Book Blitz: Ripple Effect by Alex Winters (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Ripple Effects

Series: The Deep End #3

Author: Alex Winters

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: June 21, 2024

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male/Female (Male/Male interaction)

Length: 109 pages

Genre: Bisexual, Multisexual, & Pansexual, Gay, Multiple Partners, New Adult

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Synopsis

Brady Sampson and Myer Joyner met in college, quickly bonding in their business classes and both landing gigs at nearby Global Initiatives in scenic Lost Lake, Tennessee. Combining their signing bonuses to invest in a rental house beside the lake together, the two take to being roommates the way they have every other challenge they’ve faced over the past two years — secretly pining for one another while never speaking a word about it.

That is, until their sexy new coworker, Carly Carmichael, produces an uncommonly sensual stirring in both men. When Brady invites their new neighbor over for a meet and greet, she takes him up on the offer on the one day he’s out. While she and Myer sip wine and get to know each other better, both let it slip that they have a crush on Brady, unleashing a series of events that threaten to topple everything they thought they knew about each other.

Excerpt

Ripple Effects (The Deep End 3)
Alex Winters
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Alex Winters

“White or red?”

Brady Sampson glanced over at his new roomie, Myer, holding up two wine bottles and wearing an almost face-splitting grin. He struggled to ignore the equally cataclysmic ripples of desire that rang through his body as he kept a placid look on his face.

“Which do you prefer?” Brady answered.

Myer glanced from bottle to bottle as if he’d never seen them before, giving Brady time to openly adore his big, veiny hands as he held each aloft. “I always drank beer before now.”

Brady chuckled, never less than amused by Myer’s vaguely off-kilter outlook on life. “So why don’t we grab some beer then?”

Myer wrinkled his nose, nostrils flaring under a spray of cheery soft freckles to go with his mop of strawberry blond stubble. “I dunno, this seems so grown up right now, you know?”

Brady steered his own shopping cart closer, inching into the liquor aisle to join his new roomie. “Beer is grown up,” he suggested, studying the labels next to the shelf where Myer lingered. “And cheaper, too.”

Myer gave him a “spoilsport” frown but set the bottles back just the same. “Dude, you’re not going to be one of those cheap-ass roomies who puts his food on one shelf and mine on the other and pro-rates the rent if I happen to steal a grape or two, are you?”

Brady chuckled. “No, of course not. I just don’t really feel like paying for stuff I’m not going to drink, you know?”

Myer considered this as if he’d never thought of it before. “Valid point, I suppose.” His big fingers did unspeakable things to Brady’s already lurid imagination as he moved down the aisle, touching several brands of champagne. “Bubbly then?”

Brady nodded, as if equally inspired. “That’ll work,” he agreed, taking one of the two bottles from Myer’s hand.

“Hey!” Myer’s youthful face — oh yeah, he was definitely getting carded, for sure — broke into a surprised grin. “I thought I was in charge of alcoholic beverages this time.”

“You are, but that doesn’t mean you’re paying for it all.”

Myer’s gaze quickly assessed the running total of Brady’s half-full shopping cart. “You’re paying for the steaks already, though.”

“Cuz they come in a two-pack. You want me to tear them in half and get the butcher to rewrap them?”

Myer frowned, looking effortlessly casual in a mustard-colored V-neck and striped blue Madras shorts, the clothing seeming to hang off his lean, rangy frame the same way his shirt and ties did at work every day. “Fair is fair, though.”

“Now who’s the cheap one? Huh, Myer?”

Myer glanced at his own cart, only slightly less full than Brady’s. They were facing each other in the liquor aisle, carts side by side, just two bros out shopping like any other two bros out shopping. And yet, to Brady at least, the seemingly humdrum errand had such an intimate feel to it he had to struggle to keep from sweating.

“I mean,” Myer teased, nudging Brady’s elbow with no idea of what that little tremor from his touch felt like racing through Brady’s body. “Have you seen the price of yogurt lately?”

Brady snorted, romantic reverie suddenly broken. “No, Myer, because I’m not a retired housewife on a diet.”

They chuckled together, drifting onto the next aisle and quibbling over potato chips and pretzels like an old married couple. Brady struggled to keep things light when all he wanted was to reach out and grab Myer’s hand and cling to it like they were an actual couple.

He swallowed the desire, as he had all his life, and played it cool instead. Said the right things. Glanced Myer’s way just long enough, but never too long. Walked just close enough to him as they argued over wheat bread versus rye, and never too close. Laughed just hard enough, smiled just wide enough, sending all the right signals like he always had.

He’d leapt at the chance to room with Myer when they both got transferred to the Tennessee branch of Global Initiatives after their internship at the corporate offices in Latham, Georgia. They’d hit it off as interns, sharing lunch breaks and chatting it up in the campus gym after weekend workouts. Brady thought it would be the perfect way to solidify their friendship, even if he knew they could never be more than that. He thought he could be strong, thought he could fight the temptation, thought it would be easy, like it had been back when they’d just shared a cubicle.

But now? Sharing a sprawling house out on secluded Lost Lake, shopping together, padding barefoot down the same halls in various stages of undress? Suddenly Brady wondered if he was strong enough to weather the ups and downs of living with someone who only wanted to be friends.

When obviously, achingly, frustratingly, Brady wanted to be so much more.

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Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz: Entwined by Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Entwined

Series: Darklight, Book Three

Author: Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/18/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Male/Male Menage

Length: 85100

Genre: Paranormal, MM romance, reunited with mother, menage sex scene, fae, witches, war, spiders, voyeurism, public sex, telepathy, psychic ability, psychologist, autism

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Description

After learning his mother is alive, Cameron, a telepath, travels across the country to find her, accompanied by Nathen, his neurodiverse vampire lover, and Syn, his best friend and sister of the heart. Once there, they find she is involved in a much larger war of her own and has been trying to keep him out of harm’s way for years.

In their quest to help her, they make enemies, of course, but they also find several new allies. And when they are swept up in fae politics and looming war, the result is an entire paradigm shift that will have far-reaching effects on all their lives forever.

Excerpt

Entwined
Sean Ian O’Meidhir / Connal Braginsky © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Cameron

Cameron lay flat across the warmed, humid tiles, the sweat seeping from his pores and trickling down his naked legs, arms, and sides. The steam room of the Silver Stream Gym, run by his best friend and roommate, Cindy “Syn” Rodriguez, had become his refuge in so many ways. He reminded himself to breathe deeply as the heat initially choked him, but soon the waves of warmth worked magic to soothe.

Cameron’s mind reeled from the “job offer,” from the idea his mother could possibly be alive, and from the evening; though one centering thought remained: Nathen. The curve of the muscles of his arms and chest, his short ebony curls, his gorgeous face with those brilliant blue eyes, and his mouth—that mouth had brought him so much pleasure. He wondered how he had ever existed before he met Nathen, how he ever enjoyed being with a normal human?

His once orgasmless life was dedicated to bringing his partner pleasure without focusing on his own. Now every time Nathen sank his fangs into him, Cameron’s release was immediate, explosive. Every kiss pulled him in and narrowed the ever-present intrusive world in Cameron’s mind.

The voices, thoughts, fears, expectations of hundreds of minds that sometimes threatened his own sanity all melted when Nathen kissed him. Being a telepath was a double-edged sword, allowing Cameron to stay ever vigilant to danger and to help others subtly, though it also acted like a loud radio of thoughts and emotions bombarding him at all times, day and night.

But with Nathen’s kiss and bite, everything evaporated, including Cameron’s own doubts and self-consciousness. His negative self-talk about not being good enough, worthless, a failure—all abolished when Nathen’s tongue rolled around his own. Cameron unconsciously ran his tongue over his lips with memories of kissing Nathen and took a deep, halting breath, sniffing back tears and feeling a little stronger.

His thoughts went to the night before when he escorted his friend Kat, a blood mage, from the hospital to the private ambulance her cousin Theo, a technomage, had arranged to pick her up. Cameron, Nathen, and Syn had hired a couple of hitmen to rescue Kat from a vampire who had abducted her for blood for a mysterious ritual.

Cameron had opened a telepathic link between them. “Kat…I need to know. Can I get addicted to Nathen?”

Kat had laughed lightly as she took Cameron’s hand. “His blood is not addictive, at least not physiologically so. You won’t develop a tolerance or craving for it. But you might develop a psychological reliance on it. The rush it gives? The way it enhances your abilities and senses? I only use vampire blood sparingly when I’m doing a ritual. But it won’t hurt you to use it more.”

Cameron had known he didn’t have much time as they reached the ambulance and he watched the paramedics help Kat up into the bus and make her comfortable. He had given a silent mental instruction for them to wait, which they followed, standing outside the ambulance talking, giving Kat and Cameron privacy.

“That was cool,” Kat communicated, grinning.

Oh. Thanks. I hope you don’t mind. I just don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff.”

“It’s okay,” she’d said and taken his hand again, squeezing affectionately even though they had only actually met in person for the first time less than an hour before. “There are other benefits, health benefits. It will slow your aging. I also doubt you will ever get sick as long as you use it,” she imparted, her smooth mocha brow furrowing with compassion.

I’ve known him only two weeks, and I love him,” Cameron admitted, wiping a tear with embarrassment. He chewed fretfully on his lower lip. Cameron rode the wave of a flash of surface thoughts as they tumbled through Kat’s mind. Memories. One of a ravishing woman of Asian descent, naked, luminescent in the moonlight. Her raven hair trailed down past the backs of her knees and caught on the breeze as she knelt beside Kat. The woman was smiling softly around her fangs when she kissed Kat, sending a familiar sensual rush before she cradled Kat’s head and very gently bit her neck. The other memory passed in an instant, of Kat and a very large and powerful-looking man. They were on the balcony of their home in Greece, the crashing waves below them, Kat dwarfed in the man’s arms wrapped around her as he playfully nibbled her neck. A jolt of arousal ran through him with his own memories of anticipation before Nathen bit him.

Kat smiled with the memories, unaware that Cameron had seen them too. “Then love him,” she had said simply. “We mages are very long-lived and when you’re ready, I will help you extend your life even further. So, there will be no need for the blood of others. But I suggest at least another fifty years or so before we embark on that. You’ll find you look the same as you do now for a very long time. And as painful as it might seem, you will find you two may grow apart. Or maybe not. Relationships mean something different to those of us who do not need to worry about time. But you both are still so young.”

Cameron thought about that for a moment, deciding to file the information away to ponder later. “But can I get addicted to the bite…to his kiss?” Cameron had asked, trying to stay neutral and keep his mind from projecting the fact he had seen two of Kat’s more intimate moments.

No.” She shook her head. “There’s nothing quite so good as the bite of a vampire. At least not that I’ve found. Think of it this way: Did you get addicted to masturbating when you were an adolescent?”

Cameron flushed scarlet, mentally stammered and looked away. His response to the unexpected question made Kat laugh. “The answer is no. But you enjoyed yourself, I’m sure. It’s a sensation, and a great one. But not something you need to worry about.”

“But how do I know I love him for him?”

“Ah, the difference between infatuation and true love? Time will tell, as with all relationships. Won’t it?”

*

Cameron stretched out in the steam room, lengthening his muscles and taking comfort from the sage wisdom of his friend. He reminded himself he had been in Nathen’s mind. A pure, kind mind devoid of malice or hatred. Nathen was not corrupted by the things Cameron knew or had seen…or had done. He hated that he had shown Nathen images like how he thought his mother had died, or the rapists and child molesters Cameron had slaughtered after he was sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend—an ex-boyfriend that Cameron had accidentally mentally suggested commit suicide. It was something that would forever haunt him. But Nathen had seemed to be able to compartmentalize the images, remove his initial disgust, and step away from emotions. Cameron didn’t know if it was Nathen’s autism that allowed him to sort so well. Being a psychologist, Cameron had learned to separate himself from the lives of his patients. But Nathen had stayed with him, something that still brought tears to Cameron’s eyes. How Nathen could stay with him knowing his secrets was beyond him, and something Cameron marveled at.

Cameron settled into the warmed tiles as droplets of water from the ceiling splashed around the small room. Alone despite it being morning, a busy time for the gym with people getting their exercise in before work, Cameron cheated and passively scanned for anyone interested in the steam room and mentally implanted disinterest so he could have it to himself. It was not a practice he often engaged in because he knew it wasn’t fair, but this morning…

Cameron replayed the conversation with HR over and over, as he had been doing throughout his workout. He knew they knew he was a mage. And he knew vampires hunted mages for their blood too. Cameron had come to the conclusion Impetus had not yet made a move against him because Nathen was his boyfriend. But HR had called and said his mother was alive!

This new piece of information, which he couldn’t even fathom, brought Cameron to the gym. Information so shocking, it had sent him into an emotional spiral, so he came to work out and get some clarity. Since the age of sixteen, when Cameron saw a monstrous arachnoid fae’s scythe-like arm skewering his mother, and he ran, escaping at her insistence, he had known his mother was dead. She had to be, right? He had seen her die…

The muscles of Cameron’s tense back and shoulders ached from the workout he endured. He had always hated going to the gym and exercise in general, but Nathen was chiseled perfection and he wanted to look good for him. The brutal workout had punished him physically, allowing him to turn off his thoughts for a moment. Cameron idly touched the colorful fractal tattoo over his heart, smiling at the memory of the night he and Nathen had declared love for each other and gotten them. He took another deep breath. Centered. Safe. Loved. Nathen… Throwing one arm over his eyes, Cameron frowned as his anatomy betrayed him, though covered with a towel, and he actively scanned to make sure no one would be coming into the steam room.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Sean Ian O’Meidhir is a psychologist who lives in San Francisco, California. Sean is a hedonist who believes in living for today, living every day to the fullest, and enjoying as much as possible. Sean has been gaming since adolescence and has written about and played hundreds of lives, reveling in the chance to take on new personalities, dramas, even disorders.

Connal Braginsky is a software engineer who lives in San Diego, California. Diagnosed with high functioning autism, Connal sometimes struggles in social situations, but has an inner world that is always incredibly rich. With an insatiable thirst for knowledge about many esoteric things, Connal brings a lot of personal philosophies and interests to writing.

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New Release Blitz: Witch in the Wind by Damian Serbu (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Witch in the Wind

Author: Damian Serbu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/11/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 87400

Genre: Fantasy, witches, pirates, Royal Navy, military, action/adventure, magic/magic users, religious extremism (Puritans)

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Description

A winter storm blows through Salem, Massachusetts, setting young witch Alexander MacBeth on a perilous path to adulthood as his dying mother gifts him an heirloom and pleads for him to use it to survive.

To do so, he will need to perfect his inherited witchcraft to protect himself from those who want him dead. In his journey to adulthood, he falls in love with dashing nobleman Crispin Nottingham. Abandoned by Crispin and pursued by the Puritans, he finds he must harness the wind to assist his escape and flee his homeland aboard a pirate ship led by the handsome captain, Henri the Twisted.

Struggling against distrustful pirates, an evil witch, and his continued longing for Crispin, Alexander sharpens his magical skills and falls into a romance with Henri. Chaos and danger confront him at every turn, even as he searches for love and belonging. A new sail on the horizon may signal hope or more danger than ever before—if Alexander can survive to meet his future.

Excerpt

Witch in the Wind
Damian Serbu © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Survival

December 1692

Salem, Massachusetts

Alexander hid in the loft of the old barn despite the bitter cold blowing between the boards and swirling around him. He had traipsed through the snow from the nearby house to his secret hiding place in the hay to spend a few moments alone.

His body was undergoing major changes. Other boys went through transformations at this age too. Alexander learned as much from the gossip and stories he heard of expanding muscles, hair growing in new places, and voices deepening. Except those alterations hardly worried him.

He jumped when the violent wind slammed a door shut beneath him. He reached over and grabbed the small doll his mother had made him long ago, which he played with until his father announced him too old for such things. After that, he’d hid his toy up here.

No, nothing going on physically alarmed him, not even his emerging sexual excitement. The pastor’s warning against sinful thoughts seemed out of touch. Though he’d never say it aloud, Alexander thought that a bunch of rot.

He came to his hideaway today because of the memory of his mother’s lesson from last summer when he’d turned thirteen. Alexander curled up in a blanket, clutching his doll, warding off the freezing temperature as the blizzard covered the landscape outside the barn.

One hot summer evening after dusk, his mom had taken him out to a darkened field and spoken in a whisper.

“Your body is changing,” she had said. He blushed at the memory, embarrassed that his mother noticed such things in him. “But that’s not all. Listen closely, Alexander. It’s a dangerous time. Not everyone understands your family. They’ll come for us if we’re not careful. There’s a legacy in you that will blossom in the next year or so. I’ll teach you about it. You must promise to keep it a secret. Come only to me as the changes stir and when you have questions.”

He had nodded and said nothing else, too humiliated by the thought of talking to his mother about his body’s transition.

Since then, he had asked a number of times about this mysterious new power in him, only for her to admonish that he was not ready to learn more. If his father ever overheard, he scowled and told them to keep quiet.

There came an alarm, as if a wisp on the tail of a storm, blowing a chill into his very brain. He reached for his mother’s crystal, one she allowed him to examine from time to time if he promised to keep it hidden and never speak of its magic. The glass orb fit in the palm of his hand, smooth and clear. Peering into the crystal, he saw a vision of men: the pastor, the sheriff, and others, riding their horses hard through the storm and coming toward the farm. In the last month, images of the present had flashed into the crystal, a power he understood to come along with the other alterations to his being. No doubt his mother referenced these forces during that warm night in the field on his thirteenth birthday.

Minutes later, Alexander heard horse hooves pounding outside, and a horse whinnied as the posse came to a halt. The fact they ventured out on such a horrid night caused Alexander’s heart to race.

Alexander peeked out a crack in the barn to see the men gather together after tying their horses to a post. The family’s old dog bellowed a warning as the men approached the house.

“Goody Macbeth? Come out.”

Instead of his mother, his father came to the door and held his musket.

Alexander shivered at the cold and then ducked under a pile of hay when he heard someone climbing up the ladder toward him.

“Alexander?” his mother whispered. “Show yourself. I know you’re up here. We haven’t much time.”

Alexander sensed the urgency in her voice, so different from the gentle way she always spoke to him, even after a transgression. He saw her crawling toward him.

“Hush yourself and listen, child.” She took him in her arms as if again a babe. He thought better of resisting, despite the adult in him protesting this infantile turn of events. “You remember what I told you about the changes you’ll experience? I wanted to teach you about them at the appropriate time. I wanted to do it as my mother did for me. But they’re going to take me away.”

“I won’t let them.” Alexander reached for his own musket, but his mother held him tightly.

“Listen to me. You can’t do anything.”

Alexander frowned at the thought of cowardice. Except, he loved his mother too much to disobey. He relaxed again in her arms.

“Good. That’s a good boy. If you lash out, they’ll get you too. I need you to survive.” She leaned over and glanced out the crack in the barn for herself. He glanced over her shoulder and saw his father in a heated discussion with the men.

Only when his mother pulled him back into the hay did he notice the tear trickling down her cheek.

“These are evil times in which we live, son. Not the evil they’ll speak of, with Satan coming into their midst. No.” She shook her head. “It’s the innocent they kill. The complete misunderstanding of the power. This is what you must learn, and I’ve but a few minutes to teach you. You have power in your blood. To see the present, no matter where it may take place. To heal. To control the wind. Alexander, believe me, it’s not from a demon. It’s from your grandmother, and your great grandfather before her. Use it to protect yourself. Use it for good, no matter what you may hear otherwise.”

“Where is your wife?” They both jumped at the sheriff’s screaming voice.

“Are you a witch?” Alexander whispered to his mother. “Am I a witch?”

“Give me your hand.” Alexander held his hand out to his mother, who took it and then pressed their index fingers together. A warmth cut through the biting cold that had taken hold of every other part of his body and then seemed to course through his veins. He felt dizzy for a moment, but then a new powerful control overcame him.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Damian Serbu is an author of gay horror/speculative fiction. After over twenty years of teaching history at the collegiate level, he now writes full time. He lives in the Chicagoland area with his husband and two dogs.

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New Release Blitz: The Proposal by Penny McLean (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Proposal

Series: Flavors of the Month, Book Three

Author: Penny McLean

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/10/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Female/Female

Length: 59700

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, contemporary, humor, menage/multiple partners, bisexual, ice cream parlor, marriage proposal, Paris

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Description

Cynthia Blake has a problem. She was sure dating twelve people in one year and then marrying one at the end was a great way to find a partner, but with six suitors down and six to go, her little experiment has gotten out of hand.

Someone clearly has it out for her and is doing their best to trash her reputation, threatening to take down her beloved chain of ice cream stores in the process. And even though she’s having fun (a LOT of fun) with each of her Flavors, choosing one is going to be harder than she ever imagined.

In the final installment to this sexy, funny, and riveting trilogy, follow Cynthia from summer through December as she makes the biggest decision of her life. Can she get things back on track before her dream of love melts away?

Excerpt

The Proposal
Penny McLean © 2024
All Rights Reserved

June 17

I am numb the whole way home. After Giuseppe graciously let me cry on his shoulder for a truly uncomfortable amount of time, I asked his advice on how to get to the airport from his apartment. Briefly, I considered rushing over to St. Peter’s Basilica for my previously scheduled tour of the church and the Vatican Museum, but the idea of seeing the Sistine Chapel on my own leaves me with a hollow, empty feeling in my chest.

I don’t deserve to look at anything so beautiful today.

“I can drive you to the airport, signora,” Giuseppe says, his eyes full of pity. “I do not know what he is thinking, leaving you like this.”

I burst into tears again, then go to gather my things from the bedroom. The sound of cheerful voices below the window makes me want to throw up or maybe kick something. I am fitful and sure that I’ve never felt so low before in my life. I desperately wish I had someone to blame for all of this, but the logical part of my brain shuts down any chance of that quickly. This is all on me.

I get through security easily and find my way to the gate about two hours before my flight. I know I can’t just sit there, so I wander around the shops for a bit, not really seeing anything. I pick up two books to read on the way home without even looking at the titles.

“Doesn’t matter,” I mumble to myself, making the woman next to me look at me with a startled expression. She’s probably not used to seeing disheveled Americans at the airport. I hope I ruin her day.

No, I don’t. Ugh. I’m the worst.

I board my flight to Chicago and down a couple of the sleeping pills that Carter gave me my first night here. I threw a couple in my toiletry bag before we left for Rome in case insomnia reared its ugly head, but now I want nothing more than to just shut out the world.

I wake with a start when we touch down at O’Hare and realize I have magically slept through the whole thing. I try to smile but can’t quite muster it, being completely devoid of feeling and all. I pick up the phone after finding the gate for my connection to Phoenix and call Kim.

“Hey!” she says, pure joy in her voice. “I didn’t expect to hear from you till next week—wait, what’s wrong?”

I know she can’t hear me crying, but her Spidey-sense is kicking in. Through heaves and sobs, I tell her I’m on my way home. Alone. Good friend that she is, she is furious at Carter on my behalf.

“I can’t believe he sent you home,” she fumes. “That immature, self-righteous, son of a—”

“I’m the one who’s a bitch,” I interrupt. “I thought I was doing okay after the whole sex tape thing, but I was just bottling it all up and it all came out last night. I took it out on him. I was horrible. We could have talked it out, I’m sure, but I don’t blame him for not wanting to see me.”

“If he wants to be with you, this is exactly the kind of thing you need to be able to talk through,” she says.

I nod and my brain changes course. “You’re right. We both said shitty things. How dare he just leave without talking to me. I can’t believe I was starting to think he was the one.”

“You were? Did he, uh, mention where else you might go on the trip?”

“He told you about Paris?”

“He mentioned it was a possibility. He wanted to see how the trip went, but I know he was hoping it would end there.”

“So he was going to propose,” I say, the tears coming again. “How could one fight take him from wanting to marry me to not being able to be around me?”

“That’s what I’m saying. If he could waver that quickly, that’s a huge red flag.”

The numbness falls off my shoulders as a million thoughts swirl through my head. Am I angry? Yes, but it’s more than that. Am I hurt? Again, yes, but that’s not the right word to capture it all. I’m so many things that I secretly hope the numbness will come back. Looking up, I see a way to make it happen.

“Kim, I’ll call you when I get home,” I say, walking toward the nearest bar.

Numbness, thy name is alcohol. Come bring me thine sweet relief.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Penny McLean is a careerwoman by day, writer by night, mother at all times to three incredible children, and wife to a loving husband. Born in San Diego, California, she now hails from Gilbert, Arizona where she especially enjoys giving back to her community by volunteering at schools and libraries, with Girl Scouts, and for any causes that benefit marginalized communities, especially LGBTQIA+ youth. She began her career as a writer at the age of 17 when she was hired to cover movies, arts, and features for a youth-oriented page in the Arizona Republic. With twenty years of writing experience for magazines, newspapers, social media, and more, she is thrilled to have her first novel out in the world. Find out more about Penny on her Website.

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Book Blitz: Brotherhood Vol. 2 by Willa Okati (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Brotherhood Vol. 2

Author: Willa Okati

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: June 7, 2024

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 277 pages

Genre: Action Adventure, Box Sets, Dark Fantasy, New Releases, Paranormal Romance, Romantic Comedy, Urban Fantasy

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Synopsis

The Out-of-Towner — Liam takes Micah to Amour Magique, where he’s about to get entangled with a bizarre out-of-towner who calls himself Joey. Micah knows better. He really does… But Joey isn’t just from out of town. He’s more from out-of-planet-Earth…

Tezcatli’s Game – When Quentin’s forever love dies, Liam drags Quentin to Amour Magique, hoping he’ll find something to live for. Quentin’s not interested. Until he meets Tezcatli, the powerful Cat shapeshifter who claims him body and soul.

Single White Fang — After surviving domestic battery by a former boyfriend, David’s lost the ability to trust — until he meets Jory. The man seems to be perfect. At least at first…

Excerpt

The Brotherhood Vol. 2
Willa Okati
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Willa Okati
Excerpt from The Out-of-Towner

Eight forty-five and showtime, showtime! Micah all but wiggled in the back seat of the nicely appointed taxi he’d splurged on. Not as good as a limo, but if he’d gone the stretch route he wouldn’t have been able to afford his gym fees for a month. He’d weighed the decision carefully, gas fumes against looking good in the future, but in the end he hadn’t been able to bear the thought of letting himself go to seed.

God! Micah made a moue of distaste. He’d end up like David, or Collin — or worse, Bree. Shameful, all of them, and they should have known far better. Who would they ever manage to catch, the way they looked? So many people who needed savvy fashion advice, so little time!

Speaking of looking… Discreetly, so he wouldn’t catch the eye of the uniformed driver — this was an excellent taxi service, catering only to the rich elite — Micah checked himself over. No wrinkles, sags, tags, tears, or rips? No. Good. He’d been delighted when Luis’s outfit had fit him, and all through the hour he’d waited, he had hardly dared move for fear of mussing anything.

Of course, the situation was about to change. Micah let himself smile broadly, indulging the stretching of his facial muscles. Pity, that to avoid plastic surgery and having a mask for a face, one couldn’t really show any emotions, which made for another type of mask. Ah, well. He’d live. And if he got lucky at Amour Magique… well, he’d be able to afford any enhancements he might need in the future.

Oh, if only this were a limo, Micah lamented. I’d pour myself a glass of champagne and toast the night ahead.

He checked his watch. Eight-fifty. They were supposed to be at Amour Magique by nine, but whoever heard of fashionably early? No, no, looking too eager just wouldn’t do. He’d step out of his lovely taxi at about nine-fifteen, cool and polished, looking slightly bored — he paused to practice the expression, though not long, as it was familiar to him — and ask, “Is this the club?” Just as if he’d had a dozen better things to do instead, but had decided to grace them with his presence. The perfect impression to give the locals and the hopeless blunderers waiting in lines.

Oh, yes, there would be lines. Micah wasn’t any stranger to Amour Magique. He kept up on his gossip. It could take hours to see if you’d be allowed inside. They skimmed the silver and tossed the dross.

Lucky for Micah his little pass made him shine.

He shifted uncomfortably. If there did happen to be a deliciously rich fish nibbling at his bait, would he have to display all his goods to hook them? He hadn’t… not since Luis… and, well, the body had to adjust, didn’t it? He might have always been a bottom, but the body had elasticity. Things snapped back into virgin tightness if they weren’t put to use for certain purposes in a while, and Micah just couldn’t fathom himself bending over without a lot of TLC to ease the way. Unfortunately, men with the kind of money he hoped for weren’t usually big on taking sex slow and gentle. He’d tried easing his way back into things — so to speak — with a few toys, but he knew they weren’t anything like the real McCoy. Silicone didn’t compare to meat.

Well, he’d just have to coax them into a romantic mood. With any luck, like the best clubs out there, Amour Magique would have several rooms besides the main dance floor. Surely there’d be something with elegant classical music and candlelight in one cranny or another. He’d just have to tease his catch in and soften them up. He knew how to do the job. Melt them like butter in his mouth, or possibly melt them in his mouth, if push came to — well.

Sounded like a plan to him. Satisfied, Micah leaned back, careful not to wrinkle, and peeped at himself in the rearview mirror. Looking good, looking fine, he reassured himself. Hair falling attractively into his eyes, eyes sparkling with excitement — better tone that down, he warned himself — and clothes worth a fortune hugging a body fit to kill for.

Oh, yes. He was more than ready to knock the metaphorical socks right off Amour Magique’s feet.

A cell phone trilled politely from its mount on the dashboard. Micah cocked one eyebrow in mild curiosity. Of course, a company like this wouldn’t be so crude as to use walkie-talkies or a CB system, but he’d thought their schedule was appointments-only. Surely no one would be calling in to direct the driver to his next “fare”?

The driver seemed surprised by the interruption. Clearly resisting the urge to turn and apologize to Micah, he lifted the phone with one gloved hand and rested it carefully by his ear. “Yes?” he murmured.

Silence. The driver’s eyes widened with first confusion, then indignation, shifted briefly to indignation again as a voice warbled loudly and overly cheerfully from the other end, then finally settled into mostly concealed disdain. He pulled the car gently onto the shoulder of the road and turned to Micah. “Sir?” he asked, nodding his head in a show of respect. “I do believe this call is for you.”

Years of training kept Micah from bellowing “What?” and snatching for the phone. He managed to keep it to a blink and a slight tic before gracefully extending his hand. If there was ever a call he didn’t want to take… not that he minded people craving his presence, but only one person knew he’d be taking an escort service instead of his own low-class car to the club. Only one person, who, coincidentally, would be the one with enough balls to wreak havoc in the careful order of the company and track him down like a common country dog…

He put the phone to his ear, asking without really needing confirmation, “Liam?”

“Micah!” The crazy little freak’s voice bubbled exuberantly out of the speakers, loud enough that Micah was sure the driver heard. He could almost see, all but floating over the man’s head, another check-mark going down in the “unsuitable client” list.

Hiding a wince, he lowered his voice to murmur. “Liam, quietly, please.”

“Oh! I suspected I was perhaps too ebullient for such rarified company,” Liam said pertly. “Really, how rude people can be in the name of genteel manners! Don’t you find this to be the case?”

“Liam, please,” Micah hissed. He could see the driver watching him in the mirror now, no longer trying to hide his distaste. “Do you need something?”

“A kind word would not go amiss, but I’ll get none of those from you, now, will I?”

“Liam…”

“Oh, go on with your scolding and your lessons on what is and what is not done. You are late, Micah. Five minutes late already. I said nine o’clock, did I not? I recall being most specific on that point. All of us are gathered here save for you and Bree.”

“Yes, well, Bree probably won’t be coming, that prick.” The words escaped Micah’s mouth before he could censor them. Another check-mark appeared on the driver’s list. Micah scooted down a bit, still careful of his clothing but too humiliated not to hunch. “Liam, I’m on my way. I can’t be more than ten minutes away.”

“You do not seem to appreciate the importance of this gathering,” Liam said, disapproval radiating from his voice. “I paid a price to ensure our entry into Amour Magique tonight. Just because it would not register on your scale of costliness does not mean I did not sacrifice to make certain this night would be perfect. Perfect, I tell you! And you? You have the nerve to play at being so in style and late enough to drive us to distraction?”

Micah felt his cheeks coloring. Another thing he hated about Liam: after all the modeling and the lifestyle, no one should have been able to make him blush or feel small, but let the tiny man set up a rant, and he flattened Micah every time.

At the moment, Micah almost hated him. “I? I have nerve?” he snapped — softly. “Liam, let me inform you that you don’t understand me. I’m doing you all a favor by joining in with this little spree. I’m in demand. You should see the stack of invitations I turned down, hear all the phone calls where I said ‘no’ to –”

“I could not, because they do not exist.”

Micah fell silent, stunned.

“You still think yourself so much better than everyone,” Liam went on, sounding angry himself. “Very well. I will do what I had hoped I would not have to do, and you will not like my plan.”

“What are you going to do?” Micah flung back. “Revoke my invitation?”

“Yes. I am.”

Micah’s mouth fell open most unattractively. When he gathered himself enough to speak, the line had gone dead. “Liam? Liam!”

No answer, of course.

At some point, the driver had started his taxi up again. They purred to another stop, this time with the sounds of music and the chatter of crowds surrounding them.

“Sir?” The driver no longer bothered with respect; he sounded bored. “We have arrived, sir.”

“We have?” Micah said, half-dumbly.

“Yes, sir.” The driver’s eyes were sharp in the mirror. “Please return my phone to me, sir.”

Heat flooded Micah’s face again. Did the man actually think he’d steal? Angry and not bothering to hide it, he slapped the phone into one outstretched hand and tugged at the door handle. Normally, the driver would come around and let him out, but he wouldn’t stay in there a moment longer.

He had a bill tucked into one flat pocket for a tip, but would he pass it over? He thought not. In fact, he thought he might just write a letter of complaint to the company. They owed him for interrupting his privacy with Liam’s call, for their driver’s rudeness, for everything that had gone wrong.

Revoke his invitation? Liam couldn’t! The passes were for the whole group, and Micah was part of the group. Liam would just have to see reason.

Slamming the taxi door behind him, he barely registered the sound of the car pulling away in a most rude sort of hurry, an automotive “fuck you” if he’d ever heard one. He stood on the curb, staring up at Amour Magique. His Taj Mahal. The stately pleasure dome. If he couldn’t get inside, if he couldn’t try to seize his chance —

“Micah!” he heard Liam call out — warningly? Frowning, Micah glanced across the way, toward the entrance, and froze. Solid as ice in his tracks.

Liam appeared to be breaking up a fight. He had his hand planted on Collin’s chest, and he was shaking his head at the other opponent, dressed in black leather that would shame a prostitute.

Himself. No, someone who looked just like him.

Wearing horrible clothes.

Micah thought he might die of humiliation — after, that was, he figured out just what the hell was going on. What had Liam done, gotten an impersonator? He’d show the runty twinkie a thing or two about respect and manners and timing and —

Micah didn’t see the obstacle coming, because to all appearances, it wasn’t there. However, he certainly registered it as, with a resounding clang, he ran head-first into something invisible and fell backward, too stunned to yelp.

Micah himself wasn’t what he would call a truly moral man. After all, just like good old Luis, he’d fucked and sucked his own way into small-time stardom — but he did live life by a code.

Never scowl or frown or pout; it makes wrinkles. Never show your fears or shed your tears. Outer perfection is what counts, so stifle your inner voices. Be as two-dimensional and pretty as your pictures, because they’re all anyone wants to see when they meet you in person.

When he thought about where he’d ended up, and why, Micah found himself swimming in a sea of confusion. Like a child or a very old man who’d dropped his ice cream, he found all the good times and tasty bits of his life missing, but couldn’t figure out where they’d gone… or how they’d led him here.

So he’d done what he always did, more or less. Applied his code to life when he went out in public, let his inner bitch rip at The Brotherhood, and kept searching for a way back into the good life he’d loved to live. Realizing day by day his chances of finding another doorway leading inside the golden circles were getting slimmer and slimmer.

Who wanted a has-been?

Amour Magique had been his shining star ever since Liam had mentioned the group would be visiting en masse. He’d clung to a slender, fragile hope that inside the club, he’d find himself a prince. Whether old and fat and ugly or young and strong and beautiful, he didn’t care. Just someone to take care of him, because he had no idea how to live life on his own two feet, and he wasn’t about to ask anyone like Simon or Liam.

He’d known he would get lucky.

Which was why, as Micah raised himself from the pavement, dazed, his ears still ringing, he stared at the sight of The Brotherhood and his doppelganger vanishing inside Amour Magique, and would have screamed out a protest if he’d been able.

Instead, he scrambled up off the pavement, did a frantic pat down of his doe-supple pants for rips and his ivory shirt for smudges, breathed a prayer of thanks when he found nothing but a tiny stain dim light would hide, and ran hell bent for leather to catch up with the others.

He did pause long enough to test the whatever he’d run into. Felt pretty foolish, but he thought he was discreet in how he handled things. A slight kick of the foot, a lean forward with one shoulder — and nothing there to get in his way. Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, he slowed his pace to a sexy, “The world is my oyster, and woe betide the fool who doesn’t know it” lope.

The lines of men behind the velvet ropes set up a growling as Micah walked past. He heard everything muttered or shouted behind him as he moved forward outside the queue with deliberate carelessness.

“Bastard!”

“Hey, you can’t cut in line like that, man!”

“Who does he think he is, fronting everyone?”

“Who is he?”

“I know I’ve seen his face before. Maybe in a magazine?”

“Is he a movie star?”

“I don’t know. He kinda looks like that guy who was in the film about the aliens, you know, the one with the messy hair…”

“Honey, his hair is not messy. It takes a couple hundred dollars at the stylists’ and a few dabs of hair gel worth its weight in gold to get his ‘tousled’ look.”

“Like you’d know.”

“Sweetie, this kind of glamour you don’t see on ordinary mortals. I’m telling you, he’s either someone famous or someone rich.”

Micah hid his smile at the campy praise and kept moving. To his pleasure, the mutterings were turning more or less positive.

“God, he’s gorgeous.”

“You’re telling me? I’d do him in a heartbeat.”

“You should be so lucky.”

The two men who’d made that particular exchange burst into laughter. Micah stopped his frown of confusion just in time and kept on slinking at his own leisurely pace.

“Maybe he’s a porn star,” a youngish voice said, just about college age and finally, eagerly legal to drink. “I think I saw him in Little Gods of the Big Top.”

“Oh, yeah, right! He was one of the Nelly bottoms.”

“You’re crazy. Someone as smooth as he is? No way. Top.”

“I’d put money on it.”

“Put the cash where your mouth is, then.”

Micah fought to hide a scowl. He did not look like the cheesy, sleazy actor they were comparing him to. He was… Micah almost wilted… younger. Better endowed. Indubitably higher class.

Stop thinking. Keep walking. Don’t let them know you’ve heard what they’re saying. A star never stoops to gossip. Almost there.

“Me, I think he is beautiful.”

The simple statement almost stopped Micah in his tracks. Despite all his training, he couldn’t stop turning just a bit to see who — oh, God. His eyes flickered up and down the huge man waiting in line, muscles bulging deliciously beneath his tight button-down shirt. Ugh, department store goods! Expensive, yes, but so common! A shame someone so gorgeous didn’t have better sense…

He realized he was staring when the giant gave him a timid smile. “Hello.”

Micah quickly looked back toward the bouncer. Just a few feet away. He’d be there in no time. He didn’t mean anything harsh by ignoring the ill-spoken big guy, honestly. But who on earth said men were beautiful? Add that to his complete lack of clothes sense and Micah’s radar pinged, Loser!

He couldn’t afford a loser, no matter how nice he seemed or how downright cute he was. No matter how much he might wish otherwise.

Wait a second! What, was he slipping?

Micah boggled at his thoughts. He did not go and fall for every Johnny Hayseed who happened to have a cute face and a voice made of pure sex. He was there at Amour Magique for one reason and one reason only: to hook a huge prize out of a vast pond. There’d be competition, sure, but if he knew anything, Micah was well aware he had the face, the body, and the inner wellspring of charm to draw on when he felt like making use of his infrequently tested talent.

Just a few more steps. Micah carefully regulated his breathing, dropped his eyelids to half-mast, and ignored the men behind him hooting at Babe the Blue-Shirted Ox.

Think sultry. Project confidence. Exude sensuality. No one can turn you down. Now, come on, boy, and get this party started!

He pulled to a stop in front of the bouncer, tilted his head fetchingly to one side, and began, “My friend Liam said I should mention his name –”

A huge hand flew through the air to land palm-first fractions from his nose. “Liam?” a voice welled from the pit of the bouncer’s burly chest. “I already let him and his friends in. Twelve guys altogether. Them’s all who get to get in VIP and free.”

“Yes, but there had to have been some mistake –”

“Nuh-uh. I counted. Twelve. T-w-e-l-v-e. One guy who looked kinda like you, ‘cept he was about to bust through his go-gos.” The crowd behind the ropes burst into laughter. Micah’s ears burned. “You might be his twin or somethin’, but you weren’t with the group Liam said could go in.”

“But I was supposed to be with them! I — he — me –”

“Duh, duh, duh,” the bouncer mocked. “You think I give a flyin’ fuck, Miss Priss? Get your pretty ass to the back of the line. You weren’t with Liam, so you don’t get no special treatment.”

Micah stared, mouth hanging slightly open.

“I don’t take bribes, neither,” the bouncer said, flicking Micah’s lip with his thumb. “But, hey, maybe you come see me later, off shift, huh?”

“Why, you ill-bred, unmannered –”

“Oh, get to the back, Princess.” The bouncer shoved Micah, hard enough to make him stagger. “No one wants you up here. Just about don’t want you at all. Ain’t no one here who’d let you jump them in line, either. That right, men?”

Crowds, always so fickle. As if delighted to see Micah brought low, every last one of them, from the hecklers to the admirers, burst into a ragged cheer.

All, that was, except one. A familiar voice, as husky and dark as molten sugar cane juice, burred out, “He can take my place in line, if he would like to.”

Purchase at Changeling Press

Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz: The Game Master of Somerville by A.J. Raven (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Game Master of Somerville

Series: Somerville Mysteries, Book Two

Author: A.J. Raven

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 06/04/2024

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 45100

Genre: Contemporary, Young adult, mystery, high school, basketball, video gaming, teen crush

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Description

Being handed another mystery about an escaped prisoner, teen wannabe-detective Jerry finds himself way over his head as kids around Somerville start disappearing and panic escalates. Is the escaped prisoner responsible for the kidnappings or is there some other sinister plan afoot?

Excerpt

The Game Master of Somerville
A.J. Raven © 2024
All Rights Reserved

“Jerry, when are you going to start doing it again?”

I tried not to roll my eyes for the umpteenth time. “Stop making me repeat myself,” I answered, trying to keep my voice calm as we walked through the school corridor to the chemistry lab. “What did you think I would continue doing?”

I already knew the response I was going to get. Ugh!

“I don’t know,” said my tall friend Justin, faking a shrug. “I thought you were going to continue solving cases, you know?”

Now I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at him. Enough was enough! Leave it to Justin to continue annoying me to do something that would get him attention. “Yes, you’re right, Justin!” I made sure he took in the irritated tone of my voice. “There’s a whole pool of unsolved cases out there just waiting for me to dive in!”

“Maaaaybe,” Justin sang. I shot him a look. He answered with a smile, brushing away a strand of his brown hair from his forehead. “Who knows? You can’t be sure unless you try.”

“You do realize it’s only been a couple of weeks since we solved the Devona case, right?”

I tried not to remember an incredibly weak Devona all tied up in a chair. Her blood being drawn by her captor with a syringe. If only I had figured it out a bit sooner. She would have lived—

“I know, I know.” Justin’s voice snaps me back to reality. We were outside the lab.

“Sure you do,” I said sarcastically, pushing my glasses back up my nose. Even though Justin had been annoying me for the past few weeks about solving more cases, in a way, I kind of appreciated his annoyance keeping me busy and stopping me from continuously remembering Devona’s face.

Justin took a deep breath. “Fine, I’ll give it a rest.”

“Thank you.” I faked a smile and mentally started to count down the time until Justin would bring up the same topic again. I entered the lab. The rest of the class was already there. I saw my childhood friend Ashley Burro-way, Ash for short, near one of the working stations. Her brown hair was tied up in a tight knot.

“Justin still wanting you to take on another case, Sherlock?” she asked with a smile, handing me a lab coat as I came closer.

I nodded, taking the coat from her. It took me a second to get accustomed to the smell of the chemicals all around me. I thought I was going to sneeze. But didn’t. Ash put on her safety goggles and opened her textbook. “If you ask me—” She looked straight at me. “—I don’t ever want to go through all of that again.”

“I hear you,” I said. Not knowing what else to say to her, I looked around. Justin was talking to some boys in our class. I knew the only reason Justin wanted me to take on another case was because he missed the attention it gave him. The moment the Somerville High newspaper published my story about solving the Devona case, the entire high school basically went wild. It was the first time the paper was read by the entire student body. The police did a good job when it came to keeping the local media away from me and my friends, but it was tough avoiding the sea of students and the faculty while at school.

Justin took the opportunity to break the ice with his crush, Lucy Broadway. My other friend, Nick Perez, enjoyed the attention, too, but not as much as his best friend, Justin, did. Ash had addressed the attention targeted at her by putting up a defensive air and simply avoided answering any of the questions she was asked about the case at school. The last member of our little group, Kate Williams, who already had an I-don’t-care attitude going on, did just that…just didn’t care. Due to the reputation she had already cemented, the students knew not to approach her unless she directly gave them permission to ask her a question.

The bombardment of questions I faced the day the paper was released was a lot to handle. “How did you figure it out? Did the police help you crack the case? What’s next?”

I answered the questions I could. And fortunately, like everything else in this world, interest dwindled and people started to talk about other stuff after a couple of days. Apparently the mystery-of-the-week plots occurring on the current famous TV shows were better than the real thing. None of us were affected by the dying attention except for Justin. On the fourth day, Justin shared his fear. According to him, Lucy was losing interest in him even though I told him it was just him being presumptuous, and he needed to work on his confidence. And frankly, let’s assume, if Lucy was indeed the kind of girl who only liked Justin because of the attention he was getting from the rest of the school, then she wasn’t the type of person he should be wasting his time with anyway.

Of course, Justin didn’t listen.

“Jerry, where are you?” Ash snapped her fingers in front of my eyes.

“Huh?” I blinked.

“Seriously, Jerry,” she said in a concerned voice. “You’re kind of spacing out more than usual. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I saw Ash purse her lips. I knew what she was going to say. Ever since the Devona case, Ash had been bringing up therapy. She wanted me to talk to a professional after what Tom did to me. Ugh! That name!

Thankfully, our chemistry teacher, Miss Ophilia Patience, walked into the laboratory and Ash, like the rest of the class, kept quiet. Miss Patience wasn’t the kind of instructor the students wanted to cross. She looked at the class. No one said anything. After giving a quick nod, she started writing on the board behind her.

I looked around the lab again and realized someone was missing. “Where’s Nick?” I asked Ash. Her gaze was on the board, copying every single word Miss Patience was writing. I noticed Justin looking back at us from a few workspaces ahead. He averted his gaze when we made direct eye contact. I wanted to bet a hundred dollars he thought Ash and I were talking about taking up another case without telling him.

It took a few seconds for Ash to respond as she continued scribbling. “Don’t know.”

Weird, I thought. It wasn’t like Nick to miss class without telling us. Even if he did skip class, he and Justin always did it together. I tried not to think about it too much and looked at what Miss Patience was writing on the board.

Surprise! It was boring.

Time dragged on as Miss Patience talked about ways to influence chemical reactions. As far as I could tell, heating different materials up seemed to do the trick for a lot of them. Want to see something change? Try heating up the molecules!

And speaking of things heating up, I guess the same thing was going to come true for me and my friends soon enough. There was no way we could’ve avoided what was coming for us. But at that time, in the chem lab, with Ash busy writing notes next to me, none of us had the faintest idea about the domino effect that had already begun. I do sometimes wonder about what I could’ve done if I had known more back then.

Hidden myself in my house? Not talk to anyone ever? Resigned from my position as a contributor at the school’s newspaper?

But wondering about such possibilities didn’t matter anymore.

What was done was done.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

A.J. Raven is an author who likes to write mysteries with queer characters. He likes exploring leads that have a lot to learn and aren’t perfect; they will make mistakes. So, bear with them. You can find A.J. on  Twitter

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New Release Blitz: Getting to Know You by Jennifer MD Cox (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Getting to Know You

Author: Jennifer MD Cox

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/28/2024

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 98900

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, romance, lesbian, actors, Los Angeles, stage theater/play production, Jewish culture, toxic ex, found family and community, following dreams, pets

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Description

Maggie Fromm moved to LA to follow a dream: to become an actress and live happily ever after with her high school sweetheart. When her heart is broken after a year of eking out a living, Maggie finds herself fighting for her dream alone. Her luck may change when she meets Gwen Knowles, a talented and spirited director drawn to Maggie’s energy on stage.

As they work to bring an independent play to life, Maggie and Gwen face shadows from their past—but this time, they have each other.

Excerpt

Getting to Know You
Jennifer MD Cox © 2024
All Rights Reserved

The worst part about sitting in the waiting room was having to look at all the other girls.

Maggie tried to practice slow breathing, but she could feel her cheeks burning regardless. She couldn’t help it. She was in a room filled with dozens of attractive women. And most of them were redheads–but why?

Maggie’s own thick, curly, walnut-brown hair fell across her face as she jerked her head down to reread the posting clutched in her hands. Nothing in the casting call said anything about red hair; she was certain. Her headshot, paper-clipped to her short resumé, didn’t conflict with any of the listed requirements. She was between five and five and a half feet, she was light skinned, and she could do a believable Irish accent. She’d even googled “Irish fashion” and assembled an outfit of warm jeans with a long, flowing sweater to better look the part of “Irish girl in St. Patrick’s Day commercial.” When she left the apartment that morning, she was at least half convinced she had a shot at being chosen to sell beer on national television. Several hours later, as redhead after redhead had passed her in line, she felt what little optimism she had deflating.

The girl next to Maggie, who’d clearly added freckles with makeup, had been chattering to her in an exaggerated Irish accent for hours. She also noticed the red hair trend. “T’at’s silly o’ t’em,” she said. “Don’t t’ey know t’at t’e most common ’air color in Éire is dark brown or black?”

Maggie only nodded with a small “Mmhmm” in return.

“T’ey’re overdoing it,” said the freckled girl. “Pro’lly new to t’e scene. Not like you, now, you didnae over t’ink. Have you been doing t’is long?”

Maggie thought about the hours she had spent trying to choose a sweater and practicing her accent in the bathroom mirror. “Not really,” she said quietly. “Just about a year.”

Freckles beamed encouragingly. “A year? Wow, good for ye! Are you new to t’e area t’en?”

“Um…my girlfriend and I moved here together not long ago.”

“T’at’s good you had a friend wit’ya. It’s awful to move somewhere wit’ no friends. I was here six months ’fore I had any friends t’ang out wit’, and my first roommate was a nightmare. In fact, I’m looking fer a new roommate right now. She quit and moved back ’ome t’er folks in Mississippi. I better find someone soon, rent’s due next T’ursday.”

Maggie cringed and opened her mouth, debating whether it was worth correcting the stranger’s use of the word “friend,” but Freckles continued.

“If you’re new to t’e area, ye should join m’ group on Facebook. It’s fer girls like us, trying t’ make it. Never know when y’ might need advice on an audition or where the safest sushi t’eat is.”

Freckles scribbled the name of a group on the back of her copy of the audition advertisement, tore it off, and handed it to Maggie. “Thank you,” she said, and she meant it.

Freckles might be a chatterbox, but she was right. It was difficult being new to the area with no friends, even though Maggie was lucky enough to not be alone.

The door at the far end of the room opened, and a voice called, “Margaret Fromm?”

Freckles gave her a big thumbs-up. “Luck of t’e Irish, girl!”

Maggie gave her a small wave and walked into the audition room, knowing she wouldn’t get the part. She was fairly certain Freckles wouldn’t either.

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Meet the Author

Jennifer earned her minor in creative writing from Alfred University in 2016. As a pansexual genderflux individual and a trauma-informed mental health counselor, they’re passionate about representation in fiction. Each story she tells is an opportunity to explore the beauty in nonconformity, healing, and diversity. After a lifetime of putting imagination to paper, Jennifer’s debut novel, Getting to Know You, came into being as a promise kept to a friend. Jennifer lives in the Finger Lakes with her family, where they enjoy tabletop roleplaying games, sewing, and cuddling their cat.

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New Release Blitz: Her Little Secret by Gemma Johns (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Her Little Secret

Author: Gemma Johns

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/28/2024

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 69100

Genre: contemporary, teaching, non-traditional family situation, children, surrogate parent, lovers to friends, hurt-comfort

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Description

On a rare night out, single mum Lily stumbles into the arms of the dazzling Parker. They spend one passionate night together, but both know it will never be anything more. Lily has lost too much over the years to even want to try again.

A year later, devoted teacher, Parker, is excited to start the new year at her brand new school. Greeting the parents, she sees one familiar face in the crowd—the woman she met over a year ago. The woman she has been unable to forget.

Arriving at the classroom, Lily cannot believe her son, Bodhi, has Parker as his new teacher. This surprise was totally unexpected!

Their roles have changed now—as teacher and school parent—but the attraction toward each other has remained. And, as if the situation wasn’t already complicated enough, there’s Bodhi’s dad: Who is he? And why on earth is he still hanging around?

As their worlds clash, Parker knows she needs to be super professional, even though her heart races when she sees Lily. With everything to lose, but their chemistry so strong, is it worth taking a gamble for love?

Excerpt

Her Little Secret
Gemma Johns© 2024
All Rights Reserved

Lily

“My feet are aching,” Lily called out over the music. “I’m exhausted!”

Maree rolled her eyes at her friend. “Come on. Stop acting like an old lady. You’re not even forty yet. We are partying til at least three.” Maree was whining. “Just let down your hair.”

Lily shook her head. Not for the first time that night, she vowed never to go out with Maree again. She pondered joking with Maree about the fact that her long hair was already down, but she figured she wouldn’t be heard over the music. “I’ll go sit down, then.”

Maree grinned in response, but Lily knew there was no way she could get her to leave the dance floor. She had her eye on a petite blonde dancing off to the side. It was typical of Maree—as soon as her relationships finished, she’d be on the lookout for some new girl. “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else” was Maree’s motto, but it was definitely not Lily’s way of thinking. Besides, meeting someone in a club wasn’t exactly her cup of tea. The nightclub, the Palace, seemed like a meat market. That’s what Maree enjoyed.

Spying a chair off in a quiet corner, Lily made a beeline for the bar, hoping the seat would still be empty once she got a drink.

She got herself a cola and dodged drunk people everywhere to sit down. As she approached the quiet chair in the corner, though, she noticed a woman sitting off to the side at the same table. She must have been there the whole time but had been blocked by the wall. “Do you mind if I sit? I wouldn’t normally intrude, but my feet…” Lily couldn’t believe she was asking—she usually wouldn’t approach a stranger—but she was desperate. The woman was sitting quietly, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Lily just hoped she didn’t have a group of friends that would soon join her.

The woman shook her head. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Lily smiled. “Thank you. What a terrible night,” she muttered, more to herself than to the woman near her. But the woman near her responded anyway. “I’m Parker,” she said. “So tell me why it’s such an awful night, and why you don’t go home?”

Lily rolled her eyes. She hadn’t intended on chatting, but she had started it, clearly interrupting Parker’s peace and quiet, so she figured she’d better explain. “My friend just broke up her latest U-Haul relationship. And she’s clearly looking for another.” Lily gave Parker a crooked grin. “Or something. That’s her there, and she seems to have her eye on that blonde in the purple dress.”

Parker craned her neck and glanced at Maree and the blonde in the purple dress. “Okay, and what are her chances?”

“I have no idea. I have seen them stealing glances at each other, but…” Lily shrugged. “Truthfully, I have enough trouble working out whether women are attracted to me, let alone whether Maree has a chance.”

“Are you flirting with me?” Parker asked.

Lily was confused. “Huh? Flirting?”

“Well, you said you can’t work out if women are attracted to you. Was that a loaded comment? Like you’re waiting for me to look in your eyes and say, ‘I am,’ or something. Because I’m not…”

“What? No!” Lily shook her head. She couldn’t believe the woman was thinking that! She’d barely even looked at her. “No, I was just meaning… Never mind.” Now she was annoyed. She couldn’t even sit down without someone in the meat market thinking she was fair game.

“Sorry, I’ve made things awkward. It’s just…that was a little forward of me, but I wondered if that’s what you were getting at.”

Lily blushed. “Sorry, I’m not here for that. Unlike Maree over there.” She looked over and noticed Maree was now dancing closer to the blonde in the purple dress. Lily turned back to Parker and looked at her for the first time. She realised that if she was looking, Parker was exactly the type of woman who would make her head turn. Short dark hair, broad shoulders, strong. Not her ‘type’ exactly, but sexy as hell. She had to look away.

“She’s getting closer,” Parker said, interrupting Lily’s thoughts. She gestured toward Maree and the blonde. Lily followed her gaze. “I’d just noticed that too.”

“What happens? She’ll go home with her? If she’s interested?” Parker was curious.

Lily shrugged. “Maree will do whatever the circumstances demand. She’s a serial monogamist, and while she does go home with a girl on the first night, that’s not usually her style. She’d prefer a phone number at the end of the night.”

“A phone number.” Parker smiled. “Cute. I didn’t know people still did that. Not since 2005.”

“You don’t give out your number?”

“It’s not that I don’t give out my number, it’s just…I hate the phone.”

“I hate the phone too. Text me, email me, messenger me. Just don’t call me.”

Parker absentmindedly looked toward the dance floor. “My friend is in there somewhere too. I don’t know where he went.” It hadn’t even occurred to Lily that Parker was there with someone. Actually, Lily hadn’t really given any thought to why Parker was there.

“Do you have to stay til he comes back?”

Parker shook her head. “He does this. He might have already found some bloke. I don’t know. He invites me out, and we usually just grab dinner, have a nice catch-up. But then some nights he pleads with me to come to a place like this, and bam, I don’t see him again. I fall for it every time though. This is not really my scene.” Parker gestured around the club. “I’m here for Nathan.”

“That’s…nice of you…I guess.”

“Tonight we had incredible pizzas, so it’s not a total waste of a night. I should probably head home soon, but I thought I’d sit for a bit, finish my beer, and then you came along.” She gazed toward the dance floor, clearly scanning for her friend.

Lily frowned. “Does he usually return?”

“Generally, but it could be way past my bedtime.” She yawned. “He doesn’t seem to worry if I’m waiting, so I don’t worry about him.” She laughed dryly. “Hey, I don’t even know your name.”

“Lily,” she said, smiling.

“That’s a pretty name. It suits you.” Lily blushed, but Parker kept talking. “Listen, there’s a coffee shop around the corner. It makes the most incredible—”

“Lattes?” Lily asked, grinning. “I go there too. When Maree ditches me.”

“Do you have caffeine this late at night?”

Lily shrugged. “I usually have no trouble sleeping, even when I do. Usually by the time I’ve danced the night away, I’m exhausted enough. Do you want to go?”

“I’d love a coffee, and I’m enjoying chatting with you.”

Lily was pleased. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed the company of a gorgeous woman, and though she wasn’t planning to date any time soon, she was enjoying talking to Parker. As they sipped their coffee and shared a large chunk of caramel slice, they realised they both loved eighties music and reminisced about various music film clips.

“The Thriller one got my sister and I dancing every afternoon after school. We would try to moonwalk. Jacqui was really good at it. I was never as good as her.”

“I used to moonwalk, and breakdance with my sister too.”

“Oh yeah, breakdancing! That was fun!” Lily smiled, remembering how she and her cousins used to try to breakdance at parties.

“The children of today won’t have anything like that in years to come,” Parker said. “They’ll remember just pouting into the camera, and planking, and all the ordinary stuff. The eighties were much better.”

Lily agreed. She quietly pondered Bodhi’s friends, and how much of their catch-ups were spent on game consoles, battling one another. She didn’t bother mentioning Bodhi though. She wasn’t trying to make a lifelong friend, and she certainly wasn’t going to date. She was, however, enjoying Parker’s company and didn’t want the evening to end. She couldn’t help gazing at her when she wasn’t looking and wondering what it would be like to kiss her. That unsettled her. It had been a long time since she’d even had thoughts like that, and she didn’t need to start now. She shook her head and asked Parker what video games she’d played as a kid.

“My brother and I would play for hours.”

Lily laughed. “I did, too, with my cousins. God, it was a long time ago.”

“Well, we’re not that old.” Parker put her empty coffee cup down. “This is really great, getting to know you.”

“Yeah, it’s fun.” Lily smiled. “I really should go soon though.”

Parker glanced at her watch. “Did you drive or cab it?”

“I drove.”

Parker asked her where she parked and whether she could walk her to her car. “That would be lovely,” Lily said, and she was truly grateful. She never did love walking alone to her car in the city, and although she didn’t know Parker, she felt comfortable and safe around her. As they strolled, they chatted about where they both lived—about ten minutes from each other—and how long their commutes to work were.

“The irony is I moved to Canberra and thought since everything is so close I’d have a short commute to work, but I’m going from Tuggeranong to Belconnen every day.” She shrugged. “It’s no drama, but it’s about an hour out of each day, round trip. Still, it’s hardly a Sydney or Melbourne commute.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a teacher. I’ve been at the school I’m at for nearly ten years now. I do love it. I sometimes wonder about moving closer to work though.”

“I bet.” Lily was disappointed to see they’d arrived at the car already.

“You don’t have to drive your friend home, do you?” Parker asked as if it just occurred to her.

Lily shook her head. “No, I did text her earlier to let her know I was leaving. I didn’t tell her I’d left with a woman. That would invite twenty questions.”

“So your friend does that often, but you don’t?”

Lily shook her head. “Never.”

Parker looked disappointed. “So there’s no chance of me getting your phone number, then?”

“I told you I don’t do phone numbers. And neither do you, apparently.”

Parker’s eyes twinkled in response as she tried to hide a smile. “What about another coffee? At my house? Do you do that?”

Lily was silent. It sounded innocent enough, but even if Parker’s invitation was genuine, she knew what would happen if she went home with her, and she couldn’t say she wasn’t tempted. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed a ‘coffee’ at the house of a beautiful woman. She couldn’t deny her attraction to Parker either. She could barely stop staring at her, but she had vowed not to have a relationship. It was incredibly tempting, even though it would have to be a one-night thing. Finally, she shrugged and asked, “Do you have instant coffee or good coffee?” She couldn’t believe she was even considering it. There was something about Parker. She didn’t want to end the evening yet, only enjoy being around Parker just a little longer.

“I have good coffee. Really good coffee.” She smiled. “It’s definitely worth the visit. I think you’ll really like my coffee.”

Parker’s cheeky smile got her, and the inuendo excited her. More than she’d been excited in a long time. She glanced at Parker again and felt desire overtake her. In a very bold move, she stepped forward and kissed her lips. Gently at first, but as Parker responded, Lily responded also.

“Wow,” Parker said when Lily broke away. “That was some kiss.”

Lily nodded and smiled. She felt the same way. It had felt comfortable and passionate—just right. Exactly what she needed. “Do you have your car here?” Lily asked. Parker shook her head, so Lily opened the passenger door. “Then get in, before I change my mind.” Lily had never seen someone jump in a car so quickly.

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Meet the Author

Gemma Johns has always loved writing and wanted to write a novel since she first discovered how much she loved reading them. Her older sister told her she needed to ‘live a little’ before she wrote a novel. Years later, Gemma has now lived a lot, so finally decided to put pen to paper. Writing fiction is a part time gig for her, and she has a full time job in academia. Gemma lives in Australia with her wife and their five children.

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New Release Blitz: Together in a Broken World by Paul Michael Winters (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Together in a Broken World

Author: Paul Michael Winters

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/21/2024

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 93300

Genre: Science Fiction, post-apocalyptic/dystopia/near future, YA, MM romance, lit/genre fiction, virus warfare, action/adventure, western US, road trip, violence, guns, wilderness survival

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Description

Two boys fall in love in a deadly world, but it’s the secrets they keep that might kill them.

Seventeen-year-old Zach was visiting his uncle in a small Montana town when a mysterious illness ripped through the world. Most died, but those who survived the Infection became mindless killers, spreading the disease with a single scratch. Now, a year later, civilization lies in ruins, and Zach is the town’s sole survivor. Desperately lonely, he longs to return to his family in Seattle, but his fears hold him captive.

Eighteen-year-old Aiden is on a critical mission for the covert Scientific Collective, delivering vials whose contents could cure the Infection. Tortured by his boyfriend’s death, he welcomes the risks of the perilous journey. When a militia attacks Aiden, he flees to Zach’s town.

The boys escape together and soon form a bond as they comfort each other in this desolate and broken world. The farther they travel, the more their affection grows, as do the forces pulling them apart. But their greatest threats are the secrets they keep. Zach hides details of his uncle’s death, and Aiden conceals the vials’ sinister origins. In order to survive, they’ll have to confront the truths that could tear their love apart.

Excerpt

Together in a Broken World
Paul Michael Winters © 2024
All Rights Reserved

A Broken World

Aiden

It’s hard to get over how desolate the world is now. I haven’t seen another soul for over a week. And if I want to stay alive, I hope to keep it that way.

The road cuts a winding path through a dense forest, the cone of my headlights revealing just enough to see ahead. Everything else is stark blackness. Daft Punk and GRiZ blast through the car’s speakers—an EDM mix I made last year as a DJ for my high school. Back when DJs and high schools existed, that is. The bass rumbling through the seat makes me feel connected to the car.

With one eye on the road, I paw at the backpack resting on the passenger seat. It’s the third time this hour I’ve checked on the vials. The familiar shape of the protective aluminum case through the nylon fabric helps ease my anxiety. For the moment, anyway. It may be a little obsessive, but the vials are my critical cargo. They’re what I’m risking my life for. And I’m doing this for Marcus.

The slightest thought of him sends waves of grief flooding over me. I fight those feelings and bury them away. Letting emotions control me is the surest way of getting killed.

When I pull up to a rest area, the car cuts a path through an inch of pine needles spread over the parking lot. Weeds spring up through every possible crack, and vines are well on their way to swallowing the restrooms whole. The sheer relentlessness of Mother Nature is startling.

Since man-made light is a thing of the past, it’s impossible to see your hand six inches in front of your face, especially on a cloudy, moonless night in rural Montana. The headlights are my only guide through the darkness, so I leave them turned on.

As I open the door, I’m hit with a cold blast of air and the smell of sap. It must be low forties out. My breaths puff out in misty clouds.

Looters often overlook vending machines at rest stops, so I always check them out. I’m pleasantly surprised to find the machines undamaged and nearly full. With a few pries of a crowbar, the lock springs open. I load what I can into my backpack and stuff the rest in a black plastic bag.

After doing my business in the restroom, I return to my faded red ’97 Integra, crunching through the thick layer of decaying pine needles. I stop suddenly, staring at another pair of footprints that cross over mine, head up to my car door, and then into the woods. They were not here before. I’m sure of it.

Did I remember to lock the door?

In a flash, I run to the car and reach for the handle. Locked. Thank god. The second I’m in, I fire up the engine. Debris kicks up from the tires as I hit the gas and speed away.

For the next several minutes, I’m hypervigilant, keeping my eye on the mirrors and looking ahead for a potential ambush. Those footprints could have been from a member of a local militia. Their scouts are notorious for spotting lone cars and radioing for backup.

Or the footprints could have been from one of the people sick with that damn disease. The Infected. It’s unlikely since they went right up to the car door. Once the fever has done its damage, the Infected don’t really have that level of cognitive ability. The path would have been more random.

Either way, I’m glad to put the rest area behind me. As time passes, my nerves start to settle. Guess I got lucky. Maybe it was nothing, like a local survivor passing through.

As the minutes drift by, my eyes get heavy. It’s no use fighting sleep, so I scan the highway for a side road with enough cover to pull over and rest for the night.

That’s when headlights shine in my rearview mirror.

Goddamn it.

Carjackers.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Paul is a lifelong creative writer whose life is filled with queer joy. His passion is to spread that joy through storytelling, writing books where you might not typically see queer characters. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband and two tuxedo kitties and might have a slight addiction to reading gay romance. But it’s not a problem. He could stop any time he wants. Honestly.

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Book Blitz: Uncertain Foundations by Emily Carrington (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title: Uncertain Foundations

Author: Emily Carrington

Cover Art: Angela Knight

Genres: Action Adventure, Dark Fantasy, New Releases, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense

Themes: Gay, Multicultural & Interracial, Vampires, Werewolves & Wolf Shifters

Series: Tilthos Pack (#3)

Multiverse: Searchlight (#10)

Book Length: Novel

Page Count: 159

 

Synopsis

They’ve been there for each other through death and life, through pain and joy. Their love life has held them together through all external dangers. But what happens when the threat seems to come from within?

Charlie, half werewolf, has never felt so uncertain. Everything he’s trusted in — his eyesight, his psychic ability, his confidence in making decisions — is under attack. Even his mate, his Life dancer, Luis, seems untrustworthy.

Luis, a psychic vampire, is consumed by terror and paranoia. Unable to tell fact from fiction, and feeling Charlie pulling away, he lashes out.

These two lovers who have stood the test of time find themselves on unsteady ground. Can their love prevail despite the terror working its way through the pack?

Excerpt

Uncertain Foundations (Tilthos Pack 3)
Emily Carrington
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2024 Emily Carrington

Luis stood his back to a wall. He gazed across the crowded room to his Life Dancer, who was shaking hands with Princess Angelina Oakland. Scanning the princess’s living room quickly, Luis noted the approaching dawn lightening the sky in the east and the Pakistani land dragon speaking quietly with Claudette, the water dragon from Western New York. He felt like a stalker, watching all these people in their final moments of conversation and leave-taking, but he wouldn’t let Charlie, his Life Dancer, be alone. Too much had happened during this last delegate gathering.

“Go downstairs,” Charlie said, turning his head away from the princess to meet Miguel’s gaze. The blood-dependent vampire, slave to the darkness of night, was swaying on his feet.

“You are leaving,” Miguel said.

“This morning,” Charlie agreed.

“I wanted to say thank you.” He nodded to Princess Angelina. “To you as well, Your Highness. I have lived without hope for many years. To have it again is a marvelous blessing. And it wouldn’t have been possible, Tilthos Charles, without your assistance.”

“You’re welcome, but if you thank me again, I’m going to have to demand payment.” Charlie sounded more concerned than flippant despite his words. “Go. Down. Stairs. We’ll meet again.”

Miguel shook hands with both of them and headed from the room.

He passed close to Luis and said softly, “Your lover is a beacon of hope.” Then he was gone.

Luis watched Charlie making the rounds of the other magical creatures in the room. All of these others were ignoring Luis, as if he was just a bodyguard. That suited Luis just fine. Charlie didn’t really need his protection, not in this room, and not usually in the world at large. The leader of all the werewolves on this and the southern continent was only half werewolf, and visually impaired also, but he’d held his position without others defending him for over half a decade. He was confident. He was strong.

And sexy as hell.

Luis firmly turned his thoughts from that particular channel because some of the magical creatures gathered here had great senses of smell. They’d know he was aroused if he allowed himself the luxury of thinking of his Life Dancer without clothes on.

Charlie’s thoughts drifted through Luis’s mind, his psychic tone lightly teasing. I think it’s too late for you to hide anything.

Luis smirked and thought back, Good.

Gradually, the heads of this or that species left, taking their chauffeured rides to private airplanes. Agent Jack Sowerby would be meeting some of them at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, but some wouldn’t allow the new head of SearchLight to see them off. Claudette, the water dragon, was one of these, preferring to keep her exact departure a secret.

Luis knew she was flying out of Dulles, the airport south of here in Virginia, but he was a tracker. It was his job to know the comings and goings of those who might be a threat to SearchLight. Or to his Life Dancer.

As the room emptied, he wondered if the princess would let him and Charlie have one last fling in the bedroom she’d set aside for them. Although, even if she did, Charlie might not want to hang around. He was anxious to get back to their displaced pack.

“Tilthos Charles, do you need to rest before starting on your drive home?” Princess Angelina asked as if she’d read Luis’s mind. He didn’t think she had telepathy, and his shields were mostly up anyway.

“That would be a better question for Luis, since I can’t drive,” Charlie said, sounding amused. He tapped the end of his white cane on the parquet floor. “Thank you, but I think we should get going.”

Luis thought, keeping it hidden from his Life Dancer, Damn. And I was hoping to be driving without blue balls.

Still, he had to admit he wanted to get home. And not just so that the Tilthos Pack could return from where they’d been scattered to when all the dominant protectors were occupied here in DC and Maryland. Luis had concerns about those pack members here: Jeremy, Ethan, and Charlie.

Jeremy and Ethan would be driving back at some point soon, but first, Ethan needed to regain his human shape. He’d taken to sticking close to Jeremy and their son, Will, but in his werewolf guise. It was as if he thought being in four-footed would somehow protect him from further pain.

Luis had absolutely no doubt Jeremy would take care of his mate. The Night Wanderer was protective anyway, and since Ethan had been forced to —

“Luis?”

He blinked, startled out of his thoughts by his Life Dancer calling his name. Charlie stood about ten feet away, his gaze unfocused, as it always was when he wasn’t trying to read some large print or looking at a picture eight-year-old Will had drawn.

Luis crossed to him and touched his shoulder. “What is it?” he asked gently.

“I guess you missed the change in plans.”

Luis smiled guiltily. “I was lost in my own world.”

“I realized –” Charlie said, lowering his voice and bending so he could put his mouth next to Luis’s ear. “I need you before we head out.”

Luis’s cock raised its head and he felt his asshole constrict in anticipation. “Not here,” he ventured.

“Well, in this house, but, no, not in the living room. If we stained any of her pillows or cushions, I’m sure Angelina would throw us out and bill us through the nose.” He took Luis’s hand, pressing the shaft of the white cane between their palms. “Will you guide me?”

Luis knew Charlie didn’t mean that literally. He was independent to a fault, was Tilthos Charles McLaughlin, alpha above all alphas. But having Charlie make the request made Luis harder still. He kissed Charlie’s palm and then encouraged him to take his arm.

Swinging his cane out before his feet, Charlie “followed” Luis up the stairs and down the hall. The warmth of his hand, firm on the back of Luis’s arm, was ambrosia to the anxiety Luis had been feeling for the last week or so. Charlie trusted him. He glanced back and saw Charlie’s eyes were closed and his cane no longer touched the floor. He was letting Luis guide him completely.

Luis’s heart rose and he swallowed against sudden, stupid tears. “Te amo, Charlie,” he whispered.

A mischievous smile lit Charlie’s dark and handsome features. “Of course, you do.”

Luis snorted. But before he could retort, Charlie stopped walking and pulled Luis into a tight embrace. Luis inhaled, loving the scent of his lover’s aftershave.

“I love you too. Now, come on. I need you.”

Purchase at Changeling Press

Meet the Author

Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender women’s speculative fiction. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires. And in the contemporary world she’s named “Sticks & Stones,” Emily has vowed to create small towns where prejudice is challenged by a passionate quest for equality. Find her on Facebook at Shapeshifter Central or on her website.

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