New Release Blitz ~ Guarded by a Hero by Aurora Russell (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Guarded by a Hero by Aurora Russell

Book 3 in the Anywhere and Always series

Word Count:  61,105
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 232

GENRES:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
BILLIONAIRE
CONTEMPORARY
CRIME
CRIME AND MYSTERY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MEN IN UNIFORM
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

 

Sometimes, a hero is the worst and best man for a girl to fall in love with…

Besides being the lovely only sister among the wealthy, powerful and famous Gaspard siblings, Clothilde Gaspard has had a life that’s been anything but charmed. She has recently gone through a break-up from hell, survived a serious car accident and multiple other attacks. The only constant has been her heroic former-military bodyguard, Marc, until he leaves abruptly the morning after giving her the greatest pleasure of her life, and she vows never to let him get too close again.

Marc Constantin’s entire life has been about duty, honor and service—and it’s this service that leads him to be stationed undercover, posing as a security guard with the Gaspard family as he tracks a criminal mastermind. He tries not to let his relationship with Clothilde become personal, but he can’t help but admire the strong, smart and gorgeous woman who hides her fiery nature behind an Ice Queen persona. When he’s ordered to stay away from her, it tears him up to leave, but he has no choice.

When a new, unknown threat to Clothilde emerges, the pair must set aside their past to work together. As they retreat from glittering society parties to a remote island lighthouse in Maine, passions and tempers flare, and old family secrets might just hold the key to catching the deadly criminal, the Chimère. In order to protect Clothilde, Marc must put his career, his honor and his life on the line, but can he prove that he’s not just the hero who guards her, but also the hero who loves her?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of attempted murder, drugging, references to past domestic abuse and past sexual aggression.

Excerpt

The fête was truly lovely, a great mix of elegance and charm, and Clothilde might have been enjoying herself if her hip, leg and back hadn’t ached so damn much. She knew she shouldn’t have stayed so long—and she particularly should have found a way to avoid dancing—but she’d wanted to ensure that Rémy’s friend, Annelise, had a good time. She used the term ‘friend’ liberally, since her brother’s relationship with the young American event planner was obviously much more romantic and complex than mere friendship. To help Rémy, she’d needed to draw Charles Pinkston, Annelise’s boss, away.

Without conceit, she knew that she was a woman who men considered to be very beautiful, and it seemed that even the pain she’d suffered since the accident hadn’t lessened her appeal too much. And so, to give Rémy and Annelise more time together without the older man’s kindly interference, she had danced with Charles twice, as well as completing several circuits of the ballroom with him. Later, she’d made an additional full tour of the party with Annelise alone, introducing the American to some of Montreal’s young elite. Luckily, a number of her close friends had been in attendance, including Pauline Cartouchel and Élodie Carillon. Both women would be excellent for Annelise to claim as acquaintances in Montreal society.

Now Clothilde’s feet weren’t thanking her but were aching in their stylish, strappy heels, shoes which she would have worn without a second thought only a year ago. Worse, though, putting her body under the strain of wearing heels and staying active for so long had made her newly healed muscles and bones positively throb with pain, like a hot flame was crawling up from the balls of her feet into her left leg, hip and now along her spine.

She tried to hide a grimace under a flirtatious smile, and she must have succeeded, because Charles Pinkston finally, blessedly, said a charming good evening to her, kissing her hand. He was such a sweet man, who obviously missed his late wife terribly. She held herself still for a moment as she watched him walk toward the door before allowing her shoulders to droop just a little bit to ease some of the stiffness that she knew she was going to pay hell for over the next several days. She froze as she swore she could almost feel the heat of disapproval from behind her. Marc Constantin.

She felt his approach more than heard him, like a big predator, stalking on silent feet.

“You’d better sit down before you fall down, Duchess.” His tone was hard and angry, but there was an underlying tenderness. Or maybe I just wish there was—which she knew was ridiculous, since as her bodyguard, it was his job to watch out for her. Literally, taking care of her physical well-being was in the job description. Yet she felt goosebumps rise on the wealth of bare skin on her chest, arms and back, exposed by the daring cut of the dress. When she turned her head to look at him, his dark blue eyes blazed with some strong emotion.

“I’m fine,” she answered, her tone clipped.

He raised one pale eyebrow, his skepticism obvious.

“Right. Is that why, when you think no one’s watching, you look like one strong puff of air would make you topple over?”

She turned fully toward him, drawing her annoyance around her like a cape.

“I’m having a wonderful time,” she insisted, even as her joints burned with protest. “Didn’t anyone tell you? I’m a total social butterfly, the darling of Montreal society. That’s what all the gossip sites say.” She didn’t know what about Marc Constantin made her so desperate to goad him, but she couldn’t help herself. Regardless of her bright tone, though, her left leg and hip, the side that had taken the brunt of her car accident six months earlier, began to tremble, in spite of her best efforts. She hoped that the tremors were so subtle that Marc wouldn’t notice, but she should have known better.

“Screw this. I’m calling for the car and we’re sitting down now,” he pronounced and took her elbow with a growl, leading her toward one of the quiet alcoves in the tastefully decorated hallway just outside the ballroom. Anyone looking at them would have seen a well-dressed security guard very properly escorting a beautiful young woman in an evening gown, albeit perhaps a little closely. But while Marc’s grip wasn’t painful, it was firm and unrelenting, with no give at all. Much like the man himself, she mused. She was too damn tired to fight his hold, anyway, considering she’d been dreaming of sitting down on one of the cushioned benches herself for at least the past hour.

The relief from the pressure on her joints was instant and profound as he settled her on the thickly padded bench, and she had to stifle a groan of pleasure. Surprising her, he slid in next to her, so close she could feel the heat that he continually seemed to give off. Surreptitiously, she inhaled his rich, fresh masculine scent. He always smelled like he had just come in from outdoors, even when she knew he’d been inside for hours. He turned the focus of his angry gaze on her again.

“Why do you let them tell you how to act?” he asked, but it sounded more like a demand.

Clothilde narrowed her eyes.

“That question is totally inappropriate,” she huffed.

He looked unrepentant. “I notice you didn’t deny it.”

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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.

Giveaway

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New Release Blitz ~ Kinked Up by M.C. Roth (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Kinked Up by M.C. Roth

Book 1 in the It’s a Kink Thing series

General Release Date: 2nd August 2022

Word Count:  75,115
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 283

Genres:

BONDAGE AND BDSM
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description


Can Trick choose between the love of his life and the sub of his dreams?

Nav can’t count the number of times he has wished he could close his eyes, hand over the reins and let someone take care of him. It’s a dream that none of his exes have been able to fulfill—not that he really understands what he needs.

At least, he doesn’t until he stumbles into a dark alley to get away from the bustling noise on the dance floor where he doesn’t belong. He’s not alone in the alley, and the stranger who gives him everything he’s longing for isn’t a stranger at all but Trick, his gorgeous neighbor who has a body that models would kill for and the softest blue eyes that Nav has ever seen.

Trick has everything he could ever wish for, including his kinky fiancé, Theo, who has been by his side for ten years. So when Trick sets up an intense scene in an alleyway that pushes their boundaries beyond anything he could have imagined, his life seems perfect. But when the alley lights flicker on, he discovers the man against him isn’t his fiancé at all.

One perfect mistake will change their lives forever.

Reader advisory: This book contains pain play and consensual non-consent.

Excerpt

Nav’s apartment key tumbled from his hand as his phone vibrated, rattling his change and his plastic swipe card from work. He fumbled in his pocket, pulling his phone out and groaning at the name on the display.

“This is not a good time,” he said as he accepted the call, sighing at the laughter that burst against his eardrum. He glanced down, searching for his key that had somehow made it halfway under his apartment door, only the jagged edge visible beneath the crack.

He really needed to get a keychain so the thing didn’t disappear on him again. He’d already gone through three keys in the last month, and the hardware store was starting to get suspicious as to why he needed so many spares. There just didn’t seem to be much point to getting a sparkly keychain if he wasn’t going to keep it for all that long.

“How did it go, Nav?” asked Sasha through the speaker.

No matter how many times Nav lost his things or moved, Sasha always seemed to track him down. He was Nav’s self-appointed best friend and number one annoyance.

Nav let out a sigh, leaning his back against the door as he looked down the hall. There were a dozen doors that were identical to his, with grungy numbers barely clinging onto their hastily painted surfaces. At one point, the doors must’ve been a dreadful forest green, but someone had decided to paint over them with a thin layer of white primer. The results were pale lime rectangles with dark corners where the primer had been rubbed raw. The red apartment numbers completed the nightmarish Christmas look with tacky gusto.

“It went great. Better than great, actually. Everette never wants to see me again, and he got his brother to throw me out of the house.” Nav rubbed at his shoulder where he was sure there was a bruise. They’d taken the throwing part a touch too literally, and Nav had found out first-hand how hard concrete sidewalks were.

“Ouch. Not unexpected, though,” said Sasha, his laughter booming through the tiny speaker. “Maybe you shouldn’t have hit on their dad?”

Nav ran a hand through his hair before he leaned back and let his head rest against the thin door. It sounded hollow to the touch, and it nearly bowed under his weight. “Maybe their dad shouldn’t have been so hot. I mean, who the hell walks around in just their boxers then gets offended when they get hit on? I didn’t know guys his age could even have abs like that. His body was just rocking.”

“Gross… I don’t need the details,” said Sasha, the phone rustling. “How many is that now, though?”

“This year or this month?” asked Nav, sliding down the door until his ass met the thin and filthy carpet. A light flickered overhead, and somewhere a baby screamed. His neighbor down the hall was making their weekly batch of boiled cabbage, if the smell was anything to go by. And who the hell had crushed packets of ketchup at the end of the hall?

“You’re such an asshole,” said Sasha. “I’ve never met someone who has as many ex-boyfriends as you have. You must run into one at every bar.”

Nav laughed, letting the grief of the situation roll off his shoulders and down the ratty hallway to find a sewer out on the street somewhere. There was hardly any grief there at all, if he were honest with himself. He’d only dated Everette for three weeks, which was two weeks longer than his usual attention span. The guy had been cute, but nothing compared to his dad.

“Most bars are out. Restaurants, too. I ran into Josh the other day, and I swear to God he spit on my salad,” said Nav. He’d still eaten the salad, of course. A little spit never turned him off a good meal.

“So, you won’t come out for drinks with us tonight?” asked Sasha. “Katie already did her hair up real nice, and I can’t wait to fuck it up.”

“Your straightness disgusts me,” said Nav, letting his eyes drift shut. It had been a long week of too many hours at work and even more wasted on another guy he knew would never work out. His shower was calling to him, and he could definitely hear the cries of his lonely pillow.

“I dunno. I’m really tired, Sash.” He leaned his head to the side to cradle his phone against his ear. A noise at the end of the hall made him startle, but he kept his eyes closed. It was probably just one of his asshole neighbors getting home after their day job. They would be able to step by him just fine.

“All the more reason to come out with us. You’re in a rut, Nav. You need to relax and stop trying to fuck your way through every gay bedroom in the city. Come out with us tonight for drinks, keep your dick to yourself and I guarantee you’ll feel better.”

“Drinks do sound good,” said Nav, pulling his feet closer when the squeak of shuffling footsteps approached him on the carpet. “Okay, I’ll be there tonight. Don’t let me fuck up again, okay?”

“Deal.” Sasha chuckled. Nav could almost see his best friend’s smirk through the phone. “I’ll keep you surrounded by women so your dick shrivels up and dies. Then I’ll get you so wasted that you forget about Tray.”

“Tray was last month, before Scott and Paul, remember? Everette was the guy whose dad I just fucked,” said Nav, lowering his voice as the footsteps came closer. He already got enough flack in his life for being gay and he didn’t need any more shit from anyone.

“You are fucked up, man. I’ll see you tonight. Nine sharp at Pinty’s. Bring your long underwear and a chastity belt.” Sasha ended the call with a click and Nav sighed, letting his phone slide to the ground with a hollow thump. He could sleep against the door, even with the floor jamming into the bruises on his ass.

Who actually threw someone? Concrete was not a fun place for his skinny ass to land. At least they had tossed him his pants.

“You okay?”

Nav’s opened his eyes and cursed to himself, scrambling to get up to his feet.

Of course, the person to see him crumpled outside of his door had to be his smoking-hot and totally unreachable neighbor. He was gorgeous, with short blond hair that models would die for, and the softest blue eyes Nav had ever seen. Top that with thick shoulders, strong arms and thighs that could kill and he was everything Nav dreamed of.

The guy was also completely and totally unavailable. His boyfriend was the most average person in the world but had something that Nav couldn’t even fathom—commitment. Every time Nav saw his him, the boyfriend was usually close by.

“Sorry… I just lost my key,” said Nav as he pushed back against his door, his knees wobbling as his neighbor got closer. His mouth went dry, his throat constricting like nobody’s business. His palms went damp as he suddenly began to sweat, his face flushing. Hunger evaporated in his gut like he’d just gotten a whiff of fresh ass, and his priorities had spun one-hundred-and-eighty degrees.

He was also the only one who did that to Nav. The beautiful blond specimen transformed him from a bonified slut who was proud of it into a blushing virgin.

Nav had fucked and been fucked by more guys than he could remember, but something about that tall, built frame and those crystal-blue eyes sent him back to his high school days when he’d seen his first cock and decided he was gay for life.

“Oh crap, that sucks,” he said, running a hand through his blond locks that were probably softer than actual silk. “Did you call the superintendent?” He shifted a brown paper grocery bag in his hands, reaching into his pocket for something.

Of course he was environmentally aware, too, which made Nav want to drool. There was nothing worse than a hot guy who used plastic bags and drove a car that guzzled more fuel than a loaded transport truck. Can you be any more perfect?

Nav shook his head. “N-not yet. I think I probably just dropped it somewhere.” Nav wanted to crumple into a ball. His voice was so soft and weak that he probably sounded like a virgin, too.

Virgins were the literal enemy. Clingy, flustered and nervous, Nav always steered well clear. He’d been there, done that and returned the T-shirt.

Knowing how thin the walls were in the building, Nav guessed the guy had probably heard his sex adventures from across the hall, which was probably why he was looking at Nav with confusion and concern etched onto his perfectly sculpted face. Statues were probably made of this guy—hopefully the ones with the big dicks and not the little ones.

Nav slid his foot sideways to where he remembered dropping the key, hopefully concealing it. He was such a fucking idiot, but he couldn’t even think straight with his neighbor staring at him, his gaze piercing straight through his defenses.

“Did you need a hand? Just let me put my groceries in the fridge and I’ll help you look for it.” A soft smile settled on his lips as he pulled his own key out before opening his door with one hand.

“No, it’s okay,” said Nav, his face burning. He slapped his hands to his cheeks as the guy looked away, hoping to draw the heat out with his frigid fingertips. The sight of his wide, strong back had Nav flushing all over again. He looked away and into the apartment instead, his jaw dropping as something caught his eye.

There, on the wall, and hidden in the most unlikely of places, was a painting that he’d never thought he would see again.

“Oh my God, you have one of Brian Maeckery’s paintings?” He stumbled across the hall, his key and his bag forgotten as the art drew him through the open door.

Seeing it again was the same as seeing it for the first time. The piece was one that had caught Nav’s eye when it had been in the studio. His breath stuck in his throat as his cock swelled against his will, his groin pulling tight.

He couldn’t help it. The brushstrokes were perfection, each one laid with such sensual purpose that Nav could almost feel them against his skin. The lovers on the canvas were wrapped around each other in an intimate embrace that made Nav’s blood boil. They looked at each other in the peak of their pleasure, love and commitment frozen on their features. It was as unreal as a dream.

But what was his favorite painting of all time doing in a run-down apartment building? Sure, his neighbor had spruced up his place from what Nav could tell, but the painting didn’t belong.

“Yeah.” He set his grocery bag on the counter, before turning to Nav. “He’s actually a friend of mine. He owed me a favor, so he gave this to me as payment. It’s a beautiful piece.” He shifted, flickering his gaze over Nav once before he turned and started unloading his groceries.

Butterflies erupted in Nav’s belly. Brian Maeckery was nearly famous—like a shiny, untouchable doll on television. Nav would have worshiped the ground that he walked on, if only he had been able to find his house.

“I’m so jealous. I’m such a huge fan of his.” He let out a sigh, reaching for the muddled color where the lovers’ legs met. He hovered a few inches away, his hand trembling. The last price tag he’d seen on it was over one-hundred-thousand dollars. “It must’ve been one hell of a favor.”

It still smelled fresh, the flavors of the paint rolling over his tongue as he inhaled sharply. The wooden frame was pristine, without a hint of dust or fingerprints, but how long would that last? It was something that should have been hanging in a temperature-controlled gallery for the rest of its life behind a pane of thick glass, not in a shitty apartment building soaking up the faint smell of cigarettes and cat piss.

His neighbor paused, a tray of chicken breasts clutched in his fingers. He furrowed his forehead before he let out a small laugh, his eyes lighting up. “Not really, no. My fiancé and I modeled for the painting, so Brian thought it was best if we were the ones to get it.”

“Wait…what?” Nav took a step back, his gaze flashing between him and the painting. The faces on the canvas were in shadow, with only their lips visible and a hint of their partially closed eyes. But it did look like them, and the hair color was spot-on. And their bodies…oh God. Was that really hiding beneath the guy’s T-shirt and jeans?

“Shit, I’ve jerked off to this painting,” said Nav, flushing as he smacked his hand to his forehead. “I-I mean, shit. You’re Theo?”

His boss had relayed the entire story as they’d hung the painting in the gallery together—how Brian had claimed that Theo was his muse and how he had called to him with each brush stroke. Nav had agreed from the bottom of his balls. That had been the first time the painting made him hard—but not the last.

Nav dropped his gaze, flushing so fiercely that he wasn’t sure his cheeks would ever cool again. He couldn’t look at him. In fact, it was probably best if he turned around and crawled back to his apartment before begging for forgiveness through the door.

Nav started as his neighbor chuckled. His gaze was dragged back to the gorgeous blond, his heart thudding as he stared at the man with his head tilted back and his lips curled and open as the beautiful sound emerged.

“Theo’s my fiancé,” he said, wiping the gathering tears from his eyes as he continued to chuckle. “I’m Maverick, but everyone calls me Trick. Thanks for the compliment.” He let out another laugh, his body shaking as his chest heaved.

“I’m so sorry. I’m just really tired, and I always say things I’m not supposed to when I’m tired.” He bit his tongue as Trick laughed even harder. Trick was stunning when he was silent, but when he laughed, he transformed into an actual Adonis.

Nav looked at the painting again, something new surging from the base of his gut.

As much as he had longed to be the one in the painting in the past, it had always remained an unattainable figment of Brian’s imagination. It had been fitting that the only thing that he would ever love was an imaginary scene with a fictional man.

But they were real…and the man he’d been fantasizing about was Trick. His heart rate picked up, his chest rising and falling like he’d just run a marathon.

Trick was obviously in love with Theo. He’d smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling when he’d said Theo’s name. And the painting…? Nav hadn’t known what true love looked like until he had seen the canvas.

An ugly green monster twisted in his gut, leaving a foul taste in his mouth. It seemed that everyone could fall in love except him, even the not-so-fictional characters in a painting. He was going to be cursed to chase brief hookups for the rest of his life, ditching them before they lost their new boyfriend smell and shine.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you by laughing at you. I was just surprised,” said Trick, his humor falling away. “You sure you don’t want me to help you find your key? Or I can get you a drink if you want to call the super and wait here.”

“No, it’s okay. I don’t want to intrude,” said Nav. He looked back to the painting, but the magic that had enthralled him for months was gone. His stomach lurched as he took a step back.

I’m just overtired. Alcohol required STAT.

“Well, it was nice meeting you…” Trick paused as if he were waiting for something.

“Nav.” He shrugged, filling the uncomfortable silence.

“Nav. Just knock if you need something or if you change your mind.” He smiled, parting his full lips to reveal white teeth that were perfectly straight. His smile was dazzling, pulling a wave of fresh heat from Nav’s core.

“Thanks. Bye.” Nav rushed into the hall, shutting the door before Trick could say anything further. His heart was still pounding, and for some strange reason, he felt the first prickling of tears at the corner of his eyes.

He took a deep breath and pinched the base of his nose. He must’ve been more exhausted than he’d thought if he was already starting to get teary-eyed. He usually didn’t hit that level until he’d worked sixty hours in one week. He’d only done fifty-five hours in the last five days, so he should have still been in the glaringly frustrated and angry phase.

He reached for his key, easing it out from where it had squirmed through the crack under the thin door. He grabbed his bag, hauling it over his shoulder and turning the key in the lock before pushing inside.

Unlike Trick, he hadn’t spiffed up his floors or counters in his apartment. There really was no point if his stay was going to be brief.

The paint was the original faded ivory with a few cracks around the corners and a smudge of purple along one baseboard. The floors were roll-on linoleum with a few holes in the kitchen where someone had repeatedly dropped a sharp knife. It could have been anyone’s apartment.

Except for the art that he’d hung on the walls. The art was all his. Most of the paintings were little pieces he’d picked up in estate and garage sales in the city, with a few originals from up-and-coming artists. His work in the studio gallery put him in reach of a few artists who hadn’t hit it big yet and had prices that were within his reach.

He stepped up to one of his favorites. The artist was known simply as Rachel, and they had a way with traditional techniques that wasn’t too common anymore. A frog on a lily pad would have made most artists scoff, but Rachel had elevated the simple idea and done something beyond anything Nav could have imagined himself. The frog was made of stars, and the lily pad was the cosmos, according to the gods. It always managed to take his breath away.

All the works he had managed to collect were beautiful and unique, but nothing like the scandalous and sensual canvas of Brian’s work. It was so far beyond his price range that he didn’t deserve to be close enough to touch it.

His throat clogged as he thought of the painting in its dismal setting across the hall.

“Christ, I need a drink.” He pulled his clothes from his body, letting them trail on the ground on his way to the shower. As the water cascaded over him, he tried to push the painting and Trick from his thoughts.

Buy Links

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About the Author

M.C. Roth

M.C. Roth lives in Canada and loves every season, even the dreaded Canadian winter. She graduated with honours from the Associate Diploma Program in Veterinary Technology at the University of Guelph before choosing a different career path.

Between caring for her young son, spending time with her husband, and feeding treats to her menagerie of animals, she still spends every spare second devoted to her passion for writing.

She loves growing peppers that are hot enough to make grown men cry, but she doesn’t like spicy food herself. Her favourite thing, other than writing of course, is to find a quiet place in the wilderness and listen to the birds while dreaming about the gorgeous men in her head.

Find out more about M.C. Roth at her website.

Giveaway

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New Release Blitz: Blood & Dirt by Corey Niles (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Blood & Dirt

Author: Corey Niles

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 08/02/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 110200

Genre: Paranormal Horror, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, paranormal, horror, urban fantasy, golem, students, homophobic attack, murder, revenge

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Description

Vincent depended on his boyfriend, James, to stand up for him—until a violent hate crime results in James’s murder.

Weeks after his funeral, James reappears, perfectly healthy but changed in ways that neither of them can quite understand. Now, Vincent must uncover what truly happened on the night they were attacked.

In the face of an apathetic police force and a growing number of missing gay men, Vincent and James work to identify the criminals who attacked them.

With James scarred from what happened to him in the weeks between his death and rediscovery, Vincent must learn to stand up for himself and face his real monsters or lose James—and himself.

Excerpt

Blood & Dirt
Corey Niles © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Panther Hollow

Dead man walking. Vincent waited for the elevator in Posvar Hall. Four years was coming down to a single meeting. If the trajectory of his day so far had been any indication of how it would go, he was fucked.

The elevator door opened with a ding. Empty. His chest pounded and hands shook, but he forced himself to step inside and press the button for the third floor. The stainless-steel door closed him in, and he stared at his blurred reflection in the metal. Another ding rang out as he was dragged past the second floor and again when the door opened on the third. They sounded like the beating drums of a funeral march, and he did his best to ignore them.

Just outside the elevator, a woman spoke with an older man about some foreign conflict. They were both dressed in business casual attire. History professors, which didn’t come as much of a surprise in the history department.

“Excuse us,” the woman said, and only then did Vincent realize he was standing in the elevator doorway.

“Sorry.” He slipped past them, his cheeks blazing. The hallway was empty and silent beyond a little chatter leaking from the office doors that lined the walls. Professor Cowart’s office was down the hall on the right. Vincent had figured that out the last time he’d attempted to visit him, but he wasn’t going to turn back again. He was going to face him and explain the situation.

Each step made his heart beat faster and hands shake with more fervor. Sweat crawled down his back, and he knew it had little to do with the winter coat he wore or the backpack slung over his shoulders. So much was riding on this meeting. If today was going so badly, then maybe that was a warning sign from some higher power to turn around and come back another day.

Shit.

He stopped, and before he chickened out, he called James. “I don’t think I can do this.”

“What’s going on? What did he say?” Concern dripped from James’s words like butter on movie theater popcorn.

“Didn’t get there yet.”

“I thought you got off work at four?”

“We got slammed right before my shift ended. Didn’t get out of there until a quarter after. Then, someone stopped me to ask about Damien Wright. He’s the guy I had that thing with freshman year, and apparently, no one has heard from him for like a week. He’s in Myths with me. So, I—”

“Okay, that’s a lot, and we can talk about it later, but just breathe for a hot second because you sound like an old man in an anti-smoking ad.”

He might’ve laughed at that, under better circumstances. He sucked air into his starved lungs, filling his nostrils with the stench of his own sweat. He hadn’t smoked since he started dating James, but a cigarette sounded pretty good right about now.

“Babe, something is always going to happen. You can’t keep putting it off.”

Vincent exhaled. “I know. I’m just…I don’t know.”

“Today isn’t going as planned, but he has office hours until five, right? So technically, you aren’t late.”

“Right.”

Someone called out to James, and he said something Vincent couldn’t quite make out in response before he got back on the phone. “Sorry. Look, I gotta get back to the lab to help clean up for the day. Just don’t leave until you come to an understanding. Most of undergrad is proving that you care enough to work for it.”

With that, he was gone. Vincent took another breath and let his boyfriend’s words wash over him. James was right. He couldn’t keep putting off the meeting, but James’s ideal outcome was a little harder to swallow.

James spoke from the perspective of a student who’d graduated with honors and breezed through his first year of med school at the University of Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Vincent had barely survived his first three years of undergrad. To make matters worse, he’d only started caring about Professor Cowart’s Myths, Legends, and Folktales class after he got back the rough draft of his final and realized he risked failing out during his last semester.

While he seriously doubted the meeting would end as favorably as James assured him, that didn’t mean it would be as disastrous as he presumed. He repeated James’s words to himself, screamed them in his mind over every second thought that sprung to life until he reached his destination. By that point, he almost believed them.

The office door was shut. A small wooden plaque was fixed to the opaque glass with “Dr. Charles Cowart” printed on it, and a poster was taped to the door below it:

I’ve always preferred mythology to history. History is truth that becomes an illusion. Mythology is an illusion that becomes reality. —Jean Cocteau

White text on a galaxy background. Laminated. Vincent wasn’t surprised to see the poster. He’d heard Professor Cowart babble on about the quote at least a hundred times in class. Beyond the plaque and poster, he could make out the faint silhouette of someone at a desk through the opaque glass. He brought his ear to the door. Silence broken up by the occasional clacking of a keyboard.

Just don’t leave until you come to an understanding.

Vincent knocked on the door.

The silhouette rose and walked over to him. The door swung open. Professor Cowart stood in the doorway. He was dressed in a beige suit with a crimson tie. His salt-and-pepper hair was shaped into a tight Afro that seemed at odds with the unkempt soul patch jutting from his chin.

“Hello.” He said it as a statement, but his furrowed eyebrows made it a question.

“Hi, Professor Cowart. I was wondering—”

“Dr. Cowart.” He motioned his head toward the plaque.

Vincent wiped the sweat from his forehead and pushed back his hair to keep it from sticking to his damp flesh. “Sorry. Dr. Cowart. I was wondering if I could speak with you.”

“And you are?”

“Oh, I’m, ah, Vincent Vicar. I’m in your Myths class.” He offered his hand, but Dr. Cowart walked back into his office.

“Take a seat. I’ll be with you momentarily.”

The office was colored yellow in the afternoon light pouring through the three floor-to-ceiling windows opposite the door. Dr. Cowart took a seat at his desk and resumed typing something on his laptop. Vincent set his backpack on the ground. He sat down in one of the two wooden chairs in front of the desk. The musky smell of tobacco and old books filled the room. The warm light and the smell had a dizzying effect. He felt like he was in a preheating oven.

He took off his jacket and laid it on his lap. Thankfully, he hadn’t sweated through his T-shirt. His phone buzzed in his pocket. James knew he was busy, so it was probably some telemarketer. He ignored it. He didn’t want to give Dr. Cowart any more reason to dislike him. Trying to sit quietly, Vincent waited for his professor to finish whatever he was doing.

Dr. Cowart typed in no apparent rush.

Vincent focused his attention on the bookshelf behind Dr. Cowart to keep his mind from spiraling down a rabbit hole of what-ifs. Worrying about having to retake the class in the fall as opposed to graduating in a little under two months would only make him a bigger ball of stress. On the stuffed bookshelves were small copper figurines of various characters and creatures from stories they’d studied in class. Vincent could make out a wolf stalking a young, hooded girl just behind Dr. Cowart’s head. There was also a Grecian warrior wielding a taut bow, whose name he should know at this point in the semester. The hero’s cape was molded to look as if it were blowing in the wind. Like the warrior could come alive at any second and land an arrow between his eyes.

Dr. Cowart shut his laptop. “Without telling me something I shouldn’t know, you wouldn’t happen to be aware of any reason why Damien Wright has missed my last two classes?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Hmmm. It’s difficult to keep track of all of you in such a large class, but some students, like Damien, make themselves known.”

“Oh?” was all Vincent could think to say. He wasn’t sure if the comment was directed at him or Damien. While missing a week’s worth of classes didn’t seem like something overachieving Damien would do, Vincent hadn’t known him all that well, and he had bigger problems to deal with at that moment.

“You’re a senior, correct?”

“Yeah. I mean, yes, I am.”

“Not a history major, though, are you?” He rubbed his soul patch thoughtfully like some wise old sage.

“No. I’m general studies.” He waited for a lecture concerning the pitfalls of such a degree when just another semester or two could enable him to obtain a more specific and substantial degree.

“Hmmm,” Dr. Cowart said, as if that decided something. “Anyway, what was it you wanted?”

“I was wondering if I could talk to you about the grade I received on the rough draft of my final.” He took his paper out of his backpack. Dr. Cowart made them print out their essays and submit them in person so that he could write out his feedback, which, in Vincent’s case, was little more than a red “D” written on the top of the page with the phrase “off topic” written below it. “I just wasn’t sure how my paper was off topic.”

Dr. Cowart took the paper and leafed through it. “What was the assignment?”

“To look at a story we discussed in class.”

“And for what purpose?”

“To research the historical context and analyze it to understand its legacy.” That was all the assignment guidelines had said.

Dr. Cowart glanced up at him, his eyes narrowing. “And what did you do?”

Vincent wasn’t sure what Dr. Cowart was getting at, but he had a sinking feeling he was walking into a trap. “I traced Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel to the 1635 story, Nennillo and Nennella, and then I examined how it was rooted in oral stories dating back to the Great Famine of 1315-1317.”

“That’s right.” He set the paper down on his desk. “And why did you examine this context?”

Vincent resisted the urge to point to his thesis statement on the first page. “I guess to indicate how this absurd story was inspired by real history, which resonated with readers.”

“I wanted you to examine the historical context. However, as I discussed in class, realism is of little concern to me beyond understanding why these stories continue to affect those who read them centuries later. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seriously doubt that modern readers are captivated by how the story captures accounts from the Great Famine of 1315-1317. I want to know why this tale has survived the test of time.”

Vincent couldn’t remember whether he had attended the class where Dr. Cowart explained the assignment. If he had, he must not have been paying attention. He wished that archer on the shelf would put him out of his misery, but when Dr. Cowart continued to stare at him, he realized his question wasn’t rhetorical. “I don’t know.”

“Which is why you earned such a low grade on this assignment.” Dr. Cowart slid the paper back to him. His lips tightened like he was fending off a smirk.

Vincent swallowed in an attempt to push down the anger bubbling up inside him. “Because of this grade, I risk failing the class.”

“I don’t believe this grade would have been so devastating if you had a higher grade going into the assignment. That being said, I assign the draft of your final at midterms to ensure there is plenty of time for revisions. I suggest you use the next two months wisely.”

Vincent wanted to interject. Flip his desk. Do whatever he had to do for Dr. Cowart to understand that it was virtually impossible for him to pass the class unless he got a perfect grade on every assignment, including the final draft. Tell him he was already drowning in loans he couldn’t pay off and he couldn’t afford to be there another semester. Explain that it was tough working two jobs and keeping up with all his course work. Demand a new grade.

But he didn’t.

Unlike James, he didn’t have the drive and hard work to back up his words. As much as Dr. Cowart wasn’t softening the blow, Vincent had gotten himself into this situation, and he would have to try, and undoubtedly fail, to get himself out of it.

He collected his things and stood up. “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.”

“Of course.” Dr. Cowart opened his laptop. Vincent was at the door when Dr. Cowart added, “History isn’t about observation. You have to dig into it and see what’s between the dirt and worms.”

Vincent wondered what great historian had said that quote and whether Dr. Cowart had it printed, laminated, and hanging somewhere in his office. As soon as he got into the hall, his phone vibrated. Below a missed call from an unknown number that surely belonged to a telemarketer was a text from James, asking how it was going. Vincent called him.

“So, what happened?”

The eagerness in his voice made Vincent feel sick. “Can we go for a jog?”

“What? It’s cold out, it’s supposed to like rain or slush tonight, and it’ll be dark in another hour or so. What happened?”

“Sun’s still out. It’s not that cold. The rain isn’t supposed to hit us until later. We have time. Please?” Vincent needed to get away from campus and pump his arms and legs until he forgot about everything except filling his lungs with air.

“Was it that bad?”

Vincent didn’t think he could explain just how poorly it’d gone without crying in the hall. “I’ll explain everything later. Can you bring my sweats and meet me at Schenley Park? We can park on Overlook Drive.”

“If you insist, cutie.”

“Thanks.”

“Just hurry. It’ll be dark soon.”

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Meet the Author

Corey Niles was born and raised in the Rust Belt, where he garnered his love of horror. When he isn’t advising college students, he enjoys binge-watching horror movies and traveling to hoard American history in his cheeks like a chipmunk. He hasn’t met a creepy, isolated hiking trail he hasn’t liked.

After studying creative writing and gender and women’s studies as an undergraduate student, he went on to graduate from Seton Hill University with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction.

In his spare time, he nurses his caffeine addiction and tends to his graveyard of houseplants. He is also a single father of a very fluffy cat named Alexander, who quickly forgot about his humble beginnings.

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New Release Blitz: The Oracle’s Flame by Mell Eight (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Oracle’s Flame

Series: Oracle, Book One

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 08/02/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 19100

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, romance, menage, dragons, sailors/pirates, royalty, psychic, action/adventure

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Description

The Kingdom of Altnoia is on the cusp of civil war. The king and heir have been murdered, the throne taken by their uncle, and the kingdom’s only hope lies with Prince Edan who has been missing for the past year. The Oracle appoints Kindle, her new Dragon of Fire, one task: find Prince Edan and keep him alive.

It should have been a simple task, but Kindle did not anticipate Prince Edan would hide away on a pirate ship, forcing the dragon not only to endure pirates, but seasickness and his fear of water. And nothing, not even the Oracle, could have prepared him for the two pirates he meets and the complicated feelings they spark.

Excerpt

The Oracle’s Flame
Mell Eight © 2022
All Rights Reserved

The castle wasn’t burning, although her mind’s eye saw it outlined in flames. There would be fire, but not this night. No, this night was death. This night was treason.

These events had already occurred. They were sent from the past, meant to ensure her understanding of the present, and to help her decipher the future. They were important, so the Oracle watched them again.

Ferim was scowling over his brother’s body. His older half brother, the king, was dead. The specter of his mother, the long-dead second wife of the previous king, hung over Ferim’s head as he declared himself King of Altnoia. The spite in his mother’s heart had successfully lived on, given new birth at the end of Ferim’s bloody sword. The king was dead. The king’s wife was dead. The king’s oldest son was dead. Ferim’s mother placed a heavy crown on Ferim’s head and then began to let out a crazed laugh.

The second son of the dead king escaped the castle, a circle of loyal servants and guards ensuring that Prince Edan, the rightful heir to the throne, boarded a ship in the harbor. Cannons fired as the White Crest forced an opening through the country’s armada. The news of the coup in the castle was just arriving at the port; too late to halt Prince Edan’s escape. Those captains loyal to their jobs futilely returned fire while those loyal to land and crown abandoned ship and took to the hills to begin building a rebellion against the false king.

The rebellion continued at sea as well, led by Prince Edan and his loyal crew, and the years passed. King Ferim grew in power, but dissent also grew as the people thought of their lost prince. The Oracle watched as a sickly green shadow began to grow in Altnoia. First the shadow was contained, as a shadow should be, by the forces of light and dark. It clung to Ferim’s robes, his shoes, and his very breath. But sickness spreads quickly. As Ferim breathed on his councilors, their shadows also began to grow ill. Ferim walked through the city, and everywhere he stepped, a pool of deadly miasma formed. Soon the shadow was hanging over all of Altnoia.

These were the images the Oracle’s mind provided to symbolize corruption and greed as they fermented. As filling one’s own pockets with gold and gems went above the good of the country. As regular citizens fought to produce enough grain to feed their families and pay the tithe the king demanded. As they sickened and died when blight came to the crops and deadly illness into the wells.

The people remembered the prosperity they had enjoyed under the murdered king, and they remembered their prince had escaped that day of blood. The people hoped for a better life, and the rebellion grew in strength every day. King Ferim sat on his throne and heard those whispers, and he knew Prince Edan had to die for his reign to continue.

And thus, the present was ended. Now it was time for the future, for the unknown, and the possible paths diverged in dozens of directions. Should King Ferim go riding on one sunny day in late spring, his horse would step in a hole, and both horse and false-king would be dead. But such an event was unlikely. King Ferim was afraid of riding, as that was allegedly what had killed his beloved mother. The Oracle discarded that path and moved on to another.

The Oracle was not alone in her mind, which helped her sort through the possibilities of each future path. She was myriad, the consciousness of each Oracle that had come before her current body held safely within her. Each consciousness sorted quickly, soon finding the most likely paths of future possibilities. The Oracle watched each one occur in her mind’s eye.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

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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Book Blitz: Looks Aren’t Everything by Emily Carrington (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Looks Aren’t Everything

Series: Marisburg Chronicles #5

Author: Emily Carrington

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: July 29

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Female/NB

Length: 121

Genre: Romance, New Adult, Thriller/Suspense, Action Adventure, Bisexual, Multisexual & Pansexual, Multicultural & Interracial, Transgender

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Synopsis

Theresa can’t bear who she’s become. Can Ash show her hope’s sunrise?

Ash’s dads have embraced their nonbinary self and Ash feels empowered in their blindness, but their dads still won’t let them do anything alone. When Ash meets Theresa at a blindness conference, they long to slip the apron strings.

Theresa, blinded in a terrible incident, has fully embraced her transgender identity. What she can’t get past is her loss of sight. Meeting Ash, who is confident in their disability, seems like a gift, especially the first time they kiss.

But Theresa hides a terrible secret and she’s afraid between that and her disability she won’t be good enough for Ash. How can Ash possibly prove her wrong?

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2022 Emily Carrington

Conscious that they wanted to whine, but also that they were nineteen, Ash modulated their tone. “Candace,” they said to their sister, “it’s not that I don’t love our dads but…” Lacking a way to finish that statement, Ash tried again. “Do you understand where I’m coming from?”

Candace shifted, her rocking chair creaking under her.

Ash liked that chair, but it was Candace’s favorite also and so, since this was her place, she got to sit in it. Aidan, one of their dads, had explained that for the blind, like him, or severely visually impaired, like Ash, rocking was a natural motion. And having a rocking chair gave a person an acceptable place to do it where they could feel the movement of the air on their face and the motion against their body.

“Other people like to rock too,” Aidan had said when he was teaching Ash to remain still during school and for social situations. “But for some members of the blind community, it soothes something inside. So, don’t be afraid to rock but keep it to appropriate circumstances.”

After a few moments, Candace said, “Maybe I get some of it. When I moved into this apartment with Al, both Mike and Aidan freaked royally.” She giggled. “Aidan more than Mike, I think, but only because he’s even more protective and, well, anal about keeping everyone in his life safe.”

Aidan was a black belt. A blind black belt at that. And still he thought the world would attack his family at the first chance.

Of course, between the man who’d attacked first Mike and then Ash… But that was over five years in the past! Couldn’t Aidan do like the song and let it go?

“The National Federation of the Blind yearly conference is the safest place on Earth,” Ash said, trying a different tack. “There are sighted helpers everywhere.”

“That doesn’t fly. Considering that the NFB had to start a group for survivors of sexual harassment and worse.”

Ash shook their head, feeling their hair fly against their ears. “Those attacks happened in learning centers, not at conferences.”

“They happened in all places where female, and sometimes male, students felt uncomfortable and were touched without permission.”

Ash threw up their hands. “You sound like Dad.”

Candace laughed. “Which one?”

“You know I’m talking about Aidan,” Ash snapped. “Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not.” But there was laughter in Candace’s voice. “I’m just saying that argument won’t work against Aidan or Mike, especially since it’s full of holes.”

Ash tried to blow their bangs off their forehead. Failing that, they brushed their hair back with both hands. “Okay, fine. What do you suggest?”

“Actions speak louder than words,” Candace answered at once. “Show him, show them, that you’re mature and confident.” She paused. “Ash, do you think Aidan’s being anal and overprotective because you’re blind?”

Ash scowled. Even though they’d accepted long ago that their level of light perception without the ability to distinguish forms by sight meant they were functionally blind, it still rankled sometimes to hear the “b” word come out of someone else’s mouth. Still, that wasn’t what was important here. Candace’s question needed an answer. “Yes.” They flopped backward against the couch cushions and covered their face with their small hands.

“Okay,” Candace said slowly. “Let’s pick that apart a little. Is Aidan blind? And is he independent?”

“Yeah.”

“And did he and Mike freak out when I decided to move in with Al?”

Not seeing where this was going, Ash answered. “Yeah.”

“I’m not visually impaired or blind. Assuming it’s your blindness that’s set them off, why did they freak about my moving?”

“Because…” Ash stopped. They’d never considered that before. “Because you’re still in college and money is tight?”

“Nope. Because Al and I have been dating only since December. It’s now June. That is only six-ish months.”

“But you’ve known him for years! You’ve been great friends.”

“That was the argument I used,” Candace affirmed. “And do you think that went over well?”

Ash shook their head. “Probably not,” they said morosely.

“Exactly. Do you know why?” She didn’t wait for Ash to answer. “Because arguing with our dads is about as useful as arguing with a brick wall. They don’t listen to arguments or reasons. What they respond to best are actions. Like how I haven’t gotten pregnant yet because we’re using protection and birth control. And how Al and I are paying all our bills without help.”

Ash frowned slightly and sat forward, dropping their hands. “So, what you’re saying is I need to prove myself through actions. How can I do that between now and the first week of July?”

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

Meet the Author

Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender erotica. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires.

Fantasy creatures not your thing? Emily has also created a contemporary romance world, called Sticks and Stones, where she explores being “different” in a small town.

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New Release Blitz ~ The Poison Bottle by LM Somerton (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Poison Bottle by LM Somerton

Book 3 in the Treasure Trove Antiques series

Word Count: 58,408
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 231

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
BONDAGE AND BDSM
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
MYSTERY
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description


There’s no antidote to the malignant craving for power and wealth.

Landry Carran should know better than to get involved in yet another murder mystery, but it was hardly his fault that someone dumped a dead body on the doorstep of Treasure Trove Antiques. He can’t resist recruiting his friends to help him play detective.

Meanwhile, Landry’s partner and Dom, Gage Roskam, is doing real detective work that proves hazardous to his health and brings with it the assistance of an annoying Englishman who Gage believes should be behind bars.

The case twists and turns across Seattle’s antique trade, and the bodies multiply. As clues are solved, it becomes apparent that those closest to Gage are in grave danger. He’ll need to control his errant sub, deal with the most irritating Brit ever born and solve the case if he wants to prevent more death.

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

Excerpt

Landry Carran gave his ass a rub and grinned at the resulting ache. His boyfriend and Dom, Detective Gage Roskam, had delivered a stupendous spanking less than an hour earlier, and Landry was still glowing—physically and mentally. He gave a happy jig then bounced down the stairs from the apartment he shared with Gage to Treasure Trove Antiques, which occupied the ground floor of the building and was his place of gainful-ish employment. The two cups of strong coffee and bowl of sugar-laden cereal that he’d had for breakfast ensured his current energetic state would last for at least an hour, which was when his best friend and assistant, Petey Templeton, would join him. Landry didn’t usually have to open the store alone, but Petey had finally given in to a nagging toothache and had an early dental appointment.

“Such a wuss,” Landry muttered. “Can’t believe I had to bribe him to go.” Worth it though. An assistant who doesn’t want to eat baked goods is no use to me at all. That globe he had his eye on was a small price to pay. Petey had a thing for maps and had fallen in love with a battered globe that dated back to the nineteen seventies. It was about as accurate as a Fox News report, but Petey liked finding the mistakes. Landry had gotten so fed up of Petey whining about his tooth, he’d promised Petey the globe if he put aside his phobia of dentists and got it taken care of. Landry had also persuaded Carson, Petey’s boyfriend, to act as escort and make sure he made his appointment. Carson had been happy to help because, as he’d put it, “a boyfriend who cries when you kiss him does not boost a man’s confidence.”

Bopping and humming as he went, Landry unlocked the door between the building’s stairwell and the store. As he entered the cavernous space, piled high with antiques and collectables, he took a deep breath. The familiar scent of beeswax polish, old wood and leather always settled him and put him in the right frame of mind for a day at work. He moved around the store, turning on an eclectic mix of lighting—mainly old lamps that were for sale because his boss, Mr. Lao, insisted that they were more attractive to potential buyers when lit. Of course that meant that whenever they sold one, a corner of the store would be in the dark until Mr. Lao obtained a new one to replace it, but Landry didn’t mind because part of Treasure Trove Antiques’ charm was its nooks and crannies. He knew the stock inside and out but loved seeing the wonder on customers’ faces when they spotted something unique or unusual hidden behind an aging armoire or balancing on top of a bookcase stuffed with rare tomes. He glanced around, checking that all was as he’d left it the previous evening. Everything was as it should be. Not that there was any reason for him to think otherwise, but there had been an incident with a mouse once when somehow, the tiny rodent had set up home in a basket of vintage tablecloths and had nibbled a hole through two of them before he was spotted. It had taken a humane trap and enough peanut butter to feed a raccoon, let alone a mouse, to catch the beast, so Landry was constantly on the lookout for any sign of critters in the store.

He grabbed the long pole he needed to lift the security shutter into place then went back into the hall. He left the building then crossed the yard to the alley gate. After his usual fight with the padlock, he rounded the corner of the building to the street. His friend Prisha, whose dad owned the Eastern Emporium opposite Treasure Trove, was outside brushing down the sidewalk with hot soapy water. Landry gave her a wave before jogging across the road.

“Hey, Prisha, what’s going down?”

“What came up, more like.” She grimaced. “Somebody deposited the contents of their stomach on the sidewalk last night. So gross.”

Landry wrinkled his nose. “Better you than me, especially first thing in the morning.”

“Hey, if you want to do a girl a favor, I’d be happy to hand over the broom.”

“No can do.” Landry grinned. “Petey’s at the dentist so I have to open on my own this morning. Gotta go before hordes of voracious customers start beating on the security shutter.”

“Yeah, I can see where they’re lining up around the block.” Prisha went back to brushing. “I’ll come over on my break later. You can buy me a coffee.”

“Deal. Have a good morning.” Landry skipped back across the street, managing not to trip over his pole. He had less trouble opening the security shutter than closing it because he didn’t have to get the hook on the end of his pole through the tiny D-ring that allowed him to draw it down. It was way above his head and like trying to thread a needle while standing on the deck of a pitching boat. Opening up just meant using the pole to push the shutter back into place once he’d released the padlock that locked it to a concealed ring in the sidewalk. A padlock that was no longer in place.

Landry frowned. He distinctly remembered snapping it shut the night before because he’d scraped a knuckle doing it. “Fuckety-fuck. What the heck is going on?”

There was no sign of vandalism or any other damage to the shutter. Landry shrugged, slipped the pole into place then pushed. The shutter rolled up of its own accord, only needing a shove for the last couple of feet. Landry unhooked the pole then gaped. In the recessed store doorway was a person, huddled in a ball, facing away from him.

“What on earth…? Hey, padlock thief, you can’t stay there.” He groped in his pocket for a few dollars. “Go get yourself some breakfast.”

Whoever it was didn’t move. With a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Landry propped his pole against the store window then leaned over his visitor. He touched his shoulder, gave it a little shake and the man rolled toward him.

“Holy fuck!” He was dead. Completely and absolutely deceased. Blood stained the front of the beige trench coat he wore. There was a blue tinge to his skin and his eyes were open, staring.

Landry danced back a few steps as he stared at the corpse. “No, no, no… This is not good for business. I mean, poor guy, but why my shop doorway?” His cell was inside so he turned and waved frantically at Prisha who dropped her broom before running across the street. “Call 911! I found a body.”

Prisha, who was always good in a crisis, did a quick turn and rocketed into the Eastern Emporium. She was soon back with her dad at her side.

“The cops are on their way,” she said, putting an arm around Landry’s now shaking shoulders. “You should call Gage. Here, use this.” She handed over her cell, but Landry’s hands were trembling too much to punch in the number. Prisha grabbed it back. “Tell me the number. I’ll call him for you.”

Landry reeled it off without thinking. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dead body and his bloodstained clothing.

“Gage, it’s Prisha. I’m here with Landry and… Yes, he’s fine but the dead guy he just found behind the security shutter isn’t looking so good.”

“What?” Landry heard Gage’s yell even from where he was standing. He took the cell back.

“Can you come home, Sir?” Landry used the honorific without thinking, defaulting to his role as Gage’s submissive rather than his boyfriend in his stressed state. “There’s a b-b-b…body. A real-life body, I mean it’s a dead body but it’s real. An actual genuine, honest to God, not breathing, corpse. And it’s in the shop porch blocking the door and there’s blood. Gage, why is there a dead person in my shop doorway?” Tears welled in Landry’s eyes and he sniffled.

“I’m not really in a position to answer that question yet, love. Stay put. Sancha and I are on our way. Who’s there with you?”

“Petey’s at the dentist and Mr. Lao isn’t here but Prisha and her dad have come over.”

“Stay with them. I mean it, Landry. You are not to go anywhere on your own.”

“Not going anywhere,” Landry mumbled as Gage ended the call. “How can I go anywhere when there are dead people?”

“It’s one dead person, Landry, not a massacre.”

“Where there’s one, there might be others. That’s logical.” Landry glanced around in case more corpses littered the place.

Prisha gave him a comforting hug. She and her dad had been joined by the guy who had been cleaning windows at the café next door to Treasure Trove and the crew of a passing garbage truck. The manager of the café arrived with a tray of coffees and a plate piled with Danish pastries.

“Someone came into the café and said there’s a body out here. I know it doesn’t seem appropriate,” she said, “but a hot drink and something sweet will take your mind off what’s going on, Landry. It’ll help with the shock.”

“Thanks, Mary.” Landry discovered that shoving a cherry Danish in his mouth made all the difference. A new infusion of sugar and caffeine into his system helped him see things in a more clinical light and stop thinking about how on earth a dead man had gotten behind the security shutter. “The padlock,” he said, spraying crumbs. “When I came to lift the shutter earlier, the padlock was gone. I wonder where it is.”

The small crowd started searching up and down the sidewalk and it wasn’t long before there was a shout from one of the garbage crew. “Found it!” Landry, coffee in hand, walked over to look at where the guy was pointing. The padlock lay in the gutter, partly covered by a discarded banana skin.

“I guess we should leave it where it is,” Landry said, “in case of fingerprints.”

“That’s right. I’m Elton.” The garbage guy held out his hand, which Landry shook, hoping that his fingers wouldn’t be crushed in the process. Elton was built like a linebacker.

“Nice to meet you, Elton. Shame it couldn’t have been under better circumstances.”

“You’d be surprised how many bodies we come across in our line of work,” Elton said, sounding philosophical. “We get training on what not to do when it comes to possible evidence. We were about to empty the dumpsters along the street when we saw what was going on, so we’ll leave them until the cops get here. They may want to keep the contents to search through for clues.”

“Well, I never thought of that.” Landry was fascinated.

“I don’t suppose antique selling is a job that gets you involved in much crime,” Elton said.

Landry thought about the last few months, the adventures he and Gage had had, first with his lucky cat and then the gilded mirror. “No, not really. Old stuff is tame.”

“I wonder if there are any pastries left.” Elton ambled toward the café where Mary was eyeing him like a piece of prime beef. Landry shook his head. “People sure do meet under the strangest of circumstances,” he muttered, watching Elton get coy and stutter in front of Mary.

Sirens announced the arrival of the cops and not long afterward, Gage’s Jeep screeched to a halt next to a patrol car. He and Sancha jumped out and while Sancha went over to the uniforms, Gage headed straight for Landry.

“Again? Really?” He drew Landry into a tight hug.

“So not my fault,” Landry mumbled into the hard planes of Gage’s chest. “It’s not like I have a sign up saying ‘leave your dead bodies here’, is it?”

“You attract trouble like a magnet.”

Landry nuzzled against Gage’s body. He could feel the warmth of his skin through his shirt and smell the gel he’d used in the shower that morning. “Do not.”

“Do so.”

“Someone cut off the padlock. It’s in the gutter over there. They must have lifted the grill, dumped the body in the porch then pulled it down again.”

“I want you to go sit in the café,” Gage said, “while Sancha and I get the investigation started.”

“Will you be assigned the case?” Landry asked.

“If the captain doesn’t think I have a conflict of interest, it’s quite likely.” Gage steered Landry toward the café. He gestured for Prisha to come over and asked her to stay with Landry.

Landry didn’t want to leave the safety of Gage’s arms but knew he had to let him do his job. Once he’d settled at a table in the café with Prisha next to him, he took a deep breath and eased some of his tension with a roll of his shoulders. He slurped his coffee. “Here we go again.”

“Are you ready for another adventure?” Prisha asked.

“It’s not like I had a choice the first time, or the second. Hopefully this will amount to nothing.” Landry didn’t need Prisha’s skeptical expression or his own gut feeling to tell him that amounting to nothing was the least likely outcome of the morning’s events. He wondered if impending doom merited another pastry.

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About the Author

L.M. Somerton

Lucinda lives in a small village in the English countryside, surrounded by rolling hills, cows and sheep. She started writing to fill time between jobs and is now firmly and unashamedly addicted.

She loves the English weather, especially the rain, and adores a thunderstorm. She loves good food, warm company and a crackling fire. She’s fascinated by the psychology of relationships, especially between men, and her stories contain some subtle (and some not so subtle) leanings towards BDSM.

You can follow Lucinda on Facebook, Twitter and her Website.

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New Release Blitz ~ Silenced by Jayce Carter (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Silenced by Jayce Carter

Book 1 in the Larkwood Academy series

Word Count:  85,697
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 314

GENRES:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS
PARANORMAL
REVERSE HAREM

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Book Description

 

From spoiled rich girl to imprisoned siren—sometimes life sucks.

My life was perfect—a cute, loving boyfriend, a rich and well-connected family and an immaculately planned-out future.

As it turns out, perfection is a lie. After a random attack, I wake up to discover I’ve turned into a siren, had my vocal cords cut and am now imprisoned at Larkwood Academy, the most dangerous and heavily secured place for humans who have turned into paranormal creatures called shades. Everything here is out to get me—the warden, the guards and even the other shades.

As I try to survive, I get closer to the men around me—Kit, a wendigo who is often called the warden’s lapdog, Deacon, a guard who isn’t a shade but also isn’t human, Knox, an incubus who struggles with accepting his own hunger, Brax, a berserker with a bad attitude and sharp tongue and Wade, a void who is far more dangerous than his innocent face and humor would suggest. The longer I stay here and get to know them, the more I realize I can’t trust anyone.

Everyone wants me to follow the rules, but I can’t be that girl anymore.

They might have stolen my voice, but they can’t keep me silenced.

Reader advisory: This book includes mentions of incarceration, and scenes of violence and assault, as well as references to inadequate parenting.

Excerpt

 

Eyes forward—just ignore the werewolf.

I repeated that to myself as I quickened my steps. It wasn’t hard to identify the shade who crouched over a trashcan, rifling through whatever he could find inside. Even if he hadn’t been wearing the law-required bright yellow band on his wrist to identify himself, there was just something about shades that made it easy to spot them.

They had this danger in them, this bone-deep hesitation they provoked in normal humans when a shade crossed our paths. They had a feral quality to their movements and an emptiness in their eyes, as if everything that had been real about them had drained out when they’d become infected by source.

It meant that this shade, despite appearing young for the change—he couldn’t have been older than eleven—could have torn me apart if he lost control.

Though, the fact he was out on the street, even identified, meant he had to have been a weaker specimen and on the proper medication to treat his affliction. Otherwise, he would have been properly secured at an academy.

“Don’t stare, Hera,” my friend Moa said.

“How can he be out on the streets?” I asked, keeping my voice low as we passed by the shade. “I thought we had groups to keep them out of sight.”

Moa gave me a sharp look, one that reminded me just how different our lives were.

Moa wasn’t privy to reality, to the danger shades posed. She got to live in ignorance, to pretend the world was a safe place while I watched as people were slaughtered by uncontrolled shades. Then again, her family ran a little consignment shop whereas my mother was a senator and headed the committee for shade control, and my father ran one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country.

I was Hera Weston, the only child of Zachary and Regina Weston, which meant I didn’t have the luxury of not knowing.

Still, I played along, pretended I had no idea what her censure was for because there was no reason to have this fight again. A nonchalant sip of my water bottle helped to sell that. “What?”

“He’s just trying to get some food. Do you have any idea how many shades are kicked out of their homes when they change? How many can’t get hired after that?”

“They don’t change. They’re infected and they die,” I countered, but kept walking so she couldn’t give me another long winded, politically correct explanation about how they didn’t really ‘die.’

Moa was one of those who thought that shades were just altered, that they were still the people they’d been when human. It wasn’t true, of course, and if she paid any attention to the news or in school, she’d have known that.

Source—a substance that leaked through invisible tears between our realm and the darkness—could infect some humans. When it happened, that infection caused mutations so dramatic that only a fool would consider the resulting shade to be the same person as the human they’d been. The infections seemed random, since the tears could be neither tracked nor stopped.

It was just part of life.

“Besides,” I added, trying to offer the next words like an olive branch as we passed the shops that lined the outdoor mall, “that’s why we have academies set up, to take care of them safely and determine how best to treat them.”

“Those academies are prisons,” Moa snapped, tugging my arm to stop us, drawing the same line in the sand we’d danced around for years. She faced off against me as if we were engaged in some battle instead of standing in front of a high couture boutique shop. “Kids are stolen from their parents and thrown into the institutes. They’re often experimented on, drugged and who knows what else.”

“You need to stop reading the tabloids. Have you ever even been to one?”

“No,” she admitted softly. “Have you?”

“Yes. Two years ago, I went with my mother to see Jasmine Academy. I can promise you, none of what you’re talking about was going on there. The shades were happy, healthy and unable to hurt themselves or others. Isn’t that the goal?”

Moa shook her head. “You are naïve, Hera. Do you think places like that want people to know what’s really going on? Do you think they’re going to just show all the bad things they do when the VIPs come around? It’s all a publicity stunt so people tell the government to keep sending them all the money they want. It’s just about creating enough fear so we don’t pay any attention to the atrocities they do there.”

I sighed and let the conversation drop. I could argue with her all day—and I had before—but Moa had no idea about the real world. I wasn’t angry with her about that—I envied her some of the time.

It would have been nice to fall asleep each night with no idea of what lurked in the shadows. I still remembered my first time seeing a fully changed werewolf, the horror as it had pulled at the silver chains wrapped around it, as it had roared. My mother had brought me with her, had worried when I’d become enamored with shades as so many teenagers did.

The power, the rebellion, the danger of something so powerful was intoxicating and most people went through a phase where they thought they could change them. Why we women felt the need to do that, to find fixer-uppers who we had to work on, I didn’t understand anymore.

Not after witnessing the bone-deep terror at coming face-to-face with a shade that could rake its claws through my throat in a heartbeat. I’d realized that day that the world was far more dangerous than most people knew.

Moa still had that fascination because her parents were bleeding hearts who hadn’t taught her better. She’d learn, eventually. Everyone did, because the world didn’t let people keep their illusions for long.

So, instead of furthering that line of thought, I pointed at a kiosk up ahead. “Let’s look at the necklaces up there.”

Moa let out a long breath, as if reining in her own temper, as if I were the difficult one to deal with, then nodded. “Sure. Maybe we can get matching ones.”

The selection wasn’t great, but it offered the perfect distraction. We were only weeks away from the new academic year starting, and we hadn’t gotten into the same schools.

Moa had gotten into a local state school, something that would work well enough for her to get the business degree she wanted so she could help and eventually take over her family’s shop.

I, on the other hand, had the acceptance letter on my desk from one of the premiere colleges in the country. I’d had good grades, but the fact that the building had a ‘Weston Wing,’ and my last name was Weston had gotten me in. In fact, I hadn’t even filled out an application. One call from my father and the doors had sprung open.

Moa had held the letter in her hands, staring as if it were the holy grail. Me? I’d tossed it to my desk because fuck that. Going across the country to some university sounded dreadful to me. It felt like another nail in the coffin of my future, the one my parents had laid out for me before I’d ever been born.

The right education, the right career, the right husband. It was all a path to the perfect little Weston life they wanted me to have. And I’d trudged along that path because what other choice did I have? Even now, at nineteen years old, I was stuck. An adult by age but a child by freedom.

An arm wrapped around my waist, spinning me before lips pressed to mine. Aaron swallowed down my startled gasp, then only laughed when I smacked his chest.

“Don’t sneak up on me,” I snapped.

He offered a crooked smile. “Don’t stand there looking like you want a kiss then. You never know who might just take you up on it.”

I shook my head, grinning at his playfulness.

The right spouse. That had my smile disappearing.

Aaron was that. The son of a business associate of my father’s—our parents had basically planned the wedding when we were still toddling around the playground in diapers. I’d grown up knowing what was expected of me, had fallen into line before I’d gotten old enough to question it.

Besides, Aaron wasn’t that bad. He was charming, handsome, rich. The sex was tolerable, and he never treated me badly. I didn’t have butterflies, or head-over-heels nonsense, but I was pretty sure those things were only in cheesy books and movies.

In the real world, ‘not bad’ was the best a person could hope for.

“What are you looking at?” he asked as he tugged me against him.

“Necklaces,” I explained. “Moa and I were going to get matching ones.”

“What about me?”

“What about you?” Moa asked with a smile. She’d always liked Aaron, probably more than I ever had, but she’d been respectful of our relationship no matter what.

“Well, I mean, we’ve been running around together all this time. I should be part of the whole necklace thing, too.”

I rolled my eyes. Aaron could be awfully clingy at time, but he wasn’t wrong. He’d been friends with Moa and me, like some weird love triangle, for most of our lives.

“I’m not wearing two necklaces.”

Moa reached out and picked up a small white paper that had hung on a hook. A silver charm dangled on it, and she held it out to me. “Why don’t we do chains? Then we can pick the charm we want each of us to have, and we’ll all have those matching charms wherever we go.”

“That is cringingly sentimental, and I love it.” Aaron snatched a charm from the wall of product. “Look, a bear—this one is perfect for me because I’m big and tough and super manly.”

Moa smirked and grabbed a rat. “Or this one because you’re constantly shoving cheese into your mouth and are rather annoying.”

Aaron put a hand against his chest as if she’d struck him with her words. “Fine, you don’t get a charm from me. Good job.”

I laughed at their antics as I scanned the available options. What was for me? What would represent me enough that I’d want my two best friends to wear it?

Aaron settled on a racoon, which seemed fitting. He was hard to ignore, stayed up way too late and was rather entertaining. Moa chose a paintbrush, because of her love of art.

My gaze landed on one, and I knew it was perfect to represent me. A silver music note, something elegant and simple and so intertwined with who I was that it felt obvious.

I’d sung my entire life. In fact, my mother said I hadn’t learned to speak sentences so much as verses. The headphones hanging around my neck were a testament to my love of music, to the fact I couldn’t fathom a few hours without putting on the large earcups and disappearing into the sounds, into how they took away everything happening in my life I couldn’t control.

Music made me feel as if I still had a hold of something, and singing was my way of putting my voice into a world that always felt too loud, to make a mark when the world didn’t want to hear me.

“That’s perfect.” Aaron took all the charms and chains to the salesperson to pay for them, Moa now complaining.

Aaron or I always paid for things, since our parents were far better off than Moa’s. What was a hundred bucks between friends?

After Aaron handed them over, we hooked the charms on the chains, then put them on. It was a surreal feeling, like an acknowledgment of how much our lives were about to change, with all of us going to different schools, on different paths of life that would take us different directions.

Aaron and I would come back together—we didn’t have much choice there—but I wondered what would happen to Moa. Was this the end of our little group?

The three charms sat next to one another, cool against my warm skin, and I had a moment of wishing things wouldn’t change.

Unfortunately, I had a feeling nothing could stop that from happening.

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About the Author

Jayce Carter

Jayce Carter lives in Southern California with her husband and two spawns. She originally wanted to take over the world but realized that would require wearing pants. This led her to choosing writing, a completely pants-free occupation. She has a fear of heights yet rock climbs for fun and enjoys making up excuses for not going out and socializing. You can learn more about her at her website.

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New Release Blitz ~ Spotlight on Love by Kristian Parker (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Spotlight on Love by Kristian Parker

Word Count: 19,602
Book Length: NOVELLA
Pages: 89

GENRES:

 EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
HISTORICAL
MULTICULTURAL

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Book Description

If love conquers all, George Lomax has its biggest challenge yet…

It’s 1923 and George Lomax is on the run. Not from the law but from his boss, the predatory stage company manager Waldo Waddington. George came to London from the States in a Harlem-style musical, but Waldo demands more than just a good performance on the stage from the males in his cast.

Fleeing, George arrives at Safe Haven Boarding House in Brighton and immerses himself in the loving, accepting world of Tanner, Charlie, Frank and Michael. A stroll in the local park brings him to Stanley Butterworth, a war veteran who’s experienced his own horrors, and it’s love at first sight for the two very different men.

But Waldo is hot on George’s heels, using George’s employment contract and visa to drag him back into his clutches. Can George find a way to not only be free but be free to love Stanley…if Stanley can overcome his own demons to love him back?

Reader advisory: This book contains homophobia and racism.

Excerpt

“Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the Black Beauties of Broadway!”

The roar of the crowd hit like a tidal wave.

Ray King, the head of our company, stood in the centre of the line. He nodded and, in unison, we bowed. More feverish applause and a few shouts of “Bravo” came before the curtain fell, cocooning us from noise.

“I’ll miss that,” I said to the crew member who operated the pulley.

He clapped me on the shoulder. “You darkies can’t half dance. The next season is nearly sold out.”

We were the oddities of the West End. All-black reviews were commonplace on Broadway, but we were the first to hit London. People had travelled from all over the country to get a look at us. They loved us, which made a change from the heckling we got back home in the States.

We split down the middle and ran offstage, ready to meet in the dressing room. A few stagehands patted me on the back as I dashed through.

I might have been fast, but the room had already descended into a hubbub of noise and activity by the time I made my way through showgirls pulling feathers from their hair and tap dancers ripping off their shoes and massaging their feet.

My chair sat right in the middle of this commotion, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I sat next to Dorothy Brady, who had scooted in behind me and flopped in her seat. A cloud of the powder she covered her body in to make it less shiny erupted around her.

I sat next to her, throwing my boater hat onto the makeup stand.

“We did it, Georgie. A whole season behind us,” she said, leaning forward and giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“We certainly did. They say we’re sold out for the next run. We’d better enjoy the rest. Now let me get this grease off my face. I need a drink.”

Dorothy wriggled out of her gold-sequinned dress. She had no qualms about standing there in just her bloomers and I had given up trying to stop her.

“Oh, don’t look like that, you prude,” she said with a mock scowl. “I know I ain’t got anything in here for you, sugar.”

I lit two cigarettes and handed her one. She took a long drag, exhaling and sending the smoke swirl up to the already-nicotine-stained ceiling.

“This might not be the Palladium, but I sure am going to miss it,” she decided.

“It’s only a month,” I said, checking my neck for that awful tidemark the relentless makeup left.

I nudged her and pointed to the dazzling array of lotions and potions she had on her station.

“Get a shift on. I’d like to get out of here before the cock crows.”

She groaned, throwing her cigarette into an ashtray before dutifully scrubbing at her face with one of her pieces of kit.

Three claps reverberated around the room and the din suddenly stopped. We all spun around to see our lord and master, Waldo Waddington, standing in the doorway. One of the middle-rank theatre impresarios of New York, he’d seen profit in dragging us to these shores. Luckily, he had a smile on his face. Everyone returned to clearing the last vestiges of the stage from them as he weaved his way through the wooden chairs.

“Well done, Alvin. The highest kick yet,” Waldo said in his trademark Brooklyn drawl. “Betsy, if you drop that hat one more time, I’ll fine you.”

He reached our station and clapped his hand on my shoulder. “Georgie, what can I say? Not a dry eye in the house.”

“And we know what that means,” Dorothy said and covered her face with her towel, scrubbing hard at the panstick.

“I’m glad to see you’re taking care of your looks, Dorothy,” said Waldo, circling like a portly shark. “They go and you go, my dear.”

He carried on walking through. Dorothy stuck her tongue out before towelling off her face.

Once he’d reached the stage door, he clapped again.

“Thank you for tonight, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, the theatre is going dark for a month. They can fix all those little problems you’ve been busting my ass about for the last six months. Peggy has your cheques at the stage door and your Uncle Waldo has put a little something extra in, seeing as he’s so kind and all.”

A ripple of excitement ran through the room.

“You have a few days to yourselves, then I want you here for Wednesday rehearsals.”

A mutter of disappointment replaced the excitement. He’d said the theatre was closing for a month.

“I thought we were getting some time off,” I whispered to Dorothy.

“Sounds like that miserable bastard has changed his mind.”

“We don’t need rehearsals. We do it every night,” piped up Ray King, mirroring our thoughts. Ray was a dancer from Minnesota who could Charleston as though there was no tomorrow.

Waldo whirled around and scowled at him. “And what trouble would you get into if I just gave you a month off? Wednesday without fail.”

Dorothy made a face at me. “Oh, Georgie. Looks like your adventure won’t happen now. Please come to the park with me instead. I don’t want to be stuck with these parakeets on my own.”

I opened my mouth to respond but shut it again immediately as Dorothy spritzed herself with the perfume she’d been obsessed with ever since we’d sneaked out of our digs and gone to the stores on Bond Street. We didn’t care that we hardly had any money—just to be able to go into the shops was enough. Sure, we got stared at. White people aren’t all that different, no matter what side of the pond.

Once the haze had cleared, I made a big deal of choking.

“You said you loved the smell of this Channel Five.”

I threw back my head and roared. “How many times? It’s Chanel Number Five.” I used my French accent for the last bit.

She sprayed in my direction.

“Georgie,” Waldo shouted across the room. “I’ll be waiting outside.”

All eyes were on me.

“Looks like you’re up.” Dorothy grimaced.

There went my gin and tonic in the theatre bar. I resumed getting the makeup off.

“So?” Dorothy continued. “The park would give you an excuse to get away early.”

I had toyed with the idea of telling her my plans or not.

“Keep a secret?” I asked.

“Of course.”

“I’m going on my adventure whatever he says.”

She looked around in case any of the company were listening. People would use anything to dodge a night with Waldo.

“Are you crazy? Where are you going?”

“Remember that guy who I talked to the other week? The one who lived on the coast?”

She screwed her face up as she tried to remember. We were expected to entertain select patrons in the bar after a show and they did all tend to merge into one.

“The old guy in the wheelchair?”

“That’s the one. He told me about a place called Safe Haven in Brighton. Sounds like it’s right up my street.”

Dorothy put her hand on my thigh. “I don’t like it, Georgie. Waldo will be after you when he finds out.”

With most of the makeup off, I stared at the door that exited where Waldo’s car would be waiting.

“I guess I’ll have to be extra nice to him tonight then. It’ll only be for a week or so. He keeps us under lock and key.

Dorothy looked worried. “Don’t come crying to me when he puts you on the first boat home.”

I shrugged, getting my things together. “I thought we’d have more freedom coming to London. One trip to a store in three months? We could be anywhere. I want to see something.”

“Lucky you got another rave review tonight. Maybe he’ll go easy on his star.”

I winked at her and walked out of the dressing room. No one jeered or laughed. They would be relieved it wasn’t their turn.

As I walked out onto the rainy London street, the car waited in the alleyway. Henry leapt out and opened the door, smirking at me as I climbed in.

“Georgie,” Waldo said, his hand instantly falling onto my thigh. “Glad you’re free tonight.”

He loved to play the game that we had any choice in the matter. I think he actually believed we would choose to spend our time in his room.

Henry got into the front and the car zoomed off through the busy streets. I stared out of the window at the couples going for a late dinner or the gangs of friends out for a drink. To them, freedom came easily. It was taking me all my nerves to grab a tiny slice of it.

Waldo’s rooms were in the Empire Hotel near to our digs, but a world apart. A lounge full of red velvet furniture led through to a bedroom complete with four-poster bed.

The routine had become second nature. We all compared notes after one or the other had been “invited” up here.

I poured Waldo a bourbon on ice. I still got a kick that I could do that so openly. In the US, a black man wouldn’t be allowed in this room unless he were cleaning it. As for pouring drinks, I could end up in the slammer if someone saw in the window.

I handed him his drink and took a sip from my gin. He came over and pulled my jacket off my shoulders and massaged my arm.

“It’s been a while, Georgie.”

I tried to look petulant. “You’ve had Ray up here all week.”

Waldo kissed the top of my head. “Don’t get jealous.”

He walked over to the ruby-red velvet sofa and flopped his great body down. The furniture creaked in protest. I knew the feeling.

Patting the seat next to him, he kicked his shoes off. Dutifully I sat down next to him.

“There’ll be crowing in the Hen House tonight,” Waldo said, leaning back and closing his eyes.

Our digs were a small block of rooms a few streets away from the theatre. When we’d arrived, we’d been so excited that we were in the middle of London, but our faces had dropped when we’d seen Mr Bridge and Mr Mitchell, doormen at the “Hen House” as it was dubbed. We weren’t allowed out. Not without Waldo’s permission.

I don’t want my investments damaged,” he’d proclaimed.

We were working most nights and slept into the morning, but the afternoons dragged. Dorothy and I smoked cigarettes in her room and listened to the people rushing by outside.

“Couldn’t you let us have just a week or two? We’ll be careful.”

Waldo opened his eyes. “The fuck I can. If you get run over by a trolley bus, where do I find a headliner negro with a New Orleans accent? No, Georgie. You’re way too precious.”

We were just a money-making venture to him.

“Now, why don’t you go run us a bath? I’ll be right in.”

I feigned a smile and downed my gin in one. The rest of the night’s performance stretched out in front of me…I’d need all my acting skills for this.

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First For Romance

About the Author

Kristian Parker

I have written for as long as I could write. In fact, before, when I would dictate to my auntie. I love to read, and I love to create worlds and characters.

I live in the English countryside. When I’m not writing, I like to get out there and think through the next scenario I’m going to throw my characters into.

Inspiration can be found anywhere, on a train, in a restaurant or in an office. I am always in search of the next character to find love in one of my stories. In a world of apps and online dating, it is important to remember love can be found when you least expect it.

Follow Kristian on Facebook.

Giveaway

Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card! Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

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New Release Blitz ~ Disclosure Lines by Emma Penny (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Disclosure Lines by Emma Penny

Book 1 in the Orders to Haunt series

General Release Date: 19th July 2022

Word Count: 41,627
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 164

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MÉNAGE AND MULTIPLE PARTNERS
PARANORMAL
REVERSE HAREM

Add to Goodreads

Book Description


Shattered by one woman, will it be another who can fix their friendship?

Stephanie is newly inducted into The Order, and, as a ghost with a mission to prove herself worthy of the title, she takes the orders to haunt seriously. Tackling four human men in her first assignment is terrifying, but she’s determined to sway them by any means necessary.

Wyatt, Tyler, Colin and Dustin have been best friends from birth, but when a catastrophic event tears them apart, none of them knows how to fix it—or if they even want to. With their lives out of sorts, will they trust that a woman can bring them back together?

Only a master communicator can wield the lines of disclosure.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of anal sex and double penetration.

Excerpt

My back aches, and I need toothpicks to keep my eyes open. Three days of sitting huddled over the desk in my bedroom is enough to break me, but I need to make sure these orders go perfectly. Mom comes in and out several times, bringing me meals and trying to encourage me to take a break. I mostly ignore her, but after three days straight, I need sleep to function.

The bedroom door creaks open, and my bright-eyed sister, Audrey, pops her head in. I give her a wan smile, reaching my hands above my head to try to stretch out some of the kinks in my spine. Shutting the door, Audrey comes in, flopping onto the bed and staring up at the ceiling.

“How are your orders going?”

“I’m working on background still.”

Audrey shifts to stare at me. “Still?”

I shrug. “I want to get this right.”

“All right, Ms. Perfection. Are you trying to be the new Madeline?”

I balk, my chest constricting. Never in my wildest dreams would I think I could be compared to her. I don’t have that kind of confidence. Ignoring Audrey’s snarky remark, I leave my desk chair, rolling over her and lying on my back to stare up at the ceiling alongside her.

“That was mean. Sorry,” Audrey mutters.

“You know how much this means to them,” I whisper.

“Yup, I do.” Audrey’s tone rises and falls. Finally, I turn on my side and eye her. “What’s going on?”

Tears well in Audrey’s eyes, and she tries her best to hide them. “I didn’t pass training.”

“What?” I sit straight up, my heart thundering. “What do you mean you didn’t pass?”

“I didn’t pass. Madeline brought me in yesterday and fired me. I will never work for The Order.”

“Oh, Audrey.” My heart is heavy just thinking about it. Reaching out, I brush my fingers against her arm. “I’m so sorry. Did she say why?”

“Not really, and I don’t quite understand what happened. It was all going good, you know? I passed the tests, and I was making progress. I’d even gotten to the field training, but before I could finish the module, she brought me into her office and told me I was done.”

“Want me to ask her about it?”

“No.” A tear slips down Audrey’s cheek. “No, I just want to be done with it. I spent years studying for this, you know? I need to find something else to do.”

“What will you do?”

“Not a fucking clue.” Audrey throws a hand over her eyes so I can’t see her vulnerability anymore.

Resting onto the pillow on my small bed, I stay as close to her as I can. I want her to know that I’m here for her, but I know that my presence and my job with The Order will hurt her, so I don’t want to bring it up if I don’t have to. Audrey breaks that silence for me.

“Do you have a plan yet? I can’t believe she didn’t give you a detailed plan of action. It’s so unlike her.”

“I think I can understand it,” I reply.

Audrey looks at me with a suspicious glance. “Why?”

“Because there are four individuals I’m haunting for one order. Two of them live together, one I swear lives at work and the last one…? Well, I think he’s where I need to start.”

“Why would you start with him instead of the others?”

“I think his situation is more dire. Remember when Nick got all depressed a few years ago?”

Audrey nods.

“Think like that, only without the support system in place. I’ve watched him on and off for the last few days. He has zero routine and he’s drowning in bills with no job prospects.”

“I get that,” Audrey interjects.

“No, you don’t. You can always come home, to us, live here still. Tyler doesn’t have anyone to fall back on.”

“No one?”

“Well, he might.” At Audrey’s confused glance, I continue, “The other day, out of the blue, he got in his car and drove downtown to one of the other subjects’ places of work. He stood outside the front door for at least five minutes before turning around and getting back in his car and going home. They went to college together, and I think he might have thought about it.”

“Asking for help, you mean?”

“Asking for a job.” I press my lips together. “It’s likely a good solution to the problem, if I can only get him to take that final step and walk inside.”

“How do you know this other guy will even see him?”

I sigh. “Wyatt…I think he’s going to be my problem child.”

Audrey chuckles. “Why do you say that?”

“The others are so easy to read, but he’s so closed off. He doesn’t have a personal relationship with anyone, it seems.”

“But he knows Tyler?”

“Yeah, like I said, they went to college together. I think…maybe…Wyatt has a soft spot for Tyler.”

“What would make you say that?”

I sigh, rolling onto my back again, images and information flashing through my mind, everything I’ve learned in the last few days flooding into my brain just waiting for me to dissect it. I’m not sure I can answer Audrey. It’s a gut feeling more than anything, but they had been friends at some point. When that was, I still don’t know, but surely if they were friends at some point, then Wyatt would still have a soft spot for Tyler, wouldn’t he?

“Stephanie?”

“Yeah, um…They were friends years ago. I can’t fathom him ignoring Tyler if Tyler were to say he needed help.”

“Unless he’s a total asshole.”

“Well, he is that.” I put a hand on my forehead, my eyelids drooping heavily. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen someone not have a weak spot.”

“You just want to get them talking.”

I snort lightly, my eyes closed. “Maybe.”

Audrey pokes me hard in the ribs. “Are you falling asleep on me?”

“Yes.”

“Should we tell Mom we want to share a room again?”

“No.” I yawn. I have worked so hard the last few days, and I feel as though I haven’t made nearly as much progress as I thought I should. I’ll need to start my haunting proper soon, take it to the next step.

“What about the other two?”

“What other two?”

Audrey turns on her side, facing me and poking me in the ribs again.

“Hey!”

“The other two people you need to haunt?”

“Oh.” I yawn again. “They’re best friends. They live together, actually, and…well…I ghosted in on them the other day to do some observation, and let’s just say they need to come with warning bells.”

“What do you mean?” Audrey props her head up on her elbow.

“Are you sure you want to talk about this? I mean…doesn’t it sting a little?”

Audrey’s eyes well up again, but she rolls them. “Let me do this for you.”

“We should talk about you, not my orders.”

“Well, I don’t have much to talk about. You’ve got something going for you right now. Me? I’m just a bum still living at her parents’.”

I chuckle. “Hardly a bum. Maybe a bit lost right now, but I have a feeling you’ll find your way again.”

“Yeah. I can always go back to waitressing.”

I snort. “Your dream job.”

“Exactly.” Audrey falls backward, landing next to me. She may be playing it off as lighthearted, but I can see the pain in every word she says. She’d wanted this almost as much as I did, and when she’d been accepted into training shortly after me, she’d been just as giddy as I was.

“You tell Mom and Dad yet?”

“No.” Her tone turns somber. “I’m not sure what to say.”

“They’ll want to go down there themselves.”

“I won’t let them.”

“You can’t hide it from them.”

Audrey shrugs. “I can try for now.”

I frown, knowing that won’t last very long. Audrey, while I love her dearly, has never been someone who can hide her feelings well. “What exactly did Madeline say to you?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not part of The Order anymore, and I guess the entire weight of carrying on tradition is on your shoulders. You always were better with people than I am.”

I snort. “Only because I’ve had you to teach me.”

Audrey’s lips do quirk up at that, and it’s nice to see. “Tell me about these other two. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of orders with four.”

“Actually, you’ll find this amusing. When I went to do my observations the other day, I ghosted into the house—well, the bedroom—because that’s where Colin was.”

“Holy fuck, I think I know where this is going.”

“Right!” My eyes widen. “Hand wrapped around his dick, hips pumping, the whole nine yards. I must have got there right toward the end.”

“What did you do?”

I whimper, embarrassment heating my cheeks. “I went through the wall, which was straight into the bathroom, where I ran right into the other one.”

“Was he…?”

I shake my head. “No, not jerking off, thankfully, but he was completely naked after just showering.”

“All that water dripping down his hot skin.”

I send Audrey a sharp look. “Do you need to get laid or something?”

Audrey shrugs. “It’s been a while. Leave me alone. I think it’s hilarious.”

“You would. You’d probably jump him.”

Audrey’s wicked grin is answer enough.

I roll my eyes. “You’re insane.”

“Nah, I’m just not as tightly wound as you.”

“I do not need to know this.”

Audrey hits me lightly on the arm. “It’s nothing you don’t already know.”

Chuckling, I fight off another yawn. “Audrey, I need to sleep.”

“So go to sleep.”

I snort. “You’re in my bed.”

“Can I just crash here? I’m tired of crying alone.”

“Fine. But I swear if you hog the covers, I’m kicking you out.” We shift around the bed, pulling the blanket up and over our shoulders. “And you have to turn the light off.”

Audrey groans, but she does it without any further complaint. As soon as she’s back in bed with me, I grab her hand and give her a gentle squeeze.

“I’m sorry about what happened with Madeline.”

Audrey sniffles, and I can tell she’s nearly started crying again, but she doesn’t say anything as she burrows under the blankets. I let silence fall over us and let her sit with the moment. I love my sister, but I also know how good she is at avoiding her own emotions when she wants to. Maybe Tyler is a bit like her in that regard. Wyatt definitely is, which brings in a point I hadn’t thought about.

I need to find a way to get Wyatt to open up, and it may not be me. It may be the others who can get him to talk faster than I can. However, given how distanced he is from them, it’s going to take a feat just to get them into the same room, except perhaps Tyler. Maybe he is the key to all of this.

“Steph?”

“What?” I focus on my baby sister.

“Next time I see Madeline, I’m going to yell at her.”

Laughing lightly, I pat Audrey’s hand. “You do that. I’m sure she’ll take it like a champ.”

“She deserves it.”

“She does. How anyone could sack my baby sis I don’t know, but she deserves it.” It doesn’t matter if I agree with what happened or not. I will support Audrey in everything.

We fall into silence, and, before I know it, I’m struggling to keep my eyes open again. Settling into the pillow, I allow them to close with a decision clicking into place. I’ll start with Tyler, help him rebuild the relationship he had with Wyatt and go from there. Everything needs to be centered on getting Wyatt to open up.

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About the Author

Emma Penny

Emma Penny is a millennial living in the US. She often moves and loves experiencing new adventures and letting her mind wander to new possibilities. She currently lives north of Denver, CO and has fallen in love with writing steamier romance. Emma started writing when she was a teenager and has never looked back from the creative side of her life. She particularly loves to explore worlds beyond the believable, worlds that stretch her imagination but still root her in the very real personalities of her characters and their relationships.

Follow Emma on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and find her at her website.

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New Release Blitz ~ Blood Promotion by MJ Klipfel (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Blood Promotion by MJ Klipfel

Book 1 in the Crossed Souls series

General Release Date: 19th July 2022

Word Count: 85,942
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 353

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
PARANORMAL
VAMPIRES
WERESHIFTERS

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Book Description


Dying and falling in love weren’t in the job description.

Self-confidence, a steady paycheck and a swivel chair—that’s all that reporter Tessa Sanders wants. So when the megalomaniac mayor inadvertently gives her the ultimate career-making story, it’s reason to celebrate…until the lead lands her in a nightmare world of monsters, dead bodies and a new, unwanted title—werewolf. Seems humankind is on a deadline, and if she and her captor, a drop-dead-gorgeous vampire who can’t decide if he wants to kiss her or kill her, can’t break the story before their time’s up, humanity gets its pink slip.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and sexual harassment, as well as the death of a character and scenes of ménage à trois.

Excerpt

Crusty armpit stains. That was the reason why I’d missed date nights with my sofa and coffee. After three months of running my editor’s shirts to the dry cleaners with his nasal whine echoing in my skull, “Make sure they use extra starch,” I’d had enough. Tonight, my life would change.

A blast of late autumn wind rattled through the pine forest bordering Glenwood Park. My impromptu hiding spot, a bush, provided dismal shelter against the elements. Exhaling a puff of breath at the cloud-covered sky, I fished out my phone. No need for night vision—the dilapidated streetlamp gave off a sufficient amount of light. Giddiness bubbled through my freezing bones. To ease the stiffness creeping into my limbs, I wiggled my toes, triggering a horrid case of charley horses burning through my calves. Shivering rewarded me with a branch poking the back of my head. Afraid of being ratted out by the bush, I didn’t dare tug my ponytail free.

To distract myself, I panned left and took a practice shot of the biohazard sign warning that Silver Lake was off limits, then I brought the empty bench overlooking the contaminated lake into focus. Perfect. My location gave me a balcony view for the shitshow about to commence. All I needed was for everyone to show up before I froze to death.

Right on time, two men hustled down to the lake. One I recognized as the mayor’s bodyguard. Crouching, he checked underneath the bench with a flashlight.

“Check up top,” he said.

Grumbling, the other man trudged up the hill. Each of his stumbles brought him closer and sent my heart slamming against my ribcage. When his gaze traveled to the bush, his brows pinched.

Adrenaline shot through my body, urging my tense limbs into a giddy-up and go. Not tonight. Gritting my teeth, I remained still.

With the approach of heavy footfalls against the jogging path, the man’s attention snapped from the bush to his partner, who was signaling for him to return.

After the men dashed away, I let out my breath. I’d have been lying if I didn’t admit to finding the danger invigorating. Writing obituaries lacked the whole pulse-pounding, undercover reporter, breaking news vibes.

A different group of shady meatheads walked over to the bench. After a few mumbles and a half-assed survey, the group parted, revealing the CEO of Safe Waters—the city’s water treatment facility. Tim McKay loved flashing his green credentials. However, his hired goons had taken it to a new level.

I cringed in remembrance of our interview. How his halitosis had tickled my earlobe as he leaned over me, sneaking a peek down my shirt. Ugh. I shook the memory from my head, focusing on the creep.

Setting his briefcase on the bench, McKay pursed his lips. A phone chirped and he shifted his weight to dig it out of his coat. The screen’s glow illuminated his plump face, reddened from the chill. Rolling his shoulders, he straightened up.

The two men from earlier escorted the mayor, muttering under his breath, over to McKay. As the bodyguards shifted to let him through, Mayor Brown transformed into a politician with a fake smile and puffed-out chest. With a confident swagger, he approached McKay.

“Sorry,” Mayor Brown said. “I got tied up.”

Flashing the mayor a tight-lipped smile, McKay gestured to the bench. The two men could’ve been twins, right down to the matching comb-overs and trench coats. I poised my numb finger, waiting. McKay handed over his briefcase while Mayor Brown pulled a manila envelope from his coat.

With the press of my finger, I landed the story no reporter had dared to investigate for fear of incurring the mayor’s wrath. After all, his brother owned the city’s newspaper. So much as an inkblot against the mayor’s squeaky-clean image and a reporter could kiss their career goodbye.

“How much longer?” The mayor unclasped the briefcase.

My interest piqued, I snapped another photo.

“Not much,” McKay answered, scanning the contents of the envelope.

Nodding, Mayor Brown closed the case. “Good.”

The men stood. After a firm handshake, they sauntered off in opposite directions with their bodyguards in tow.

Rubbing my hands together to move heat and blood back into the prickling digits, I forced myself to stay put. As minutes passed, the chattering of my teeth drowned out the soft lapping of waves and the rustling of leaves.

So far, the bodyguards had stayed out of sight and hearing. When I dragged in a satisfying breath, a rich aroma flooded my nose. Cologne was my first thought. A deeper inhale nixed that idea. The mystery scent wasn’t one of those drugstore deodorant sprays that men doused themselves with daily. No, it was something raw from nature and it smelled damn good.

Patting my windbreaker pocket, I hit on the cold metal of my pepper spray. An overreaction by far, yet a comforting one. Glenwood, New York, barely made city status with its population statistics. Most of our law-abiding citizens were snug in their beds watching sitcom reruns by nine, not waiting in the park shadows to grab me.

As I took another sniff, the musky lake odor jumped to my nostrils. The familiar stench marked the final all-clear to get moving. Groaning through my stiffness, I stood. No amount of frostbite would’ve kept me down. I got the bastards. Mayor Brown and McKay were covering up something at Safe Waters. Every fiber of my being believed it was the water contamination.

While blood flowed back through my legs, I sent the photos to my email. When the satisfying ping of a received message echoed through the deserted park, I stuffed my phone inside the windbreaker’s pocket and attempted a half-assed stretch before taking off.

Frigid air scraped my cheeks and stung my lungs as I crested the park’s tallest hill in record time. Overhead, the half-moon sent a silver glow across the frosted landscape. With the lengthening of my stride, I fought the impulse to stop and appreciate the scenery. The overpass tunnel came into view. Home stretch. Excitement propelled me into a full-out sprint. Nothing could have pulled the smile off my face except a patch of black ice.

In a series of violent somersaults, I plunged down the hill. My attempts to stop rewarded me with loose gravel embedded into my palms. To salvage the remaining layers of my flesh, I shifted onto my side. My hip smacked against the blacktop, grinding me to a halt inside the overpass tunnel.

As pain hammered my body, I shoved my bruised ego to the side and struggled to move. While my sharp inhales and ragged exhales bounced off the walls, an airy rhythmic sound filtered into the pitch-black tunnel.

Panting.

As I struggled to my hands and knees, an intense burn shot through my palms. With my groans and movements, the panting ceased.

Sweat trickled down my temples while I waited for the prankster to reveal himself. Since the high school stadium was a block away, I had seconds before a juvenile delinquent jumped out at me. “Go ahead. Pick on the klutz. Hope you recorded it,” I muttered.

The panting continued. Louder. Faster.

“Quit it,” I said.

A rapid clicking joined the panting.

I strained my eyes against the darkness. A huge mass charged me. Unable to move fast enough, I hunched over, bracing for impact. Avoiding a head-on collision, the ball of yellow fur adjusted its course, darting around me. Behind its tucked tail, a chain leash bounced and skipped along the blacktop.

“Bad dog,” I whispered through my clenched jaw. When I slumped backward to sit, my palm landed on a sneaker. A wiggling of my toes confirmed both my sneakers were snug on my feet. “Hello?” I asked.

Silence answered me. I tugged experimentally at the shoe attached to a foot. No movement or protest. Stretching my fingers to grasp around a pant leg, I gave it a sharp tug, and with minimal resistance, I pulled a severed leg over my lap.

Shoving the limb off my thighs, I scrambled backward. Pain erupted from my right ankle, which gave out. Once more, I crashed onto my hip. Instead of a gravel landing, something solid and squishy broke my fall. I righted myself as a warm liquid soaked through my running tights. A brush of my fingertips across a sticky mess of jagged bone and denim sent a scream crawling up my throat.

Terror froze me to the spot as my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. Lumpy shapes littered the tunnel. My attention locked onto the shredded remains of a varsity jacket.

It took three tries to shove my blood-soaked hand inside my windbreaker. Relief raced through me as I touched my pepper spray. Clenching the metal cylinder to my chest, I dug back in for my phone.

Gone.

“That was quite a fall,” a masculine voice said.

I dragged my attention away from the body parts and up to a looming shadow which blocked the tunnel exit. The moon kindly made an appearance, outlining the stranger’s tall frame.

Unable to move or think, I sat there blankly gaping at the man—who was wearing a freaking three-piece suit—until a breeze rushed past my face, carrying the rich scent that I’d wanted to snuggle with minutes ago.

“I hit my head.” I nodded to myself. “This is a dream.”

“I assure you”—his voice curled around me—“you are not dreaming.”

“Really? What kind of guy wears a damn suit to go strolling in the park?”

He cocked his head. Confusion drew his brows tight. “I am not a guy.”

“I’m dreaming,” I whispered. Still, the blood soaking into my clothes and the pain throbbing through my bones yelled otherwise. Using the wall as support, I eased upward. When I added pressure to my right ankle, I gasped.

He took a step toward me.

I scrambled to aim my pepper spray at the stranger.

“Skittish?” His dark laughter sent goosebumps screaming across my body.

“Don’t move,” I warned.

He ceased his laughter, but a smile parted his lips. “You want me to move.”

Blood rushed to my ears, and my head spun at his words. Some minuscule part of me was happy to agree with the stranger. I aimed the pepper spray at his face. “I’ve called the cops.”

“I call your bluff. Remember, I saw you fall.” The smile slipped from his face. “Put that contraption away.”

Once more, his words assaulted me. The pepper spray took on the density of a twenty-pound dumbbell and I struggled to keep it leveled at the stranger’s face.

“Impressive”—his eyebrow arched—“yet foolish.”

“I’ll scream,” I gritted.

“No one will hear you.” He gestured at the severed leg. “No one heard him.”

I weighed my dismal escape options. The overkill suit showcased his physique—he clearly outmatched me in strength, and he stood at least half a foot taller. A fight for freedom? Nope. A turn-and-run was also out, thanks to my injuries. Which left me with smarts as my one-trick-pony for survival. Rubbing the pepper spray trigger with my thumb, I cleared my throat. “Are you going to attack me or—”

He cleared the ten feet in a blur. No time to process or move—he shoved my back against the wall, pinning me by my shoulders. Freeing my hand between our bodies, I fought to get the spray to his face. He easily snatched it from me and tossed it over his shoulder.

My gaze locked with his black, mirror-like eyes which held my terrified reflection captive. I became weightless. If it weren’t for the man shoved against the entire length of my body, I’d have thought that I had jumped headfirst off a cliff. My heart hammered against my ribs as I forced myself to look beyond my reflection and into the dark abyss of his eyes, sucking me under, pulling me into—

The touch of his chilled finger trailing down my cheek snapped me from the trance. I tried to squirm away.

“How are you fighting me?” He grabbed my hair, pulling my head to the side.

Gasping for breath, I locked onto the lifeless gaze of the teenager whose body was nearby. His expression was frozen in surprised terror. The killer hadn’t played with him.

I must be lucky.

My attacker’s deep inhale over my throat cut through my thoughts.

“What are you?” His lips brushed against my neck.

“Stop—”

His needle-sharp teeth jabbed into my throat. Agony raked through every cell within my body as the frigid air surrounding me turned into an inferno. My ears popped with pressure. Energy swelled within me, prickling along my insides. In an explosion of light, it escaped my body and slammed into my attacker.

Unlatching from my neck, he shoved my back against the wall. “Who are you?” Blood speckled my face from his question. “Answer,” he ordered, digging his fingernails into my shoulders.

Taking advantage of his momentary lack of control, I bottled up my terror, then rammed my knee into his groin. He let go.

My palms and knees smacked against the blacktop. As I scrambled to the tunnel’s opening, he snagged my ankle and dragged me backward. When his other hand clamped onto my thigh, I twisted over, kicking with my free leg.

My foot slammed into his nose, sending his head upward with a crack. His grip tightened on my thigh, and I sent another kick to his throat. He released my leg to grab his windpipe.

I flopped to my stomach, crawling over the dead teen’s leg, then out of the tunnel.

The ice-slick hill greeted me. Shit. I’d ended on the wrong side of the tunnel, heading back to the lake and away from the city. If my attacker recovered, he could watch me slip and slide. Abandoning the path, I dove into the knee-high weeds bordering the forest. Clawing the frozen earth between my fingers, I waited for the pounding of feet through the underbrush.

Silence.

Inch by painful inch, I crawled, panting into the dirt with the hopes that my breath wouldn’t act like a smoke signal to the psycho. Still, it coiled upward against my best attempts while dead weeds groaned with each of my movements, tangling in my hair and snagging on my clothing. When I paused for a quick survey of my progress, I regretted it.

Blood trickled down my throbbing neck, slipping underneath my jacket then pooling between my breasts. When I glanced at the wetness darkening my windbreaker, the metallic scent of my blood filled my nose.

“Stop,” my attacker said from behind me. “I will not hurt you.”

“The hell you won’t,” I snapped.

My attacker jabbed his index finger at the forest. “They most certainly will.”

At the edge of the tree line, moonlight reflected off clusters of glowing orbs. Eyes. At least four large animals dodged and wove through the weeds.

Either from a crazed biting man or a pack of rabid beasts, Death was coming for me. Dropping my cheek to the dirt, flattening myself as much as possible, I hoped the beasts would see the psycho above me as the easier target.

The man yanked on the back of my windbreaker, flipped me over and tossed himself on top of me. When his lips grazed my ear, I screamed.

He covered my mouth.

Running on instinct, I sank my teeth into the heel of his palm.

“You fool,” he growled.

Snagging his free hand through my hair, he held me firm to the ground. I glared at his chest while flailing my arms. He easily dodged my blows, giving my hair a tug for my efforts. My teeth shredded into his flesh, but he still shoved his palm against my mouth.

“Drink.” His revolting order brought on a panic-induced awareness to the shot glass worth of blood rolling around in my mouth. Smothering me with his hand, he forced me to swallow.

As his blood slid down my throat, an electric current surged through me. In the same instant, the psycho tensed, hissing through his teeth.

Shifting his pale face an inch from mine, he entrapped me with his soulless eyes. “Do not move. Be silent.” He tore his hand from my mouth.

I tried to lift my arm, my leg… Nothing worked. My throat fought to produce a scream, but only air escaped. Breathing became labored. With each breath, an invisible chain tightened around my chest.

After a nod at my pathetic escape attempts, he moved off me.

Ear-splitting animalistic noises surrounded me, drowning out the thundering of my heart. Frozen in place, helpless, I stared at the cloud-covered sky. The ground vibrated against my spine from the impact of something large landing next to me. Trying to distract myself from the thing creeping its way over to me, I recited the different types of clouds.

Cumulus.

Hot breath fanned my fingertips.

Nimbus.

Grass exploded upward and the screaming beast was hurled across the sky. My fingers numbed from the absence of its breath.

Cirrus.

Tears blurred my unblinking eyes, while above me, a small shape pirouetted on the wind. It landed on my cheek, soft and wet.

Fur.

“I killed one.” The psycho paced back and forth, no longer attempting to be quiet. “The rest scattered.”

Another wet clump landed on my lip. More tears fell. Minutes ago, he was all about tearing out my jugular. Now, the asshole was making me wait so he could take a call.

“We have a problem. They made a kill,” he grumbled while leaning over me. Tilting his head, he paused. “Understood.” My attacker held no phone. He was freaking talking to himself. “I will return before dawn.”

As blood trickled down my neck, a sick satisfaction came to mind—if he waited any longer, I’d bleed to death on my own.

“You’re a mess,” he said to me, not his imaginary friend. Crouching beside me, he plucked the fur off my cheeks and lips.

You’re a psycho.

“What am I to do with you?”

Let me go. Call 911. Order me a pizza.

“You have placed me in quite a predicament.” Carefully, he brushed away a freezing tear from the corner of my eye. “You may blink.”

I did, and half wished I hadn’t. Through the shredded remains of his suit, a deep gash ran the entire length of his sternum. Bile burned the back of my throat. Forcing my gaze away from the white of bone glistening in the moonlight, I focused on his face. His nose bent at an unnatural angle. Point for me. Apparently, he had a high threshold for pain, because he smiled.

To drive up the psycho factor, he parted his lips, revealing bloodstained fangs which he pricked his index fingertip against. Blood welled up and rolled down his finger.

“You will do all that I command.” He brought his bloody digit to my temple and traced an arch across my forehead. His blood seeped into my pores and raced through my veins. “You may speak. What is your name?”

Unable to refuse his question, I whispered, “Tessa Sanders.”

His finger slid to my neck and massaged over his bite while he spoke. “Tessa Sanders, you are under my protection.”

“I’ll pass on that.” I glared at him.

“How naïve you are.” He lowered his face to mine. “You fell while running tonight.”

“No shit.”

In a swift movement, he brushed his lips across mine. No lust. Just a slap in the mouth, because he was in control. As his thumbs touched my temples, a flash of light blanked my racing thoughts. Once it dimmed, a picture show flipped through my mind. As if I were a bystander, I watched myself fall on the ice. It became imperative for me to remember the event playing in my head. Struggling to remember anything different about the fall, all I recalled was the out-of-body experience.

Fear poured through my veins, freezing my blood. He controlled my body and my mind.

Finally, his lips left mine. Dipping his face against the crook of my neck, he inhaled. “Your fear is intoxicating,” he said.

When he pulled away, our eyes locked. My terror mixed with his hesitance, catching us both off guard. I clenched my jaw. His eyes narrowed. In an instant, smoldering hate rolled between us.

“Forget me”—his words flowed like a stream through my mind—“and go home. Once you are there, you will sleep. When you awake, you are to leave town.” The stream turned into a current that swallowed me whole. Darkness enveloped me as his last words echoed through my mind. “Never run at night again.”

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About the Author

MJ Klipfel

When not writing stories, where the villain and heroine fall madly in love, I can be found daydreaming, singing all the 80’s songs, drinking copious amounts of coffee, reading books in headstand, protecting wildlife, and advocating for students with disabilities.

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