Must Love Cats by Angela Addams General Release Date: 14th September 2021 Word Count: 68,373 Book Length: NOVEL Pages: 268 Genres: ACTION AND ADVENTURE EROTIC ROMANCE MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS PARANORMAL REVERSE HAREM WERESHIFTERS Add to …
Resisting the Dream by Ann Marie James Book 3 in the Everyone’s Mechanic series General Release Date: 14th September 2021 Word Count: 57,607 Book Length: NOVEL Pages: 233 Genres: ACTION AND ADVENTURE CONTEMPORARY EROTIC ROMANCE …
Hex and the Single Girl by Alexis Fleming Book 3 in the Lucifer Inc! series General Release Date: 14th September 2021 Word Count: 25,039 Book Length: NOVELLA Pages: 99 Genres: ANGELS AND DEMONS CONTEMPORARY EROTIC …
Ren finds more to life in the city that never sleeps than working at his uncle’s Shinto temple. And one of those things is trouble. Ren finds himself in hot water with a local motorcycle club, and they’re out for blood. When it seems like it can’t get any worse, a cry for help echoes inside Ren’s mind. At the other end of the call, Ren finds Devon, a powerful telepath known as an Esper. He just so happens to be under attack by the same motorcycle club that wants Ren dead. Despite the risk, Ren saves the day.
Though their connection was strong, Ren finds that there is more to Devon than meets the eye. Now, the fire that burns inside of him is yearning for release. Ren and Devon realize they have only each other with dark magic, a curse, and a murderous motorcycle club on their heels. As time ticks away, both men need to use their powers in ways they never thought they would. If not, they risk losing the connection—and love—that has grown between them.
The air chilled my skin as I raced my 1941 Indian Motorcycle through Times Square without a thought to other traffic or even law enforcement. Breaking the law exhilarated me, even in such a small way. Freedom. It felt like there were no constraints on me as I drove through my hometown with reckless abandon. A car skidded to a stop, its horn blaring as the driver yelled a stream of profanities in my direction. I smiled as I rode past. I lacked any fucks to give at the moment. The traffic could wait for me.
Living in a city that never sleeps, there was still traffic at night. Nowhere near as much as during the day, but enough that I should pay more attention. Becoming roadkill didn’t appeal to me, but the thrill of the ride was like a drug. I enjoyed the cool air on my face and the way the city blurred past me in all its neon
rush. This is life.
Sitting up, I gave my back as good of a stretch as possible and let the city fly past me. Everything came as a blur in my vision, and my heart raced with excitement. If only I could ride forever and never have to look back. Ahead of me, the traffic light turned yellow, causing me to slow, but not too much. I was far
from wanting to stop.
As I approached the intersection, neon lights shone with life on billboards. Signs for decadent entertainment advertised triple x movies. Large screens came alive with bold ads for the latest soda
and Hollywood film. All promised the same thing, an escape from the drudgery of time.
The red light popped up ahead of me, and I skidded to a stop that caused a few hookers to raise an eyebrow. Shit, this was going to take a while. I had time to spare since I wasn’t going any-where, but I was impatient, and the traffic lights irritated me. I moved my riding goggles up and around my helmet. The city lived and breathed with its skyscrapers, people, and lights that lit up the night sky. I took it all in.
The people, the bright lights, the traffic, and even the smell of rubber, exhaust, and the city itself filled my senses with pleasure. I loved this town. You could get anything here. If not for free, then for a bit of cash or even love. Not that I would pay for that sort of thing. Money can’t buy the real thing anyway, and what you could rent for a few hours involved a trip to the free clinic for a shot of penicillin.
I was content to wait till my heart led me to the one it needed. No matter who it was, I knew my heart would recognize him. Yeah, I’m gay, but that’s the least of my secrets. If anybody asked, I’d be honest. I didn’t wear my sexuality on my sleeve. Being Japanese-American made it challenging to be out and proud.
My culture is conservative. My parents were dealing with it well. At least, my mom was, but my sexuality was far from their biggest concern. Like I said, that’s the least of my secrets. Early in life, I had a way of making things catch on fire. My mother, in all her superstitious beliefs, thought our ancestors had cursed me. It took a trusted Shinto priest to calm her nerves and let her know what her son had was a gift from our ancestors. It didn’t stop her worries, since normal childhood tantrums never lead to pyrotechnics. My father forced me to serve at the shrine on top of an apartment complex to help control my fire-starting abilities. He hoped it might “cure me of my gayness,” as my father put it.
Working in the shrine didn’t help cure my sexuality, but it taught me discipline and control. I learned a lot of great karate that I wouldn’t have if I had a normal upbringing. The control eased my parents’ minds, but deep down, my power still scared them. With time comes change, I know, but no one else in the family knew about my pyrokinesis until then. That didn’t bother me so much since I never talked to them. Such is life and family tradition. Even a tree bends to the wind.
Speaking of the wind, the light on the other avenue turned yellow as the traffic light danced in the breeze with the others. I set my goggles back over my eyes. It was time to ride. I took off as soon as the light turned green. There was no time to waste. This was the one time of day I had to myself. I spent my days adulting, throwing fish at the market in the mornings, followed by strict katas at the shrine under the watchful eye of my sensei. He oversaw my shrine training with a bamboo stick. The sting reminded me of the mistakes I made. Just the memory of it was enough to make me wince. It wasn’t horrible or even abuse, and I rarely got it anymore. I was a man now, and usually, my uncle put me to work doing menial chores instead of giving me a crack of the bamboo. I didn’t mind the chores.
Sensei was getting old and didn’t get around as much as he used to. He was an outstanding teacher and had my full respect and love. I loved him like a father. Unlike the memory of the whip, the thought of my sensei made me smile. He, along with my father, made me into the man I am today. The instruction from both of them kept me out of trouble—for which I will be forever grateful. The government could’ve targeted my pyrokinesis, or it could have gotten me killed. I would not allow that; we were the keepers of so many secrets. There were times the pressure made me think my skull would explode.
The power that burned inside me needed an occasional release. Even setting a piece of paper on fire helped ease the pressure. Sometimes it needed more, but those instances became less and less as I gained more control. All those times of meditation at my uncle’s temple helped me a lot. Now, calling a small flame in the palm of my hand or lighting a candle with a thought was easy. Burning down a building was also an option, but not one I considered. Help me.
Jaxon Altieri is a half-human, half-dragon of Italian descent out to overthrow the world of LGBT publishing. He is also a writer of gay romance and erotica who specializes in pervy erotic cowboy scenes and over the top action sequences that may be too much for romance or erotica.
As a resident of Colorado with a history of writing weird shit and with a degree in business and IT, Jax hopes to enjoy his writing career to its full extent. When he’s not writing, he’s playing with his dogs, listening to metal, or trying to get in his partner’s pants. Oh, he also takes Krav Maga and loves Sci-Fi stuff.
Four fiercely protective shifters. A curse and a ghost town. A bunch of wily cats and one woman who can save them all.
Lucki Collins has landed the job of a lifetime—Cat Keeper of Lady Clover’s Cat House in Weeping Falls, Alaska.
Lucki discovers early on that Weeping Falls is cursed and that the cats she’s there to care for are the townspeople, who must abide by the cycle of the sun and moon—taking cat form during the day and human form at night. They are magical creatures known as ‘familiars’, who can enhance the powers of a witch considerably, the very thing that puts them in danger.
Lucki meets her protectors—Reuben, a bear shifter, Wren, a wolf shifter, Ben, a hawk shifter, and Julian, a lion shifter—who must not only keep her and the cats safe, but also somehow convince her to bond with them. Their magical bond is the only thing that will give Lucki control over her powers, which are necessary to defeat Angelica, a sorceress who wants to capture all the cats and use them for her evil goals. Lucki hasn’t had the best experience with love, but rather than leave the men hopeless, she offers to help them break the curse by another means.
Things don’t go according to plan, and Lucki is left with the challenge of overcoming her past and setting aside her fears. If she can believe in herself and put her faith in love once again, she might just be able to triumph over evil and save the people she has come to deeply care about in Weeping Falls.
Reader advisory: This book contains a scene of public sex, references to emotionally/psychologically abusive sex, the death of a parent from cancer, graphic and gory violence, the death of a major character and murder of animals.
Cat Keeper of Weeping Falls. It sounds like a joke, right? Cat Keeper… What the hell kind of job is that?
“The best job in the mothereff”—burp—“ing world!” Lucki Collins raised her almost empty pint of beer and cheered the crowd of rowdy townspeople who were seated all around her. The burn of too much booze heated her cheeks, and the ache from so much laughing had her cradling her side. She was being treated like a queen and didn’t care if she was making an ass of herself.
“Cheers to our new Cat Keeper. May your time here be ever filled with joy.” Mr. Rose an elderly man with a bright red nose and long white whiskers, raised his glass, which was filled with…milk. It was the only thing he’d been drinking all night.
Lucki figured it had to be mixed with bourbon or something. The man was way too cheerful to be sober. They’re all way too cheerful. The entire town of Weeping Falls, a population of a hundred at most, had welcomed her with open arms the second she’d cleared the town line—and hadn’t stopped welcoming her.
“To our blessed Cat Keeper!” Everyone cheered, raising their glasses, thumping on the tables, laughing, singing.
They were in the tavern, a throwback to the old West, complete with its swinging doors and long curved bar, plank wood floors that were scuffed and dented and an old-time piano that one of the residents had been playing since Lucki had gotten there. Everyone was dressed in the fashion of the time too—from the cowboy hats to the heel spurs, corsets and billowing skirts. Lucki truly felt like she’d stepped into the olden days—and she loved it.
Weeping Falls had been an actual mining town back in the day. Now it was barely hanging on as a ghost town tourist attraction—the Wild West in Alaska. There wasn’t much in the way of bookings, from what she’d gathered. The only visitor was her, and she was soon to be a resident too. She’d be Lady Clover’s Cat Keeper, responsible for tending to a massive cat colony who’d been bequeathed a mansion and a trust fund and who called Weeping Falls home.
When she’d been offered the job, she’d thought she’d heard wrong.
“Cat keeper? What kind of job is that?”
Scout, the man who’d found her, had answered her simply and honestly. “We can’t afford a trained vet to come. You have almost all the requirements and a lot of experience working with animals. You’ll do.”
Lucki had been working at shelters her whole life. Always a tender heart around those injured or in need of love, she’d solely manned a cat sanctuary in her hometown until a fire had taken out the entire colony the past summer. It had nearly destroyed her heart to lose all those precious lives.
Scout had come knocking on her door one morning, claiming he’d heard about her compassion toward the felines and had wanted to offer her a new job as Cat Keeper for Lady Clover’s Cat House in Weeping Falls, Alaska.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time—a windfall, actually. Everyone knew she was destined to be a crazy cat lady anyway, and now she was going to be paid to fulfill that dream. It sounded pretty freakin’ perfect to her.
Besides, she had another reason to leave home—a big, six-foot-two, built-like-a-brick-house reason whom she wanted no reminder of ever again. He’d be in jail for another year at least, and by the time he got out, he’d find no trace of her. That gave her some measure of peace.
Her heart had been crushed, battered and beaten enough over the last ten years. She needed this escape, and Scout’s offer had come at the perfect moment. Time would heal all wounds—or so she’d heard—but cuddling with a bunch of cats would make that time sweeter.
And there hadn’t been a moment of regret—not one. She’d spent more than a day on the road with only a brief stop to rest, travelling all the way from her hometown in northern British Columbia.
It was a long way to come for a bunch of cats.
Best decision ever!
She downed what was left of her beer then snorted in the most unladylike way when another full pint slid in front of her.
“Oh boy, no way!” She laughed. “You people are going to get me totally wasted.”
“Aww, lass, no harm,” Andy Crawlie drawled. “We’re just happy yer finally here. We’ve been waitin’ on ya fer a vera long time.”
That had been what it had been like the entire night. They’d fed her delicious food until she was stuffed, then they’d started pouring the beer, keeping her glass full while they sang and laughed and told stories. There were enough people in the tavern that she lost track of all the names and keeping everyone straight. But she had plenty of time to learn them.
Lucki giggled but pushed the glass away. “Thank you for all your generosity, everyone.” She had to raise her voice to be heard over the music playing. “I think I should head back to Lady Clover’s, though. It’s late… Wait! How late is it?” Her phone had stopped working at some point during the night. She imagined that cell service was spotty at best around here anyway. She made a mental note to ask someone about it in the morning when her thoughts were clearer.
“Oh, it’s hardly after midnight, dear,” Sandy Evernight said as she picked up Lucki’s beer and took a sip for herself. “But if you must go, we’ll send you with an escort, to make sure you get back to the house in one piece.”
“An escort?” Lucki pushed her chair back. The wood feet thudded across the floor, giving Lucki a bit of a fight to stand.
“It’s always a good idea around here.” Sandy shrugged, her cheeks bright. She had a glint in her eyes that made Lucki question if there was a punchline coming. “‘Cause of the wild animals and such.”
“Wild animals?” Lucki frowned, her good mood taken down a notch. Not a joke, then. Right, because you’re in the middle of freakin’ Alaska! Spring is coming. Of course there are animals roaming around.
“Och, Sandy, quit scaring the girl. You want her to pick up and leave before she’s even settled in?” Mr. Rose said. “Rueben’s out there watchin’ for her. He’ll make sure she gets home safe.”
“Oh, Reuben’s around?” Sandy winked, aiming another sly smile at Lucki. “Didn’t know. Hadn’t seen him.”
“Don’t be daft, woman.” Andy tsked.
“You’ll be fine, Lucki,” Mr. Rose said with a reassuring pat on her arm. “Just be sure to put your coat on. The nights are still bitter cold around here.”
Someone handed Lucki her giant parka as she stood on wobbly legs, the beers rushing through her system worse than she’d first thought. “Thanks.” She slipped herself inside the warm down coat and instantly shivered as the heat embraced her. It would soon be too hot to be wearing inside the tavern. That was for sure. “I’ll see you all in the morning.”
Everyone mumbled something at her in response, but as she moved toward the door, she realized they just as soon returned to their drinking and joking, seeming to forget all about her. Looking over her shoulder at the group, she smiled once again. Such a fun bunch of folks. Unusual, sure, but also warm and embracing. Their unquestioning friendliness was like a comfort blanket around her heart. And that was something she really, really needed.
She pushed through the doors and blinked against the cold bite of the air. Icy wind shot up her nose and stung her brain. Sandy had said it was spring and she wasn’t wrong, calendar wise, but the weather up here was not any kind of spring that Lucki had ever experienced. Even in Canada, where the winters could get brutal, May usually came with milder temperatures, even at night.
But today was only May first, she reminded herself. Beltane. The familiar stir of longing rattled through her. In years past, Beltane was always a night she’d enjoyed with others. With him. Marking the coming of spring, Beltane was a celebration of new growth and fertility, and usually involved a night of ritual, song and dance, bonfires and, in her adult life, a lot of sexual exploration. This was the first time in many years that she would be alone.
But the past is the past, and it’s better to be alone and happy than with someone and miserable.
“Blessed be,” she said with a sigh.
She let her eyes adjust to the night then looked up at the impossibly bright stars overhead. She’d never seen so many in her life. She scanned the sky, hoping to see the Northern Lights, which she’d read about when she had been trying to research what to expect in Alaska, but the only light was from the stars and the moon, which was near full. Beautiful. She took in a deep breath, ignoring the burn of the cold air as it ripped up her nose again, freezing her nostrils. Refreshing, sure, but also painful. She chuckled to herself then took a few steps off the porch.
The gritty earth crunched under her feet. It was a strangely comforting sound that broke up the silence of the night and gave Lucki something to focus on other than the shadowed buildings.
The town consisted of a main strip with all the old ghost-town amenities—a barbershop with its candy-cane stripe, a hotel down the road, grocery store, shoemaker, blacksmith and even a church. There was a carriage without its horses and bundles of hay off to the side. It was so old-world and yet not. There were modern amenities as well—like the streetlamps, which were a little too far apart for Lucki’s liking, and a few cars parked here and there.
She flipped up her hood, suddenly feeling the cold worse as it whipped down the back of her neck, making her shiver right to her bones. Lady Clover’s Cat House was at the other end of the strip. The lights of the mansion shone from almost every window, a guiding beacon, so it would be impossible to not find her way there.
My new home. Hard to really fathom. It was three stories of old-world charm. Painted yellow like the sun, it had stained-glass multicolored windows with white shutters to frame them and a wraparound porch that could fit a hundred people with no problem. There was even a swinging chair there for her to lounge on in the warmer months, and she so looked forward to reading a few books out there with some cats on her lap. It was a house she could only dream of living in one day, and here she was walking down a dirt road, on her way to spending her first night in a castle of cats. Bliss.
Although this particular bliss included a pretty frosty walk. The cold bit at her cheeks and stung her eyes, so she walked faster. The noise from the partiers dimmed behind her. The silence of Alaska greeted her with each step she took toward her new home. She could fall in love with a place like this. It was so peaceful. So simple. She didn’t miss the buzzing white noise that she’d grown accustomed to back home or the constant urgency to check her phone for messages. She was unplugged. Calm. At peace.
Lucki stopped in her tracks. Ohhhhhhh, one of the cats? She hadn’t met any of them yet, but she was eager to.
She shifted her hood so she could look all around. “Here, kitty. Come here, kitty. Let me see you!” She felt no shame in her excitement over meeting the cats. She looked forward to bonding with each of them. She’d been warned it was quite a large colony, a hundred at least. “Here, kitty!”
She felt a nudge against her boot and shifted her hood to look down. The coat was so bulky that she could hardly see her own feet.
“Mr. Whiskers?” she said, as she swooped down to pick up her own cat. “What are you doing out here all alone, baby?” The only cat to have survived the fire was one of her favorites, a mangy brown tabby she called Mr. Whiskers. She’d brought him with her to Alaska but had left him safe and sound in the house—or so she’d thought. “How’d you get out here?”
“Muuuuurrrrow!” He purred like an engine and nuzzled into her arms as she stroked him.
“Well, you silly boy, let’s get you back inside where it’s warm.”
She walked, the crunch of her feet on the gravelly dirt road a distraction again. She pulled her attention from the ground and scanned the buildings around her.
“It’s awfully dark.” In between the streetlights was pitch black, and unusual shadows had collected in those places, keeping just out of reach from the lights. In each of those in-between spaces were alleys that were so opaque that they were impenetrable without a flashlight.
Creepy. The sobering reality of being completely alone in the middle of a town where she didn’t really know anyone slithered down her spine. If she called out, would anyone hear her?
The faint sound of music from the tavern drifted toward her. Nope…probably not.
She also kind of felt like she was being watched. Paranoia? Maybe. The tickling at the back of her neck had her scrunching her shoulders, and she picked up her pace all the same.
“Where’s this Reuben guy everyone is talking about?” she whispered to Mr. Whiskers, but he didn’t say anything back. He just purred in his contented kitty way. No fucks given.
The cat house was only about thirty feet ahead, if that. The urge to bolt the rest of the way poked her from all sides, but she was scared that if she did that, she’d drop the cat or freak him out enough to make him claw his way over her face.
Just one more alley to cross. She moved a little to the center of the street, putting some distance between her and the black maw of nothing on her left.
As she crossed the alley, she heard a noise. Low and quiet at first, it was a rumble of sound that she didn’t know quite how to place. It froze her in her tracks, though. There was definitely a menacing tone to it, like a warning. A growl.
“Do you hear that, Mr. Whiskers?” She couldn’t keep the quiver out of her voice. Keep walking.
Mr. Whiskers stopped purring. In fact, he stopped moving and was frozen in her arms, his body rigid as he stared down the alley, a murmur of a hiss growing in his belly.
The growling from the alley came again. It was definitely not friendly. Oooooh nooooo…
Something dazzled, a blink of light, then twin orbs of blue appeared to be floating in the darkness. So pretty. The slow grind of gravel under foot, deliberate careful movements, didn’t bring Lucki any comfort. “What is that?”
She unlocked her knees then took a step back. Then another. The sound got louder. The growl grew in strength with each step toward her until it was a warning she couldn’t ignore. She moved back quickly, almost stumbling on her own feet. Out of the shadows came a giant dog, its teeth bared, eyes menacing.
No, not a dog.
“H-h-holy shit,” Lucki stammered.
The wolf crouched, ready to pounce.
I’m going to die.
Mr. Whiskers hissed a growl of his own then leaped from her arms and she, the stupid fool, chased after him—right up to the wolf, within feet of the menacing beast. Mr. Whiskers stood between them, his fur fluffed out and back arched. He gave a hiss of warning with a paw raised, ready to strike.
“Mr. Whiskers, are you nuts?” Her voice was barely loud enough for anyone to hear. It was a croak instead of a scream. No one would come to her rescue. “Help!” Her voice failed her once again, coming out as a half whisper, strangled by her fear. The wolf watched her, its eyes searing deep inside. It ignored the cat completely.
What is the right move? Why didn’t I research this?
What to do if a wolf stalks you…yeah…that.
The wolf took a menacing step in her direction, its predator glare never wavering. Lucki’s legs shook with an alarming sway. Her knees were literally knocking together. If she tried to run, she’d fall flat on her face for sure.
Running with a predator giving chase was probably not a great idea anyway.
The cat launched itself, jumping toward the wolf.
Her voice unlocked. “Mr. Whiskers, no!”
But it was too late. The cat struck a clawed paw against the wolf’s muzzle, causing it to growl and lower its head. Lucki thought for sure Mr. Whiskers was gonna lose all nine lives in one go, but Mr. Whiskers didn’t get the memo on that. He struck again, quick and determined, a claw swipe against the wolf’s nose.
Lucki quickly calculated the odds of snatching the cat up as she ran. It didn’t look good. She was not that coordinated.
She sucked in a deep breath, then opened her mouth to scream.
The wolf took a step back, its head bowed…in…submission?
What the…? Her scream died on her tongue.
Mr. Whiskers, still all puffed out, still defending his human, was no longer on the attack. He even seemed to have a smug grin as he tossed a glance in Lucki’s direction. The wolf stayed down, muzzle lowered to the ground, its eyes blinking rapidly.
“Get outta here if you aren’t going to be civilized,” a booming voice said from behind.
The wolf flicked its eyes up, looked behind Lucki for a moment, then it bolted away into the darkness of the alley.
“Sorry, hon. Got caught up in a conversation and didn’t realize you were leaving so soon.”
Lucki glanced behind her, then did a double take. A huge, burly man stomped toward her. He had to be at least six-five, six-six. He wasn’t wearing a coat, just a blue lumberjack shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, that showed some impressively muscled forearms. His brown hair was parted to the side and his soft eyes crinkled with what kind of looked like amusement. The lower half of his face was covered with a beard, close cropped and well kept. This guy was a bear—a huge, lumberjack bear. He had an easy smile and a dimple, and he was so disarming that Lucki smiled back, that and her panties melted right then and there.
“I’m Reuben.” His voice had the kind of husky depth that stroked her soul.
Her legs quivered.
She cleared her throat to get the lusty lump of drool out of the way. “There’s a wolf…” She turned her head to the alley, but the wolf was definitely gone. Mr. Whiskers nudged her to be picked up.
“Yeah, I saw.” Reuben radiated heat. It literally steamed off him. He came up next to her then placed a firm hand on her back, which instantly steadied her legs. “Let’s get you to the house before you freeze to death.”
“A wolf, though…” She turned her head from side to side, scanning the area as she bent down to pick up the cat.
“He’s gone now. Don’t worry about him.” Reuben’s voice was so sure, so confident, so soothing. “Happy to finally meet you,” he added.
“Was that real?” The adrenaline that had coursed through her body crashed out of her in a whoosh. She took a step but her legs crumbled out from under her.
“Whoa there!” Reuben swooped in and held her upright. “They been pouring drinks into you? Those beasts don’t ever learn.”
Her head was clear. Any buzz she’d had from the booze had burned through her. It had to be shock that was making her dizzy and disoriented now. She could have died. Mr. Whiskers had done his best, but really, that wolf could have eaten her in a few bites.
“I got ya.” Reuben picked her up then cradled her and the cat in his arms.
She gasped, more to herself, as she looked up at him. “You’re a big guy.” She was in the arms of a mountain.
He chuckled. “I am.” He hitched her up higher. “Let’s get you home, shall we? Then we can properly introduce ourselves. It’s Beltane, you know, a good night for introductions.” He smiled, his dimple popping and his eyes glistening.
Angela Addams is an author of many naughty things. She believes that the written word is an amazing tool for crafting the most erotic of scenarios and likes telling stories about normal people getting down and dirty and falling in love. Enthralled by the paranormal at an early age, Angela also spends a lot of her time thinking up new story ideas that involve supernatural creatures in everyday situations.
She is an avid tattoo collector, a total book hoarder, and loves anything covered in chocolate…except for bugs.
She lives in Ontario, Canada in an old, creaky house, with her husband, children and four moody cats.
Nikolai is the fun-loving, flamboyant cousin of Sergei Barinov. He doesn’t know a lot about cars but is happy working as the desk person at Everyone’s Mechanic while he completes his doctorate in finance and accounting. While his parents never accepted who he was, he at least had Cousin Sergei’s family to love and support him. Comfortable in his own skin, he dresses according to his mood, which could be a skirt and makeup or sweatpants. He has crushed on Brandon since he met him but has never been able to be around him without doing something embarrassing. He would love a chance to show Brandon that he’s not just style without substance.
Brandon began interning with Sergei’s company in college and has since worked his way up to be his right-hand man. He is very regimented, likes his routines and needs to stay focused to complete his many duties for Sergei. Brandon is also balancing secretly raising his now-fifteen-year-old brother. He has watched from afar as Nikolai went from being a gangly, awkward teenager to a stunning adult. Brandon might wish he could take the time to get to know Nikolai better, but he doesn’t feel he can add one more thing to his already-full plate.
When Sergei tasks the pair to work together to plan an LGBTQ youth center, sparks fly. Will they decide to take a chance—or will outside forces ruin the possibility before they can even get started?
Reader advisory: This book makes references to addiction, alcohol, attempted violence and drug use.
Nikolai Barinov tore his gaze away from the numbers on his computer screen to check who’d just come in the entrance to Everyone’s Mechanic. His professional smile changed to a genuine one when he saw his cousin Sergei standing in front of him.
“Hello, Nikolai. How’s my favorite cousin?”
“Uh-oh. You only call me your favorite cousin when you want something.”
Sergei placed a hand on his chest. “I’m wounded.”
Nikolai raised one blond eyebrow at Sergei, then sat back and waited. The smile fell from Sergei’s mouth.
“What happened to your face?”
“What?” Shit, can he see the bruise? I thought the makeup covered it.
“You have a bruise on your cheek. What the hell happened?”
“Would you believe I ran into a door?”
Sergei widened his stance and put his hands on his hips, giving Nikolai his sternest stare. Nikolai rushed to explain. “Seriously, I saw Brandon going into your building yesterday afternoon as I was leaving, and I was so busy watching him that I ran right into the doorjamb.” Nikolai grimaced. “Not my finest moment, to be sure.”
Sergei’s stern expression morphed into an amused one and he coughed into his hand while avoiding eye contact with Nikolai. When their gazes met, Sergei lost the fight and laughed until he had tears running down his face and had to lean against the counter to support himself.
Nikolai shook his head in disgust at his cousin’s antics. “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. You do realize you probably just got grease on your suit, right?” Working at a garage had its advantages, including the apartment he was able to rent above the business, but spic and span cleanliness was not one of those perks. Oh, the owner, Kirk, ran a tight ship and everything was as clean as possible, but it was still a garage. It was Nikolai’s turn to laugh as Sergei looked down at himself to search for dirt on his custom suit.
Sergei took a swipe at his jacket before shrugging and looking back at Nikolai.
“So, why are you here?”
“I need a favor.”
“I figured.” Nikolai made a rolling hand gesture to try to encourage Sergei to spit it out.
Sergei’s forehead furrowed. “I’m a little concerned, though, that you won’t be able to complete this favor without causing yourself bodily harm.”
“I need you to work with Brandon on a project.”
“You need me to work with your personal assistant, Brandon Whitaker, on a project? But he hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you.”
“Doesn’t know what to do with me then?”
Sergei shrugged one of his massive shoulders as Nikolai wished for the thousandth time that he had gotten some of Sergei’s six-foot-plus height and size. Alas, he was stuck at a measly, svelte five-foot-seven. “I can’t deny that. You confuse him, for sure, but he does respect you. He loves the reports you set up for him while you were interning last summer.”
“He was shocked I could even do spreadsheets and reports, though. He thinks I’m an idiot.”
“Only because you turn into a nervous klutz whenever he is around. A doorjamb? Really?”
“What? There’s something about him that does it for me—brown hair, brown eyes, six feet tall, those broad shoulders… Yum. What’s not to love? I know intellectually that nothing will ever come of it. Have you seen the women who come to meet him for lunch?”
“Yes, I have, and I also know none of them last more than a month.”
“He’s not gay. The number of women he takes out makes that very clear.”
“I don’t think he’s as straight as he pretends to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he watches you when you aren’t looking.”
Nikolai waved his hand in the air. “He’s just trying to figure me out. As you said, I confuse him. He’s not a man who likes to be confused. He’s the man with a plan for everything.”
“Exactly my point—and I don’t think he planned for you.”
“Whatever. What is it you needed me to work on with Brandon?”
“I would like you guys to work on plans for an LGBTQ center—a place where teens can come to either hang out or to get help, counseling, the whole nine yards. I want to offer classes as well—financial ones like budgeting and checkbook balancing as well as cooking and other basics. Maybe you can talk to some of the instructors at that dojo you go to and see if they would teach some self-defense classes too. The statistics for homeless youth—especially gay homeless youth—are scary, and I want to do something about it. It will be open to all but mainly to support the community.”
Nikolai was getting excited about the project. The center was something that was desperately needed there in Raleigh and elsewhere. He felt a slight twinge at Sergei’s casual dismissal of his time spent at the dojo. He wasn’t sure what his family thought he did there three-to-five days a week, but obviously it wasn’t learning any of the skills they taught, but that was partly his fault as he’d never told them when he’d received his different color belts. It was something private for him.
He was snapped out of his ponderings by the ding of the door sensor as someone else came in. He opened his eyes wide when he realized it was Brandon. He went to stand, the chair slipped back too fast and he almost fell, catching himself with a hand on the desk, just in time. Nikolai flushed with mortification as his cheeks got hot and he ducked his head, pretending to search for something on his desk in a sad attempt to seem like he had everything under control. Snagging a pencil, Nikolai pulled his long, wavy blond hair up in a messy bun on top of his head, and shoved the pencil in to secure it.
He glanced up after a moment to find Sergei staring at him in exasperation then turning to greet Brandon. “Hey, Brandon, thanks for giving me a minute with Nikolai before coming in. Nikolai is really excited about the project.”
Nikolai took a deep breath to compose himself then turned to face Brandon. “Nice to see you again, Brandon. This should be an interesting project. I look forward to working with you on it.” There. That wasn’t too psycho.
“Yeah. It will be a challenge, but I think we can come up with something great. I know you’re pretty busy with school and here, so when do you think we can meet to get started?”
“Well, I’ve already successfully defended my thesis, so my load at school is pretty light. I’m just waiting on graduation now.”
Sergei’s gaze snapped back to Nikolai. “Wait! When did that happen?”
“A couple of weeks ago,” Nikolai said with a shrug.
“Why didn’t you say anything? We should have celebrated.”
“Well, first you were in London at that big conference, then you hibernated with your hubby for the weekend and didn’t come to family dinner. It just kind of got lost in the shuffle.”
“Did your family go to your thesis defense, at least?” Sergei asked, frowning.
Nikolai couldn’t quite hide his grimace. “Um, your parents and Sasha came. My parents couldn’t make it. It wasn’t a big deal.” Nikolai didn’t even believe himself, so he knew Sergei didn’t.
“We’ll discuss this later.”
“Nothing to discuss.”
Sergei scowled at him. “There’s a lot to discuss, but first, do you definitely want in on this project?”
“Of course, I’m in. It’s important.”
“Agreed. So, when are you available to meet on it?”
“I have sessions at the dojo tonight and tomorrow morning, but I’m free after that. I know tomorrow’s Saturday, so we can postpone to next week if you guys need to.”
“Saturday afternoon works for me. What about you Brandon?”
“Yep. That works. I have somewhere to be in the morning as well, but I will be free about noon.”
“Great. How about we meet at my house then? I’ll feed you all lunch.”
“Sounds good,” Brandon and Nikolai answered together. Nikolai could only shake his head at himself after the bolt of arousal that went through his system when he made brief eye contact with Brandon’s brown-eyed gaze. He hazarded a small smile at the man, but Brandon didn’t respond, instead breaking the connection and turning toward Sergei. “Okay. Glad that’s settled. We need to get moving. We have that meeting at two o’clock with the planning commissioner about your new property on Fayette Street.” Brandon then turned and walked out of the door after a head nod to Nikolai.
“Plan to stay after the meeting to continue our discussion about your thesis defense.”
“It really wasn’t a big deal, Sergei. You know my family doesn’t understand or approve of me and my ways.” Nikolai put air quotes around the ‘my ways’, as it was a common phrase from his mother. His mother and father were not the warm and supportive parents that Sergei’s were. Nikolai’s father was very much about toxic masculinity and a woman knowing her place in the world. Nikolai did not fit his father’s definition of a good son at all, so he was ignored—and that was fine with him. It really was, but Sergei never understood, mainly because Nikolai’s father was always on his best behavior whenever Sergei was around, thinking he could use his connection with Sergei for his own needs in some way.
The truth was—and one his father would never admit—that Nikolai’s father was both scared and jealous in equal parts of Sergei’s power. He felt that as the older Barinov male, he should have been the one to have the influence and wealth that Sergei had accumulated and that Sergei should seek his council like he was smarter, because of his age. Sergei was actually one of the most intelligent people Nikolai knew, and that was saying something because Nikolai had been going to school forever.
Sergei was also one of the hardest-working people he knew, with Brandon being right up there with him. Brandon was truly Sergei’s right-hand man, and Nikolai wasn’t saying that because he had a major crush on the man either. Part of the reason he had such a crush on him was because he worked so hard and was so dedicated to Sergei. Nikolai’s father was lazy and dedicated only to himself. Sad, but true.
Sergei interrupted his thoughts, and Nikolai scrambled to remember what they were talking about. “Not. The. Point. I don’t care how your parents feel about things. This is about communication between you and me. We will discuss it Saturday. Da?”
“Da, Sergei,” Nikolai conceded grudgingly.
“Good. I will see you tomorrow.” Sergei then followed Brandon out of the door.
Ann Marie James is fluent in two languages, English and sarcasm. She believes that you will never learn anything new if you don’t read as much as you can, and/or talk to every stranger you meet. She always looks for the best in people and to treat people the way she wants to be treated. Above all Ann Marie believes in love, whatever form it takes. Relationships are hard, love is the glue that keeps it together.
Enter for your chance to win a $50.00 First For Romance Gift Card!
How’s a hexy chick gonna get laid if even breathing is an adventure sport?
Sabrina—Sabby to her friends—is a hex, a pariah. Even Lucifer crosses the road to avoid her. Everyone avoids her…except the sex-mad humpomaniac imps, that is. Chaos demons are known for…well, chaos. And for Sabrina, chaos equals misery, until she’s dragged to Earth by literary historian Jude Morrisey. Human, good-looking and definitely sex on legs, Jude is enough to set her libido on high alert. Now if she can just keep her chaos magic from ripping his life apart, things might be looking up.
When Jude accidentally summons a demon, his staid bachelor world erupts into an unholy mess. Someone’s sabotaging his career and his job’s almost down the gurgler. Sex-crazed imps invade his house and hump his appliances. The biggest shock of all is the sexy Calamity Jane who appears in his attic insisting she’s his jinx.
Harmony, peace and his staid life are out of the attic window, but here’s the thing… Can he keep his hands off the delectable walking disaster long enough to work out what’s going on?
Anarchy, bedlam, chaos… It’s all in a day’s work for a hexy chick.
Reader advisory: This book contains a brief scene of violence and attempted murder.
“Now that’s just plain tacky, girl. I hope you don’t plan to wear that outside. Oh, and I have to tell you… Those high heels just don’t go with that outfit.”
Sabrina—Sabby to her friends—spun about and stared at the woman who’d appeared without so much as a peep in the dark recesses of the library. She instinctively raised her arms and tried to cover her breasts, but this stupid costume didn’t have enough fabric to even manage that. Forget the rest of her body. It just wasn’t going to work.
“I don’t plan on wearing it anywhere, Aunt Luce,” she responded before directing a dark frown at the other occupant of the room. “Brel-ez figured he’d try to talk me into wearing it for the imps’ party tonight. I only tried it on to show him how ridiculous it was. And by the way, a little sonic boom or some hellfire or something to announce your imminent arrival might have been nice.”
“I am Lucifer, Supreme Ruler of Hell. I go where I please, how I please.” She drew herself up to her full height, her eyes flashing red sparks.
It took all Sabby’s willpower to keep a straight face. It wouldn’t do to annoy her Lordship by laughing at her, even if it was funny. Aunt Luce wasn’t much more than five feet three inches tall, but what she lacked in stature, she made up for with presence. As the ruler of Hell, she was a formidable lady and a dangerous opponent.
“Sorry, Aunt Luce. I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just a tad embarrassed to be caught wearing this.” She gestured to the outrageous outfit.
“I would think so. It’s nothing short of disastrous. Human or demon, no woman should be seen in this.”
Lucifer frowned as she walked a circle around Sabby, her high heels clacking on the flag tiles that made up the floor of the dungeon-library. She shuddered when she stood in front of Sabby again.
“Leopard print is so out now, and that itty-bitty G-string is…” She broke off and shuddered again. “Doesn’t it hurt your girly bits, pulled up between your butt cheeks like that? And the rest of it… A flimsy scrap of material over a bra that barely covers your boobies and nothing but transparent scarves attached to a band around your waist. What is this? The dance of the seven veils? If you want to change your image, girl, you’d do better to emulate me.”
Sabby had to fight to control her emotions again. There was no doubt that Aunt Luce had a distinctive style. She looked like everyone’s idea of a cuddly grandmother. Slightly chubby—although Sabby would never tell her that—she mostly favored twin sets and pearls teamed with a tweed skirt. Her hair was a snowy-white halo that curled around her face. She did, on occasion, tip the ends with vibrant reds and purples to match whatever-color shoes she had on. Sporting long nails—or more correctly ‘talons’—she matched her shoes with her nail polish. And those shoes? Nothing but three-inch-high stilettos in bright colors for Aunt Luce. Today’s color was scarlet.
Before Sabby felt forced to comment on Lucifer’s suggestion, Brel-ez decided to get in on the conversation.
“Your most magnificent Lordship, please tell Sabby she must attend our fancy-dress party tonight. She has to be there. She’s our queen.”
Lucifer rounded on him. “Queen? There is no queen but me. King. Queen. Lord. I am Supreme Ruler. I am all of them—and don’t you forget it.”
Brel-ez, captain of Lucifer’s Herald and head imp, shrank down, which was pretty difficult, given that he was only three feet tall. His little pointy red horns actually quivered as he tried to abase himself before Lucifer.
“So sorry, your Lordship. So sorry, but I found a prophesy in an old book and I’m sure it refers to Sabby.”
“I told him it’s all rubbish, but he won’t believe me,” Sabby chipped in.
“What prophesy?” Lucifer’s voice thundered throughout the library.
Holy Hell, Aunt Luce is really getting angry. Sabby just prayed that Brel-ez could extricate himself from this before Lucifer zapped him out of annoyance.
Brel-ez quickly retrieved a slip of paper from the pocket of his red-and-gold uniform and read it out loud.
“When the small stand up and fight against the law,
When the hungry hold out their hands asking for more,
When the greedy profit to improve their lot in life,
Unconcerned that their everlasting legacy is strife,
When pandemonium erupts and floods the world above,
Then the queen of chaos reigns—and the winner is love.”
Brel-ez shoved the paper back into his pocket and held out his hands to Lucifer. “See? Sabby’s a chaos demon, the only one living down here in the first level of Hell. It must be her.”
Lucifer burst out laughing, all her anger appearing forgotten. “Oh, you silly imp. That’s no prophesy. Bet you found that in an old diary buried here in the library, yes?”
“My great-great-great grandfather fancied himself a poet. That’s one of his—and not a prophesy at all. And I’m the queen of chaos. You got that?”
Brel-ez nodded again and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, Lucifer held up one finger.
“Is it important?”
“Definitely, your Lordship.”
He nodded so hard that Sabby was certain he was about to lose his head. And he would if he didn’t watch what he said to Lucifer.
Aunt Luce sighed. “Get on with it, Brel-ez.”
“Sabby has to come to the party. Otherwise, how else can she get la—?”
“Brel-ez,” Sabby shouted. Damn it, can’t that imp keep his mouth shut for once?
Now Lucifer turned her attention back to Sabby, her eyebrows raised in question. There was no way she’d back down if she didn’t get an answer straight away.
“She wants to get laid,” Brel-ez shouted.
“Way to keep a secret, imp.” She scowled at the little captain with the cocky grin spreading across his face. She turned to Lucifer. “I’m a twenty-five-year-old almost-virgin. Why shouldn’t I get laid before I bury myself down here in your damp dungeon?”
“It might have been a dungeon in the past, but it’s my library now. And I’ll have you know that there’s no dampness down here. It would ruin the books.” Lucifer frowned as she stared at Sabby. “Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with going to Brel-ez’s party, but I’d choose another costume if I were you. One deep breath and those boobies of yours will pop over the top of that scrap of a bra.”
Brel-ez burst out laughing. “Hey, Sabby, that will sure get you a lover for the night.”
“Oh, be quiet, Brel-ez,” Sabby snapped, holding her hand over her chest as she dragged in a choppy breath. “It just so happens that I don’t want a demon to teach me all about the joys of sex.”
“Just because you look human and can’t change shape or form, you’re still a demon, my girl. What’s wrong with a demon lover?” Lucifer demanded.
“I’d rather practice on a human man—a real one. I screwed up every relationship I ever tried when I lived above. I want to give it one last shot, to see if I can make it work. Hopefully, now that I’m older, I won’t create as much of a mess as I’ve done in the past.”
Lucifer snorted. “You’re a chaos demon, girl. Of course you’re going to leave behind disorder and mayhem. And you know why? Your parents never got around to teaching you how to control your powers. Instead, they just shipped you off to me when it looked like your uncontrolled magic would expose them as demons. No thought for you at all. If your mother wasn’t one of my best friends…”
Sabby winced as Lucifer actually growled. She couldn’t really blame Aunt Luce. She’d been a trial for her parents from the time she’d been born. By the time she’d hit puberty and started to notice the opposite sex, the problems had simply gotten worse. Everything she’d tried her hand at, whether it had been jobs or relationships, had ended in disaster. Now here she was, buried in this dark library where she couldn’t cause any problems.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Aunt Luce. I know I’m a misfit, but I do try. In fact, I think I am doing better. The library has run without a hitch for a couple of years now. I just want this last shot. If I screw it up, I promise I’ll come back here and never complain again.”
Her heels clacking on the flagstone floor, Lucifer moved close enough to give Sabby a hug. “Sabrina, you’re one of my goddaughters. I want you to be happy.” She grimaced. “I don’t apologize often, but I am sorry I parked you down here in this dark old dungeon. I should have taken you in hand and taught you how to use your magic, but I took the easiest way out.”
She released her hold on Sabby and strode across the room before turning to face her again. “You think this will make you happy? Getting down and dirty with a human male?”
Sabby chuckled at Aunt Luce’s turn of phrase. “I’d like to at least give it a go.”
“Hmm-m,” Lucifer mused. “Anyone in mind? It has to be someone who pushes your buttons.”
Someone who pushes my buttons?
Oh yeah! There was one person who came immediately to mind. When Sabby had been a kid, her best friend and neighbor had been a girl called Brianna. They’d been more like sisters than friends. They’d done everything together, and Sabby had loved spending time at Brianna’s home—but not just because Brianna had been her best mate.
Brianna had an older brother. He was eleven years older than she was, but he was oh-so-sexy. Sabby had hero-worshiped him, but as time had gone on, that had morphed into the biggest of crushes. By the time Sabby had reached her later teens, he had moved out, but Sabby had hung on his every word whenever he’d come to visit his parents.
Brianna’s folks had been terrific. Never once had they chastised her for her klutzy behavior. They’d just kept telling her she’d grow out of it eventually. And when Brianna’s brother came to visit, Sabby had followed him about like a bad smell, falling over her feet to keep up with him. Heck, even falling over his feet.
She smiled at the memories, wondering for a moment what had happened to him. Heat suddenly invaded her mind. Sabby frowned. For a moment there she could have sworn that invisible fingers had done a quick tour through her memories, one after the other—like someone—or something—hastily flicking through the pages of a book. Weird.
Sabby shook her head. Then, with a determined effort, she buried all thoughts of her juvenile crush in the back of her mind. Nothing had come of it and never would. It was time she settled for whatever she could get.
“No, no one special, Aunt Luce. I’d just like to go back above for one last time.”
“Well, in that case—”
“Nooo,” Brel-ez broke in. “Sabby has to come to our party. What am I going to tell the demons I’ve lined up to scr—er, romance her?”
“Brel-ez, you didn’t…? I don’t believe you’d do that to me,” Sabby said.
“I was just trying to help,” the little demon whined.
This time Lucifer cut him off. “I’m the one who makes the decisions here in Hell. You don’t get to say what happens in my domain.” She flicked out her hand and a spear of white-hot light erupted from the tip of one finger. It zeroed in on Brel-ez and zapped him on the rear end. The imp let out a yelp and smacked at the smoldering fabric of his pants.
Lucifer turned back to Sabby. “And you, missy. Is this really what you want?”
Sabby nodded, unable to say a word in case her godmother changed her mind.
“Then so be it. I’ll give you a month. After that, regardless of what happens, you come back here. Okay?”
Before Sabby could nod, a sonic boom resounded throughout the library. Pungent smoke swirled about Sabby and caught in her throat. She started to shake. First there were vibrations deep in her belly. Then they spread out to totally encompass her whole body. There was time for one last thought before Sabby disintegrated into a stream of airborne atoms.
Alexis Fleming writes stories dominated by sassy women and sexy macho men, by mouthy shifters and the odd delicious demon. You’ll experience crazy, laugh-out-loud moments as you live vicariously through the antics of her characters. The magic of the paranormal and the suspense of a mystery to solve will tantalize all the way until the end.
Based in north Queensland, Australia, when Alexis is not interfering in the lives of her imaginary friends, she’s happy to get caught up with family and help her daughter, author Kelly Ethan, plot her next murderous adventure for her stories.
Take one shy French gardener, mix in a naughty aristocrat, add a splash of water, a dash of sunshine, and wait for love to grow.
If only it were that easy.
Reuben Costaud counts his blessings daily. His run-in with crime is firmly behind him. He has a wonderful job gardening on the Rossingley estate, a tiny cottage all to himself, an orphaned cat named Obélix, and a friendly bunch of workmates. The last thing he needs is a tall, blond aristocrat strolling across the manicured lawns towards him.
Falling in love is not part of his plan.
Viscount Aloysius Frederick Lloyd Duchamps-Avery, Freddie to his friends, is in big trouble with everyone, from his father and his modelling agency, to his controlling older boyfriend. Seeking solace and refuge, he escapes to Rossingley and his adored cousin Lucien, the sixteenth earl. To take his mind off his woes, Lucien finds him a job with the estate gardening team.
Mutual attraction blossoms amongst the gardening tools, and Freddie charms his way through Reuben’s defences. But as spring turns to summer and Freddie’s London life collides with their Rossingley idyll, Reuben’s trust in him is ruptured. Will their love flourish or is it destined for the compost bin?
To Catch a Fallen Leaf is a full-length MM contemporary romance, the second in the Rossingley trilogy.
“Oh, baby doll, for goodness’ sake! Please, please, please. Could we ensure this be the last time I have to put up with all of your ridiculousness?”
Disappointment is the inevitable result of a mismatch between expectation and reality. Vincent expects me to never get drunk, never embarrass him in public, and never, ever, ever vomit over his shoes outside a smart London restaurant.
The reality, of course, is that I’m a twenty-five-year-old male model. I like booze, I like to occasionally snort coke, I say stupid things in front of people I shouldn’t, and sometimes, all of those combined, lead to unexpected chundering episodes outside smart London restaurants. So, I can’t be blamed if Vincent chooses to put his burgundy Lobb penny loafers in the path of the contents of my stomach.
I am fully cognisant of the reasons Vincent endures these occasional mishaps. Being a minor member of the aristocracy helps. In addition, my father, a well-known and respected politician, is perfectly placed to further Vincent’s own eventual political ambitions. But, most importantly, Vincent is a sucker for eye-catching arm candy. I’m not the first pretty piece of fluff he’s moved into his Belgravia apartment, but I’ve stayed the longest. While I’m definitely pretty, I also have financial independence and a first-class degree from Cambridge. Thus, he finds my company tolerable.
What’s in it for me is more complex. Despite occasional debauched one-night forgettables when I’m working abroad—to which Vincent turns a blind eye—I’m a sucker for a steady relationship. Unless I’m travelling for work, I prefer waking up in the same familiar bed each morning. I enjoy the finer things in life, such as sharing good food in decent restaurants and trips to the theatre with an educated partner.
My adorable cousin, Lucien, believes my predilection for older men comes from a deep-seated desire to be cared for, seeing as Father left that responsibility entirely to my boarding school after Mother died. According to his theory, my monogamous tendencies are an unconscious rebellion against Father’s complete lack of fidelity towards my mother. He’s probably right on both accounts, explaining how I muster a coquettish smile as I watch forty-something Vincent, in his pristine white Y-fronts and sock garters, select a double-breasted Hawes & Curtis suit from his walk-in wardrobe. Even though the zipping of his fly and the clack of one wooden coat hanger against another is enough to make my head reel and my guts threaten a repeat performance.
Rolling over in bed, I clamp a goose down pillow over my head in an attempt to shut out the morning sunlight.
“Sorry about last night, Vincent,” I mumble from underneath the pillow. “I possibly overcooked things a little. The end of a busy week, I guess, and I probably didn’t eat enough dinner with my wine. I’m not sure I ate at all yesterday, now I think about it—it was a long photo shoot.”
There’s a slithery sound as he selects a tie. Time stands still; I wish he’d bloody get on with it and clear off, so I can retch over the loo in peace.
“Yes. Well, whatever, baby doll. I have to dash; I’m chairing a meeting of investors at nine, and I can’t have that derailed by your foolish antics.”
He looms over me, all expensive sandalwood and minty freshness. In a bespoke suit, which hides the paunchy bit around his middle, Vincent is a good-looking guy. He still has a full head of dark hair; any flecks of grey only serve to accentuate his air of suave sophistication. Despite himself, he smiles as he pecks my cheek.
“You are going to be the death of me, young man,” he murmurs. “Try to stay out of trouble. Drink plenty of fluids and take an aspirin. You can make it up to me tonight.”
I recall that it’s Tuesday and manage to stifle my groan at least until the front door slams. Oh joy. Deep, deep joy. To say we have a regimented sex life would be affording the military a degree of precision they can only dream of emulating. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at the stroke of twenty-two hundred hours, Vincent switches on the BBC News and swallows down 50 mg of Viagra with a small glass of San Pellegrino (one cube of ice). He doesn’t know that I know about the Viagra. The gravitas of the opening theme tune is my cue to go and “freshen up, baby doll,” which is Vincent doublespeak for reacquainting my arse with the nozzle of the shower hose. I am then expected to drape myself seductively across our enormous bed in the master suite, with a fresh towel under me, and await his presence.
I used to like my sex spontaneous and messy. I still do. Because, occasionally, smelly, sweaty, imprecise, surprising, and even disappointing sex can unexpectedly turn into joyous, forgiving, funny, and tender sex. Not loving sex. I haven’t experienced that yet, although I remain optimistic. I’ll take all of the above over predictable any day. And—not to put too fine a point on it—I quite like topping. Turn and turnabout is okay if the mood takes me, but really? Always bottoming? Not so much. Some guys love it; for some of my friends it’s a race to the bottom, but I’m prepared to share the love around. Unfortunately, Vincent’s arse only opens once a day, around 6:45 a.m., as part of his shit, shower, shave routine. After that, it’s locked tight as an oyster shell, whereas I’m expected to roll over and take it, and take it, and bloody take it. I usually manage to reach orgasm (ejaculating carefully onto the towel, naturally), but only because I’m young, horny, and excellent at conjuring up visions of myself ploughing into some raven-haired, faceless beauty, while Vincent happily labours above me.
The thing is, I could put up with being called baby doll. I could put up with the bad sex. I could even put up with being told what to wear and when to wear it. But there is one thing that really sticks in my craw: My boyfriend’s close friendship with my father. Around once a month, they share lunch at my father’s club, when I imagine, along with plotting world domination and very visible, showy acts of philanthropy, they enumerate my varied shortcomings, sighing wistfully at each other: “If only Aloysius could… If only he would…” etcetera, etcetera. (My real name is Aloysius; thank God, my second name is Frederick.) And then, after a manly handshake, they part ways; my father returns to pontificating in the House of Commons, and Vincent returns to whatever he does in that enormous office of his in Mayfair.
The life of university librarian, Amari Foster, life is neatly cataloged. Work, home, and securing a future for her daughter are her focus. Hard-edged and handsome, she manages her private life with ruthless precision, cutting ties, and maintaining distance to protect her battered heart.
Plumber Thalia Makris has given up her dream of long-term love after a series of bad relationships. Desperate to have her own business, Thalia fills her days working overtime and her nights with fantasy novels.
After a chance encounter leaves both women wanting more than a one-night stand, they find themselves on the precipice of love. Will they take the plunge?
“Mama, why do you wear this?” Brianna perched on the end of the bed and turned the scratched dull gold wedding band in her hands.
Amari adjusted her tie, tugging the knot in her bow tie into shape in the mirror. “Because it reminds me of your mommy.” She watched her daughter’s expression in the glass.
“It makes you sad.” Brianna held the ring up between her fingers and looked through it.
Amari turned to her daughter and held out her hand. “Sometimes.”
Brianna deposited the ring in her mother’s palm. “You should flush it.”
“What?” Amari pushed the ring over her knuckle before she slid her vest on.
“That’s what we did in my class when the fish died. I wasn’t as sad when I couldn’t see it anymore.” Her gaze settled on Amari. “If you didn’t see it, maybe you wouldn’t be so sad.”
Amari buttoned her vest from the bottom and held her daughter’s gaze. “I’m not sad.”
Brianna frowned. “You said to always tell the truth.”
“I am. And yes, sometimes it makes me sad. But other times it reminds me that your mommy and I were very much in love.” Amari lifted her suit coat from its hanger and folded it over her arm. She tilted her head at her daughter.
“I don’t remember her.” Brianna drew her hand over the comforter, tracing the pattern of the design with her fingers.
Amari swallowed on the dry ache in her throat and shifted her gaze to her shoes. “We need to go soon. We don’t want to come in after the bride.”
Brianna slid off the bed and spun in a slow circle. “Does my dress sparkle? Like Poppy in Trolls World Tour?”
Amari held the door open and nodded toward the hall. “It does.”
Brianna walked ahead of Amari. “Do you think they’ll have the spring rolls Ms. Mai makes?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure there’ll be something you want to eat at the reception.” Amari followed her daughter down the stairs to the living room.
“Don’t you look sharp. And, Brianna, you look so pretty in your new dress. Come here, let me fix your hair.” Cora Foster’s voice, filled with love, washed over Amari and pushed back her melancholy.
Brianna took a half step toward her grandmother and stopped. “I like it this way.” She squatted and rubbed her hand over their dog’s back. Lucy, their ever-patient Newfoundland, lifted her head and snuffled Brianna’s hand.
Amari lifted her chin at her mother. “Mom, please, let her be. She’s settled and we don’t have time for a meltdown.”
Cora pressed her mouth together in a thin line. “Fine.”
Amari plucked her keys from the hook by the door. “We won’t be late.”
Cora patted her lap. Lucy ambled over and rested her head on Cora’s knee. “We’ll be here.” She picked up the remote. “I’ve got a date with a Witcher.” She waggled her eyebrows.
Amari snort-laughed. “All right, Mom.”
Brianna crossed the floor, stopped short of her grandmother. She bent from the waist and leaned forward. “Hug?”
Cora scooted forward and pressed her forehead to Brianna’s brow. “Have fun. Bring Grandma a spring roll if they have them.”
“Okay.” Brianna straightened and walked to the door.
Cora’s gaze settled on Amari’s face. “You going to be okay?”
Amari looked away from her mother’s eyes. Her gaze settled on the faded photo of her wedding day on the wall behind the television. “Aren’t I always?”
Cora pursed her lips. “If you say so.”
Brianna shifted from one foot to the other by the door as she pulled her sweater on. “Mama, come on. The spring rolls will be gone.”
Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot
I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. For a free short story, information on book signings, appearances, work in progress snippets, previews and sneak-peeks, sign up for my email list.
The burning of Arbor, and the hate that fueled it, stole much from Evangeline Clarion, but the fiery artist and powerful elemental witch survived the flames of fanaticism and opened the art gallery of her dreams with the help of her familiar and coven. As Eva wades into life as the director of the Manor Arts and high priestess of the Witches of Arbor coven, her conflicted heart struggles to choose between two loves—the dashing mercurial Alexander and the alluring ethereal beauty Celeste.
When Arbor’s affable new mayor hires an architecture firm run by a dangerously stunning mother-daughter duo with their own unique magic and an old score to settle to oversee the downtown’s reconstruction, chaos descends upon the vulnerable community, and the Witches of Arbor are once again called upon to protect those who spurn them. Yet jealousy, vengeance, and an unforeseen foe with a ravenous hunger for power brings Eva to her knees. With the aid of her familiar, coven, a few unexpected allies, and the magic within her, Eva must reconcile her heart and summon the power to rise again.
Most women would have felt like a queen. All the trappings were there–the castle on a hill, the regal gown, the morbid curiosity of the general populace. Not to mention the dashing gentleman of the castle wrapped around one arm, and my ethereal companion curled around the other. But I wasn’t “most women,” and I was no queen. I was a witch, a witch who had triumphed despite my Arbor neighbors’ best efforts to kill me.
They said we were evil. They tried to burn me. They killed my friends. But I survived. And though I grieved for those who did not, I refused to defile their memories by enacting revenge, however tempting.
Because I’m not evil, despite the prevailing notion in Arbor. A little wicked, possibly. Naughty, most definitely. But not evil.
Instead of seeking vengeance, my coven and I chose a more diplomatic path and invited the residents of Arbor to the Samhain grand opening of the Manor Arts, our new gallery within Morgan Manor. This magnificent walled estate sat high atop Red Hill and overlooked the once bucolic village. I’d taken up residence due to my late nights in the gallery and the manor’s inordinate number of empty bedrooms. And of course, proximity to the master of the house. The estate belonged to Alexander Morgan, the man—the witch—whose fury and anguish had leveled half of downtown. Not that his involvement in the fire was common knowledge. The newspapers attributed the burning of Arbor to a severe summer lightning storm. They weren’t wrong.
Ignorant of Alexander’s guilt, and relentlessly nosy, the people of Arbor accepted our invitation. My small-town neighbors arrived in jewels and formalwear, costumes and masks, on the most magical of nights when the veil between worlds thinned and the spirits of the dead laced the breeze. The very people who tried to stop me from opening a gallery in their town, joined the avant-garde and the elite of the arts community to celebrate the Manor Arts grand opening. They gathered for an event hosted by a witch they’d strapped to an elder tree pyre and set aflame only four months before. The witch who lived through it. The witch who saved them from Alexander’s magical retribution.
Our newly enshrined coven, the Witches of Arbor, orchestrated every nuance of the evening to evoke wonder and trepidation. We had the perfect backdrop. The manor’s rough, gray stone battlements and turrets and bell tower loomed haunted and menacing. Torch-light and jack-o’-lanterns, carved with ancient Samhain symbols, cast the shadows of those assembled across the sprawling lawn.
No matter where the eye landed, it fell upon the frightening, the seductive, the wildly unique. An army of black-clad servers, each with raven hair and candy apple lips, wove through the crowd with hors d’oeuvres and champagne. Jugglers with ghoulishly painted faces launched onyx orbs and flaming swords into the air. A buxom steampunk illusionist levitated six inches from the ground, beckoning the curious and brave to witness her other-worldly feats. Tattooed and pierced contortionists twisted themselves into impossible positions. A lone violinist conjured an eerily enthralling melody; her instrument tuned in nature’s pristine pitch. Like the pied piper, she lured our awed visitors through the manor’s gaping entrance. With nervous steps, they shuffled toward the alabaster hearth blazing beyond the iron doors.
Many of our guests, particularly the artists and their ilk, appreciated our theatrical welcome. It was Halloween, after all. But the Arbor residents were terrified. Their anxious hearts beat against their chests as if they were passing through the gates of hell itself.
Their dread swelled like static on my skin, and despite my repudiations of evil, I reveled in their fear.
The entire town would have burnt if I hadn’t stepped in. Calling down the rain hadn’t been enough to extinguish Alexander’s flames. I drew water from the fucking Ausable River to put out the fire. These lemmings would have been scorched to the earth if I hadn’t summoned the water. I saved them, even after they tried to kill me. Even after they stoned Celeste and burned Adelaide. They should fall to their knees, thank me for sparing them, and beg my forgiveness!
A strong, calming hand settled on my shoulder and halted my mental rant. I gazed up into dark eyes veiled by cascading chestnut waves. Clad in an impeccably cut tuxedo, Alexander towered over my left side, a mischievous twinge of humor playing on his lips.
He leaned down close to my ear. “You’re right, streghetta mia—high priestess. The Arbor mundane should bow before you. You saved them from me, and in the process, you saved me from myself. I, too, bow before you. Evangeline Clarion, you are my queen.” He winked before bending deeply at the waist.
Celeste, my elegant companion entwined around my right arm, snorted, and rolled her eyes.
“Don’t tease me.” I pinched Alexander’s arm. Hard. “And stay out of my head, you ass. If I want you to know something, I’ll tell you myself.” I glared up at him.
“I’ll tell you this,” I continued indignantly. “I wouldn’t want to be a queen. Being a queen isn’t any better than being a witch. We both have power and can influence matters great and small. Sure, queens bask in riches, but witches have ways of obtaining wealth too, and we aren’t bound to conform to society’s stringent rules. We’re free.”
Celeste gave my arm an encouraging squeeze.
“Queens get beheaded, but witches get burned,” Alexander countered, his jaw clenched tight.
“Only the naughty ones.” A memory of the wise and brazen Adelaide Good, my late high priestess and mentor, passed through my mind. “And thanks to the Goddess, I don’t have to worry about their fire. While I may not be evil, I am the wickedest witch in town.”
Celeste clapped her hand over her mouth to check her mirth. “Like you said, Alexander, she is the high priestess.”
Ignoring Celeste, Alexander lifted himself up to his full height, pulled back his shoulders, and glowered down at me. “You’re not getting too big for those tiny britches, are you, Your Highness?” He couldn’t fully hide the smile that threatened his stern face.
“Look who’s talking, Zeus,” I needled. “Or is it Hades?”
“You’re hilarious, Persephone.” He teased me with his words, but there was nothing playful in the look he gave me as he brushed a stray lock of hair away from my cheek. “But are you sure you’re okay? I know crowds make you anxious. It’s understandable, especially after…” He averted his eyes.
“You mean, especially after a mob of my neighbors cheered for my death and set me and Adelaide on fire?” I snorted. “Yeh, I’m ok.”
Alexander growled low in his throat and ran his thumb along my cheek. “I won’t let anything happen to you ever again.”
“Oh, please.” I waved the notion aside. “If you don’t let anything happen, nothing will ever happen. And that is fucking boring.”
“I think I heard that in Finding Dory,” Celeste noted dryly.
“I’m just saying I can cover for you if you want to duck out. Hell, I’ll shut the whole thing down. Say the word.”
I shook my head with an indulgent smile and sighed.
“Alexander, I’m fine. Great, actually.” I raised my hand and ran it along his stubbled jaw. I locked my eyes with his. “This is the biggest night of my life. This is all I’ve ever wanted, and it’s more spectacular than anything I ever imagined. I worked my ass off for this. We all have. And I’m glad Arbor is here to see it. I want them to know they didn’t stop me. I have no intention of hiding.”
“Damn right.” Celeste nodded emphatically.
“Then I’ll be right here to make sure you’re safe.” Alexander dropped a kiss on my head, then turned his attention to the festivities and their looming dangers.
He still hadn’t learned. He didn’t have to be my great protector. I didn’t need that. I didn’t want it.
What do I want? I asked myself the question for the millionth time. I turned instinctively to the other-worldly vision curled at my right side, the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies, Celeste Galehorn.
I’ve always been a lover of words – reading them, writing them, singing them. And I’m known as a talker – especially about politics, usually at an abnormally loud volume. I was the kid who always got into trouble for staying up too late to read, and that habit has followed me into adulthood. Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, and Jane Austen are my greatest literary influences. Family is important to me, and I cherish the large Italian Catholic family that raised me. I’ve been married over 18 years. I’m a momma of two incredible boys. I have a small home in New Jersey, and enjoy listening to my husband’s music, camping, kayaking, and getting lost in the woods. I’m a coffee and wine drinker, and I believe chocolate can cure most ills.
Title: Ruby’s Price: An M/M Paranormal Western Romance
Series: Tin Star Witches: Beyond Ruby Gulch
Author: Giovanna Reaves
Publisher: GiaReaves Romance Books
Release Date: September 9th
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Romance, Western, Historical, Paranormal
Top-notch witch taker Sebastian “Bass” Wright is a lawman with a keen sense of justice. Outlaws shudder in fear when they hear his name. Bass is very dedicated to his job which leaves no time for relationships. When a series of murders take place in Fort Creek, Texas, Bass is sent to investigate and capture the killer. During his first day in town, he meets the brothel owner who sparks more than his suspicion.
Love has never been Ryota Ostrel’s goal. He lives by a set of rules that help him balance his personal and professional life and sidestep romance. As a bordello owner, Ryota will use his powers to stop anyone from finding out who and what he is. He is taken by surprise when a handsome witch taker walks into his brothel. Ryota is thrown off balance and is captivated by Bass Wright’s powerful aura, but feels the witch taker is hiding secrets behind his charming smile.
With murder cases and mistrust swirling between them, neither man can fight their mutual attraction. Bass and Ryota concoct plans to get the information they need from one another. They soon find out there’s more to the case than meets the eye.
Bass and Ryota’s passion burns instantly, making them question their morals and rules.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and is not historically factual. This book contains scenes of violence, prostitution, deception, death, and sexual content.
Ryota Ostrel gazed at the tall and handsome man in front of him. He shoved his hands back in his pockets and looked at the man in front of him. A few minutes earlier he’d been standing by the one-way window in his office looking down in the ballroom and noticed when the guest walked in. Ryota was instantly drawn to the man’s handsome physique.
Standing next to Baker, he could tell the other man was a witch but wasn’t sure what kind. Not only could he feel a suspicious aura surrounding Baker that intrigued him, making him wonder what Baker was doing in their town and what was his relationship with Malcolm Grover, the town’s deputy mayor.
“So, Mr. Baker, what are you doing in Fort Creek?” Ryota sat down and Baker followed suit.
Ryota ignored Malcolm Grover, letting his annoyance show. Ryota and Grover were business partners as well as contracted lovers, and had a deal that the deputy mayor would never show up at the brothel unannounced. However, Grover knew how busy Ryota was, which was why they always scheduled their meetings.
Why bother getting upset now? I plan on breaking the pleasure contract off with him anyway.
“I’m looking for new investments,” Baker responded.
Ryota nodded. “Investments are always a good thing. And how did you hear about our little town?”
Baker smiled. “From my good buddy Malcolm, of course.”
Ryota smiled, casting a glance in Malcolm’s direction, who lowered his eyes as if he found something interesting on the table. In all the time he knew Malcolm, he’d never mentioned he had a friend named Baker. Other than Ruby, he didn’t think Malcolm had any other friends.
“Ah…so you two know each other?” Ryota asked speculatively.
Baker slung an arm around Grover, who flinched but played it off quickly by readjusting his posture. “We met at university.”
“Oh.” Ryota didn’t question the association any longer. His association with Grover had only started six years ago, the intimate part of their relationship came years later. “Tell me, what do you plan on investing in?”
“I’ve suddenly become interested in brothels.” Baker placed his elbow on the chair handle, rubbing lazily on his chiseled jaw, staring at him flirtatiously.
Ryota ignored the man’s flirtatious manner, waving a hand around. “As you can see, brothels are quite lucrative.”
Ten years ago, when he’d taken over Ruby’s, it was in a terrible state. It was a saloon that looked more like a shack with a few shakers—also known as painted ladies or prostitutes—who were working for pennies on their backs while the madam reaped all the benefits and mistreated the workers. As a high-level nine-tail-fox demon, Ryota had the money and power to make things happen, which included approving or disapproving new business in town.
“I can tell it’s quite lucrative,” Baker said. “Maybe I need to take lessons from you on how to turn a shack into a mansion.”
“I’m not certain you’d be able to grasp the syllabus, Mr. Baker.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Ry. I’ve been told I’m a fast learner.”
“Madam Ruby,” Ryota corrected. After taking over the brothel, he had made a lot of changes, except for the name of the place and the moniker Madam Ruby.
It was against the rules for demons of his stature to give dominion over others if they were to know his real name.
“Excuse me?” Baker confusedly looked at him.
“Please, call me Madam Ruby.”
Baker stared at him for a second. Ryota didn’t miss the slight smile that hung on the corner of his lips. “Very well, Madam Ruby. I’m sure there’s something you can teach me.”
Ryota moved his gaze up and down the man, looking at his finely tailored clothes and perfectly styled curly hair. He gave off an aura of a rich philanderer who didn’t care about how much money he spent or wasted. Ryota could only imagine how many hearts the man had broken with that sexy smile. However, he could tell there was something mysterious under those hazel eyes.
“Pick something else to invest in,” Ryota said. “Or better yet, a different town.”
Since setting foot in Fort Creek, Ryota had claimed the town as his and did not plan on sharing its wealth with others. Blame his possessiveness on being a demon.
“Why should I find another town?”
“Do I need to answer that question?” Ryota huffed.
Why is this man trying to irritate me? And we just met, how bothersome.
“No, I suppose you don’t,” Baker responded. “But I don’t see anything wrong with a town having two brothels. Or are you afraid of a little competition?”
Ryota chuckled. “If you stick around long enough, Mr. Baker, you’ll find out I’m not afraid of anything.”
With that, Ryota stood and cast an irritated glance at Grover, who was trying to disappear but failing terribly. Without so much as a by your leave, Ryota turned and walked away, not missing Baker’s provocative smile.
How irritating. You made me think you could be interesting.
Ryota tried putting their interaction out of his thoughts as he spoke with other customers. But his irritation grew the longer he stayed in the ballroom.
Giovanna (Gia) Reaves is the alter ego for a dreamer. A dreamer who spends her days and nights creating worlds from her imagination. Being an avid reader, allowed Gia’s imagination to take hold. With the encouragement of her loved ones, Gia has given into the voices in her head, putting their words and words to paper. Gia is also a mother, wife, and veteran. Gia is also a serious chocoholic and loves to read MM Romance just as much as she loves writing them. The sweeter the better, especially, on a snowy or rainy day is how she likes to fill her days when she is not writing.
An obsession with the past becomes his love story.
Obsessed with RMS Titanic from a young age, Lucas Thompson has spent his life studying the shipwreck and turning his passion into a career in marine archeology. But, on the one-hundred-year anniversary of the voyage, he’s drawn to the ship’s resting place by a strange sonar ripple that hurtles him back in time. Luke wakes in the year 1912 as a passenger on the grandest ship in the world.
It’s there that he meets Quinton Hawthorne, the man who sacrificed himself to save passengers during the sinking, including Luke’s great-grandmother. He also comes face-to-face with Lucinda Hughes, the very woman who raised him on her stories of the ship. With his inside knowledge of the impending disaster, Luke feels a responsibility to change history and develops a plan to save the doomed ship and its passengers.
Things quickly fall apart as Luke begins to fall for Quinton, knowing that it can only end in heartbreak. Though he’s determined to save Quinton, he’s also faced with a dilemma. Should he save the ship or allow destiny to play out?
April 11, 2012 4:27 pm
Lucas Thompson took a deep breath, allowing the salty sea air to penetrate every inch of his being. As the ship bobbed gently along the waves, Luke knew that this was where he was meant to be. He closed his eyes and stretched out his arms to let the fine spray mist over his face and soak into his dark gray T-shirt.
“Reliving a movie moment, are we?” a voice said behind him. He turned to see Kyle Stanton, Master of the Vessel, standing there with his hands stuffed into his coat pockets. Kyle was an average-looking man, with his dark-brown beard and constantly mussed hair. He wasn’t very tall, but he was strong and seemed to take every opportunity he could to prove so.
“Just taking in the air,” Luke replied. Kyle raised an eyebrow at him.
“Do you mean the nearly forty-degree air?” He began shrugging off his thick jacket. “Come on, Luke. You know better. I can’t have the head man getting sick on me.” Luke rolled his eyes but welcomed the warmth when Kyle placed his coat over Luke’s shoulders. The amount of cologne lingering in the fabric nearly choked him, but he endured it, if only to save Kyle’s feelings.
“Being out here clears my mind. Besides, there’s a whole team of people, and any one of them could take my place on Alice if they needed to. They’ve all been properly trained.” Kyle wrapped an arm around Luke and began to lead him down into the ship. He stopped at the base of the steps and turned to look at Luke.
“This is your expedition,” he said sincerely. He reached up, almost as if he wanted to touch Luke, but stopped himself. “You’re the heart and soul of this trip. You and this crew have been good to me over the past couple of years, you know. I’d follow you anywhere.”
“And what better opportunity to prove that than this wild goose chase?” Luke laughed and handed Kyle his jacket. “Thank you. I’m really glad the gang’s with me on this.” He turned to go to his room, the grin never leaving his face.
Luke pushed the door to his quarters open, shoving at it with his shoulder to widen the entrance. He’d been having to slip in and out of the narrow opening due to the stacks of boxes piled all around the room. Scrolls of maps and schematics littered every surface and boxes of records were stacked so high that Luke feared a paper avalanche might happen at any minute. Even the bed was buried somewhere under the journals and books. As much as he would like to excuse the mess as part of the expedition, both he and his friends knew better.
This was Luke’s collection, formed over the last eighteen years. It was his life’s work, which had started when he was only eight years old. Luke crossed the room and looked over his belongings, eventually coming to stand in front of the culmination of it all—his maritime archeology degree. He smiled sadly.
“This one’s for you, Gam.” Next to the degree hung an old black-and-white photograph of his great-grandmother, Lucinda Hughes. It had been taken back in the thirties and showed Lucinda posing on the beach, a soft breeze lifting her curls and a dazzling smile lighting up the camera. Luke touched the frame, then backed away. He had a lot of work to do before they reached the site.
Lori Fayre was born and raised in a small South Georgia town. Her debut novel, “The Devil’s Maverick”, was a novel nearly six years in the making. An obsessive consumer of romance, Lori knew it was the only genre for her. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, drawing, or binging Hulu with her husband and Yorkie.
Most college girls ‘swipe right’ to meet the right guy—Callie meets All-Star pitcher Zade while he’s buying tampons. College is all about learning, right?
How often do you meet your dream guy buying tampons at Target? Never, right? For Callie, a baseball-loving, hardworking college student, it happened just once. The magic was too real, too fast and too much, so she left the store without exchanging names.
But fate works in wonderful ways, right?
Zade Willows, the All-Star pitcher rumored to be drafted his senior year, gets what he wants. He has a fan club who follow his every move, but when he meets Callie, the game changes. She knows all his plays and that the game always ends—in heartbreak. But Zade doesn’t back down and is willing to try anything.
He’ll eventually get the girl, right?
Reader advisory: This book was previously released by Finch Books.
“Get your gorgeous ass in here and give me a hug.” Greta slammed the door open with her foot and jumped into my arms. She smelled the same as she had done in high school—floral and sweet. God, I had missed the hell out of my girl. She’d always been a violent hugger and the tradition continued. My lungs were gasping for air by the time she let go.
“Sorry I’m late.” I lugged the suitcase into the apartment and grinned at her motherly expression.
“Unless the reason is some hot guy or some awesome story, then I’ll remained pissed at you for another two minutes. I got afraid—”
“That I backed out? Me?” I held up my hands in surrender. “I wouldn’t back out of our pact from ten years ago. I wouldn’t dare.”
“Glad you learned something from your year off,” she mumbled loud enough for me to hear. We both had a mutual hatred of the deal my parents had forced me to accept and I understood her anger disguised the worry about this not happening. We’d dreamed about living together since we’d become best friends in fifth grade—when two kids get caught cheating on a math test, it forms a bond that’s hard to break.
“I learned, like, two things,” I replied to her comment and she skipped to my bedroom for the next year. “This is my room?”
“Yes!” she cheered. I’d expected the room to be small and I gasped when I saw a dresser, a built-in desk and a twin bed. “Wait here, I have a present for you.”
I obeyed her command and set my cases on the floor. I could fit every piece of clothing I owned in the closet, and maybe a little more. It could even serve as an extra bedroom if needed. I’d lived in my childhood home my entire life. The last year…it had been hell taking a year off to prove to my dad I could make it on my own. Pure hell. But I’d made it and it pleased me to be on my own for the first time.
“Here. I bought it for you.” She waltzed back into the bedroom with a package wrapped in sparkly paper. Greta would buy sparkly paper. “It’s nothing big, just a welcome present.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything, Greta. Come on.” I frowned at the gift, damn well knowing her kindness knew no bounds. She shoved it into my hands, despite my reluctance. “Fine.”
I opened it up to find the very first picture of the two of us, taken when we’d been in our band in high school. I met her eyes and we shared a smile. “Good lord. Why did we name ourselves the Crazy Gals again?”
“Because our names start with C and G. Obviously that made sense when we were fourteen.”
“I regret the name choice, but still dig the outfits.” Closing my eyes in shame, I swallowed down the memory of gaucho pants, clogs and popped-collared shirts.
She shuddered. “Oh, lord. Not me. I regret the outfit, not the name.” Greta’s legs had more style than I had in my entire body. She’d won best dressed in high school. Even now, she wore a trendy sundress with a hat while I was wearing ripped jean shorts and a vintage band tank top. “I have another gift for you, but you cannot get mad.”
“That’s a great opener. No promises, G.”
“It’s kind of small.” She bit her lip and pulled out something from her pocket. What the hell? Sundresses have pockets? A shadow of apprehension crossed her face and I worried what the fuck she’d gotten me.
I took the sticker from her hand, already planning where to put it. “I freaking love it.”
“I know you really don’t play in bands anymore, but you still have the same case.” She motioned her head to the guitar case I’d set down earlier.
“Of course I do.” I collected stickers from everywhere I went or from any large moment in my life. I peeled back the paper and placed the new college sticker on the front of the case, right in the center. Big. Freaking. Deal. “Thanks, Greta.”
“Phew. I’m super happy you love it. I’d been nervous, like, what if you hated it and used your guitar to beat me senseless? Or, what if you assumed we were getting back in business?”
“Greta. Am I crazy?”
“I’ve seen you punch two girls in the face. At the same time, I might add.” She bit back a grin and pointed down the narrow hallway. “Kitchen is down the hall to the right. I already know your first question.”
“Obviously.” I eyed the tile and large counters, sighing in pleasure. They were perfect. “Those girls deserved it, though. Sure, we were in a mosh pit, but they pushed a girl in a cast.” I smiled at the memory.
“Your smile alone is why you’re crazy.”
I flipped her off and she closed the distance between us with open arms. “I’m damn glad you’re going to be my roomie. I’m proud of you. You beat your dad at his own game and I love you more because of that.”
“Love you, too. Now, that’s enough affection. I need to paint my room black or something.” I blinked away the emotions that bubbled up. Those words, coming from her, meant much more than she might ever realize.
“This is going to be hella fun!” she squealed and squished me for another hug.
Jaqueline Snowe lives in Arizona where the ‘dry heat’ really isn’t that bad. She enjoys making lists with colorful Post-it notes and sipping coffee all day. She has been a custodian, a waitress, a landscaper, a coach and a teacher. Her life revolves around binge-watching Netflix, her two dogs who don’t realize they aren’t humans and her wonderful baseball-loving husband.
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