New Release Blitz ~ Feral Woods by M.C. Roth (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Feral Woods by M.C. Roth

General Release Date: 10th January 2023

Word Count: 65,243
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 245



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Book Description


Clothes off and claws out. We’ve got work to do.

Cambry is everything an omega shouldn’t be. He’s tall, muscular and attacks every alpha who approaches him, shifting into his wolf form before making sure they know their place—away from him.

Cambry’s father sends him to Feral Woods in the hopes that Cambry will return home too shattered to put up a fight against his next potential mate. If one alpha can’t tame him, then why not try two?

With two hundred supervised acres, Feral Woods is a couple’s therapy center run by Bryce and Jake—two massive alphas who could tear Cambry apart. It’s not long before Cambry finds himself drawn to them, his inner beast submissive for the first time in his life. But he is met with dismissive refusal instead of interest.

With his heart on the line and time running out, there is a chance he could remain broken forever.

Reader advisory: This book contains a scene of a shifter orgy.


Cambry grasped the curtain, pulling it away from the polished glass of his bedroom window. The fabric was soft and heavy in his hand—something from the latest designer his mother had fallen in love with. Instead of the previous indigo, it was now a deep blue that blended in with the softer tones of his room.

A fountain spurted beyond the window, its waters guarded by a black gate that matched the fence that surrounded the property. There were grass and trees, too, beyond those gates, not that he ever got the chance to enjoy them.

An alpha retreated along the concrete walkway, his back rippling under his thin T-shirt. Each movement was like a feral dance of instinct and desire. There was a streak of red across his shirt that hadn’t been there when he’d arrived. The alpha had been big, strong, attractive and sweet—everything a proper mate should be.

But Cambry’s plan had been disastrous, like a spectacular firework that had failed to launch and exploded in his face instead. The second the alpha had shown any intent that wasn’t exactly platonic, Cambry’s instinctive side had reared up and taken him out.

Sighing, Cambry let the curtain fall shut, the filtered light dimming to a sparse glow. Luckily, the alpha was only leaving with a scratch and a black eye instead of a broken arm like the last one—or the broken collar bone from the one before him. Maybe it was because Cambry had warned him?

Most alphas sneered at the warning—hence the broken arm and collar bone—but this one had seemed different.

“When you try to touch me, I’m going to react…badly.” Cambry couldn’t remember how many times he had said those same words. He guessed that the first few alphas had assumed that Cambry would react like any other omega was supposed to—with slick and a burst of pheromones.

They hadn’t been expecting violence.

Walking to his dresser, Cambry pulled the top drawer wide, fumbling with a pair of boxers and tugging them up his thick legs. The fabric was smooth and silken and clutched his soft package like a fitted glove. They were worth spending his tiny allowance on, that was for sure. Thank goodness for the little things in life.

The little things being both his package and the expensive underwear.

His old friend Aubrie had asked him why he always splurged on the things if he had no one to show them off to. He had his own mirror, thank you very much, which added ten pounds, even on the best of days. But it was always honest about the boxers, which looked a hell of a lot better than they did on most omegas.

“Why don’t you give up, Cambry? It kills me to see you like this. If an alpha hasn’t induced a heat in you by now, it’s not going to happen.”

Aubrie had probably had the best intentions when she’d said that, but it had pierced Cambry’s soul like a dull pencil crayon. Or maybe that was why Cambry’s father had chosen her as his friend…to wear him down a bit more.

There was only so much loneliness he could take before he tried to be with someone again, hoping that everything would finally work the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t the sex as much as it was everything else. He couldn’t hug someone or even hold their hand without his feral side acting out.

His skin prickled as his door slid back, light footsteps moving across the floor behind him. And there was that.

“Your father is upset,” said his mother, her meek voice slapping him harder than any blow. He couldn’t look at her and see the same disappointment that was in his soul.

He could hear her shaking, her teeth chattering softly as she stayed as far away from him as she could. He was surprised that she had even managed to step into the same room as he was in.

“I tried, Mom,” he said, pulling a second drawer wide and tugging a shirt over his frame. He had to get alpha sizes, seeing as nothing for omegas fit his frame. His father was upset about that, too.

The alpha sizes were shaped differently than he was, though—the shoulders a touch too wide and the waist not quite narrow enough. Nothing had fit him well since he’d hit puberty.

The steady thumps of his father’s steps approached, and he hurriedly pulled a pair of jeans over his legs. They at least fit a bit better, his thighs stretching the fabric to its brink as it cupped his ass. The only place with too much room was the crotch, but he was almost glad that nothing ever touched him there.

He looked at the mirror above his dresser, scowling at his reflection. Fellow omegas were terrified of him, and alphas treated him like he was a strange cousin to the human race who needed to be broken or beaten until he fit into a different shape than what he had been born into.

He sniffed, slamming the drawer shut before his father could step into his room. There was no use crying, no matter how frustrated he was.

“We’ve tried it your way, Cambry. These alphas can’t stand to get close to you, let alone allow you to bond with them,” said his father as he hovered at the edge of the door frame. He was a few inches shy of Cambry’s height and had lost his alpha muscling to his age long before Cambry had been born. Like most alphas, he never got too close to Cambry—just close enough to hurt with words.

Cambry wondered if he would ever forget his father’s way. The restraints had dug into his wrists as a strange alpha had approached him from behind. Guided by an overdressed and undereducated doctor, Cambry’s father had hoped to kick-start Cambry’s omega nature with some good ole fashioned alpha cock. They hadn’t counted on Cambry breaking his own arm as he shifted, turning on the alpha and ripping a chunk of flesh from his throat.

The alpha hadn’t died—thank goodness—but they had never tried to restrain Cambry after that. And they had finally listened to him and had let him try on his own terms by picking up an alpha from a bar. It was about as romantic as a one-night stand could have been.

But it had resulted the same way—minus the shifting and massive blood loss, at least.

“It almost happened, Dad. I was so close,” said Cambry, touching his belly. He’d been naked, which had been a first. And the alpha had managed to touch him once before Cambry’s beast had risen to the surface and socked him in the face. Biting the alpha’s gland to bond with them had been the last thing on his mind.

“Close isn’t enough,” said his father, the snarl in his voice enough to prickle the hair on the back of Cambry’s neck. He’d never attacked a family member, but he had come close enough times that his father rarely approached him without backup. It was probably why his mother was strategically between them, shivering with her eyes downcast.

“Your heat could kill you. You’re already so much older than you should be for your first one, and there’s no way you can manage it alone,” said his mother, the edge of a sob in her voice. Cambry turned, his heart falling as he watched the tears stream down his mother’s face. She, at least, cared for him. His father was more interested in seeing him out of the door in a different alpha’s house—with some financial benefits for himself, of course.

“I’d have to have a heat first.” Cambry turned away as his father’s dark eyes glared into him. Most omegas had their first heat when they were still in high school, the late bloomers sprouting by eighteen at the latest. Cambry had turned twenty-two three weeks before, and he still hadn’t experienced a heat. He was hardly an omega at all by some standards.

But his mom was right. Those that had monthly heats had the mildest cycle, still able to continue their day-to-day lives with only a mild fever and a bit of slickness. Some of Cambry’s classmates had been that way, and he’d scarcely been able to tell.

Those who had heats once a year had to isolate themselves for nearly a week, their scent and instincts so uncontrollable that they could kill any stranger who attempted to approach. They needed a mate to ease them through it, more with their presence than their knot, from what his mother had explained.

For Cambry not to have had a heat at his age meant that his first would reduce him to nothing more than a feral beast that would kill and fuck without conscious thought. The idea was terrifying, especially since he was already so close to feral that an alpha couldn’t touch him.

“I’ve tolerated this abnormality of yours for long enough,” said his father, his mother’s spine stiffening.

“Dear, you promised,” she said, her voice pleading.

“No, he’ll be going to them, and that’s final. That doctor wasn’t worth his degree, but a colleague of mine gave me the name of a facility that he swears by. If one alpha can’t handle him, then maybe two can snap him out of this phase.” He tossed a business card into the room and it fluttered end over end before settling upside down on the floor. Turning, he stormed from the entry.

Cambry finally took a breath as his father disappeared, skirting by his mother to grab the business card. It was deep forest green with the name Feral Woods inscribed along the middle with deep gold lettering.

He flipped it over, his eyes going wide as he read the services listed on the card. “Instinctive therapy? What is that?” It sounded terrifying and alluring at the same time.

His instincts were everything that was wrong with him, though. As much as he wanted to listen to the little whispers in the back of his mind, he knew if he did, he would be alone for the rest of his life. Therapy brought to mind cages and bindings, the hair on his arms and chest thickening at the thought.

If it had been his father’s idea, the latter was probably exactly what was involved. His colleagues weren’t much better in Cambry’s experience, either.

“I hear they are very good,” she said softly, her voice trembling as she took a step back. His heart broke under the weight of her fear.

His parents were terrified of him. Maybe he should be locked in a cage for the rest of his days until they found someone who could make him submit. Or two someones. He quivered.

“When do I leave?” He took a shuddering breath as he looked around his room. What would he be allowed to bring? His collection of rocks from his younger years? Probably not. His romance novels? He should probably give them a proper burial before he left, because his father would burn them and disown him if he found them hidden under the floorboard.

Just another layer of his abnormalities. His father would have a heart attack if he ever read one of them or even caught sight of the cover. They were the only things that Cambry had ever intentionally rebelled with, and they could cost him everything.

“Your father pulled some strings.” Because of course he did. She cleared her throat. “You’re leaving in an hour.”

So his father had expected his plan to fail.

“There are single omegas, Mom. Why can’t he just let me be?” Cambry sighed, drawing a hand down his arm as his fur retreated, prickling as it pulled back under his skin. Others described shifting as painful, and even his mother could hardly bear to do it. But to him, it was a release he only ever found when he was in that form—wild and without the presumptions of a society that hated him.

“You know why,” she said, not even looking at him. He hadn’t noticed the exact moment that she had given up on him, but it had been a long time ago—perhaps when he had matured into an omega, only he hadn’t stopped growing like he was supposed to or maybe when the first alpha had offered him a mating contract and Cambry had bitten clear through his hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said. The reasons were too long for her to list, and he knew them almost by heart. “Your father has so much pressure at work. People are wondering why you haven’t mated yet. People will talk, son, and your reputation will be ruined. We can’t let them know that you’re…unnatural. Your heat will kill you, and if it doesn’t, your father…”

They did have a slight point. He had no desire to die, especially since he hadn’t seen the world except for his tiny slice of neighborhood and the bit of lawn within the black gates. The unmated omegas he’d seen were considered strange anomalies in the circles his father traveled in and were best to be left alone and shunned.

As if they couldn’t function without a knot to drool over.

Cambry rolled his eyes. The idea of a knot made him a bit nauseous. He had no desire to bend over and take it like he was supposed to. His feral side agreed with toothy gusto.

“You should pack. I’ll give you space.” She set a duffel bag on the floor before she swept from the room, the loss of her presence barely palpable in the quiet house.

She was his polar opposite. His beast refused to be compliant and meek, even when he tried so hard to overcome that part of himself. He didn’t want to be his mother, who was a shadow of a human being ruled by society more than her education and emotions.

Sighing, he looked around the room before grabbing the bag. If he were lucky, he would have just enough room to pack his books under a thin layer of clothing. Then, at least, he could take everything that meant something to him.

He looked at the business card one last time. Alpha and omega instinctive therapy sessions. Two hundred acres of supervised development.

Well, on the bright side, he would probably get to see some hot alpha ass. A smile tugged at his lips. He could have a positive attitude. At least he was getting out of the house. And two hundred acres would give his beast a lot more places to run, even if he was supervised.

Checking to make sure the coast was clear, he lifted the floorboards just inside his closet. His collection of books that he’d spent years gathering barely fit in the space anymore. The pages were worn from being read so many times, the front covers smudged from his fingers. The covers gave away everything that his father didn’t need to know. Two men, bigger than even himself and twined in a primal embrace, painted a steamy picture that made his mouth water. Forbidden Alphas.

Heat flushed his cheeks as he packed them out of sight, zipping the bag shut with a hard pull. He balled up a pair of socks and underwear, jamming them into the side pouch to disguise the corners the books had created.

There. All packed. I hope I never come back.

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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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New Release Blitz ~ Now and Always by CJ Burright (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Now and Always by CJ Burright

Book 1 in the Hearts and Haunts series

General Release Date: 10th January 2023

Word Count: 98,630
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 389



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Book Description


Romance may not be all that awakens while two best friends renovate a mansion rumored to be haunted.

If you kiss your best friend…

Halloween-loving Ren needs a new job. The only problem? The sole accountant opening in her small town requires construction experience, which are skills she lacks. Luckily, her best friend Leo—sexy, grumpy and completely off limits—is a construction hotshot. Their relationship is perfect as is, and, despite the intense chemistry, Ren refuses to ruin it with romance. Leo agrees to teach her, with one condition—she must live on site with him…and somehow survive the temptation.

You’d better be sure…

Skeptic, sword-swinging Leo has loved Ren since she mistook him for a hardware employee in the plunger section two years ago. While he took his time winning her trust, she caged him in the friend zone. He’s done hiding his feelings, and living together—working, sleeping, playing—at the Gothic mansion he’s renovating will convince her that best friends make the best lovers.

It’s meant to be forever.

Ren resolves to resist Leo, even if he bends every rule. Discovering the mansion’s secrets—and lingering spirits, no matter what Leo claims—offers distraction enough. But with her defenses splintering, one kiss is all it takes to shatter every boundary, one night of passion to believe in happily ever after…and one crumbling letter of unrequited love to awaken ghosts forgotten. If Ren and Leo can’t piece together the past for two lost souls, they might lose more than their hearts.

Reader advisory: This book contains characters from the Music, Love and Other Miseries series.


“Isn’t Halloween the best?” Karen grinned at the wrinkled face peering from a warped mirror hanging in the long hallway. Empty eyes gazed back at her. Beside her, Leo pressed closer, his powerful body already invading her personal space—not that she’d ever complain.

The image in the mirror lunged as if to escape the glass. Leo jerked and pushed Karen behind him, almost knocking her over to put himself between her and danger.

“Boo!” With a leer, the face in the mirror vanished.

“I loathe Halloween,” Leo said, his voice strained. He steadied her with strong hands, but his face gleamed an unholy white in the gloom. “You know how much I hate it, and you still drag me to these things.”

“Hearing you squeal is too much fun to resist.”

“You’re sick, Ren.” He scowled but didn’t move away.

The lights flickered, giving the hallway a strobe effect. Leo’s black sweater and jeans turned an oily shade of jet. The red letters on her T-shirt reading Be Very, Very Afraid seemed to bleed. In a different section of the haunted house attraction, distant screams echoed like damaged sirens. Leo grabbed her hand in a death hold.

Her face hurting from a perpetual smile, she leaned into him and settled her free hand on his biceps for extra support. She wasn’t completely heartless, after all, and she’d always take advantage of any reasonable excuse to grope his spectacular body without being obvious. It never failed to amaze her that the biggest, strongest, sexiest man she knew—a man who also happened to be her best friend and was therefore off limits—lost his courage when it came to anything Halloween.

He towed her at a quicker pace down the hallway, as if he could escape if he moved fast enough.

Her smile stretched wider. There was no escape.

A motor roared behind them and filled the corridor with noise. In one nimble move, Leo jumped and spun to face the new threat. For such a big man, he was shockingly quick. As she turned, Leo made a noise somewhere between a shriek and a howl.

A clown bearing a roaring chainsaw barreled toward them, his mouth opened wide. Two rows of sharp teeth gleamed like knives in the strobing lights.

Karen shivered. Awesome.

The thought hadn’t even passed before Leo wrapped an arm around her waist, swept her off her feet and sprinted toward the exit sign at the end of the hall as if an army of hell hounds snapped at his heels. The walls closed in, the corridor narrowing with each of Leo’s pounding steps. Hands reached from the walls and clawed at their clothes as they passed. The clown with the chainsaw kept on coming with a chittering laugh.

The exit turned out to be a locked door. Leo skidded to a stop and pounded with his free hand. When that proved ineffective, he switched to kicking and cursing. Not once did he put her down.

Karen cackled with delight the entire way.

As the demented clown came within reach and lunged, the door opened on a groan. Leo leaped out and slammed the door behind him. A heavy thud followed, and the door shuddered beneath the impact of the clown’s failed pursuit. The chainsaw cut off, leaving them in silence and the crisp air of an early October night.

Leo didn’t set her on the ground until he’d jumped over the back porch stairs, onto the lawn and made it past the crooked fence surrounding the staged haunted house. He leaned against the trunk of an oak tree and closed his eyes, his breath ragged.

“I need a moment,” he gasped.

“Or two.”

He cracked an eye to glare. “Give me three.”

“So sad. A grown man scared of ghosties and goblins. The best way to overcome a fear is to face it full on.”

“Or go the mature route and avoid it.” He laid his head back and slumped. “That’s how I roll when it comes to demons and small children demanding candy.”

Laughing, Karen plopped onto the grass and stretched out her legs. She crossed her ankles and jiggled her boots, unable to contain the energy buzz still sliding through her. A bit of a fright—and watching Leo freak—had been exactly what she needed. “That was epic. Even better than the last two years. The clown at the end was a nice touch.”

“Horrifying. All of it.” Leo opened his eyes and inhaled. His broad chest expanded and stretched his black sweater taut in a delicious way that she pretended not to notice.

“You didn’t have to come with me.”

“You’ve had a crappy few weeks. If me being tortured cheers you up, I had to do it.”

The mention of the last few weeks of her life took her adrenaline-high down a notch. Most people believed the source of said crappiness was Ian O’Connor, the out-of-her-league lawyer at Hamilton & Associates where she worked her accounting magic. She’d crush-lusted on him longer than she should have, a physical-only appreciation and shameless flirting that had never reached her heart. Hell, she’d known she didn’t possess the necessary looks or charms to make more than a single blip on Ian’s radar, and his staunch commitment to noncommitment made any interest harmless. He’d been an easy distraction from—

She toyed with a loose thread on her sleeve. It didn’t matter. Now, Ian was engaged to her office friend Gia. And that was when the job situation had gone to Hades on a Harley.

The sting of rejection hadn’t slowed her down. She never wasted a minute of beauty sleep on Ian. Even the twist of betrayal that Gia had hooked up with her current crush was nothing a pint of ice cream couldn’t solve. But the sorry looks she caught too often from her coworkers, as if she hid her heartbreak behind a brave face?

Warmth invaded her cheeks. Those looks made her want to either stab them or slink away. That pity echoed too closely the memories she’d moved to Graywood to escape, when the pain had been brutally real. With the Ian dilemma in her face Monday through Friday, the past returned to bite her…hard.

A flame-red leaf drifted from the canopy above and landed on her shoulder. Leo plucked it free. The leaf crackled as he twirled it between his long fingers, giving her time to process. He always knew what she needed in any given moment, one of the many reasons why she adored him. That adoration remained part of her own personal perdition, a fact he never needed to know. She sucked at romance and enjoyed his company too much to destroy it with a fling.

Fantasies made up for everything she missed.

“You only agreed to come with me tonight because you felt sorry for my pathetic life?” She swiped the leaf from his fingers and tossed it aside. “What’s your excuse for last year?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t remember.” He gave her a narrow look and tucked his hands into his jeans pockets. “Before I knew you well enough to understand you can’t be trusted in certain situations, you recorded me at the same haunted house two years ago—without my knowledge, you terrible person—and threatened to show it to Liam. Handing any one of my brothers that information would have made my life a living hell, but Liam’s the worst, which you also know.” He shook his head, his mouth tight. “Not one of your finer moments, Ren.”

“All a matter of perspective. Manipulation is a virtue.” She gave him a sweet smile. “Come on, Hughes. Admit it. Wasn’t this more fun than your usual Saturday nights, fighting off your brothers with light sabers?”


She laughed.

“Was it more fun than your usual Saturday night at Seven Devils?” he countered. His expression was calm, his voice steady, but his ocean-blue eyes glittered with an emotion she couldn’t read. Maybe it was the remnants of blood-curdling fear.

She shrugged. “Depends on the night.”

Leo looked away and straightened, apparently recovered from his near-death experience. “I need a drink.”

“You’re in luck.” She jumped up and looped her arm through his. “There’s a sports bar right down the block.”

“Do they stream sword fighting?” he asked, hopeful, as if watching men swinging swords at one another was in high demand.

“Is that even a thing?”

He scowled. “What about ax throwing?”

“Unlikely.” She grinned and patted his arm. “But I’ll buy to compensate.”

“Damn straight you’ll buy,” he grumbled, allowing her to guide him onto the sidewalk.

Brisk autumn air had her leaning closer to Leo, and she almost wished she’d brought a jacket. But that would leave her with no excuse to have her arms wrapped around his. Holy hell, the man was built, a toned body from hard years of construction work and combating the other members of the Hughes clan with all manners of weapons…for fun. And people said she was strange.

Maybe that was why they’d hit it off right away, two oddballs who’d given up trying to be normal. She tried not to think about his flexing muscles beneath her arms or how good he smelled, like cedar and perfect man, but it was useless. It was always useless.

Over the last two years, when it came to Leo, she’d become frickin’ fantastic at the game of pretend and resist.

Their slow steps clicked on the pavement, the sidewalk empty of anyone but them. Stars shone in a clear, moonless sky. It was an ideal night for romance. She sighed, and her breath left a fleeting white cloud. If Leo weren’t her best friend, she’d drag him to a stop and kiss him right here beneath the lamppost, the distant shrieks of terrified people in the background. He’d kiss her back, using that luscious mouth of his to set her skin aflame, and—

“I hate it when you sigh like that.” Leo’s soft, husky voice splintered her fantasy. “It means you’re unhappy instead of plotting mischief.” He bored his eyes into her.

She refused to squirm beneath the intensity, the sense that he saw straight through all her trappings and discerned the warp and weave of her soul. If he could read minds, he would have been scandalized by her thoughts long ago. “I’ve decided I need a change.”

“What sort of change?”

“Scenery. I’ve been considering it for a while now, made a pro and con list, looked at my options from every angle. I woke up this morning with a clear answer.”

Leo was always her go-to person who she ran everything by first. Almost everything. But saying this new plan aloud made it real, solid, and if she didn’t follow through, she’d feel like a loser. Karen took a breath and blew it out. “I’m quitting Hamilton & Associates and applying for an accountant job at Cooper Homes. The posting showed up yesterday morning. Even though it doesn’t pay as much as Hamilton, the medical, dental and 401K plans are great.”

The confession released a stab of exhilaration edged with scary. Accountant jobs in Graywood were rare. Her timing had been lucky with Hamilton & Associates. Another opening in her field might not come along for months, which would require a job search in other towns, maybe moving. She didn’t want to leave the home she’d made here—worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, she glanced at Leo—or the friendships she’d forged.

He narrowed his eyes at some point in the distance, looking thoughtful. “If you want to switch to a construction company, work for me. I’ve been thinking about farming out the accounting side of my business, to free up some precious time to do more important things.” He winked. “I’m the worst bookkeeper.”

“No way.” She shook her head. “Working for friends is a bad idea.”

“Not if I’m the friend.” His voice deepened an octave into a blood-warming rumble.

“Absolutely no.” Leo was a great employer, generous and fair, his company always on the business bureaus’ best list. But working for him would send her even deeper into the void with all her forbidden fantasies. Already she had trouble keeping them under control. And mixing business and friendship was almost as dangerous as combining best friends and physical desire. Nothing good ever emerged at the end. She wouldn’t add Leo to her romantic wreckage.

She focused on the pub at the end of the block, the cheerful lights and hint of fried food, ignoring the weight of his steady stare. Changing her mind about this wasn’t happening, not even with the power of Leo’s super-scowl. Working for him would put pressure on their friendship, warp it into something else. Their relationship was far too important. He was too important.

Finally, he exhaled and swiped his fingers through his hair, leaving it rumpled and even more sexy. “Why do you always insist on being stubborn?”

She gave him an impish smile.

“Very well. Be that way. But I’ll tell you this— The only way you’re going to land the job at Cooper Homes is if you know at least a smidge of construction. Cooper expects all the staff, even office workers, to jump in and help out on site if they’re short-handed. Construction crews aren’t always the most reliable employees.”

“That’s not listed on the job announcement.” She frowned up at him. His expression was serious, no sign of trickery, but he’d used his sexy voice on her, given her the scowl. He was up to something shady.

He shrugged. “I know Cooper.”

“You know everyone.” Graywood was a small town, and the Hughes family fingers were dipped in everything good, charitable and green. She’d been in Graywood for a couple of years, not enough to be trusted by the local residents. Even if no one admitted it, unless a soul was born and raised in Graywood, they were considered a permanent outsider.

Some things never changed. The one exception was Leo. Right away, he’d made her feel like she belonged. She couldn’t lose that, not for anything.

Leo stopped and faced her. Karen braced herself. Here it was, his scheme.

“I have a proposal for you.”

“Is it indecent?” Karen shut her mouth fast, heat rising to her neck. Flirting level warning, code red. “Kidding, of course.”

“Actually,” he said, drawing out the word. “The decency level depends on perspective.”

He tugged on his ear lobe, a nervous tell. What—besides Halloween—could rattle the serious, steady, unshakable Leo Hughes?

“You’ve won my full attention.” She poked him playfully in the chest. “Lay it on me.”

One corner of his mouth curled up in a slow, lazy smile, and all hint of nervousness vanished as he met her gaze. That heat in her neck spread to her face. She hoped he assumed it to be the lamplight glow on her skin, not the tingling warmth curling through her veins.

“Remember the Granton estate a few miles out of town?” He didn’t wait for her unnecessary answer. She’d been intrigued by the abandoned property since the moment she’d driven into Graywood job hunting, glimpses of the Gothic mansion and storybook landscape, full of secrets and gloom. “I bought it.”

Karen gasped. “Without telling me?”

“Closed this afternoon. I was waiting for the right moment to share the news.” His eyes gleamed with humor. “Now, back to my proposal.”

“If it has anything to do with Granton, I’m in.” She bounced in her boots, unable to keep still. Her best friend had bought Granton Hall. She couldn’t wait to get inside.

“Always require full disclosure before making any binding agreements, Ren. As it happens, there is some fine print in this particular proposal.”

That sounded ominous. She folded her arms and waited for him to continue.

“First, the background. There’s a locals-only construction competition starting tomorrow. It involves renovating a single room by the end of the month. Whoever wins gets the bid to renovate town hall and a spread in Renovation & Remodel, the magazine every construction company aspires to be in. The publicity for that alone is worth the effort.”

“Since when do you need extra attention or work?” Hughes & Sons Construction had been established by Leo’s great-great-grandfather and passed down through the generations, growing in reputation and building an empire to fund all the Hughes’ family good deeds. Leo had a few days over two years holding the reins. His father had passed right before Ren had met him, and he took the responsibilities of carrying on the family legacy very seriously.

“Since I bought Granton Hall.” He tucked her arm through his again and strolled toward the pub. “The rules are simple. Must be a local company to enter. The owner must personally renovate their chosen room with the assistance of a single volunteer.” He glanced at her. “Since you’re in need of some construction experience and I need a reliable volunteer, it’s a win-win.”

Karen studied his unreadable expression. The opening for the position at Cooper Homes didn’t close until the end of the month, enough of a window to gain some basic skills. Learning construction from Leo in her spare time would be perfect. But something about this proposal had made him nervous. “What’s the catch?”

“I need you at least part-time.”

She ignored how her blood heated at the words ‘I need you’. With all the personal days and vacation hours she’d built up at Hamilton & Associates, she could make it part-time. Escaping the cubicle and coworkers for half a day every day until she had the skills to land the job at Cooper Homes would be a definite bonus. Working only part-time with Leo, she could manage her fantasies, and Granton Hall would be the best distraction.

“No problem.” She paused with him outside the pub entrance. Voices and laughter drifted out with delicious smells. A basket of garlic tots was about to meet its final destiny. “What else?”

“We have until Halloween to renovate one room at Granton Hall and impress the judges. Today was the last day to enter the competition, so the timing was perfect. Not going to lie—   It will be a lot of hard labor.”

She studied her stubby fingernails. “Guess I’ll have to miss the manicurist for a month.”

“Ready for the fine print?”

At his low, sultry voice, she lifted her gaze to his, and her breath caught. Behind the confident mask, another emotion flickered, banked and steaming. That heat in her veins rose a few degrees. Controlling her libido for a month was a small price to pay for the dream of walking the antique halls of Granton and learning a few construction skills on the side. I can do this.

“Go on.”

“So that any spare minutes may be spent on the project, not wasting drive time, I’d require you to live at the mansion.”

“Seriously, Leo?” For the first time in weeks, the excitement bubbling up erased all the shadows left by rejection reminders and dreams long lost. She fisted his sweater to keep from bouncing up and down like a pogo stick. “When do we start?”

“Not so fast. There’s one last detail to my proposal.”

She released his sweater and smoothed it out, one pat more than necessary of his firm chest. “Whatever it is, I’m in.”

He gave her a lopsided smile, the one he used on only her. “Glad to hear it, but you won’t be living at Granton alone.”

“I won’t?” The words tangled in her dry throat.

“No, Ren, darling.” His eyes deepened to stormy seas, his voice to molten honey. He opened the pub door and motioned her inside. As the heat and chaos surrounded her, he leaned near her ear and whispered, “You’ll be living with me.”

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First For Romance

About the Author

C.J. Burright

C.J Burright is a native Oregonian and refuses to leave. A member of Romance Writers of America and the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal special interest chapter, while she has worked for years in a law office, she chooses to avoid writing legal thrillers (for now) and instead invades the world of paranormal romance, fantasy, and contemporary romance. C.J. also has her 4th Dan Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and believes a story isn’t complete without at least one fight scene. Her meager spare time is spent working out, refueling with mochas, gardening, gorging on Assassin’s Creed, and rooting on the Seattle Mariners…always with music. She shares life with her husband, daughter, and a devoted cat herd.

You can find C.J. at her website here and follow her on Pinterest.


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New Release Blitz ~ Griffin Days and Pixie Nights by Bailey Bradford (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Griffin Days and Pixie Nights by Bailey Bradford

Book 3 in the Fire & Flutter series

Word Count: 51,143
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 212



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Book Description

The kingdom’s most focused griffin shifter and its slackest pixie. It’s a match made in what the hell?

Gage is the most dedicated of the kingdom’s powerful griffin shifter Guardians. He’ll do anything to close a case…even if his commander says not to. Now Gage is fuming. Being reassigned to the World Magic Convention is bad enough. Babysitting the keynote speaker is worse. But the absolute pits? He has to work with a good-for-nothing pixie!

Daire the pixie is a lazy ne’er-do-well chancer…one who’s failed to charm his green-eyed, pointed-eared way out of trouble this time and is on his last chance. Being given community service is crap. Doing it as local liaison at some stupid convention is even crappier. But the crappiest of all? He has to work with a stick-up-his-ass griffin!

Sparks blaze, the pair get into a heated fight…and have the hottest sex ever. And that’s just their first meeting. Morning brings not just shock and remorse, but the loss of the VIP they were guarding, kidnapped while they were…busy. Hells! But Gage has never failed on a mission yet, and Daire doesn’t want a prison stretch, so there’s only one thing to do.

Form the unlikeliest partnership ever and solve the case themselves.

And try not to have sex or kill each other along the way…

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of slightly off-page body piercing, med fet, and the use of hypnosis and spells.


“Sir!” The guard on duty outside the two-room suite in the Griffin Guardians HQ sprang to attention at Captain Gage’s approach. He snapped out a smart salute, but his hand fell when Gage didn’t march past but instead stood waiting in the corridor. “Sir…?” he repeated, uncertainly.

“As you were.” Gage jerked his head to one side, illustrating how he wanted the corporal—returned to his position in between the doors and not in front of one of them.

The guard took a quick glance at the sheet of parchment paper pinned to the board on the wall. “Captain, you’re not listed as—”

“Stand aside, Corporal.” Gage added a raised eyebrow to the emphasis he placed on the last word and the junior officer recoiled.

Some officers might have raised their voice, or tapped their uniform badges, drawing the corporal’s attention to the greater number of feathers displayed. That would have reminded the junior who was of a higher rank in the Griffin Guardians, the kingdom’s elite federal law enforcement agency that griffin shifters ran and dedicated their lives to.

Gage never wanted or needed to pull rank, either here inside the HQ or outside. His height and breadth, coupled with his implacable, unflinching manner did it for him. Now was no different—the corporal not only scuttled to one side, but opened the door for him and saluted again. Gage murmured his thanks. While he liked how the junior officer had assessed and regrouped, he didn’t like that a situation demanding such a response existed.

The list displayed outside in the corridor was a symbol of all that was going the wrong way in the Guardians, in Gage’s opinion. This bureaucratic keeping account of which griffin shifter was assigned to which aspect of which case in which room at which time was getting out of claw.

What had Colm said last week? “Pretty soon admin will be assigning us times for bathroom breaks, and probably make us sign in and out of the stall if we take a dump.” It had been a joke, but Gage hadn’t laughed. Not many of them had.

The two first lieutenants on duty in the observation room sprang to their feet, shooting puzzled looks at each other when Gage marched in, but both sat when Gage waved them down.

“Don’t worry. I’m not here to supervise how you’re implementing some new directive that came into force five minutes ago or check if you’re reaching your latest performance targets,” he told them, trying to sound lighter than he felt.

He made straight for the mirror-pane that divided this small room from the equally small but brighter room beyond.

It was a light-mirror, meaning that he couldn’t use it to see his reflection, but he wasn’t there to do that. He knew his uniform would be clean and crisp—Guardians’ uniforms were designed that way—just as his blond hair, short back and sides and longer on top, was regulation length and cut. He bet his face bore the same narrow-eyed, focused look it always did. What he wanted was to look through the light-mirror to its other side.

But what he didn’t expect was that the moment his gaze found the prisoner in the interrogation room, the prisoner would raise his head and stare back at him through the glass.

“The hells?” First Lieutenant Antonin exclaimed. His chair scraped on the floor behind him as he joined Gage. “He can’t see through the glass?”

“He’s a mage,” Gage reminded his fellow officers, spitting the words out. “Who knows what these magic users can do?” His revulsion left a sour taste in his mouth as he continued, “His powers have been dampened, yes?”

“As much as the regs allow, Sir.” First Lieutenant Sandrine joined them at the mirror, giving a choked-off exclamation when the prisoner sent a mocking finger-wave her way.

Gage swore. “This tricky bastard needs neutralizing, stat.”

“I’m afraid we can’t, Sir. Not until the request’s been approved and stamped by two duty officers and the prisoner’s been examined and cleared by the HQ physician.” Antonin tucked his chair back into the table.

“New regulations, Sir,” Sandrine added.

Both Antonin and Sandrine sounded apologetic, but it wasn’t their fault, nor were they telling Gage anything he didn’t know. Neither of those things made the information easier to hear, or the situation any easier to bear, however. Gage’s hand had formed into a fist, and he exhaled as he opened it flat again, wishing he could huff away all the irritation and frustration he was feeling as easily.

Few people could say, their hand on their heart, that they loved their job, and Gage would never say that either, because being a Griffin Guardian was more than a job to him. The corps was his life, and he took pride in the knowledge that he’d given the organization his all since joining the Guardians thirty years ago. That’s good…isn’t it? Laudable? Because lately he’d begun to feel that, well, perhaps it wasn’t.

He hauled in those stray thoughts. If he was feeling that there could perhaps be more to his life, it was because every moon-cycle seemed to bring with it new guidelines and directives, most of them aimed at giving what Gage still thought of as the lesser beings ‘representation’ or ‘a voice’ and making sure the higher beings—sorry, winged beings—didn’t abuse what was becoming increasingly seen as their position of privilege.

Gage wasn’t political or even very aware of interspecies politics. All he knew was that the new social climate made it increasingly hard for him to perform his duties, thanks to the ‘accountability’ and ‘visibility’ and every other hells-be-damned ‘ility’ the Equality Awareness Office dreamed up, and hamstrung the entire corps with, from its five-feathered general down to its lowliest private.

“Rules are one thing,” he muttered. He liked rules. Lived by rules. Wished all the species did, that they followed the same ones as the griffin kingdom did. The griffins’ codes of conduct and honor were revered throughout the plane, as was their ability to impose order, making them the natural choice for a federal law enforcement species. A mission undertaken is a mission accomplished. It was no coincidence that this was the Guardians’ motto. “Rules keep things safe.”

“I’m so sorry about Captain Colm, Sir,” Sandrine said, perhaps catching Gage’s last words.

Gage gave her a brusque nod in acknowledgment. He was sorry too. He’d had Colm as partner for the last ten years of his three decades in the Griffin Guardians, and they worked together well. Colm was as reliable and committed to getting the job done as Gage could want. There were always risks, in the job they did, of course, but to think that that contemptuous bastard sitting there—

“It was an accident. And I have no idea why he was chasing me. Why either of them were, these winged shifter beasts, whatever they were. Dragons, right?”

The mage’s voice held defiance and there was triumph in the gaze he leveled at Gage through the glass as he spoke. But when he added a derisive kiss to the end of his sentence, Gage was out of the observation room and into the one next door almost before he was aware of moving or that he’d had all he could take. He had an assignment and he would do what it took to see it through. That was the way he operated. How he saw the world.

“Out,” he ordered the second lieutenant in the interrogation room before the officer had gotten out the S of Sir. “Now!” he snapped. He rounded on the prisoner the second the door was closed, his eyes narrowed. “So. It’s just you and me now, scum.”

“I’m a mage,” the prisoner snarked. “Which means that I’m—”

“Oh, excuse me. Mage scum,” Gage snapped. “A mage scum con artist who used his ‘magic’ to rob money-vaults and businesses, having found a way around the thief protections. One who I came to question, which, for the record, is why you tried to run, and in your escape, you injured my partner.” He let the fury he felt show.

“What? I did that? Well, that was wrong of me. I made a mistake there.” The mage looked down at the desk in front of him for a few seconds. When he looked up again, his eyes grew darker as he turned his head slowly toward Gage. By the time he stared full force at him, his eyes were completely black, with no white to them at all. The effect was unnerving and the revealed strength of his powers worrying. Gage braced himself.

“Because I was aiming for the both of you.” The mage got to his feet, his movements swift and jerky. Snakelike, almost. “You’re stronger than your partner, though. Colm, wasn’t it? Or isn’t it, if he’s still alive? Pity. A two-for-one hit-and-destroy would have saved me time and effort.”

“Like you’ve saved us time and effort?” Gage kept his voice quiet when he wanted to yell at this piece of troll shit. “By confessing?” He smirked.

“Oh, if only anyone had witnessed it, either visually or audibly.” The mage pulled a pitying face. “If only the mirror-glass hadn’t silvered, and the listening holes hadn’t all blocked.” He gave Gage time to take in his meaning.

What—? Gage took his eyes off the prisoner to throw a glance at the light-mirror and the conduit holes below it.

“Because without a record of this, it’s like I was never here, griffin. And that being the case, I think I’ll be off.” The mage moved.

Instantly, Gage took a step forward to block him. “Oh, we just let you walk out of here, do we?” he scoffed.

The mage shrugged, as if he didn’t care, then brought his hands up at lightning speed and weaved his fingers in a quick, complex pattern. “A state of balance or a lack of motion,” he began, his voice low, and his eyes glowing a molten silver. Before Gage understood or could make him cease, he continued, his volume getting louder with each word, “A slowing or stoppage of a flow.”

He brought his hands together on the last word, the clap loud, and the stasis spell he’d cast hit Gage like a punch to the stomach. It didn’t have him staggering backward or knock him onto his ass like a physical blow would, though. Instead, it trapped him in place, unable to move. With a caw of triumph, the prisoner thumbed his nose at Gage, opened the door and walked out.

No. No no no! We should have neutered him, regulations be damned! Gage heaved in a breath, fighting with all his strength. That troll-dung mage had said Gage was stronger than his partner, which was true, but not true enough. Gage was stronger than any Griffin Guardian currently in the corps or in its records. He trained and honed the strength and resistance in his muscles and sinews and mind and spirit, increasing year-on-year what he could battle—and defeat.

Fighting the spell cast on him was like pulling himself along a too-narrow corridor whose walls were lined with broken glass, but he ignored the jagged shards ripping into him and actually—he saw, glancing down—rending his uniform and cutting his flesh. The pain barely registered and any spots of blood staining the gray tunic and pants vanished, just as rips in the fabric disappeared.

With one final almighty heave Gage was free. Panting, he shook off the remains of the stasis bind to hurl himself to the door. The mage was at the end of the corridor by now, and there was enough of his residual power left dusted on Gage for Gage to see the outline of the shield spell the prisoner had cloaked himself in.

The pull of the magic used snapped from its victim to its caster, the rogue mage who stopped in his tracks and turned around. The drop of the prisoner’s jaw on seeing Gage free was the only amusing thing about the situation. The mage whipped around again and broke into a run.

“Stop!” Gage yelled, and the command in his voice had everyone freezing…everyone except the one he wanted to, the one who was making for the large window at the end of the corridor.

The mage ran faster, gathering speed and power. If that didn’t give a hint about his escape plan, the hissed incantation and his hand outstretched toward the window did. A crack and the glass was gone. It hadn’t shattered, but vanished, leaving the window frame gaping empty. The mage had already demonstrated an affinity with glass, but Gage had no intention of letting the bastard use it as an exit route. He sped up too.

“Captain, you can’t!” Second Lieutenant Ralnd yelled behind him.

Oh, but Gage could. This was his case and he was doing whatever it took to close it.

Whatever it took.

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About the Author

Bailey Bradford

A native Texan, Bailey spends her days spinning stories around in her head, which has contributed to more than one incident of tripping over her own feet. Evenings are reserved for pounding away at the keyboard, as are early morning hours. Sleep? Doesn’t happen much. Writing is too much fun, and there are too many characters bouncing about, tapping on Bailey’s brain demanding to be let out.

Caffeine and chocolate are permanent fixtures in Bailey’s office and are never far from hand at any given time. Removing either of those necessities from Bailey’s presence can result in what is known as A Very, Very Scary Bailey and is not advised under any circumstances.


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New Release Blitz ~ The Earl’s Spark by Aliyah Burke (Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Earl’s Spark by Aliyah Burke

Book 3 in the Heart’s Compass series

General Release Date: 3rd January 2023

Word Count: 84,089
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 328



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Book Description


One spark can set the world ablaze.

Phillip Vallence, Earl of Edais, has moved to the island of Eden to personally oversee his new plantation. When he learns that his books were being done by the mysterious Fyre, he demands a meeting, and discovers the meticulous keeper is a woman.

Gwen “Fyre” Parker loves numbers. She works at several jobs in her small town to help support her brother’s family. Upon meeting the new earl, she is pulled into working for him further.

Fleeting glances become more. Their time spent together grows and mutual feelings deepen.

Phillip wants her to choose him because she can no longer deny her feelings for him, not because of his position on the island. When she has a falling out with her brother, Phillip steps in, determined to protect her, regardless of her decision. And when he discovers there is a plot to harm people on the island he is fast considering his, he will do what it takes to protect Fyre, the island and her people. But what will be the cost?

Will he have the chance to give this woman everything she deserves and more?

Reader advisory: This book contains instances of racism, infidelity, sexism, domestic abuse, racist language, assault, murder, misogyny, prostitution, and adultery.


Phillip Vallence, Earl of Edais and current owner of the sugar and tobacco plantation Hawk’s Cove, stared at the books on the large mahogany desk he sat behind. The desk was massive even by his standards, and he loved the intricate work on the edges, along with the stamped brass ornamentation.

He sighed and pushed a hand through his hair, curling up his lip at the ever-present feel of sweat on his skin. Something that hadn’t been much of an issue most days in England. Blowing out a breath, he tore his attention from everything else that it found and placed it back onto what he needed to focus on.

The books.




All of it was boring to him. He had a man in England he’d entrusted with his estates there, but here he didn’t have anyone of his own yet. Right now he waited to go over the numbers when the man he’d summoned to look over them with him showed up.

This was a working plantation, but he didn’t have slaves. He paid a wage to every worker here and was going to continue to do so. More of a wage if he could figure out how to make sense out of the other man’s style of ledger keeping.

Otherwise, it looked like he would have to continue to pay the man to keep his books. He’d spoken to shops in the small nearby town and had confirmed he was in good standing with them all. In fact, all he’d heard was praise on how his accounts were never late.

The knock came and he bade them enter without looking away from the intricately neat printing of numbers. Phillip didn’t think his London-based steward would be on board for coming down here. Even though the weather was sublime and he had quickly fallen for the allure of this island. The sweat was something he’d had to get used to, still was in some respects, and knowing his man back home, he wouldn’t be interested in moving here.

“You requested my presence, my lord?”

He reached for his drink and sipped as he took his time gazing over Elonne. Not overly tall, his dark skin also had a sheen. The man was fit and his clothing had seen better days.

“Come in and sit down. Elonne, was it? Can I call you Elonne?”

“You can call me what you wish, my lord.”

Despite the tone and the smooth way the response fell, Phillip felt the undercurrent of tension in the words. He understood it—well, as much as a man of his station and position in life could.

His visitor remained perched on the edge of the chair as if he expected it to move back so he landed on the floor.

Phillip nudged the books toward him, the three of them that were chock full of lines overflowing with numbers and calculations that made his own head spin.

“Your books, my lord.” A slow blink as the gaze moved from him down to the books, where it hovered a moment, and back up. Not so much with fear, but with confusion as to what reason he’d had to be summoned. “Is there a problem?”

“No problem. I would just like to learn the method you used to do these so I can follow along without having to ask you to explain it all.”

“You’re not… I mean, of course, sir. I can come by tomorrow and tell you.”

His nose itched. Always had when he smelled a lie or an untruth. Leaning back in his chair, he steepled his fingers.

“Now works best for me.” He made sure to hold Elonne’s gaze when he spoke.

The man glanced down for a moment, his lips moving before he lifted his head once more. “I’m sorry, my lord. I cannot.”

He didn’t like being had. Phillip moved his fingertips so they tapped against one another. “Cannot?” he asked silkily. “Or will not?”

Knowing full well he baited the man, who seemed much more concerned than when he had first entered the room, Phillip waited. No longer the rash younger man, he’d grown a lot, partially on his own and partially because he’d had to in order to maintain his friendships. The ones that meant a damn to him.

Elonne held his gaze. The man had that much going for him at least. There wasn’t any squirming or hemming and hawing to try to buy some additional time. “Cannot, my lord.”

“Then I was misinformed when I was advised that you were the one who takes care of the estate’s books?” A layer of honey to bring him in closer.

“No, my lord.”

He flattened his lips together. “Explain this to me then.” His tone had gotten hard and carried the same ‘I am above you because of my station in life’ character that he had used on a daily basis in England. “I would really like to know how the man I had been led to believe took care of the books on my newest purchase suddenly is informing me he does not know how to teach me his method.”

“My sibling Fyre does the books. I needed to spend more time out in the fields to get the harvest in. Fyre took over and added in this new way to keep those who would come and snoop from being able to read your profits.”

Who is trying to find out about my business here?

Elonne got to his feet and approached the desk. He reached one hand out to the books but paused before there was actual touching. “May I, my lord?”

“By all means.” He waved a hand and continued leaning back in the chair. Phillip had to admit, he was intrigued. And impressed. This man was still working in the fields when he was fairly certain what he would be earning as one who took care of the books should provide him with enough.

The man turned one book toward him and placed the tip of a blunt finger along a line.

“I know that this means you are flush, my lord. This symbol means that, but I cannot tell you all the profits from sugar, tobacco or other items that are grown here. I can tell you that when we started growing and selling other items, more people came around to see how much money was being made. The book change came when we found a few visitors snooping around.”

Snooping around.” That, he wasn’t a fan of hearing. The hardness in his gut took root and grew. It took an effort to keep his sneer contained but he did, waiting to hear what else he would be enlightened about.

There was a way out of this. He could, and would, figure it out. The directionless emotion pouring through him pissed him off. That feeling had been part of the reason he had left England. He wanted to do more. Be more.

Make something of himself, even if that wasn’t a typical urge for a member of the peerage. His friends had, and while he was still included in the circle, he was now the outlier. The one without a woman, without a cause, without any direction.

Something he wanted desperately to change.

“Where is Fyre now?”

Unease hit the man’s expression. He clearly worked hard to contain his frown, causing his forehead to wrinkle. “In town, working.”

“So there is not enough work doing the books here to keep him busy? He is also in town working?”

Something akin to shame kicked free over his features. “The books were my job, my lord. Fyre works at a few other places. I was the one who asked for the assistance in keeping your books. Fyre would never speak of what was seen here.”

Phillip thought about this discussion. He knew this island had a different mentality than some of the others he’d visited on his way here. The dynamic wasn’t just slave and owner. There were Blacks who had businesses in the port town and some, he had been told, had small farms of their own. That alone had marked this island as one of the odd ones out and he fully expected in the future there might be trouble from the other plantation owners on surrounding islands who still had slaves and were looking to always increase their own holdings.

Right now, he had to figure out this puzzle of his steward’s bookkeeping.

“Where is Fyre now?” He repeated his question.

“In town, my lord.” The answer hadn’t changed and was given without so much as a slight hesitation.

Wouldn’t divulge a location. Interesting. “And how soon will he be made available?”

“I am unsure, my lord. There are long hours to be kept.”

Regret slashed over Elonne’s face the second the words escaped. Phillip let it go. There were times and places for every battle. This wasn’t one of them. At least not for the moment.

“Very well then, we shall ride into town.”

He’d expected more of a fuss from Elonne, and was both surprised and pleased when the immediate agreement came.

Phillip sent one of his footmen to get their mounts ready and Elonne accompanied him. Once again alone in his study, he stared down at that handwriting. Neat. Precise.

He was sure Fyre kept great books, he just needed to know how to interpret them for himself. Given how scattered this place had been when he’d taken over, he wasn’t about to let any portion of this plantation not be overseen by him.

With a heavy sigh, his thoughts turned back to England and the people he’d left there. Friends? Two to three, and they were blissful in their wedded state. When he’d come here to help out a friend of his friends, he had not expected to fall in love with the island. Or her people.

All of them.

The island hummed and vibrated with a life one never saw in London. Or anywhere he’d been in England. Sure, the heat had taken a bit to get used to, but the problem of sleeping with one sheet or none seemed better to him than hoping his heating stones wouldn’t die out through the night and he would have to wake someone to tend his fire.

“My lord, your horse is ready.”

He looked up to see one of the maids standing in the doorway.

Standing, he nodded. “Very good.” He shoved the ledgers into a bag then slung it over his shoulder.

As his feet hit the wood of the veranda, he found Elonne standing by two horses, holding their reins. The worry on his face was unmistakable. No doubt in Phillip’s mind that there was a story there, but he would find out soon enough.

Stowing the books behind the saddle, he looked back at his new home while his fingers tied the bag with deft strokes. There was still work to be done, quite a bit, but for the first time in years, he had a thrum of excitement in his chest. A chance here was what had appealed to him, called to him. A chance to prove he was more than just a title. To prove he was more than a wastrel who thought of nothing but the next pussy he could sink into or bet he could make.

Pussy, however, was always a nice thought, and since he’d gotten here, he’d kept his dick dry. He was determined to make a name for himself because of what he did with his plantation, not because of the women he fucked.

With ease, he swung up in the saddle and waited for Elonne to follow suit. Together, they turned their horses and made their way to the end of the driveway, heading into town.

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About the Author

Aliyah Burke


Aliyah Burke is an avid reader and is never far from pen and paper (or the computer). She is happily married to a career military man. They are owned by six Borzoi. She spends her days at the day job, writing, and working with her dogs​. She loves to hear from her readers and can be reached here. She can also be found on Facebook or Twitter: @AliyahBurke96. And Pinterest.

If you would like to be kept abreast of what’s going on in the world of Aliyah, you can sign up to her newsletter here.


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New Release Blitz: Best Friend Forsaken by Dorothy Piper (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Best Friend Forsaken

Author: Dorothy Piper

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/03/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 81000

Genre: Historical, LGBTQIA+, gay romance, history, friends to lovers, family drama, slow burn

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Ted and Bill, evacuated to Yorkshire during World War II, vow to be best friends the day they meet. When the war ends and they return to London, where Bill’s father dies, and Ted’s family take Bill into their home.

The boys’ friendship deepens into forbidden love. Henry, Ted’s father—who can’t abide homosexuality—throws Bill out of the house and forbids Ted to see or contact Bill again. The youths go their wildly different ways but defy Henry by secretly keeping in touch.

Two years later, during a distressing family gathering, Henry learns of their ongoing love affair. Furious and disgusted, he tells Ted “It’s him or me. Give him up or I disown you.” Ted chooses his lover, but Henry, determined to get his own way, goes to see Bill and lies to him, saying Ted has broken off the romance rather than be disowned. Henry is convincing, and Bill believes him. Heartbroken, Bill moves away and forsakes Ted.

Bitter and angry, Ted moves back to Yorkshire and throws himself into a job that leaves no time or energy to dwell on life without Bill.

A loveless future lies ahead for both young men unless Fate can intervene.


Best Friend Forsaken
Dorothy Piper © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
A sturdy urchin dug a trowel into a water-logged patch of soil, while a slimmer boy of about his age, wearing a smart navy-blue raincoat, peeped at him through the hedge separating their houses. It was a bright, sunny day in June 1944, near Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

“Hello,” the boy in the raincoat called through the privet leaves. “What are you doing?”

“What’s it look like?”

“Playing mud pies?”

“’Course not! I’m plantin’ stuff.”

“Can I help?”

The boy with the trowel shrugged. “If yer wants ter.”

His neighbour squeezed through a gap in the hedge. “I’m Bill. What’s your name?”


Bill bent to catch the short fat stick Ted threw at him. “What’s this for?”

“Ter make holes wiv. About ten of ’em like I’m doin’.”

Bill knelt and wiggled the stick into the ground until he had made a neat line of holes on his side of the patch. Dandelions and clumps of rye grass flourished between the boys, but mostly the patch was bare and muddy where copious amounts of water had been poured on it.

“What do I put in these holes?” he asked.

“Bits o’ tater.” Ted bowled a sprouting potato over to him. “Yer have ter cut it into chunks. Got a knife? I ain’t sharing mine. Dad give it me afore he went ter France.”

“I’ll ask my father. Won’t be long.” Bill brushed soil off his raincoat before he shouldered through the hedge again.

Ted heard a door bang. The house next door had been empty when he came to live with the woman he’d been told to call Mary Mum. He sat back on his heels, his eyes on the gap in the hedge. There weren’t any hedges in his old street in Woolwich. Just rows and rows of houses, all black from the smoke. Him and his friends had been sent away because of the air raids. The man on the wireless said they had another one last night.

What did happen las’ night? Is Mum all right? What did Mary Mum whisper to Stan Dad, afore she said ter play out here? Must’ve been bad, else why did she whisper?

Bill squeezed back through the hedge and knelt down. He spread out a square of newspaper filled with chunks of potato. “Dip, dip, dip, my little ship,” he recited, choosing which bit to plant.

“We ain’t got all day,” Ted said. “Gis some here.”

He held out his hands, caught some of the pieces Bill threw over, and groped in the mud for the rest. He added them to his pile, except for one chunk that he dunked in an old saucepan full of water lying nearby. He stuffed that bit into his mouth.


“S’good,” spluttered Ted. “Ain’t yer never had raw tater?”

“No, I haven’t. Why do you eat it?”

“’Cos I’m hungry. What d’yer fink?”

“Didn’t you have any breakfast?”

“I had a bit o’ toas’. Me mum use’ ter boil me an egg till I got sent here.”

“Where do you come from?”

“Woollidge. Lunnun.”

“London? Oh, my father said…” Bill bit his lip and stopped talking.

“What? What did he say? That it was bombed las’ night?”

“Yes. Hundreds of rockets came over the Channel. They did a lot of damage.”

Ted rubbed a finger under his nose, leaving a muddy streak. “I wonder if me mum…”

“She’ll be all right. She was probably in a shelter.”

“She never liked them places. We use’ ter hide under our table.”

“Oh!” Bill put pieces of potato into the holes. When he had planted five of them, he looked warily at his new friend who was sitting on his heels, staring into nowhere.

Suddenly Ted asked, “How come you’re here?”

“We’ve left London until the war’s over.”

“Who’s we?”

“My father and me.”

“What’s so special ’bout your dad? How come he’s here when ev’ryone else’s has bin sent ter fight in France?”

“He’s what they call exempt. He’s got a special job.”

“Is he a conshee? I hates conshees. They’re lily whi’ cowards. Not real men, like my dad.”

Bill clenched the stick. “My father’s a real man too. But he refuses to kill anyone.”

“My dad ain’t killed no one neither. Not yet. Where’s yer mum?”

“I don’t know. I think she’s dead.”

“So’s my mum prob’ly, if that bombing…”

“They’d have told you. My father says bad news travels fast.”

He must have tempted Fate. A moment later a woman called, “Ted! Ted!” The shout came from an open window in the house a few yards behind them.

Ted didn’t move.

“She’s calling you.”

“I got ears.”

“Why don’t you go in, then?”

“Don’ wan’ ter.”

“Won’t she get cross?”

“’Spec’ so. She don’ like me. Says I’m a handful. Wishes she hadn’t took me in. Says her Harruld’s got more ’bout him than me. He’s eight. I’m nine. Ten in October.”

“I’ll be eleven on 1 November.”

“Ted! Ted!” The voice sounded impatient.

“You’re just making it worse.”

Ted stood up and scuffed the ground. “Will yer help me wiv me garden termorrer?”

“Yes. I’d love to.”

“We’re friends then? I ain’t got no friends. Not here, any road.”

“I don’t either. We’ll be best friends.”

Ted moved towards the house but stopped when the call came again.

“Ted, laddie, come indoors. I’ve got summat to tell you.”

Ted turned to Bill, his fists clenched. “Did yer hear her? She ain’t never called me laddie. Not in all the time I’ve bin here. Betcher summat’s happened to me mum.”


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Dorothy Piper was born in Hornchurch, England, in 1936, and won her first prize-winning essay, When I Grow Up, when she was eight. When she did grow up, she found that becoming a sister in a children’s home was not for her after all. Instead, she combined a secretarial career with being a working mother.

In 1995, Dorothy left England and came to live in America, where retirement gave her more time to devote to her first love—writing. She writes under different identities. Her collection of stories and poems (Literary Allsorts); an unfinished five-part sci-fi fantasy series; and two history books about five generations of the Piper family have been self-published under her maiden name. Two more stories (Truth Will Out and Brotherly Love) were self-published under the nom de plume of Joni Havcl.

The difference between now and 1944 is so vast that it led Dorothy to write Best Friend Forsaken which has been accepted for publication by NineStar Press. You can find Dorothy on Twitter.


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New Release Blitz: The Vampire’s War by Damian Serbu (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Vampire’s War

Series: The Realm of the Vampire Council, Book Five

Author: Damian Serbu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/27/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 85700

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, immortal, vampires, witches, pets, war, hurt-comfort

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War brews among vampires. Facing extinction at the hands of an ancient one, the Vampire Council plods along with a secret strategy. Jaret Bachmann, both vampire and witch, fears the Council elders move too slowly. He has the power to assist them in defeating their enemy, but the longer they keep him at arm’s length the more defiant he becomes. He’s already pushing the boundaries to assert his will when tragedy strikes, devastating him and compelling him to become even more rebellious.

A young vampire alone in the world, Jaret struggles to find his true self and discover how he wants to spend the remainder of his eternal life, even as the vampire war intensifies and the rogue vampire strikes again. To compound his problems, he’s faced with the allure of a hot renegade vampire, not sure if he is friend or foe.

Who will win the war, and where will Jaret’s soul-searching lead him?


The Vampire’s War
Damian Serbu © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One: Confrontation

20 January 2019

Estes Park, Colorado

Jaret hugged himself as if to fend off the frigid air blowing across Lake Estes on a winter’s night. His long, brown curly hair blew into his face, blurring the image of the man sauntering away. The muscular hunk faded into the distance, his rock-solid body and sandy brown hair nothing but a memory.

Of course, Jaret wasn’t cold. A vampire’s body was immune to the elements, always a perfect temperature. He clutched his arms around his slight but powerful body to contain the emotion vying to burst out. The lust for Charon, a narcissistic vampire Jaret loved to flirt with, always made his head spin. The forbidden alure frazzled his mind because Jaret was completely loyal to Anthony, the most powerful and oldest vampire in the world.

More than desire confounded him at the moment, however. The dread of a looming vampire war, over five years in the making but brewing beneath the surface, had his emotions on edge. He had met Charon and started their flirtatious relationship because of the impending war, seeing the powerful warlock vampire as a needed ally. But Jaret felt guilty for courting Charon and his harem of hot men to join the cause without the Vampire Council’s knowledge.

Jaret, a strong vampire and even more powerful witch, feared little in terms of humans or other vampires. He felt certain of his own justification for defying the Council and even more confident he had never betrayed Anthony. But containing his rage and terror threatened to undo him.

It was becoming too much to balance outward obedience to the Council with his secret intentions about the war. Jaret’s magic pushed him to make his own plans to fight, despite the Council ordering him to stay out of the way.

Both conflicting agendas whirled in his head.

When another being materialized before him, as if dropped from heaven, Jaret launched himself twenty feet backward in one swift motion and took a defensive posture. Lost in his thoughts, he’d failed to sense the approaching danger.

Jaret remained rigid, even as the person before him stepped forward, transforming from an unknown threat into a very familiar vampire. The long blond hair. The bright blue eyes. The hot muscles. The height. Everything about Anthony’s appearance thrilled Jaret as much as during their first encounter along the shore of Lake Michigan when Anthony saved Jaret from a gang of football players wanting to rob and bash him.

Usually, Jaret would run into those inviting arms, but tonight the full moon shone down on the infuriated face Jaret never liked to see on his lover. The telltale thrum of a vein in Anthony’s forehead gave away the rage. Anthony pressed his lips together and glared.

Jaret’s body trembled. After losing his entire family when an enraged ghost had killed them, Anthony and his friends had saved Jaret. Jaret loathed the thought of losing his vampire family, but this episode would come of his own doing because, without a word being spoken, Jaret knew Anthony had caught him with Charon.

“How long has this been going on?” Anthony spoke in a measured tone, stepping forward with a slow, deliberate movement.

Jaret remained crouched in a defensive posture. “What?”

“Don’t play innocent,” Anthony sneered. “I didn’t want to believe my eyes. Even when confronted with the evidence. How long have you been cheating on me?”

Jaret shook his head. “Never. I never cheated on you.” His heart sank as he ignored all the questions except the accusation of infidelity. All the temptation, the repeated and earnest attempts by Charon to fuck Jaret, but he never betrayed his lover. Never.

Anthony rushed forward and grabbed Jaret’s crotch. He spat his words into Jaret’s ear. “Your erection says otherwise.”

“No.” Jaret whispered. “Nothing ever happened. I went to him for help. We need him.”

Anthony released Jaret’s cock and stepped away, facing the frozen lake with his back to Jaret. “Explain, or I leave.” Anthony stood straight as an arrow before taking two steps farther away from Jaret. “When I do, I’ll bring the full wrath of the Vampire Council down upon you. It will be as if you and I never fell in love.”

Jaret gasped out his despair. “Without knowing the truth, you’d throw me into the wind?” A blood tear trickled down his cheek.

Anthony turned and clutched Jaret’s arms in his fists before yanking him forward. He spoke in a whisper, his rigid façade evaporating in the cold night air. “Talk to me. Explain this before my world crumbles around me.”

Jaret leaned into Anthony and flung his arms around his waist. They embraced for several minutes before Jaret stopped shaking and looked into Anthony’s eyes.

“It’s not what you think.” His voice quaked. “I met him about four years ago. Right after we learned some renegade vampire was plotting a war against the Vampire Council and threatening to exterminate vampires. You know I disagreed with the Council’s caution. I discovered Charon through magic. He’s a vampire, yes, but his maker created him with a spell to conceal him from all other vampires, including the Vampire Council.”

“How is that possible?” Alarm sounded in Anthony’s voice. “What maker? Why?”

“I don’t know. But Charon’s also a witch. Like me. A vampire and a witch. Hidden from everyone. He created his own harem of vampire guys, and they live separate from other vampires. He’s not a threat. Charon only wants to live without interference. But his power and ability could help us. We have to plan for this war. We’ll need every force available.”

Anthony walked along the path circling the lake. He gripped Jaret’s hand as they continued, like a couple on a warm summer’s evening.

“Do you love him?”

Jaret laughed despite the situation. “No. He’s not very loveable. Not my type of personality.”

“But he is your type in terms of being in command, hot, and domineering. So maybe you fucked him for fun.”

Anthony’s bitter words wiped the smile from Jaret’s face. “No.” He shook his head. “I mean, I hear you. He’s hot. Like if a college-aged dude with long hair, full red lips, hazel eyes, and a slight build came running by right now.” Jaret pointed to himself. “You’d watch his tight ass run by and admire the beauty. You’d flirt like hell if he stopped to ask for directions. But you wouldn’t go seduce him, even if he came at you first. It’s the same for me. Yeah, he’s hot. I lust for him, but I love you. I would never betray you for a quick fuck with another man. I couldn’t survive losing you.” Jaret choked out a cry with the last words.

The silence between them as they sauntered over a bridge that crossed the Thompson River almost undid Jaret as Anthony considered his words. Anthony tightened his clutch on Jaret’s hand, causing Jaret to stumble at the signal Anthony may have believed him.

“I wouldn’t survive either.” Anthony released Jaret and wiped a tear from his face but his anger returned too soon. “That doesn’t explain your defiance of the Council. I have a duty to the vampire ethic, regardless of how my service to the Council affects you and me.”

Jaret sighed. Their same argument. “We’ve been over our disagreement a million times. The Council keeps me in the dark.” Jaret bit his lip before raging against the Vampire Council, an ancient entity with power to enforce vampiric laws. The members possessed a sorcery to detect defiance of their edicts, and they could punish those who disobeyed, including a death sentence. The Council spent most of its time regulating the one hundred or so vampires worldwide so that everyone kept their existence a secret from humanity. The possible war meant they needed to shift their focus, and their slow movement toward the battle infuriated Jaret, especially because he had no voice there, despite knowing all five members on an intimate level. “And I think you’re being too passive. The Council needs to act, fast. It’s been over four years since we learned about a possible war. We know the enemy’s getting ready to move.”

“You’re too powerful a witch. We’ve talked about your magic too. Trust the Council. We’re keeping abreast of the situation.”

“Magic, magic, magic. You throw my power in my face all the time. It’s a part of me, which you also knew as soon as you met me. So how about we get over my power already. Let me in on the meetings. I feel like a total dweeb—all my friends sit on the Council. You. Xavier. Thomas. Catherine. Harriet. All the important people in my life. But I sit on the outside like a fucking asshole because my jewels give me power. It’s fucking ridiculous.”

Anthony stopped and frowned at Jaret. “Maybe we keep you at a distance because you’re young and impetuous.”


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz: An Elf’s Fate by Casey Wolfe (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  An Elf’s Fate

Series: The Inquisition Trilogy, Book Three

Author: Casey Wolfe

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/27/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 72400

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, vampires, werewolves, mages, witches, elves, centaurs, dark, magic, hurt/comfort, PTSD, military, humor, friendship, political, fantasy, paranormal, contemporary fantasy, romance, pansexual, asexual, nonbinary, mates, mating, mate bonds

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Orion was born to a wild werewolf pack that spent more time as beasts than men. That changed when he met an elf of the Redwood, Thalanil. For the first time in over a month, the timber wolf felt compelled to return to human form when he sensed the presence of his mate.

Thalanil had never thought to be bonded to a werewolf, of all things, though he wasn’t about to question the fate given to him by the Earth Mother. When he returned to his military duties, he had a new mate in tow. Together, they found a home with their spec ops team and a purpose in life.

Now, as the holdouts of the Inquisition have been rooted out one by one, the team has been called upon to aid in their destruction once and for all. With Shaw and Marcus returned, it should be a quick and easy job. Except, dark magic like they have never seen before lurks around every corner. Their only hope to survive might be found in a trio of powerful mate bonds and the magic of their tribe.


An Elf’s Fate
Casey Wolfe © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Birds shot through the canopy, squawking indignantly, as Thalanil slid down a vine past them, rather than use the rampways. He laughed, adjusting his gear once his feet touched the soft earth at the base of the large redwood tree. He took a deep breath of the fresh morning air, unable to stop the smile from coming to his lips.

People greeted him as he passed through the lively marketplace. Thalanil promised them all they would talk later—he didn’t often get leave to come home. For the time being, he wanted to go out into the woods.

He’d missed A’netheas. He’d missed the people and his family. But he’d missed the Redwood most of all.

The recurve bow on his back was perhaps an old-fashioned weapon; however, tradition was important to the elves, and thus all elven children were taught to use one. Not everyone stuck with it, but for those like Thalanil, their natural reflexes and keen eyesight made them excellent at it. That skill wasn’t overlooked by the military either, Thalanil becoming a master sniper.

The trees welcomed him back like a long-missed friend, their colorful leaves changed with the cooling temperatures. Thalanil traversed the treetops, hopping from one limb to the next and using branches to swing into neighboring trees. Soon, he found himself deep within the Redwood.

Deciding to take a break, he found a comfortable-looking branch, stretching his legs along the length as he sat with his back to the trunk. He looked out at his surroundings, the sun cutting through the leaves, and sighed in contentment. He rested his head back, feeling the bite of bark, and listened to the wilderness around him.

Damn, I’ve missed this.

It was good to be home. A’netheas had changed little in his time away. Not that he expected it to. If anything, it was a comfort to be somewhere familiar after so long away, sent from place to place as a member of Calagon’s Special Operations Division.

The elven city seemingly came out of nowhere when traveling through the forest. They had cleared little land, instead choosing to build vertically into the trees for the most part. They did not have city walls or traditional borders. It was simply the way they were.

That wasn’t to say they hadn’t moved with the times—far from it. They used hydroelectric technology and solar panels to power their city. Satellites connected them to the outside world. They might have lived simple lives, but they were still very much a part of the global community.

Allowing himself to be lulled into a state of peace, Thalanil wasn’t sure exactly how much time had passed when he heard the approach of several good-sized animals. He had heard birds and smaller game, even a few deer, but these beasts were altogether different.

Curious, Thalanil sat up, legs dangling on either side of the branch. Sure enough, in the distance, he could see a pack of wolves moving between the trees. They were at an easy trotting pace, those in the lead putting their muzzles in the air to scent—a hunting party.

Thalanil immediately clocked that these were not mundane wolves. Their larger stature pegged them as their werewolf cousins. Considering there were only so many predators in the Redwood, and no other packs to speak of, Thalanil felt safe assuming this was the infamous feral pack well known to his people.

Even a century old, Thalanil had only come across them a few times in passing. An unspoken pact between the Redwood Pack and the elves of A’netheas saw that they stayed out of each other’s way. The werewolves didn’t stray near the city, and the elves gave them a wide berth in whatever hunting grounds the pack was using that time of year.

The pack lived a nomadic life, never seeming to stay in one place very long. It made any attempt at reaching out to them difficult. The fact they lived a majority of their time in wolf form didn’t help matters either.

Thalanil watched the group move closer, knowing full well they scented him in his perch. It appeared none of them were worried about a lone elf, choosing instead to keep moving in search of whatever prey they were tracking.

Surprisingly, one of them stopped. A tawny-colored wolf with black along his back gazed up into the trees. Eyes landed on him. The wolf stared for a moment before releasing a high-pitched whine. Then, to Thalanil’s complete shock, the wolf went down to the ground and rolled over to reveal the cream fur of his belly.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

“Everyone deserves a Happily Ever After.”

History nerd, film buff, avid gamer, and full-time geek; all of these things describe Casey Wolfe. They prefer being lost in the world of fiction—wandering through fantasy realms, traveling the outer reaches of space, or delving into historical time periods. Casey is non-binary and ace, living with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, all of which informs their writing in various ways. Happily married, Casey and their partner live in the middle-of-nowhere, Ohio with their furry, four-legged children.

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New Release Blitz: As Long As Stars Are Above You by Shana Schwarz (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  As Long As Stars Are Above You

Author: Shana Schwarz

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/27/2022

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Female/Female

Length: 58400

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, romance, comedy, family-drama, bisexual, time travel, do-over, fortune teller, London, established couple, tearjerker

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Joey had different dreams when she was in high school, but she thinks she’s built a perfect life. Then her marriage hits the rocks.

When she goes to her high school reunion, a chance encounter with a fortune teller sends Joey back twenty years and she has the chance to live out those teenage dreams.

Joey begins a whole new life with her band camp crush. But are there consequences to taking a different path, and are some things simply meant to be?


As Long As the Stars Are Above You
Shana Schwarz © 2022
All Rights Reserved


There it was again. That word. Dan tried to make it seem like a positive thing, as if letting her decide everything was a courtesy. But all she heard was him pulling away, literally. Shutting down.

“Well, I guess I could go on my own?” Joey said, hoping he’d hear how much she didn’t want that to be the case.

Fight for me, she pleaded silently to the back of Dan’s head. Remind me that I’m not in this alone.

“I don’t care, Jo, really. We need to talk, but just tell me if I need to get dressed or…”

He didn’t finish the sentence but drifted back to looking at his phone. Apparently, that’s how little she meant to him now. She wasn’t even an afterthought in his mind, but an incomplete one.

“Maybe we can talk when I get back?” she suggested, still trying to catch his eye.

A reaction from Dan, finally, as he looked up at her for a moment with a haunted expression.

“Whatever you think. We probably should…”

What he thought they probably should discuss, however, he didn’t say. He and his phone headed toward the guest bathroom before she’d even had a chance to kiss him goodbye.

Joey hated herself for thinking it, but she missed how they used to fight. She could deal with anger. But this? This was apathy. Anger, at least, meant he still cared.

His words bounced around inside her head as she finished getting ready, and they were still on repeat as she wound her car through the familiar streets of their old neighborhood. As she turned the engine off and gave herself a once-over in the rearview mirror, she hoped the few tears she couldn’t blink back hadn’t messed up her mascara too much.

Not that it mattered. When Joey Shaw walked into a room, people always seemed to notice. It wasn’t that she was pretty. She was, but she carried herself like she wasn’t, so sometimes people forgot she was almost striking.

It was more that people could sense she’d entered a room, so they always turned to look. She brought with her a sense of…delight? Was that the right word? A sense that the room would be different now she was in it. She wasn’t loud and she’d never purposely sought attention, but she made people feel good, and that was a welcome addition to any room.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz ~ Deep Waters by Thom Collins (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Deep Waters by Thom Collins

Word Count: 61,718
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 248



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Book Description

In search of a story, he found murder and romance.

Author Christian Costner is researching material for one of his dark thrillers, and Nyemouth seems like the perfect setting for his next book. The small seaside town has witnessed plenty of trouble over the years, and Christian thinks it will provide him with the inspiration he needs.

He hires local tour guide and fisherman Harry Renner to help him explore the coastline for a couple of days. Harry is knowledgeable and mature beyond his twenty-eight years. Handsome, too, though Christian thinks Harry is far too young for him.

As the weather worsens, Harry cuts short their first sightseeing trip. Heading back to shore, they spot a figure in distress in the water. A difficult rescue is made far worse when they discover that the casualty has a knife wound to his abdomen and dies before they reach the safety of the harbour.

United by the trauma, Christian and Harry find comfort in each other, but when another murder comes to light, they find themselves at the heart of a dangerous mystery and the target of a killer more ruthless than they could ever imagine.

Reader advisory: This book contains murder, verbal racism and homophobia. It can be read either as a standalone or as book three in a series.


By late October every year, the tourists left Nyemouth to holiday in the warmer climate of the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. Making a living wasn’t easy in the winter months for the locals who relied on seasonal summer trade. From the start of autumn to the dying days of spring, Harry Renner was grateful for every private charter that came his way. Today was no exception. When the man had called to say he wanted to hire Harry and his boat for two full days of sightseeing, he didn’t care why. He took the booking.

Even better, this guy, Christian, wanted to take the boat on Monday and Tuesday. Harry had weekend bookings until the end of November, private fishing parties and afternoon seal-watching trips, but the weekday work was sparse this time of year.

They had spent the morning sailing north. Unlike most of the men who chartered The North Star, Christian wasn’t interested in fishing. He’d asked Harry to show him the rugged coastline all the way up to Bamburgh Castle, more fascinated by the shore than any of the birds and wildlife Harry had pointed out. Harry had brought his cousin Tom along to crew the boat, but there had been almost nothing for him to do besides make tea and set out their lunches. All their client seemed interested in was taking photos of the land.

“We might have to put in an hour earlier than planned,” Harry shouted from his position in the wheelhouse.

Christian raised his eyes from his camera, a questioning expression on his face.

Harry pointed east at the heavy grey clouds, low on the horizon. “There’s bad weather coming.” The sky to their shore side was clear, but it wouldn’t last. He’d hoped the low-pressure front would hold off until the end of the day, but it looked to be coming faster than expected. If they were lucky, they would have another two hours. That would be enough time to turn the boat around and make it to the shelter of Nyemouth Harbour, but he doubted they had that long. The wind was already picking up, and he guessed things would get lumpy in the next sixty to ninety minutes. “The forecast for tomorrow is a lot better. We can make up for the time we lose today then—if that’s all right with you.”

Christian gave a curt nod.

He wasn’t much of a talker. He’d asked a lot of questions but had little to say for himself. When he’d turned up at the dock that morning, Christian Costner was not what Harry had expected. A lot of the men who booked private charters were of a type…arseholes. They would usually turn up with expensive fishing equipment, often brand new, in designer waterproofs and wearing their Rolex and TAG watches. They invariably brought along an entourage—the beta males to their alpha—guys beneath them they could show off to and lord it over. Harry wasn’t proud. If they had money to spend, he would take it—anything to put away for winter. For some reason, that was exactly what he’d expected of this guy.

Christian had turned up alone, which had been the first surprise. He wore jeans, a thick sweater and a regular jacket with no obvious designer label. Harry guessed he was in his early forties. There were lines around his eyes and more than a hint of grey in his short blond hair. His stubble was all grey. He was tall with a strong build and Nordic good-looks with pale eyes, a long, straight nose, sharp jawline and a wide, humourless mouth. There was something quite stern about him. He was handsome, no doubt, if Harry were into older guys, which he really wasn’t. His last boyfriend, at thirty-six, had been the oldest man Harry had ever been with. Still, Christian looked good for his age.

“You’re the captain,” Christian said, turning his camera back to the shore. “You know what’s best.”

Another surprise. Most private charters would bitch and moan the entire way home if Harry told them he’d have to cut the trip short because of bad weather—the same dudes who then turned green and threw up the beer they’d been drinking as soon as the sea turned choppy.

Well, he thought, whatever happens tomorrow, Christian is proving himself to be a near-perfect client.

Harry put the boat into a measured turn and headed south.

Christian had drunk nothing but bottled water or tea all day, and he didn’t look like the type who’d get sick in a swell, but it was better to be safe. Harry wanted to get him ashore before things turned ugly.

Tom climbed out of the tiny galley, where he’d been clearing away the lunch supplies. “Are we heading in already?”

Harry nodded. “Looks like it’s cutting in faster than forecasted. We’ll get a better shot tomorrow.”

Tom glanced to seaward and nodded before walking out onto the back deck. “Yeah, you can feel the swell is getting up.”

“We’ll get home before the worst of it,” Harry said, with more confidence than he felt.

At thirty-three, Tom was four years older than him, but for as long as he could remember, Harry had always been the more mature and level-headed of them.

Tom sauntered over to Christian, who put down his camera.

“So, what’s all this in aid of?” Tom asked. “Most people who hire the boat want to catch fish, not take pictures.

“Tom,” Harry warned, “that’s none of our business.” And to Christian, “Sorry.”

The older man gave a slight grin. “It’s fine. I don’t mind. I’m doing research.”

“Research. What? You mean, for like, TV or something?”

Harry smiled. His cousin had never been the sharpest of men. Christian apparently took it in good nature.

“It’s for a book.”

“Oh, I don’t read much.” He shuffled his feet. “So, what’s your book about? Fishing?”

Christian shook his head. “No, not fishing. I’m not sure what it’s about. That’s why I’m here. I’m thinking about setting a story somewhere along this coast. Maybe in a town like Nyemouth. I don’t know yet.”

Tom looked at Harry, a goofy grin plastered across his face. “You hear that? He wants to write a book about Nyemouth.”

“Set in Nyemouth,” Christian corrected. “Maybe. Like I said, I’m not sure. I’m looking for inspiration. Just trying to get ideas for now.”

“You’ve come to the right place,” Harry told him.

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “We’ve got it all going on here.”

Christian smiled. It crinkled his eyes even further and revealed good white teeth. It was a very attractive smile.

For an older man, Harry reminded himself.

“Is that so?”

“Hell, yeah.” Tom bounced with excitement. “If I tell you about it, will you put me in your book? Like, as a character.”

Christian chuckled, humouring him in a good-natured way. “We’ll see. I can give you an acknowledgement…if your information is good.”

Harry listened as his cousin ran his mouth, content to steer the boat without contributing.

“For a little town, we’ve had so much shit going on that most people wouldn’t believe it—murders, attempted murders, drowning. Whatever you can think of, it’s happened here. Just this summer, the UK Border Forces intercepted a fishing boat coming into the harbour. They found sixty-nine migrants hidden in the hold. The boat had come over from Belgium. They must have figured it was easier to smuggle people onto the quieter north coast than down south, where everyone is watching for them. That caused quite a stir. And just last year, a local businessman tried to murder his husband on a yacht just outside the harbour. And before that, someone tried to kill Arnie Walker, you know, the actor, on the north shore beach. You should put all that in your book.”

Christian nodded, zipping his jacket. The wind had increased. “I know Arnie Walker—and his husband, Dominic. They are the main reason I’m here. When I told Dominic I was thinking about setting a book in Northumberland, he suggested I check out this area.”

“Oh, that’s right. Dominic’s a writer, too. I always forget that. He doesn’t use his own name.” Harry looked at Christian in a new light. Dominic Melton was one of the nicest men he knew, brave and dependable. If Christian was a friend of his, there had to be something good about him.

“That’s how we met,” Christian said, turning his cool grey eyes towards him. “At a literary festival about three years ago. We’ve kept in touch, though this is my first time in Nyemouth.”

“So, are you staying with Dominic and Arnie?” Tom asked.

“No. I’ve got a room at Quay House. Nothing against the guys and their lovely home, but I like my privacy at the end of the day. I can never relax when I’m in someone else’s place.”

Harry understood that well enough. He’d lived on his own since leaving his parents and couldn’t imagine the compromise involved in sharing with someone else. “What kind of books do you write? The same kind of stuff as Dominic?”

He shook his head. “Dominic’s novels are more action-oriented. I write crime stories, murder mysteries—that kind of thing.”

“What did I say?” Tom blurted excitedly. “You’ve definitely come to the right place.”

“Not from what I’ve seen so far. Nyemouth seems a quiet, laid-back kind of town.”

“It’s really not,” Tom said.

“When did you arrive?” Harry asked.

“I got here on Saturday afternoon.”

“Give it time,” Tom told him. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

“Give it a rest, Tom,” Harry admonished. “It’s not that bad, honestly. There have been a few incidents over the years, but no more than any other place. I bet if you scratch the surface of any small town, you’ll find plenty of similar stories.”

“I know,” Christian said with a knowing smile.

The winds increased, and the boat swayed farther in the swell. The weather was changing much faster than he’d expected. A few heavy splats of rain landed on the deck.

“Things are about to get choppy,” Harry told Christian. “Come into the wheelhouse. You’ll be sheltered from the worst of it.” He told Tom to brew another round of tea.

As Christian stepped inside, the rain started in full and was soon bouncing several inches off the wooden decking.

“Is it always so unpredictable?” he asked.

“Yep. The only thing you should expect at sea is the unexpected. I’m going to have to pick the speed up a bit if we’re going to outrun the worst of it. That means it’s going to get bumpy. Hold on to something and watch your footing.”

Harry pushed the throttle. The front and back pitch of the boat increased as it ploughed through the strengthening waves. He estimated they were forty minutes out from Nyemouth Harbour. The North Star was an old vessel, but she was sturdy. She could handle a lot worse than this and had done so many times, but when people chartered the boat, he had a responsibility to them. Though some captains might take a different attitude, Harry wasn’t in business to make his clients sick or frighten them in high seas. He would get Christian back to shore before the worst struck, even if the ride was a little uncomfortable.

He glanced over his shoulder at the older man. He looked to be bearing up okay. Christian stared at the worsening conditions with seeming curiosity. There was no sign of anxiety.

Tom returned with three mugs of tea, distributing them without spilling a drop.

“There’s a bottle of whisky below,” Harry said to Christian, “if you fancy a tot to keep the cold out.”

“This is fine. Thank you.”

Satisfied that the client wasn’t about to freak out on him or fall over and break something, Harry gave all his concentration to the boat and route ahead. The wind blew hard against the port side, but they were far enough from shore that he didn’t have to worry about it blowing them off course or onto the rocks. When he reached the entrance to the harbour, the force of it would be behind them and shouldn’t cause much trouble.

“What do you do when you’re not running private charters?” Christian asked.

“Sightseeing mostly,” Harry answered. “During the summer, I run a variety of different excursions along the coast. Bird watching, half-day fishing trips, twilight cocktail parties…anything to get the tourists on board. I have a few private charters to keep me going over the coming weeks, but once we get into deep winter, I’ll spend my time maintaining the boat and getting ready for next spring.”

“Have you been out here long? Working on the boat, I mean?”

“My whole life. It used to belong to my dad. He was a fisherman, and I grew up on this thing, going out most weekends and every day during the holidays. He retired four years ago, due to his health. Fishing full-time isn’t for me, so I repurposed the boat for the tourist market. I’ve been running these trips ever since.” He glanced over his shoulder at Christian. “You’re not going to use me in one of your books, are you?”

Tom laughed. “You wish he would.”

Christian gave another of his cracking smiles. It completely changed the appearance of his otherwise down-turned features. “I don’t know what I’m going to write about yet—or whom. I’ll let you know. So, with all these exciting things happening around Nyemouth, have you ever been caught up in any of them yourself?”

He turned back to the view ahead. “I crewed on the lifeboat when I was younger, but not as much as I wanted to. I was at sea so much myself that I was rarely available when they had a call out. It was also a struggle to keep up with the training demands. We had some hairy rescues, all the same. We once evacuated the entire crew of a trawler just minutes before she sank.” He pointed ahead. “They were so close to the shore when they went down, about a mile from the harbour. They had taken on so much water there was nothing we could do. We might not have saved the boat, but we got the crew home safely to their families that night.”

“That’s what really matters.”


“I think maybe there is a book here. Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to have an interesting story to tell.”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t think about it that way. It’s all part of life.”

The boat took a sudden lurch to starboard as a heavy wave struck them, side on. Christian crashed against the wall of the wheelhouse and hissed as he spilt his tea.

“Sorry,” Harry said, getting the boat under control. “Are you both okay?”

“I’m fine,” Christian said, “though it’s maybe more excitement than I bargained for.”

“It won’t be long now. If you look ahead and to the right, you can make out the harbour walls and the lighthouse. We’re almost home.”

They carried on in silence for the rest of the journey. Harry hoped the freak wave hadn’t startled Christian enough for him to cancel tomorrow’s trip. This shitty front was forecast to blow over during the night, and the outlook for the morning was good. He’d take him to The Fisherman’s Arms when they got back to make up for the shortened trip and persuade him to stick to his plan.

There was now less than half a mile to the harbour entrance. Almost there.

“Wait!” Christian shouted, stepping forward. He came up beside Harry and stared through the rain-lashed window.

“What is it?” Harry tried to follow his eyeline.

“I’m not sure. I thought I saw something.”

Harry eased back on the throttle. “What kind of something?”

Christian chewed his thumbnail. “I’m not sure. I thought for a second it was…a person in the water. I don’t know. Maybe…”

Harry’s pulse quickened in an instant. “Where?”

Christian pointed. The surface of the sea was a turbulent mass of dark-grey waves and deep swells. Harry reduced their speed even further, causing the boat to pitch and roll dramatically. Tom went onto the deck and scrabbled around the wheelhouse to the bow for a better view.

“When the sea is like this, it can play tricks on the eyes,” Harry said. “Are you sure?”

Christian narrowed his eyes, straining to see. “No. I’m not sure. It’s just—there.” He lurched forward, pointing.

Harry saw it at the exact same time on the upward sweep of a wave, the unmistakable shape of someone’s head and shoulders. The waves crashed, and they vanished from sight in the next second. He altered course.

If there was someone in the water this far out, they were already in big trouble.

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About the Author

Thom Collins

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

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

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


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New Release Blitz: Coven by Mell Eight (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Coven

Series: Witch’s Circle, Book One

Author: Mell Eight

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/27/2022

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 31200

Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, paranormal, magic, witches, shifters, vampires, werewolves, cat familiars

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Kana is a rare male witch ostracized by his coven. When he claims two familiars, rather than the standard one, he knows he has to run away to keep his coven from taking advantage of his power. After years of constantly looking over his shoulder, Kana realizes he should have been paying better attention to what’s right in front of him. He’s drawn the interest of a different sort of coven: vampires.

Vampires, and the werewolves who protect them, want power, and Kana has a lot of that. Even with the support of his familiars, Kana isn’t sure if he’ll survive the attentions of the vampires. Except, perhaps it’s the werewolves, and one handsome wolf in particular, that Kana ought to be afraid of.


Mell Eight© 2022
All Rights Reserved

The circle was ready. Though only white chalk lines on a black, chalkboard-painted floor, the circle had taken an hour to draw. Each line was perfect, from the arc of the circle to the straight lines and exact angles of the points of the pentagram. Even the runes, drawn between the lines of the star, were as impeccable as any Kana had ever drawn.

Kana studied the circle, then let out a relieved breath when he didn’t see a single flaw. The room in the special building for advanced spells was empty; no one had come to watch his initiation into adulthood, nor his moment of calling a familiar. No one was there to give him a second set of eyes to check the circle either. He wasn’t at all surprised they hadn’t come to help him. He was a male witch. While not unheard of, male witches were extremely rare.

Most men affiliated with the witches’ coven couldn’t kindle any magic; his own father hadn’t been able to cast any magic, but his mother had been a full member of the Seattle coven’s circle of power. They had died five years ago when Kana was thirteen, and the coven had since undertaken his rearing. At least, they had until they realized he was gay. A man with power was expected to pass on that power to his daughters so they might become contributing members of the coven’s circle. According to the coven, that was literally Kana’s only purpose in life, and he had failed them when he had come out.

Well, whatever. His suitcase was already packed and the bus ticket purchased. No one would look for him if he simply vanished—no one would even care he had gone—but before he left, he had to complete the last rites that signified his ascendance to adulthood. Kana was determined to leave this place with everything he was due as a proper witch.

Kana stepped into the circle, careful not to smudge any lines, and settled with his legs crossed into the empty space at the very center. He placed his palms flat on the floor on either side of his thighs and called up his magic.

The lines of the circle started to glow a soft white, lighting the dark room and growing brighter and brighter until it seemed Kana was completely enclosed in a white, shining disk. Somehow, a large spot in the circle right in front of where Kana was sitting remained dark and then got blacker even as the chalk’s glow continued to grow in intensity.

In the darkness, something moved. A soft brushing sound whispered through the space as a massive paw touched the ground, and then another barely audible susurrus as whatever was approaching drew closer and closer to Kana within the black hole in the middle of Kana’s spell. Kana poured more magic into the circle until he was squinting through the light to see what was approaching in the dark.

Whatever it was, it was huge. A brief glimpse showed a furred creature at least six feet long, with a tail equal in length. White, shot through with jagged black stripes.

The creature was studying him, watching from the pit of blackness as Kana pushed more and more magic into the circle to keep the portal open. He was being judged, and suddenly the description in his schoolbooks of how this spell worked—a feeling of being scanned both inside and out as if subjected to X-ray vision—made sense. Kana was sweating and panting for breath, his fingers cramping where they were pressed to the ground, and yet he couldn’t stop funneling magic to keep the circle going.

The creature must have come to a decision because the sense of being scanned suddenly stopped. The creature turned around and Kana caught a glimpse of the massive, furred face of what might loosely be called a cat, but then a small, white with black stripes, furred ball of kitten dropped from the larger cat’s mouth onto the slate floor on Kana’s side of the circle. The gigantic cat turned away, and Kana was about to lift his hands and end the spell, when it suddenly turned back. A second ball of fluff dropped onto the slate floor, this one black with white stripes.

This time when the cat turned away, it ripped what was left of the spell circle from Kana’s hands. The magic vanished with the circle, and the room immediately went dark. Kana blinked, trying to see through the bright spots covering his vision. The two kittens moved at his feet, a rustle echoing in the otherwise empty room, and Kana carefully reached out until his fingers touched soft fur. He blinked again, trying to see, and let out a shocked breath when a soft mew answered his stroking.

A cat was the highest form of familiar, but this wasn’t a mere house cat. No, the massive creature who had delivered the kittens to Kana was a primordial, magical tiger, and the kittens were likely the same. And he had two! Multiple familiars did happen on rare occasion, and sometimes a witch even received multiple cats, but cats like these? Never.

If the coven knew… Kana’s breath caught in his throat. No, they couldn’t know. They would lock him up, force him to breed, all in the hopes of creating a female witch who might be granted the same powers as his in the calling circle. Any freedom his packed bags and bus ticket represented would vanish.

Kana needed to disappear much more thoroughly than he had originally planned. It would be easy enough to change his last name from his mother’s to his father’s, which had been abandoned when his parents married. The coven likely didn’t remember. He would have to take multiple bus trips, paying in cash and going in opposite directions, to a destination they would never expect. He could do it, but first he had to get out of the building.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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