New Release Blitz ~ Dark Summer by S.J. Coles (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Dark Summer by S.J. Coles

Word Count: 50,247
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 204

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI
PARANORMAL
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE
VAMPIRES

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Book Description

Is a human lifetime long enough to learn to love a vampire?

The tumultuous events of the Blood Winter are a fading nightmare, and Alec and Terje are trying to build a life together at Alec’s newly restored ancestral home of Glenroe. There’s just one problem… Terje doesn’t appear to be committed—constantly called away on mysterious errands and seemingly unable to forsake his own kind. Alec begins to wonder if Terje is capable of loving anyone, let alone him.

When an old uni friend Jay Singh, recently out of the closet and looking rather too good to be true, returns to Alec’s life, he becomes more conflicted than ever. Things only escalate when Alec is forced into the social and political issues still surrounding the haemophiles’ tumultuous integration into human society and soon it is more than just his relationship on the line.

Can Alec figure out what kind of future is possible with a vampire—and if it can ever be enough for either of them—before it’s too late?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence, murder, alcohol abuse and blood drinking.

Publisher’s Note: This story is best read as a sequel to Blood Winter.

Excerpt

The sun was warm on my face. The brisk wind brought with it the smells of sun-drenched heather and dry grass. The sky was a shade of blue so bright that it almost hurt to look at it. Summer was spreading through the mountains like molten gold, enhancing the colors and the smells, sinking into my flesh and heating my blood. The wind picked up as I reached the ridge and the sweat cooled on my face.

I stood for a moment, breathing deep, and had to admit that I missed sunshine. I’d kept haemophile hours for so long that I hadn’t even realized summer had come to the Cairngorms. But despite being out in the sun’s heat for the first time in months, the vague chill under my skin didn’t dissipate.

I rubbed a hand over my face and made myself take in the view. The undulating mountains, green glens and glistening jewels of the lochs always made me feel like I was standing alone on the face of heaven. Glenroe perched on its rocky outcrop below, the gray stone dark, even in the midday sun, like it couldn’t quite let go of its shadows. Scaffolding was bright against the dark stone, and even at this height, I could hear the shouts, clangs and rumbles of the dozens of contractors in the final stages of restoration work. It had taken almost two years and more money than I had ever dreamed, but the sixteenth-century hall was now, finally, almost up to twenty-first-century living standards. The new roof still looked odd to me, accustomed as I was to the gaping holes and worn tarpaulin patch jobs I’d grown up with. But the novelty of not having to share the house with the unpredictable Scottish elements had not yet worn off.

But Terje was gone…again. It had been almost a month this time, the longest he’d ever been away. And my doubts had now permeated me almost to the bone.

I’d made myself accept, right at the start, that there were things I would never be able to understand about my haemophile lover. I was now well-practiced at steering my thoughts away from the industrial refrigeration unit behind a locked door in the cellar, stocked with a mysteriously replenished supply of bottled human blood. And Terje had always gone to great pains to explain that he wouldn’t always be around—that, sometimes, he would need to be alone. I told myself that I had accepted that too, and as much as the huge master bed and the high-ceilinged rooms of Glenroe were achingly empty when he was gone, his return was always so full of wonder and pleasure that I soon forgot the strain of his absence.

I’d never met anyone who could absorb my turns of mood like Terje. If I was riled, he let me rant until I ran out of steam, gently questioning to better understand me then offering an insight that either validated or completely deflated my anger. Other times, if there was nothing to be said, he would take my hand and kiss me gently, letting me know without words that it would all be okay, even if he couldn’t tell me how.

As the weeks had turned into months, I’d found my habitual fire easing to a warm, steady glow that was oddly pleasant but so unfamiliar that I didn’t entirely trust it.

We would walk in the mountains by moonlight and Terje would talk about the places he’d been, the things he’d seen. He talked about the mountains of Norway—the peaks, the caves, the rivers and the ice-bound lakes. He said the Cairngorms were a gentler land, raw and wild but rolling and tranquil, the landscape welcoming, the weather more forgiving.

He said I was like the mountains I’d been born in, that I held the same mysteries and beauty, the same potential for both adventure and danger. For the first time in my life, I had started to entertain the idea that maybe I had the capacity to be happy.

Though I also knew there were parts of him I could never reach and, sometimes, he vanished without warning for days on end. But I had endured this, told myself I’d accepted it. But he’d never been away for more than a fortnight before.

We had our final meeting with the architects restoring Glenroe in Edinburgh the next day. I’d booked a room at a haemophile-friendly hotel. We were supposed to be making a holiday of it—a chance to spend time together in a city we both adored, to make love in a new bed and enjoy a change of scene. Now it looked like I would be going alone.

I shook away the gloomy thoughts, knowing from bitter experience that brooding wouldn’t bring him back any quicker, and started back down the mountain, mentally scanning the contents of the new wine cellar. There were several new acquisitions I’d been looking forward to trying, hoping they might taste enough like Terje’s Blood to suppress the craving.

The thought sent a finger of ice up my spine.

My uneasiness changed as I approached the house. The machine noise had died. The men who had been tasked with dismantling the scaffolding were clustered together, exchanging words in low voices. Other men were darting between the demountable field office and the open front door of the hall. As I approached, McGregor, the site manager, came out of the office in rock-climbing gear.

“What’s going on?”

“Got a man missing,” the red-bearded man grumbled in his thick Glaswegian accent. “He went to check on the foundation work and didn’t come back.”

I blanched. “He went into the caves alone?”

“Sounds like it, the silly sod,” McGregor grumbled, shooting a look at a pale-faced man in a helmet and sweat-soaked T-shirt.

“Doug thought he’d better eyeball the foundations before we take the west wing scaffolding down,” the man said. “It was supposed to be a quick check…two minutes tops.”

“No one’s supposed to go down there alone,” McGregor said. “Ye all know the score… MacCarthy, what’re you playing at?” I was already hurrying inside. “MacCarthy”—McGregor dogged my footsteps—”ye better not be—”

“I know those caves,” I insisted, grabbing climbing gloves and a head torch from the racks next to the cellar door.

“You’re a civilian,” McGregor argued. “Let the rescue team—”

“They’re my caves,” I said. “And you aren’t supposed to be down there, anyway. I’m going. I’ll be quicker.”

McGregor started to protest further, but I was already opening the door, noting with a flare of anger that the keypad had been set to ‘unlocked’, then racing down the stairs. The door at the bottom was wedged open with a toolbox, and the lights in Terje’s apartment were all on. The sleeping cell and industrial fridges were both still locked, but I couldn’t stop a surge of anxiety.

By the time I reached the bottom of the second, longer flight of stairs, it was pitch black. The air smelled like stillness and rock. I flicked on the head torch and the echoing emptiness of the Gateway sprang into existence. This high, dry cavern had been cleared of debris hundreds of years before and had been used for everything from sheltering Catholic priests to smuggling illicit whiskey. The rock arched overhead in a series of sharp, black shoulders and the walls were scratched with generations of sacred marks and not-so-sacred graffiti. I hurried past all this to the narrow, black fissure in the wall.

The fissure had been artificially widened at some point in the distant past for some unguessable reason and was the last mark man had made on the Glenroe caverns. It was just wide enough for me to pass through stooped, then I was standing on the lip of a sheer cliff that disappeared into blackness below.

I held my breath and listened. All was silent.

“MacCarthy, you mad bastard,” McGregor grumbled, squeezing through after me, his voice echoing in the cavernous chamber, “get yerself back here or so help me—”

“What’s the man’s name?”

“Doug. Doug Bliss. But we should wait—”

Bliss?” I called, pitching my voice to carry. The sound bounced off the walls and ceiling then faded away. I called again, then once more. After the third echo faded to nothing, I heard a very faint, plaintive call, so weak that the echo barely reached us.

“That’s him,” McGregor said. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph… Where’s the daft prick got to?”

“He’s somewhere in the east cave system,” I said, scrambling over the edge. “I’ll go find him. When the rescue team get here, have them set up ropes and ladders here.”

“I still think—”

“It would take them hours to get to him,” I cut in as I started to climb, finding the foot and handholds with practiced ease. “I want everyone out of here quickly. Just do as I say.”

McGregor’s muttered reply was lost in the echo of my boots scraping rock. My arms started to burn, a feeling I hadn’t had since my last real climb, years ago. I allowed myself a moment enjoying the pleasant memories it stirred. But then I remembered David Carlisle had been with me and hurriedly shook the thoughts away.

Soon my boots connected with a boulder slide. I scrambled to more level ground then began the arduous clamber across the slanting chamber. Dripping water echoed somewhere to the right. I heaved myself over a rockfall and took a moment to catch my breath. I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, and a stitch was starting in my side.

Bliss’ pained cries were louder now. I stamped down another flare of anger. The man had just risked his own life climbing down this far, and I couldn’t think of a single legitimate reason for him doing so. The events of Blood Winter were now almost two years past, but the memory of Jon Ogdell’s, and other corporations’ before his, desperation to get ownership of this cave system still made my distrust flare. I climbed on, knowing that the sooner this was over, the sooner I could get the strangers out of Terje’s apartment.

Graeme Byrnes Architects were a haemo-friendly company, recommended personally by Ivor Novák, the haemophiles’ head lobbyist and parliamentary representative. They’d installed the apartment, complete with a lightproof sleeping cell and fridges, no questions asked. But the need for Terje’s survival of Blood Winter to remain secret was imperative, and despite Novák’s assurances, I didn’t want anyone poking around anymore than they had to.

I could hear Bliss clearly now. I stretched, preparing to tackle the last scramble, but froze with my hands on the rock. I strained my ears, resisting the urge to shush the whimpering man, trying to decide if I had heard the scrape of something solid moving across the rock overhead. But that was impossible… Those chambers were only accessible with ropes. I’d done it once before, against my father’s express orders, mainly because he’d told me not to. It had been exhilarating, and the cave beyond, known as the Ballroom, was a thing of such ragged, wild and dangerous beauty that I had been dumbstruck and dreamed about revisiting it many times. But my father had confiscated my rock-climbing gear directly after I’d returned, and by the time he was dead, I’d lost interest in the sport—along with a lot of other things.

No one had laid eyes on the Ballroom since.

I stood, listening, holding my breath, but there was only me, Bliss’ labored breathing and the vast, cold silence.

I clambered on. Finally, I spotted the contractor, propped at an awkward angle against a boulder. He squinted up into my light and his expression flattened with relief. He tried to raise an arm but grimaced and clutched his ribs.

“Bliss?” I said, dropping down next to him.

The man nodded, his face screwed up with pain. “Thank Christ,” he panted.

“You hurt?”

He nodded, wincing. “Think…think I busted a rib. That’s…that’s why I couldn’t shout.”

“What the hell were you doing down here?”

The man’s face shifted under its coating of dirt. “Checking…foundations…”

“The foundations are under the house,” I muttered, kneeling and checking his legs for broken bones.

“Thought…thought I heard…something.”

A prickle went up my spine. “What?”

The man shook his head. “Someone moving around. Thought someone was stuck…wanted to check…” He made a pained noise and I let out an impatient one.

“Okay, okay. Stop trying to speak. Can you stand?”

The man took a couple of moments to catch his breath then tried to get his feet under him. I took hold of the arm opposite the injured ribs and, slowly, he stood. He paled under his coating of dirt.

“Broken rib all right,” I said. “Maybe two. Not bloody surprised. This climb’s tricky if you don’t know where to put your feet.”

Bliss nodded. “Yeah, I was fucking dumb. But…but I swear there was someone…”

“Stop talking,” I said, not acknowledging the crawling sensation across my skin. “We need to get you as close to the entrance as we can for the rescue team. You ready?”

Bliss set his jaw and nodded. I steadied my footing then pulled the man’s arm over my shoulders, dug my foot into the first foothold and eased us up.

It was a slow, painful and sweaty scramble, taking over twice as long as the journey in. Bliss was a capable climber and used his feet and legs well, but with one arm over my shoulders and the other clutching his hurt side, it was awkward and labored, and we had to stop frequently for him to catch his breath. By the time we were within sight of the cliff, I was sweating and aching—and not in a way that generated pleasant memories.

Four Mountain Rescue volunteers were ready with ropes and a stretcher. They hurried forward to take charge of Bliss. I spent the time it took to strap him to a stretcher scanning the caves and listening, but nothing moved or made a sound.

I followed the rescue team back into the house, locking all the doors as I went and making a mental note to change the codes. Bliss was loaded into an ambulance as his colleagues watched in grim silence.

I breathed a sigh of relief and was just about to make my way to the workshop when McGregor, having seen Bliss safely on his way, stopped me. His forehead was tightly furrowed. When he spoke, his voice was low.

“Bliss says he heard someone down there.”

“He’s mistaken.”

McGregor frowned harder. “He seems pretty sure.”

“There’s no access apart from through the house.”

“For a human, maybe.”

I kept my face blank. McGregor lowered his voice further. “We’ve installed apartments like yours for lots of clients. It’s our job. But it’s my contractual obligation to remind ye of the law against harboring unregistered haemophiles.”

I took a moment to ensure my voice was steady before speaking. “We provided you with all the registration documentation before the work started.”

“Aye, that I know—or we wouldn’t be here. So why is your friend roaming the caves during the day instead of secured in the cell?”

“The resident of the cellar is currently away. But his whereabouts are, frankly, none of your business.”

McGregor’s lined face shifted. “We’ll leave it there then, sir. You understand it’s my job to check.”

“I understand. Now, if you don’t mind, I have my own work to do.”

I felt McGregor’s eyes on me all the way down the hill.

Clem straightened with a wince from the engine of a ruby-red 1972 VW Beetle at the sound of the workshop door.

“Didn’t think I’d see you today,” Clem said as I pulled on overalls and a mask.

“Thought I’d get ahead on the Triumph,” I said, grabbing the sander and making for the silver Triumph Herald, the only other car in the workshop.

“Phone’s been buzzing.”

I paused. Clem was wiping his hands on a rag and glaring at the Beetle engine like it had just insulted his mother. I retrieved my phone from where it was sitting on the workshop windowsill.

“This fancy company not sorting a new phone mast?” Clem grumbled as I brushed the thin layer of dust off the phone screen.

“I thought you liked being out of phone range?” I said, noting three emails, two text messages and a missed call notification.

“Aye. But it’s distracting, having that thing buzzing away in here all the time.”

“I’ve had all of four calls all year.”

“Yeah…and most of them today.”

My throat tightened. The emails, missed call and one of the text messages were all from Ivor Novák.

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About the Author

S. J. Coles

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

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

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

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

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New Release Blitz: The Golden Age by Eve Morton (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Golden Age

Author: Eve Morton

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/26/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 122800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, family drama, arts/performance, arts/visual, coming of age, friends to lovers, nerds, contemporary, trans, bi, gay

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Description

Seven years ago, Sebastian Munro changed his life immensely by transitioning and starting a graduate degree at the University of Ottawa. Now that his degree—and his cash flow—has run its course, however, he finds himself on a Greyhound bus back to his suburban town outside of Toronto in early 2006. Though his high school friends are well aware of his transition, many have yet to see Sebastian face-to-face.

Instead of dreading the reunion, Sebastian looks forward to it—until his parents announce their divorce, his former best friend won’t speak to him, and he realizes he has become a stranger in a place that was once so familiar. Rather than returning to Ottawa, he is forced to stay in Durham Region when he witnesses a crime at the local restaurant run by a family friend. Until the trial finishes, and until an academic job comes through, Sebastian must learn to stay exactly where he is—whether he now wants to or not. When he reaches out to his former best friend’s older brother, Garrison, their budding relationship shapes and changes everything Sebastian thought he knew about his previous life, secret identities, and the power of home.

Now that Sebastian has found a way to survive in his hometown as the person he always knew himself to be, he realizes he faces a decision especially as an academic job opportunity emerges. Does he continue with his new fantasy life in his hometown, thereby leaving his former academic and trans community aside—or does he go back to the life that made him who he is now and leave his family and friends one more time?

Excerpt

The Golden Age
Eve Morton © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
I was late for the bus home.

Discarded couches, plates, and jagged forks and knives packed the city streets, all detritus from the former student life. I thought leaving before the exam period was over would allow me to avoid the crowds. The exodus, as Ken called it. He was being dramatic. Biblical. A Shakespearean scholar, through and through. Then I remembered the Easter and Thanksgiving rushes, the deluge of students desperately trying to go home with too many bags of dirty clothing. I was caught off guard by the trash on the street, still a city bus away from the Greyhound station that would take me back to my hometown.

These students and the remnants of their short-term apartments were the minifloods before the mass exodus at the end of the semester. Ken had warned me. The streets will be packed, so think ahead. I brushed off his fastidiousness, but I should have trusted his insight, culled from experienced history rather than scholarly articles and delivered like folk wisdom. I’d booked my Greyhound bus home after Easter but before the final date for students to leave the dorms, thinking this was enough to avoid the crowds and keep Ottawa pristine in my mind. I wanted the capital to have stayed as staid as Ken, as picturesque as a postcard, as parochial as a footnote. Maybe that way, leaving would hurt less.

Instead I was left with nothing to read to pass the time but a thin Stephen King novella. The Running Man was the only book that didn’t fit into my storage locker; I couldn’t bear throwing out books, so I brought it with me. The furniture in my apartment were cast-offs, and there were always hungry graduate students looking for toasters. I could pass them off, rotate. Ken’s new student was walking in my furniture shadows—but the books, I kept. I had to and I didn’t even like King that much. I had many copies of his work because of Michael, Emily, all of them from Whitby, our hometown outside of Toronto. I may not have devoured King, but I loved them. A cardboard box I kept in my storage locker, bursting at the sides, was like another ticket home, a reminder of voices I’d tried to silence since my degree began. I may as well take this piece of history with me. Even if I didn’t like King all that much, I could still find solace in the words.

But I was running late.

My shoulder bag dug into my skin as I stepped onto the city bus and squeezed into a standing space all my own. The Greyhound station was in the heart of downtown, while my storage locker had been on the edge; the city bus fed me through the surface roads to the station where I’d catch another bus home. The trip was long, odious. Made even longer by one red light after another.

Another red light. Another student stop, a casual group of teenagers—maybe some whom I’d taught—laughed as they stepped on. End of the year. End of their exams. The cars lined up on the street. Rush hour. Another red light. The bus should have already arrived. I should be checking in. I looked out the window at more discarded couches and dishes and more students carrying cases of booze, their voices celebratory.

“I want out.” I walked to the front of the bus and repeated my request. “Please.”

“This isn’t a stop.”

“This is a red light. It’s faster if I walk.”

The driver eyed my bag filled with toiletries and clothing, as if I were leaving for only a night. He glanced up, gaze lingering too long on my face. “This still isn’t a stop.”

“But you’re stopped.”

He stared, unrelenting.

I sighed. “Please.”

With the eyes of a martyr, he opened the door. I got off as the light turned green. The bus rocketed ahead of me, going faster than I thought possible.

A flicker of doubt rushed over me. Had I made a mistake? I walked faster and faster toward the city centre. Another red light and city traffic bloomed. The bus was faster, but it was always going to be stopped. I knew shortcuts to the city centre, learned from the early months of my testosterone shots when I was undecipherable as man or woman. I knew all the covert alleyways and the hidden catwalks, the city’s secrets where I would not been seen. My heart panged at the thought of leaving everything behind. It wouldn’t be forever, like that horrible in-between transition phase wasn’t forever either, but the discarded dishware and books that looked so much like mine made leaving feel that much more permanent.

I passed the bus after five minutes of fast walking. My legs were bruised from my bag banging against them. My lungs ached. Calves smarted. The pain diminished when I saw the blue of the station. Greyhound. A line was there, but not too long. When I was in New York City with Ashley, an old girlfriend before my transition, we’d watched in horror as our bus departed before its designated time because it was full. Though Greyhound had sent another for those who were still lingering, watching it depart while standing in place was a sucker punch I’d had to stay still for, like counting the days backward before surgery. Now, when I could taste my mother’s weak tea and smell my father’s secret cigars, I couldn’t bear to watch the bus pull away.

Another surge of speed flowed through me. I darted across the road between parked cars and emerged on the sidewalk. I was almost at the station door when someone yelled at me.

I froze. A car horn honked simultaneously, but I realized it was unrelated. The person shouted again.

“You—yeah, you! Plenty of time!”

I saw an old man under the city bus station awning: his face worn, his jeans frayed at the edges, and his baseball shirt from years ago. He raised a hand in the air and repeated his words.

“Plenty of time! You need to slow down.”

I was angrier than the first time I’d been catcalled at thirteen. I turned away with an audible scoff and ran the rest of the way inside of the station. My shoulders smarted and my lungs still ached, but I was last in line.

Not until I was seated near the back, my bag stored underneath the bus and the now horribly bent out of shape book in my hands, did I think of the bum again. His words were personal. Not the typical ranting or lecherous stares of downtown. He was giving me advice. Like Ken. He was…

I turned away from the window. I stared at the cover of my book. I opened it and tried to read.

Doesn’t he understand? Ten minutes later, the highway lulled me back to memory, my legs still throbbing as if I’d run. Didn’t he understand I was going home? There was no time to waste. There was no time to play, to talk, to slow down. I had to go home.

I’d been gone for so long.

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Meet the Author

Eve Morton is a writer living in Ontario, Canada. She teaches university and college classes on media studies, academic writing, and genre literature, among other topics. She reads tarot, has a lot of tattoos, and loves all things occult and supernatural in nature. She also loves true crime, especially the forensic side of it, and is often swayed by a really good podcast (even more when it is funny). She continues to do research work on LGBTQ communities, media representation, and film after completing her PhD in 2019. Find more information on authormorton.wordpress.com.

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New Release Blitz: The Wingman by A. Poland (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Wingman

Author: A. Poland

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/26/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, gay, new adult, BFF/childhood besties, friends to lovers, humorous/romantic comedy, slow burn

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Description

Nathan, a college student with a thing for funky hats and a definite not-thing for the great outdoors, has been a wingman extraordinaire for his lifelong best friend Lorcan for as long as either can remember. With his innate ability to talk endlessly about how great Lorcan is to anyone who’ll listen, Nathan has always been the best man for the job—even if he’s secretly waiting for the day when Lorcan will realize that Nathan is the only guy for him.

But then, Lorcan sets his sights on Miles, the suave, leather-jacket-wearing musician with a love of mountaineering and a family of six overprotective sisters, and Nathan must once again put his wingman skills to work.

Trouble is, Nathan is getting tired of the old routine, and Miles is the only human being on the planet immune to Lorcan’s charm. Not to mention that Miles’s interest is immediately piqued by the outspoken and completely oblivious wingman.

Excerpt

Nathan Reed was convinced LAX had expanded since he’d last stepped foot in there.

What else would explain the endless stretch of white corridors, covered in signs advertising various transport options? Not to mention the bright Welcome to Los Angeles! posters plastered every few yards for those with the attention span of a goldfish who somehow forgot where they were.

But Nathan wasn’t likely to forget. He’d been looking forward to this for weeks now, ever since he’d booked the flight.

Not that his year abroad hadn’t been enjoyable, but there were things he’d missed so much that homesickness snuck up and ached like a rotting tooth.

Things like his dad’s cooking or having his own room. Privacy had been hard to come by at Saint Andrews, and Nathan hadn’t realized how much he’d miss it. His dad’s apprehensive looks when Nathan had shown him pictures of the apartment, kitted out with a set of bunk beds, now made sense.

His roommates had been nice, sure. It had taken a while for Nathan to fully understand the thick Scottish brogue, but once he’d arrived there, he’d gotten on well with the other guys. Granted, sleeping in the same room as two other people for a solid nine months had been a lot.

There’d been so many noises he hadn’t anticipated.

But above all else, what Nathan had missed most was his best friend, Lorcan.

Inseparable since birth, their mothers had been close friends, so it was expected they would be thick as thieves. Just as likely was that they’d have eventually grown apart over time, fallen into new friend groups, and developed different interests.

And sure, some of that might have happened. But they’d stuck together like glue throughout.

Lorcan had always been a widely liked guy, even when he was a kid with chubby pink cheeks and a toothy grin. Naturally charming, he never had a bad thing to say about anyone. Which was an exact juxtapose to Nathan, who had no issue airing his grievances about someone (to Lorcan, of course—Nathan wasn’t exactly confrontational).

As they’d grown older and their attraction to people was brought into the mix, they’d helped each other out.

While Nathan might not have been the greatest at getting dates for himself, getting them for Lorcan? That was where Nathan’s true talent shone through.

One of Nathan’s greatest skills in life was selling Lorcan to people.

Obviously not for money, not that Nathan would have said no to the option (college was expensive, okay?), but Lorcan’s gratitude was enough payment for him.

And he had every reason to be grateful, considering the majority of Lorcan’s hookups came as a result of Nathan chatting to a pretty girl at a bar or in the crowd of one of Lorcan’s basketball games.

Lorcan was easy to talk about. If half of Nathan’s college essays had had Lorcan as the subject matter, he’d have hit the word count, no problem, and with zero caffeine needed.

Hell, Nathan could fill an entire anthology about Lorcan. And he was confident it was the same in return.

Studying in Scotland for a year sure as hell hadn’t changed anything about their closeness. Skype calls had been frequent, texting even more so when they were both conscious. Sometimes, Nathan would stay up obscenely late just to talk to Lorcan, in the privacy of the bathroom while his roommates snoozed away.

An eight-hour time difference couldn’t stop them.

And neither could a thirteen-hour-long flight.

But it sure as hell had tried to.

Dragging his overly stuffed suitcase behind him, the one functioning wheel shrieking in protest, Nathan slogged through what had to be the last of its airport pilgrimage. The suitcase had served him well through the year, but now it was squeaking its last squeak.

Nathan briefly considered holding a Viking funeral for it. He quickly shook that idea off and reminded himself he’d been conscious for over twenty-four hours and burning suitcases was not a productive activity.

Blond hair plastered to his forehead, the backs of his knees sweaty, and his shirt more than a little stale—Nathan was in desperate need of a shower. The sign for Arrivals was up ahead, which meant he wouldn’t have to stew in his own grossness for much longer.

“Oh, there he is!” an all-too-familiar voice called the moment Nathan slipped through the sliding doors, his last barrier separating him from the outside world. Unable to stop the broad smile on his face when he saw his entourage gathered there, Nathan picked up the pace.

Nathan’s father, a perpetually cheerful man by the name of Ben, stood there with an expectant grin on his face. Maybe they had once looked similar, but with Ben’s hair loss some years ago, it was difficult to draw a comparison between father and son.

Bouncing excitedly beside him was none other than Lorcan, who’d called out. Beside Lorcan, his two younger stepsisters unenthusiastically held out a large white sheet heavily decorated with glitter and stickers. Nathan’s name was the centerpiece, so there was no mistaking who they were there for.

Not that Nathan could ever have mistaken them.

It had just been Nathan and Ben for as long as he could remember. In contrast, Lorcan’s mom had remarried a few years ago, inheriting two little girls from her partner’s previous marriage.

And Sally and Emily adored Lorcan.

Not that that was in any way surprising.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Fuelled by a worrying tea addiction (with a tattoo to prove it), A. Poland is a romcom writer from Ireland who delights in telling stories that make you fall in love with the characters and give you that squee feeling in your chest.

Three words she would use to describe her writing are: funky, silly, and spicy. Which, coincidentally, is also her dancing style.

When she’s not daydreaming of the next meet-cute, A. works as a video producer and a full-time dog mom to her pride and joy, Gizmo.

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New Release Blitz: Homefront by Jaxon Altieri (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Homefront

Author: Jaxon Altieri

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/26/2021

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 19500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, military, PTSD, veteran, hurt/comfort, coming out, grief

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Description

Sergeant Daniel Malone is back in the States after being medically discharged for severe PTSD. In his hands, he holds a letter given to him by a fallen friend. The letter, the last note from Eric, the soldier’s brother, is of his coming out and needing his brother’s support.

Daniel insists on returning it to Eric and telling him that his brother supported and loved him, but Eric blames Daniel for his brother’s death. Daniel gives the worn letter to Eric in the hope it brings him peace but can’t stay away as the words of the message and seeing Eric for the first time have stirred feelings in Daniel’s heart that he’d never felt before.

Even though Eric seems to want nothing to do with him, fate and the letter written to a brother could be what brings them together or drives them apart.

Excerpt

Daniel Malone followed the yellow line on the road as it raced past him. The bus he rode traveled along the coastline to Jasper Falls, a coastal town in upstate Maine. The painted lines on the highway hypnotized him, and drew him closer to the window. Waves crashed upon the shore. Overhead, seagulls flapped their wings in the blue sky. Oaks and maples swayed in the breeze, bringing a rare smile to Daniel’s face.

A small jump off the bus onto those rocks and my life would be over. But I can’t, I have a letter to return. I made a promise to an old friend.

“Attention passengers, we are reaching your destination,” said the bus driver,

A bump in the road jolted him out of his reverie. Within minutes, the bus would pull into town. He had limited knowledge of the place except for where his hotel was and what his friend and fellow soldier, Shawn, had told him. Even then, his words didn’t do any justice to the area.

Green leaves shook as the coastal breeze danced in their canopies. The sun shone in the blue sky with only a few scattered clouds, seemingly stretching forever. How many stars decorated the night sky? The Atlantic Ocean looked magnificent compared to what he’d seen of the vast body of water overseas.

Daniel would deliver this letter. It’s what Shawn would’ve wanted me to do. Daniel knew he had changed since the war. He hoped above all, that here, he could find peace. God, I need help. I hate who I am now. An emptiness filled his soul, preventing Daniel from feeling anything. It made him nauseous and his stomach twisted in knots. Daniel liked the view, but the numbness stretched as wide as the ocean and prevented him from enjoying it like he would have as a kid.

In his hand, he carried a letter. Usually, he tucked it into his pocket so he wouldn’t lose it. As the bus got closer to town, he took it out to hold. As if grasping it held the bad memories at bay. It helped him protect something precious when he failed at it only months earlier. Perhaps it did. I’ll do a better job with this letter than I did for my friend.

Daniel ran his hand across the envelope. He had memorized every word and wrinkle in the paper. The words inside it burned like an oil well fire in a combat zone. He followed the cursive handwriting of the letter’s sender.

The envelope was addressed to Shawn by his brother, Eric. Before Shawn died, he made Daniel swear to find Eric and tell him everything was okay. It was his dying wish.

I won’t let you down, buddy. This was your dying wish and I’ll make sure he gets the letter. It’s the least I can do considering I failed you once already. Daniel could taste sand and smoke from the battle mixed with bile. Daniel cleared his throat and gripped the arm rest by his side. I can do this.

Chances of him getting anywhere in life were slim at the moment; no one wants to deal with a crazy vet. An honorable discharge with a Purple Heart won’t get me far in the private sector. Hollywood movies never get that right.

He hadn’t read the note at first. It wasn’t his business. After a few days, grief overcame him. No one would know if he read it. Hell, he couldn’t resist the urge to do so. It was his only remaining link to Shawn and that he lived and died. Shawn may not have mattered to the others, but he mattered to me. Plus, the medics at the hospital left him alone and never asked about those in his unit. Even the survivors of his unit failed to show up and see him in the hospital. Even the brass in the chain of command was already pushing him out of the system. I was no longer useful to the nation. A tear streaked down Daniel’s face, which he wiped away so no one would see.

Daniel slowly unfolded the worn letter. His strong hands, trained for war, handled the message as delicately as a lover. In his head, the voice of a man whom he had never met echoed loud and clear:

Dear Shawn,

I know we’ve gone through so much. Not just for our little town, but for the country. I stay awake at night, fearful that I’d never see you again. I have so much to tell you, but I’d be wrong in saying I’d know where to begin. Life in the past few years have been rough and confusing. Sometimes I didn’t understand who I was. I’d spoken to a counselor to get myself in check and finally find comfort in who I am. Few people in our little conservative town would never like it, and hate me, but I can’t deny what was in my heart all along about who I am as a man today. I’m gay. You always told me I was different, and you may have known before I did. You were always smarter and stronger than me. I need your strength now; I can’t deal with this alone. I need your support as you’re all I have left. Please write me back. I’ll be here waiting for a reply or a sign, whichever comes first. Life wasn’t easy for either of us. This probably isn’t a burden you want to deal with, but I need your help, as I can’t do this alone. I don’t have the strength, and you’d always say you’d be here for me. Well, I need you now.

Love, Eric.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Jaxon is a professional freelance writer specializing in Digital Content Services. Through his clientele he has reached a worldwide platform for his content services and is looking to expand his writing to include fiction, specifically in the LGBT genre. He is a prolific artist and like many people, he believes that love at first sight is a possibility when you meet a kindred soul. When not writing, he’s playing with his dogs, watching low-budget horror movies, and hanging with his partner.

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Book Blitz: Compassion Fatigue by Emily Carrington (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Compassion Fatigue

Series: Marisburg Chronicles 1

Author: Emily Carrington

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: July 23

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 101 pages

Genre: Romance, Medical Romance, Multicultural & Interracial, Second Chances, Contemporary Romance

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Synopsis

Peter Campbell, a deaf man who teaches sign language classes, believes no one would ever love a bisexual man. When his new veterinarian, Dr. Abe Yoshida, shows him he’s wrong, Peter is left with the monumental task of coming out to his teenage daughter. Can his growing love for Abe give him the courage he needs?

The holidays are the worst time for Dr. Abe. He recently lost a patient, and the circumstances leave him struggling under a burden of guilt. Adding to his depression, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, he finds himself the victim of anti-Asian hate crimes. Then he meets Peter, a compassionate, partially in the closet bisexual man. Will Abe let love heal his heart, or will suicide’s sour music bewitch his soul?

Trigger Warning: Deals with Asian Hate Crimes, COVID-19, depression and suicidal thoughts in characters with disabilities, which may be triggers for some readers.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2021 Emily Carrington

The man was only a little shorter than Peter himself. He had beautiful dark brown hair and eyes that turned up just a little.  Like an Elf’s eyes, Peter thought.

His sleeves were rolled to the elbows, and he had obvious muscles in his forearms. Oh, but that was hot. The only thing that marred Peter’s initial take on the doc was the way his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

They shook. The doctor’s hand was dry, his grip strong. Peter swore his heart skipped a beat when he saw the pink triangle in the Dr’s ear.

Then he was distracted because Dr. Yoshida was distracted… by Tracks rubbing up against his legs. The veterinarian’s smile touched his eyes briefly as he crouched to pet the bold and unexpectedly friendly tom.

When he moved to pick up Tracks, Peter put his hand out first. When the doctor was looking at him, Peter shook his head and signed, “Allow me.”

“All right,” Yoshida signed back. He straightened and pointed to a little square box that Peter knew was a cat scale.

Peter placed Tracks in, and the doctor checked the reading. Then, glancing at Peter, he signed, “May I pick him up?”

Well, he’d have to eventually. Peter realized his earlier reticence had been foolish. He nodded. And to his amazement, when Dr. Yoshida picked up Tracks, the cat half closed his eyes in obvious pleasure.

Peter reached out and stroked his pet, feeling the purr.

After a brief but thorough examination, Dr. Yoshida set Tracks down to let him wander. Then he smiled at Peter and signed, “I’m Abe Yoshida. You have a very healthy cat there. Very friendly.”

“He is to you,” Peter signed back. “He’s usually uncomfortable with strangers, especially in new places.”

The vet nodded. “Is this just a meet-and-greet then?”

“Yes.”

“Candace, the vet tech who showed you in here, said you used to go to Dr. Jamison over in Colton.”

Peter nodded. “Since he’s closed, I thought I’d look closer to home for another vet. And I honestly wanted to be able to talk via more than gestures and text messages. One of my students gave me your name. I teach at the school for the deaf attached to Colton University.”

Abe Yoshida smiled a little and asked with his hands, “Which student would that be? I’ve never treated an animal accompanied by a deaf child.”

“Keiko Neil.”

Abe’s eyes widened and he grinned for real this time. “You teach my niece.”

Peter smiled back because that grin was contagious and made the doctor even more handsome, if that was possible. “I can see the family resemblance,” he signed.

“Her parents are stationed in another state but they wanted her to have the best, so they sent her here. Close enough for me to check on her if necessary but also give her some independence. Is she behaving herself?”

“She’s very bright,” Peter prevaricated.

Abe raised one eyebrow. “That’s not an answer,” he pointed out silently.

Peter smirked. “She’s very spirited, but I like her.”

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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.

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New Release Blitz ~ A Mercenary to Love by Landra Graf (Excerpt & Giveaway)

A Mercenary to Love by Landra Graf

Book 4 in the Bad Boys of Space series

Word Count: 62,159
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 247

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
EROTIC ROMANCE
FUTURISTIC AND SCIENCE FICTION
SCIENCE FICTION

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Book Description

There’s only one thing she wants to steal—his heart.

When computer genius Sampson Morales’ latest security measures fail to prevent the kidnapping of an Allied Planetary Union Ambassador’s child, he has no choice but to track and save the kid himself…especially if he wants to be paid.

Zasha Gustaf believed fighting with the Humans First movement could redeem her mercenary past, but when they use her intel to kidnap an innocent, she starts to have her doubts. Running into the only man she’s ever loved and who’s on the same trail is a sign. She commits to helping Sampson stop this group from sacrificing another blameless person, but she has another motive.

Sampson and Zasha have been down this road before, except last time it led to betrayal and heartache. He can’t trust her, and her attempts at redemption are met with constant rebuke, but when everyone, even the universe, is in danger, relying on each other is the only way forward.

Is a second chance possible for either of them…or will the past repeat itself?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of child endangerment, child abandonment, violence and murder.

Excerpt

Whenever the planet Saturn had crossed Sampson’s mind, he’d always believed stepping foot on its surface would involve jail time, or at the very least a spot in front of a tribunal. That he was being welcomed with open arms there, the land of the uppers, via official invitation no less, had made sleep near impossible for the last three solar days. Now, here he traveled among sprawling homes with green grass lawns, ponds of clear water…enough splendor to rattle the nerve endings of any man who’d grown up poor, near starving and covered in filth the majority of the time.

“Pull your mouth off the ground, kid. Bugs exist here.” Lee, ex-assassin and weapon expert, whipped her long black ponytail over her shoulder as their holo-vehicle came to a stop in front of Ambassador Al Smith’s house.

“You never told me how beautiful the ambassador planet was.”

She scoffed and re-checked her belt that was normally stacked with knives lining the leather. Now only two remained. “The thing about beauty is that it comes with a price. No sense salivating over something you won’t want to pay for.”

Except, maybe I do.

Sampson had gone his whole life without much. Joining up with Smith’s crew, back when the ambassador was a lowly body collector, Sampson had earned his place. When he’d ditched the Body Collection Service and joined the crew of Gina, he’d found a family. Regardless of the gains, there still existed this gnawing need inside him for more.

“You could have something like this, bet on it. Show these pansy fools your big brain in action.” Lee nudged him on the shoulder before she hopped out of the vehicle. “Enough sitting around talking. Let’s do this.”

Sure, he probably could reach living on Saturn status. Al had. The captain of a death barge was now a parliament ambassador, a fairy-tale story like the ones his mother used to spout over their dinner of broth and stale food cubes. The possibility of living on a wealthy planet in a fancy house tempted, but he wanted another kind of freedom. Living here would only be another prison of servitude. The desire to roam space, go where he wanted when he wanted, to eat what he wanted… All those wants drove him on.

“Welcome to my home,” Al called out from the front door, all fancy robes, ginger beard tamed and his infamous nose ring a thing of the past.

Sampson gave a single nod out of respect and instinctually reached to tug on the edge of the beanie he typically wore on the ship. “Thanks for the invite.”

“Would you like a tour?” The older man’s booming voice carried across the lawn with ease.

Sampson patted down his ginger hair and glanced at Lee, whose raised eyebrow told him everything he needed to know. “Perhaps another time. This is supposed to be a business trip, and I’d like to get to work right away.”

The words rolled off Sampson’s tongue like contaminated waste in a slip drive, foreign and unwelcome. He wanted to throw caution to the wind, take a tour or enjoy a fancy lunch—which was exactly why Lee had come along, to keep him focused.

The invitation from Al had come in a solar week before and Gina, the ship’s artificial intelligence, had been eager to share with Sampson how his expertise was requested along with the possible payday involved.

Enough crinkle to bathe in, according to Gina. Their co-captains, Toni and Emilio, were busy with another gig and had graciously offered up Gina along with the remainder of the crew to escort him. More like babysit. The implication stung a bit but made sense. Gina wasn’t a cheap ship, and she’d been hijacked before. Though if he completed this job, the flash was his for the taking, and maybe…

I’ll have enough to buy Gina.

“Straighten up, kid. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by him. You’re smarter.” Lee casually whispered these words on their walk up.

The encouragement soothed his shaken soul a bit. The last time he’d encountered Al Smith, Sampson had been indentured to Al’s body collection barge with a twenty-year service tag. Al hadn’t been horrible to work for, but he’d still been in charge and not afraid to stow a young boy in a small crappy room in the underbelly of the ship.

Sampson and Lee reached the front entrance, and he took note of the pair of guards posted right inside. Business trip indeed.

“Yes, and once you get inside, we can chat. You don’t mind if the guards search you?” Al asked with a sheepish smile.

Trust doesn’t come easy anywhere in this damn galaxy. They’d been searched three times since they’d gotten off Gina’s shuttle at the landing port. No such thing as a small measure for the planet housing parliament’s ambassadors.

Lee smiled, a wicked fucking grin equal parts ‘screw you’ and ‘sure thing.’ “Do what you have to, but my knives stay. I already put away half of them. The rest is for your protection and Sampson’s. Anything happens to him, and you’ll be answering to your sister personally if I don’t get you first.”

Pride swelled in Sampson’s chest. Family. These people cared about him, though sometimes he wished they would let him run his own missions. Let me take charge. Sure, he’d been told he was in charge on this one by Emilio, but Lee still played the role of big bad sister no matter what.

Al held up his hands. “Sure thing. Just making sure no explosives and whatnot. Loyda would be pissed if I didn’t follow protocol.”

Sampson nodded in agreement, standing up straight and spreading his arms. “Then let’s wrap this and get to it. Time is flash.”

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About the Author

Landra Graf

Landra Graf consumes at least one book a day, and has always been a sucker for stories where true love conquers all. She believes in the power of the written word, and the joy such words can bring. In between spending time with her family and having book adventures, she writes romance with the goal of giving everyone, fictional or not, their own happily ever after.

You can visit Landra’s website here, find her Amazon author page here and follow her on Pinterest here.

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Landra Graf A Mercenary to Love Giveaway

LANDRA GRAF IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET AND YOUR FREE LANDRA GRAF ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 3rd August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

New Release Blitz ~ The Drumbeat of His Heart By M.C. Roth (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Drumbeat of His Heart By M.C. Roth

General Release Date: 20th July 2021

Word Count:  69,584
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 246

Genres:

CELEBRITIES
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

 

A brush with death delivers Ian into Trent’s life, but there’s more to Ian than he shares—a hidden life, a hidden career and secrets that may tear them apart.

When Trent is almost hit by a swerving Corvette, he has no idea that the driver will change his life forever.

Freezing cold and soaked, Trent pulls the strikingly attractive Ian from the wreckage. Ian is everything Trent has been looking for in a man—beautiful, sexy—and he needs a place to stay for the weekend.

Trent is out and proud, and he prays he can keep his hands to himself with the gorgeous man under his roof. But Ian is the one who follows Trent into the shower, shows him things that Trent never imagined and takes the final thread of Trent’s virginity.

After a weekend of passion, Trent finds himself falling for Ian, even though they live a country apart. But there is more to Ian than what he says. A hidden life, a hidden career and more lies than Trent can imagine.

Ian’s secrets may tear their hearts to pieces—or transform their desires into something more.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes involving drug use and homophobia. There are references to an alcohol problem, public sex and voyeurism.

Excerpt

Rain splattered against the slim fabric hood that was pulled over his head. The water leaked through the flimsy fabric and pressed into his hair, making the strands clump and drip down the back of his shirt. The sky was the colour of dusty ash left too long in the fireplace and the air was thick with ozone.

Trent shivered and pulled the hoodie closer as he tried to keep some semblance of warmth against his skin. The forecast had predicted a beautiful, sunny spring day with a temperature of twenty degrees centigrade. The sun had lasted until he’d stepped out of the office to go home after a nine-hour shift trapped behind a dusty window. He’d touched the pavement and the clouds had loomed in as a virtual monsoon opened above his head.

Walking to work was as much of a blessing as it was a curse. He had no car payments, but he was stuck walking through any storm that decided to roll in. Clouds had a habit of waiting until he left the safety of the building before they unleashed their wrath.

The cracked sidewalks were stained dark with pools of water gathering in every dip and cranny. The few buildings around him were lit up bright against the grey sky, and their signs beckoned anyone who happened to be passing by. Their brick was antique, with lines of grout that had crumbled over time. It gave them more character than the new-builds in an actual city. Their bleached Christmas lights, that were meant to be spring decorations, were charming and the most modern thing about them besides the updated espresso machine in the café.

A burst of yellow swerved along the slim street, and its tyres splashed through the puddle of a blocked storm drain. Water burst up like the landing of a flume ride and smacked against Trent. Gravel and bits of sodden leaves struck him, sticking and clinging to every light hair on his naked shins. A trail of sand curled down his forehead and dripped into his eye.

“Dammit,” he spluttered as thick mud trailed down into his mouth. The taste of tainted water and decomposition made him gag and he spat into the swirling mass around his feet that was searching for a way through the cracked sidewalk. He stopped to watch as the yellow Corvette straightened and swerved back away from the kerb where it had struck the puddle that had completely drenched him. It was a manoeuvre he might expect out of a teenager who might deliberately try to soak unsuspecting pedestrians.

Instead of pulling straight along the thin road, the Corvette kept turning as it lost control on the plane of water. It looped back to the other side of the street and directly into oncoming traffic. There was no squealing of tyres or frantic running as doom approached, only the patter of rain on his soaked hood.

A rusty feed truck, tracking towards the light in the opposite lane, cleared the Corvette by a few centimetres, blaring its horn as the car crossed its path. The yellow machine swerved again, its tyres finally catching and squealing as they threw off bits of black rubber. Trent could just make out the frantic movements of the driver through the dark, tinted windows. His stomach clenched and the hairs raised on the back of his neck as he watched the scene unfold.

Sounds gurgled together as metal struck metal. The pop of tyres burst against his eardrums, accompanied by the squeal of aluminium and the snapping of glass. The muffled thud of airbags joined the fray a second later, then a shout as the bumper of the Corvette crumpled into a parked suburban van.

Trent was moving before he’d fully registered the crash. The mud and leaves were forgotten as his hood fell back and the rain pounded against his face. One of his sandals, slick with slimy water, slipped from his foot, nearly sending him down in the middle of the road. He managed to recover, running lopsided with one foot aching as it slapped against rough pavement.

The vibrant yellow handle was slick beneath his hand as he pried at the passenger door. The cracked window blurred his view so that he could only make out the shape of a person pressed between a white air bag and a black seat. There was no movement inside, not even the frantic flailing he’d seen just before the car had crashed. The handle was locked tight, resisting every pull that he made.

Trent leapt over the hood of the car, neatly avoiding where the two vehicles were entwined in an angry embrace. The adrenalin coursing through his veins gave him the boost to make it almost all the way across before his naked calf snagged on the car’s wet surface. He fell over, narrowly managing to keep from falling to the pavement on the other side.

Despite the terrible noise that the crash had made, the hood of the Corvette had hardly any damage, except a pressed curve along one headlight that folded both the fender and the hood. Shattered glass was strewn along the road, hidden beneath the murky puddles. The suburban had been crushed where it had been struck along its broadside. It was one of the only weak points in the gas-guzzling tank.

Trent stumbled as he found his balance on the other side of the car. There was a coffee shop only a few feet away, and people were gathering at the window and pressing their curious faces against the glass. A handful of customers made it outside, shouting questions over the din of pouring rain. Phones were up, hopefully calling the police and not taking a video of his failed leap.

The pounding of his heart washed away any more sounds of the gathering crowd and their calls from behind the window. The handle of the driver’s side was slippery under his hand and it took two pulls to realize that it too was locked tight. Luckily, the window on this side was broken and scattered like a thousand glistening waterdrops. Rain poured through the gap and onto the driver, spreading across the seat and floor of the vehicle.

Trent’s gaze flickered back and forth as his senses pulled in every detail in a quick assessment. Sleek black leather was polished to a perfect finish, and the smell of sweet, smoky cologne mixed with just a hint of copper. A song was humming on the radio, dark and thick with the promise of love. In the seat was someone who made his staggered breathing come to a halt.

The man looked nearly crushed beneath the wide, white airbag that was pressed to his chest. His eyes were closed, with his head tilted back to reveal a split lip that was quickly swelling. A drop of blood smeared down his lips to a sharp chin that was shaved clean except for a few stray hairs just under his lower lip. His head was as smooth as his chin, with the dark outline of ink against his skull.

The driver fluttered open his blue eyes, dazed and staring as he gazed slowly around the inflated interior. They settled on Trent before going wide with panic.

“Are you okay?” the stranger asked him, his voice strained with his chest still tight to the airbag that was slowly starting to deflate.

“You’re asking me if I’m okay?” asked Trent. “Buddy, you were just in a car accident. Is anything broken?” There was blood on the man’s forehead, but just a small smear. He could just be concussed and confused.

The man paled until he was almost the same white as the airbags. “I lost control and almost hit you,” he said as he looked around the interior of the ruined car, apparently taking in the pierced leather and damp veneer. “I swerved, then I don’t know what happened.” He pushed at the airbag and it sprang back like a child’s bouncy castle at the local fair.

Trent reached through the broken window, trying to avoid the prickling glass that stuck up from the ruined frame. He grasped the door lock from the inside and opened it with a quick jerk.

“Can you stand? We should get you out of there,” said Trent as he pulled the door open. There was no smell of gasoline, only ozone and fresh rain, but he still expected that the car might explode at any moment. The airbag now hung like a shrivelled grape, revealing that the man was still buckled into his seat. His legs were folded, even with the spacious legroom, and his body was thick, filling every bit of available space.

“I think so.” The guy took in the gathering crowd as he finally managed to get free from the airbag. He reached for the seatbelt buckle, but his shaking hands skimmed uselessly off the button.

“Here… Let me.” Trent moved in close and hooked his hand around the belt, sliding down until he met the buckle. The scent of cologne and something else masculine filled his nose as he pressed close enough to feel the heat of the driver through his sodden clothing. His stomach flipped and his face flushed hot as he looked away from blue eyes. He felt for the little red button on the buckle and pushed hard. It was stiff in his trembling fingers and resisted his thumb.

He took a deep breath and couldn’t suppress the shudder that made its way up his spine. The man smelled so good that it was going straight to his groin and shutting down what was left of his thoughts. His body responded against his will and he became aware of the press of his peaked nipples against sodden fabric, so sensitive and ready.

A second shiver wound up through his shoulders. His hand slipped from the buckle to touch the smooth fabric of the man’s pants. It was soft and sturdy under his fingertips and looked more expensive than his entire soaked ensemble.

“You okay?” the stranger asked into his ear, so soft that it made his hair stand on end. He met blue eyes, watery and streaked with red, along with the strain of fear. It was the fear he saw that gave him the strength he was missing from his fingers.

“Just soaking wet and freezing. Sorry.” He finally found the clasp again and the man was free with a persistent push. Trent drew himself out of the car and back into the beating rain. The heat left him as he pulled back, and he shivered in earnest this time.

“Yeah, sorry about that.” The stranger grimaced and leaned forward as he grasped the yellow roof to pull himself out.

The car must’ve been sitting lower on the road than Trent had first realized. The man was absolutely massive. Trent was just under six foot himself, but he was still half a head shorter than the hulking figure. The stranger wasn’t skinny either, but thick and broad like a football player who still had his pads on. Trent couldn’t believe he’d managed to fit into such a fancy vehicle at all.

“I called the cops. They should be here soon,” called one of the onlookers who had managed to wiggle in closer. Trent turned to the voice, giving her a nod of thanks when he recognized her as a local.

The stranger cursed as he looked back at his car. “This is why I shouldn’t get new cars,” he said with a shake of his head. He smoothed his hand over the hood, down to the crinkled corner that now looked more like an accordion than a fender. There was nothing of the headlight left except for a shell of plastic lined with metal and a shattered bulb.

“I really don’t know anything about cars, but it doesn’t look as bad as it sounded,” said Trent as he followed him to look at the damage. Bits of glass dug into his bare foot as he made his way around. He glanced down to find his sandal floating just a few meters away, slowly making its way down the road in the streaming puddles. After he scooped it up, he slid it back onto his bruised foot.

“You’re really lucky, though. I thought that feed truck was going to cream you,” said Trent. Other than the dented corner, broken windows and smashed headlight, the car was in good condition. The SUV looked okay too, with just a hefty chunk out of the side.

“Is that what that was?” the stranger asked as he looked back along the road. The feed truck had pulled over to idle on the side of the road just before the light. The driver was already making their way back towards the Corvette.

“Shit.” The stranger glared at the approaching driver. The man was short and round with a coat that was much too thick for the weather. The colour of his jacket ran dark from the rain.

“Everybody okay? I can’t stop that quick with that old truck. New brakes, but the tyres are shit.” The driver stepped closer. There was the underlying scent of wet cigarettes clinging to his clothes and his meagre hair was flecked with bits of unidentifiable soggy fluff.

“We’re all good,” said Trent. He looked at the Corvette driver, expecting a reply, but the man was silent. His hands were clenched into fists behind his back and he had drawn up to his full towering height.

“Okay, well, I’ll take off then if everyone is fine. I’m already behind as it is.” The driver took a step back as he looked between the two. Trent offered a weak smile before taking a half-step towards the group of gathering people.

“Yep, no problem. Thanks for stopping,” said Trent as the driver turned away. He looked up to the man who was still bristling beside him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

The stranger deflated and turned to Trent with a grimace. “Yeah. I was expecting a fight.”

“What? Why would he want to fight?” Trent looked around in confusion, then back to the retreating truck driver. He hadn’t seemed threatening in the least. The stranger shrugged.

“Some of the places I’ve been, there’s usually a fight when something like this goes down.” He smoothed his hand back down the car and frowned again at the crushed light. He was completely drenched now, with every inch of black fabric clinging to his chest and biceps as if he were wearing nothing at all. Trent forced his eyes away from the clinging cloth.

“You aren’t from around here then, I guess. Small town folks don’t really care much for a fight unless they’re getting paid for it.” Trent looked to the license plate, noticing the strange image and lettering for the first time. “Wow, you really aren’t from around here. Did you drive the whole way?”

“Three of the best days of my life,” the man said with a smile. “Name’s Ian. Thanks for your help, man. I appreciate it.”

“Trent,” he replied as he grasped the outstretched palm. Ian’s hand felt so warm against Trent’s, which was slippery from a mix of rain and a sheen of sweat. He was sure that his face was beaming red, hopefully hidden by the downpour.

“I’ll stick around until the cops show up, just in case they ask any questions,” said Trent. He leaned back against the side of the suburban and winced as his freezing shirt pressed against the only remaining warm spot on his back.

“Do you know any place I can get this baby fixed up?” asked Ian. “She’s a custom, so I usually wouldn’t let just anybody work on her, but I’m a bit out of my area here.” Blue eyes glanced around and his lips pulled into a frown at the sight of the meagre buildings, looking from the cracked grout to the crumbling brick.

“There is an auto shop about one block that way.” Trent pointed to the other side of the street. “It’s after six o’clock now, though, and I don’t think they’re open again until tomorrow.”

“Shit.” Ian cursed and kicked the thin rubber tyre. “Any hotels then? I don’t exactly know anyone around here either.”

“Uh no, no hotels. No taxis either,” Trent added. He crossed his arms and stuck his freezing hands under his armpits.

“I could just call a ride share.” Ian reached back into the car to withdraw his phone from where it was stashed in the centre console. Trent risked a quick peek—just a peek—as the man bent over from the waist. His pants had started to cling as they soaked through as well, and they left very little to the imagination. Trent bit back the noise that tried to escape and forced his gaze away.

“Yeah, good luck with that,” said Trent after quietly clearing his throat. “Welcome to the middle of nowhere. This coffee shop”—he pointed at the glass window that had mostly emptied of its patrons since the bustle had died down—“is the best one for fifty kilometres. I can say that because it’s the only one within fifty kilometres.”

Ian groaned and sank down along the side of the car until he was hunched on the kerb. “I think I took a wrong turn about two hours ago. I was supposed to be checking into the Marriott tonight.”

Trent couldn’t honestly think of the closest hotel that wasn’t a small operation instead of a chain. Even they were few and far between. Most were closed until the summer began to ramp up.

Ian looked utterly defeated, and it was pulling at Trent’s heart strings uncomfortably. His car was trashed, his body was bruised and his lip was still dribbling slow drops of blood. Ian’s eyes closed and he leaned back against the car, thunking his head into the side.

Trent shifted from foot to foot before shoving his hands deep into his pockets. He could hear his mother’s voice in his ear, telling him to make the situation right.

“You can stay with me for the night if you want,” said Trent with a shrug as he tried to downplay how much he liked the idea. The eye candy alone could last him for a decade. Christ, he would have to give Ian some of his pyjamas. That ass inside of a pair of too-small track pants would be drool-worthy.

Trent shook his head and tried to clear the image from his mind before it could spiral out of control. “I’m just a few blocks away. It’s only a one bedroom, but I can pull out the old air mattress.” He would happily sleep on the air mattress and give up his bed to Ian. Christ.

“You don’t have to do that. I mean, I almost hit you with my car,” said Ian as he stared at Trent like he had sprouted a few extra limbs.

“But you didn’t, and it’s kind of my fault that you hit the suburban.” Oh God, he sounded eager…way too fucking eager.

“That’s a bit of a stretch,” said Ian. His eyebrows couldn’t get any higher at this point, and he had started to lean back with a touch of caution.

Trent shrugged, glancing away and trying to play it off as much as possible. “It’s up to you.” He sighed as he had the strangest craving for a cigarette. Stress and excitement did strange things to him, especially brief grazes with his mortality. He hadn’t smoked since a one-week stint as a teenager. Every once in a while the need struck when the situation called for it.

“You know what? Sure. I’ll take you up on that.” Ian nodded.

Trent couldn’t stop the smile that went wider as Ian smiled back. That simple gesture made the man’s face light up in a way that went straight to his eyes. What was Trent thinking? A sexy hunk of a man in his house for the night? He’d never be able to keep his hands to himself. Well, he would, because consent was sexy, but it would be the hardest night of his life…literally.

“I’m gay though,” said Trent. He blushed as soon as the words left his mouth. “If that’s a problem, no big deal. I just don’t want you to feel awkward.”

Trent saw the sudden blanch, even as Ian tried to hide it, and it made his gut clench. Trent was out and proud of it, but every so often someone had a reaction to the news. Most people didn’t care, but a select few did. Those few always managed to get under his skin and keep him awake at night.

“You don’t have to stay with me. I’m sure you can find other arrangements,” said Trent, backpedalling quickly to avoid any sort of awkward confrontation.

“No, sorry… I didn’t mean…” Ian trailed off as he pushed himself off the kerb. “You just surprised me, that’s all. Most places, you don’t really say that to a stranger.”

Trent opened his mouth, not really sure what he was going to say. Where the hell had this guy been where he fought random truckers and people had to hide six feet into the closet? He couldn’t judge too harshly, though. The population of his tiny town was miniscule, and there were four churches smashed into it. Up until twenty years ago, no one would’ve announced it here either.

His thoughts were cut off by a piercing flash of lights as a police cruiser came around the corner and headed their way. He held out his hand to help Ian the rest of the way to his feet. The contact sent a wave of heat up his arm and under his jacket.

He bit back a sigh and turned to greet the officer.

I am so screwed.

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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.

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M.C. Roth The Drumbeat of His Heart Giveaway

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New Release Blitz ~ These Small Hours By Gloria Herrmann (Excerpt & Giveaway)

These Small Hours By Gloria Herrmann

General Release Date: 20th July 2021

Word Count: 86,701
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 322

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
CRIME
CRIME AND MYSTERY
EROTIC ROMANCE
MYSTERY
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

 

Keep writing…or die trying.

Charlene Vanderberg is a bestselling author whose world is turned upside as she experiences writer’s block for the first time. She now faces a deadline to redeem her career after her last book, a sappy romance, flopped. Charley had only wanted to try her hand at a different genre, one with a little less murder and mayhem, but had ended up creating some disgruntled fans. That’s when the words disappeared, and Charley found herself unable to write a single sentence.

After being plagued with crippling writer’s block for months and about to hang up the towel, Charley’s agent Pamela has convinced her that a change of scenery would help get her creative juices flowing again. She sends Charley off to a cozy lake resort and has enlisted some protection for her in the person of Nick Capra, a detective who is running from his own demons, has no desire to babysit the famous author but finds himself unable to stop developing feelings for his charge.

Famous for writing chilling tales, Charley isn’t prepared for the nightmare in store for her. The sleepy lake community where nothing bad ever happens begins to see a string of grisly murders. Charley discovers these murders were meant to inspire her to write her next novel. A copycat killer is reenacting scenes from her bestsellers. No one is safe from this killer—not even Charley.

Reader advisory: This book contains incidents of alcohol use, violence and murder.

Excerpt

“You can’t possibly be serious?”

“I am, and it will be good for you. I promise. You need to trust me on this.”

Charley—also known as Charlene Vanderberg, a bestselling author—was currently experiencing writer’s block for the first time. The words were there, locked somewhere in her mind and refusing to come out when she sat down every night to free them. Nothing. Just a blank page staring back at her, taunting Charley with the blinking cursor of where words should form. It had been months since Charley had written anything that hadn’t ended up on the wrong side of the delete button. At this rate, she feared there might never be words again.

“It’s the perfect solution,” Pamela beseeched.

Her agent was a force of nature and had the manipulative power of getting her way. That’s why Charley had agreed to sign on with Pamela Mansfield once her second manuscript had been complete. Charley had needed someone fierce to land her a book deal and steer her career in the right direction. Rejection letters didn’t help her fragile writer’s ego, and it was challenging enough to be recognized by any publisher without an agent. That’s why she needed one like Pamela. That woman knew her way around the publishing world and had seen something in Charley.

Her advice and encouragement had pushed Charley and ultimately launched her into the success she was now enjoying. Over the years, they had become good friends, almost like family. Charley had learned a great deal from this tiny woman who was set on building a brand and empire with the clients she represented. Pamela only worked with the best, most talented people in the industry, and Charley still couldn’t believe she was among them. She didn’t want to disappoint Pamela and worried that if those words didn’t start making an appearance soon, there would be some ugly consequences. They both had reputations to uphold.

Charley eyed Pamela curiously from across the table, half-hoping to break her agent’s resolve. It wasn’t going to happen, and they both knew that. The unwavering but tender stare as Pamela held her ground on what a great idea this was showed Charley that it truly was in her best interest.

“So, you honestly think by shipping me off to some lake resort in the middle of nowhere, I’ll really get this book done? That magically all of my creative juices will start to flow again because you’ve got me locked up in some hillbilly cabin?” Charley scoffed. “Sounds like all the makings of a Stephen King novel, and we both know how those go,” Charley teased as she poked her straw at a bobbing ice cube in her sweaty glass of water.

“Not just any cabin, Charley. My nephew owns the cutest little resort in Crescent Lake. The best part is that it’s only a few hours from here. Just imagine, all these quaint cabins around that gorgeous lake. Besides, you know very well that you give Stephen King a run for his money.” Pamela winked and turned her attention to the plate in front of her. “I thought nature was sort of your thing? Aren’t you some kind of country girl?” Pamela countered playfully as she stabbed her colorful salad of varied bright leaves and vegetables.

“It was. I mean, I like it well enough, but I’m hardly a country girl,” she answered with a touch of sophisticated sass.

“That’s right. You’re a famous writer now and living in your fabulous apartment with a perfect view of the Seattle skyline.” Pamela smirked with her fork to her lips. “Too good for the great outdoors?”

“What I meant was that I haven’t done anything remotely outdoorsy for years.”

“Then you’re long overdue.”

“I just don’t see how it will help.” Charley shook her head and looked away. The restaurant with its elegant lighting and décor was filled with patrons all sipping wine and dining on extravagant dishes. Her writing had afforded her this lifestyle. Maybe I’m a little out of touch. The years of success and landing movie deals had pampered her with opportunities she’d never dreamed possible, especially for a girl who’d grown up on a rural farm town in the middle of Washington. She gazed back and saw a peculiar flicker in Pamela’s hazel eyes.

“What?”

Pamela squirmed ever so slightly in her seat and bit her mauve-painted bottom lip. All the playfulness abandoned her face and was quickly replaced with something else. Charley studied her and tried to figure out exactly what it was. She could sense her agent’s nervous energy.

“They want that book before fall,” Pamela stated bluntly as she gently placed her fork down.

“And if they don’t get it by then?” Charley asked. Her belly began to do anxiety-induced flip-flops. So many what ifs ran through her mind that her sense of reason started to trip over them.

She clasped her hands together in prayer form. Pamela exhaled but kept her eyes locked on Charley. Through a forced smile, she calmly replied, “Let’s just focus on getting this book done.”

“Nothing like a little pressure to add to my already-growing problem.” Charley nibbled on a dry piece of skin on her bottom lip.

“You need a change of scenery and a little quiet inspiration then that ridiculous writer’s block will be gone. Every author goes through this at some point,” Pamela reassured Charley but nervously twirled a strand of her chestnut hair between her fingers. “I’ve had clients who’ve been down this road before.”

“I haven’t ever had this problem,” Charley confessed in a near whisper. “I’ve never had an issue with writing—like…ever, Pamela.” Charley’s heart beat a little faster with a sudden pang of anxiety. “The stories always kept coming, the characters made their demands well known and now poof, they’re gone. Writing is what I do—what I did.” As the words left her mouth, Charley realized the severity of her problem. If she didn’t pull it together and find a way to get her writing mojo back, Charley didn’t know what would become of her career. By the look on her agent’s face, it definitely wasn’t good. “Fine… I’ll go to your nephew’s little resort.” Charley defiantly speared the lemon wedge that rested on her perfectly cooked salmon. She no longer had an appetite as her brain developed images of her impending failure. She could lose it all—her swanky apartment, ridiculously expensive SUV and her famous name. It could all be gone.

Pamela smiled. “Don’t worry. We’ll get this book done and you’ll be back on top again. Everyone wins.”

Charley hoped Pamela was right.

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About the Author

Gloria Herrmann

Gloria Herrmann is a contemporary romance author originally from California but now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family and pug Rizzo. Her stories are a reflection of the love she has for family, friends, and real-life moments.

You can follow Gloria on Instagram here

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Gloria Herrmann These Small Hours Giveaway

GLORIA HERRMANN IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GET AND YOUR FREE GLORIA HERRMANN ROMANCE BOOK! Notice Notice: This competition ends on 3rd August 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz: Rules of Play by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Rules of Play

Series: The Script Club #2

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Release Date: July 16, 2021

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 53K

Genre: Romance, Brother’s Best Friend, Geek/Jock, Friends to Lovers, Bisexual-awakening, Contemporary MM Romance

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Synopsis

The genius, the mechanic, and a new playbook…

George-

My brother’s friend is hot. If you’re into flannel-wearing lumbersexual former jocks who eat donuts for dinner and still scribble to-do lists on their palms. I’m not. I’m a serious scientist in my final of grad school. Okay, I admit I have few quirks of my own. I also have a broken truck and a boss who thinks I can help him find love. I’m in over my head. Help!

Aiden-

A few quirks? Really? George the weirdest dude I know. He wears capes in public, brings a book everywhere he goes, and loves all thing spooky. He’s also the smartest person on the planet—who somehow thinks I can help him write a How-To-Get-A-Date playbook for his boss. Yeah, that sounds suspicious. I know baseball; I don’t know anything about love. But I can’t say no. I’ve always had a soft spot for George. I just didn’t count on falling for my best friend’s nerdy brother. This is against the rules, isn’t it?

Rules of Play is an MM bisexual awakening story where opposites attract and shenanigans ensue!

Excerpt

“The Script Club?”

I grimaced. “Well, yeah. That name came later.”

“You really are a little weirdo, aren’t you?”

The twinkle in Aiden’s eyes and his affectionate tone paired with an unlikely term of endearment were exactly what I needed to pull me from my infatuation-induced awkwardness.

I smacked his biceps playfully, then leaned against his side, staring up at the crescent moon in the twilight sky. “I am weird and I am proud.”

Aiden chuckled. “I like that about you. I like your idea too. It’s a good one. I should get in on that and collect a few new experiences before I quit the garage and move on to my next venture.”

“What would you do? I mean, what would you want to try?”

“I don’t know. Maybe something will come to me.” He set the half-eaten container of meatballs down and reached for his beer. “As for your boss…he needs a rule book.”

I shifted to face him. “What kind of rule book?”

“A dating rule book. It would be the equivalent of a sports playbook…a list of strategies and a backup plan if things go awry.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Step one, ask for a date.”

Aiden shook his head. “No. Don’t go in hot. Gotta practice a little finesse. It’s better to get to know someone—ask about their interests, share yours, and see if there’s anything there. Theoretically, that’s how I think it should work.”

“You’re right. They have to build a rapport.” I squinted. “He’s going to need an icebreaker.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Hit me with your best shot.”

“Uh…what do you mean?” I stammered.

“Pretend you’re into me and you want to get to know me.” Aiden quirked a brow and wiggled his fingers. “Ask me something.”

“What are your interests?”

He made an obnoxious buzzer noise and rolled his eyes. “Wrong. That’s a date question. A lame one, too. Would you really walk up to someone and ask them what they’re into?”

“No, of course not.”

“Redo. You’re trying to get to know me, but you can’t be too forward, and you can’t make assumptions. Got it?” He waited for my nod of agreement and continued. “Pretend we’re standing at the coffee machine at work on a Monday morning. And…action.”

“O-kay…what did you do last weekend?”

Aiden smiled. “Good one. And my answer…not much. I went to that college ball game I told you about last week, watched a lot of basketball, made arrangements to schlep your Bronco here, and played pool with Kenny and a couple of high school buddies. You?”

“I studied and hung out with my friends.”

He stared at me long enough for me to wonder if I had meatball between my teeth.

“If that’s all you have to say, you just killed this conversation,” he deadpanned.

I chuckled. “I did not. It was your turn to ask <em>me</em> something. That’s how it works in real life. I’m not that big of a dork!”

“But what about your boss?”

Good point. “Newton is a big dork. Very big.”

“Right, so this is where rules come into play. You have to pay attention and take hints and clues to heart. Almost everything I mentioned about my weekend had a theme…sports. I told you what I’m interested in without announcing, ‘I like sports.’ If you really wanted to get in my pants, you’d ask me a sports-related question.”

I shot to my feet, whirling my cape like a true badass. “Who said anything about getting in your pants?”

Yes, I was entirely in favor of the idea, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t said it aloud.

“Isn’t that the end game?” Aiden flashed a devilish grin my way.

“No! I mean, maybe for you, but not for Newton. I don’t think he’s hoping for sex.”

“Then what’s the point?”

“Love!”

Aiden widened his eyes comically. “What’s that?”

“I don’t know,” I sighed in defeat, reclaiming my spot on the stoop next to him. “That’s why this is complicated.”

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Meet the Author

Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, and 2018-2019 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.

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Did you miss book 1 in the series?  Get Following the Rules at Amazon

The geek, the jock, and a new set of rules…

Also available in Audio

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New Release Blitz: Foxfire in the Snow by J.S. Fields (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Foxfire in the Snow

Series: The Alchemical Duology, Book One

Author: J.S. Fields

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 07/19/2021

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: F/NB

Length: 88800

Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, fantasy, dark fantasy, nonbinary, lesfic, science magic, magic users, witches, sword and sorcery, long-time friendship, family drama

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Description

Woodcutter or witch? Alchemist or scientist? Can Sorin’s duality save their nation?

Born the heir of a master woodcutter in a queendom defined by guilds and matrilineal inheritance, nonbinary Sorin can’t quite seem to find their place. At seventeen, an opportunity to attend an alchemical guild fair and secure an apprenticeship with the queen’s alchemist is just within reach. But on the day of the fair, Sorin’s mother goes missing, along with the Queen and hundreds of guild masters, forcing Sorin into a woodcutting inheritance they never wanted.

With guild legacy at stake, Sorin puts apprentice dreams on hold to embark on a journey with the royal daughter to find their mothers and stop the hemorrhaging of guild masters. Princess Magda, an estranged childhood friend, tests Sorin’s patience—and boundaries. But it’s not just a princess that stands between Sorin and their goals. To save the country of Sorpsi, Sorin must define their place between magic and alchemy or risk losing Sorpsi to rising industrialization and a dark magic that will destroy Sorin’s chance to choose their own future.

Excerpt

Foxfire in the Snow
J.S. Fields © 2021
All Rights Reserved

One: Fire
Steam twirled from the bones in my cauldron. The heavy smell of their marrow sagged in the air. Gods, I hated the smell of the solvent, but it would be worth it once the bone oil evaporated, taking that horrible dead fish smell with it and leaving behind the final, extracted compound. I’d never get the smell out of the woodwork, but at this point, I didn’t care. Mother was weeks late returning home. Again. She could yell at me when I returned. If I returned.

I coughed into the steam as it curled through my lungs. I needed fresh air, and soon, or I’d end up facedown on the hemlock floor I’d hewn and laid myself in my thirteenth year. A knot curled inside me, and I swallowed bile and frustration. Fine. I’d be done with distillation for the day, but I still needed to perform a fungal extraction with the solvent to impress Master Rahad at the fair tomorrow. I’d been aiming to attend the alchemical guild fair since I turned twelve—the year I should have declared a guild and begun my apprenticeship. I’d never made it. Each year, Mother found another marquetry to work, another finish to make, another tool to sharpen. This year, I was seventeen. I’d barely left this forest, this house, in five years. This year, the queen’s master alchemist had a position open and wanted someone with fungal expertise.

Someone like me.

This year, I was going.

I removed the thin olive branch from my collection basket that would earn me my apprenticeship, despite my older age and guild lineage. The branch shone mottled blue green, almost a lime color in patches, with a blue as dark as evening sky in others. Along a four-centimeter band sprouted cup-shaped fungal fruiting forms, tiny enough to be overlooked by untrained eyes. With a pair of tweezers, I plucked the blue-green cups from the branch and dropped them into a second pot of the very combustible bone oil distillate. The smell of dead fish rose up and stung my eyes, but I couldn’t look away.

As each cup sank, the color seeped from them into the solvent and expanded outward in concentric rings. The pigment slowly dropped down until the liquid looked like the deep blue of Thuja’s lake. I held my breath as the fruits bubbled back to the surface. The first turned white, the second turned white, and the third and fourth—white as well. I waited, still hardly daring to breathe. One minute, then two. Please…

The solution’s color remained stable.

I dropped my head back and exhaled at the ceiling. The trickiest part was over, and if the solution set well, it would be ready by morning. Success! I carried the extract to the windowsill, opened the pane, and began the evaporation process. Tomorrow…tomorrow would be a wonderful day. A defining day. Tomorrow, I would leave the woodcutting guild and finally, finally, get to be an alchemist! A guilded alchemist! I would not spend the rest of my life bound to this wooden house, with its wooden tools, stuck within this simplistic, wooden trade any longer.

Three loud raps sounded on the front door. Visitors? At this hour? They were in for a rude surprise, the idiots. If they were here for me, it was because the villagers had a clear misunderstanding of what alchemy entailed. I had no potions to offer them. Cauldrons and a stinking house didn’t put me in the witch guild, despite the villagers’ insistence to the contrary, and even if I had been a witch, I still would not have been party to their foolish fascination with magic.

However, if the visitors were here for Mother and her marquetry business, they’d leave disappointed. She had neglected to finish several large commissions before her abrupt departure. Contracts were coming due that I would not fulfill, and her clients didn’t tolerated delays well. Mother took these walkabouts yearly, but she usually returned before the fair. This time, she was overdue.

I pulled at the door handle and lifted, and the thick wood glided open. A breeze came in first and blew mist right in my face. Behind the damp stood two men, squinting at me from the doorstep. They were Queensguard, both of them, dressed in the signature fitted red cloaks, though the waterproofing layers had worn off some hours ago. Both were mud-covered and had sodden pants and boots. They were sloppy, for Queensguard, and they were overdue. Mother had finished the queen’s commissioned piece just before she left, and it had yet to be collected.

The taller guard moved to step into the house, flipping a layer of long, wet hair over his shoulder with a splat. The smell must have hit him right then, as he stepped back into his partner and kept going for three steps. The shorter guard stumbled into Mother’s blackberry bush and had to rip himself free of the thorns. The taller sneezed, then spat, and then sneezed again.

For Queensguard, I was decidedly unimpressed.

“What sort of witchery is that!?” he demanded, coming no closer. “Where’s the woodcutter?”

I frowned and crossed my arms, careful not to crush any of the pouches of fungal pigment that dangled from my leather bandolier.

“No witchery,” I responded coolly. “I made bone oil. I discovered it. It’s a type of alchemy. I’m not guilded yet, but I have a trader’s permit.” Which I did, in the back room, but I’d be hard-pressed to find it under all of Mother’s unsharpened tools.

The tall one glared and rubbed at his nose.

The short guard stepped to the doorframe, bit back a grimace, and tried to restart the conversation. “Apologies for the hour. We’re looking for—”

“She’s not here.” I cut him off, hoping to forestall awkward questions I couldn’t answer. “She left under the last full moon, for professional obligations. It is unknown when she will return. I apologize.”

“Are you her daughter then?” the short one asked.

My stomach twisted. I was no one’s daughter, and that word would stick in my chest for days. It would squirm there, under bindings and layers of clothes, and make me second-guess myself at the fair with every introduction and every awkward stare at my body. In that moment, I hated them, these two men, so sure of their position despite the mud and the hour. Daughter. No. I had never been one and had no intention of starting now.

“Sorin the…”

“The alchemist,” I finished for him.

“I am her heir,” I said through gritted teeth when neither responded. “I have the queen’s last commission. Will you be taking it tonight?”

The men exchanged a glance, but neither answered. The second man sneezed, sending a spray of water across the threshold. I rubbed my palm on my forehead. If they were going to get the house dirty just by being outside, it made no sense for them to stay there. Bones were one thing; mud was just unprofessional. I stepped back and gestured to the small brown oak dining table—the one with the white streak down it where I’d first discovered what the refined, clear parts of bone oil could do to fungal pigments—and grabbed my cloak from the wall.

“Sit,” I said as I fastened the oblong buttons at the neck of the cloak. The men moved in with heavy steps, which grew increasingly hesitant as the fish smell concentrated. They sat and stared at me with disgusted, pained expressions as mud dripped from their boots onto that stupid handmade floor. I’d have to refinish it now.

I didn’t bother speaking again.

Daughter.

Let them sit in the bone oil stink, pooled in their own mud. I turned and left the house, heading to Mother’s woodshop. My feet crunched along the woodchip path, the ground cover damp but still springy. I tried to let the smells of the forest—especially the earthen smell of fungal decay—take my mind away from the word I so hated.

The men had parked their cart, and their ox, near the door to the longhouse Mother used for her shop, but I could still maneuver around it. The sun had already set, but moonlight streaked through the needled canopy of conifers and across my path. Ten short steps brought me to the double doors made from cedar plank. I stripped the padlock from the right door, the one that had been fastened since Mother’s departure, and entered.

I’d not been inside the shop for a month, and the smell of cedar and wood rot reminded me why. Here were my mother’s heart and legacy, as her father’s before her, and her grandmother’s before that. The whole place felt tattered and used and smelled worse than the bone oil.

In the back, near an old leather chair, was where her mother had been born some eighty years ago. To my right, just in front of a treadle lathe, was where my grandfather had died.

Mother had birthed her children here too—myself and the son she gave to another guild for an apprenticeship, and taken none of their children in return.

The whole building was familiar, like an old wool blanket, but scratchy just the same. This was a legacy of guild woodcutting, and the queen’s mandate of matrilineal inheritance, and I didn’t belong here. A woodcutter was not who I was, a daughter was not who I was, and while the former hurt less than the latter, both made me want to pull at my skin and scream.

Mercifully, the commissioned panel was right where I had last seen it. It was complete, save for a finish. An oilcloth lay on the floor near the door, already coated with paraffin. I picked it up and draped it over the panel, taking one last look at the cut veneer so expertly placed and dyed in the shape of a parrot on a branch.

The parrot’s feathers and the leaves of the branch were blue green. That was my contribution. There were no pigments, natural or otherwise, that could make that color save the elf’s cup fungus. The queen’s order had specified a parrot, in real colors.

She’d asked the impossible of my mother: we had delivered. I had delivered. Pigmenting fungi and their use in woodcraft was a trade secret of the woodcutter’s guild, but the ability to take those pigments from the wood and use them for other purposes—the solvent that entailed—that was mine alone.

With the cloth wrapped around the panel, I hauled the piece back to the house and propped it against the door. The Queensguard had tried to close it, but it had snagged halfway when the bottom of the door caught the ground below. The wood had swelled, as in any wet season, a common problem in the temperate rainforests of Thuja as well as the tropical ones of Sorpsi’s capital. Yet, they’d not even reasoned through simply lifting the door up as they pulled it closed. What was wrong with these men? Queensguard should have been much better educated than this. They should have known about the door, and the forest, and how to address me. Trekking from the village of Thuja to Mother’s house, at night, in the forest mist could addle anyone’s mind, but these two… I wiped mist from my nose and frowned. They weren’t quite right, and I didn’t care for that feeling in my own home, with no one else about. Giving them the panel was the quickest way to get them to leave.

I pushed the door back open, lifting as I did so, and propped the panel against it so it couldn’t swing shut again. The cool, damp air would help fumigate the house and would keep the bone oil from combusting as it dried.

“It’s here and ready.” I pulled enough of the cloth off so the two guards could see the detailed work underneath. It was best to get them on their way, whomever they were. Mother could chase the panel down later if needed. I was done with babysitting her business and hiding away in her house—hiding from the Thujan villagers, hiding from the capital city, hiding from my life.

The Queensguard, however, no longer seemed interested in the panel or me. The idiots had reached into the extract and removed my bones. They’d pieced parts of a skeleton back together—a primate, of course. Two small hands, a foot, and half the skull were laid out across the floor as if alive. The smaller guard, hunched over his bone puzzle with his comrade, had shoved his hands into the bone oil and now had the puffed cheeks and grayness of one about to vomit.

“That’s none of your business,” I grumbled. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mess my floor.”

Gods, why did people have to be so nosy?

“Smells of fish, but these are no fish bones,” the shorter guard said. He held up a piece of a hand and bobbed on his haunches as he turned to look at me. “Explain.”

“It’s a monkey,” I said flatly.

“Which you used for your witchcraft?” said the other as he, too, turned around. “Expansive knowledge here, of magic. This dwelling isn’t licensed for that type of activity, and you don’t bear the witch guild mark.” His tone was more curious than accusatory, but I didn’t care.

“I’m currently a trade alchemist,” I repeated again, as if talking to a particularly stupid villager. “Which we are licensed for because, otherwise, we couldn’t protect any of the wood. How do you think wood finishes are made?” When the guards continued with their stares, I looked to the ceiling and grunted. “Just take the panel. Go. Don’t get it too wet, and make sure the court carpenter lets it sit for a few weeks before coating it. If you really want paperwork, I can have a copy of the permit for trade work delivered to the Queensguard hall tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so.” The guards stood and kicked at the bone pile. Neither one had looked at the panel yet. The hair on my arms rose. That was a fourteen-hundred-stone commission, lying against the door, open to the elements! That was more than the entire town of Thuja made in one year.

They hadn’t come from the palace; that was now abundantly clear.

I took a step toward the door, making sure to keep my growing unease from showing on my face. Knife in the boot, I reminded myself, for I’d been out foraging this morning and had not yet removed it. People aren’t so different than monkeys. Of course, I had never killed any of the animals I used for bone oil, but then again, none of them had ever called me a daughter either.

“What guild did you say you belonged to?” the tall one asked as he eyed my throat. I brought my hands up to cover the unadorned skin and flushed with embarrassment. I didn’t need a reminder of my failure to declare to my Mother’s guild, or any other, for that matter.

“I’m unguilded,” I muttered, unable to meet the man’s eyes. Anyone could be a trader, but to join a guild you had to first be an apprentice, and I had no formal education. “Since you’re not Queensguard, why are you here?” And why pretend, especially if you’re not going to steal the panel?

The man snorted. “The grandmaster of witchcraft asked to meet with the master woodcutter. I don’t want to return empty-handed, so our girl alchemist might make a reasonable substitute, guilded or not.”

I dropped my hands to my sides and raked my fingernails over my pants. There shouldn’t have been a grandmaster of witchcraft because the unbound guilds—witches and alchemists—weren’t beholden to any of the three countries and therefore couldn’t set up a guildhall. But that didn’t matter right now because my skin was too tight, all of a sudden. I gripped fistfuls of cloth to steady myself, to keep my hands busy so they wouldn’t find the skin of my arms. I snarled at the men, though tears collected in my eyes. Girl. Daughter. They burned as deeply as the smell of the bone oil. As interesting as the grandmaster of witchcraft might be, I didn’t care anymore about anything these men had to say.

“Get out,” I hissed. I marched to the door; I would throw them out if I had to. But the shorter guard grabbed me by the wrist before I reached the threshold.

“No!” I pulled back, turning to slap him, and just as I spun around, he let go.

Laughter chased after me as I stumbled and caught my ankle on the doorjamb. My equilibrium was off from the bone oil fumes, and I hit the ground, elbow first. Now I too was slicked with mud and wet wood shavings, which kept my feet from finding purchase as I tried to stand and face the demeaning laughter. The tears I was determined not to shed burned my eyes.

Before I could get my feet under me, thick fingers dug into my arms and I was hauled up and dragged forward. Their hands were wide, and their arms much stronger than my own, and when I pulled, their grips tightened. The mist was thick in my mouth as I sucked in gasps of air, trying to kick or somehow injure the men who held me.

“I’m not worth anything. The only thing of value is that panel!” I yelled.

“A master woodcutter would be worth more than a confused imitation,” the taller one said. “We’ll work with what we have.”

“I am not a woodcutter!”

We were at the cart now, and when the shorter man reached past my head to grab a rope that hung over the side, I bit his hand, separating flesh. The not-guard screamed and dropped my right arm. Blood splattered across my front as he flailed. The tall one tried to grab my wrist, but I fell to my knees, grabbed him between the legs, twisted, and pulled.

He collapsed, howling, and I skittered back toward the house.

“Leave!” I screamed at them. These things weren’t supposed to happen at Mother’s house. Wasn’t that why I was always here—to avoid this? What was the point of giving up apprenticeships, friendships, if I was going to be accosted in my own home?

The tall one gasped and grabbed me by the front of my shirt just before I cleared the cart. I wrapped my fingers around his and tried to pull free, but he slapped me across the face and, for a moment, I couldn’t see. I babbled instead.

“I have money,” I said. “In the house. I have wood species from across the world worth double their weight in stones.” I have solvents I could melt you with if you’d just come back inside.

“We will have Amada the master woodcutter,” the short one said with a gap-toothed grin. “She’ll come for you, if nothing else, seeing as how well she’s kept you to herself all these years.” He grabbed my legs and, with the taller one, dumped me into the cart. The taller man secured my ankles to iron weights anchored to the cart bed, punched me in the stomach, and left me to lie, staring dumbly at the canopy overhead as he went to assist his partner. Mother would come for me, certainly, but it was the other part of the man’s words that clouded my thoughts.

The cart began to move, jostling over the uneven forest floor. As I tried to regain my breath, my mind jumped, irrationally, back to the house.

“You forgot the panel!” I wheezed over the noise of the grunting ox and snapping branches. To leave it seemed like a stupid waste, even if they had no interest in it themselves. It’d taken us two years to make that thing, Mother and I. Someone should have it, even if just ignorant kidnappers. It was worth more than my life, certainly. I had no guild mark, no formal apprenticeship, no friends to come looking for me, and an undocumented journey-woodcutter was worth only as much as their master was willing to pay. They were going to be very disgruntled when Mother did not appear. And if they found her…gods, if they found her… What did witches want with a woodcutter?

I had my breath back, so I sat up and leaned over the side of the cart. Even with the moonlight, it was too dark to see more than outlines, but I could just make out the taller one breaking away and moving back toward Mother’s house.

Panic gave way to puzzlement as he entered. Had they changed their minds about the panel? I squinted into the night. Was he moving the panel then, or going past it? I’d not yet lit any oil lamps for fear of combustion during the extraction, and so the spark from the guard’s flint burned my eyes. Something caught in the guard’s hand—perhaps a ribbon of paper or a sheet of Mother’s veneer. Whatever it was, the man tossed it inside the house.

“No!”

I screamed it, I think. My throat hurt, either way. The guard jogged back to the cart, and I screamed again, nonsensically. The idiot. The absolute uneducated toadstool. If he didn’t quicken his pace, if we didn’t—

Mother’s house exploded.

Purchase at NineStar Press

Meet the Author

J.S. Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. They enjoy roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and always up for a Twitter chat.

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