friend—someone I could simply play with. Samuel was that person.

The day we moved in, I sat on the curb outside my new home, “staying out of the way of the movers.” Across the street sat a little boy, watching me. We stared at each other wordlessly for quite a long time. Finally, he yelled across the street, saying, “My name’s Samuel; what’s yours?”

I called back, “Desmond.”

Then he surprised me by saying, “You wanna be friends?”

And not wanting to seem overly keen on the idea, I said, “Mmm…okay.”

He stood up, looked both ways, and ran across the street. He held out his hand and I mine. We shook. And then he hugged me. It felt really strange, like a spark arcing between us; from that moment on through high school, we were essentially inseparable.

Despite being close, Samuel and I didn’t attend the same school until high school. His parents didn’t care much for public schools, so he attended St. Catherine’s Catholic School until the end of eighth grade. The Catholics didn’t have a high school, so he had no choice but to transfer to Oakvale High for ninth grade. I introduced him to Matt and Michael, and just like that, he was one of the boys. I knew from then on, high school life would take me and him to another level. And it did.

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Meet the Author

LBJ Harris was born on October 1, 1958 in Neptune, New Jersey. He is one of seven children born to civil rights leaders. His mother chose his first name because it was unique, as she knew her baby would grow to be.

When he was seven years old, his parents moved the family to an all-white community, to ensure he and his siblings received a good education, and to guarantee their safety against opponents of their parent’s civil rights work.

Harris knew from an early age that he loved performing on stage. Throughout his early years and young adulthood, he performed in church choirs, his high school band, and in the high school drama club. Upon graduating from high school, his love of the arts led him to West Chester State College in Pennsylvania.
In 1979, Harris earned his Bachelor of Arts in Speech, Communications and Theater. While at college, he worked for the Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre as a performer, lead dancer, and stage designer. His set designs and acting roles earned him major acclaim in local newspapers.

In 1981, he moved back to New Jersey where he formed a two-man performing duo, a joint company KapSig and eventually his own company, ‘Le Noir Cabaret Repertory Theater Company’.

Harris would move to writing, directing and producing originally written musicals for his local community as founder of Le Noir Cabaret. Those works included: ‘Moments in Love’, ‘An African American Musical Review’, ’SIBONISO’, ’Anna Mae’, and ‘Ashbury Cove’.

Harris and his theatre troupe toured his musical SIBONISO in 1994 at the newly renovated Paramount Theater, Asbury Park, NJ, and at the Carver Community Center in San Antonio, Texas.

In 1989 Harris chose to become a single father, adopting the first of his four children. He elected to place his arts career on hold after the arrival of twins in 1998. Over the next 15 years he focused on raising his four children and one grandnephew.

In August of 1999, while completing a second Master’s Degree in Education, Harris saw the birth of one more child: his novel, “When Love Calls Your Name”. He finished the manuscript in April of that next year, though ultimately shelved it, along with a number of other unpublished works.

After his youngest two children graduated from high school in June of 2014, Harris chose to return to the stage. That October, he appeared in the ensemble cast of African American men entitled, “Messages from Men: Machismo, Magen, Mirth & Maturity” at the Cape May Playhouse. He wrote and performed an original piece, “Letter to My Children”, in dedication to his children.

With a renewed yearning to pick up his career where he left off, Harris anticipates publishing his first fiction novel, “When Love Calls Your Name” in the fall of 2021.

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New Release Blitz: Turnabout by Laury A. Egan (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Turnabout

Author: Laury A. Egan

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 78500

Genre: Historical (20th Century), LGBTQIA+, teenage romance, lesbian, lesbian love, sailing, PTSD, Vietnam War, 1960s, first love, mother-daughter relationships, young writers, class differences, New Jersey, coming-of-age

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Description

The summer of 1964. Four teenage lives intertwine as each searches for love, identity, and a passage through painful family conflicts, social isolation, and the confusion of sexual orientation.

During a sailing class, four teenagers meet.

Jessie Schaffer is fourteen, an intelligent and solitary girl, who dreams of becoming a writer. When she sees nineteen-year-old Lindsay Ames, the instructor, standing on a dock, sunlight illuminating her blond hair and blue eyes, Jessie falls in love but is too afraid of her feelings and what they mean.

In an attempt to reassure herself she is “normal,” Jessie becomes involved with two boys in the class: Kenny Crenshaw, also fourteen, a darkly handsome and flirtatious guy, and Calvin Brayburn, a year younger, who will be in their freshman class because he’s academically brilliant.

On the first day of sailing, Cal is smitten with Jessie, though he is hindered by shyness. As the romantic relationships take unexpected twists, Jessie, Lindsay, Calvin, and Kenny relate their individual stories, their hopes, fears, and longings, all the while being buffeted by intense pressures.

Set in coastal New Jersey, the plot roams from its beautiful rivers to lush scenes in St. Thomas and Vietnam’s jungles during the war.

Excerpt

Turnabout
Laury A. Egan © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Jessie
“I’m not going!” I state this as a firm fact; my mother hears acquiescence.

“And wear your new clam diggers and that boat-neck shirt I bought you.”

“No! I feel like an idiot in those clothes!”

My mother, who dresses perfectly for every occasion, arches an eyebrow, one that took hours to sculpt. “You are attending sailing class, and I want you to look nice. We will hear no more about it, Jessie.”

When the singular “I” migrates into the royal “we,” my goose is cooked.

“I will see you in the car. Ten minutes,” she says.

After she leaves the room, I go to the closet, slip the fake nautical clothes off hangers, and throw them on the bed where I slump beside them. “I’ll look like a fool,” I mutter as I stare at the blue-and-white-striped shirt and the white clam diggers decorated with red piping and baby sailboats. I shut my eyes in frustration and follow imperial orders.

«

I’m standing by the entrance to the Lenape Sailing and Yacht Club, hoping my mother will reconsider and take me home. I turn to plead with her, but she’s already backing the big black T-Bird out of the drive, its whitewalls spitting sand four feet past its chugging tailpipe. For a minute, I picture the car getting stuck but no luck. It’s me who’s stuck.

I scan the sky and beach. The morning sun has taken a hike, leaving a mash of clouds in its wake. The breeze sucks the tops off the cattails and raises goosebumps on my arms and the whitecaps on the river. With no real alternative, I walk through the clubhouse’s double doors, wishing I could fly out the other side, shoot off the dock, and do a Superman back home.

Inside, it smells like salt air, tired sun, and dried old wood. About ten kids—probably my class—are milling around looking self-conscious. Even though they appear nervous, my years of experience tell me they’ll do just fine, once the preliminary jitters smooth off, while I will not. Oh, sure, I can pick up the sailing stuff, but the rest? I stand by the window, thinking I don’t like groups because groups don’t like me.

“Hi.”

I turn. A boy with thick glasses is staring at me with a curious expression. His hazel eyes, magnified by the lenses, appear intelligent. He has small cuppy ears, an epidemic of brown freckles across his face and arms, and bright-red hair cut in straight bangs and parted unevenly on the left side of his square head. The boy is a little hunched, as if he’s already apologizing for future tallness. Despite his neat green shirt and navy cotton shorts, he doesn’t wear his body comfortably. The kid looks as ill at ease as I feel.

“Hi,” I reply, though I’m lukewarm in interest. I look over the group, hoping there is someone better to hitch up with. Most of the kids are about my age. Next week, on July 5, I’m turning fourteen.

“My name’s Calvin Brayburn.”

Calvin seems younger. Perhaps twelve nudging thirteen and oblivious to the huge barrier a year’s difference makes.

“Mine’s Jessie.”

“Jessie what?” He tilts his head and squints a little, as if his poor eyesight dulls his hearing.

“Jessie Schaffer.” I’m not a chatty type, particularly with strangers, which includes just about everyone I’ve ever met. How can I lose this kid? Should I play it high and mighty or chilly-neutral? Then, the teacher enters from a side room, saving me the decision.

“Hello, everyone. I’m Lindsay Ames, your sailing instructor.”

Lindsay is tall, or at least she is from my five-foot-four perspective. Short blond curly hair. Blue eyes. Long arms and legs already tan from being outside. Can’t tell if she is a senior going to be a freshman or a freshman home from college. Probably four or five years older than I am. I breathe easier. I’m more comfortable around adults.

Lindsay hands out mimeographed papers. “The parts of a sailboat and two pages of nautical knots,” she explains. “Don’t worry—we’ll go over them, but you’ll have to memorize the parts and how to tie a bowline and a cleat hitch by next week.”

One of the girls giggles and nudges her neighbor. I don’t see anything funny about knots, but maybe that’s because I’ve already taught myself a few—Dad said this would be expected.

“It’s too windy to go out today,” Lindsay continues, “so we’ll get acquainted and learn some of the basics.”

She takes a seat in a wooden armchair, and everyone sprawls onto couches and chairs around her as if she’s going to tell us a story. I sit on the floor opposite and stare at the blue Keds’ stamps on the back of my white sneakers.

“Let’s go around the room.” She nods to a girl with a ponytail. “What’s your name?”

When the kid smiles, silver braces glint like chrome on a Chrysler grille. “Melinda Whitmore,” Ponytail replies. “Hi!” She jerks her hand in the air and gives half a wave. She’s growing boobs that overwhelmed her training bra a long while ago.

“Hi, Melinda,” Lindsay replies. “Welcome aboard.”

I’m not positive I like this sailor heartiness, but so far, Lindsay seems okay. She then points to a guy with black, wavy hair and dark Romeo eyes.

“Hey,” he says in a false sheepish tone. “I’m Kenny Crenshaw.”

Melinda and the other girls exchange blushing glances. Kenny is instantly crowned “king” without any contest. I’m no slouch at rating pecking orders in social gatherings. Of course, none of the girls look at me for confirmation, a fact I also file away in my mental account ledger.

As if he senses his royal anointment, Kenny squares up his shoulders and drops his voice. “I already know how to sail,” he explains. “My dad has a boat.”

“Oh? What kind?” Lindsay asks.

Kenny Crenshaw smiles, confidence spreading across his face. “It’s a thirty-two-foot O’Day.”

“Nice boat,” the instructor says, smiling. “So, you must be quite accomplished.”

He stares at his feet and shrugs, as if he’s embarrassed. In that moment, my dislike of him rushes in like a squall.

“Yes, I am,” he answers. “Sort of.”

The “sort of” is another attempt to appear modest, though it doesn’t wash with me. His smug perfection stings like a pissed-off wasp. We’ll see who the better sailor is. I don’t have a clue why I’m feeling so competitive.

Melinda’s friends are Janey and Gretchen. The three of them are jump-rope types. That’s how I used to classify the popular girls in elementary school. I never mastered their games—skipping rope or their other activity—flirting—and still nourish a fine disdain for both. Sure, back then, the girls let me play sometimes, so I wasn’t on the outer orbit of Pluto, but I wasn’t really accepted, which is typical of the flip-flop nature of my life. Graduation from eighth grade didn’t improve my standing with boys either, and neither did the spring dance, a perfect ten on the misery scale. My mother tortured me into going solo and wearing an itchy chiffon dress and patent leather shoes that pinched. I was the weed amid the wallflowers and didn’t dance once. I’m glad we just moved to Bingham, where I’ll attend high school and hopefully make some friends.

There are four more students who introduce themselves: Steve, Cathy, Mary Lou, and Gene. The girls all cross their arms over their chests, protecting their budding growths, and the boys look careless and bored, like they’d just as soon be throwing rocks at beach rats. Everyone is sort of average looking compared to Kenny and Melinda, who, despite her dental work and giggles, has drawn the longest glances from the boys. Calvin is saving me from last place on the unpopularity register. When it’s my turn to say hello, I’m tempted to tell everyone my father has a sixty-nine-foot sailboat, just to see how it goes down. But one of my rules is that I only lie when I’m sure no one will catch on. Because I don’t know who makes boats that size, the last thing I want is King Kenny announcing there is no such thing. So, after giving my name, I clam up, ceding round one to him. At least Lindsay gives me a warm smile, but she smiles at all the kids.

After that, we go outside and investigate a Turnabout, a little ten-foot catboat we’re using for our lessons. Lindsay gives us the port/starboard/stern/bow info, shows us how to tell which way the wind is blowing by the little pink ribbon fluttering near the top of the mast, and demonstrates how to attach and hoist the single sail. The whole time she does this, my new friend Calvin sticks to my side tighter than a tick. Whenever I look at him, he grins like we’re already buddies. Melinda and Kenny aren’t listening to Lindsay because they’re whispering and digging elbows into each other.

Two hours later, when my mother arrives, I announce I don’t want to take sailing lessons anymore. She doesn’t listen.

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Meet the Author

Laury A. Egan is the author of the YA novel, The Outcast Oracle; three suspense novels, Jenny Kidd, A Bittersweet Tale, and The Ungodly Hour; a comedy, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa; a collection, Fog and Other Stories; and a literary work, The Swimmer. Four limited-edition poetry volumes have been published: Snow, Shadows, a Stranger; Beneath the Lion’s Paw; The Sea & Beyond; and Presence & Absence. She lives on the northern coast of New Jersey where she sailed Turnabouts during her teenage years.

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New Release Blitz: The Chief by J Calamy (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title: The Chief

Series: Under Red Sky, Book Two

Author: J Calamy

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/30/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: NB/Male

Length: 93200

Genre: Contemporary Thriller, LGBTQIA+, action/adventure, criminals, consulate, military, foreign service, genderfluid, gender-questioning, bisexual, pansexual, PTSD/post-traumatic stress, Cognitive Disability, TBI survivor, Over 40

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Description

Legendary counter-terrorism agent Natalie Chevalier is finally retiring. The first nonbinary Regional Security Chief in DSS history, Nat’s last post lands her on the gorgeous sapphire isle of Sri Lanka. All she wants is a few peaceful months before she retires, and an anonymous hookup with a gorgeous, bisexual surfer is the perfect start. Until Nat learns that he is her final assignment.

Alessandro Benitez travels the world buying gems, surfing, and raising his teenage brother Max. His is a charmed, luxurious life made possible by his position laundering money for Red Sky, the biggest crime syndicate in Southeast Asia. When Alex meets Nat, their scorching encounter leaves him questioning not only his precarious career choice, but also whether his life has been as charmed as he’d thought.

Tasked to spy on him and persuade him to defect by any means necessary, Nat struggles to follow orders as her relationship with Alex heats up, blurring the line between professional and personal. She can’t deny how much she wants to be with him, but helping him means treason and erasing her ceiling-shattering career.

While Red Sky destroys itself from within, Alex becomes trapped in a nightmare as everyone he knows either defects or turns up dead. His loyalty to the elusive boss of Red Sky is absolute, but he’s desperate to escape before he or his brother gets caught in the crossfire. As his world crumbles around him, Alex realizes Nat is the only person he can trust. While Nat’s feelings for Alex grow more complicated, the CIA’s desperate methods to bring down Red Sky call into question everything she once thought she stood for. Now she must expose her dirty boss and get Alex safely out of Red Sky before her reputation and her heart suffer the consequences.

Excerpt

The Chief
J. Calamy © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Natalie

Sri Lanka

Five a.m., the beach road cut ruler-straight through the blue shadows of the city, and Chief Natalie Chevalier ran, US Marines at her back, her mind a roiling mess. If Donovan hadn’t dragged her out of bed, she’d still be curled in a ball, nursing her hangover and wallowing in post-anniversary drop.

Jagged arrows of golden light interrupted the broken sidewalk under her feet, the tropical sun slicing between the grand old hotels and shining new high-rises. The light was a jab in the eye. Darker sunglasses. She needed much darker sunglasses.

“You run like a dude, Chief,” Donovan said. Nat didn’t slow down—while her mind tried to make heads or tails of what he meant. Blinking the sweat out of her eyes, she held up her hands in the universal gesture of what the hell?

Master Gunnery Sergeant Casey Donovan was the head of her Marines until an officer came to replace him, though if she had her way that would never happen. Tall and lanky, he was barely sweating, while she soaked through sports bra and shirt. She felt gross, pulling her head out of memories of the helicopter screeching like a banshee as it went down. It was hard to focus on this fresh-faced boy, even if he was a good friend. He looked her up and down, his lips pursed and a frown on his face.

“Your form,” he said. “You definitely run like a male.”

Oh, that. The Marines knew then. They knew, and it had made it all the way up their chain of command to Donovan. This was their…response. She cracked the first smile of the day. “That’s— Thanks, Gunny.”

“You’re welcome, Chief,” he said and fell back to the others. That was their version of support. The Marines had no more than a guess that her gender was…in flux. But the trouble with scuttlebutt like that was it was almost always true. Donovan’s ham-fisted backward compliment, which would have gotten him written up anywhere else, was the Marines’ way of saying they supported her. They don’t want to make it a big deal, but they have my back.

Feeling lighter, she ran at a steady, if not very inspiring, pace. The familiar crunch and thud of her footfalls, the occasional blinding cut of light—it was all part of her routine. She could do it without thinking. Sometimes, she’d come running into the embassy gate without even realizing she had left her apartment, caught up in her thoughts, still shaking off sleep.

On one end of the beach road was her building, where she lived in a tiny apartment with spectacular views and sporadic power outages. Work was exactly two point two miles away, or thirty minutes if she timed it right. The sensible flats and suit jackets, the discrete pearl earrings, armor, and gun: all waited in the embassy. She could leave her place with nothing but her phone and wallet.

Today, she felt every step—forty-two-year-old knees and ankles, enough of a hangover to make the shards of sunrise painful. She had suffered through the anniversary alone, drinking far too much bourbon for a Sunday night. The waves smacking the seawall mostly drowned out the occasional laughter of the men at her back. She didn’t pay them any mind, as used to them as she was to the road. Ever since she took the posting in Sri Lanka, she had a couple of Marines with her wherever she went. Three years of Marines. Jesus. Served her right for all those jarhead jokes she’d made when she was in the Army.

She had never been a fast runner. Not at twenty, as a shiny new buck sergeant, not at thirty, when she made the biggest bust of her career, and not now. Why am I even doing this? I retire this year. Out here torturing myself for no reason. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She wiped the sweat off her forehead again. Hard enough to get men to follow a woman, but worse if they thought she was slipping.

“Y’all don’t have to run this slow,” she said over her shoulder. “I know those jackrabbit legs want to go on ahead.”

They took off, their legs swallowing the sidewalk, already racing each other, and Nat was alone with her thoughts again. Crashing helicopters and the primordial jungles of Congo. Damn she missed it all. Days like today depressed her. Meetings and paperwork—the well-earned plum posting for a wounded her0—as dull and out of the way as can be.

She turned down the side path, cutting around to the Cardamom Hotel, to Lakshmi’s. She’d had a rough night. She wanted a donut.

“Chief Chevalier!” Lakshmi waved from the kitchen. Nat waved back over the scrum at the counter. “It’s already waiting for you!” Lakshmi said, pointing to the side before she disappeared in a cloud of steam. The little paper bag was there, with the last decent cup of coffee of the day. The to-go cup had a piece of tape over the mouth to keep the flies out. Nat peeled it back and took a long sip. Strong, not too sweet, a little cinnamon in there because Lakshmi loved her. She would miss this so much when she was gone.

“Nobody loves you but me!” Lakshmi called. Nat blew her a kiss and made her way up the shady side of the street to the embassy. The intersection was hair-raising enough to wake the dead, so she didn’t touch her coffee until she had made it across, dodging tuk-tuks and diesel-spewing trucks and all the high-end new cars. They made a wall of cacophonous honking and revving with the brrrrrrrt! of the tuk-tuks over all. As she watched, a red tuk-tuk, all tricked out in chrome, zipped around a taxi, popped through a gap left by a new Honda, and sped past her so fast she was glad she held her coffee away from her body. Colombo was booming since the end of the civil war, and the cars, along with the gleaming high-rises, were the evidence of how fast it was growing.

Nat took in a deep, happy breath. The whole concept of being somewhere after a war instead of in the thick of it was already a dream. A plum posting. A well-earned plum.

Her joy lasted until she reached the gates. The Marine on duty and she were midconversation when a Blackhawk whump-whumped in overhead. The construction of the new embassy meant the detour took the bird right over the front gate, its rotors blasting the poor locals in line for visas, wrecking carefully pressed suits and saris, and nearly tearing off the awning.

“My fucking awning!” Nat hauled the radio off the Marine’s desk and cut straight over the entire network. “The pilot of that bird will be in my office at parade rest in ten minutes, log and manifest in hand. Chief out.”

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Meet the Author

J Calamy is a disabled vet and foreign service wonk who spends a good part of the year bouncing down dirt roads in the back of Range Rovers with men with guns. Coffee, romance novels, and embassy scuttlebutt are her last remaining vices.

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New Release Blitz ~ Salvaging Christmas by Brian Lancaster (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Salvaging Christmas by Brian Lancaster

General Release Date: 30th November 2021

Word Count: 67,278
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 264

Genres:

CHRISTMAS
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
HOLIDAYS

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Book Description

For years they have kept the Yuletide Gay Club going with like minded friends until this year grim providence decides to stick in his ugly snout. But just as everything starts to fall apart, the son of the owner turns up and the real fun begins.

Tired with awkward family Christmases, Trevor McTavish and his best friend have planned a getaway each year for twelve close gay friends to enjoy the festive season together in remote country locations around Britain. Far from the maddening crowds. Beautiful Stratham Lodge in Scotland, hugging the shores of Loch Arkaig, is set to be this year’s rental destination.

Except this year, one by one, friends have dropped out. Against their better judgement, they decide to bite the bullet and forge ahead with a much reduced, and somewhat contentious party, which includes Trevor’s formerly gay ex-husband and his new girlfriend.

On the second day, Trevor realises this year’s break is going to be a disaster. But then the son of the lodge owner, Rudy Mortimer, appears and saves the day.

Reader advisory: This book contains mention of homophobia, domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Excerpt

Trevor McTavish loved traditions.

Or, more to the point, new traditions built on old ones. After all, wasn’t that what most of them were, a blend of old and new, built layer upon layer over time? They provided a foundation, something people could rely on, even when everything else around them broke down, or changed unexpectedly, or disappeared entirely from their lives—which seemed to happen to him all too often of late.

Traditions ensured continuity, and even with the few hiccups this year had brought, Trevor loved the Christmas tradition he and Cheryl had created for their friends.

As the sullen driver of the prepaid cab steered in silence through the early morning streets of London, Trevor rested his head against the ice-cold window. Gentle vibrations from the hybrid engine massaged his skull. Already the sky had begun transitioning from purest black as the night shift packed up and daylight took over. Fully alert despite the early hour, he looked for homes with their Christmas lights still burning and gardens or roofs decorated with seasonal figures. A part of him instinctively knew he would get along with the person who had gone to all the effort to put them up, most likely done to make other people smile.

Nothing could shake Trevor’s upbeat mood as the cab turned into the familiar road where the Madison family lived. Since he’d packed last night, the sense of anticipation and excitement at the promise of a road trip with best friends had kept him pumped up and grinning like an inflatable snowman.

Six in the morning on that pre-dawn Friday in December, he climbed out of the overheated car and crunched down onto a pavement of overnight frost. After collecting his luggage from the boot, he pulled out a five-pound note from his wallet and tapped a fingernail on the driver’s window. With a smile, he held up the banknote, ready to wish the man a heartfelt season’s greetings. After all, if the poor guy had to drive a cab at this early hour, he obviously needed the money.

Without even bothering to acknowledge Trevor, the driver pulled away.

Left standing alone in the road, Trevor shrugged and put the fiver back. Perhaps the man had somewhere better to be. Not everyone shared his passion for all things festive.

Humming to himself, he manoeuvred his wheelie luggage up the broken-tiled garden path and prodded the front doorbell. Bing-bongs chimed from somewhere inside. Cheryl Madison’s mother opened the door in her furry-hooded olive parka and mismatching navy Wellington boots. Further at odds with the ensemble, her pink floral nightie peeked out from beneath the jacket.

Trevor almost let out a giggle.

Until he saw the expression on her face.

After a furtive glance at the staircase behind her, Mrs M nodded sharply towards the Volvo out front while handing him a small but deceptively heavy cardboard box. Hauling a larger one from the floor, she strode past him and he trailed after her, the wheels of his luggage clunking arrhythmically on the broken pavement. Only as she unlocked the hatchback and placed her carton inside did she reveal the predicament.

“Hannah’s not coming. She broke up with Cheryl last night. Met someone at their Christmas office party on Tuesday night. Supposedly.”

The way she articulated that final word said everything. Trevor dropped onto the tailgate—causing the car to bounce—and placed his container next to hers. Mrs M stood there studying him, arms folded, appearing to wait for his response. Instinctively, he mirrored her body language and sighed. Of all their friends, he understood only too well the devastating effects of being dumped. Right before their long-anticipated Christmas trip, too. Hannah had always possessed a selfish streak, an immunity to the sensibilities of others. She had often manipulated Cheryl but he’d never thought she would stoop so low.

“Shit. Poor Cheryl. How’s she coping?”

“You’ll see in a minute. Putting on a brave front. I tried to sound surprised when she told me, but something’s not been right for months. The important thing, Trevor, is that we’re down by one more guest.”

“Double shit,” he said, staring down at the road between his legs.

“I’ll let you think about that before I bring out any more boxes, and while I go and put the kettle on,” she said, before heading back to the house.

So much for the Yuletide Gay Club.

They had started the group five years ago. Cheryl, his best friend since high school, could take credit for the idea and him for its successful implementation. Sick of hearing in January how many of their gay friends had spent the holiday season either alone or with families who barely tolerated them, they had created their own tradition.

Six couples shared the cost of renting a country cottage in rural Britain. Seven or eight days spent enjoying Christmas their own way, with their own people, in the countryside.

Far from the maddening crowds.

At first nobody had known whether bringing together couples who were occasional friends would work. That first time, the gathering in the six-bedroom farmhouse in Devon had turned out to be nothing short of a miracle. Everyone had gelled quickly and mucked in together, laughed and got drunk together, played games like Cards Against Humanity until sunrise and raved about the break well into the New Year. So good was the experience that Trevor had already had the next event booked up by February. The same thing had happened the following years, with the small group growing closer.

Except this year—the fifth—grim providence had made a personal appearance. Tragically, Mrs M’s seventy-two-year-old Scottish girlfriend, Monica, the only other person allowed in the kitchen at Christmas and the life and soul of the party, had succumbed unexpectedly to a brain aneurism and passed away in late January.

Next up, at the beginning of March, they had received a cryptic email from regulars Johnny and Frank. Both having quit their jobs, they’d decided to take a hiatus from the rat race, managed to rent out their home, and set off on their travels. Finally free, they’d also committed to a technology-free tour of the world and their last handwritten postcard had been sent from somewhere in the Middle East.

As the year progressed, the casualties had continued to fall like autumn leaves until the usual company of twelve had dropped to five.

Then in April, Trevor’s husband of two years, Karl, had not only announced his newly discovered heterosexuality, or bisexuality, or sexual fluidity—he had yet to settle on a label—but admitted that he had fallen in love with a woman. Four years together, and Trevor’s spouse had woken one morning and realised he had been wrestling for the wrong tag team.

Which left four of them. Initially, they had considered cancelling the event. But without consulting any of them, Hannah had tactlessly filled one space with a new girl from her office, twenty-year-old Jessica, who, in turn, decided that bringing along a male colleague would be perfectly acceptable.

Could things get any worse?

Apparently, they could. After Trevor had signed the online divorce papers, there had followed a doorstep altercation with Karl about which artwork, pillows, bed linen, dishes and cutlery he was entitled to take in the divorce. Not thinking straight, Trevor had succumbed to all his demands. In addition, for their Christmas excursion, Karl had seen no reason why he should be ostracised, why he should not still be invited with his new partner. Maybe because of dwindling numbers, or more likely the result of a temporary lapse in sanity, Trevor had capitulated.

Cheryl had refused to speak to him for three weeks after he’d told her.

By the beginning of December, the promise of a seasonal sanctuary, which used to be the epitome of a cosy, warm and cuddly Christmas Hallmark movie, had morphed into the awkward, dysfunctional cast of characters befitting a Woody Allen feature.

“The question remains,” came the voice of Mrs M. Lost in his thoughts, he jumped when she perched down beside him. “Is it too late to cancel?”

Trevor huffed out a steamy breath and searched for seasonal inspiration along the row of terraced houses. All year he had been looking forwards to their getaway. But this wasn’t only about him.

“Technically, it isn’t. But we won’t get a refund, so we’ll lose the full amount, deposit and all. I’ll also need to ring around and let everyone know pretty swiftly before people set off tomorrow. And I’ll try, but I’m not sure I can contact the owner. Apparently, she has her own family gathering abroad.”

Two nights ago, he had received an email from Mrs Mortimer-King telling him that she would not be in Scotland to meet them, but would arrange for someone to hand the keys over and settle them in. Even though he’d never met her, he liked dealing with her, enjoyed her clear instructions, efficiency and her friendly communications.

“I had a long talk with Cheryl last night,” said Mrs M. “She still wants to go. Doesn’t want to spend Christmas at home sitting around moping.”

“Understandable. How about you?”

Mrs M provided another smile before gazing wistfully to the heavens.

“No matter where I am, I’m going to miss having Mon by my side. She always made this time of the year special. Might as well be busy in Scotland as stuck here with too much time on my hands. Cheryl can help me in the kitchen. How about Karl?”

“Karl? What about him? He’s going to be there.”

“That’s my point. How do you feel about that?”

“It’s fine. I’ll deal.”

Total nonsense, of course. Privately, Trevor prayed his ex-husband would do the decent thing and not show up, or perhaps the new significant other would be better at talking him down from the ledge of his principles. Most of all, he dreaded the idea of seeing Karl fawning over a new partner. Over the years Trevor had grown to love the man, had looked to their life together. Karl suppressed his emotions well and had never been afraid to put on a front and fight for what he believed to be right. Trevor had never been a fighter. He had felt emotionally volatile during their doorstep argument. After Karl had gotten everything he came for, he’d promptly turned on his heel and headed back to the comfort of his newfound relationship. That evening, Trevor had curled up on his side of the double bed he had managed to keep, feeling so painfully alone and pathetic. All night he had lain awake, wondering why Karl had never fought for him the same way.

“In different ways, we’ve both lost someone this year, Trevor. But you know we’ll be there for you, Cheryl and me, don’t you?” said Mrs M, as though hearing his thoughts.

“And I really appreciate that, Mrs M. But if they do show up, promise me you won’t let the break turn into an us-and-them fiasco. You know what Karl’s like when he becomes militant.”

“Wouldn’t dream of doing so. But I’m also not standing quietly and letting him order anyone around. Like he usually does.” She pushed a lock of grey hair from her face before turning to him. “He’s still going to the SLAGO meetings. Turned up at the Christmas fundraiser. Did he tell you?”

Karl had said nothing, but Trevor was unsurprised. His ex might have woken up one day and realised he wasn’t gay anymore, but he still loved a cause, a fight to champion. Hence his unfailing loyalty to the Surrey and London Association of Gay Organisations. After the break-up, Cheryl had mused somewhat unkindly whether Karl had ever really been gay, whether he had decided to call himself queer because he needed to wear a badge of honour, to fight on the side of something subversive and radical, become a member of the Great British LGBTQ Cause Club. Trevor knew different, because their relationship had not been a sham even if Karl had shunned affection outside the bedroom. Trevor accepted those things because they meant having someone to care for, to love and share a life with. And more than anything, even after everything that had transpired, Trevor still respected Karl as a person.

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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 ~ Christmas at North Bend by Wendi Zwaduk (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Christmas at North Bend by Wendi Zwaduk

Word Count: 67,143
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 248

Genres:

CHRISTMAS
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
HOLIDAYS

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Book Description

Are second chances possible? They can be in North Bend.

Alex West left North Bend behind and became the famous author RR Taylor. He’s happy with his jet-setting lifestyle, until a book signing brings him to North Bend. Surrounded by the beauty of the small town and the closeness of the community, he starts to rethink his reasons for leaving. Seeing his high-school flame, Molly Adams, brings all the old feelings back into focus. He wants to make her Christmas bright and win her heart, too.

Can he convince her to believe in the magic of Christmas and their second chance, or is the blossoming romance destined to melt with the holiday snow?

 

Excerpt

Alex West stood in the middle of the concourse at Cleveland Hopkins airport and toyed with the handle of his bag. His assistant, Jill Gosk, fiddled with her phone and growled. The people on the plane had been irritated by the lateness of the flight and the snow delaying their landing a few minutes. He didn’t mind. Christmas, even seven days away, was the time to slow down and spend precious hours with family and friends—not stress over things he couldn’t control.

“What’s the matter?” He noticed a dusting of snow on the windowsill and wished he were out in the cold. He loved Christmas in Ohio, even if he hadn’t spent much time in the state in a few years. “Jill?”

“The car should be ready so all we have to do is retrieve your bags from the claims area. According to my app, the bags are down there.” Jill glanced about. “This is a tiny airport.”

“It’s not LAX, but it works.” He pointed to the corridor. “Let’s get the luggage.” He nudged her forward. “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Girl, you save my butt almost every day.” He grinned and fell into step beside her. “How’s Nick?”

She blushed. “I—I didn’t think you knew about him.”

“He called to tell me you were together,” Alex said. “I told him I was happy for you. I’m glad you found each other.” He rode the escalator to the ground floor. The sound of Christmas carols echoed in the air, along with the din of conversation. He watched the people moving about. There were stories in these folks. Stories about love lost, love found, people reconnecting and the joy of Christmas. He chuckled to himself. He could use these bits and pieces for his own upcoming writing. The book wouldn’t write itself and he needed the right push to get started.

“Here. Our bags are in carousel C.” Jill marched up to the revolving belt filled with luggage. “Keep your eyes peeled.”

“Sure will.” Alex sighed. He trusted Jill with his schedule and his business dealings. She knew how to get him from point A to point B without issue. He slid his gaze over the array of bags. “Either I’m wrong, or I don’t see mine.” He pointed to her lavender suitcase. “There’s yours.”

She nodded and grabbed her bags from the belt. “Got them. Yours should be along.” She checked her phone again and turned the screen around. “See? The app says they’re here.”

“Right, but they’re on the second time through and mine aren’t there. I’ve kept an eye out.” He glanced over her shoulder at the phone. “The app is wrong.”

“It can’t be.” She massaged her temple. “They have to be here.”

He’d learned not to let minor setbacks get to him. Being a writer meant having a thick skin. Just because one person didn’t like his work didn’t mean a myriad of others agreed. Besides, who could be upset at Christmas? “It’s okay. We’ll go to the lost luggage department.” He guided her and her bag away from the carousel. “My bags are probably halfway to Chicago.”

“I’m so sorry, RR.”

She’d used his pen name. He shouldn’t be annoyed, but he’d rather be referred to by his given name in this instance. “Don’t sweat it. We’re on the way to my parents and I’m sure I can borrow some of my father’s clothes until my luggage gets here—if we didn’t simply go to the wrong carousel.” He’d bet the bags were on the wrong plane, but he saw no reason to get upset. “It’s going to be all right.” He strode up to the counter.

The woman at the desk smiled, but before he could speak, Jill stepped forward.

“Hi. I booked the flight for Mr. Taylor and we’ve arrived, but his luggage hasn’t. I have the information on the app and everything.” Jill held up her phone. “See?”

The woman smiled again. “Let me check your information.” She paused. “RR Taylor? As in the author RR Taylor?”

“That’s me.” He offered his hand. “I’m heading over to North Bend for Christmas with my family and to do a book signing the day after tomorrow. If you’re available, you should stop in.”

“I’m working all week,” the attendant said. “But it’s great to meet you. I’ve read all your books. I loved Crispin in New York.”

“Thank you. If you have a piece of paper, I’ll autograph it for you.” He waited for her to give him something to write on, then signed the page with a special note for her. “There. Enjoy.”

“Thank you.” The attendant beamed. “Wow.” She tucked the paper into her front pocket. “I wish I had better news for you concerning your bags. According to my tracking system, your luggage was rerouted to New York and will be back in two days. We can call you when it’s at the terminal.”

“No,” Jill said. “He needs his clothes.”

“I’ll get by.” He placed his hand on Jill’s arm and turned his attention to the attendant. “Thank you. Where can I leave my information?” Not having his clothes or the presents he’d brought for his family wasn’t ideal, but he had little choice.

“I’ve got it on file with your baggage and flight numbers,” the attendant said. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you. I hope I have my luggage before Christmas. If I don’t, then I don’t. I hope you have a Merry Christmas, too.” He nudged Jill. “We should go.”

“I messed up,” Jill said. “This is bad.”

“You didn’t mess up.” He nodded to the sign directing them to the car rental counter. “Why don’t you check on the car?”

“Oh yeah.” She darted away with her phone.

Alex sighed. Jill was a sweet woman, but so highly strung. He thanked the cosmos she’d come into his orbit to help with his promotional needs, but he could use a break from her. He followed behind her, but at a bit of a distance. One of his plans wasn’t going so well. Time to check on another of his schemes. He sent a text to Nick.

Are you at the hotel? She’s upset about my luggage being lost. Might need to be extra sweet to her. Do you have everything you need for tonight?

Alex didn’t wait for a response and instead tucked his phone into his jacket pocket. He hurried after Jill. He’d worked with her boyfriend to facilitate Nick’s proposal that night. Jill would be happy, Nick would have the woman he loved and Alex would have a break.

Jill stopped walking and her shoulders slumped. Her brow crinkled. She still had her phone to her ear. “You don’t understand. I reserved the car a month ago. We need that vehicle. I don’t care if it’s the holidays. We have places to be. No, I don’t want…my client is leaving. Hold on.” She stopped Alex. “Wait.”

“Take a breath. It’s Christmas. Everyone is on the edge and you getting upset isn’t helping. The more you and I flip out, the more upset everyone else will be.” He pointed to the rental counter. “Let’s check on the car in person.”

“I’ll handle it.” Jill pushed past him. “Wait over there.”

He should argue with her, but he’d just given his speech on being calm. Disputing wouldn’t get him anywhere. Part of him didn’t mind taking his time while getting to North Bend, but the rest of him wanted to unite Jill with Nick. Then she’d relax. Good thing Alex had flown Nick in ahead of time and had him installed in the hotel in North Bend.

Alex waited by the bank of windows and stared out at the planes on the tarmac. His thoughts wandered. Why had he stayed away from North Bend for so long? He loved the snow and quiet of Ohio and appreciated the small-town feel of his home base, but his apartment in Los Angeles had everything he needed. His favorite restaurants were within walking distance and while he didn’t want for anything entertainment-wise, he missed his friends in North Bend. The people he’d grown up and come of age with. He had so many fond memories of the town. Plus…there was Molly.

He held his bag tighter. Before he’d left town, he had to see Molly. They’d been so tight. He’d once thought he’d marry her. He’d never forget the blue of her eyes, the softness of her hair or the way she blushed when she smiled. They’d been the best of friends and she’d been his first girlfriend. First lots of things. Then they’d gone their separate ways. When they’d been together, he’d told her everything. She’d confided in him when she’d flunked her driving test and when she’d thought he wanted to fix her up with their mutual friend Tony. She hadn’t been in love with Tony—she’d loved Alex.

Flashes of his years with Molly came to mind—volunteering at the Santa Barn, secret Santa shopping and all those visits to the library… He’d heard about her opening the bookstore and vowed he’d sign books at the shop.

Wouldn’t she be surprised when she saw him? Was she single? He’d forgotten to ask his mother about Molly’s relationship status when he’d planned his trip back to Ohio. But wouldn’t his mother have mentioned Molly being married? Wouldn’t Molly have invited him to the wedding—if she’d gotten hitched?

Jill stomped up to him. “Okay. So, here’s the problem. We must have a car, but we can’t have two like I wanted. Just one, so we have to share.”

“I thought that was the plan.” It had been when he’d canceled her vehicle. She didn’t need a separate car if Nick had one and they’d be together.

“This isn’t right. Your luggage is missing, we’ve only got one car… What else can go wrong?” Jill asked.

“The luggage will come back and the car situation is fine.”

“Oh no.” Jill pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s snowing.”

“I’ve driven in snow.”

“It’s cold.”

“Ohio is cold,” Alex said. He stared at her. “You’re holding something back. What’s the rest of the issue?”

“I miss Nick. It’s Christmas and I’m not with the one I love.” She sighed. “I need some sleep and a few hours to regroup. I hate being this grouchy.”

“You’re stressed. It happens.” He grasped her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. You never know—Nick might be waiting at the hotel.”

“Fat chance.” She sank onto the closest chair. “You don’t understand. I’m being pouty, and I hate it. The thing is, I thought I could do this job, but I feel like I’m failing. I’m sorry.”

“Stress is a pain in the neck.” He sat beside her and took the keys from her. “Take a few moments to recover. While I’m driving us to North Bend, why don’t you call Nick? That’ll make you feel better.”

“Ugh. That’s the other part of this. I tried to call him, but I can’t get an answer.”

He checked his phone. The LED light flashed green, meaning he had a new text. He retrieved the message from Nick.

Here and ready for the surprise. I can’t wait.

Good. Nick was in place. Alex tucked his phone in his pocket again. “Well, why not try again? He might have been temporarily engaged.” Drat. He should’ve chosen a different word. “Just call him.”

Jill stared at him. “How can you be so calm? Is it because you’re going to see Molly over Christmas?”

“Maybe.” Not really. Thinking about seeing his friend excited him. He hasn’t spent time with her in forever. He missed their friendship. Plus, he wanted to know why they’d drifted apart.

“Well, she seems nice.” Jill stood. “I feel better. Thanks for letting me freak out.”

He joined her and started toward the doors leading to the row of rental cars. “You’re welcome.”

“How long is the drive to North Bend?” She fell into step beside him. “It’s far away from here, isn’t it?”

“About an hour and a half.” He stopped at the parking slot containing the SUV. “This is what we have?”

“The dark blue behemoth. It was the only one not rented out.” Jill tried the passenger-side door. “It’s not the compact one, but it’ll do.”

“See? That’s the Christmas spirit.” He climbed behind the wheel of the SUV. “Here’s to the next leg of our journey. You’ll have plenty of room to stretch out and it would appear there’s satellite radio, so your favorite channels are on here, too.”

“Something is finally normal,” Jill said. “Yes.”

“As for you doing your job, don’t worry. I wouldn’t be in Ohio without you.” He could, but she needed the reassurance. “It’s Christmas. We start being jolly as of right now. We won’t let work get us upset and won’t worry about the signing. The spirit of the season is around us and we’re going to have fun.” If he had his way, Jill and Nick would be engaged that night and he’d have the next book started. Merry Christmas.

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About the Author

Wendi Zwaduk

Wendi Zwaduk is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to BDSM and LGBTQ themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com and the former AllRomance Ebooks. She also writes under the name of Megan Slayer.

When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

You can find out more about Wendi on her website or on her blog. You can also find her on Instagram, Bookbub and Amazon.

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Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Notice: This competition ends on 7th December 2021 at 12am EST. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

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