New Release Blitz: The Star We Sail By by Glenn Quiglay (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Star We Sail By

Series: Knights of Blackrabbit #2

Author: Glenn Quiglay

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/20/2024

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 77300

Genre: Historical, Cornish Coast, clockpunk, spec fiction, panic disorder, bears, ex-sailors, playhouse, theft, family issues, law enforcement, petty theft, historical, non-explicit, redemption, revenge, tattoos, daddybear

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Description

When young sailor Felix Diamond receives a letter from his estranged uncle begging for help, he returns home to Blackrabbit Island for the first time in ten years. There he discovers his uncle missing and his aunt positioning herself as the new head of the notorious Diamond family. With nowhere else to turn, Felix must enlist the help of former crime lord and current Watch Commander, Vince Knight—a man he trusts less than anyone alive. He’ll also have to contend with his opium-addicted cousin and a handsome apprentice horologist with secrets of his own.

With time running out, Felix must race to uncover the truth behind his uncle’s disappearance while keeping his delinquent family’s claws off his childhood home—the run-down playhouse named The Star We Sail By.

Excerpt

The Star We Sail By
Glenn Quigley © 2024
All Rights Reserved

“It is the waves which break—not I.” Felix Diamond repeated this refrain to himself over and over again as he picked his way through the hustle and bustle of the Port Knot docklands. His personal maxim acted as a lifeline, leading him through any given storm and safely back to shore.

The ship on which he served had arrived at dawn to an already cluttered harbour. Without a word to his crewmates, Felix had stepped off and made straight for town. On that early December morning in 1781, the air was soft and wet, and the light thin. With his breath clouding about him, he pushed through the market, ignoring the stench of fish guts. Bundles of fresh flowers hung next to rows of empty birdcages. Furs from several kinds of animals sat in high piles on salt-rotten tables. Books and pamphlets on all manner of topics—from rumours about revolution in France to condemnations of the town’s new street lamps—cluttered several stalls. Cranes creaked as they unloaded goods from all four corners of the world. At the roofless court house nearby, hammers struck nails and men shouted obscenities and instructions in equal measure.

Felix had not long turned twenty-four and had the pinkish skin of a man who worked at sea in all weathers. He wore a short beard the colour of strong coffee, and a single curl dropped from beneath his woollen cap, coming to rest on his brow. The small gap between his front teeth whistled as he shouted away a mangy dog sniffing about his legs.

On the corner of Bibbler’s Brook, a man in a white frock coat embellished with seafoam-green oak leaves stood under a five-sided street lamp, working a long, knobbly, metal pole into its head. The light within the lamp dimmed first, then disappeared entirely. Two more dogs chased one other along the narrow, cobbled road and ran straight past the lamplighter. He jumped away and shouted at the young boys who, hooting and chattering, chased at full pelt after the dogs. Farther along, someone flapped a sheet out of a high window to give it an airing while a woman with a bony horse and slender cart collected odds and sods she found on the road.

The Star We Sail By stood on a bend in Bibbler’s Brook, not far from the harbour, on the north-eastern side of town. Its slim front doors nestled neatly between two jutting bay windows. Felix lingered at the locked front doors and tilted his head. Above the entrance, the prow of a sailing boat jutted out as a balcony for the first floor. Its masthead, called Atlas by the townsfolk, had seen better days. Shaped like a rotund and entirely naked gentleman whose modesty was halfheartedly covered with only a single, sheer ribbon, its paintwork curled like pages from an old book. Atlas held a murky stained glass star in its outstretched hands as if catching it or perhaps offering it to the weary traveller who stopped by.

Felix hesitated before taking two keys from his pocket. He found the first too small for the lock. The second fitted snugly. He turned it. Several bolts clicked and clanked. He readied himself and pushed the doors open. Inside, cracks of light pierced the rickety shutters. A shiny beetle scurried across the dusty bar. The tables held sticky pools of dried beer and gin. Tankards and glasses lay on their sides, some smashed on the wooden floor. Ashes sat undisturbed in the fireplace, and at the rear of the room, a little stage with tatty purple curtains stood primed but empty, like a broken promise.

“About time you opened.” A scruffy, unshaven man with a grog blossom nose had slipped in through the door unnoticed. He threw open the rest of the shutters in the windows, flooding the room with light, then coughed at the cloud of dust they released.

“I’m not open,” Felix said. “Please get out.”

“I’ve been here every morning for days. Days, I tell you!” the man said. “I’ve been practically homeless without this place.”

“I said get out.” His duffel bag slumped to the floor, and he readied himself to kick the man out if he had to. He hoped the man wouldn’t notice his rapid breathing.

“Don’t get all worked up,” the man said. He held his hands up and sat on a stool by the bar. “I don’t mean any harm. It’s nice to be home again.” He squinted at the sailor. “You’re the nephew, aren’t you? The one that ran away? The seaman. Fenton?”

“Felix.” He relaxed his hands and opened the other shutters. Clearly, this man wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m Tassiter, since you didn’t ask,” the man said. “Dick Tassiter.” He had beady eyes and straggly hair, and a face like a crumpled shirt abandoned at the bottom of the wardrobe. He eyed the bottles of gin lining a shelf behind the bar. “I’m your uncle’s best customer. Or I was.”

Felix peeked around a corner to the stairs. “He hasn’t been open for a while?”

“It’s been three days since those doors last opened. Three long, dry, thirsty days,” Tassiter said. “I thought I was cursed to wander the world forevermore without a drop to drink.” He pointed to one of the bottles. “Do you mind if I…?”

“Help yourself,” Felix said. He climbed the stairs.

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Meet the Author

Glenn Quigley is a graphic designer originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He creates bear designs for www.themoodybear.com. He has been interested in writing since he was a child, as essay writing was the one and only thing he was ever any good at in school. When not writing or designing, he enjoys photography and has recently taken up watercolour painting.

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New Release Blitz: These Haunted Hills by Jana Denardo (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  These Haunted Hills

Author: Jana Denardo

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/20/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 88800

Genre: Contemporary paranormal, contemporary, paranormal, ghosts/ghost hunters, academics, mystery, steampunk, cosplay, nerds and general geekiness, haunted houses, violence/ malevolent spirit, grieving, suicidal ideation

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Description

Young wildlife conservation professor, Joshua Zimmerman, adores foxes, steampunk, and paranormal investigation. As a geek of the first order, Josh is a collector of nerdy memorabilia and tattoos, and he’s an avid steampunk cosplayer. When his favorite author hires him for some ghost hunting for his new project, Josh can hardly believe his luck.

As an author of the wildly successful urban fantasy series, The Green Tablet, Brendan Halloran should have it all. And he did until his young son, Connor, died of cancer. Heartbroken and drowning in grief, Brendan stops writing, stops living his life. His marriage has disintegrated, leaving Brendan trapped in the moment Connor died.

When Brendan rents a cabin in Ohio’s Hocking Hills, it’s ostensibly to research his next book, an adult paranormal tale. Brendan hires a local professor who is an expert on the paranormal, thinking if he does pull out of his tail spin and makes good on his plan to write a new book, he might as well do it right. And the perfect place to investigate could be the remains of an old hotel constructed to suit the serial killer who built it.

Brendan finds himself swept away, completely unprepared for the joy and enthusiasm Josh brings to everything he does. Step by step, Brendan reenters life. His head might not be convinced he’s ready to love again, but his heart disagrees. Unfortunately for him, the ghost is every bit as vicious as the killer was in life, and he and Joshua have a target on their backs.

Excerpt

These Haunted Hills
Jana Denardo © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Brendan second-guessed his decision the moment he parked his car. He reminded himself it was exactly what he said he wanted: a cabin in the woods. The cold spring deluge lashing him from car to porch soured things further. To Brendan, the shower perfectly embodied the condition of his mind and soul.

Leaving his bag inside the door, Brendan drank in what would be his home for the next month. It could almost be called cute, in a rustic sort of way. The outside was a quintessential log cabin with a small porch bearing well-padded chairs. Only the green metal roof ruined the sixteenth-century settler homestead feel. Inside, the loft bedroom perched above the open-concept living area and kitchen. A tiny bathroom, tucked around the far corner of the kitchen, looked functional. As promised, there was a table, which would be useful as a writing desk for the times curling up on the couch with his laptop proved to be an ergonomic nightmare. He’d have to snap a photo of the stone fireplace with its fan-shaped iron guard and send it to Heather. She’d love it. A pang zinged his heart thinking about her.

He peered out one rain-streaked window. The only thing in view were trees, mostly pines mixed with something covered in blooms, dogwood maybe. Zimmermann had chosen Brendan the perfect cabin. The green isolation he’d chased after surrounded him. The forest suffocated him, the sheer aloneness of it. Those second thoughts skyrocketed. Heather hadn’t wanted him to come. She didn’t trust him alone. Brendan knew his ex had reason to worry. Both of them were mired in grief, and three years hadn’t moved them past it.

Brendan imagined giving in to the grief in a quiet place such as this cabin. No one would know until his month’s worth of rent was up. He shuddered and forced himself away from the window. His hypothesis wasn’t exactly true. Zimmermann would wonder where he was if Brendan missed their meeting. Brendan braved the chilling rain to grab his computer bag and three canvas bags of groceries out of the car. He busied himself with unpacking. His mood lifted to an inch above the floor once he filled the cabin with the scent of coffee.

With the groceries stowed, Brendan started a fire in a fireplace made for romance, but he wasn’t here for affairs of the heart. The small fire would be efficient in heating the cabin and driving the spring chill from the room.

Brendan planted himself with his coffee on the couch in front of the smallest TV he’d seen in ages. He shifted around on the futon, which seemed more comfortable than most of their ilk. Maybe someone had added a memory foam pad to it; whatever it was, Brendan was grateful since he would be spending a fair amount of time on it. Flipping on the TV, he reassured himself there was a functioning satellite and ditto the Wi-Fi for the computer, so there wouldn’t be some Overlook/The Shining isolation-driven craziness going on.

After turning the TV off, Brendan powered up his computer. He checked his emails and let Heather know he’d made it safely. He saw no emails from his agent, nor from the man he’d hired to show him around the haunted sites in the Hocking Hills area and the surrounding towns. Brendan brought up the These Haunted Hills website to determine what sites he should visit first. There were no pictures of Joshua Zimmermann on the website, just ones of the haunted locales.

Zimmermann had sent Brendan a photo at his request so Brendan would know who to look for when he met up with his guide for the month. One clue Brendan wasn’t completely dead inside was how cute he found Joshua. Zimmermann looked more like an undergrad in his picture and almost too boyish to be believable as an accomplished PhD, teaching wildlife conservation at a local university. It could be an old photo, or that his bright smile belied the number of years behind it.

Of all the potential haunted locations, Brendan wanted to visit Crooked Pines the most. A former hotel, Crooked Pines was now abandoned and theoretically too haunted and too ruined to be reclaimed; it contained a story, and Brendan needed to dig it out. His agent still doubted the idea of him writing a more adult ghost story, but it had been five years since the end of his young adult series. He’d written nothing new, though the adventures of Kiyomi Fujita, John Archer, and Vince Bianchi had generated more than enough money to live his life out twice over.

All his money hadn’t bought Brendan any happy endings. What had begun as a lucky break—and Brendan was well aware of how many fantastic authors never hit it big—became a noose. So many nights Brendan had lain awake wondering if the success of his series had drained the rest of the luck from his family’s life. The evidence suggested yes.

He stroked the cool glass pendant around his neck. All he wanted now was to write again. It had been so long. Most of what had come from his mind in the last three years had been pain-filled poems he had shown to no one, not even Heather. He thought, perhaps, taking a break from the young adult genre and all the memories associated with it would help him burst through his writer’s block.

Brendan could still taste the anger, bitter on his tongue. Being here in the wilderness made up the crux of his latest plan to move himself forward. The anger and grief had been woven into his soul, inseparable now. Either he had to live with it, or this was the end. Brendan wasn’t sure he cared which. He forced himself back to work, hoping to get lost in it.

Brendan tapped his lips in time to Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” as he rolled the outline for his new novel around in his mind. Maybe “Oblivion” was a little too on point for his state of mind. Perhaps he should hunt down some of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Transferring his fingers to the keyboard, he tried to type out something, but mostly, the outline was a loose collection of things he wanted to happen in the novel more than anything concrete. Granted, his outlines rarely were more.

Maybe I should return to working on the character studies. What he wouldn’t give to be able to draw his own characters. Some of his fans drew exquisite works, a few of which he saved. For the most part, he never looked at them, and legally, looking at fanfiction was a bad idea. Regardless, people tweeted them at him or shoved them at him at conventions. Some of it was downright smutty, and he did his best not to notice. It didn’t take away the frisson of jealousy over some of the artistic talent they had that had gone missing in him.

A knocking noise startled him off the futon. Brendan caught his balance and whipped around, trying to locate the source. Another knock echoed from the loft. Brendan backed up so he could peer up there without going up the steps. Nothing moved. At the third knock, he hauled himself up the stairs, but the loft stood empty. He looked out the window at the waving tree branches. What did he expect to see? A raccoon? A squirrel?

“Did you rent me a haunted cabin, Dr. Zimmermann?” Brendan’s laugh died when a fourth knock came from right next to the window.

He pinched up his features and stared out the window again. Still no critters. “Lots of wind though,” he muttered to himself. “You’re hearing the rain on the tin roof or tree branches. Totally normal. Not like you’d know.”

Comforted by the normal sounds of rain and wind—he’d never had a tin roof before—Brendan went downstairs and sat on the futon. Ghosts weren’t real.

Then why have you been uncomfortable in your own home?

He picked up the laptop, contemplating the thought. Because you’re haunted by Connor’s memory, nothing more.

He was lying to himself. He half believed it was possible Connor’s spirit was trapped in their family home. It was enough to have prompted Zimmermann to mention he didn’t necessarily go to houses to “clean” them, but his team did home investigations. Brendan had gotten the distinct impression Zimmermann did not want to do this, and he got it. Zimmermann had probably guessed his pen name and was wary of celebrity.

Did you want someone to go to your home and do an investigation?

Brendan wished he had an answer to the question. He’d promised Zimmermann that, no, he didn’t; he had no interest in it. But was it a lie? Another question without a clear answer. Instead of dwelling on it, he sent off an email to Dr. Zimmermann to let the man know he’d arrived and was ready to meet. He’d come up with a few plans of attack when it came to investigating the local haunts and wanted to see which fit Zimmermann’s schedule best.

Brendan turned his attention to the character information sheets for his new project. They might change by the end, but he needed a starting place, a way to keep his mind off things. At this point, distracting himself was the best Brendan could hope for.

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Meet the Author

Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in), and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. It’s no coincidence that the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds, or a roguish starship captain to run off to the stars with her.

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New Release Blitz: Surfer Girl by Alex Winters (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Surfer Girl

Series: Good Sports, Book One

Author: Alex Winters

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/13/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 24400

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, contemporary, lesbian, sports, surfer, beach town

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Description

Sophie Velasquez is staying at her parents’ beach house for the summer when a strange new sound wakes her up on the first day in town. She’s just graduated college and, with the whole summer ahead of her, had been planning on sleeping in. But all that changes when she finds a sexy surfer girl using their boardwalk shower after a little dawn patrol in the ocean. Suddenly, Sophie is bound and determined not just to learn how to surf—but how to win the sexy redhead’s heart.

Jessie Baltimore has been showering at the deserted beach cottage for months when, suddenly, a sexy young homeowner interrupts her daily routine—with a fresh can of iced espresso energy drink, that is. Rather than kick her off the property, curvaceous Sophie asks for surfing lessons instead. Jessie is all too glad to comply, hoping a morning in the surf will lead to a little afternoon delight—all summer long.

Excerpt

Surfer Girl
Alex Winters © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Sophie

Sophie Vasquez thought she’d set the sprinklers for early evening, not early morning. So why were they coming on just after sunrise? And why the hell was she up so early on her first day back in town?

She lay in bed for a moment, forearm over her eyes to shut out the morning light, before she realized she wouldn’t be going back to sleep anytime soon. The sprinkler must’ve been right outside the guestroom window. She heard it hiss and splash as she sat up from the futon, the wrought iron base beneath the thin mattress creaking wearily as she shifted.

There was a perfectly good queen size bed in the master bedroom, but that had always been her parents’ bed and, despite the fact they wouldn’t be joining her this summer (thank God!), Sophie still felt funny sleeping in their room.

Maybe if she had, she thought ruefully, the sprinklers wouldn’t have woken her up at such a godawful hour. It wasn’t that she was a late sleeper, per se. It was just she’d been hoping to sleep in after getting into town so late the night before.

She should have stayed on campus with a friend, but now that she’d finally graduated with her BA in Liberal Arts, all Sophie wanted to do was leave school in her rearview mirror and hole up in the family beach house, licking her wounds and plotting how to avoid the next, inevitable chapter in her preordained life.

She sighed, shaking the gloomy thoughts from her head. The transcripts, the low GPA, the disappointment, the inevitable dustup with her stepfather when Sophie announced she didn’t really want to pursue her graduate studies after all, the stony silence, the subtle insistence, and the inevitable acceptance that life would just be easier if she succumbed. What was another two years of college, anyway?

That was for later, though. Much later. For now, on her first day back in Siesta Beach, Florida after four long years matriculating in Atlanta, all Sophie wanted to do was to sleep for twelve hours straight, order some takeout from Chopstix, her favorite strip mall Chinese restaurant, raid her parents’ liquor cabinet, and binge-watch her favorite supernatural lesbian series, Vampire Vixens from Venus. Instead, she was up at the ass crack of dawn, fretting about how to set the sprinklers to come on later for future mornings.

Stretching like a cat after a midday nap, Sophie stirred from the futon and ignored the pile of clothes spilling out of her duffel bag like an overstuffed taco. Bras and panties and socks and baby doll tees overflowed from the center after she rifled through it to find her favorite sleep shirt, only to realize it was still in the car with the rest of her things.

Like the inevitable fight with her family, that could all come later too.

Frustrated, whiny, and wanting someone—or, at least, some inanimate object—to blame, Sophie slipped two fingers between the curtains, gently easing them aside to scowl at the offending sprinkler heads, as if one good side eye could silence them and somehow manage to salvage her sleepy morning and send her straight back to Dreamland. Instead, Sophie’s eyes grew wide, her heart racing and sleep suddenly the last thing on her frenzied, frazzled mind. Just outside, atop the rustic back deck, sagging and warped from years of weather and wear, a comely young surfer doused her alabaster skin in her makeshift boardwalk shower.

Sophie marveled at the sight as she followed thick rivulets of water down the surfer girl’s body, lean and glistening under the water’s gentle tendrils. She wore a crocheted bikini, chocolate brown and periwinkle blue against pale, freckled skin. Her eyes were closed as she slid her head beneath the spray, water dancing across her sandy shoulders and rippling off the bow holding her bikini top in place.

Sophie inched to the edge of the windowsill, the wood pressing against her aching loins, and slid the curtain open an inch or two more to steal a better view. She tried to ignore the sexy stranger’s small breasts, the long lean waist, and even longer legs as she stood on tiptoes to get the most from the weak water pressure above her head, combing her fingers through her wet auburn hair. But she failed. It was like a scene from a movie, one only Sophie could see.

The world shrank around her, zooming in tight on the window in front of her face, the curtains on either side of her, the dust bunnies on the hardwood floor beneath her feet and the soft, scruffy field of grass leading to the sagging walkway where the lone surfer showered, unaware she was being ogled by a desperate college grad just yards away.

The rising sun cast the athletic redhead in golden hues and dramatic shadows as Sophie licked her lips and made a split-second decision that would alter the course of her entire summer, one way or the other. She drifted from the windowsill, bare feet skittering across the wooden floors, and sprinted down the short, narrow hallway into the kitchen, heart pounding from the heady blend of anxiety and anticipation.

Not being a surfer herself, despite growing up in scenic Siesta Beach, Sophie had no idea how long it took a surfer to shower after a morning spent frolicking in the waves. Instinctively, however, she imagined it was far less time than she would need to brew a fresh pot of coffee. Panicking, the minutes ticking down, her spike of courage flatlining with every wasted millisecond, she opened the fridge to find a single tallboy can of Joltz, her favorite brand of iced espresso energy drink.

Her mother must’ve left it after spending last Christmas at the cottage with her second husband, Roy. Checking the expiration date, Sophie exhaled loudly to find she still had a few months left to go. Still, she cursed herself for being too lazy to stop at Bob’s Bodega on her way into town and stock up on something vaguely more…enticing.

If only she’d made the five-minute detour on her way back into town the night before, she might’ve had something a little more surfer-friendly to offer the sexy interloper. Organic gluten-free guava juice, for instance. Or perhaps even a pomegranate and kiwi smoothie blend in one of those fancy, hipster glass jars. Still, she reasoned that a cold can of iced coffee was better than showing up empty-handed.

Finger combing her curly black hair, fixing on a tempting (she hoped) smile, Sophie was about to breeze straight outside when she caught her reflection in the double French doors leading out to the deck. Unable to find her favorite baggy sleep shirt the (late) night before, Sophie had lazily unzipped her yoga hoodie and wriggled out of her capri pants before climbing into bed in nothing more than a skimpy pair of panties and the soft ribbed tank top she’d worn beneath the jacket. No bra, and she could practically feel the ocean breeze on the soft swell of her ass cheeks poking out from her skimpy boy cut panties.

Fortunately, her mom always kept her favorite silk kimono hanging from the edge of the dark wood Asian screen in the corner. She used it as a beach cover-up mostly, or as a robe in the mornings. Sophie dragged it on over her skimpy sleep outfit and hustled to the door. Breezing through at last, she approached at a cautious pace, still managing to startle the redheaded surfer who’d been reaching for her lemon-yellow board.

“Holy shit!” she exclaimed, using the board to cover herself as if she was naked. Sophie laughed at the quick blush that rose to her pale, adorably freckled cheeks. Holding her hands up as if approaching a wild animal to feed it, Sophie wriggled the tall drink can like a white flag of surrender.

“It’s okay,” she said, adopting a soothing voice and hoping the sexy stranger wouldn’t notice the vague, husky tone of desire layering her vocal cords. The surfer shook her head as if no, it was definitely not okay.

“I-I didn’t know anybody was staying here,” she sputtered desperately, fingers clinging to the surfboard like a safety blanket. “It’s been vacant all year, so…”

Sophie nodded, inching closer—but not too close. “I just got in late last night,” she explained. “I heard the water this morning and saw you out here and, well, I…I thought you might like something to drink…”

The redhead lowered her board slightly, as if literally letting down her guard. “I’m so embarrassed,” she said, voice a hoarse croak of misery.

Sophie nodded toward her blushing cheeks, offering a wry, hopefully comforting smile. “I can…see that.”

Alas, it only made the mystery girl blush all the more. Not that Sophie was complaining, mind you. She had never seen anything quite so adorable in all her life. They remained at a quiet impasse, the two of them standing on the weathered walkway leading to the beach but still a safe distance apart.

Sophie leaned her hip against the wooden railing to make it clear she wasn’t coming any closer before setting the can of iced espresso on the top ledge. “Are you coming in from a session?” she hazarded, trying to remember what surfers called what they did out in the waves. “Or just going out?”

The redhead lowered her board a little more, until it rested along the opposite railing. “Just coming in,” she explained, before sliding a stray lock of wet hair behind one still blushing ear. Nodding toward the leaking shower head, she explained, “My apartment complex doesn’t have an outdoor shower. Since no one’s ever here, I usually stop by and rinse off before I head home. I’m sooooo sorry, it’ll literally never happen again.”

Sophie’s heart danced a little flutter to think she might never look out her window and see clear water caressing the curves and ridges of the redhead’s supple body again.

“Honestly,” she said, trying not to sound so desperate. “It’s no big deal. If my mom and stepdad were here with me this summer? Sure, maybe. Roy is pretty anal about things like that. Most things, actually. Like grades and GPA and grad school and weight and gym memberships, but…I digress.” Sophie shook her head at her sudden trauma dump and struggled to get back on track, offering a goofy grin. “But it’s just me for the rest of the summer and, honestly? I could care less.”

She grinned anew.

That’s the understatement of the century!

Surfer Girl still looked uncertain, long fingers wriggling at her side as if she might reach for her board and dash back out into the waves for a quick getaway.

“I’m Sophie, by the way,” she said, suddenly remembering her manners and extending a reassuring hand.

The redhead smiled, grabbing it strongly and pumping it twice before letting go. Somehow, Sophie knew immediately she’d never forget that first electric touch, soft, pale skin against her own flushing hands. “Jessie.”

Sophie had always liked girls with boys’ names, especially surfer girls with boys’ names. Especially surfer girls with boys’ names whose bodies looked like Jessie’s. She nodded, pushing the can of Joltz just a little closer. It slid along the weathered railing, leaving a soft, damp trail of condensation in its wake.

“Here, go on, take it.”

Jessie looked at it, eyes hungry as she licked her lips. “Are you sure? I mean, when I saw you bolting out here just now, I thought it was to kick me out, not give me breakfast.”

Sophie waved the thought away. “Don’t all homeowners offer you breakfast when you trespass on their property?” For once, Jessie skipped the blushing and went straight to giggling. Sophie thought it was the sexiest thing she’d ever heard.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz: The Terrible by Tessa Crowley (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Terrible

Author: Tessa Crowley

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/13/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 96300

Genre: Fantasy, fantasy, fairy tale, fae, gay, magic/magic users, monster, spirit/wraith, royalty, soulmates, true love, violence, murder

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Description

Once upon a time in the kingdom of Leithbrochen, a king and queen in need of an heir went to seek the aid of a fairy who lived in a hut that was never in the same place twice. Many years later, in a small village along a river, a monster made of shadows begins to kill and devour people in the night.

Ness Catterick, the adviser on all matters magical to the Crown of Leithbrochen, is placed in charge of dealing with the monster. To his dismay, the attacks are occurring in the same village where he grew up as a homeless orphan, reviled and abused for being lethfae, half fairy.

But this monster, called the Terrible, is not what it seems. After all, Ness knows there’s no such thing as monsters, only men behaving monstrously. And Prince Cathair, with eyes like bottomless pits and a sadistic obsession with Ness, is proving to be more of a threat than the Terrible ever could be.

Excerpt

The Terrible
Tessa Crowley © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Lethfae

“So, about that blood moon.”

Three pairs of eyes turned to me and the room went quiet. After nearly four years of serving as an adviser at court, I probably should have gotten used to the way the bottom dropped out of every conversation the second I mentioned magic.

“I’m sure you all noticed it. Last night?”

But based on their expressions, they hadn’t. I sighed, drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair.

“It’s a portent,” I explained. “Based on the time of its appearance, it’s most likely a sign of nearing political upheaval.”

“That’s not really our…area, Ness,” Muriel said, eyeing me over her golden spectacles. It was her office we’d met in this time, a drab but utilitarian space that perfectly reflected Muriel and her no-nonsense bun and neatly pressed tartan sash.

“I know,” I said as if there was even the slightest chance I didn’t know that my fellow advisers were ignorant to most matters magical. “But it seemed prudent to warn you at the very least. We do tend to be rather involved in politics.”

“Is there anything more specific you can tell us?” Fionn asked as he peered up at me over a hawkish nose, eyes sharp. His back hunched from a life spent bent over tomes on economic theory, creating for him the kind of mind for which I had endless respect and no jealousy. “It’s hard to prepare for something as broad as political upheaval.”

“Blood moons only rise for the greatest forces of man and magic,” I explained. “One rose on the eve of Canmore’s victory over Angliel. Legend says another rose when the Unseelie were first cast out—”

Sinead cleared her throat delicately, drawing my attention to Muriel, who’d gone white at the mention of the Unseelie. Irritation flared familiarly. It was a constant struggle, advising the Crown and my fellow councillors on magic when even talking about it at any level of detail had them jumping at shadows.

“No, I don’t have anything more specific,” I said instead. “I have plans to go into the Faewyld tomorrow to scry.”

“Well, good,” Sinead said and reached behind her head to retwist the bun that had fallen out over the course of the meeting. “Get back to us if you learn anything.”

Assuming I make it out alive, I didn’t say.

“Just don’t take too long,” Fionn said, snapping shut his book of notes and standing. “The Small Council meeting is in four days, and Clans MacDiarmad and MacLaghain are likely to turn it into blood sport with their land dispute.”

My fellow advisers all mumbled their grievances as they gathered their books and quills to leave. I was slightly slower to react, wondering whether or not I should tell them of the nonzero chance that I would die before the meeting of the Small Council.

Eventually, I decided not to bother. They wouldn’t want to hear about the Faewyld, so, wordlessly, I packed my things up.

“By the way, Ness,” Sinead said as she, Fionn, and I exited Muriel’s office into the dark hallway, “more of your correspondence ended up on my desk yesterday.”

She handed me a stack of letters. I frowned as I took them.

“Again? That’s three times in one week.”

“They just hired a new hallboy to run the letters,” she said by way of explanation. “He’s afraid of…well.”

I flinched. “Right.”

He was afraid of me. Most people in the castle were. Never mind that I’d been the ward of the Queen Regent since I was twelve and serving as court sage since I was twenty—I was lethfae, and I could use magic, and that was all most people needed to know.

“You should try introducing yourself to him,” she suggested. “Once people meet you, they usually realize you’re not nearly as scary as you look.”

Fionn chuckled, Sinead grinned, and I gritted my teeth. The joke was that, short and slight and willowy as I was, I didn’t look scary at all. But in my not-inconsiderable experience, it didn’t matter how nonthreatening I looked: my waist-length hair and slightly pointed ears gave my blood away from twenty paces.

“I’ll see you at the meeting,” I said. Fionn nodded at me, Sinead waved, and as we came to the fork in the hallway, we all went our separate ways.

The meeting must have taken longer than I’d realized. As I made my way across the vestibule landing and into the royal wing toward my office and quarters, I realized that the castle was largely silent. I didn’t even see any servants running in and out of various rooms for turndown.

The already long walk thus made sufficiently less interesting, my mind wandered.

I wasn’t looking forward to going into the Faewyld. Even the Seelie, who were ostensibly allies of Leithbrochen, were dangerous in the best of circumstances. My affiliation with the Crown would not mean much if I managed to offend some flinty fae prince who happened to pass through while I was there.

And that was to say nothing of the wayward spirits that tended to get lost in the Faewyld, confused and angry and looking to take out their frustrations—

“Lord Councillor.”

“Hells!”

I’d been caught unawares, and in my haste to spin around, I nearly tripped over my boots. When at last I regained my footing, one hand braced on a nearby statue of Queen Moire the Clever, I looked up toward the source of the voice. To my sudden, overwhelming disappointment, it was: “Your Highness.”

Prince Cathair of Leithbrochen, tall, broad, with dark hair that curled around the crux of his well-defined jaw. Prince Cathair of Leithbrochen, standing in a shadowed alcove beside a statue of King Canmore the Bold as if he’d been waiting for me there. Prince Cathair of Leithbrochen, with eyes like two bottomless pits.

All at once, my heart started to pound frantically against my ribs.

“It’s late, Highness,” I said. “Aren’t you leaving for the hunt tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he answered. “I wanted to speak with you beforehand.”

My skin crawled; a visceral reaction, the same one I always had when forced to hear him speak. His voice was flat and cold as ice, devoid of any variation in tone or emphasis.

He came closer to me, across the hallway. At once, I stumbled backward and quickly thumped into Queen Moire’s leg. Before I knew it, he’d crowded me against the statue.

He was hardly a breath away when he said, “I wanted to once again offer you an invitation to my chambers.”

“Then I shall once again decline,” I answered.

Cathair did not seem particularly off-put. For as long as I’d known him—over a decade now—he’d never seemed particularly anything. He was all but a statue, himself: meticulously crafted, assiduously maintained, and fundamentally lifeless.

“My birthday ball is next month,” he said. “I expect you will be there.”

“I’ll have little choice in the matter, I’m sure. You know how your mother is.”

“I am looking forward to seeing you in formal wear. I anticipate that the sight will be…pleasing.”

If anyone else had spoken this way to me, I’d have called it flirtation. With Cathair, it was cold analysis, less a compliment and more a dissection.

Truly, there was something wrong with the prince of Leithbrochen. To me, it felt gigantic and obvious and terrifying. The iciness of his tone, the flat affect, the unnatural stillness with which he held himself—he was a great yawning chasm dressed up as a man.

I couldn’t say what made him this way. Even if I’d known, I doubt I would have cared. I preferred to avoid Cathair than understand him.

Cathair, unfortunately, did not feel the same. Despite his reputation for being unaffected by everything from tantalizing desserts to threats of violence to stunning duchesses from Lamarse, he’d always pursued me like this, with dogged determination. Why was I a deviation? Another question I didn’t care to answer.

“You are using a different oil in your hair,” he whispered.

My heart drummed so loudly I was sure Cathair could hear it. I pressed myself harder into the statue behind me. “You are very close.”

Footsteps from the hallway’s far end forced Cathair to move several steps backward. Two courtiers laughed about something together and passed without noticing us.

“One of these days, Lord Councillor, you will relent.”

Cathair turned on his heel and left, the soles of his leather boots thudding dully on the stone. With his parting, a great weight dropped away from my chest, my stomach hollowed, and I shuddered and shook for a while, letting my breath catch up to me.

Everyone in this fucking castle either feared or resented me—except for Cathair. Gods only knew why he pursued me. I had never seen any evidence to suggest that he’d ever wanted anything in the way he wanted me.

At the very least, he’d never forced the issue. If he ever made the decision to openly pursue me, I’d have little choice but to accept his advances. But of course, I was lethfae. A prince could never court a lethfae—he could only ambush one in dark halls, apparently.

I walked the rest of the way to my quarters on wobbly legs. Sleep would be eluding me tonight.

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Meet the Author

Tessa was born and raised in Virginia and graduated with an English degree from VCU in Richmond before moving to Portland, Maine. She has a cat who runs her life and a day job as a 911 dispatcher (it’s not as exciting as it sounds). When she’s not writing, Tessa’s likely reading, playing tabletop RPGs with her friends, or spending time with her retired parents.

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New Release Blitz: Cross My Candy Heart by A.C. Thomas (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Cross My Candy Heart

Series: A Belleview Holiday Romance

Author: A.C. Thomas

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/06/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 26700

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, holiday/Valentine’s Day, office worker, singing telegram, nerds, size difference, mistaken identity

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Description

Love is the last thing on Justin’s mind. Sure, he’s noticed the big, shy guy who comes in for his coffee every morning, but Justin doesn’t have time to indulge in a crush. After his last disastrous breakup, he needs to get his head out of the clouds and focus on climbing out of debt with his pile of part-time jobs. The singing telegram gig is the most embarrassing by far, but at least no one will ever recognize him in his ridiculous costumes. It’s temporary, just through the Valentine season.

Adam is in love. He just needs to drum up the nerve to do something about it. A daily smile from the cute guy behind the coffee counter is the bright spot in his day, keeping him going through the work week in an office filled with jerks. Especially when one of the jerks starts sending him romantic telegrams as a joke. There’s nothing he hates more than public humiliation. If he ever finds out who’s behind it, heads will roll.

Love songs, lies, and an absurd amount of glitter pave the way to a romance neither of them expected. Adam is everything Justin’s ever dreamed of, but he can never discover Justin’s terrible, fuzzy, off-key secret.

This Valentine’s Day, Cupid doesn’t miss, even if he has terrible timing.

Excerpt

Cross My Candy Heart
A.C. Thomas © 2024
All Rights Reserved

The stares started in the parking garage and only got worse as he entered the lobby.

This latest assignment brought him to one of the four high-rise buildings that defined downtown Belleview, the biggest one, some financial firm. It stood out against the mountain landscape like alien architecture that had dropped from the sky, dark and shining and bleak beside the trees and mountains jagged with life.

Ignoring the gobsmacked expressions on the receptionists’ faces, he approached the front desk. “Hi, how you doing? I’m here to make a special delivery on the sixteenth floor.”

The older of the two receptionists shushed the other’s giggling as she dutifully tapped away at her computer. “Name?”

Out of habit, Justin almost glanced at a name badge he was no longer wearing. Instead, he passed along the crumpled order form in his sweaty gloved fist. “I represent Season’s Greetings, with a telegram delivery for Adam Hubert.”

She perked up immediately, taking in his work uniform with a slowly spreading grin. “Adam Hubert, up in IT? Oh, honey, wish I was coming with you. That’s gonna be a sight to see.”

Nothing in her words or her delivery inspired confidence. Oh well, some gigs were more difficult than others. Not everyone appreciated a personalized singing telegram. Justin had already run the gamut of reactions from delight to disgust, and now, he just wanted to get each assignment done so he could move on to the next. “Can you direct me to his office?”

“Says right there on your paper. Floor 16, room 319. I promise you’ll know him when you see him; he stands out around here. Not as much as you in that getup, but he’s never exactly blended in either. Big hulking guy, always wears a frown, nobody can get a smile out of him. Folks up on his floor call him ‘Lurch.’” She added that final aside in a stage whisper with a conspiratorial air that rubbed Justin the wrong way.

He retrieved his order form and stuffed it in his pocket. “That doesn’t seem like a very nice name to call somebody.”

“He’s not very popular. Alright, here’s your badge.” She slapped a little barcode sticker on his furry chest with uncalled-for glee. “That should let you in the right doors. Tell Charlene up in reception to call me when you get there. I wanna listen in.”

He left with a half-hearted wave, his boss’s ancient boom box weighing heavily in his hand. “Thanks.”

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Meet the Author

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

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

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New Release Blitz: V is for Valentine by Thomas Grant Bruso (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  V is for Valentine

Author: Thomas Grant Bruso

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/06/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 16200

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, family-drama, interracial, gay, small town, homophobia, Valentine’s Day

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Description

Bradley James Winterbottom has a bigger-than-life dilemma this Valentine’s Day. He is bringing his new boyfriend, Ronnie, home to meet his parents for the first time.

After a few years away, Bradley’s mother, Marla, and father, Harold, have summoned their only son back to the small-knit town of Holly Springs in upstate New York for a Valentine’s Day family gathering.

Bradley is thrilled to see his parents after all these years. When he arrives, however, he notices the years have taken a toll on them. They have aged significantly, and Bradley is shocked when he sees their time-worn faces and meandering gaits. Harold has had heart surgery in the past, but recently, he has been experiencing complications. He is not the workhorse he used to be, fidgeting in the tool shed and repairing projects around the house.

Spending a few days under the roof of his childhood home, where he used to live with his extended family, Bradley notices significant changes. But some things, like his childhood bedroom and the homey surroundings, still look and feel the same as if he never left.

Bradley knows coming home is a place of tranquility and comfort, but life is not always sunny and rosy, as he and Ronnie soon discover through the ups and downs of small-town life.

Excerpt

V is for Valentine
Thomas Grant Bruso © 2024
All Rights Reserved

“Mom. Dad. This is Ronnie.”

I turned to Ronnie standing next to me in the wood-paneled living room in my childhood home in Holly Springs, where I ate my favorite fruity curly-Q cereal as a kid in front of the TV while watching Saturday morning cartoons.

I looked to my father, Harold, who sat in his sunken, timeworn recliner, tucked in the cozy corner, fire roaring and popping in the stone hearth behind him, reading the Holly Springs Weekly. A single strand of his silvery-white hair curled over the dog-eared edge of the newspaper. I noticed him staring and surveying Ronnie and me with his usual self-possessed judgment. “This is the grocery bagger?” he asked me, a hint of sarcasm in his deadpan delivery.

He spoke as if to cast a final verdict, a blatant, offhanded ruling of who I should love or date. My father’s thunderous statement rattled me like the aftermath of last week’s unexpected and powerful earthquake, a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 on the upstate New York Richter scale.

My father’s googly, buggy stare magnified into a reptilian grasshopper gaze through the prescription lenses of his new reading glasses as he sized up Ronnie from the mop of his dark hair down to his gym-rat frame.

I shot my dad an equally downright insulting what-the-fuck look.

My mother, Marla, still in her pink, frilly bathrobe and curlers coiled around her hair, recently dyed an unconvincing shit brown by the septuagenarian group of gossipy women at the beauty shop downtown, sat beside my father on the adjacent futon sofa bed, pretending to finish her crossword in her puzzle book and ignoring my dad’s wicked, old-school sense of humor.

My mother’s homespun hospitality, for which she was known in the tight-knit Holly Springs community of 10,900 residents, fell on deaf ears.

I jammed my hands deeper into my short pockets. Sweat greased the furrowed lines on my receding forehead.

I looked at Ronnie. My gut clenched. He looked uncomfortable, rocking back and forth on his heels. His hands were firmly planted at his sides like an obedient boarding school student waiting his turn to speak.

I did not want to say it, but this was not my idea of a family reunion.

The excitement of bringing my new boyfriend home to my parents to show him off as if he were a brand-new car curdled on the newly laid carpet like a hot mess of heaping horseshit—a stinking disappointment.

I cleared my throat and took my hands, damp with sweat and shaking, out of my pockets. My inner child fumed, my voice seized momentarily, but when I found it again, reaching down into the depths of my clumsy childhood peculiarities, I said, “We’ve traveled three and a half hours to be here for a Valentine’s Day weekend of celebration, only to be insulted and shunned.”

The soft, steady scribbles of my mother’s insidious pencil tip stopped mid-stance between boxes. She looked up, her dreamy gaze a premonition of bad things to come. She set her pencil between the pages of her paperback puzzle book, reached with a dainty hand for her teacup, and sipped, slurping her morning oolong, the sound irrationally annoying to me.

She adjusted herself on the couch, wincing and groaning a few painful pleas about her arthritic aging body, and took a long, deep breath.

She crossed her sleeved arms and smiled at us. “Fix yourself a plate of sausage and pancakes, dear. It’s your favorite, Bradley.” A coaxing, loving mother at work.

A typical response, I thought, to help bury the bruised, anguished feelings she had been feeling about this trip, my sexuality, and my new male companion since we agreed to meet for a first family reunion in the past few years.

My father straightened the creased edges of the newspaper and resumed reading, hiding behind the sports section and adding fuel to the fire with a shady, disapproving grunt in acknowledgement of my presence.

“It’s been two years since I’ve been home,” I said. “The last time was for Dad’s open-heart surgery.”

“Don’t use my setback as an excuse, son,” he said, crumpling the newspaper onto his lap and scrunching his gaunt face into a rutted mask of disgust.

“Harold,” my mother whispered to him, leaning over the empty space between the armchair and couch to touch my father’s arm. A peacemaking encouragement, I thought, heading South. “Remember what the doctor said. Don’t get your blood pressure up.”

“I’m not making excuses for coming home,” I shot back. “Mom asked me to be here because it’s tradition. And it’s been a long time since we’ve been together under one roof.”

My father scoffed and balled the newspaper into a pile on the chair. Gripping both faux leather arms, he struggled to stand, riling my mother and disrupting her peaceful morning respite. “Goddamn it, Bradley. You don’t need your mother’s approval to come home.”

I said, “That’s not what I meant, Dad.”

He stood on his shaky legs and brushed past me, shoving my shoulders, his arms pinwheeling in a hailstorm of angry nonverbals as he headed toward the kitchen.

When he was out of earshot, I turned to Mom. “I didn’t mean to upset him.”

She held out a hand and closed her eyes as if asking for silence. To gather her thoughts, meditate, and resume her crossword puzzle.

I heaved a sigh and turned to Ronnie, standing soldier-still beside me. “I also stock shelves and help load groceries into people’s trunks,” he said, shattering the awkward silence of the moment.

Ronnie’s easygoing stance was one of the many attractive attributes I adored in him.

It was also the first time my mother cracked a smile that weekend.

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Meet the Author

Thomas Grant Bruso knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer. He has been a voracious reader of genre fiction since he was a kid.

His literary inspirations are Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ellen Hart, Jim Grimsley, Karin Fossum, Sam J. Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Connolly.

Bruso loves animals, book-reading, writing fiction, prefers Sudoku to crossword puzzles.

In another life, he was a freelance writer and wrote for magazines and newspapers. In college, he was a winner for the Hermon H. Doh Sonnet Competition. Now, he writes book reviews for his hometown newspaper, The Press Republican.

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New Release Blitz: Soul Bond by Mell Eight (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Soul Bond

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/30/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 19100

Genre: Fantasy, mage, magic/magic users, royalty, military, bonded, holidays, soulmates

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Description

Soul Bond is normally the most romantic night of the year, but for Hew, that night promises to be a nightmare. Afflicted by a terrible curse, Hew knows he must either submit to blackmail or get help. Magic is illegal, so Hew must break the law and dive into the seedy underbelly of the city, where he finds more than he ever believed possible. However, even with Ren’s help, breaking Hew’s curse might ensure their executions on Soul Bond Night, rather than experiencing the romance the holiday usually promises.

Excerpt

Soul Bond
Mell Eight © 2024
All Rights Reserved

“Word on the street is you can help me find something I’m looking for,” Hew said as he took the empty chair at a four-seater table adjacent to the bustling bar. The tavern wasn’t fancy, but it was located in one of the steadier lower-class neighborhoods. Hew had heard they watered their beer down with actual, clean water, and the bar patrons were primarily there to relax after work rather than get drunk and be rowdy, including the three people now staring at him, mixed expressions on their faces.

The man to Hew’s left was rat-faced and scowling, but he was also leaning away as if he wanted to escape before this conversation escalated. The woman on Hew’s right was homely and broad, with the shoulders of a person who worked the docks and a nose that had been smashed and not healed properly. The man directly across from Hew was the one he was actually interested in. He went by the street name Skink, and he was as skinny as his namesake with a pinched face and long nose, but his eyes were shrewd as he took in Hew’s feigned nonchalance.

“I’ve been known to help a friend or two with some issues,” Skink replied with an easy shrug. “But I don’t know you, stranger.”

Hew leaned forward slightly, although he kept his hands in view to show he wasn’t offering a threat. “I could be an excellent friend to have.”

He slowly reached into his tunic, brown and homespun. He might be in one of the better lower-class neighborhoods, but Hew wasn’t about to come here dressed like someone who didn’t belong. The coin he pulled out glimmered in the glow cast by the candles in the flickering overhead lights. The silver chit—a quarter silver coin in proper parlance and equal to five full coppers—continued to glimmer as he set it on the table.

“If you have more of those, I agree we could be great friends,” Skink said, eyeing the chit. He looked back up at Hew rather than taking the coin, his eyes narrowed. “Tell me what I can help you find, friend.”

Hew leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Someone who can help me with a magical issue I’m having.”

Skink immediately leaned back and the rat-faced man let out a snort and stood. “I’m not being part of this,” he snapped out before heading over to the bar to order another drink. The dockworker crossed her arms over her chest, flexing impressive arm muscles, but otherwise didn’t react.

“Magic is illegal, punishable by death,” Skink finally replied. “Keep your coin. I’m not helping anyone and getting my own head chopped off.”

Hew reached into his tunic and pulled out two more silver chits, laying them on the table with the first one.

“I’m not looking to cast magic. I need someone to help me solve a rather, erm, delicate issue I’m having because of magic.”

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Meet the Author

When Mell Eight was in high school, she discovered dragons. Beautiful, wondrous creatures that took her on epic adventures both to faraway lands and on journeys of the heart. Mell wanted to create dragons of her own, so she put pen to paper. Mell Eight is now known for her own soaring dragons, as well as for other wonderful characters dancing across the pages of her books. While she mostly writes paranormal or fantasy stories, she has been seen exploring the real world once or twice.

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New Release Blitz: A Recipe for Love by Elaine White (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  A Recipe for Love

Series: Surviving Vihaan, Book 0.5 (Prequel)

Author: Elaine White

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/30/2024

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 39500

Genre: Paranormal, fated mates, forty-something MCs, bisexual MC, found family, shifter, blended family, chef, physician

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Description

When Dr Waylan Robell left Vihaan, he did so on the understanding that he was leaving for the right reasons, and he could never go back. He’s never regretted his life in Dnara, but it can be lonely. Taking care of the Vihaans of Dnara should be enough…it has to be enough…but he longs for someone to share his life with.

Channon Taford has run the “A Taste of Home” food truck for nearly twenty years. He left Vihaan knowing the risks, the cost, and the burden it would lay upon his shoulders, but he did it for the sake of the people he loved most. In his early forties, he thought he was past the age of wishing for more.

Finding comfort in their shared heritage and experiences of life, Waylan and Channon have been drawn together for nearly a year. Now, their friendship is starting to feel like it could be more…until Channon discovers Waylan’s life is more complicated than he thought and there might not be room for Channon.

Can Waylan trust Channon’s offered hand, and everything it could represent: a chance, a future, a connection?

Excerpt

A Recipe for Love
Elaine White © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Prologue
In the Beginning…

The world began with a shimmer in the air. On one side Earth grew lush and green, and creatures roamed the land: tree-dwellers, mountainous mammoths, ocean-lovers and sabre-toothed tigers. On the other, Vihaan: a large island surrounded by water-dwelling beasts. Regions developed from the landscape, vast swathes of desert land fit for kalou, miles of forests to house m’weko, trees for hutti to hide in and long grass for caly to walk through. Vihaan and Earth co-existed, the shimmer allowing beasts to travel from one land to the other. Though the worlds had different climates, different flora and fauna, they traded food sources and took shelter from harsh seasons.

The Mother―the giver of life to Vihaan―watched Her children in wonder and pride. With no physical form, She could follow Her children between both lands, guiding them to safety and food sources, choosing where to create more lakes, trees and rivers.

The Mother’s magic learned and grew stronger with each passing moon. She gave the doorway sentient thoughts to distinguish predators that ravaged the land from any in need of shelter. The doorway learned how to protect both worlds from the dangers of the other and became Her eyes and mind, protecting Her children.

When the first human stumbled through the doorway to Vihaan, the Mother rejoiced. The man was smart, a keen hunter and eager to explore the new land. While the doorway protected Vihaan, the Mother read the thoughts and emotions of the humans and creatures who passed through Her magic. She could dissect what made a human different to a beast and adapt the magic to benefit Vihaan.

For a time, humans passed unaware through the doorway, treating both worlds as one. With each new generation of hutti, m’weko and caly, the Mother fed the essence of what separated humans from animals into the born creatures of Vihaan to create foame: the two-bodied of Vihaan.

She sought balance within Her kingdom, leaving the kalou to their feline nature and the lower, hotter region of Gheva Tarlou. The heecha were given a human form, living in the mountains of Henima to represent their close spiritual connection to the Mother. The wild beasts of m’weko learned to exchange the body of the wolfish beast for a human-like shape and occupied the edges of forests within the foame kingdom of E’Boolou. The great cats, hutti, were cave- and tree-dwelling creatures who drifted between regions, followed by the patient wild-dog caly who liked open plains, each evolving to share the body of a beast with the form of a human.

Yet the Mother knew there was more to be done. While two bodies in one creature was a worthy evolution from prey to predator, their thoughts and feelings were not the same as the homo sapiens.

The Mother taught Her Vihaans language, developing a culture, setting forth laws and guidance, and gave Earth the Vihaan name of Dnara―meaning ‘the other world’ and ‘safe haven’.

The Mother soon realised humans had grown too fond of the two-bodied of Vihaan. Cross-breeds tainted the species and humans used Vihaan to hide from their natural predators, disrupting the balance of Dnara. Losing control of Her creations angered the Mother, who banished humans from Her lands. To prevent them from defying Her again She gave the doorway the knowledge of how to repel the banished from Vihaan.

As She oversaw Her emerging creations and helped them grow to Her wishes, the doorway sealed itself from Dnara, blocking entry to the humans and beasts who once passed freely. In doing so, the Mother forever separated two halves of what made her Vihaan creatures whole: the original beasts and the humans who made them something more.

While the Mother jealously guarded Her children, the doorway could never forget. Sharing the Mother’s mind and abilities, the doorway remembered the old days when the world was free and Vihaans embraced the joy and freedom of exploration, the wonder of travelling new paths and the safety of seeking shelter in the other world.

While the Mother retreated from Vihaan, content with Her world and all who dwelled within, the doorway would shimmer in the sunlight, a silent calling card for Vihaans willing to risk stepping into the unknown.

For too long the doorway remained a guard and watched as Vihaan lost its way, forgetting the Mother’s teachings, letting discrimination and laws guide their hearts. While Vihaans lost faith in the Mother, the doorway waited with hope, patient and ever vigilant.

One day…long after the Mother had forgotten Dnara existed, and Vihaans began persecuting one another…a brave Vihaan, praying for a better life, followed the shimmer into a new world.

Once again, the doorway could be a safe haven between two worlds.

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Meet the Author

Elaine White is the author of multi-genre MM romance, celebrating ‘love is love’ and offering diversity in both genre and character within her stories.

Growing up in a small town and fighting cancer in her early teens taught her that life is short and dreams should be pursued. She lives vicariously through her independent, and often hellion characters, exploring all possibilities within the romantic universe.

The Winner of two Watty Awards – Collector’s Dream (An Unpredictable Life) and Hidden Gem (Faithfully) – and an Honourable Mention in 2016’s Rainbow Awards (A Royal Craving) Elaine is a self-professed geek, reading addict, and a romantic at heart.

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New Release Blitz: Shards of Trust by Fox Beckman (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Shards of Trust

Series: The Trust Trilogy, Book Two

Author: Fox Beckman

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/23/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: M/NB

Length: 73800

Genre: Paranormal, Romance, urban fantasy, interracial, gay, nonbinary, time travel, witch, vampires

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Description

Things are going good for Ravi. Sure, a bunch of vampires want to turn Atlanta into a bloodsucker paradise, and sure, Ravi’s matchmaking aunt keeps shoving available bachelorettes at him left and right. Despite all that, Ravi’s secret affair with the enigmatic time traveler Cayenne is making him happier than he’s ever been in his life.

But Cayenne has secrets of their own, ones they can’t hide any longer, past and future on a collision course to disaster.

When the truth comes out, Ravi and Cayenne face their greatest challenge yet: each other.

Excerpt

Shards of Trust
Fox Beckman © 2024
All Rights Reserved

“Think you could maybe get off the counter? It’s unsanitary.”

Cayenne tosses up and catches an apple, not moving from their indolent sprawl across the kitchen island. “My dear Angharad, if you’re so interested in where I lie, I could always move to your room.”

Harry sighs and leans against the sink, arms crossed. And there it is, predictably; the look of disappointment they have grown so very accustomed to. A fun game by this point, to see how often they can summon it up.

“We need to talk about today.”

“You know,” Cayenne singsongs, still throwing the apple idly from hand to hand, “this authoritarian team leader routine really does not suit you, ma chérie.”

“While your Pepé Le Pew routine suits you down to the fucking ground.”

They laugh. See, this is why Harry is the only one of them who isn’t completely insufferable. “Ah, an arrow to my heart, Harry. Say your piece, then, so I can be properly contrite and you can say you’ve given the bad, naughty chronomage a thorough spanking.” They bat their eyelashes at her while taking a loud bite of the apple.

Harry massages the bridge of her nose. “Okay, look. Today was sloppy. It nearly went completely off the rails. Val got hurt. Where the fuck did you go?”

They shrug one shoulder.

She waits.

When nothing more is forthcoming, she sucks her teeth (ooh, nice, they mentally score another point) and shoves her hands in the pockets of her battered leather jacket. “Y’know, it’s kinda hard to work together as a team when you’re not physically together as a team.”

“I had things to do,” they tell her simply, wide-eyed and cheerful. “I have a life, unlike all of you. Trust me, if things were going to be truly dire, I would have sent you a text.”

Harry manages to nod sarcastically, which is admittedly impressive. “Oh, trust you, yeah. Totally, for sure. You were so busy with your exciting, fancy-free life, you couldn’t have told us about the giant fucking snake? Not even a hint?”

They roll their eyes. Mouth open on a clever retort, they’re cut off by a new, deeper voice, one rich and bitter as overbrewed coffee.

“You’re wasting your time, Harry,” Ravi says, storming toward the sink. He throws in a bloodstained washcloth and scrubs a mixture of blood and flecks of serpent scales off his hands. The scales catch the light like glitter. “Constance has Val patched up,” he tells Harry, ignoring Cayenne. He’s good at that. It’s extremely irritating.

“Oh, look, it’s the Empty Suit! You made it out in one piece, what a shame,” they say with scathing disdain.

Ravi whirls on them, face tight with anger. “A woman died,” he spits out. “You could have prevented it. You still could. Why exactly do we keep you around?”

Keeping their expression indifferent, they take another crunch of the apple. “The only reason anyone keeps you around is in case our muscley maman gets a boo-boo, ravageur, so you must have been very excited to get a chance to throw your weight around a little. Did The Trust give you permission to go off their leash for a few minutes? Was there paperwork to fill out? Did the professor help you with the big words?”

All Ravi does is make a disgusted sound deep in his throat, as if talking to Cayenne is a complete and total waste of his time. Though their hackles rise, they give him nothing but a broad, blasé smile. Ravi shakes his head and leaves the kitchen. A second later the slam of the door to the backyard rings out.

“Was it something I said?” Cayenne asks Harry with a mocking hand to their cheek.

Harry frowns. “He had a hard time today.”

Cayenne’s only response is laughter.

“Go apologize.”

Oh, that’s a very good one. They laugh even harder, in true delight.

“I mean it, Cayenne. If you can’t work together, we’re going to have a real problem.”

They let their laughter gradually peter out. It might be amusing to try to poke Ravi out of his aloofness, like teasing a chained-up attack dog. He’d never snapped at them yet, no matter how hard they’ve tried to provoke it, but who knows! Today might be their day.

“Sure, might be fun! See what a good little spicy pepper I am. So obedient.” They throw the half-eaten apple in Harry’s direction, not caring if she catches it or not, and slip out into the night air.

They make their way across the lawn with a loose-limbed stroll. Ravi stands at the edge of the lake, looking out over the dark water. He smiles warmly back at them over his shoulder. “Hey.”

For a hint of a second, Cayenne is confused, until they notice the dew-wet grass beneath their feet has become dry, white sand.

“Hey, yourself,” they say warily, stopping a few feet away. Ravi holds something in his hands, the ocean breeze ruffling his hair. “What do you have there?”

Ravi turns around, both hands flat, displaying a long sharp knife. It gleams, picking up sunlight.

Cayenne takes a step back.

“Easy there.” Ravi smirks with a roll of his eyes and offers them the blade. “It’s a gift.”

“I know,” Cayenne whispers. A storm builds on the horizon, golds and indigos darkening nearly black where the clouds meet the water.

“Here,” he says helpfully, stepping forward and setting the hilt in their hand, not noticing the palm already dripping red with blood. They swallow thickly.

“Don’t,” they plead, near frantic. “Don’t give me this.” They want to run, to bolt, but their feet are fixed, tethered in place.

Ravi shakes his head and moves their hand so the blade’s tip angles upward under his breastbone, where a single push would send it straight to his heart. In the sun his eyes are a deep, cinnamon brown.

“It’s easy,” he says, and smiles.

And Cayenne wakes up.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Prone to diving way too deep down research rabbit-holes and absolutely incapable of working without a curated playlist in the background, Fox Beckman lives in the Twin Cities and has far too many irons in the fire. Fox is writer, an artist, an occasional wrangler of kangaroos, a longsword fencer, an archer, a roller of dice, and a forager of mushrooms that aren’t deadly (probably).

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Book Blitz: Black Leather Night and Other Tales by Willa Okati (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Black Leather Night and Other Tales

Series: An Off World Dark Fantasy Vampire Adventure

Author: Willa Okati

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: Jan 12, 2024

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 299 pages

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense, Action & Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal Women’s Fiction, Vampires, Voyeurism & Exhibitionism, Gay, Alternate Universe

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Synopsis

Dante’s World. A dystopian off planet colony where life is hard and the supernatural exists side by side with everyday drama — or not so everyday. Joy and pleasure must be paid for at a high price, and to feed from a human means death — or worse.

But sometimes the line is crossed, and vampires fall in love with mortal men — or men lose their hearts to the nightwalkers. Anything can happen, and often does…

Publisher’s Note: Black Leather Night and Other Tales includes the previously published novellas Black Leather Night, Into the Shadows, The Hunter, Tale of the Night, Memory, Don’t Look Now, Sixty-Nine Reasons, and Missing Pieces.

Excerpt

Black Leather Night and Other Tales
Second Edition
Willa Okati
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Willa Okati

Gods damn it.

It was, so far as the vampire Robhain could tell, very early in the evening, barely past dusk, yet his human employees, Del and Byrne, had already arrived for business. Del, yawning widely enough to show off all his white teeth, clutched a cup of the expensive cafe imported from Terra, likely bought from a street vendor. Still laughing a little at some joke the boy must have made, Byrne shrugged off his street jacket to hang it on the post by his desk.

Watching the pair, Robhain knew he should only be proud of them. They were, after all, expecting an important shipment of magical artifacts at any time that night, and they needed to be ready with both warding spells and records of what they’d netted. But watching them from his office, behind a tinted window — protection against occasional bursts of light as day approached — Robhain’s teeth began to grind.

Let the gods have mercy. Byrne! He wore his favorite pair of ass-hugging leather pants for the second night in a row. Hurrying to arrive early enough, he must have taken his motorcycle to the stores and left it parked up top, above the basement showroom.

Watching him, Robhain’s expression soured. Byrne. Fresh off the street and every inch a contradiction with his prim, rimless glasses and helmet-mussed hair, starched linen shirt and painted-on pants… didn’t he realize how tight they were? Molding as they did to his legs and the too-damn-perfect curve of his shapely ass? Leaving nothing to the imagination?

Especially when, as a vampire, Robhain could smell what he’d been doing, wearing them.

Who was she? he seethed. Some bit of blonde fluff from one of the flesh-parlors, all dazzling smile and tight ass or generous tits? Even across the room, he could smell that Byrne reeked of come.

Robhain’s mouth worked, and he swallowed. By rights, that come should belong to him. Should flow into his mouth alone. But what was he but a coward? Unable to approach his very human mage-employee, or to make but the meekest suggestions that were blithely misunderstood as innocent… Fool. As if a vampire could ever be innocent.

His molars were beginning to creak ominously and his small, pointed fangs cut into his lips. Reluctantly he loosened his jaw. Facts were facts. Humans did not mingle willingly with the vampire-kind. It stood as miracle enough that Byrne worked with him in the business. Likely it caused him no little loss of caste in human society.

Not for the first time, he wondered why Byrne chose to work for him. The man’s talent could have secured him a place in the Suzerain’s palace. Instead he chose to work as mage and record-keeper in a secondhand artifact store, where lesser magicians and warriors came to buy enchanted goods.

Robhain would never, on that level, cease to be grateful for Byrne’s assistance. Able to detect the slightest nuance of malicious spell-craft on a weapon or artifact, he was damned good at what he did. Robhain could not do without him — most such charms were made to harm those of his bloodthirsty ilk, and did not care whether he drank blood fetched from the slaughterhouses or from the hot human vein. With his magics, Byrne had saved his hide a hundred times over.

Watching him, Robhain laid a hand on the glass, as if he could touch the man as he flipped through papers on his overloaded cubby desk. Not that he had never felt the warmth of that skin before, of course — their hands had brushed, their hips had bumped — just enough contact to entice him, to send him to daylight slumber with his cock so hard and ready that barely a touch brought him to a scorching completion.

And then, other times, they had actually embraced in relief when a spell turned out a success. Hip to hip, pounding one another’s backs. Each time, holding that slender body to his, Robhain had burned for more. To take that slim face between his hands, tilt it just so to one side, and press their lips together…

Well. Byrne was the sort of temptation that could cause a centuries-old creature to shame himself by soiling his own trousers with a climax as soon as he reached the safety of his office.

Not for the first time, he tried to puzzle out why. Byrne was nothing special. An ordinary man — but ah, with such an extraordinary face, his eyes blue as the sky Robhain had not seen for so long, blue as the ocean, blue as lapis lazuli. His smile — rarely seen, for he was seriously-natured — warming as the long-forgotten sunlight on Robhain’s skin. To luxuriate in those eyes and smile were more than he dared dream on.

And ah, such an impossible dream. For a vampire to force himself on an unwilling human meant death from those who handed down laws saying what a vampire could or could not do. They must not drink from the vein. They must not antagonize the humans. And not to be forgotten, they must not molest the humans in any way. Their tolerance was zero and justice swiftly delivered. While he knew Byrne to be faithful and fond of his employer, he was also a proud and powerful man. No doubt he would never suffer unwanted advances without immediate retribution.

Yet he taunted Robhain constantly, unconsciously, with his very presence, and in particular on days when he wore those thrice be-damned leather pants.

Crossing the room, Byrne glanced at him behind his window and threw up his hand, smiling in greeting. Robhain nodded in return and discreetly, behind his back, snapped a stylus in half.

That man would be the second death of him.

It was too early for customers as yet — they rarely came until full dark — so Robhain chose to remain in his office, going over letters and transmissions informing him of possible new sources of booty. Mercifully Byrne sank out of sight behind the piles of paper on his desk, rummaging around with his beloved books. Still, he could hear that warm, human-accented voice calling snips of information out to Del, diligently dusting and polishing braziers and daggers.

Del. A handsome lad, with ebony hair far too long and eyes far too bright green. Robhain was certain he had some Fey blood in him. Perhaps third or fourth generation. He passed as human, at any rate, but would certainly stand on their outskirts. Reason enough for him to be glad of a job with Robhain. He did well enough at it, though he was flightily-natured.

More than once, he had considered bedding the boy instead of fruitlessly aching for Byrne. He would likely be willing, and given his heritage, there would be no repercussions. But though he tried, he could barely raise his staff to half-mast over the thought of Del’s nimble flanks and flashing grin. Not when there was Byrne.

Neither paid him any attention as they went about their business, thank the gods that holy men claimed had long since turned their backs on Robhain.

Determined, he returned to the business at hand, ignoring the men as they ignored him. Ignoring Byrne, and those leather pants. Leather. The stylus slipped from Robhain’s hand and bounced heedlessly on the floor as he stared out, hoping to catch a glimpse. Really, the man showed shocking ignorance or tremendous nerve to wear them a second day. Once was bad enough. Robhain could control himself and his shock over the pants one day at a time. But two days running of the slick, soft leather, black as night, clinging to Byrne’s shapely ass…

Leather called to him. It sang a bewitching melody that brought out his inner beast. Life had been given for that fabric, and when Byrne wore it, the sound became a siren’s song.

His cock jumped and twitched within his own linen trousers, wanting to play.

Behave, he told it sternly.

Unfortunately it was not in the mood to listen.

Come what might, it would be better for him that day if he remained inside his office. Yes, hiding, and what of it? Hiding behind his good, solid desk. With a book on his lap. A heavy book. To be on the safe side. Yes.

But as he settled the book into place, Byrne stood and stretched, leather clinging to his thighs. Robhain’s stubborn prick, with a mind of its own, swelled half-hard. Perhaps sheer willpower could…

Of course. And he could also fly.

He propped the book in front of the impromptu tent in his trousers to conceal it, and with a great effort, he composed his expression. If Byrne were to come in, he wouldn’t be able to smell Robhain’s arousal, but surely he’d notice the ravenous look on his face.

Calm. He had to calm down. This was lust. Not unlike the blood lust he sometimes felt when he forgot to feed. This was leather lust. Nothing more.

But as he began to read the tiny script of the heavy book, his mind — evil thing — drifted away, sketching out dream after delicious dream. Taking Byrne up against that bookcase in the showroom. Pinning his wrists above his head. Nuzzling deep into his neck. Rubbing his dripping cock between the cleft of Byrne’s ass. Or Byrne, bent over the desk, Robhain dragging that leather down over his ass. His hands scrabbling for purchase as Robhain stroked, cupped, and pinched. Sliding his hand deeper and brushing against a cock hard as…

… his own.

Robhain groaned, shutting the book. So much for that plan.

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Meet the Author

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

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