New Release Blitz: Melting the Ice Witch by Mell Eight (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Melting the Ice Witch

Series: Dragon’s Hoard, Book Four

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/18/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 27400

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, mythical creatures, dragon shifters, witches, tundra

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Description

The Tribe of the White Dragon has lived in the frozen wastes of the north for thousands of years, but they are slowly dying without their dragon to protect them from the inhospitable cold.

In desperation, they kidnap Kam, hoping to use him to breed witch power back into the Tribe. But Kam is not a witch, and there is nothing he can do to save them—until he sees the white dragon encased in ice and all alone and a chain reaction is set off that may save them after all.

Excerpt

Melting the Ice Witch
Mell Eight © 2022
All Rights Reserved

“In the before times, when the cold ice and biting wind were welcoming to our kind, dragons flew,” the old storyteller warbled. The man was bent and gray, and his crabbed hands shook on his gnarled staff, but his voice still held the power that had made him the storyteller of the Tribe in his youth.

“The golden dragon rained fire and melted the ice, and the white dragon taught the Tribe the spells to survive the difficult, yet beautiful, climate. Together, the gold and white kept these plains of ice tamed, and the Tribe survived in plenty.”

The old man’s voice reached Kam even from the other side of the fire. Warmth in the ice wastes was hard to come by, especially for one not of the Tribe, so Kam appreciated his place near the flickering flames. His brown hair was city short, which meant his ears and neck were exposed to the cold wind. The barbarians all had hair that reached well down their backs, tied in intricate braids with feathers and stones woven throughout. None had hair more elaborate than Lor, the man with the snow-white hair and ice blue eyes who had the seat of honor next to the storyteller.

“But—” The storyteller’s voice darkened, and Kam felt his chest clench at the ominous tone. “—such times were not meant to last. The golden one gathered his followers around him and declared that for the happiness of dragon-kind they must separate themselves from the wars of humans. No more deaths of dragons, was the golden one’s goal, but the white dragon disagreed with his methods.

“They fought with their words, their arguments echoing through the icy canyons, but neither would back down. The white dragon knew that to abandon the humans was to allow the Tribe, his hoard, to die in the ice wastes. But the golden one wished to keep his kin alive and to do so he needed to rule the humans, not be ruled by human whim.

“The best of friends, and possibly lovers, the golden dragon and the white dragon never spoke again. All but the white dragon flew south, where the plains are formed of grass rather than ice. There they settled in the mountains. They built a city for the humans in the foothills. And the white dragon withdrew to the ice caves, alone.”

The storyteller bowed his head in sadness, but Lor’s piercing eyes scanned the assembled members of the Tribe.

“So we survive.” Lor continued the story. His voice was strong, but as the leader of the Tribe, he had to be. Lor was the tallest and most muscular of all the barbarians, and he was the only witch the clan still had. “Bereft of the dragons who allowed us life in the barren waste of ice and snow, the Tribe learned new ways to survive. We adapted, so after tens of thousands of years, we still live.” Kam looked around at the assembled Tribe and frowned. There were barely sixty people of all ages and genders still remaining in the circle around the fire. He had learned that there was another clan to the northwest with equal numbers. But most alarmingly, there were only two witches left: Lor and the man named Bay who led the other clan. There were no female witches to pass the traits on, nor had any of Lor’s children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren shown any aptitude during Lor’s hundreds of years of life.

The Tribe was dying.

That was why Kam had been brought north. The only way to invigorate the clans was to breed more witch blood into the lines. The hope was if Kam were to have a child with one of the descendants of Lor, maybe a child with powers could be born. But Kam wasn’t a witch, and he hadn’t exactly been asked before he was kidnapped and taken to the ice wastes.

“We live and we are strong,” Lor continued. “The Tribe of the White Dragon does not fade away!”

The barbarians cheered loudly around Kam, but Kam didn’t join them. As the assemblage broke up, Kam returned to his small tent. Once the barbarians had been sure he wouldn’t run away—as if there were some way to survive in the endless ice wastes for a city-bred boy—they had given Kam his own space. The tent was small, with barely enough room for bedding and a small wooden chest filled with the meager belongings he had accumulated in the last few weeks, but it was heavy with furs and thick woolen blankets that kept the cold and the wind out. Kam curled up in his bed, glad when his blankets began to warm with his body heat, and closed his eyes.

The barbarians were nice enough despite the fact that he couldn’t give them what they wanted. And it was better than being back in the city. Kam went to sleep with that thought firmly in mind. As much as he had disliked being kidnapped and taken to the barren north, it was still better than what he endured in the city. His thoughts focused on those times as he drifted to sleep.

«

“Kam, Kam, the witchery man,” the kids sang as Kam walked past them. He ducked his head, but otherwise kept himself from acknowledging their taunts. His mother hadn’t exactly been discreet with her passions, and lying with the resident witch had supposedly produced Kam. Since the man in question was a charlatan and his mother had never actually said he was Kam’s father before they both died…well, all that didn’t matter to everyone else. To them, Kam had witch blood, and in his part of the city, he was someone to be ridiculed.

Kam pushed his way into the small shop where he worked. The bell jingled overhead.

“Kameron, you’re late!” the harpy who was his boss screeched from behind the front counter. As usual, the place was dirty and the goods covered the shelves with haphazard organization. The sour smell that had appeared early last week had only grown worse overnight.

“Sorry, ma’am,” Kam murmured, ducking his head further as he wended his way through the mishmash stacks of random goods and into the back room. The pawnshop bought and sold everything. Sailors on leave after making the journey down the Great River came to the shop to sell what they could so they would have the funds to drink and carouse in the bars and whorehouses that also populated that part of the docks.

It was Kam’s job to clean and fix those often grimy and broken items so the owner could in turn sell them for profit to a higher quality pawnshop in the northern part of the city. It paid well for the woman, but Kam only saw a few coins a week for his work. As the witchery man he was lucky to have a job, so as much as Kam wished, there was no way he could find better prospects.

Kam worked hard for his pay, and at the end of the day his hands ached, but his quota was met. He left the shop at dusk and hurried home. He couldn’t tarry, because the docks became very dangerous after dark, and since his rent was due, he couldn’t afford to stop for dinner anyway.

He walked up the three flights of rickety stairs to his tiny apartment. It was one room, barely large enough to hold his threadbare bedding and one change of clothes, but it was a place to sleep. He had left one window cracked while he was away so the three cats that had crept in during the previous night could leave if they wished. The family of mice that lived under his floorboards were running about, so Kam was careful where he placed his feet as he walked over to collapse on his blanket.

One of the mice climbed up onto his pillow and gently nuzzled him on the nose. The mouse was hungry, too, and was probably looking for crumbs, but Kam appreciated the meager comfort his small friend could provide. Kam smiled, despite his rumbling stomach, as he slowly fell asleep.

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Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz ~ The Nile Priestess by Catherine Curzon & Eleanor Harkstead (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Nile Priestess by Catherine Curzon & Eleanor Harkstead

Word Count: 61,298
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 237

Genres:

HISTORICAL
MYSTERY
PARANORMAL
ROMANCE
VAMPIRES

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Book Description

Amid the shifting sands of Egypt, is an ancient evil stronger than even the most timeless bonds?
In the heat of 1920’s Cairo, Raf and Cecily are looking forward to making their honeymoon one to remember. Instead, they find themselves caught between a British nobleman on a mission to loot Egypt’s ancient tombs and a mysterious local woman who will do whatever it takes to protect the land she loves.

When a foreboding pyramid rises from the sands and the scent of decay fills the air, Raf and Cecily find themselves caught in a terrifying race against time to vanquish a murderous mummy and put right the wrongs of the past. But is evil stronger than even the most timeless bonds?

Excerpt

Cecily leaned over the ship’s railing, shielding her eyes from the hot Mediterranean sun with her hand. They’d travelled across Europe to get here, and now they were almost at their destination, a place Cecily had only ever dreamed of before.

“And tomorrow we’ll see Egypt, just there on the horizon!” she excitedly said to Raf, her husband.

If only I could wish and wish and it’d appear there right away.

“And tomorrow night, we’ll be snuggled in bed in the Rosetta of the Nile, counting the stars above Cairo.” Raf beamed. He put his arm around Cecily’s waist and said, “It’s the perfect honeymoon, Sissy.”

“It feels like a dream, Raf, like it’s not quite real!” Cecily pictured pyramids and deserts, a world away from their home in Yorkshire or the places in Europe they had journeyed through. “We’ll go everywhere by camel, of course, and eat nothing but dates.”

“Just like we do in Yorkshire,” he told her with a grin. Then he pecked a kiss to Cecily’s cheek and asked, “Happy, Mrs de Chastelaine?”

“Oh, so happy I might go pop!” Cecily said excitedly. Then with affection, she added, “But then, I have been ever since I first met you, Raf.”

Not so long ago Cecily would never have dreamed that she’d be married to a man—or dhampir, really—like Raf de Chastelaine, let alone be honeymooning in Egypt, but here she was. Her life had taken an unexpected turn and as she stood here beneath the sun, the botanical scent of Raf’s homemade sun lotion mingling with the heat and sea salt, she’d never been happier.

A breeze rippled the brim of her sunhat, and Cecily turned to see another passenger lean against the railings a few feet away. Miss Mansour was a very glamorous Egyptian lady, who they’d sat with at the captain’s table the night before, along with Miss Mansour’s party of archaeologists. Cecily had been over the moon to sit at such an important table on her first long sea journey, and with a party who were travelling to Egypt to uncover its wonders, too.

But Miss Mansour seemed preoccupied and hadn’t noticed them. Instead, she stared off towards the horizon.

Cecily’s sixth sense, her ability to pick up on others’ emotions, began to twitch.

She’s homesick, Cecily thought, although she realised that was obvious.

“Raf,” Cecily whispered, “let’s say good afternoon.”

Raf glanced towards the woman, then gave a nod. “Yeah, let’s say how do,” he decided.

Cecily moved along the salt-covered railing. “Good afternoon, Miss Mansour!” She smiled. “You must be very glad to be so close to home again.”

Miss Mansour removed her sunglasses and smiled back, but there was something sad in her expression. “Oh, of course, if one has a happy home, then one is glad to return. I am thinking of all the work I must do when we arrive. Lord Bath has such great plans for his dig. I think we might uncover many wonderful things.”

“It must be terribly exciting!” Cecily said. “All those treasures that haven’t seen the light of day for years and years and years, and you brush away the sand, and there in your hand there’s a little golden Anubis!”

“Lord Carnarvon hasn’t put him off?” Raf asked. “If you believe the papers, pyramid-diving is a bad business. I don’t know… I feel like perhaps English lords should leave Egyptian treasures in Egypt.”

A flicker of amusement crossed Miss Mansour’s face. She maybe didn’t hear that sentiment often enough. But Raf’s Romanian accent no doubt told her that he had no patience with the meddling of the English. “It is strange to me to think of my ancestors lying in museums across the world. I cannot think it was what they expected when they died—that one day their remains would travel the world, to be stared at.”

“I heard that Lord Bath reckons he’s found a tomb that nobody believed existed at all,” Raf replied. “But legends sometimes turn out to be true, don’t they?”

And Raf would know all about that, wouldn’t he? Not many advertisements for family businesses that spanned the generations read, ‘Ghosts need laying? Rates negotiable on application.’ Raf didn’t work alone anymore though—Cecily was part of the family business, too.

But what fates had Raf’s ancestors faced? His father might be human, but his late mother certainly hadn’t been. After all, it wasn’t many newlyweds who spent Christmas at a castle perched atop a precipice on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains. Cecily would never have guessed that vampires could be such generous and attentive hosts.

“The tomb of Menkare II,” Miss Mansour replied, with a note of distaste. “He is sure that he has discovered it, even though the sands covered it from human sight longer ago than you can imagine. A pharaoh who has almost been entirely forgotten, but the legend of his missing tomb has persisted down the centuries. And now Lord Bath thinks he’s found it.”

Cecily shivered with delight at the thought. “Do you think we might come along to the dig and have a look? We won’t touch anything. We’ll be on our best behaviour. Won’t we, Raf?”

“I don’t want to touch anything that’s been inside a forgotten tomb.” Raf chuckled. “I’ve got an allergy to curses. I’d love to have a nose at the site, though…history’s a bit of a hobby of mine. Along with gardening. And tinkering. I love tinkering.”

Miss Mansour chuckled. Then she looked Raf and Cecily slowly up and down, as if she was assessing them. Cecily did her best to smile under her scrutiny. It felt as if Miss Mansour wasn’t just looking at them, but into them. Although Cecily told herself she couldn’t be. Then Miss Mansour nodded.

“Yes, why don’t you come along? I believe I can trust you.” Miss Mansour pointed to the jumble of necklaces and amulets around Raf’s neck. “You’re wearing a scarab, I see. And the Eye of Horus.”

Raf nodded. “It’s not my first time in Egypt,” he admitted, almost bashfully. “And I like to pack on the protection. Whether it’s from the sun, or…whatever else is floating about.”

“You are very sensible to do so,” Miss Mansour said. “Lord Bath scoffs at such ideas, of course. And I am told sometimes that I am too superstitious, but you never can be too careful. Especially not when you’re robbing graves, even ancient ones.” She paused for a moment, before adding, almost to herself, “Especially ancient ones.”

“We’re very careful about such things,” Cecily said, knowing she couldn’t go into detail with someone they’d not long met. “We always treat the dead with respect.”

“They’re people too,” Raf pointed out, straight-faced. “Just like us.”

“Oh, they are…” Miss Mansour glanced away for a moment, towards the southern horizon. Cecily sensed her homesickness again, a feeling of loss and loneliness. Then Miss Mansour turned back to face them. “You see, I knew I could trust you. There are not many people on this earth who share that sentiment, Mr de Chastelaine.”

Raf smiled gently and admitted, “It’s just something life’s taught us.” And he glanced towards Cecily, his eyes filled with love.

“Miss Mansour!” It was Lord Bath’s braying voice, and it was coming closer from inside the ship. “I say, Miss Mansour, where are you hiding?”

Miss Mansour sighed. “I apologise. I must speak to Lord Bath.” She raised her voice and replied, “I am out here on the deck, Lord Bath, taking the sea air.”

“Dreaming of the old homeland, eh!” Lord Bath stepped out onto the deck. He put his hands on his hips and drew in a deep breath of sea air. “Good Lord, it’s hotter than ever today!”

He was dressed in a linen suit, as most of the European men on the ship were. But Lord Bath’s looked particularly expensive, cut to fit just right. His square jaw jutted out as he took the air, as though he was the master of all he surveyed. And the truth was, men like him were.

Not women like Cecily or Miss Mansour, not men like Raf. But wealthy English aristocrats in Jermyn Street linen suits ruled the world.

“This is not hot!” Miss Mansour chuckled. “You have the sea breeze here. But out in the desert, it doesn’t matter how hot it gets, you hope the wind won’t start up or a sandstorm might follow. But I will be glad to see my home again, yes. Are you not pleased to see yours when you return to England?”

“One has several, and one is always happy to see them. But the tomb of Menkare II is my life’s work. I’ll happily take a long-lost legendary treasure horde over even the nicest family pile in Bath.” Bath guffawed. He lifted his Panama hat to Raf and Cecily. “Good afternoon, Mr and Mrs de Chastelaine. Egypt awaits, what!”

“Oh, it does!” Cecily replied. “You must be so excited about the dig. I know I am, and I’m not even digging anything. But then I’ve never been to Egypt before, and you’re all experts on it. Miss Mansour especially.”

Miss Mansour smiled wistfully. “Egypt and her myths and legends have been my life’s work.”

But it wouldn’t be Miss Mansour’s name connected with the find. Rather, the name of a man born in a country far away, in a land without a single desert to its name.

“I must confess this was a last throw of the dice,” Bath admitted. “Seven failed digs over the years. But our Miss Mansour isn’t only a dashed pretty face. She’s got a very clever little brain in that head of hers!”

Little brain? Cecily had once been married to a man who spoke like that about women. She bristled on Miss Mansour’s behalf.

“How kind of you to say so,” Miss Mansour replied, acknowledging his backhanded compliment with a nod. “I have worked very hard—studied very hard—to acquire the knowledge I now have of my country’s ancient past.”

“And we’re all terribly grateful,” Bath assured her. “Miss Mansour was able to interpret the last clues to the location of the tomb. When the treasures of Menkare II are exhibited in London, I’m sure this young lady’s beauty will dazzle almost as much as the pharaoh’s gold.”

Young lady’s beauty?

Cecily bristled anew. She could sense that Miss Mansour didn’t appreciate the way Lord Bath spoke about her either, but she didn’t say anything.

“And everyone will want to talk to her to find out how she worked out the last clues,” Cecily said.

Miss Mansour gave Cecily a smile, as if telling her that she appreciated her support. “I would be more than happy to.”

Lord Bath met that with a bark of uproarious laughter. He clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “Quite so, Mrs de Chastelaine, quite so!” He wiped his eyes on a pristine white handkerchief. “And when one dines at the Ritz, one lauds the waitress for the chef’s splendid work, eh?”

“But without Miss Mansour, you wouldn’t have found the tomb,” Raf pointed out, frowning. “Isn’t that right?”

“And without my money to hire her, Miss Mansour wouldn’t have been part of the party at all.” Lord Bath’s smile had become rather tight. Cecily could tell that he didn’t take kindly to such ideas. “And she certainly wouldn’t have had access to the tablets and very rare papyri that held the secrets of Menkare II’s tomb. Believe me when I say that such treasures are highly prized and priced accordingly. Far beyond the reach of the Miss Mansours of the world.”

Miss Mansour raised an eyebrow before putting her sunglasses back on. A chill breeze rose from the sea. “That is because the tablets and papyri I needed to study are held in a private collection in England.”

“Guilty as charged.” Bath chuckled. “And I may yet have one surprise left up my sleeve, madam. A little showmanship, if you will.”

“Is that so?” Miss Mansour sounded like someone who was not easily surprised. She tapped her fingers against the ship’s railing, her rings clanging on the metal. “I shall look forward to it.”

“Well, you’ll excuse me. I must dress for dinner.” Bath gave a polite nod of farewell. “Miss Mansour, might I escort you to your state—cabin?”

No stateroom for the hired help then, no matter how valuable their knowledge.

“No, thank you, Lord Bath. I believe I can just about remember the way there. Good evening.” And with that, Miss Mansour inclined her head, then turned and glided away along the deck.

Cecily glanced at Lord Bath, wondering if he had taken offence. But how else could Miss Mansour have reacted without any further dents to her dignity?

“She’s homesick,” Cecily told Lord Bath by way of explanation.

“Ah, England’s green and pleasant land. We all miss her, of course,” Bath replied, apparently untroubled by her departure. And somehow unaware that perhaps Miss Mansour, his Egyptian associate, might not consider England home, no matter how green or pleasant.

“Egypt,” Raf said bluntly.

“Yes, she misses Egypt,” Cecily prompted Lord Bath. “I think maybe she’s glad not to be in England.”

“Well, I certainly won’t be asking her to come back to England if she prefers to remain in Egypt,” the Earl of Bath replied with a magnanimous smile. “I shan’t be requiring her expertise once the tomb is open. Miss Mansour can go wherever she might wish.”

Raf frowned and asked, “You won’t give her the credit for her work, then?” He added innocently, “I thought you said you couldn’t have done it without her.”

“She’s terribly clever,” Cecily added. “Just think of the number of languages she understands, modern and ancient ones. And she knows a terribly vast amount of things about the ancient world as well!”

“And dashed pretty too,” the Earl of Bath replied. “Well, I shall take my leave. Good afternoon to you both!”

“We must go and dress for dinner. Good afternoon,” Cecily responded, the words sticking in her throat. The earl gave another nod and retreated back towards the ship.

“Cheerio,” Raf called, but Cecily knew that his bonhomie was an effort. He didn’t like Lord Bath any more than she did. If the nobleman realised, of course, he didn’t care. Instead he disappeared into the ship, whistling a cheery tune as he went.

Cecily waited until he had gone, then she whispered to Raf, “What a dreadful man, robbing Miss Mansour of her discovery. I really don’t like him at all, Raf. But then, maybe I’ve known one too many men like him in my life.”

Raf nodded. He put his arm around Cecily’s shoulders and whispered, “Not my sort of bloke either. Do you want to head in and get ready to eat?” Raf kissed her cheek. “Do I have to wear shoes to dinner?”

“Oh, yes, let’s go back to the cabin.” Cecily chuckled. “Shoes? Well, if you don’t wear shoes, we might not be invited to the captain’s table tonight. But if the delightful Lord Bath’s sitting there again, maybe that’s a good thing.”

“I’ll put shoes on,” Raf assured her. Then he added with a wink, “But I’ll slip them off when I’m sitting down,”

Raf really didn’t like shoes. He was happiest barefoot, wandering through the garden at home. Cecily smiled at him. “I’d expect nothing less, darling! Right, let’s get ready for dinner.”

Arm in arm, they strolled along the deck towards their cabin.

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About the Authors

Eleanor Harkstead

Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper’s.

Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.

You can follow Eleanor on Facebook and Twitter

Catherine Curzon

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian who writes on all matters of 18th century. Her work has been featured on many platforms and Catherine has also spoken at various venues including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and Dr Johnson’s House.

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London.

She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

You can follow Catherine on Facebook and Twitter and take a look at her Website.

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New Release Blitz ~ The Runner by Thom Collins (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Runner by Thom Collins

Word Count: 30,353
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 121

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
SPORTS

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Book Description

 

An Olympic hero faces his longest run – to make up for the past.

Alex Schaefer is a sports journalist and commentator at the top of his game. He hosts a successful weekly podcast has just written the biography of a world class football player. With his career on an upward trajectory, Alex has never been busier. There is no time in his life for love or romance.

Ethan Bower was used to success. As a British sprinter, he won a host of silver and gold medals at the Olympics, European and Commonwealth championships, and spent over a decade at the top. Persistent injuries brought Ethan’s career to an abrupt halt in his mid-thirties. Now he has to start over again. Trying to get his foot in the door of athletics commentary and presenting isn’t easy.

Ethan and Alex have history. Eight years ago, at the height of Ethan’s success, Alex was chosen to ghost write his autobiography. An experience they would both rather forget. Ethan hated what Alex wrote about him; a fact he’s made very public. When Ethan attends the launch of Alex’s latest book, they meet again for the first time in years and something becomes apparent to both of them – they have each improved with age. Now in their thirties, they are older and more mature.

Can they put the past behind them and their ambitions for the future to take a chance on each other now?

Excerpt

After a few minutes of light-hearted banter with his co-host Lanita, Alex Shaefer brought his weekly podcast to a close. There were never enough hours in the day for Alex to achieve all the things he wanted, and with today’s recording running half an hour over, time was getting tight.

“Nice one,” Lanita said, reaching across the desk to give him a high-five.

“Is that everything?” Alex asked their producer Naz. “Have we got enough?”

Naz gave a thumbs-up through the studio window. “All good.”

Alex let out a long exhalation and took off his headphones.

The Long Run was Alex’s baby. The podcast was coming to the end of a second successful year that had seen it move from being an independent broadcast in its first seven months onto the wider platform of the BBC. The original concept had been to focus on British athletics, but they had widened their remit to cover all aspects of sport. Lanita Khan, a well-known football pundit, had joined the team when the show expanded, taking it to even greater triumphs.

With success came more work. The show took longer than ever to put together—booking guests, researching subjects and covering all the latest sports news and gossip. It was a relentless cycle each week. As a sideline, it had almost become a full-time job in itself. At least the move to the BBC had saved him from having to chase the sponsorship and funding deals that had been essential for them as an indie. Because podcasts were free to listen to and so many kids were doing them for fun from their bedrooms, a lot of people were surprised to learn how expensive it was to put a professional-sounding show together and get it on the air.

It was done—for today, at least. Tomorrow the work would start all over on next week’s production.

Alex ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, pushing it back from his forehead in thick waves.

“Relax,” Lanita said, obviously noticing his tension.

“I can’t help it. You know how much I hate having to do the front and centre promotion. That stuff kills me.”

Lanita grinned. “Babe, I don’t want to sound rude, but you’ve got nothing to worry about. Sure, you wrote the book, but no one will pay you much attention. You know that, right? All eyes will be on Fernando.”

“I hope that’s true,” he said, unconvinced.

Tonight was the launch of Playing with Pride, the official autobiography of Fernando Inglesias. Fernando had made headlines late in the past year when he’d become the first premiership footballer to come out as gay. It was sensational news, which had caused headlines around the world. Everybody had wanted his story. At the time, Alex had dedicated an entire episode of the podcast to the issue of homophobia, not just in football but in sport in general. It was one of his most streamed shows and had resulted in him being asked to speak on several TV programmes.

It had been a huge shock to receive a call three weeks later, asking if he’d like to write Fernando’s story for a book. Alex had ghostwritten three other sporting biographies, and the experience had been far from fulfilling. The majority of the subjects for those biographies were people who had no interest in books or even reading, beyond the advance they were offered from the publishers. Sitting down with a writer to flesh out the details of their life and career was often the last thing any of the sporting icons wanted to do. It had been a dismal experience working with those people.

“Things will be different this time.” That was what he’d been promised. He’d have unrestricted access to Fernando for the period of research and full credit for having written the book, not just a mention in the acknowledgement section.

Despite his reservations about writing another sports bio, the offer had been too good for him to refuse, and against all expectations, Fernando had come through and acknowledged Alex as his co-writer on Playing with Pride. It was a bold step and one which he was grateful for, even when that meant accompanying Fernando on the publicity circuit.

They’d already given joint interviews to several media outlets. No big deal. That was part of Alex’s business. After completing an MA in sports journalism in his early twenties and gaining his first job at BBC Radio, he’d been in the profession sixteen years and knew how to handle the press.

However, all the other aspects of promotion were a struggle.

To celebrate the book, there would be a huge party in central Manchester. A year after his ground-breaking announcement, Fernando Inglesias was still big news…huge. The pre-sales on Playing with Pride were massive. All eyes would be on him, and as his collaborator, Fernando wanted Alex by his side.

“Why don’t you tell him you’re uncomfortable with this?” Lanita asked.

“I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Besides, I’ve got my name on the cover rather than a ghostwriting credit, so I owe him,” Alex said.

“I’m sure he’d understand.”

“The trouble is, I think Fernando is nervous too. You know what a big deal this is. He’s still the only openly gay player we have. There are plenty of other gay footballers, but no one has followed his lead and come out after him. The guy needs all the support he can get.”

She nodded. “And you’ll be perfect at it. You always are. Why do you get so nervous? You’re a natural at what you do.”

“Behind the camera,” he said. “Radio, podcasting, writing… There’s a reason I haven’t gone up for any TV presenting jobs. I hate having a camera pointed at me and being the centre of attention.”

Lanita rolled her eyes. “You being so unattractive and all.”

Alex gave a shy laugh. It wasn’t his looks that bothered him about being on camera. He knew he was photogenic, with his strong bone structure and dark hair. Even if he weren’t, he didn’t care what people thought of him. He just didn’t want the attention or adulation that came from appearing on screen or in print—the letters, the emails and IMs that came in the thousands whenever he appeared on TV. There was always a mix of good and bad comments, and they were an unwanted distraction. Alex didn’t need any of that to do his job.

As a journalist or reporter, the best asset anyone could have was the ability to walk around unnoticed.

Something inside him clammed up when he was on camera. He could sit in the podcast studio and talk for hours, but the few times he’d been dragged onto TV shows, he’d found himself unable to articulate or express any of the points he needed to make.

He was in a minority. Plenty of other journalists sought fame and attention from TV and social media, and they were welcome to every bit of it.

Alex didn’t need or want it.

Lanita gathered her things together, stuffing them inside a huge red leather bag. “C’mon. Let’s go. I’m taking you for a drink.”

Alex shook his head. “I can’t. I have to go home to get ready for the party.”

“Bitch, please. What are you going to do? Take a shower and change your shirt? You can do that in fifteen minutes. I know what you’re like when you go out, and you don’t need two hours to achieve it. C’mon. We’re going—me, you and Naz. You know we can’t make this evening, and we want to celebrate the book too. I’m buying, so you’d better take advantage of that while you can.”

They recorded the podcast at a studio in Media City close to Salford Quays and an array of trendy bars and restaurants. Ten minutes later, they were settled in a comfortable booth with a bottle of champagne on the table.

“To Alex and Fernando,” Lanita said, raising a toast.

They clinked glasses.

“When are we gonna get him on the show?” Naz asked. “Fernando, I mean. If anyone can pull a few strings, it’s got to be you. We should be all over this book release.”

Naz was a good ten years younger than Alex and Lanita but knew more about broadcast technology and recording than the two of them combined. He was a talented kid and had been with the show since the beginning. Alex had picked well when he’d hired him.

“It doesn’t feel right, using privilege like that,” Alex said. “Besides, there’s also the BBC policy about advertising. I can’t plug my own book on the show.”

“Bullshit,” Naz and Lanita said in unison.

“You don’t have to mention the book at all,” Naz continued. “We just want an interview with Fernando. You know what he would do for our listening figures. Ask him about it tonight.”

“No,” Alex said firmly. “I’m not going to exploit our friendship for listeners.”

“I would,” Lanita said. “If I was going to the launch, I wouldn’t hesitate. And he would say yes. I’m sure of it.”

“How come you’re not going?” Naz asked.

“I’m presenting a feature on The One Show. Can’t get out of it,” she said, taking a sip of champagne. “It’s bound to be some party. I heard the pre-sales are the biggest in years for a football book. They expect it to be bigger than Beckham’s. Your publisher will have money to burn. There are bound to be some big names around tonight.”

“Oh, please don’t say that,” Alex protested. “I feel nervous enough as it is.”

“There’s are players and managers going from Liverpool and Manchester,” she continued undeterred. “Soap stars, musicians, athletes. Ethan Bower, Rory Evans, Moses Adebayo… They’re all going.”

Alex froze, backtracking on what she had just said—one name in particular.

“Ethan Bower?” he said. “He’s going?”

“Sure. All of them are.”

Naz grinned at Alex across the table. “Doesn’t he, like, hate you?”

Alex grimaced. “I have no idea.”

Naz laughed. “I think you do.”

“What’s this?” Lanita perked up, a huge smile on her face as she put down her glass. “What have I missed?”

“Nothing,” Alex said.

“Alex and Ethan Bower have history,” Naz chuckled.

Lanita turned to Alex, her pretty eyes sparkling. “OMG. You haven’t shagged him, have you? Tell me you didn’t.”

“I didn’t,” he protested. “It’s nothing like that.”

She groaned. “Pity. Then what? Come on. Spill the story? And how come I don’t know this already?”

“It’s no big secret,” Alex said, shooting Naz a dirty look. “I ghostwrote Ethan’s autobiography, which came out about eight years ago.”

“You did? I don’t even remember him having a book out.”

“With good reason. It was a busy time with a lot of big-name biographies vying for the Christmas market. His book kind of got lost in the crowd. It didn’t really bother me. As a ghostwriter, they paid me a flat fee. Whether the book was a success or bombed, I got paid just the same.”

“So, what’s the big deal? Does he think it’s your fault his book flopped? I mean, how old was he, anyway? In his twenties? He can’t have had much of a story to tell at that age.”

Naz cleared his throat theatrically and read aloud from the screen of his phone. “Quote… ‘The man who wrote my book didn’t do his research and was poorly informed. He seemed like a nice enough guy when we sat down for the interviews, but when he wrote it up, he did a real hatchet job on me. What’s written in that book are not my words. He made it up so I would sound like a shallow, egotistical arsehole. I tried to get him fired and hire someone new, but it was too late. The book had to be in the shops by a certain date, and there just wasn’t time to start over. I’m glad it didn’t do well in the end, so less people got to read that bullshit. Jesus, that guy was a prick.’ End quote.” Naz put down the phone, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

“A hatchet job,” Lanita said. “Classy.”

Alex sighed and swallowed some champagne. It tasted bitter all of a sudden. “That’s Ethan’s version of what happened.”

“And how does your version differ?” she asked. “Dramatically, no doubt.”

“The part about him being a shallow, egotistical arsehole… I didn’t make that up. It was all there to begin with. All I did was put his personality on the page.”

“I’ve always found him quite charming,” she said.

“You know him?”

“A little. Not so much from his competition days, but I’ve met him recently. In fact, I saw him just last month on a breakfast show, and he was very nice. I wouldn’t call him an arsehole at all.”

“Maybe he’s mellowed. I met him at the height of his success.”

Ethan Bower was one of the UK’s most triumphant sprinters. He’d won silver and gold medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games for the four-hundred-metre races, as well as sharing team glory in the relays. With his wholesome good looks and dazzling green eyes, Ethan had been the poster boy for British athletics when Alex had been approached to pen his biography. Alex had leapt at the opportunity. Ethan had been one of the UK’s most exciting stars…a hero.

Ethan had proved to Alex that the adage of never meeting your heroes was true. With reddish-blond hair, Ethan had the fiery temper to match. As Alex spent time with him for the purpose of the book, he’d witnessed first-hand Ethan’s obnoxious behaviour. He’d treated everyone as if they were beneath him—his coach, trainers, physios, ground attendants, reporters and even his fans. He’d been mean-spirited and aggressive and focused on nothing other than his own achievements. His apparent lack of empathy or understanding of others had caused Alex to question more than once whether or not Ethan was a psychopath.

Alex had raised his concerns with the publisher at the time—that he didn’t think he could present an impartial view of Ethan, after everything he’d witnessed. They had dismissed his unease. They needed the book in a hurry and didn’t care how it was written. Ethan already had a reputation as a bad boy of athletics. No one wanted to read a sanitized version of his story.

“Throw it all in,” his editor had advised.

The experience of writing the book had almost put Alex off ghostwriting for life.

Thankfully, none of his other subjects had turned out to be as difficult as Ethan.

“He’s pretty hot,” Lanita said. “He was always a good-looking guy, but have you seen him recently? OMG, time has been very kind. He’s unbelievably fine.”

“It doesn’t matter what he looks like,” Alex said. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and from what I saw, the inside of that man is the worst kind of brat.”

“You might be surprised. What you’re describing does not sound like the man I know. He was charming, well-spoken…quite humble, in fact.”

Alex spluttered, almost choking on his drink. “Humble? Ethan Bower? You have definitely got the wrong guy—not unless he’s had a personality transplant. ‘Toxic’ is the best word I can think of to describe him.”

She shrugged. “Well, like I said earlier, it’s going to be a big party. You probably won’t even see him if he’s there. Don’t let it spoil your night. It’s about you and Fernando, not Ethan.”

“Too right,” he said. “And if I do see him, you can be sure I’ll give him a wide berth. He doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him. I don’t think we have anything to achieve in speaking to each other.”

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About the Author

Thom Collins

Thom Collins is the author of Closer by Morning, with Pride Publishing. His love of page turning thrillers began at an early age when his mother caught him reading the latest Jackie Collins book and promptly confiscated it, sparking a life-long love of raunchy novels.

Thom has lived in the North East of England his whole life. He grew up in Northumberland and now lives in County Durham with his husband and two cats. He loves all kinds of genre fiction, especially bonkbusters, thrillers, romance and horror. He is also a cookery book addict with far too many titles cluttering his shelves. When not writing he can be found in the kitchen trying out new recipes. He’s a keen traveler but with a fear of flying that gets worse with age, but since taking his first cruise in 2013 he realized that sailing is the way to go.

You can take a look at Thom’s Blog and follow him on Twitter.

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Book Blitz: Legally Claimed by Alexa Piper (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Legally Claimed

Series: Elvenswood Tales 5

Author: Alexa Piper

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: January 7, 2022

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 156

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Thriller/Suspense, Action Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban fantasy, Elves, Dragons & Magical Creatures, Gay, Magic, Vampires, Werewolves & Wolf Shifters

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Synopsis

Peter is good at being a lawyer. He also happens to be a vampire, which — in his experience — is far less exciting than the books make it out to be. The most romance he gets these days is watching others fall in love. But this vicarious lifestyle isn’t something Peter minds or even wants to change.

Theo escaped an abusive relationship and is determined to get his college degree, even if prostitution is how he pays for it. No stranger to the supernatural, he has agreed to let vampires bite him for money, but his first client in the new city is nothing like Theo expected.

Peter has no good reason to tuck Theo into bed after that blood donation, but he does. Peter also has no reason to fantasize about Theo, and yet, Peter’s mind is soon drifting to the pretty, black-haired, jade-eyed boy he doesn’t even really know.

A chance encounter at New Elvenswood University brings Peter’s fantasies close to reality. Theo’s vampiric ex soon becomes a problem Peter will have solve. And he won’t use his skills as a lawyer to do it, either.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2022 Alexa Piper

Sitting behind his desk at his law firm, Peter Collins stared at the spreadsheet that was currently open on his work laptop. But the columns and all the numbers made no sense. Spreadsheets never did when Peter hadn’t had some nice fresh blood in a while, even if he normally loved himself some Excel magic. Sighing theatrically for the benefit of exactly no one because he was alone in his office, Peter leaned back in his ergonomically optimized chair and glared at the damned spreadsheet. It still made no sense, and obviously, his glaring was wasted on the damn screen. With a dismissive gesture, Peter closed his laptop and got to his feet.

He had the corner office, naturally, because he had founded the law firm Collins & Partners. Most days he liked the room that had been designed with an eye to justifying what his clients were billed for an hour of his lawyery time. But right this moment, Peter couldn’t spend another second in here because the cubist paintings just seemed gaudy.

Peter swung the glass door open with a touch and hurried down the hallway, the nice scowl on his face forcing everyone to move out of his way. Peter barged into Michael’s office, and the handsome siren looked up.

“Anything you need?” Michael asked.

Oh, Peter had a list of things he conceivably needed from Michael, and that list had grown ever since Michael had started working for him. At first, Peter had entertained thoughts of a nice, tempestuous affair with the delicious-looking siren. Peter had never had siren’s blood, and he’d wondered what Michael’s blood would taste like in the throes of passion.

However, Michael had not been interested, and Peter was not one to force his own desire on others because, the bother. Then, Michael had started dating a human, the cutest little librarian in all New Elvenswood, and that had been better, because Peter got to watch those two being adorable together. He’d also gotten to watch the cutie-pie librarian go up against a Yule cat to protect Michael, and then the three of them had enjoyed a vacation with a little zombie extravaganza on the entertainment front. It had been such fun.

Now, Peter’s siren and the cute librarian were planning their wedding, and Peter, to whom the sweet little librarian had given the epithet “the Terrible,” felt he was not involved enough. Yet, Peter could not outright state the injustice, because then he would have to explain his desire to be more involved, and the bother.

But still, in the face of a properly engaged Michael doing some paperwork or other, all Peter wanted to say was that he needed to be consulted on wedding decisions.

The goddamn bother. “Just checking in. I wanted to make sure you were dealing with your current caseload. I would understand if you needed more time with Corvin right now.”

Michael smiled up at Peter. “It’s fine, actually. Corvin’s excited and he’s still processing that his best friend is dating an Elf. And a vampire.”

Peter nodded. “Those are Lord Laurette’s lovers, yes?” That sweet, bookish Corvin was friends with one of the Elven lord’s lovers was, frankly, a wonderful happenstance. Peter had high hopes of meeting them and watching <em>that</em> story unfold. If an Elf such as Laurette of the Silver Moons had claimed two lovers, that romance truly had to be epic. Peter would like nothing better than to watch that love story from the sidelines, but still close enough to where the action was happening. Michael and Corvin would always be Peter’s favorites, but an Elf, a human, and a vampire? There was just no way that was not a romance built for swooning over in secret.

Michael nodded. “Yes. Corvin can’t believe he had to be engaged to a siren and survive a horde of zombies before getting told about all that.”

“Understandable. Perhaps we should go to the library? To surprise your Corvin, of course. I should like to make sure he is fine after that drama with the garden shears in Morrowvale.”

Really, Michael had to give Peter that. It wasn’t an unreasonable request, and Peter loved seeing Michael and Corvin kiss, touch — all that wonderful intimacy.

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Meet the Author

Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. Alexa loves writing stories that make her readers laugh and fall in love with the characters in them. Connect with Alexa on Facebook or Instagram, follow her on Twitter or TikTok, and subscribe to her newsletter!

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Book Blitz: Storm Warrior by Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Storm Warrior

Series: Weavers Circle#5

Author: Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott

Publisher: Drake & Elliott Publishing LLC

Release Date: January 14, 2022

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 80k

Genre: Romance, Fantasy

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Synopsis

Hale Anderson

The Air Weaver.

He was the freaking Air Weaver. Not exactly what he expected when he got kidnapped by the pestilents, but Hale’s good rolling with the punches.

He can take a little time away from his pursuit of a doctorate in astrophysics to save the world.

Except that the final spell is poised to kill all the Weavers and their last hope lies with him finding his soul mate.

Hale doesn’t want a soul mate. He just wants Harrison.

Harrison William Davenport III

As the Keeper of the Heart of the Earth, Harrison must bring the final key to the Weavers if they’re to stop the pestilents.

He’s trained for this task his entire life. And he’s prepared to die just like his father did with the last generation of the Weavers.

But what if saving the world isn’t enough anymore?

What if the only thing that matters is saving Hale?

Storm Warrior is the final book in The Weavers Circle series. It includes fast-paced action, a dangerous cross-country roadtrip, dirty fun in tents, flying, bi-awakening sexy times, animal shenanigans, nerdy talk about the stars, jealousy, three crazy old ladies, magic, and a fight to save the world!

Excerpt

Bullets whizzed through the air closer to him with two shots digging into a column not far from his head. He whipped the gun around to spot where two pestilents were running toward him with guns drawn. Hale gasped and backpedaled. He squeezed the trigger, but nothing happened. Shit. The safety.

He fumbled with the little switch, but it was the pounding of feet racing his way from the other end of the porch that caught his attention. A tall man in a suit with raven-black hair and a stern expression was racing to him. Wow. Gorgeous. He was simply gorgeous.

So gorgeous in fact, that it took Hale an extra second to realize the man had a gun in each hand.

Fuck! He was only starting to swing the gun toward the man when he fired off several shots right past Hale. The Air Weaver spun to see the bullets hit their marks in three pestilents, killing them instantly.

The stranger saved him. What the—

“What are you doing out here if you don’t know how to protect yourself?” the gorgeous man shouted.

Hale took a breath to say something, but he wasn’t quite sure what. His brain wasn’t working, and his tongue was all tied up. He was overwhelmed. He generally wasn’t the type of person who got overwhelmed, but that described him in the middle of the bloody chaos.

Which was probably why it was so easy for the man to holster one of the guns, grab his wrist, and pull him back into the house.

Hale stumbled after him, trying to get his brain to process the events happening. The man turned toward the left but only glanced in the dining room before sneering at something and moving to the right. He made the same face when he peered into the library.

“Too many damn windows.” Twisting to face Hale, he jerked his arm as if trying to get his attention, but the stranger had all of Hale’s available brain capacity at this point. “What room doesn’t have a lot of doors or windows?”

Well, there was the downstairs half bath that had no windows, but there was no way he was getting shoved into that room, with or without the sexy man.

“The-the armory has no windows and only two doors,” he stammered at first, but finished, proud that he’d clearly remembered the room.

The stranger blinked, seeming surprised to hear the house had an honest-to-goddess armory, but he recovered fast enough. “Good. Take me there.”

Hale hesitated and sniffed the air. “You’re not a pestilent.”

The man gasped, looking appropriately horrified. “Of course not!” Well, that was a plus for him. Not only was he human, but he also knew what a pestilent was.

“Then who the hell are you?” Hale had already met all the Weavers, mates, and goddesses. He couldn’t even begin to guess who this handsome yet scary person was.

“A friend of the Weavers. The goddesses sent for me. Now, the armory? Where is it?”

Oh! That was much better. The guys had never mentioned the goddesses sending in more help, but they certainly needed it.

Hale took the lead, hurrying down the hall toward the armory. There was one main entrance to the room and a set of narrow French doors that connected to the front porch. That made the space much easier to protect.

The man’s quick dark eyes darted across the long table filled with weapons. He released Hale only when he had his back shoved against a bookcase in the far corner that gave him a good view of both doors. The man then moved to the French doors and peered out between the thin white curtains.

“Which of them are you?” the man inquired.

“Hale. Hale Anderson. I just arrived. I’m the Air Weaver.”

The stranger’s head slowly turned toward Hale. His eyes were wide, and his face had become incredibly pale. The bloodbath outside had not disturbed him, but something about what Hale had said had clearly shaken him.

“It’s true,” he whispered. “The Weavers Circle is finally complete.”

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Meet the Author

Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott have teamed up to combine their evil genius to create intense gay romantic suspense stories that have car chases, shoot outs, explosions, scorching hot love scenes, and tender, tear-jerking moments. Their first joint books are in the Unbreakable Bonds series.

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New Release Blitz: Someone to Watch Over Me by Libby Simone (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Someone to Watch Over Me

Author: Libby Simone

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/11/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, crime, gay, pansexual, BDSM, porn star, private detective, film set, porn industry, voyeurism, blackmail

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Description

Arthur Adams takes his job seriously, keeping good guys safe and investigating bad guys. When his company is hired to secure the set for a film crew, the job seems straightforward, if not simple. Of course, the films are adult and graphic, so the situation can get hard fast. And it does.

Kit is an adult film star and an anomaly: he’s educated, experienced, and in the business for the fun of it. The seedy realities of his world reveal themselves, however, as his ex’s behavior grows more threatening. Unfortunately, the ex is wealthy and well connected in addition to being a stalker.

As Arthur watches Kit more closely, he finds it more difficult to look away.

The threats against the production become increasingly worrisome as Arthur’s team digs into the background of a rival studio, and they become personal as he unpeels Kit’s layers. As the case uncovers abusers, traffickers, and would-be murderers, all of Arthur’s skills and resources will be put to the test.

Excerpt

Someone to Watch Over Me
Libby Simone © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Arthur wraps a hand around his coffee mug and pulls apart the brittle beige window blinds to peer out at the street below. The morning is cool, even after the fog lifts. People pass quickly, hands in pockets. They do not look up. Steam radiates from the back of the newsstand across the street, and Arthur takes a sip, watching it curl and dissipate.

The building is mostly empty today. The pipes squeak upstairs, and something scurries in the walls. Business has been slow. Business is always slow.

“Get in here, Arthur.”

“Coming.” He leaves the window and sets the mug on his desk, which he sidesteps to make his way to the door. He turns the corner and steps over the uneven floor plank. He scratches his elbow and raises an eyebrow. “What do you need?”

Maurice leans forward in his desk chair and fixes Arthur with an impassive gaze. His office smells of Big Red and sulfur, and he scribbles onto a steno pad with a stubby yellow pencil. Arthur leans against the doorframe and watches. The desk is cluttered, as usual, with a gas station coffee cup, photographs, and the morning paper. Maurice gestures to a seat, and Arthur shakes his head. “I’ll stand,” he says, provoking an annoyed glare.

“Suit yourself.” Maurice runs his hand across the desktop. It’s easily the sturdiest piece of furniture in the place, bought secondhand from an auction at the old library. They had to haul it in through the window, and Arthur is convinced someday it will fall through the floor. It hasn’t yet. It probably won’t until Maurice retires and he’s sitting behind it instead. “Client coming by in a few minutes. I’m putting you on this one.”

“This early?”

“It’s nearly ten.”

Arthur shrugs. “Philandering husband or wife?”

“Neither. Guard duty.”

“Guard duty? Why would I—”

“Because I’m assigning this one to you.”

“Maurice—”

“It’s going to require coordination with an outside security team.”

“You know I don’t like—”

“I don’t give a damn what you like, son. You’re good at it, and I’m assigning you the case. That’s the end of the story. You got something to say?”

“No.” Arthur grinds his teeth.

Maurice nods and unwraps a fresh piece of chewing gum. “Let her in when she arrives. And clear your datebook.” He snorts at his joke.

“Anything I should know first?”

“I’d hate to spoil the surprise.”

The surprise arrives promptly at ten, as if she waited outside the frosted glass door until the turn of the hour. She is striking, with coal-black hair and piercing blue eyes, outlined dark despite it being a weekday. She wears a tidy knit suit with a well-tailored skirt and silk shirt buttoned high on her neck. “Therese Spielman,” she says, shaking his hand. Her skin is ice cold, and her grip is tight. “Pleasure.” She doesn’t smile, but most people don’t when they hire a private investigator. Arthur leads her to Maurice.

“Welcome. Please, have a seat.” The vinyl on the chairs splits and flakes, but they’re serviceable. If Therese notices, she’s too polite to complain.

“You’re the gentleman I spoke to on the phone.” She glances from him to Arthur and lifts a meticulous eyebrow.

“Yes,” Maurice says, “I’m the one you talked to. This is Arthur. He’s my number one.”

“I see. Very militaristic.”

Maurice tilts his head in a nod. It’s easy to spot, even if Arthur no longer calls him by rank. “You said you want someone who can coordinate your security team. Arthur’s the man for the job.”

She looks him up and down. “I see.”

Arthur clears his throat. “And what exactly is the job?”

“We make films, Mister—”

“Adams. You make films? Here?”

“We are a long way from Hollywood, it’s true. But, yes, I assure you, we make films too.”

“They’re pornographers, Art.”

“Huh. Okay.”

Therese watches him and purposefully nods. “You’ll do.” She looks him up and down again. “You’ll do nicely, and if that”—she pointedly looks down—“matches the rest of you, I may have even more work for you than securing our warehouse.”

“Warehouse?”

“Am I done here?” she asks.

“Yes.” Maurice smiles. “Thank you, Ms. Spielman.”

“I’ll see myself out.”

Arthur finally takes a seat. “What’s going on? Guarding a porn shoot at a warehouse? You’re serious?”

Maurice shrugs and unwraps another piece of gum. He takes out his chewed piece and sticks it to the lid of the coffee cup. “I tried to get details over the phone, but she’s prickly as fuck, and cagey. Said they’ve received some threats—notes and letters warning them to close up shop or else. Looks like the whole thing probably has something to do with a rival company. She’s worried about a stalker. They’re shooting for two weeks in the warehouse district, down by the docks. Basically, she doesn’t want questions asked; she said she just wants”—he reads from a note—“‘a smooth production schedule.’”

“Huh.” Arthur drums his fingers on his leg. “Two weeks for porn?”

“I’m not sure that’s the relevant question.”

“You’re right. Why do they need extra security? What rival company?”

“Now you see why you’re on the job.”

“Tell me about the threats.”

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Meet the Author

Libby Simone lives in Kansas City, where she learns for a living and writes for fun. When she isn’t designing research or napping, she can be found taking long walks, people watching, and dreaming up different worlds.

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New Release Blitz: Returning Heroes by Harry F. Rey (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Returning Heroes

Series: The Galactic Captains, Book Six

Author: Harry F. Rey

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/11/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 83100

Genre: SciFi, LGBTQIA+, action,adventure, aliens, dark, MM romance, #ownvoices, royalty, sci-fi, futuristic, space, folklore, gods, intercultural, interspecies, war of worlds

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Description

Captain Ales has returned to the galaxy, forever changed as the powers have prepared for war. He’ll accept help from anyone if it leads to the mysterious Turo from whose cage Ales must free himself if he ever wants to return to the Red Moon.

Meanwhile Daeron has been offered the deal of a lifetime by the ruler of the Seven Suns. Marry Osvai, the Kyleri prince, and become heir to the richest star-state in the galaxy while raising an army to restore the prince to his rightful place as Emperor of the Million Suns.

But Viscamon’s grip on Jiwani has only tightened as the nobles imprisoned in the Royal Baths still refuse to bow to the immortal’s cataclysmic theology of destroying the Galactic Balance. It seems the only way for Imperial Guard Captain Antari to avoid a massacre is outright treachery.

While dynasties play galactic politics, the Outer Verge is being torn apart. From a prison cell, Mahnoor watches The Rip destroying Targuline, until the Kyleri rebels offer him the chance to save himself by flying into the heart of danger. He might even become Jansen’s most unlikely hero.

Heroes and villains run riot around the galaxy, unleashing destructive forces and sliding the great powers toward a war from which no one will be safe.

Excerpt

Returning Heroes
Harry F. Rey © 2022
All Rights Reserved

The sleek, spacious travel pod sliced through the swirling burnt-orange clouds of Bazman. Daeron edged forward on the puffed, pillowy chair that consistently failed to relax him. He tugged at the high collar of his pure-white Dalvian silk jacket—yet another gift from President Ezreal. He stared out the window at the spindly towers stretching in and out of the clouds above and below. The teeming city-world of Bazman, capital of the Confederation of the Seven Suns, supposedly the richest star-state in the Shakti Democria, was to Daeron no better than any of the thousands of worlds he’d been on. The rich lived above, flying around in these perfumed and carpeted pods, while the poor shuffled in and out of a noxious atmosphere far below.

Daeron could go anywhere he wanted on Bazman; no store, restaurant, menagerie, or cultural complex was too exclusive for President Ezreal’s new favorite son. Six weeks ago, they’d barely escaped the Kyleri fleet which had blown up Aldegar’s megacollider. Daeron and the remaining crew of the Daring Huntress chased Turo and the double-crossing Ezi into the Shakti Nebula, only to end up invited to land here by Ezreal’s security forces. On Bazman, where he could go anywhere at all, just not leave.

“What’s wrong now, Daeron?” Osvai said, relaxing in his similarly styled—but all black—Dalvian silk suit. The missing heir to the Kyleri Empire sipped on a Lactarian malt from a crystal glass while grinning at an entertainment package broadcast on the holoscreen in front of his seat. Lest His Imperial Majesty get bored in the half hour it takes to get from Bazman’s presidential palace to the restaurant opening. Daeron glanced over at the prince who was now biting his lip to keep from laughing at the holovid. Daeron watched for a moment. He’d never seen anything so stupid.

“What’s so funny about people walking into things? It’s cruel.”

Osvai wasn’t listening. He gasped in laughter as some poor unsuspecting holo-person had a pile of trash dumped on their head. Daeron flung himself against the seat, but it only absorbed the shock and began to massage his lower back. Daeron could huff all he wanted, but Osvai had stopped caring about what bothered Daeron. He stroked his thick black beard, forgetting it was still glistening in the fancy oils Osvai made him use. Daeron wiped his greasy hand on the plush arm of the chair and returned to staring out the window at the traffic lanes of pods gliding through the clouds and between the towers—with no end and no beginning.

“Are Xenia and the rest of the crew coming tonight?” Daeron asked, breathing slowly through his nose, trying to let the fury of being stuck in a gilded prison subside. It wasn’t going anywhere. Just like him.

“They left.”

Daeron spun on the chair to face Osvai.

“They…left?”

“Yeah. Didn’t I tell you?” Osvai said, not looking up from the holovid. Daeron yanked at the silk collar constricting his neck, and it let out a satisfying rip.

“No…you didn’t tell me. That was…my crew. My ship.” Daeron was doing everything in his power to stay calm, but he knew his string was about to snap. Maybe if Osvai understood that, they wouldn’t spend half their nights screaming at each other in their apartment in the presidential palace.

“I guess they went to meet your mom.” Osvai drained his glass, then stretched and placed it inside an alcove grooved into the wall where a nozzle filled it back up. “Isn’t it her crew again now she’s back?”

Daeron fell into a sulking silence at the mention of his mom. Maybe Osvai knew him better than he thought. Because the moment Captain Sanya was raised, Daeron shut down. It had been weeks since she and that Tevian girlfriend of hers, Sallah, had crossed back through the horizon point with her brat, Ales. Had they come to see him? No. Daeron had only learned their mission had been successful from the newscasts. The returning hero Captain Ales, who apparently had an Ingvarian fleet at his disposal now, as well as the entire Outer Verge, had been spotted at the Mayo resort in the Central Star States. After their collective trauma, Captain Sanya, Sallah, and Ales had decided to play happy families and treat themselves to a little vacation at one of the most expensive systems in the galaxy.

It hurt Daeron hard. He’d still not seen her. Not even a holovid call. He stretched out his hand and opened his palm-tech to flick through the only messages his mom had sent since she’d returned.

The megacollider is gone then?

Yeah, as if a rebel Kyleri fleet blowing up an ancient sphere surrounding an entire sun had been his fault. Then, loving, motherly message number two.

Why is Osvai not back on Jiwani? And you lost Turo? Can’t you do anything right?

Good point. Why was Osvai not back on Jiwani?

“Don’t you care at all?” Daeron snapped, spitting his frustrations at Osvai. The prince finally looked up from the holovid, staring back with those thin eyes and sunset skin that Daeron couldn’t deny filled him with lust. Even if he was perpetually pissed off at him.

“Care about what, Daeron?”

“Your fucking empire.” Daeron stood up, kicking the chair hard so it spun like a ship out of control. Osvai drained his glass again and, with an overly audible sigh, came over to Daeron and slid his small arms as far around Daeron as they could go. But Daeron wriggled out of his half hug and slunk to the back of the pod, watching the dusty clouds spinning like a vortex as they flew.

“What do you want me to do, Daeron? Fight Viscamon for my throne with what army, exactly?”

“My mom said to take you home.”

“Oh, your mom said. It’s always the same story with you, Daeron. Your mom says you have to stay on Jiwani with a father you never knew, and you stayed. Your mom says look after me until I’m back on Jiwani, and you blame me for staying in the one place in the galaxy no one’s trying to kill me!”

Here we go. Another screaming match.

“Can we not do this now?” Daeron said, arms folded and his back to Osvai. “The president invited us to this restaurant opening, and since he’s the one keeping you safe and letting us stay for free, we don’t need you getting drunk and making a scene.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, more drunk.”

Osvai sucked in a short breath. If they’d learned one thing about each other since escaping Jiwani together on the night of Osvai’s father, Emperor Kantori’s, assassination, it was how to push each other’s buttons.

“When was the last time you saw Xenia?” Osvai asked, lathered in bitterness. “Or Tal, or Bindi? Or even Voros? When was it? Kaj’s memorial service?”

“Shut up, Osvai.”

“You haven’t asked about them in weeks. So don’t pretend you didn’t know they’d leave. You didn’t want to know.”

“I said shut up!”

“You can say I’m afraid all you want. And yes, I am afraid of going back to Jiwani when Viscamon is imprisoning nobles until he’s blackmailed enough to crown himself emperor. That’s a normal thing to be scared of. But you—”

“Osvai, I’m fucking warning you.” Daeron spun around to see him sauntering around the pod with a look of victory splashed across his face.

“You might look like a big scary man, Daeron, but you’re just a little boy. Afraid of what his mommy will say.”

Daeron had already exploded. Fury prickled his body; sweat soaked the suit. He’d throw Osvai out of this pod if he could. His fists clamped together, ready to test just how much of a punch this glass could take.

“You have arrived at your destination,” the pod’s soft female voice said with a ding. “Have a pleasant evening.”

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Meet the Author

Harry F. Rey is an author and lover of gay themed stories with a powerful punch with influences ranging from Alan Hollinghurst to Isaac Asimov to George R.R. Martin. He loves all things sci-fi and supernatural, and always with a gay twist. Harry is originally from the UK but lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his husband.

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Semper Fitz by Aurora Russell

Word Count: 56,961
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 206
Heat Rating: Sizzling

Genres:

BILLIONAIRE
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MEN IN UNIFORM

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Book Description

 

He’s always strong, always faithful…but will he be always hers?

Pregnant, alone and temporarily staying at her family’s cabin in northern Minnesota, Clara Olafson is determined to overcome the hurt of her recent past and build a good life for herself and her child. The last thing she expects to find on her morning walk through the state forest nearby is an unconscious and injured former Marine.

Colin ‘Fitz’ Fitzhugh might have initially joined the Corps to prove that he was more than just a wealthy playboy, but he grew to love the brotherhood and purpose he found there—until his last mission in Afghanistan cost the life of one of his men and left him badly scarred in body and mind. Hoping to shed some of his pain and guilt alone in the wilderness, instead he finds a feisty, pregnant angel.

Sparks fly as sassy Clara nurses the gruff and mysterious Fitz back to health, but the happiness and peace they both begin to find in the little cabin is shattered when Clara faces a health emergency. When Fitz reluctantly chooses to return to the wealth and privilege of his family in order to save her and the baby, he plunges them all into a glittering society that Clara doesn’t know if she likes. But Fitz might just prove to her that, whether he’s being a billionaire philanthropist or a sudden stand-in dad, he’s always hers.

Reader advisory: This book contains a mention of attempted murder.

Excerpt

Clara Olafson hummed a little to herself as she walked heavily down the overgrown trail. This far out into the forest, the trails weren’t maintained as regularly as the ones closer to the visitor center. The morning air was crisp—northern Minnesota in late August could feel like October or November in the rest of the country—but she liked it that way. The cool air buffeting her felt like a familiar, albeit chilly, blanket. Like home. Plus, it quickened her steps, which was good for her and the baby. A couple of times lately, she’d had the oddest sensation, almost like a trickle of ice-water down her spine, that she was being watched or followed, but she blamed the crazy pregnancy hormonal imbalance. This morning, though, she felt nothing but the fresh breeze behind her.

She’d started the habit of an early-morning walk when she’d moved out to the cabin two months earlier, and she intended to keep it up until the day she went into labor—which actually could be pretty soon. The OB she’d been seeing in St. Paul—before—had said to stay active, and she wanted to do everything she could to make sure that the little life she carried had the best possible start. She’d read several books, along with what felt like a couple of thousand websites, and she was avoiding lunchmeat, green tea, fake sweeteners, caffeine—even chocolate. Goodness, chocolate had been the hardest to give up, with coffee a close second. She now had a recurring dream where she walked into a dimly lit coffee house and ordered a massive frozen-mocha-latte-smoothie with curls of dark chocolate and mounds of whipped cream on top, but she always woke up before she could take a sip. Her mouth watered just thinking about it.

“No,” she chided, half speaking to herself and also to the baby. “No chocolate for the baby, no matter how much Mama wants it.” She reached down to rub her swollen belly, as she did so often these days, and smiled at the firm kick she got in response, right under her palm. A rush of affection and protectiveness so intense that it almost frightened her swept through, taking her by surprise. It was amazing to hold a tiny, growing human inside her, but also terrifying to be so totally and solely responsible for someone else.

Even in the midst of her awe, the craving persisted, so intense that she could almost taste the chocolate melting on her tongue. Maybe I’m just longing for something sweet? She wasn’t supposed to have too much sugar, but fruit was definitely still okay. The berries on the blackberry and raspberry bushes a little farther down the path were just starting to ripen again. They would be tart and juicy. She licked her lips at the thought and smiled at her own eagerness. Anyone who gets between a pregnant woman and her desired food deserves whatever happens to him. She quickened her pace, thankful she’d worn long pants and sleeves to avoid the prickly bushes. If there were enough berries, maybe she’d even come back later with a pail and pick enough for a pie. Oh, good Lord, the idea of a piece of pie, even just a tiny sliver, warm from the oven with a flaky crust, was so wonderful that she almost groaned aloud.

Practically trotting and out of breath by the time she reached the bushes, she was thrilled to see a few ripe berries straight away, which she snapped off their thin branches and popped into her mouth. Cold juice exploded on her tongue, and she sighed with pleasure. The ripe berries were few and far between, though. Most of them were still hard and green. Even so, there were enough on each bush to take her deep into the thicket as she sought out every last berry that was ready to eat, crunching them with gusto. It could have been some crazy sensory thing, but she didn’t know if she’d ever tasted anything more delicious.

At first, she thought the moaning might be coming from her stomach. Heaven knew it made all sorts of noises these days—gurgles, churns and growls so loud they woke her up at night. But this sound was too loud and too deep. She froze and tilted her head, listening. When the low moan came again, her heart seemed to jump right up into her throat. What the heck? Taking a slow, calming breath and narrowing her eyes, she scanned the thicket. Probably a deer in distress, she reassured herself. At least she hoped it was a deer, because if it were a moose or a bear, she could be in real trouble. She couldn’t make out much of anything through the thick leaf-cover at first, but finally a slight shaking in the bushes ahead and to her right signaled the location of whatever injured creature was there.

She hesitated. A prudent woman would go back to the cabin and call for help. She knew this. She should be careful and not her usual impulsive self. But then the noise came again, so sad and filled with pain that it made her throat tighten and her eyes fill with tears. Pure, uncontrollable sympathy made her step one foot forward, and her distinctly un-prudent decision was made. If the animal can make a noise like that, she reasoned, it’s unlikely to be able to move enough to hurt me if I stay back. And I won’t get too close.

The stand of bushes was situated in a small valley with steep inclines that were blanketed with pine trees rising high on either side. As she got nearer to the wounded creature, she could see a faint trail of crushed and broken foliage leading to it from the opposite direction, and she guessed that the poor animal had probably fallen from the higher ground. Her heart squeezed with compassion. It must be in so much pain. She slowed her steps, carefully placing her weight on the balls of her feet instead of the heels and trying to breathe silently to avoid startling the mystery animal.

She braced herself for a very ugly scene, but what she found instead made her suck in a surprised breath. Two huge, black boots stood out dark against the green undergrowth, and her eyes followed their forms to two blue-jeans-clad legs, one of which looked somewhat twisted. Her gaze trailed up farther, to where the form was more obscured by leaves, but she could still make out an enormous hand and the weave of a thick green sweater, shifting slightly with the man’s breathing. She hurried forward.

“Oh, my goodness, you poor man! Where’s the worst pain?” she asked, trying to keep her voice quiet so as not to startle him. There was no answer, apart from another piteous groan, and when his face finally came into full view, she saw why. His eyes were closed, and an ugly lump had formed at his temple, already dark with a hint of the bad bruising to come. The blow must have also knocked him unconscious.

She lowered herself to the ground awkwardly, her movements hampered by the clumsiness of late-pregnancy and the ever-present swelling that made her fingers and toes feel like little sausages stuffed into casings that were too small. She wanted to assess where his injuries might be, though, and to do that, she needed to get closer. She’d taken several first-aid classes as a young teenager, practically a requirement as a doctor’s daughter in a rural area, so she felt reasonably optimistic she could stabilize the worst of whatever his injuries were before she ran back to the cabin to call 9-1-1. Why in the world did I choose today of all days not to bring my cell phone? She cursed under her breath, immediately murmuring an apology to her baby.

As her movements brought her closer to him, she couldn’t help but notice that, apart from his injuries, the man appeared to be in extremely good shape. His leg muscles bulged, even through the thick denim of his jeans, and his broad shoulders and chest looked solid and strong. She glanced at his face, noticing that his hair was cropped close to his skull—the length a lot of military and ex-military men keep it, she thought absently. Even if she couldn’t see his eyes, he was undeniably handsome with high cheekbones, dark brows and eyelashes, a strong chin and nose, and soft-looking lips. He was younger than she’d initially thought, too. Maybe in his early thirties.

Running carefully light hands over his legs, she felt the spot where one of his knees was twisted and swollen, but she was relieved that she didn’t feel anything else that seemed out of place on his lower extremities. There were a few areas that were uneven, but she guessed it could be fabric bunching or debris from the fall. She skimmed her fingers over his hips to his chest, which were just as hard and muscular as she’d guessed, to his bulky arms. To her dismay, one of his wrists also felt slightly enlarged. Finally, she moved a tentative hand to his head. She rose onto her knees, leaning over for a better view to see how large and swollen the area was, which should be pretty visible through his ultra-short hair. Head wounds could be tricky, bleeding internally as well as externally. The swelling there was almost certainly what was causing his unconsciousness.

Just as the tips of her fingers made contact with the most swollen spot, without a breath of warning one of the man’s mammoth hands clamped around her wrist, stopping her from moving. She squeaked and tried to take her arm away, but his grip held her firm. When her gaze flashed to his face, he was staring back at her with bright blue eyes that were filled with a mix of suspicion and confusion.

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About the Author

Aurora Russell

Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.

She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.

You can find out more about Aurora at her website here.

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New Release Blitz ~ Dash by Rae Marks (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Dash by Rae Marks

Book 2 in the Hart Consulting series

Word Count: 88,651
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 356

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CONTEMPORARY
CRIME
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
MEN IN UNIFORM
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description


Working with the guy who turns him on and pisses him off has Nick in a tailspin.

Nick’s trying to get everything together—his life, his job, his family. After leaving the military, he joined both his brothers at Hart Consulting, but he can’t seem to get his shit organized. His brother still won’t speak to his father, his dad is willing to go to crazy lengths to see his brother and Nick has to train for his new job.

Just when he thinks he might have everything under a bit of control, he’s assigned to work with Ax, the only operator who’s able to get under his skin. Nick needs to put his head down and make a good impression on his first assignment with HC. Too bad Ax is determined not to make it easy…

Reader advisory: This book is best read as book two in a series. It contains abduction and trafficking of minors, references to torture and medical abuse and violence.

Excerpt

“Look, kid. I got nothing to tell you.”

Bray pulled his gaze from the full lips he’d been watching as the man in the doorway, Sam, gave a flat refusal. He took a deep, calming breath and willed away his body’s response. Maybe he needed to back up a little and explain the urgency of the situation. He didn’t have a lot of time to find Mase, and this Sam guy was his best bet.

The guy blocking the doorway would be hot if his eyebrows weren’t pinched together so tight and his big, full lips weren’t turned down. Hell, he was still hot, even in full intimidation mode.

Sam’s honey-blond hair was longer on top and styled high. His groomed beard was just a few shades darker than the hair on his head and hinted at the tiniest bit of red highlights. Bray lowered his eyes again to Sam’s lips. Both were plump, but the top lip was a little fuller than the bottom one. That was rare, in Bray’s experience, but sexy as hell.

The tic in the jaw next to those lips brought Bray back to the matter at hand. He looked up into Sam’s cinnamon-brown eyes as he considered his options.

“I know you’re working with Mase and I have to find him. I’m—”

“I don’t know what you’re going on about, but I have shit to do.”

Sam tried to close the old, paint-chipped door in Bray’s face, but Bray stepped forward, using his foot as a doorstop. He wouldn’t give up that easily. Bray needed to untie his tongue and keep on task, no matter how sexy the guy was.

“Please, I don’t have a lot of time. I just need to talk to him.”

“Look, kid—”

“I’m not a kid. I know he’s pulled some crazy stunts since he got kicked out—”

“You don’t know shit, kid. If you just got kicked out of the military and you’re looking for camaraderie and a job, forget it.”

As soon as Sam said the word ‘military’, Bray breathed a sigh of relief. Sam swore under his breath. So the guy definitely knew his brother. Sam flexed his huge biceps as he crossed his arms. His head dipped to one side as he leaned forward. Bray swallowed then a tiny breath escaped his lips as he imagined the man before him leaning in to steal a kiss. Was this guy Mase’s boyfriend? If so, his brother was one lucky bastard.

“Move your foot. Like I said, kid, you don’t know shit,” Sam ground out through clenched teeth.

“Just tell me what’s going on. Is he okay? If he’d returned any of my emails over the past two and half years, maybe I’d know more about what was happening.”

“You think I can help you?”

Bray gave one sharp nod of confirmation. Sam blew a breath out between his lush lips and dropped his arms to his sides. The crease between his brows eased a bit as he seemed to really look at Bray for the first time. He looked over Bray’s head down the hallway for a moment before coming to some kind of decision.

“What’s your name, kid?”

“Bray, Brayden Hart.”

There was a pause. Bray assumed it was Sam digesting Bray’s last name, Mase’s last name.

“Well, I’m sorry, but I got nothing for you, Mr. Hart.”

“How’d you know I was in the army?”

“You got it written all over you, from your close-cropped cut to your military stance.” The guy rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I’ve got things to do, kid, so do you mind moving your foot—or do I need to move it for you?”

Bray wet his dry lips as he contemplated his choices. He could call Max for another favor, but if he went that route, he’d need this part to be believable.

“I can just sit out here and wait until he comes home.”

“You’ll be waiting the rest of your life, kid.”

“It’s Bray or Brayden, and I think you have a really good idea when you’ll be talking to Mase again.”

Looking over Sam’s shoulder, Bray took in the shit-hole apartment with its dingy brown carpet and walls so old that the wallpaper was peeling at the corners along the ceiling. A ceiling with tiles that had different-sized brown rings, a sure sign of water damage. Was this how Mase was living now? The thought made Bray’s gut twist uncomfortably.

If Mase needed money… Bray shook his head. Mase would never be the one to reach out, which was exactly why Bray was standing in the hallway that smelled like piss mixed with broccoli farts. Unless the inside of the apartment smelled better, he didn’t see how anyone could even think about putting a morsel of food into their mouth in this place.

If by chance Sam did talk to Mase before Brayden could get to him, he had to figure out a message most likely to get a response. Would Mase come home or even return a call if he knew the truth? Probably not. Bray bit his lip as he waffled. He didn’t like lying, and he especially didn’t like lying to family. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forgive his father for his ‘little white lie’.

“When you see him, tell him Nickel needs him. Tell him it’s looking like it might be life or death.”

Both those statements taken separately were absolutely one hundred percent true. Nick might deny he needed their older brother, but he and Bray were twins. Bray knew they both required all the support they could get.

When Mase heard those statements together, Bray knew what he’d assume, and he’d have to apologize for it later. For now, he decided it was the best route. He had a feeling Sam would repeat those statements verbatim to his brother.

“Nickel?” Sam asked.

“Nick, my twin.”

“Twins? There’re two of you running around wreaking havoc?”

“Nick wreaks more havoc and we’re not identical, so there aren’t exactly two of me.”

Sam’s only response was a raised eyebrow.

“So you’ll tell him?”

“I’m sorry. There’s no way I can help you,” Sam said with the shake of his head.

Even though Bray was anxious, he hesitated before lifting his foot. He needed Sam to think he was reluctant to leave. Sam was only a couple inches taller than Bray’s five-foot-eleven-inch frame, but he hunched down a little, so they were eye to eye.

“I can’t help you,” Sam said again.

Bray swallowed as energy began to hum under his skin at the man’s direct stare. He couldn’t be lusting after his brother’s boyfriend. Wetting his dry lips one last time, Bray nodded and lifted his foot. The two men stared at each other for a moment longer, until the sound of a baby screaming somewhere down the hall had Bray turning his head. Before he could even suck in another breath, the door in front of him slammed shut and the lock snicked into place.

With a dejected sigh, Brayden looked at the door for another minute. Guilt had his stomach tightening into knots. He couldn’t afford to stand around, though his hesitation to leave would probably work in his favor in case Sam was watching through the peephole.

When he pushed open the door of the building a few minutes later, Bray sucked in some of the fresh air. He didn’t even care that his clothes immediately glued themselves to his body with the humidity Florida was famous for. He was just glad to be out of the stench that had pressed down on him inside the apartment building.

After one last glance at the second floor, Bray walked down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. As soon as he was in his rental car, he dialed Max’s number.

“How’d it go?” Max said.

“He wouldn’t even admit he knew Mase.”

There was silence on the other end. Max had warned him against making contact with Sam. He’d suggested following him until he led Bray to Mase, but Bray didn’t have that kind of time.

“So, it looks like you were right,” Bray admitted.

There was still silence on the other end of the line.

“Look, Sin. I still need help.”

Bray always struggled calling his friend by his pseudonym. Even though it stood for Super Intel Nerd, calling a nerdy guy like Max, Sin seemed funny to Bray.

“Next time listen to me. You’ve now ruined the advantage of surprising him.”

“Fine. Can you find out where he’s going?”

“Of course I can.”

Bray could hear the light click-clack of Max tapping on the keys of his laptop. Putting the phone on Bluetooth, Bray started his rental and pulled out of the parking spot behind Sam’s apartment building.

“Where’s he going?” Bray asked as he pulled out onto the street.

“I have him traveling out of Miami to Kiev tomorrow with a stopover in Munich.”

Bray tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. This had just gotten a lot more complicated and expensive than he’d anticipated. Was Mase undercover or was he in trouble? If he was in trouble, Bray wanted to be there.

“Looks like I’ll be heading to Kiev,” he sighed.

“I’ll book you a flight that stops over in DC. I’ve got something I want to give you if you’re going to Kiev.”

“I just have to check out of the hotel. Give me a couple of hours to get to the airport.”

Max disconnected the call without saying goodbye, but it didn’t surprise Bray at all. Max was always on to the next problem.

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About the Author

Rae Marks

Rae has been secretly penning romances since high school. It started with short stories that grew into full-length novels. When she received her first Kindle and had thousands of books at her fingertips, she became a little distracted from writing. Then one day she read a book that she would have written a different way. She began writing again and hasn’t stopped since.

When she’s not writing, Rae can usually be found reading, walking along the beaches of Half Moon Bay, or taking her geriatric dog to the vet, yet again.

You can follow Rae on Instagram.

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New Release Blitz ~ Illusions in Paint by Ann M. Miller (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Illusions in Paint by Ann M. Miller

Word Count: 65,807
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 248

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
FANTASY
ROMANCE
YOUNG ADULT
YOUNGER READERS

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Book Description

 

When art and illusion collide, no one is safe.

Eight months ago, Julia Parsons learned to control her strongest emotions—the ones that created doorways into paintings. With her Vista magic now in check, she has stopped looking for the descendant of the witch rumoured to have the power to remove her abilities. But when her magic goes haywire and paintings begin calling to her, she can barely resist opening portals into any works of art she encounters.

Then Julia runs into Luke Mercer, who offers to help her find the descendant, a teen named Marisa. When Julia’s boyfriend Nick joins the search, they locate the girl—in an art gallery, of all places. Before Julia can ask Marisa to remove her magic, the call of so many paintings overwhelms her, and she opens multiple portals at once. Marisa is sucked into one, and Julia and the boys are forced to enter works of art to get her back.

As Julia’s connection to the art intensifies, so does the danger lurking in the deep corners of the paintings they move through. In order to save Marisa and her friends, Julia will have to separate reality from illusion…and fully embrace the magic that runs through her veins, once and for all.

Publisher’s Note: This book is best read as the sequel to Captured in Paint.

Excerpt

The smudge of purple on my skin was my first clue that I’d done the unthinkable. The acrylic paint set on the table was my second.

I stood in the kitchen doorway, looking from the lavender-coloured smear on my thumb to the paint set that was sitting open next to the napkin holder. I had first noticed the spot on my skin a minute earlier in the bathroom, when I’d held my hands underneath the tap to wash them. The Beatles song I’d been humming had died in my throat, and I’d stumbled down the stairs, willing it to be a hallucination. But when I’d caught sight of the paint set, its case glinting in a pool of early morning sun, I’s known the truth. I’d done the one thing I swore I’d never do again—I’d painted.

My limbs were frozen, my only movement a twitching of the thumb marked with the telltale speck of paint. The paint set had been stowed away in the basement. I hadn’t touched it in eight months—hadn’t so much as looked at a paintbrush. So how did—?

My heart accelerated as I spotted the corner of white paper peeking out from under a placemat. My paralysis broken, I reached up to the hollow of my throat. The heart-shaped pendant still rested there, effectively dampening my strongest emotions. Thank God. If there was a painting under the placemat, I wouldn’t be in any danger of bringing it to life. And I didn’t mean figuratively. Without the charmed necklace, my Vista power was released—a power that not only opened doorways into works of art but pulled people inside, trapping them.

Yeah, it sucks to be me.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed off the doorframe and shuffled to the table. I ran my hand over the tubes of acrylic paint nestled in one side of the case. Every tube was accounted for, although the lavender lay crooked in its slot. As I straightened it, my fingertips pulsed with the memory of blending colours with my brush, dabbing and sweeping in an imitation of my favourite painter, Bob Ross. God, I’d missed that feeling. Eight months was a long time to go without creating, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

I snatched my hand back from the tube, focusing on the other side of the case, which housed my paintbrushes. My filbert was missing. I quickly scanned the table, but there was no sign of it. I’d look for it later. Right now, I needed to gauge the full extent of what I’d done.

With my hand shaking just a tad, I peeled back the placemat to reveal the entire piece of paper. My heart slowed to normal speed. No picture there, but a streak of paint shimmered on the bottom right-hand corner of the page. It was a streak that was an exact match to the colour on my thumb, which meant that sometime during the night I’d—

My ears pricked up at the sound of Aunt Karen’s SUV pulling into the driveway. Crap. Instinctively, I crumpled the page into a ball and pitched it into the garbage under the sink. Then I snapped the paint set closed and hightailed it down to the basement. I slid the case back onto the dusty shelf where it belonged and bounded back up the stairs just as my aunt’s footsteps sounded in the front hall. I took big, gulping breaths of air and turned to greet her when she entered the kitchen.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she said, dropping her bag onto a chair. She brushed back the wisps of auburn hair that had escaped from her bun and massaged the back of her neck. Her face was imprinted with lines of exhaustion, and her cheeks had almost zero colour. I knew she enjoyed her work as a general surgeon, but the overnight shifts took a lot out of her.

“Hey, Aunt Karen. How was your night?”

“Oh, you know, the usual. Back-to-back surgeries and…” She trailed off with a frown. “Why are you out of breath?”

I scrambled for an excuse. “Oh, I was dancing to my Beatles playlist.” I did a stupid little twirl.

My aunt glanced around. “I don’t see your phone.”

I groaned inwardly. Even when she was practically dead on her feet, she was perceptive. She knew I always listened to my music on my iPhone with my earbuds in. “I was doing it upstairs. Just came down.” I pretended to pick some lint off my pajama top so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact.

She didn’t need to know what had happened—not that anything had happened. I’d discovered a smudge of paint on my thumb and one on a piece of paper. It wasn’t like I’d created another world that could be opened up, not like my mural. But to make sure I didn’t, I’d burn my paint set or haul it to a dumpster or something—anything to get it away from here, which was why there was no point in freaking out my aunt. I’d take care of this—whatever this was—the first chance I got.

Aunt Karen crossed to me and tipped my chin up so I had no choice but to look at her straight on. She fixed her green eyes on mine. They were tired but sharp. “Talk to me, Julia.”

“About what?” I quickly tucked my thumb under my fingers to hide the evidence. “My crappy cooking skills? Because we can get something out for breakfast today.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.” Her gaze softened. “You’re worried, aren’t you? That’s why you’re wearing this again.” She touched her fingertip to the pendant hanging around my neck.

I nodded and briefly shut my eyes, all too happy to let her think my emotional management was my major issue right now. “Yeah. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slide this week.”

She gathered me in a hug. “It is a big week. I can’t believe you’re graduating and going out into the big world.” She tightened her arms around me. She smelled like chamomile and the strong soap she used for surgical scrubs. “I’m going to miss you.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m not going very far.” After discovering I was a Vista witch, my plans to study at the Art Institute of Chicago had changed. I’d been accepted to the University of Western Ontario, where I planned to do a Bachelor of Arts degree while I figured out what I wanted to major in. The campus was only a few hours away from St. Peter’s. The best part was that my boyfriend, Nick, and my best friend, Roxy, were going to UWO, too.

Aunt Karen let me go with a smile. “I’m proud of you, you know? For keeping your grades up, even after everything you’ve been through, and for controlling your magic… I know it’s been no small feat.”

It had been my decision not to wear the necklace that stifled my strongest emotions, the ones that opened paintings, before I could get control of them. I’d wanted to live my life without dulling my feelings, so I’d worked at tempering them using the techniques Mom had taught me when she had been alive. While I’d gotten pretty good at checking the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me, I’d strapped on my charmed armour—aka the necklace—at the beginning of the week, just to be on the safe side with so much going on. It had gotten me through final exams and my eighteenth birthday the day before. Now I trusted it to get me through the big party tonight and the graduation ceremony tomorrow.

Of course, the necklace hadn’t stopped me from hauling out my acrylics and smearing paint on paper.

I shook off the thought and tucked my hands in my pockets. “I’m not taking any chances these next couple of days, Aunt Karen. I’ll Krazy Glue this sucker to my neck if I have to.”

She smiled again. “I don’t think you’ll have to go that far. Just check the clasp every so often.”

She didn’t have to tell me twice. Last fall I’d lost the necklace when the clasp had broken, and the chain had fallen off. Then Luke Mercer had found it and kept it from me for his own warped reasons.

Not for the first time, I wondered where he’d gone after getting access to his trust fund. I mean, it wasn’t as if I cared. I wasn’t looking for payback or closure, even though I hadn’t completely forgiven him for the part he’d played in Mom’s death. Still, I couldn’t help being curious about where he’d ended up.

“So,” I said, “how about that breakfast?”

“Oh honey, I’m exhausted. I’m going to go right to bed.” She pulled a couple of bills from her wallet. “Here. You go treat yourself to something.”

I took the money and grinned. “Don’t mind if I do. Thanks, Aunt Karen. Can I take the car?”

She slung her bag over her shoulder. “Be my guest. I’ll be out of commission for at least a few hours. But I’ll need the car tonight for my next shift.”

“No worries. Nick’s picking me up for the bonfire.”

“One last hurrah before the big ceremony, huh?”

I laughed. “Something like that.”

While she disappeared into her bedroom, I took a quick shower. Once I was dressed, I lingered outside her bedroom door, listening for the sound of her snoring, something I could always count on. As soon as it came, loud as a chainsaw, I hurried back down to the basement, grabbed the paint set and flew out to the SUV.

I glanced up and down the street as I slid the case in the trunk, feeling like I was on a clandestine mission. And I was, in a way. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing and why. I could imagine how the conversation would go if I told the truth. Oh, you know. Just going to dump my acrylics because apparently I can now paint while I’m asleep. Either that, or something drove me to paint last night, and the incident was wiped from my memory.

Yeah, that didn’t sound crazy at all.

Ten minutes later I pulled into the mall parking lot, not stopping until I reached the far corner, where a Salvation Army donation bin sat. I got out of the car, looked around to make sure no one was nearby and grabbed the handle of the case. Instead of tossing it right in, though, I hesitated—kind of like I had when I’d touched the paints right before discovering the smear on the sheet of paper. A heaviness settled in my stomach, and I swallowed hard.

I’d known this would be tough, but now that I was on the verge of giving away my most prized possession, it all seemed so…final. Once I did it, there was no going back. There’d be no painting for me, ever again, because there was no way I’d ever buy new acrylics. It would be the last nail in the coffin of my relationship with paint.

I curled my fingers around the pendant and squeezed. Without its power, I would have burst into tears by now, but it was keeping my emotions from overflowing. It was the reason I found the strength to pick up the case and hoist it into the bin. As the door of the box clanged shut, my heart gave a little jump, then stilled.

This was the way it had to be. No paints and brushes meant no risk of making art, which meant no risk of magic.

But just in case, I wasn’t going to take my necklace off, not even for a second.

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About the Author

Ann M. Miller

Ann Miller writes young adult novels about first loves, family secrets, and magic. She grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the local bookmobile fed her diet of Nancy Drew mysteries, Sweet Valley High books, and Stephen King horror. After graduating from the University of King’s College, she moved to Newfoundland, an island that makes up for its unforgiving climate with beautiful coastlines and majestic icebergs.

When she’s not reading or writing, Ann can be found spending time with her husband and son, or binge watching Netflix while curled up with the two four-legged members of her family.

Captured in Paint is her first novel, and she has several more in the works. Take a look at Ann’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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