New Release Blitz ~ Unbounded by C. Tyler (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Unbounded by C. Tyler

Word Count: 69,991
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 287



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Book Description

Sometimes, a little pain can lead to the greatest pleasure.

Bay Hurst had given up on relationships, content to ‘play’ instead. So when she found the perfect partner at a BDSM club, she knew what to expect—here for a moment, gone the next.

Six years later, that philosophy doesn’t hold as true.

When handsome stranger Michele Sacchi boards the yacht she works on, Bay is suddenly thrust head first into an unexpected situation. They’ve met before and, more than that, he was her perfect playmate.

Now the two must struggle with their desires as well as maintain a professional appearance, but there’s much more bubbling beneath the surface than even she realizes—and once they reach land, her world may erupt into chaos.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and attempted murder.


Whenever I found myself in London, one place called to me, chanted my name over and over, enticing me to its belly.

Labyrinth was an establishment where membership was exclusive, and patrons had to fully trust one another. It catered to a specific clientele, to the people who enjoyed another side to eroticism, many of whom chose to remain anonymous.

Dress code consisted of whatever cocktail attire one owned and a mask. Whether made of lace, metal, cloth, or resin, a mask had remained mandatory since the beginning of Labyrinth’s reign.

I was not a member in the official sense. I couldn’t afford the fees, but the owner allowed me a free visit whenever I was in town, so long as I sang for my supper. And sing I would.

Music had been a passion of mine since childhood. The genre changed often, but my love for it never would. Music had the power to alter people’s moods, be it uplifting or heartbreaking. It could trigger memories or help create new ones. It meant the world to me, and singing in Labyrinth was the closest I’d ever get to being a part of that world.

When I’d finished my short set to a room filled with mysterious men and women, I left the small stage, met an instant later by a man in a suit with a black resin mask. Intense eyes stared at me, so dark that they blended effortlessly with the rest of his attire.

He offered me his hand, which I accepted and used to descend the rest of the stairs. My leather dress, fitted enough to have been painted on, creaked and groaned with each step. It clung so tightly to my legs that I welcomed his help.

The stranger brought me to him, our chests together. We each remained silent, even as he hooked his index finger beneath the lime-green bracelet I wore. Raising it high enough for us both to see, there’d been a hint of green peeking out from beneath the cuff of his suit jacket as well. We were a match, something that made my heart race.

Labyrinth had a system in which members could wear a paper bracelet, not unlike those at concerts, of varying colors. Different colors meant the wearer was into different things and cut out needless chit-chat.

“Interested?” he asked.

Hmm-mm, European, but not English. What is that?

His deep, alluring accent tickled something within me, a desire I hadn’t realized I’d had. I liked it and wanted more.

“Lead the way.”

He smiled at me, his full lips curling at the corner and begging to be nibbled on.

The stranger took my hand and together we retreated down a long hall of doors. Some were open, revealing their scintillating secrets to the world.

In one room stood a man with a hand braced against a piece of furniture, the other entwined in a woman’s hair while she bobbed up and down the length of his cock. The joy on his face told me all I needed to know.

In another room, a large, burly and hirsute gentleman donning a pair of impressive heels stood over a young man much thinner in frame, who placed multiple happy kisses to the toes of the stilettos.

Other doors had been shut, closing everyone out so that those inside could have the privacy they desired.

After a few moments, we came to an unoccupied room. He stood aside and motioned for me to enter before him, which I did.

Deep-colored walls surrounded me, lit by dim sconces. Each wall had been lined with racks of toys tastefully displayed and illuminated by beams of light as though they were modern pieces of art.

To the left rested a bed with cuffs in each corner to hold the player down, and not far from that sat a chaise lounge, a prime place for someone to sit while another individual groveled. But the suspension rack near the center of the room held my attention.

Cuffs and chains hung from each corner, but I had become more interested in the pair that dangled from the center beam, the wrist restraints that would bind one’s hands together above the head.

When I was situated far enough from the wall that nothing would impede whatever hung from it, I stood within the frame and turned to the stranger. He remained near the door, hands in his pockets while he sported a wicked grin. With my gaze locked to his, I gripped the restraints and lifted myself off the ground. They were very sturdy.

His smile broadened and, with the unspoken understanding that I’d found what I wanted, he closed the door to give us much-needed privacy. Hearing the latch engage caused my skin to prickle with excitement.

The stranger removed his jacket and laid it across the chaise. His cufflinks were next, which allowed him to roll the sleeves of his white button-up shirt, revealing thick, strong forearms beneath. Tattoos dotted his caramel-colored skin, though I didn’t bother identifying what they were.

As he prepared himself, I turned my attention to the walls of toys. One rack held whips, some with tips so thin they would break skin. Another held floggers like cat-o’-nine-tails. One held paddles, another slappers and from the last hung multiple riding crops.

Labyrinth catered to many preferences and, had I known the stranger better, I might have gone for something more adventurous. Seeing as I didn’t, I went with a selection that would be fun, but safer.

I returned to the stranger with a riding crop in one hand and a three-strip slapper in the other. One would offer a more concentrated snap while the second created a slightly duller thud. His eyes sparkled as he looked them over.


After a moment of consideration, he chose the slapper. My eagerness intensified. I quite liked slappers.

My stranger set the instrument aside and stepped behind me. Slowly but surely, he tugged the dress’s zipper down, loosening it around my body. When it reached the end, he slid his hands beneath the garment and proceeded to peel it away.

He dug his fingers into my body, along the curve of my waist and the slope of my hips while he pushed the dress down.

Within seconds, it rested in a pool of fabric at my feet, leaving me in nothing more than my lacy lingerie and four-inch heels.

He took my hand and guided me to the rack where he promptly secured my wrists, staring deep into my eyes as he did. My heart raced, lodging itself in my throat. The anticipation coursed through every inch of me, priming my nerves for what was to come.

In spite of how it appeared, I didn’t feel in danger. There was plenty of slack in the chains that would’ve allowed me to uncuff my wrists myself, and Labyrinth had a rigorous vetting process for their clientele. Regardless of how it may have appeared to someone on the outside, I was safe with the stranger.

Bellisima,” he said.

Oh. So this sexy bastard is Italian. Even better.

My core ached.

Smirking, he draped my dress over the chaise with his jacket, took hold of the slapper and stepped behind me.

The first moment it touched my skin, I flinched. The cool leather and shock of it caused me to gasp. He chuckled.

He teased me for a while, running the slapper over the curve of my ass, along my spine and even down the backs of my thighs. He’d been tender, delicate, allowing each passing second to heighten the tension, and just before I could speak, before I had the chance to urge the stranger along, it happened.

A loud crack echoed through the room, shortly followed by my lustful gasp. He left the slapper in place for a breath, as though allowing the welt beneath it to form on my ass. The pain radiated through the whole of my body, infecting the smallest atom and causing me to vibrate.

It was just the beginning.

For what had to be nearly an hour, the stranger played with me. He would lull me into a sense of calm before bringing the slapper hard against my ass or the backs of my thighs. He knew what to do, how to tease every iota of pleasure out of me.

At one point, he stepped in front of me, looming tall. His eyes had turned black, any hint of brown choked out of existence with growing lust. I dared a glance down. His erection strained against his slacks. Their dark color helped hide it, but I wasn’t blind, more than able to see the line of his cock struggle to break free of the fabric. He was impressively sized, and images of me on my knees taking him into my mouth or him bending me over something and thrusting coursed through my head on an endless loop.

Sweeping my tongue across my upper lip, I stared at him through my lashes. He arched a thick brow. I doubted my intent had been unclear.

By that time in our play, my nipples had become painfully hard, rubbing against my bra and more wanting than before, while my clit throbbed and ached. I had no doubt that, if he chose to remove my panties, my excitement would’ve been visible. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had turned me on like that from nothing more than some paddling.

My stranger stared down at me. His jaw tightened, the muscles rolling beneath his olive skin. His chest heaved with each breath, and I knew I looked the same. Fire burned in my cheeks and between my legs. I wanted so badly for him to take me.

The image of him wrapping my legs around his waist and fucking me while I hung from the beam filled my mind. There was no hiding the shiver or the gasp that parted my lips. Sex wasn’t part of the deal with a green bracelet, but God save me, I wanted it.

He looked me over, and while I was desperate to come through my skin, he reached forward. My stranger ran the back of his curled index finger over my nipple. Pleasure tore through me, intensified when he pinched the sensitive bud. He groaned, running his full bottom lip through his teeth while he massaged my breast.

“If only we had more time.” He turned his attention to my other breast and gave it the same adoration. “I am certain we could have a lot of fun.”

I have no doubt.

He shifted his grip, running his hands up my arms and massaging my biceps. He met my gaze, his eyes burning black.

“This would be perfect for it, yes?” His hands trailed back down, over my breasts, along the curve of my waist and my hips.

“Yes.” The word had been little more than a whisper.

He bent forward, encompassing my ass with his hands. The softness of them did nothing to soothe the pain of his whipping.

My stranger lifted me with ease, guiding my legs around his hips and holding me close. I’d gasped at the suddenness of it, gripping my cuffs as best I could for better support.

He ground against my clit, keeping me at the perfect angle to feel the bulge of his cock millimeters from where I wanted it most. I chewed on my bottom lip, struggling to steady my breathing while my heart raced. He was giving me my fantasy, giving me what I’d begun to long for without me having to ask.

Jesus, was he made just for me?

“If given the chance,” he said, breath gliding across my lips while the spicy scent of his cologne filled my nose, “I could spend the night inside you.”

My pussy clenched on reflex, seemingly desperate to be given the opportunity, but I kept my exterior as calm as possible.

“You shouldn’t tease. It’s not very nice.”

A dark, wicked smirk curled his lips. In it, I sensed he’d made a promise, not an empty offer. Delightful thought, to be sure.

Digging his fingers into my ass harder than before, he began the slow, deliberate action of guiding me up the length of his shaft. I held my chains, desperate for the aid of them while he continued.

“I could spend the night making you shake.” His voice had grown as dark as the color of his eyes, a fathomless void that caressed me, called to me.

What’d begun slow and deliberate, as a teasing gesture meant to heighten the sex-filled atmosphere of our private room, had quickly devolved into something more. Within seconds, he worked harder, faster, eliciting sparks of joy each time my clit scraped along his shaft. It pushed me toward an end I hadn’t expected that night, an end that I had become desperate for.

“Yes,” I said on a breath.

My stranger leaned in, our bodies tight. The muscles in my arms burned. I’d been struggling to reach out for him, to wrap them around his thick shoulders, but the cuffs kept me in place. It remained my favorite part of being bound, the inability to touch my partner when I wanted to most.

He continued to bounce me in place, relentlessly rolling my hips into his unyielding cock. Dipping into the crook of my neck allowed his sweltering growls to glide across my exposed flesh, adding yet another layer to the moment.

The coil in my gut twisted more and more with each passing second. It wouldn’t be long.

“I would worship you,” he rasped, “just to hear your screams.”

His words were fading, drowned out by the thundering pulse in my ears.

“Don’t stop.” The mewling words had somehow managed to escape me.

My stranger drew back. I struggled to keep his gaze, to stare into his beautiful face, but he’d become determined in his action, fucking me like a wild man without penetration, and it was more than enough.

A string of Italian words left his lips, their encouraging tone the only thing that I could discern.

His gaze never left mine, tempting me further into the abyss. In spite of the mask that concealed so much of his face, he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“Come for me, bella,” he said in a deep, rough voice. “I want to hear it.”

I nodded and his efforts increased. I was swallowed up a second later.

When the coil sprang, I didn’t hold back. I cried out, filling our chamber with the sounds of my elation, allowing it to wash over me and release all the glorious tension he’d spent an hour building.

From somewhere in the back of my mind, I might have heard a similar sound leave him, though I was too lost to notice.

My stranger held my ass in one hand while his free arm encircled me. I quivered and shook against him, struggling to draw air into my lungs. He kept me secured to him, engulfing me with little effort and helping to pull my shattered body back together.

I had finally given out, my muscles jellied from the orgasm.

Letting out a stiff breath, my stranger loosened his grip and allowed my legs to slide from his hips until I could stand on my own once more. It’d been difficult to manage, but the cuffs weren’t suspended so high that they took me off my feet. Instead, they allowed me a bit of support.

His eyelids were heavy while a flash of pink swathed his cheeks. His full lips, perfect for biting, were parted with each huffing breath.

“I’m afraid this is the end of our play, my dear.” Genuine disappointment saturated his voice. He reached up to unlatch my wrists, standing so close that the heat of him infected me further. “Truly regrettable.”

I found his accent delicious, the way it affected each syllable and curled the consonants. He had the sort of rich voice that I could listen to for hours.

“Pity,” I said. Regardless of what’d transpired, how exhausted I’d become, I wanted more.

He smiled.

When my wrists had been freed, he retrieved my dress and offered it to me. I put it on while he righted himself, and soon it appeared as though nothing had happened.

My welts brought me back to reality, however. Each scrape of my dress across the raw skin helped remind me that it’d been real, which only served to breathe new life into those smoldering embers.

Out of curiosity, I peered at his groin. A slick sheen had overtaken the dark fabric and I knew not all the dampness had been mine.

“Will there be another performance tomorrow?” he asked.

“I’m afraid not,” I replied, stomach fluttering at the prospect of spending more time with him. “I actually have to leave Lon—”

My gaze drifted to the clock hanging near the door and my heart dropped. I’d been so invested in our play that I hadn’t been paying attention to the time. At nearly one in the morning, I’d stayed much longer than I’d intended.

“Oh, shit,” I said in shock. “I-I have to go.” I raced for the door and threw it open. “I had fun!” I shouted over my shoulder while I ran down the hall as best as my tight dress and shoes would allow.

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About the Author

C. Tyler

A fan of any genre, C. Tyler enjoys writing a wide array of stories, from fantasy and paranormal, to contemporary. Whether it’s a bad boy biker, or a burly shifter, there’s a little something for almost everyone.


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New Release Blitz ~ Our Valentine’s by S.J. Coles (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Our Valentine’s by S.J. Coles

Book 2 in the Once Upon a Holiday series

Word Count: 13,249
Book Length: SHORT STORY
Pages: 61



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Book Description

We’ll make it our Valentine’s—and the best show on Earth.

Everyone believes movie star Charlie Kearney lives a charmed life, not least because he recently returned to his hometown of Littleton with enigmatic fashion designer Jacques Clement on his arm. Their whirlwind romance and high-profile engagement have kept Charlie trending on the socials for weeks, and his management company couldn’t be happier.

But there’s just one problem. Charlie and Jacques aren’t engaged. They aren’t even in a relationship. Charlie needed someone to bring home for Christmas and had also hoped the news of their ‘engagement’ might tempt an old flame.

Things haven’t quite gone according to plan. Now Charlie feels he has no choice but to ask Jacques to continue with the charade, even though his fake fiancé has a Valentine’s Day fashion show in Paris to prepare for. Jacques agrees to stay, but Charlie is now beginning to wonder if saving face is the only reason he’s so desperate to keep Jacques in Littleton.


Radio Littleton had reported it as the coldest Christmas the region had seen in years. The snow had reached record levels by Christmas morning, and it was still falling. The wind blew the fat flakes in and out of the puddles of streetlight like confetti.

But Charlie Kearney couldn’t feel the cold. He didn’t see his breath fogging in the air. All he could see was Nick Bostock, the former love of his life, kissing their mutual friend Seph Rose in the circle of light cast by one of the park lanterns. When they broke apart and smiled at each other, Charlie’s chest tightened like a vise.

They turned and vanished together into the shadows.

“Charles? Are you okay?”

Charlie started. A small figure swathed in several overcoats stood just behind him. Black eyes twinkled up at him from under a home-knitted bobble hat.

“Auntie Mia? What are you doing here?”

“Oh, just walking off some of that Christmas pud,” she said, patting her belly. Her brow creased with concern. “What’s wrong, love? You look like you’ve had a shock.”

“Nothing. Just…” He almost spilled everything. I was right. Nick didn’t really want me. He just thought he did. And now I don’t know what to do. He forced a smile. “Nothing.”

The old woman seemed to look right through him. She smiled softly and put a mittened hand on his elbow. “Remember when you fell off your bike outside my house, Charlie Kearney? You were, what? Seven?” Charlie nodded. “Well… That hurt, too, didn’t it? But it got better.” Her smile widened. “So will this. I promise.”

Charlie couldn’t find an answer, so he just nodded, swallowing the pain he hoped wasn’t showing on his face.

“Now,” she continued, patting his arm, “why don’t you head home? Get the kettle on. There isn’t much that isn’t eased by a cup of hot tea.”

Charlie smiled despite himself. “You should get home, too, Auntie Mia. It’s cold out here.”

“I will, love. Don’t you worry. Oh, where are you going?” she added when Charlie turned to follow the path past the church.

“I’m going home,” he said. “It’s quicker to walk through the park.”

“Oh, but you don’t have to walk, love. That nice young man of yours is waiting to give you a lift.”

“What? Who?”

“Your glamorous French friend.” Mia’s rosy cheeks dimpled as she smiled. “Jack, was it?”

Charlie blinked. “Jacques is here?”

“Just down there, love,” Mia said, pointing toward the road. “Now run along. He’ll be getting cold, too.”

Charlie peered through the falling snow, frowning. When he turned to ask her again, he found he was alone in the park. There weren’t even any footprints.

He shook his head and hurried toward the road.

Jacques’ hire car was pulled up at the curb. He leaned against the driver’s door with his hands tucked into his armpits. He was wrapped in a silk scarf the same ice blue as his eyes and a black wool overcoat that made his almond skin glow. The cold had brought pinkness to his pale cheeks. Snowflakes caught in his white-blond hair like jewels. When he spotted Charlie, a flash of warmth sparked in his cold, cold eyes. It sent a rush of confusing pleasure through Charlie’s chest. He told himself he was just grateful not to have to head back to his home at Arnold House alone.

“Jacques? I thought you were on your way to Heathrow.”

“Roads are blocked,” he said with an expressive shrug, his accent rolling over Charlie like liqueur coffee. “My flight tomorrow is canceled. Such is winter in this country. But the lady, uh”—he gestured toward the park—“I did not know her name. I think, a friend? She said you would be here. That you would need a lift?”

“Uh…” Charlie glanced back toward the park with a frown, but Mia was nowhere in sight. “Yeah, please, Jacques. If you don’t mind.”

“Of course, mon ami,” Jacques replied, opening the driver’s door.

“Are you well?” Jacques said after a few moments of driving in silence.


Jacques didn’t speak again on the journey back to Charlie’s parents’ house. Charlie could smell his light, lavender cologne and the drying wool of his coat but didn’t turn to look at him—didn’t dare in case Jacques saw everything in his expression. In the short time they’d known each other, Jacques seemed to have acquired the knack of reading him all too well. It was a talent rendered even more frustrating since Charlie could never guess what the Frenchman was thinking.

Jacques parked in the driveway of Arnold House, but Charlie made no move to get out. He stared at the Georgian mansion that was his childhood home, trying not to think about how he’d taken for granted he’d be returning to it with Nick, ready to reintroduce him to his parents—ready to finally tell them the truth.

He could feel Jacques watching him, but he still couldn’t move.

“What are you going to do?” Charlie eventually asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I will get a room in an ’otel,” Jacques said. “Then a new flight Monday.”

“You haven’t Tweeted anything yet, have you?”

Jacques shook his head. “Non. I was waiting for your message…as agreed.”

Charlie bit the inside of his cheek then finally met Jacques’ ice-blue gaze. “Could you come in for a moment?”

Jacques blinked. “Why?”

“Please. Just for a minute.”

Jacques lifted an eyebrow but shut off the engine and climbed out into the falling snow. He followed Charlie around the side of the house to the kitchen entrance. The large room was deliciously warm. The air was heavy with the smells of roast turkey, Christmas pudding and brandy. The sound of the TV drifted through the open door to the snug, along with the low tones of his parents in conversation. Charlie moved over to the door, quietly closed it then turned to face Jacques. He was eyeing the remains of the Christmas feast piled on the table and the general chaos of cooking heaping on the counters.

“Where is everybody?”

“The staff are all home with their families,” Charlie said, reaching for an open bottle of red wine and pouring himself a large glass. “Dad always insists on cooking Christmas dinner himself. Look, Jacques…” Charlie swallowed a large mouthful, taking a breath and willing his face to be blank. “Could you stay? For a little longer?”

Jacques raised his other eyebrow. “But the plan was—”

“New plan,” Charlie said, dredging up his best and what he hoped was his most winning Hollywood smile. “Can we keep this up a bit longer? Just a few weeks.”

Jacques stared at him a long moment. “So your Nick said no? After that performance in the library?”

Charlie winced, downed the wine and put the empty glass aside. “Apparently my test to make sure he really wanted me and not Curtis Bane worked a little too well.”

Jacques frowned delicately. “And Curtis Bane was…?”

Charlie gave him a look. “The role that launched my career. The action movie.”

Jacques’ thin lips twitched. “I always hated that one.”

“I know. You said.” Charlie felt a more genuine smile curve his mouth. “Most women aged twenty-five to forty-five would disagree. Plus, plenty of men they haven’t polled yet, too, I’m sure.”

“That is only because your shirt rips open when you are rescuing that annoying child from the explosion.” Jacques waved his hand dismissively. “And, yes, you have a very nice chest, mon ami. But you are better at the drama, non?”

“Drama doesn’t pay…or not enough,” Charlie said, heaving a sigh and staring at the floor. “Look… I know we had an agreement. But yeah…Nick…” He swallowed. “He’s not in the picture. And I don’t start shooting that superhero movie until March… What?”

The corner of Jacques’ mouth had turned up in a half-smile. It lit the ice of his eyes like sunlight, and Charlie blinked, startled.

Pardon. I’m just trying to imagine the… Oh, what is English word? Tights.”

Power Knight is a very prestigious role, actually,” Charlie replied, trying to sound arch but smiling. “But seriously, my management are monitoring every Tweet, every post, every bloody TikTok video. It’s vital my profile stays trending, Jacques. I thought us”—he motioned air-quotes in the air with his fingers—“‘breaking up’ would play well if I was then able to announce my engagement to Nick…”

“Engagement? Oh, mon cher.” His face was serious again. “I did not realize you felt so much for this man you hardly know.”

Hurt spiked through Charlie’s chest. He looked away. “The world is watching, is all. I’ve got that premiere in London, then I’m opening the village fête here in February. The press will be everywhere. They’ll want to see who I’m with.” He raised his eyes, looking imploringly at Jacques. “So, what do you say? Could you, you know, stick around? Be my fiancé a bit longer?”

“We agreed until Christmas only—a few weeks to encourage your profile, maybe entice this Nick person. And I wanted…” He paused, lowering his gaze. “I needed Art to move on. He wasn’t going to do that unless I proved I had done so first. So, that was the plan.” He shrugged. “Two out of three?”

“Has Art got the message?”

“I have had no contact.”

“Since?” Jacques’ face was blank. “Jacques?”

Jacques looked away. “Yesterday.”

“Well then. We’ve still got some work to do, right?” Jacques narrowed his eyes. “Please,” Charlie said, stepping closer. “Could you stay? Just until I figure out what I’m doing?”

Jacques’ face softened a fraction. “I have the Cupid Collection launch to prepare for. I need to find a new studio and, ah”—he threw up his hands—“there is so much to do in Paris. And we can’t very well carry on this charade in two different countries.”

“Could you not do it here?”

Comment?” Jacques frowned.

“Yeah,” Charlie said, excitement and desperation building together. “Get all your stuff sent over and prepare the collection here. Bring over the models and everything. There’s enough room.”

Jacques’ eyes lit up for a moment but then cooled again. He shook his head. “I could not possibly intrude on your parents’ hospitality.”

“Are you kidding? My mum would love it.”

“And your father?”

Charlie winced. “Leave him to me. Please, Jacques,” he said, surprising himself and Jacques by grasping his hand. “I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important.”

“But we are lying to them,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s making them happy,” Charlie whispered in reply, glancing toward the door. “All they’ve ever wanted is for me to get married. Me bringing you home has pleased them in a way none of my films ever has.”

“But I do need to work. You understand that?” His face was serious. “I cannot be gazing at you all the time…as nice as that would be.” He squeezed Charlie’s arm through his coat. A flicker went through Charlie’s body, which he staunchly ignored.

“You do what you need to do,” Charlie said. “Just please, come to the premiere? And the fête?”

Charlie held his breath as Jacques visibly pondered his proposal. Finally, he nodded. “Very well,” he said, “we can continue a little longer.”

“Thank you,” Charlie started emphatically but Jacques brought up a finger to quiet him.

“But just until Valentine’s Day, d’accord?” he said, his eyes hard. “I have to be back in Paris for the show by then.”

Charlie examined his face for a long moment, wondering at the discomfort behind his ribs. But he made himself nod. “Until Valentine’s. Deal.”

Jacques gestured to the snug. “Shall we?”

Charlie nodded eagerly, took Jacques’ arm and drew him to the door.

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

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

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

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

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


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New Release Blitz: Prisoner by GiGi DeGraham (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Prisoner

Series: Steele Pack, Book One

Author: GiGi DeGraham

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/31/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 88800

Genre: Paranormal, contemporary, romance, gay/questioning, genderqueer/genderfluid, asexual, interracial, action/adventure, suspense, prisoners, prison/prison escape, grieving, graphic violence, rape attempt, PTSD, off-grid living/isolation, subsistence/hunting, winter, one-bed, soulmates, friends to lovers, second chance, mysterious wolves

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Most prisoners believe their punishment is unfair, but for Ryan Tarkett, it’s true. While serving his sentence, an attack sets off a chain of events and forces Ryan to speed up the timeline on an insane escape plan. Spurring him on are memories of his past, his one love, who he met in juvie, and the driving desire for freedom. When Ryan believes he has nothing left to lose, escape from prison becomes the only option.

Ryan’s desperate journey isn’t easy as he tries to evade capture. Past regrets and confusion about his sexual orientation dog him as he deals with the loss of Thomas. When a stranger gives Ryan the chance at a new life, somewhere he might begin to feel safe, he may learn to trust again.

But in his mountain hideaway, Ryan feels as if he is being watched. Something lurks in the surrounding woods. Flashes of a figure give the impression he is being followed or, worse, hunted. Alone and lonely, Ryan fears he is losing his mind. When his new shadow seems intent on sticking around, Ryan starts to suspect this is no ordinary Wolf.

Prisoner is a different kind of love story, where a mystery waits to unfold.


GiGi DeGraham © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Prisoner 793 lay on his cot in his cell, staring up at the rough joint that drew a harsh line across the concrete ceiling. His eyes traced the stone seam, and by now, he knew every bump and divot of the rugged line. Immeasurable minutes of his life had been spent with his eyes affixed on the thing while contemplating his time. Because of all he did not possess, other than a bundle of letters, this was something he had plenty of. Time there was measured in years still left to serve. Twelve down, and thirty-eight to go. Thirty-eight years to look forward to staring at that same ragged seam across the ceiling they hadn’t even taken the time to trowel smooth when they built this godforsaken prison.

His bed, this meager cot, with its navy-blue ticking, was a place he both hated and would defend to the death because it was his. Prisoner 793 had spent the better part of the last two years on this cot, and he would not let some new chester come in and try to take it. Hell, he wouldn’t let anyone take anything from him, and neither would his cellmate, who he internally called Big Bastard.

It was a place that 793 had earned, this thin bed on the top of the double bunk. Big Bastard had kept his bottom bunk with just a look, and he might have grunted once the first day a new, unwelcome prisoner was added to their cell. The new guy didn’t even consider it, tangling with the bigger man, so he’d looked above, to 793’s cot, to him, the lesser of the two evils in the room. Now, the new guy slept on the floor temporarily on a flat mat that kept him from freezing solid in the night. The surface was always cold, even cool-to-the-touch on nights in mid-August. They kept it cold in prison to keep men tamed.

During summer days, the floor just sweat, making everything smell worse than it already did. But this new man was there for something the warden liked to call “overcrowding,” and for the last three months, 793 had fought the same man. Clearly, the problem wasn’t going away. Not until the warden got the additional funding he’d been lobbying for to add yet another wing in this constant effort to house more men.

These floor mats had a crinkling, silver film that rustled every time one of the transfers shifted in their sleep or even took a breath. It had put Big Bastard in a foul mood for three straight months, and more than once, he’d huffed, gotten up, and kicked the shit out of the new prisoner who couldn’t be still or breathed in or out too loud. Big Bastard hated the guy. He either liked or simply tolerated 793, who hadn’t slept on a mat, not once. From the first day 793 had arrived at this medium-security prison, he’d handled business and secured his cot with his fists.

It was like anywhere. When you transferred into a new place, you started over. But before, at his first prison—a maximum-security federal penitentiary called Supermax, deep in the south of Louisiana—793 had fought and lost many times. With every loss, he’d slept on something less than desirable. It was there at Supermax that 793 began working out in his cell. When he’d earned privileges, he started lifting weights in the yard until he could fight with a properly placed fist, a fast elbow, and a debilitating knee. These were the skills required to win and keep the cot for himself. It had taken a few pretty good ass-whippings for him to figure out just how to fight—because fighting in prison was its own kind of animal.

This new inmate, Dean Harrold, had narrower eyes than most, hardened thin slits that seemed to always tell on him. Harrold had serious issues with authority and had killed his father during a domestic dispute. His father, who had worked high up in the government, had friends who hadn’t taken any mercy on his murderous son. Dean Harrold was a lifer with nothing left to lose. Harrold was a muscular guy, on the tall side, but he fought with his anger rather than any real skill. He was bigger than 793 but less than Big Bastard. Harrold was never satisfied with anything and constantly complained. He was entitled and mouthy, irritating, even to the guards. Dean Harrold was just a prick.

Big Bastard had already beat him with a shoe until Harrold understood he had to keep his trap shut. The beating had been insulting and demeaning, and Harrold simmered over it like a scorned woman as the shoe-shaped bruise darkened down his cheekbone. Big Bastard was currently in the hole for it, as Harrold had snitched, and the cell was quieter afterwards. Harrold continuously gave 793 the stink eye and made crude comments. This happened so often 793 would just get his eyes closed, and pop them back open as Harrold spouted off more of his hate. Harrold was pissed that 793 hadn’t tried to stop the beating.

“Useless mute,” Harrold had barked up at him.

Harrold was going to die in here; he was only a year older than 793, just twenty-eight, and would never be a free man again. He wasn’t lucky, but he hadn’t gotten the death penalty—the big bitch—so that was something. Still, 793 didn’t care for him.

But Harrold was here now, this last stop in life. He worked in janitorial services, and word was he might be moved out of their cell by the end of the week. Friday couldn’t come soon enough. Funny that he never attempted to sleep on Big Bastard’s cot while he was gone. He begrudgingly slept on the mat, most likely thinking 793 would rat. He wouldn’t have had to. Big Bastard would have known; he’d been there far too long for anyone to pull one over on him. Number 793 hoped Harrold would be gone by the time Big Bastard got back from the hole, and they could both get back to their somewhat normal peace and quiet.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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

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New Release Blitz: The New Town Librarian by Kathy Anderson (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The New Town Librarian

Author: Kathy Anderson

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/31/2023

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 63300

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, lit/genre fiction, humorous, lesbian, LGBTQA, library, librarian, small town, East Coast, New Jersey, second chances, starting over, over 40, book clubs, readers, friends as family

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Queer middle-aged librarian Nan Nethercott, a wisecracking hypochondriac with a lackluster career and a nonexistent love life, needs to make a drastic life change before it’s too late. When she lands a job as librarian in a seemingly idyllic small town in southern New Jersey, Nan quickly discovers unforeseen challenges.

Nan’s landlady, Immaculata, launches daily intrusions from below. The library, housed in the former town jail, is overrun by marauding middle-schoolers. A mysterious reader leaves distressing messages in book stacks all over the library. Thomasina, the irresistible butch deli owner, is clearly a delicious affair and not the relationship Nan craves.

There’s no turning back though. Nan must come up with her own wildly unorthodox solutions to what the town and its people throw at her and fight for what she wants until she makes a shiny new life—one with her first true home, surprising friends, a meaningful career, and a promising new love.


The New Town Librarian
Kathy Anderson © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
So many delightful possibilities tonight. Nan Nethercott poured herself a hefty glass of red wine from the big box perched on her table and began.

Children’s Librarian on Sanibel Island! Oh, to work in flip-flops and stroll the beach at lunchtime.

Research Librarian for the Irish Government in Dublin! She’d read lots of books set in Ireland. Surely that would count toward the requirement of a second master’s degree in Irish history and fluency in Gaelic.

Film Archives Librarian in Hollywood! She loved movies. So what if she didn’t have a background in art history with a film focus?

Cruise Ship Librarian! Ahoy, maties. Beach reads only.

Prison Librarian, Cuba! She focused on the Cuba part and disregarded the prison part.

Nan never concerned herself about her qualifications for jobs before she applied for them. She could dream, couldn’t she? Other people played the lottery or spun the online dating roulette wheel; she applied for jobs.

She had to do something; she held the dubious distinction of treading water in her profession for twenty-five long years, still stuck on the entry-level librarian step on the civil service ladder in the Philadelphia public library system. People she’d graduated with from library school had risen over the years to become department heads, system managers, and directors. Not Nan. She disliked ambitious librarians clawing their way up. She had other priorities in life—so many women, so little time.

But now she was fifty years old, and what did she have to show for herself? A studio apartment so small she could lie on her lumpy futon, reach her arm out, and open the refrigerator door. A heart so bruised from disappointing love affairs that she was surprised it still worked to move blood around her body. A city full of reminders of the hopeful young Nan who had moved there to take her very first job after graduating from her Master of Library Science program. Her very first job that was still her only job; if it weren’t so pathetic, it would be laughable.

The geographic cure for what ailed her life—that was the ticket. She craved distance from this city full of her mistakes, a clean landscape to start over in.

She didn’t know why happiness was so hard for her to achieve. She felt that life rubbed her the wrong way, like when you put on an itchy sweater and you couldn’t wait to rip it off. It wasn’t depression; it wasn’t melancholy; it was something else, something missing. She had a starved beast-child inside her, living on whatever crumbs of attention and affection she could find in the world; she hated knowing that about herself.

She wanted to be happy at unexpected times, to feel that her life was amazing, to enjoy little things like watching squirrels go crazy running up and down the trees into their hidey-holes, chasing one another and bouncing from branch to branch like acrobats.

If she got to that level of happy, she’d be the first woman in her family to do so, which would be quite an achievement among the martyrs, worriers, and sad sacks she came from. Time was running out; she was impatient, demanding herself to do something, anything, right now.

Wait, this job posting was different: Town Librarian, Pinetree, New Jersey.

She had never seen an ad like that before. A slow excited burn started in her stomach. Or was that acid building up from her liver, overworked by too much cheap wine chugged down too fast? The potato chips and onion dip she had for dinner probably didn’t help either.

When Nan located Pinetree on a map of southern New Jersey, she saw a tiny dot surrounded by a national forest reserve. The details in the job posting were sparse, which was unusual, and the requirements were even more sparse—they asked only for an accredited Master of Library and Information Science degree, which Nan actually had. Although hers was an ancient, creaky version of the degree. She flinched at the listed salary, even less than the pitiful one she was making as Librarian I in the Philadelphia public library system. But that didn’t matter. She was playing her job roulette game. It was all in good fun.

She poured herself another wallop of wine and applied for the job. Hope felt like that third glass of wine on a rainy night, a little luxury to warm herself by.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Kathy Anderson is the author of the short story collection, Bull and Other Stories (Autumn House Press), which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards for Lesbian Fiction, Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, and Foreword INDIES Book of the Year in Short Stories. The New Town Librarian is her first novel. Kathy holds a Master of Library Science degree and worked as a librarian for over twenty-five years in small-town public libraries in southern New Jersey. Her home is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her wife, who is her exact opposite in every way and therefore her perfect match.

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Book Blitz: Perishable by J Hali Steele (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title: Perishable

Series: Sanguine Blood Seekers 4

Author: J Hali Steele

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: January 27

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 79 pages

Genre: Erotica, Action Adventure, BDSM, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, Age Gap (Older Man), Dark Desire, Gay, Vampires, Voyeurism and Exhibitionism


Snatched from his single mother by the wealthy family of the man he’s forced to call father, Rafe Gorman soon learns the greedy bastard has no desire to raise a child, which leaves Rafe bearing the brunt of his scorn. As soon as he comes of age to receive his trust, Rafe flaunts his disdain for his father’s regard by opening New Leaf, a gay club. It’s in New Leaf Rafe meets a being who haunts him day and night.

A vampire from the 17th century, Christopher Wren’s seen enough evil perpetrated by human men to last many lifetimes. Born a bastard below stairs, he’s witnessing nobility take what they fancied without a care — that made him a monster, not being turned. Now Wren makes sure those who flaunt such character pay for their misdeeds. Their day of reckoning is never without pain. Then he meets Rafe, and Wren swears no one will ever hurt his lover again.

Rafe vows to give Wren nothing of himself. Instead he finds he must give the vampire everything — including his life!


All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2023 J. Hali Steele

Nodding was the best way to handle this conversation. Christopher Wren had learned enough to know when Sten Majkovic, the vampire king, had a bug up his ass you waited until he quit speaking. Pretending composure he didn’t feel, he listened. When Sten finished, Christopher spoke. “Maybe he’s antsy being in one place too long.”

“Who knows what fantastical information he laps from the minds of those he invades. After killing a dealer he disliked for selling close to a school, the crazy ass sat in my office and lit a joint. Can you believe that?” Sitting at the counter in Christopher’s kitchen, Sten used his finger to draw circles in the condensation puddled beneath his beer bottle. “Liam needs to be more responsible, Wren.”

They’d all taken to calling him Wren. Christopher often thought of himself that way now. “Good luck. He’ll require a babysitter.”

“And I have the perfect person in mind.” Sten eyeballed him.

No. Fucking. Way.”

“Joshua is the only other vampire who can keep Liam from going off the deep end, but he and Mace are tied up on the west coast, and Kam’s away on some island with Matthias. There is no one else.”

“Come on, Sten. I’ve got enough on my plate. Let Drew do something aside from decorate.” He had done a nice job inside Christopher’s house. Looked like a showplace now, but still homey enough to enjoy and relax in. “Goddamn it, Drew’s always stuck up under your ass.”

Sten’s gaze narrowed. “Your barkeep has made you blasphemous.”

Time skidded to a halt and Christopher found himself propelled across the room along with the chair he occupied. “What the fuck was that for?” Picking himself up, Wren sent the broken chair up in flames and scattered the ashes, glaring at his king. “This isn’t about Rafe. It’s about…” Shit. He’d best not say the real issue was that Drew was becoming way too powerful. The king’s lover skirted being out of control.

“Because he’s befriended your mate?” Sten stood. “What is it with you guys not wanting your lovers to associate with each other? Afraid they’ll want to do more than watch you get it on or something?”

The or something had Christopher’s lips curving. He imagined smacking Drew or Mace’s ass. Could get deadly, as neither man showed predilection for sexual behavior involving spanking or restraints. Christopher got off on that idea. A handprint on his lover’s buttocks excited the hell out of him. A man struggling against ties because he wished to use his hands on a partner made Wren’s cock hard every time. His mind went off on a tangent as he pictured Rafe tied to his headboard, his cute little ass spread eagle, face down and begging for penetration, his butt cheeks pumping up and down on the mattress.

“For fuck’s sake. Now I must find Drew.”

Laughing, Christopher said, “You’re thinking about it.”

“Liam’s yours. Just keep an eye on him, Christopher, until I can find something to occupy his rowdy ass.” The vampire king was the only one who could dematerialize without leaving a visible trail of light or frost. Hell, the bastard could creep up on any vamp. He never radiated cold unless he chose to.

“Bollocks.” Sitting on a bar stool, Wren manufactured a beer. He had a growing affection for the local lager.

Sten’s voice leached into Christopher’s psyche. Keep calm and carry on.

“Bastard.” Christopher had been born and raised in England. The statement evoked memories of World War II, a time of great human suffering and death for European nations. Christopher had decided to try soldiering. Lieutenant colonel of a large battalion, he was idolized by his men for fair-mindedness, peacekeeping and, when all else failed, ferocity on the battlefield. The aftermath of his cruelty went unreported due to his capability to control hundreds of minds at once — a skill which had placed him on a collision course with the vampire king. That and Christopher exhibiting the adoration of too many troops with his dick. His charges tended to trail him around the country mindlessly causing disturbances with blatant and uncontrolled orgies, which Wren sometimes failed to extinguish before moving on.

He truly wanted to lavish Rafe Gorman, proprietor of New Leaf, with his cock. The man had been stand-offish on each of Christopher’s visits since the incident months ago with his maker’s relative, Soris — an ancient pharaoh and vampire who, along with his followers, attempted to harm Matthias. That incident had sent Kam, who carried some of the wayward pharaoh’s familial blood, into an uncontrollable rage. During the fallout, Rafe had been incarcerated with Drew and Mace for his own safety. That’s when Rafe had become aware vampires existed, and that he had spent the evening in a nest of undead monsters.

Liam, for the most part, managed to control the newly turned creatures Soris had left behind to care for his homeland but Christopher wasn’t happy having a handful migrate to the area. Philadelphia was large but the young vamps moved to western suburbia where Christopher resided in a house near others Sten favored. The king maintained an enclave in Exton, Pennsylvania, where the deadliest immortals roaming earth had set up homes for themselves.

Kam had hit the nail on the head when he said Wren didn’t like vamps of Soris’ ilk hanging out at New Leaf. He’d caught one or two eyeing Rafe. That behavior was going to get someone’s heart ripped out. Christopher had helped himself to their youthful lifeforce to make sure they stayed away from what belonged to him. Getting new undead to understand about mates and boundaries was no easy task. To them, anything on two legs showing one iota of interest was fair game. Didn’t surprise Wren, really, considering Soris’ repugnant lifeforce continued to run through their veins.

Then there was Liam. The biggest manwhore strolling the face of the earth. “You guys are jealous I don’t have a mate to contend with.”

Talk about the devil


Changeling Press LLC | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Meet the Author

J. Hali Steele wishes she could grow fur, wings, or fangs, so she can stay warm, fly, or just plain bite the crap out of… Well, she can’t do those things but she wishes she could!

J. Hali’s a multi-published and Amazon bestselling author of Romance in Paranormal, Fantasy, and Contemporary worlds which include ReligErotica and LGBTQ stories where humans, vampyres, shapeshifters and angels collide — they collide a lot! When J. Hali’s not writing or reading, she can be found snuggled in front of the TV with a cat in her lap and a cup of coffee.

Growl and roar — it’s okay to let the beast out. — J. Hali Steele

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New Release Blitz ~ The Montgomery Arrangement by Lori Fayre (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Montgomery Arrangement by Lori Fayre

Book 3 in the Unexpected Mergers series

Word Count: 50,086
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 190



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Book Description

Summer fling or something more?

Paige Montgomery had never given the future much thought until the opportunity of a lifetime falls into her lap. Confronted with a life-changing path, she decides that a vacation to Miami with her best friends, the Alexanders, will clear her head. However, Bryce Alexander has other ideas.

Bryce proposes an arrangement, something casual and mutually beneficial to help them both relax while they’re away from it all. There are only two conditions—no one can know and absolutely no emotions can be involved. Though he’s seven years younger, Paige thinks there could be merit in his suggestion.

Paige can’t escape the reality of where her life is headed or her long-time friend, Levi, who has his sights set on her. But what do they really mean to each other? And does Bryce mean more? While Bryce tries his hardest to escape the spotlight and his new reputation, Paige has to wrestle with the idea that she could just be a distraction to him. With a years-long friendship on the line, will they take a chance on love?


July 9

When Paige was working on a painting, time didn’t exist. By the time a piece of art was done, she could hardly remember doing it. The feeling was there, and it was easy to look at one stroke of color and say, “Oh, yeah, I was feeling very sad when I laid that down.” But she couldn’t tell you exactly when it had happened or why. So, when Bryce Alexander assured her that the pieces she’d donated to him were a big hit, she’d had a hard time believing him. Honestly, she couldn’t remember which ones she’d picked from storage to send him.

“I’m not kidding,” Bryce said through the speaker against her ear. “You outsold everyone else here.”

“You know me,” she said, trying her best to play it off. She fiddled with a strand of long blonde hair that had fallen out of her updo. “I’m always happy to help. I’m just glad they went to a good cause.”

“You could say that,” he said. “I’ve been invited to an afterparty—and I don’t mean to brag, but I think some of those girls are really into me.”

Paige rolled her eyes. “Not exactly how I wanted my art to change lives.” Leave it to Bryce to turn a charity event into a prime opportunity to pick up women.

From what he’d told her, Bryce hadn’t wanted to go to the event in the first place. Carlton Alexander, wielding his fatherly authority all the way from Greece, had ordered it. Bryce had been getting into trouble lately—and not the kind that was easy to ignore. Over the past couple of years, the Alexanders had become celebrities. Maybe it was because the behind-the-scenes story of Jade and Spencer’s dramatic engagement period had gotten out, but it had skyrocketed business and put the family under a new kind of spotlight.

“Aren’t you supposed to be cutting back on the partying?” Paige asked, attempting to keep her tone neutral. It wasn’t her place to meddle in Bryce’s affairs, even if he was her friend.

“Daddy dearest isn’t here to enforce that rule,” Bryce argued. “Besides, these are art people. Charity art people, to be exact. How wild could the afterparty get?”

As one of those ‘art people’, Paige knew how wild they could be. Not that he’d listen to her if she warned him… It would only encourage him more. Releasing a sigh, Paige simply said, “Just promise me you’ll behave, okay? And don’t drink too much.”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.” His voice became quiet as he moved the phone away from his face, and she knew that some girl in a flashy dress had probably distracted him. “You know, you could always come with me. I can drop by and pick you up.”

“That sounds amazing, actually.” She leaned against the wall, wishing she could tell him yes. “Maybe some other time, though. I have my showing tonight, and I’ll have to be here at least another two hours.”

“All right,” Bryce said, and she almost thought she could hear disappointment in his voice. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”

“Talk to you later, Bryce.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Paige,” he echoed her words softly.

There was silence before he hung up the phone. Paige sighed again. A night out with Bryce was always a good time, but she had responsibilities. He’d graduated from college only a couple of months earlier, and ever since he’d been free, he’d been an entirely new person. Paige could pick out the signs, the small changes over time, but it was a stark contrast to the Bryce she’d met nearly four years ago. She didn’t mind, but he could get carried away very easily.

Paige slipped her phone into the small handbag around her wrist. The night was not about Bryce. It was about her obligations. She’d tucked herself into a corner of the gallery, near an emergency exit, to take his phone call. Behind her, the sounds of the showing could still be heard—the laughter, the clinking of glasses, the music and the critical whispers as people judged the art they had paid a high price to view. It was the kind of thing she dreamed of, but something wasn’t right.

Paige didn’t feel like herself. Her sleeveless evening gown was expensive, its flowing marbled skirts and cinched waist very stylish without being too eye-catching and flattered her slim figure. Unlike the other artists being featured at Gould’s Gallery, she didn’t want to stand out. They were all either dressed down for the night or wearing the strangest outfits that had to be impossibly uncomfortable. Normally, Paige would have done the same. Something had changed.

Paige turned her attention to the piece hanging on the gallery’s white wall in front of her. It didn’t feel like hers. It didn’t look like hers from afar. But, when she squinted, she recognized every brushstroke. It was one of her abstract paintings—a large canvas covered with varying strokes of paint, all a myriad of colors blocked off by bold black lines. Each day she would approach the canvas with a new mood, new thoughts and ideas, and paint. As she worked, she would take in the previous day’s progress and try to fix it. In the end, it hadn’t turned out the way she’d wanted, but she had been well over her deadline, and it would have to do.

“It’s beautiful work.” Levi Gould materialized beside her. “Though, I don’t think you were entirely happy making it.”

“I’m not entirely happy standing in front of it,” Paige shot back. She smiled, playing it off as humor, but there was mostly truth to it. She had to search hard to find pieces of herself in the paint, and it was a skewed image, blurry like a fogged mirror.

“Are you saying you’d be willing to part with it?”

Paige turned to look at him. Levi was classically handsome with his dark brown skin, neatly trimmed beard and long, thin braids. Like some of the other artists, he was dressed informally, in a T-shirt and blazer, a layered scarf, and white cargo pants with combat boots. His hair was covered with a black fedora, completing his monochromatic ensemble.

They had been friends since college, where they’d taken many of the same classes, but when the time came to choose a career, Paige had stuck with painting while Levi had opened his own gallery. It hadn’t taken long for Gould’s to become the exclusive art hub in New York City, one that all the up-and-coming artists had to be a part of.

Levi quirked an eyebrow at her, his dark brown eyes expectant. Paige realized that she hadn’t spoken for several moments, only stared at Levi.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” she asked.

“Do you want to keep your painting or not?” Levi asked with a smile.

“I’m clearly not married to it,” she said with a shrug. “You can keep it.”

“I’m flattered that you’d offer, but that’s not what I had in mind. You might not be happy with your stunning work, but a patron is.” He slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Mr. Talles has made a substantial offer, and I would like to graciously accept on your behalf.”

“Hold on. I thought this was just a showing,” Paige said, butterflies fluttering in her stomach.

“It is, darling, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn down an influential collector when he offers my friend five figures. Of course, I would get a ten percent commission since it’s my gallery.” He laughed. “You’re doing pretty well for yourself, aren’t you? I think this is the second work of yours that he’s bought.”

Paige could only nod, still struggling to wrap her head around the five figures part. Between this sale and the success of the charity auction, Paige felt a bit of her old confidence creeping back in.

“Is that a yes?” Levi asked. “Because he would like to take it home tonight.”

“He can have it,” Paige said, finally shaking herself from her fog. Levi turned away to speak to an assistant, ushering him away once he was done. Paige watched all of it from the corner of her eye, dividing her concentration between the two men and the painting and wondering why anyone would offer so much for it.

“For someone leaving with a considerable check tonight,” Levi whispered conspiratorially upon his return to her side, “you don’t seem overly thrilled. What is it that has you in such a glum mood?”

Paige smiled at him. “I’m over the moon. I am,” she added. “I’m slow at getting used to all this. I mean, I’m used to showings and people buying my stuff, but this is your gallery. This is Gould’s. And it’s my first time being here during a showing, so forgive me if I seem a little distant.”

“I’m nothing special, Paige Montgomery.” He nudged her shoulder with his. “You know me better than that.”

“You’re special to me.” Paige nodded to one of the women holding a glass of champagne and narrowing her eyes at a neighboring piece. “And you’re special to the critics.”

“I want to show you something,” he said, taking her hand. Paige didn’t argue, but she glanced around to see if anyone would notice them leaving together. The only person who spared them a look was the assistant placing a ‘Sold’ placard underneath her painting.

The upstairs of the gallery was roped off for the night. Not even the artists were allowed up until the next morning. Levi had converted the old loft of the building into an art studio where, for a hefty fee, artists could claim a five-by-five or ten-by-ten-foot square to work on their craft. Along with the space, they were also guaranteed exposure on the walls of the gallery once a month. It was a daring business venture, but it seemed to be doing well. A spot at Gould’s studio had a waiting list a mile long.

Levi lifted the black velvet rope that led to the stairwell, allowing them to duck underneath. The stairs were narrow, and there was no door at the landing. When Levi flipped on the fluorescent lights, Paige let out a gasp. She had toured the place, but that had been when it’d been staged for visitors. She knew how chaotic artists’ spaces could be, since she had to set one up wherever she was staying.

The loft seemed smaller than it had before, what with all the clutter scattered around. Half-painted canvases were propped on easels and along the wall. Wheeled carts jutted into the aisle marked off with duct tape, signifying whose space belonged to whom. The wood floors were stained with paint and streaks of charcoal. The open space was broken up with the occasional industrial column, but those were splattered with paint as well. It was a lived-in space with a view that most renters would kill for. Despite the chaos around her, Paige had never felt more at home in a new place before.

“We keep our kiln and sculpting equipment in the basement,” Levi told her as he led her farther in. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a sculptor rent a spot in here, though.” He took her to the tall windows in the back of the room, where the building opened up to the city. Since they were on the Lower East Side, Paige could see straight to the ocean and the Statue of Liberty.

“This is so different from what I remember,” Paige finally said. “And it’s not at all how it looks in the magazines.”

“Are you overwhelmed or disappointed?” Levi stepped up to the window, his tall silhouette set against the lights of the city.

“Neither,” she told him. “But I can certainly see why people are fighting for a spot here. I can feel the creative energy.”

“You should see it when we’re full,” Levi said. “It’s loud and messy, but it’s the best place to get work done. Though, we do argue about the music from time to time.” He motioned for her to join him, and she took slow steps to his side. There was something about him that night, something about the look in his eyes and the way that he spoke. If Paige didn’t know any better, she might think he was coming on to her.

“I’d like to see it one day,” she said. “I’ve thought about putting my name on the list, but I don’t know if I’ll be here when a spot opens up. I don’t know where I’ll go next, but I’ve been in New York too long. I’m starting to feel restless.”

“What if you could skip the wait?” he asked. “What if someone were to jump you to the front of the line? Do you think that would be worth sticking around for?”

Paige crossed her arms, focusing on the torch in Lady Liberty’s hand. “What did you have in mind?”

“One of my artists is going overseas.” He said it so casually, as though he weren’t trying to offer her a coveted spot at Gould’s that could skyrocket her career even farther. “There will be an open easel here if you want it.”

Paige turned to him with wide eyes. “I don’t think that would be fair to everyone else.”

“Being the owner comes with perks, love,” he told her. “And I know a good investment when I see one.”

Heat rushed to Paige’s face as she got the distinct impression that he wasn’t talking about her art anymore. “It’s a tempting offer,” she started, “but, I’ve been in a creative slump lately, and I don’t know if I could make anything worth being on display.” She chewed on her thumbnail as she thought. “The one down there must have been a fluke. I don’t want to take the spot and not produce anything,”

“It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks that it’s good enough,” Levi said, taking her free hand. Paige could do nothing but watch him as he pulled her closer. “It’s the curator’s discretion to show what he thinks is worth it. And you’re talking to a curator who sees beauty in all that you do, Paige.” He surprised her then by raising her hand to his lips and kissing it softly.

So, she wasn’t imagining things. Over the past couple of years, what with Jade and Clint in their own separate honeymoon phases, Paige had been spending more time with Levi. And, sure, there had been flirtations, but they were always playful, silly and when they were around other people. It was never something she had taken seriously, but the look in his dark brown eyes warned her that it was time to start.

“Can I have some time to think about it?” she asked, her voice coming out breathless.

Levi smiled kindly at her. “Of course, you can,” he told her. “I wouldn’t expect you to have an answer for me as early as tonight. How about you get back to me within ten days?”

“Ten days?” Paige balked. “Is that all you can give me?”

He laughed, a low rumbling sound that came from deep in his chest. “I want this for you, Paige, but it’s the best I can do. Like you said, there are a lot of people vying for this spot, and it wouldn’t be fair to make them wait for long.”

Off the top of her head, Paige could think of several reasons to say no. If she worked for Levi Gould, there would always be interviews to attend, photo ops and PR to deal with. And while all of it was good for business, it wasn’t her style. Paige liked to travel and see new things. While she would revisit places, she rarely stayed for long.

“New York is beautiful, but I’m not sure if it’s the place for me.” Having to rent an apartment in the city and take a taxi to work every day… Paige was unsure about a lot, but she knew that anything resembling a nine-to-five wasn’t in her future. She smiled at Levi to reassure him. “I’ll think about it and let you know, okay?”

“Works for me.” He gave her hand a small squeeze and turned back to the window.

Paige took a deep breath. She had ten days to decide if she was going to take a dream job and relocate her entire life to New York. The thing was, she wasn’t sure if it was her dream—or if it was just what she thought she wanted.

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About the Author

Lori Fayre

Lori Fayre was born and raised in a small South Georgia town. An obsessive consumer of romance throughout all media, she knew that it was the only genre she could ever write. Love should always be full of passion and adventure, and Lori proves as much in her novels that span multiple genres and pairings. When she’s not writing love stories, she enjoys reading, sketching, and spending time with her husband and Yorkie.

You can find Lori at her website here, follow her on InstagramYouTube and TikTok.


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New Release Blitz ~ Sanctuary for a Surgeon by Jason Wrench (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Sanctuary for a Surgeon by Jason Wrench

Book 3 in the Up on the Farm series

Word Count: 74,845
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 284



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Book Description


Finding love in the sanctuary of nature and another man’s arms.

Darrin Betancourt is a trauma surgeon in his early thirties living in New York City. His world gets thrown upside down after his husband dies in a car accident. Can Darrin get his act together and learn to love again before his life spirals out of control? His friends convince him to attend an all-gay retreat outside Woodstock. Begrudgingly, Darrin agrees to spend a weekend in nature, out of the city.

Jordan Floyd is a twenty-four-year-old farmhand who works for Devereux Farms Upstate just outside Woodstock. Jordan gets permission from his bosses to attend Camp Namast-Gay at the Woodstock Esoteric Sanctuary.

Darrin and Jordan end up in adjacent cabins. Can the two men take their friendship to a whole new level before the weekend is over? Or will disaster strike, derailing both of their lives and their burgeoning love?

Reader advisory: This book contains public sex and voyeurism.


The last six-and-a-half months had been a living nightmare. There had been funeral arrangements and memorial services to organize and attend. Then there had been the months of pitying stares. I had become a recluse. I hadn’t wanted to deal with friends and coworkers. I had gone to work then gone home. When I ran out of excuses to avoid their offers, I had occasional meals with them. My life had shattered. Richard had recommended therapy on more than one occasion because I was clearly depressed. Of course I was depressed. The man I loved had died.

Chance had been one of three people who had been directly in the vehicle’s path when it had run through the crowd. After the NYPD investigation, it was ruled an accident. The car’s tire had blown after hitting a metal object in the street, which had caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle. She had tried to regain it but couldn’t. I heard through the grapevine that she was now being treated at an inpatient psychiatric facility upstate after she had attempted suicide. The woman hadn’t been ready for the media scrutiny and the accident’s fallout in her life. Part of me was glad she’d had a mental breakdown, but that was the evil, vindictive side. Another part was sorry for her. As horrible as it was, accidents happened. I saw accidents every day. Some were preventable. Some were not.

I had agreed to another Sunday brunch with Bryce and Richard. I hadn’t wanted to go, but I found myself at their door with a bottle of wine. I plastered on my best fake smile and knocked.

“Just a second,” Richard’s voice rang from the other side. A few seconds later, the door opened. “Darrin, we’re so glad you could make it. Brunch is almost ready.” He ushered me inside the townhouse as he kept talking. “We’re having a quiche I whipped up from scratch. It has a smattering of vegetables with sausage and bacon. I also threw together a mixed green salad and a raspberry tart for dessert.” I handed him the bottle of wine. Richard inspected it and nodded before saying, “Good choice.”

Bryce came from the backroom. “How are you doing?” he asked me.

“I’m doing…” I left the phrase hanging in the air.

“Well,” Bryce said without acknowledging the ambiguity of my statement, “at least you’re up and moving around.”

I forced a smile and followed Bryce and Richard into the small dining room. The table was set for three. As usual, Richard had set an immaculate table that would make Emily Post jealous. Bryce motioned to a chair, and I took a seat as Richard left.

“So, how are things in your world?” I asked, breaking the silence.

“Richard and I are doing well. We’ve been looking into surrogacy again. I think Richard’s biological clock is ticking. He wants a baby.”

“I heard that,” Richard’s voice echoed from the kitchen next to the dining room. Richard walked in with the salad and placed it in the middle of the table. “And don’t let this one fool you,” he said, sticking his thumb in Bryce’s direction. “He wants to be a doting father as much as I do. We have a lot of love to give a little one.”

“Why not adopt?” I asked.

“We talked about that,” Bryce acknowledged, “but ultimately we want to have a little baby. We have thought about having one through surrogacy, then adopting her or him a little brother or sister.”

“Two kids?” I asked.

“Don’t be so shocked,” Richard said, returning to the dining room with the quiche. “I’m doing more and more of my work from home. After the pandemic, the firm has embraced remote work, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

Richard set about serving up the quiche. We spent the next hour talking about a range of topics deemed ‘safe’ by the group.

After an appropriate amount of time once we’d all eaten, I looked at Bryce and Richard and said, “Well, I need to get to the gym before taking a nap. I’m working the ten-to-ten shift tonight.”

“Let me put together a to-go box for you,” Richard said. “I worry that you’re not getting enough home-cooked food.”

Sadly, he was right. Most nights I grabbed takeout or heated something from a box in the microwave. “Thanks,” I said. “It would be much appreciated. You can only eat takeout Chinese so many days in a row.”

When Richard left the dining room, Bryce turned and stared at me. For the first time that day, he put on his serious face.

“I’m worried about you,” Bryce said. “I know it’s only been six months, but you’ve almost completely shut down.”

“I’m still grieving. Is there an appropriate amount of time one should grieve?”

“No, there’s not,” Bryce said hesitantly. “But I worry that you’re not making progress toward getting healthy. Have you reconsidered Richard’s suggestion about therapy?”

“I don’t need a shrink… I need time.” I blinked back tears that had started to swell in my eyes. “I need him back.” I was amazed when the words came out of my mouth.

“I know. We all miss him,” Bryce said. He looked at me for a second, and I could tell he was trying to plan what to say next. “I don’t know how I would react if Richard died, so I won’t presume to tell you how you’re supposed to behave. I won’t. But I will say I’m worried.”

“Thanks…” He meant well. Part of me wanted to come back with a snarky comment, but I held my tongue. “Each day is a little better,” I lied.

“Here’s your to-go box,” Richard said, breezing back into the dining room. He took one look at the serious faces in the room. “Did I miss something?”

“Not at all,” I said, using the break in the conversation to my advantage. “Thank you for an amazing meal and lovely company, but I must get to the gym.”

Bryce looked like he wanted to say something, but he kept his words to himself, which suited me just fine. I said goodbyes and hugged both men before going home to change and head off to the gym.

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About the Author

Jason Wrench

Jason Wrench is a professor in the Department of Communication at SUNY New Paltz and has authored/edited 15+ books and over 35 academic research articles. He is also an avid reader and regularly reviews books for publishers in a wide number of genres. This book marks his first full-length work of fiction.

Find out more about Jason at his website.


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New Release Blitz: Off the Record by Kelly rand (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Off the Record

Author: Kelly Rand

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/24/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 62100

Genre: Contemporary, Canada, journalist, film director/actor, artists, famous people, power imbalance, coming out, slow burn, age difference, over-40, politics, family issues

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Freelance journalist David Cronkwright needs to finish a magazine article to avoid being evicted from his apartment. The subject is Nic Leduc, a younger, queer filmmaker on track to win an Oscar. But when David gets to Montreal, Nic refuses to be interviewed.

Instead, Nic drags David all over the city—to his stylist, to a karaoke night, to a hiking trail on a mountain. Nic takes him to a party where David realizes how lonely Nic’s success has made him, that perhaps, what they both need is to learn to trust each other.


Off the Record
Kelly Rand © 2023
All Rights Reserved

David was sitting in Zaphod’s Restaurant, waiting for his Big Breakfast of three eggs, three pieces of bacon, and the best home fries he’d had in his forty-four years. That was when his cellphone rang.

Ivy sat across from him, telling a story about a client who wanted a photo shoot with a leopard-print background, while wearing that same leopard print, and she’d had to perfectly align the two to fit the creative brief. Her mouth hung open midword, and David glanced at his phone.

It was a Montreal number, so it had to be Nicolas Leduc.

“Sorry,” he said. “I have to take this.” Then, into the phone, “Hello?”

“Yeah, is this David?” The voice on the other end didn’t sound French at all, more like a midrange California accent.

“Yeah. Is this Nic?”

“Listen, I’m having second thoughts.”

David’s heart sputtered. His eyes must have widened because Ivy leaned closer, making a circle with her hand like she needed more information. GQ had hired him to write an article about Nicolas Leduc, a twenty-six-year-old Québécois director who everyone expected to be nominated for an Academy Award. The Canadian committee still had to choose his film as the country’s foreign language entry, but Leduc had won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, so it seemed like a formality. David had a last-call notice from his landlord on his table back home, the result of a freelancing dry spell, and the GQ article was the only income standing between himself and eviction.

“Why?” he said. “It’ll be fine. I’m heading out there today.”

“I’m just not that into doing interviews right now, that’s all.”

David stammered and found his words. “But it’s great publicity. It’s exactly what you need leading up to the awards. It’s a major magazine.”

“I know.”

Leduc went silent on the other end, and David imagined a clock ticking. This was the second conversation he’d ever had with Leduc outside of email. The first was when he got his hands on a press pack for Leduc’s latest film, Elle, and called the number. Instead of getting a public relations person, he got Leduc’s personal cell. Leduc had been riding north in the passenger seat of a convertible at the time. Through the howl of the wind, he’d agreed to an interview scheduled for some time next month. Now, that interview was tomorrow.

“We’ll go at your pace,” David said. “Whatever you want to talk about, we’ll talk about. It’ll be great. I promise.”

During the next pause, the server brought their breakfast, and David smiled and waved his hand before she walked away. “It’ll be great,” he repeated.

“Okay. But I don’t want to meet at my place. I want to meet at my favorite restaurant. It’s called Les Crêpes, near Mount Royal. You can google it, right?”

“Yeah, yeah, I can google it.” David searched his pocket for a pen but didn’t have one, so he repeated it. “Les Crêpes. Same time?”

“One p.m. See you then.” And with that, Leduc hung up.

David exhaled. “Jesus. I thought he was going to cancel.”

Ivy smirked, tapping some salt onto her home fries. “He’s difficult. Terry says he is.”

Terry was Ivy’s new husband, a camera operator who worked on Canadian movies and TV shows. His last job had been on a Sarah Polley film. Ivy’s first husband had been David.

“He’s flighty, I guess,” she continued. “He’s demanding, and he changes his mind a lot.”

“Well, he can’t change his mind about the fucking article.” David stabbed his eggs and put a forkful in his mouth. He was thankful Ivy still did breakfasts with him. Terry came sometimes, too, and sat, quiet and polite, as they talked about their families or the days when they’d worked in the same Toronto Sun newsroom. When David first made eye contact with Terry in one of Zaphod’s emerald-green booths, he’d watched him for some sign of jealousy.

Terry had just smiled and asked questions like Who will be in your next article? Ivy had told him that David was gay. She’d never specified, but it was inevitable. David had told Ivy himself in the last year of their marriage as they’d sat on a bench in a park near the Danforth.

I’ve never dated a guy. I’ve never kissed a guy. But I’m forty-four. I know.

“Leduc will be an interesting article,” David said. “Have you seen any of his films?”

“Oh, yeah. His films are great. Which ones have you seen?”

“All of them. Research. I’d seen a couple already. I think, The Key to Infinity.”

“Everyone’s seen that one.”

Leduc had seven films so far, starting with the one he made when he was seventeen that premiered at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. He’d released them at a nearly annual clip ever since—cascading dominoes of stories about a young gymnast who was transgender; dueling mothers wanting to take control of a child; a mathematical prodigy who holed himself away, à la the Unabomber, and established a romantic relationship with the kindergarten teacher living next door. Each film included a colorful montage that made audiences wipe away tears.

David had seen Elle in a tiny art house theater at Yonge and Eglinton, sitting in the back with his long legs stretched out, looking over fifteen heads in front of him. When the gymnast, Persephone, broke down in a hospital hallway, collapsing from emotional exhaustion, he’d folded and unfolded the napkin in his hand, tightening his jaw to prevent tears. When the lights came on, he’d wished Greg was there.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Kelly Rand is the author of Off the Record and several LGBTQ romance novellas. Originally from Norfolk County, she’s now a journalist in the Toronto area. Her previous jobs include farmworker, wedding photographer, and cashier at KFC. Kelly has been published in various anthologies and literary magazines and can be found at

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New Release Blitz: Gods of Inthya by Effie Calvin (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Gods of Inthya

Series: Tales of Inthya, Book 5.5

Author: Effie Calvin

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/17/2023

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 38600

Genre: Fantasy, anthology, Fantasy, gods, magic, romance, short stories

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At the beginning of time, the gods came together to create Inthya, a world where magic is common and hatred never had the opportunity to take root.

But the Inthyan gods are young and imperfect. With countless failures behind them and unspeakable horrors lurking outside the borders of creation, they must not allow this world to meet the same fate as the last—without alerting their mortal worshippers that anything is wrong.

Nineteen short stories from the perspectives of the gods themselves, some humorous, some horrifying, and all united by a theme of protecting the mortals who love them unconditionally.


Gods of Inthya
Effie Calvin © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Inthi, God of Creation and First of the Ten, does not generally manifest in cities. This is somewhat paradoxical, considering most new ideas come from places where mortals gather in large numbers. But Inthi is a quiet, thoughtful sort of god and has trouble focusing when surrounded by too much noise and commotion. Even when they are called to a mortal’s private workshop, away from shouting vendors and screaming children, they cannot block out the soft but persistent hum of countless souls going about their daily business outside, each mind a bright beacon of wants and worries and dreams.

But today, unfortunately, they must make an exception.

Inthi is intimately familiar with their own Great Temple in Birsgen, and the enormous district surrounding it. Some call it the Flame District, but others simply call it Inthi’s District. Most large cities have one, a place where smiths and artisans and inventors come together to work and exchange ideas.

As Inthi approaches their temple, they hear mortal voices raised in argument. Standing on the steps are two people—a neutroi that Inthi recognizes as their own archpriest here in Ieflaria, and a priestess of Eran dressed in silver robes. The priestess is the source of most of the noise, waving her clenched fist in the archpriest’s face.

Inthi’s archpriest, however, is unimpressed. They wave a hand dismissively and say, “Your concerns are unwarranted.”

The priestess’s cheeks redden. From the rage that emanates from her mind, Inthi can tell reason has failed and now she is about to start cursing. Inthi walks up behind her and rests a reassuring hand on the prophet-priestess’s shoulder. “It’s all right,” they say. “I will handle it.”

Eran’s priestess looks at Inthi with wide, disbelieving eyes. She takes a step back, too dumbfounded to speak. Inthi’s own archpriest has not recognized them, but she has. With more effort, they can disguise themselves completely, but Inthi is not inclined to do so today.

“I appreciate your efforts,” they add. Only rarely do Eran’s priests take an active role in events. Most adhere to the philosophy that attempting to alter the future is pointless at best and disastrous at worst. This priestess must have decided that no outcome is worse than what she’s already seen in her dreams. “Excuse me.”

Inthi walks past the bemused archpriest and enters the temple. Inside is warm from the heat of dozens of forges, and every stone is steeped in magic. Countless prayers have been uttered within these walls. Generations of priests and artisans have labored here. Even if the temple was disassembled and all the stones cast into the sea, it would take centuries for the magic to dissipate from the air.

After taking a few moments to admire the new bronze statues decorating the temple’s anteroom, Inthi takes a side door into a hallway. All around them, mortal minds buzz with ideas; mortal hands wrest iron and copper into new shapes. It is still early, but most of them have been awake for hours. Some have not slept at all.

Inthi could have manifested directly at the source of the problem, but there is time enough to enjoy being in the temple. They pass a few priests in orange robes, but most of the mortals are dressed practically, with heavy leather gloves and large aprons. Some carry boxes, or tools, or push carts filled with scrap metal to be melted down and turned into something useful. Inthi brushes each mind as they pass, appreciating every mortal’s unique focus.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Effie is definitely a human being with all her own skin, and not a robot. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and lives with her cat in the greater Philadelphia area.

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New Release Blitz ~ Painted Bare by Hayden West (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Painted Bare by Hayden West

Book 4 in the City of Fountains series

General Release Date: 17th February 2023

Word Count: 16,531
Book Length: NOVELLA
Pages: 78



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Book Description


The canvas never lies.

Anthony Henson doesn’t do people. He prefers to be left alone with his paint, brushes and canvas. A world that allows his mind to be at ease, without the struggle to do what is right by societal dictates. His quiet universe is sent spinning, however, when a string of recent thefts brings a tall Irish detective into his circle.

Detective Liam Rourke has a hard, firm policy on not intermingling work and pleasure. Until now, it’s not been an issue to uphold it. Enter one painter and all he wants to do is spend more time around him. The lines between professional and personal are blurred.

When everything settles, what will happen to the straight-laced detective and the man whose own messy life doesn’t matter to him?

Reader advisory: This book contains instances of bullying, as well as mention of homophobia, adultery, and family/domestic verbal/emotional abuse.


“There’s a Detective Rourke here to see you, Anthony.”

Anthony Henson sighed, instantly agitated, and spun on the stool, away from the current painting he worked on. With a flick of his wrist as he got to his feet, he covered it. No one would see it until the time was right.

“Thanks, Marshall.”

The words were the correct ones, even if the last thing he felt like he should be doing was entertaining another prick of a badge. Pressing the heel of his palm into his upper thigh, he sighed as he tried to work out the stiffness. When he finished on that side, he worked out the stiffness in his other leg. A sure sign he’d been immobile far too long without taking a break.

Supposedly this can be a good thing. I am getting up and moving around. This will serve as my break.

Truth was, he didn’t give a fuck if it was a good thing or not. He didn’t care. He had painting to do. The other things were naught but irritating intrusions of his time.

Marshall vanished without another word and in mere seconds, with his suit impeccable. While Anthony himself, on the other hand, looked like a day laborer. Paint staining his fingers, shirt, pants. Even his shoes.


Damnit. I forgot my shoes. Where did I leave them? In the back room? Beneath my stool?

There were two options. Go back and get them, assuming he could remember where he’d discarded them, or continue on like he was to this meeting.

It’s not like I called the cops to come out here. He’s interrupting my day. Why do I care if I’m wearing shoes? Why should I care? He may not even be a he. I suppose women can be detectives.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he should care. That would be the proper thing to do. Quite honestly, he didn’t give a fuck about social niceties. That’s what Marshall was for.

Pushing his hands into his pockets, he walked through the back of the studio to the front. Marshall pointed one finger off to his left and Anthony followed.

The man, and it was a man, stood before one of his favorite pieces. A scene in Italy, a seashore.

“Why are you here?”

Beside him, Marshall cleared his throat, softly. Anthony knew what it was, a reminder to be better behaved. Be polite. Sociable.

The man didn’t start, just slowly turned toward him, expression composed. Sharp green eyes lasered out from angular features. Deep red hair with a smattering of gray at the temples. The clothing was typical detective wear—a suit.

“Anthony Henson?”

His voice rolled from him like a slow-moving wave, not anything to knock you over but you sure as hell knew it had been there.

“That’s who you asked to see. Why else would I be standing here?”

Marshall stepped between them. “I’m sorry, Detective. Yes, this is Anthony Henson. Anthony, this is Detective Liam Rourke.”

There was a look in Marshall’s gaze. It took him a moment before it clicked. Marshall was reminding him not to be so short.

“How can I help you?”

It grated he had to ask that, but Marshall smiled at him and that made it worth it. Being able to make Marshall smile and relax was something Anthony enjoyed doing. He didn’t have a lot of friends. There were people, acquaintances who pretended to like him because of who he was and his wealth and of course his connections, or at least those they thought would help them. But he wasn’t stupid, no matter what those same people said behind his back. He knew they were trying to use him.

The bottom line was, he didn’t give a fuck about them. But Marshall…he was different. The man had been his friend since they’d first met. He’d taken beatings standing up for Anthony and never got offended when Andrew’s bluntness had things falling from his mouth that should have been withheld.

So, no matter how he didn’t want to do something, if Marshall asked him, he would do it. He hid a smirk and tried to give the visitor his attention. It wasn’t easy. This detective was handsome.

“I’m here with a couple of questions about burglaries that have been going on at some of the local galleries.”

Anthony watched and waited, bare toes curling on the cool floor. The eyes held him. That shade of green wasn’t something he’d seen before.

He wanted to paint it.

I want to paint him.

Detective Rourke gave a small nod and pulled out a flip steno pad. “Has there been any trouble here? Any people in here that may be casing the joint under the pretense of looking at the art?”

With any movement, Anthony waited. As did the detective. The man didn’t speak, just held his gaze.

He figured it was a tactic to get suspects to talk, but personally, he didn’t give a fuck. This man didn’t intimidate him.

Arouse him? Yes, for sure.


A hint of impatience laced the man’s tone, even though it was very faint.

“Are those your only questions?” Anthony blinked, once. “Or do you have others?”

The man flattened his lips and gave a slow nod.

“I couldn’t tell you. You would be better served speaking to Marshall.” He looked away from the detective with the intoxicating green eyes. “Marshall, come answer the detective’s questions. I have better things to do.”

Without another word, he turned and walked back toward his studio.

“Wait a minute.”

He paused outside the room and looked over his shoulder. The man strode toward him, brow furrowed.

“We’re not finished.”

Anthony narrowed his gaze. “You told me you had no more questions. I am not the best equipped to answer this, Marshall is.” He cocked his head to the side as a thought struck him. “Are you good at your job? Because you seem to be having a difficult time digesting what I told you.”

Marshall cleared his throat again.

Anthony shrugged. “What? It is a legitimate question.” He waved his hand in the direction of the sexy detective.

I do not need to think of him as sexy.

“He is having a difficult time grasping my statement.” He faced Liam. “Or did something change and you do have different questions for me?”

Liam Rourke wasn’t sure what to make of the man standing before him. He didn’t shy away from eye contact and seemed absolutely shocked Liam wanted to speak to him again. But the blue eyes holding his called to a deeper part of him. One he’d thought he’d closed down, after—

There was scruff on his face, making his jaw shadowed. Messy dark hair fell haphazardly around his features. He’d noticed a limp while Anthony had moved away from him.

Two blinks and the man he’d come to speak with walked away, leaving him there. Dumbfounded.

“I’m sorry, Detective Rourke. Anthony doesn’t mean to be rude. He just—”

“No need to explain.” He had a feeling he already knew. “Why did he tell me to speak to you?”

“Mr. Henson prefers to keep to the back, doing what he loves. Painting. He isn’t one who comes out to mingle with the patrons.” Marshall stepped back and smoothed a hand down his suit. “I handle all of that for him.”

“Okay, let me ask you.”

Liam talked to Marshall for another couple of minutes before closing up his notepad.

“I’ll be by if I have any more questions. If you do see anything, please let us know. We’re trying to stop this group before someone gets seriously hurt.”

“Will do, Detective.”

He gave him a nod and pivoted to the door. All he wanted to do was go in the back and engage with Anthony once more. He shook his head. It had been a while since he’d had a man affect him like Anthony had, despite the brief time they were together.

At the door to Arm’s Hall Gallery, he slowed, at war with himself about whether to go back and see Anthony once more. Exhaling sharply, he pushed through and stepped out into the hot summer afternoon.

Liam slid on his sunglasses and tipped his head up to the glaring sun. His mind drifted back to the paint-splattered man who hadn’t been the slightest bit impressed with having a detective there, trying to help.

He snorted. No, impressed was definitely not the word to use. Annoyed, irritated, bored. So many other ones he could choose.

There had been something sexy about seeing him there, barefoot and a bit messy, which had kicked his senses, reminding him how long it’d been since he’d had a lover. Eyes on his car, he walked toward it, mind focusing ahead to the next stop on his list for the day.

So far the four places that had been burglarized hadn’t had any injuries. In his gut, he figured it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out with regards to that. What he’d not been able to piece together yet was a connection in the art. Other than the obvious—it was art. Something told him it was deeper than how it appeared on the surface.

Not even old art, at least not all. It was like the thief or thieves weren’t after Rembrandts, probably because they were afraid they couldn’t unload them. And he didn’t get the allure of some of what he’d seen. Some of the pieces that had been stolen he personally wouldn’t wipe his ass with, but he’d never claimed to be an art critic.

Now this most recent studio, he didn’t mind what was up on those walls. Not images he would consider all abstract, for there was a definite eclectic taste to what adorned the walls.

Landscapes. People. Animals. Buildings. Flowers. You name it, Arm’s Hall probably had it, and most of what Liam had seen made sense to his mind.


Snapping his gaze up when his name was hollered, he lifted his chin in greeting to another detective, Larson, who had been at a different gallery.

Larson jogged across the street and put his hands on his hips. “Anything?”

He shook his head and pulled his notebook back out, flipping it open. “Nothing that was worth the time it took me to put it down.”

Arms crossed, Larson grunted. “Same. Although, if I wanted a painted picture of a bikini bottom, it could be mine for a measly ten grand.”

Liam choked. “I’m sorry?”

“Yeah, that’s what it was like at the last place I was at. I either make far too little or I went into the wrong business. I mean, I could paint some ladies’ drawers and would be happy to sell it for half their asking price. Christ, what the hell is the draw for something like that? I couldn’t ever put it up on my wall, not if I wanted my wife to refrain from slitting my throat at night.”

Liam laughed, knowing full well Regina, Larson’s wife, would do exactly that, and find a way to blame him for it. Woman was scary and a freaking amazing attorney. He held up his hands and shook his head.

“That’s all you, man. I’m not buying any portion of women’s clothing on a canvas. Much less for that kind of money. We have the same job. I know I don’t make that kind of money.”

“Let’s get back, see if we can’t find a lead somewhere.”

They fell into step and walked in companionable silence to the waiting sedan.

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About the Author

Hayden West

Hayden West lives in the Pacific Northwest, enjoys being outdoors, and hanging out with friends when not working on the next novella to be released.

Find Hayden at their website and blog.


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