New Release Blitz: How to Share a Cat and Other Life Lessons by Evelyn Fenn (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  How to Share a Cat and Other Life Lessons

Author: Evelyn Fenn

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/09/2024

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 90200

Genre: Contemporary, young adult, lesbian, asexual, aromantic, aroace, over 40s, crafts, knitting, musicians, misunderstandings, coming out

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Description

Seventeen-year-old Nessa Clarkson is full of questions and confusion. How does she fit into the new household Dad is forging with his partner, Cindy, and Cindy’s son? What will being a lesbian mean in practice? And why is their neighbour so reluctant to talk about her past?

Moira Cavendish had been famous for a while, in the 1980s. Then she fled the bright lights of London, leaving only a mystery behind her.

Moira and Nessa shouldn’t have anything in common. But when their paths cross, and they bond over their shared love of knitting and the ginger tomcat that can’t decide whose home is best, they find themselves on intertwining journeys of discovery.

Excerpt

How to Share a Cat and Other Life Lessons
Evelyn Fenn © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Nessa waited to be allowed inside St Drogo’s great hall. On the plus side, milling around like this meant she got to ditch her books and spend a few precious minutes with her friends. On the downside, she was a bundle of stress, nervous energy, and panic, and hanging around outside the exam room had to be the least fun anyone could have with their mates.

Next to her, Meg dropped her lucky ballpoint, swore, bent over to pick it up, and got flustered for an entirely different reason: Tim wolf-whistled.

Meg straightened. Her cheeks flamed but she brazened out her discomfort. She struck an exaggerated pose, hips out and spine twisted in a way that would have pained anyone less limber, formed her lips into a pout, and cooed, “Like what you see, do you?”

Nessa and the rest of the crowd, including Tim, laughed. For a fraction of a second, the pre-exam tension eased.

Meg was Nessa’s best friend. She had red hair, which almost touched her shoulders. It was unfashionably curly and had volume and body, and Nessa envied the way it looked great, no matter how little effort Meg put into styling it. Meg didn’t bother much with make-up either. All throughout puberty, her skin had remained enviably acne free and smooth, and she wore her freckles with pride.

Like Nessa, Meg was also stressing. Nessa could tell by the way Meg was bouncing on the balls of her feet.

If Tim—tall, devil-may-care, and an extrovert—was nervous, he hid it well, and better than his best friend, Tarone, who looked as though he might pass out at any moment. Not surprising, given he was about to sit an art history paper. When it came to the practical side of his favourite subject, Tarone was a force to be reckoned with, but his creativity was offset by his performance at anything more academic. Writing essays was not his strong suit.

Tarone was tall, had brown skin, and almost-black hair. He had caused a minor stir a couple of years before, when in a relationships-and-sex-education class, he had mentioned his dad was transitioning, and he now had two mums. Possibly the stir would have been greater had the lesson not been online in the middle of an English lockdown.

Tarone was fiercely proud of and loyal to both his mums, and they to each other. When the school restarted face-to-face teaching, he’d returned to lessons with a trans ally pin on his lapel, which the teachers told him to remove. Begrudgingly, he had done so, but he made up for his loss by putting an ally sticker on the lid of his laptop where everyone could see it and the teachers couldn’t argue he was violating the dress code.

Nessa not only admired him. She liked him. A lot.

As a friend.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

I lived in five different cities, spanning two continents, before leaving crowds and commuting behind and settling somewhere that official statistics describe as “Very Remote Rural”.

I have made up stories for as long as I can remember, and I have been writing them down for almost as long. I cut my creative writing teeth on fan fiction in the days of paper fanzines and, later, online. I had fun but eventually grew tired of playing in other people’s sandpits. Turns out, it’s more fun to create sandpits of my own.

I have worked in the public, private, and voluntary sectors, with roles ranging from number crunching and lecturing to mucking out cowsheds and toilet cleaning. I currently hold down a day job while daydreaming of writing full time.

Evelyn Fenn is a pseudonym. You can find Evelyn on Twitter

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

Title:  The Predicament

Series: Flavors of the Month, Book Two

Author: Penny McLean

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 01/02/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Female, Female/Female

Length: 59600

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, contemporary, humorous, bisexual, multiple partners, doctor, scientist, Italy, smear campaign

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Description

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

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

In this sequel to The Plan, follow Cynthia through April, May, and June as things heat up just in time for summer. Can she get things back on track before her dream of love melts away?

Excerpt

The Predicament
Penny McLean © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
March 28

It’s weird to be in such a familiar place with a complete stranger. I know every twist and turn of Disneyland, but when I look at the guy walking next to me, I keep realizing again what a strange path I’ve been on this year.

“So, you dated Peter as part of your Plan?” Eric asks, as I finish explaining everything that’s happened since I set this all in to motion in December.

I nod. “But we met back in high school. I had a huge crush on him back in the day and he thought he had one on me.”

“But he really liked that Cara girl?”

“Apparently,” I say sheepishly. “People used to confuse us from time to time, but this has to be the worst instance of mistaken identity I’ve ever experienced.”

“I’ll say. I once had a girl throw eggs at my door back in London. When I yelled down to ask what she was doing, she said she meant to hit my neighbor’s house, but got the number wrong. That was annoying. Yours is worse.”

I laugh really hard and smile at Eric as we stroll down Main Street toward Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. It’s crowded today and we’ve already had to dodge a few strollers pushed by frantic parents, eager to maximize their children’s happiness for the day. It looks exhausting.

We stop for a minute to sit on a bench and watch the people passing by. Or rather, Eric is watching the other people, while I’m taking the opportunity to stare at him and assess his looks. It’s shallow, but I don’t care.

The verdict? He is really, really cute. The glasses I noticed the first time I saw him currently sit askew on his face, or they do until he reaches up to adjust them. His black hair is unkempt, most likely because we drove all night to get here. His eyes are a steely gray and his build is tall and lanky.

“Why did you bring me here?” I say as the thought occurs to me. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled. But what put it in your head to get in the car and drive straight here?”

“Well, I haven’t lived in America very long, but I did a lot of touristy things pretty early. I came here last year with a coworker while we were visiting a lab in Los Angeles, and I thought how nice it would be to come back with a woman on a date. So, when I saw you looking like you needed an escape last night, I decided this would be the best option.”

“And you went to the Prom last night just to see me?” I’m still a bit mystified.

“Indeed, I did. Something about seeing your legs dangle outside of my tree that night really left an impression.”

We’re both laughing again, but I’m secretly wondering if he’s holding back regarding our second encounter. I decide not to mention it and opt for the best distraction I can think of.

“How about I buy you a churro and we go check out a ride?”

“Buy me a what?” he says.

“You didn’t have a churro when you came here before?” I’m shocked that he missed something so crucially Disney. He shakes his head, so I grab his hand to lead us to the nearest cart, just opening for the day.

“Allow me to introduce you to the greatest thing since sliced bread.” I pay for two churros and hand one to him. They are warm and smell amazing. I smile as he takes a bite of his and wait to bite into my own cinnamon-sugar treat until I hear his assessment.

“Oh wow,” he says. “I had no idea what I was missing out on.”

I laugh and lead us into Fantasyland to get in line for Peter Pan. As we queue up, Eric smiles. “Don’t hate me, but I didn’t ride this ride either. Guessing it’s a favorite of yours since you brought me here first?”

“Oh yes.” I nod and smile. “I really do love this ride, but it also gets a long line pretty early, so it’s best to come here before it gets too bad.”

“You’re quite the expert.” He seems impressed.

“You could say that. So, how did you end up in the States?”

We pass the time in line with Eric filling me in on the work he does as a physicist. It’s all really complicated, and I understand very little, but he’s patient with me and explains as best he can. He came to America with another Brit named Allen and they’re both working on some big breakthrough with a professor at Arizona State University.

“That’s really cool,” I say as we board the flying pirate ship that will take us around on the ride. Eric holds my hand as the lap bar comes down and it’s such a sweet gesture that I well up a bit. This ride does that to me anyway, but maybe I’m already feeling a nice connection with this new guy. Either way, it’s a great start to the day. And month. And maybe my happily ever after.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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New Release Blitz: The Naked Danceer by Emme C. Taylor (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Naked Danceer

Author: Emme C. Taylor

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/19/2023

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 61300

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, gay, romance, artist, dancer, arts/performance art, bonding over art, meeting your hero/idol, grieving, depression, forgiveness, healing and recovery, second chances, moral choices

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Description

“I want you to paint my naked body.”

A strange proposal made early one morning sparks the artistic collaboration of a lifetime.

Morgan barely makes it through each day, weighed down by depression and loss. He’s a well-respected artist, but he hasn’t stepped into his studio in months. He’s become more acquainted with the feel of his bathrobe than his paintbrush.

Lu knows depression well. He still struggles with it three years after a disastrous performance ended his long-term relationship and his illustrious dance career. He and Morgan are battling different versions of the same demon.

Lu decides to vent his pain and his past through a naked dance, and he asks Morgan to paint his bare skin for the performance. New love can’t cure depression. But when two intensely artistic men unite to make something unprecedented, it sparks creativity and passion and hope—things neither man has felt in a while.

After months of driving through the oppressive night, the sun is finally peeking over the horizon for Lu and Morgan. And it all starts with a dance.

Excerpt

The Naked Dancer
Emme C. Taylor © 2023
All Rights Reserved

“I want you to paint my naked body.”

Morgan reached for his phone but then remembered he was wearing a bathrobe. He blinked at the man in his doorway. The early morning light poured in around the stranger, edging him in gold.

“Great,” Morgan said. “Please wait here while I go call the police.”

But he didn’t leave to get his phone.

There was no possible way Morgan had heard correctly. Half asleep, eyes blurry, he couldn’t be seeing right, either, because the man on his front stoop looked a lot like Lucian Bellerose.

Improbable.

The man’s eyes widened at the mention of police. They caught a ray of light—deep gray, startingly colorless. True gray eyes. Morgan had never seen anyone with eyes like that except for Lucian. Morgan shifted nervously. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. Maybe he was hallucinating. What had he eaten last night? Takeout from the fancy new restaurant down the street. Was there something questionable about that place?

“You don’t have to call the police. I’m not propositioning you,” the Lucian lookalike said with a tentative laugh. “Ah. I probably should have mentioned that first.”

As any well-spoken man would do in the same situation, caught by surprise on his doorstep, Morgan said, “Um.”

Morgan rubbed his fingers into his eyes, trying to clear away the haze so he could get a better look at the man. He could be dangerous. But even obscured by the light, he didn’t seem dangerous, though his features were rendered smudgy in the shadows. A veil of grogginess still curtained Morgan, and he wasn’t entirely sure what he was seeing. Maybe he was in a gentle doze, caught in an early morning dream about a dancer. It was a little embarrassing how many fantasies he’d had about Lucian over the last few years. Morgan was too old to have stars in his eyes, dreaming about celebrities—especially those long gone from the limelight. Or long gone, period.

“Please don’t call the police,” the lookalike said. “I know this is inappropriate. I shouldn’t have approached you like this at your home—”

“At six thirty in the morning,” Morgan couldn’t help but add. Morgan usually couldn’t deal with people until at least seven, and even then, he needed a generous amount of coffee to do so. Lately, noon was much more his speed.

“At six thirty in the morning,” the man said with a conceding nod. He didn’t exactly sound regretful about scaring the shit out of Morgan by leaning on his doorbell at sunrise. “I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.”

“The idea,” Morgan said slowly, feeling his way through this outlandishness, “for me to paint your naked body.”

He was definitely going to have to call the police. His art was displayed all throughout the city: in galleries, in homes, in the media. He’d been featured nationally twice. He had some fans. Well, a few fans. Maybe more than a few. None of them were particularly rabid or avid. He wasn’t movie-star-level famous. Or Lucian-Bellerose-level loved and adored. Morgan had given his autograph over and over. He had been asked for selfies several times on the street and once in a restaurant over his creme brulé. What he’d never had was a fan show up at his home studio and ask him to paint his body. He’d never used skin as a canvas, especially a stranger’s skin. What a bizarre idea. How would that even work?

The guy resembled Lucian a bit. If he looked even passingly similar to Lucian Bellerose under those clothes, it could be an intriguing project.

No, no, no. What was Morgan thinking? He wasn’t so desperate for Lucian as to let a stranger into his home.

“Shit,” the man said. “This is too forward. I can tell by your face I did this wrong. I’m sorry. I’m not usually—well, I only had three hours of sleep last night. I don’t usually…”

“Ask someone to paint your body?”

“Yeah. That.” The shape of his sheepish smile was so familiar to Morgan. “It sounds ridiculous, but I know I have a good idea.”

Calling the police would also be a good idea. Morgan could picture his phone sitting on his nightstand. Out of reach. Useless.

Wonderful. He never had it with him when he needed it, and it was always beeping in his pocket when he didn’t need it.

“Look,” the man said, softer. “Your work is avant-garde. I know you like unusual things, and I think I have the perfect project for you. Please hear me out.”

Morgan could always slam the door in the man’s face, throw the lock, and then run for his phone just in case.

The man turned his head, glanced over his shoulder out onto the snowy city sidewalk, and Morgan caught sight of his profile. God, he really did look like Lucian Bellerose. Morgan hadn’t imagined it. Something about the curve of his jaw, the curly tips of his hair escaping his knit beanie at his nape. He had that same easy, rumpled appeal.

And wasn’t that just perfect? That Morgan would meet someone who resembled his ideal man, the man he’d watched and admired on TV for three years, and he happened to be a fan about to gut Morgan and put his liver in a keepsake jar.

He really needed his phone.

“I’ve messed this up, haven’t I?” The man stood on his toes and then rocked back on his heels. Too much energy for so early. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. Let me start over?” He pulled his cap off. His hair fell free, a chaotic mess of dark, unruly curls, with a halo of frizz backlit by the sunrise. The sight stole Morgan’s breath because, with that hair, he was an absolute dead ringer. Those stupid soft curls he’d fallen so hard for the first time he’d seen Lucian dance. This man looked so uncannily, impossibly like—

“Hi. I’m Lu.” He held out his hand for Morgan to shake. “And I swear, I’m not here to stalk you or burn your house down. Or anything else untoward.” His smile was slow and wry, tilted at the corner, and unexpectedly diffident for a man who had just asked to have his naked skin covered in paint.

Morgan sucked in a breath. “Lu? As in?”

“It’s short for Lucian.”

“I—I—um.” Morgan didn’t take Lucian’s hand. His own hand was frozen around the doorknob of his front door. He was having trouble unclamping his fingers from around the metal.

Sweet Jesus.

“All right,” Lucian said after another moment and let his hand drop to his side. “Friends and family call me Lu. I figure if I’m asking you to paint me naked, we can at least be on friendly terms.”

It seemed to take Morgan a decade to say, “Lucian? Lucian Bellerose?” As if there were a hundred Lucians walking around and he just had to make sure.

“Yeah. Lu Bellerose.”

All Morgan could think was you’re alive, but what came out of his mouth in a hushed whisper was “You’re real.”

Lu’s eyebrows rose slightly. The amusement that danced around his eyes made them sparkle. “Yeah, I exist. But I don’t know Santa, so don’t ask me to introduce you.”

Funny, Morgan considered himself a fan, but he’d never heard of Lucian going by Lu. He truly was a private guy, though how he managed it while being so adored in the age of social media was the question.

“Hey!” called a man from the street, an outburst loud enough to slow people and draw looks. “Aren’t you that dancer guy who—”

Lu’s voice dipped lower as he said quickly, “Probably not, man.” He stepped closer to Morgan’s door, where the walls on each side sheltered them from the city sidewalk.

It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be. Things like this didn’t happen in real life.

Lu shoved his hat into his coat pocket. “I know I should have contacted your agent first and asked to meet you somewhere, but I couldn’t wait that long. It usually takes them at least a few days to set up meetings. It’s hard to take the time to do things properly when you have an idea.” He said “idea” like someone holding a golden egg in his palm, offering to share it with Morgan.

“You’re alive,” Morgan murmured. And whole. He somehow managed to shut his mouth on that before it could escape, thank God. Finally saying it aloud felt like relief. His voice sounded squeezed out. He gripped the doorknob so hard he wouldn’t be surprised if it broke off in his hand any moment now. His fingers ached.

Lu bounced a little, a frenetic energy just under the surface. His curls bounced a moment later, out of sync, and Morgan found himself stupidly charmed. He could see it now: the eagerness and excitement Lu could barely contain, the nerves.

“Alive…mostly,” Lu said. “Held together by the six cups of coffee I’ve had this morning. Just tell me if you want me off your doorstep, and I’ll leave. But I think you’ll want to be a part of this once you hear my idea.”

“I—uh.” Morgan swallowed. He felt slightly untethered, his mind floaty. “Okay.”

“Okay? You want to hear it?”

Hear it? Morgan was pretty sure he didn’t have to hear it. He would do it, whatever it entailed.

Morgan swallowed, worked to keep his voice steady, and said, “Yes.” I’ll do it! I’ll do it!

“Great,” Lu said. “Do you mind if I come inside? As much as I admire your front door, it’s freezing out here. And there are…people.”

Morgan moved aside, and Lu Bellerose stepped into his house, brushed past him. His first hazy, fleeting impression—tall. Just as deliciously tall as he appeared on TV. Then again, a lot of men seemed tall next to Morgan.

He still couldn’t seem to release the doorknob, which was a problem. Morgan closed the door, took a breath, and turned to Lu, one hand behind his back, clutching that damn knob. He might be forever attached to his front door.

Light from the living room leaked into the front hall. Without the contrast of sun and shadows in his eyes, Morgan got his first good look at Lu Bellerose in the flesh.

Holy shit was Morgan’s first thought. Lu looked like hell.

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Meet the Author

Emme C. Taylor can be found wandering stormy beaches with a pen and notebook in hand, waiting for inspiration or lightning to strike. She believes the atmospheric environment helps her to write the grittiest parts of her stories. Crochet and dark chocolate ease her mind when her characters aren’t cooperating. Emme will happily talk about almost anything to avoid having to talk about herself. How about this weather, huh?

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New Release Blitz: Nuclear Sunrise by Jo Carthage (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Nuclear Sunrise

Author: Jo Carthage

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/19/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 90900

Genre: Historical, historical/1950s, science fiction, romance, interracial, bisexual, gay, military, blue slips, scientific installation, Idaho desert, family drama, physical and mental abuse, homophobia, racism, sexist language, othering, in the closet, Atomic Age, science romance.

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Description

It’s 1951, and US Air Force Captain Brian Flynn hails from Roswell, New Mexico. He’s twenty-six, queer, and back in the closet thanks to his homophobic father. And he’s deeply tired of alien jokes. But Brian has bigger worries than his hometown’s recent extraterrestrial reputation. Brian’s the new security director at a top-secret atomic energy research facility in the sage-dusted plains of Idaho. His job is simple: keep any plutonium from walking out the door, keep the scientists safe from themselves, or, failing that, keep them from killing anyone else.

Nuclear physicist Dr. Aaron Antares is a cowboy in every sense of the word: the boots, the attitude, the homoerotic overtones. But in addition to gleefully violating every security procedure Brian can come up with, he’s also keeping a secret.

Brian knows Aaron is dangerous long before he discovers his out-of-this-world secret. The man flirts too freely, laughs too loudly, and can’t play straight to save his life. But Aaron’s amber eyes and gen-tle offers of a ride home in the flurrying Idaho snows are wearing down Brian’s defenses.

Will these two men find love in the high desert, or will they be kept apart by the cruelties of the Atomic Age?

Excerpt

Nuclear Sunrise
Jo Carthage © 2023
All Rights Reserved

September 11, 1951

Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (19.9 miles outside of Arco, ID)

Captain Brian Flynn slung his duffel bag over his shoulder with a grimace as he stepped out of the air force Jeep, boots crunching in the black volcanic gravel. An older white man in a lab coat hustled out of the massive white cinder block building that nearly glowed in the Idaho twilight. Brian settled his feet a little more firmly in front of the building that would be his home for the next two years as his ride peeled away, heading back east toward the saw-toothed mountains.

“Captain Flynn!”

Brian’s attention snapped to the approaching scientist, and he forced a smile; he had to make this posting work. He had to.

The man’s broad grin made him look a half century younger. Brian felt something lift in his chest. The man’s voice was a warm baritone when he said, “Welcome to our little science experiment.”

His hand-stitched name tag identified him as Dr. Zinn, the chief scientist of this project. He turned to face the installation, its anonymously industrial architecture stark against a sunset-gilded sea of scrubby sage and dark stone. “It sure is a shitty-looking building.”

Brian kept his face stony. “I couldn’t say, sir.”

Dr. Zinn’s gray eyes twinkled, but he kept a straight face. “They picked this site for the Experimental Breeder Reactor number 1—EBR-1 to those of us who know and love her—so if we all blow ourselves up tomorrow, it’ll be a thousand years of poisoned water for the local cows rather than a real metropolitan area. The fact that they built it to look like a high school gymnasium speaks more to the air force’s aesthetics than our mission here.”

Brian glanced back across the vast volcanic plain to the mountains, the last of the light shining off their man-eating snowdrifts. “Beautiful mountains though. I’ve never lived near the Rockies, and with all the sage, it smells like New Mexico.” He ground a heel in the gravel beneath his military-issue boots. “The soil here is all volcanic, right? So it’s too impermeable for any uranium spill to touch the aquifers of the Snake River Valley? Since they’re buried under a thousand square miles of pahoehoe and aa and the intrusive basaltic flows that underpin them?”

Dr. Zinn’s eyes widened. “I knew you had a physics background from your commander’s letter of introduction, but I didn’t know you had an interest in geology as well.”

Brian shook his head with a smile. “Only as it relates to atomic energy production. And I had a lot of downtime at my last base and free access to UCLA’s library.”

“Very good, Captain,” Dr. Zinn said. A gust of early fall wind blew around them, and Brian shivered in his thin uniform shirt. Zinn patted his arm, and Brian held back a flinch. “Let’s get you inside.”

He gestured for Brian to follow him across the parking lot toward the lab. A junior airman opened the door and saluted; Brian returned his salute and stepped inside. He yanked off his hat as the airman swept a Geiger counter over Dr. Zinn’s shoes, pants, chest, shoulders, and hands. Brian followed, holding his arms out for his wanding, eyes sweeping from the leaded-glass shielding around a sort of chamber on his left to a thick-walled vault on his right. Above him hung a tangle of tubes covered in a layer of asbestos that would carry liquid metal to the small reactor in the center of the building. Given the pipes’ design, Brian figured it would be a sodium-potassium alloy, rather than the light water or graphite the folks at Oak Ridge were experimenting with. Then Brian stepped through the metal detector, glancing up. A high catwalk swept around the three quarters of the building, presumably leading to a few control rooms and labs. And in the middle of everything stood a steel spiral staircase leading up to the nuclear reactor platform. No windows and only one way in or out; good for avoiding Russki spies, bad in case of a fire.

Dr. Zinn tapped him on the shoulder. “Captain, you can leave your bag with Junior Airman Freeman. He’s on the night shift again, and most of the scientists have headed home already, so he can keep an eye on it while we get acquainted.”

Brian nodded and laid the book-heavy duffel with what remained of his earthly possessions down behind the guard’s single folding chair. He straightened up, hiding a wince.

“I’ve got some paperwork for you in my office,” Dr. Zinn continued, “then I’ll give you the grand tour.”

Brian followed him along polished concrete floors to an office the size of a closet. Brian got the distinct impression Dr. Zinn would rather be out in the lab than in this tiny room, but leadership demanded a price from everybody.

“All right, son,” he started once he was seated behind his paper-engulfed desk. Brian perched on the edge of the chair and avoided leaning back. “We probably only need to have this conversation once. But this is an Argonne Labs project, and your authority as the incoming security director and as an officer in the air force extends exclusively to the uranium we are working with. The plutonium, too, when we figure out how to make it at scale here. It doesn’t mean you can tell my dozen-odd scientists what to do, even if they are pains in the butt. It doesn’t—”

Brian held up his hand. “Let me stop you there.” He tried to think of a diplomatic way to say it, then he just bulled through. “I don’t have a lot of ego tied up in this role. If by the end of two years, no uranium or plutonium has been lost or stolen, I’ll count that as a win. My commanding officer back at Vandenberg will as well.” Brian paused and then asked slowly, “Did he tell you why I requested this role?”

“No, son. He didn’t even tell me you requested it. I figured you’d been volun-told—”

“No, I requested it. Just like I requested Vandenberg right out of West Point.” He saw the doctor straighten at the name of his alma mater.

“Duty, Honor, Country?”

“Duty, Honor, Country,” Brian replied. He looked at the piles of textbooks heaped on the bookcase wedged between two overflowing filing cabinets; several of the spines sported Dr. Zinn’s name. “Cards on the table. I requested this posting because I want to be good enough to work here someday. I had the option of Los Alamos, Travis, or Oak Ridge, but I’m not going back home to New Mexico again if I can help it. Travis was straight security, no science. And Oak Ridge is working on weapons projects.” He leaned forward, eyes intent. “EBR-1 is the only project in the US focused on using atomic energy for peaceful means. That’s the work I want to be a part of.”

Dr. Zinn sat back, eyes beginning to brighten as he gestured for him to go on.

“I graduated with a degree in physics from West Point in ’48, but they didn’t want to send me to grad school right away. So I went to help run security at Vandenberg, to get to know the conventional weapons research side. With support of my commander, I applied and had been accepted to UCLA’s PhD program, was due to start this week, but”—he took a hard breath—“the air force had other plans. So this is me, doing my service so I can separate honorably in two more years and use my GI Bill to get a physics doctorate. And,” he said, lowering his voice with a tiny smile, “I find that when I’m stationed someplace with a lot of physicists, I get to have a lot higher quality coffee break conversations, no matter my actual title. I was hoping it would be the same here.”

“And a recommendation letter from a chief scientist for one of the national labs would go a long way to getting back into UCLA or an even better program when your two years is up?”

“I’m not gunning for that, Dr. Zinn. I’m here to do my job. I’m sure we’ll butt heads at some point, so I don’t want to have that between us. But what I want you to know is that I am here because I believe in your mission—good, reliable energy for millions. Turning a power that killed 210,000 people into a source of life. Helping with that seems worth spending two Idaho winters wanding scientists coming into and out of a cinder block building in the middle of the high desert.”

“You said two years. That’s how long your assignment is for?”

Brian nodded.

“You know we’re a time-bound mission,” Dr. Zinn said, folding his hands across his belly. “As soon as we achieve it—breed the plutonium from the uranium, that is—they’ll bulldoze this place, and no one will ever know that we did the work.”

Brian tilted his head. “But it’s not about credit, is it, sir?”

Dr. Zinn’s eyes caught his, widening a touch. “No, Captain. It never is.” Then he clapped his hands, leaning forward. “All right, it seems we’re on the same page. Here is the briefing packet Captain Jerush put together before he caught the bus out of Idaho Falls yesterday.” He handed over a black folder. “It has current threats, past incidents. Nothing too thrilling; I promise. You have a six person staff—”

Brian nodded. “That was in the briefing I got before leaving Vandenberg. I used the Greyhound ride from Roswell to plan out the new schedule until the reading lights went out. I’m going to put myself in the rotation with ten-hour shifts. So the rest of the team’s shifts will be seven hours of watch duty, which we can extend to eight for training, research, and paperwork if they end up needing it—”

Dr. Zinn gave him a knowing smile. “I do find that as the days get shorter, tempers do, too, so giving those young men a break will probably help everyone’s nerves. Can I ask which shift you’re planning on taking? Not because I have approval power of any kind, mind. I’m just curious if I’ll see you around for some of those ‘coffee break conversations.’”

“I’m that rare beast that enjoys nightshifts, so unless one of those under my command has a major preference, I’ll take those solo.”

Dr. Zinn nodded. “In a few months’ time, there’s going to be little enough sunlight during the day, so you won’t be missing much.” He took a breath. “There’s really only one of our scientists who uses the lab after eight o’clock.” He checked his watch. “We’ll probably see him when I show you the reactor. He’s a night owl. Honestly, I think it’s because he likes talking to the reactor when he’s working, and even he’s realized it scares the nurses. So he’s restricted himself to times no one will eyeball him over it.”

“I’ve worked with scientists before,” Brian said evenly. “Like I said, to me, that’s one of the perks.”

Dr. Zinn shook his head, neatening a stack of papers on the edge of his desk, which only threatened to unbalance the whole edifice. “We’ll see what you say after six months of dealing with his, shall we say, unorthodox approach to nuclear material management. It’s scared airmen off in the past.”

Brian frowned, leaning forward in his chair, barely feeling the fresh scabs on his back stretching under his uniform. “As long as the ‘unorthodox approach’ doesn’t lead to it going missing or irradiating anyone, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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Meet the Author

Jo Carthage is a bi, cis woman living in Silicon Valley. In her career, Jo has worked with survivors of labor and sex trafficking in DC, helped get incredible women and queer folks elected to state and national office in three states, and thinks politics and science fiction go together beautifully. Jo’s grandfather worked as a nuclear physicist at Oak Ridge in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until a 2019 family road trip veered off course and she spent an afternoon at EBR-1 that she started to write Atomic Age fiction.

Jo was honored to have Nuclear Sunrise favorably reviewed by the Director of the Mescalero Apache Cultural Center and intends to donate a portion of proceeds to their important work. As a writer, Jo loves slow burn, hurt/comfort, queer history, enemies-to-lovers, and happy endings.

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Book Blitz: ‘Tis the Season by Gale Stanley (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  ‘Tis the Season

Series: Passages #1

Author: Gale Stanley

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: December 1, 2023

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63 pages

Genre: Romance, New Adult, Contemporary, Gay, Holiday

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Synopsis

Is it possible to be both a good Jew and a gay man? Jonah Dillon doesn’t think so. He can’t reconcile his faith with his attraction to men so he turns his back on Judaism. Away at college for the holidays, he plans to lose his virginity to Christian, the blue-eyed, blond, goy of his dreams.

But fate intervenes when Jonah meets Aaron Beck, an observant Jew, and they end up celebrating Hanukkah together. Aaron tells Jonah they’re beschert—meant to be. Jonah not sure he believes, but he’s lonely and welcomes Aaron’s company even if he has to celebrate Hanukkah to get it.

Can Aaron bridge the gap and convince Jonah to take a leap of faith? Or will they have to give up their desire for a future together?

Excerpt

Copyright ©2023 Gale Stanley

The man’s image in the mirror, framed by small twinkling lights and swags of spruce and holly, appeared to be just the sort of ornament Jonah had been looking for all his life — or at least the part of his life that spanned the years since puberty. The phrase “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” came to mind, making him smile. I should be so lucky.

Unfortunately, Jonah’s plan to remain on campus for the holidays and lose his virginity to a non-Jew, a goy, wasn’t going according to plan, although he’d gone to great lengths to make it happen.

The worst part had to be when he told his parents that he wouldn’t be coming home for Hanukkah. None of the excuses he came up with felt right and he procrastinated for a long time.

Finally, he could wait no longer. Working up the courage, he called his mother and blurted out the dreaded words, before he lost his nerve. “I’ll be staying on campus for the holidays.”

Dead silence followed his announcement, followed by a worried, “Why?”

Jonah had never been good at lying. He struggled to sound believable. “I have so much to do. The workload in grad school is much heavier and the holidays are the best time to catch up.”

“Bring your work home.”

Also not good at asserting himself, Jonah hemmed and hawed. “I’d be way too busy. No time to interact.”

Unfortunately, his mother was way too good at guilt-tripping him.

Her voice wavered, and she sounded on the verge of tears. “We just want to see you. We don’t ask for much. And we’ve always spent Hanukkah together. I’m making your favorites, latkes and sweet kugel.”

A knife pierced his heart, but Jonah thought fast and stayed firm. “One of my friends is stuck on campus, too, and I promised him we would study together.” Another lie.

“Bring him home.”

“I can’t, Mom, He’s… it’s just that…”

“He’s a girl, isn’t he? Well, if it doesn’t work out, you can always change your mind and come home.”

“Sorry, Mom. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Jonah hung up before his mom could ask any more questions. Damn, she sounded like her world had come to an end. If only he wasn’t an only child. If he had a sibling to pick up the slack, it would make his life a whole lot easier. Taking a few deep breaths, he calmed himself. There would be other holidays.

Now, sitting alone at a bar, he wondered if all the grief he’d caused his mother had been for nothing. Not many students or professors had remained on campus, so Jonah had ventured off campus to find a hook-up. Happy Hour at a bar seemed the best option, but Jonah didn’t have an ounce of gaydar in his body, and gay guys didn’t go around wearing sexual ID tags. Luckily, he’d found a gay watering hole in the small college town. The rainbow flag flying out front had been a dead giveaway, and the name, The Rainbow Room. Could it be any gayer? When he first saw it, he wanted to take off like a scared rabbit, but he’d been doing that for far too long.

Jonah had forced himself to open the door and go inside. It was a gay bar, so what? Nothing remarkable, nothing to be scared of, just a neighborhood bar, a place where a guy could have a conversation without screaming over loud dance music. Actually, there was no dance floor, and that was all good too. Jonah Dillon didn’t dance, especially with other men. The only thing that differentiated The Rainbow Room from any other corner dive was the fact that it was devoid of women.

Wooden stools butted up against a foot rail at the bar and the mirrored wall behind the bar threw back his reflection. A bearded bartender, sleeves rolled up over hairy forearms, filled orders. Holiday decorations were minimal. Other than the lights around the mirror, there weren’t any, and that was okay because he’d been born and raised Jewish, and a man assimilated a lot of attitudes and beliefs in twenty-one years. Ridding himself of them would take a lifetime. At least.

Having to stare at a Christmas tree or a Nativity scene while flirting with a blond goy would have made him feel even guiltier. Ironic, that the thought of sucking an uncut cock didn’t inspire quite the same guilt. Or maybe he was just too fucking horny to care anymore. Lost in thought, Jonah wondered if he was normal. Between waking up with morning wood and masturbating before bed, it seemed like he was always thinking about sex.

When he got to college, he’d settled for hurried blowjobs with other students. It took the edge off, but Jonah wanted more. It was time to let someone put their dick in his ass so he could lose his anal virginity. Finding a willing partner who made him feel comfortable was primary. One thing he was sure of, he wouldn’t be comfortable having sex with another Jew.

So here he was, trying to fit in with the goyim, to the point of actually shopping for one of those ugly red and green Christmas sweaters with prancing deer. Seeing himself in the dressing room mirror shocked the hell out of him, but he bought it anyway, and ran out of the shop before he could change his mind. He wore it like a costume, thinking it would make him feel less inhibited and able to take some risks.

But as Jonah discovered, the sweater didn’t help him blend in. His appearance in the bar had triggered a few snickers, and after glancing around at the jeans-and-sweatshirt crowd, he’d regretted his choice.

His inner voice told him he was trying too hard and he looked like an asshole. At the time, it’d seemed like a good idea. Now, he just felt dumb, but he forgave himself for not getting it right and toughed it out. Fuck it.

Jonah ordered a beer. The bartender set down a mug wet with condensation, and a bowl of peanuts. Jonah took a few and cracked them out of their shells. He tried to look like he belonged, but nobody looked like him and everybody seemed to be with friends. Ignoring the conversations around him, he glanced at his watch every so often, as if he were waiting for someone. It made him feel less alone. Pathetic.

What would his mother say if she could see him now? Come home, boychik. You don’t belong there. Thank goodness, she was miles away and oblivious. He’d never told his parents he was gay. Hell, it had taken years to admit it to himself.

He concentrated on today’s goal — find a guy to have sex with. How hard could it be? Pretty damn hard, even in a place that was user friendly.

Jonah took another swallow of his beer. God, he hated this time of the year. The holidays always made him feel more alone than ever. His back was to the room, but he could still see the crowd in the mirror — guys of all shapes and sizes, pairing up like animals ready to board Noah’s Ark, while he was mooning over a stranger. It was damn depressing.

Finishing his beer, he scanned the mirror for the blond. Yep, still there, but focused on the two men who framed him like bookends.

Hooking up with the man in the mirror didn’t seem likely. Jonah would not, could not, make the first move, and for sure he didn’t expect the hot blond to hit on him. Why would he? Jonah was a man who didn’t stand out in a crowd, unless it was for all the wrong reasons. After a lifetime of doing stupid shit, he’d become an expert at sabotaging himself. Too bad State College didn’t offer a course in How Not to Embarrass Yourself.

The hot blond was exactly the type of man he could see himself with. He had the sun-kissed good looks of a surfer dude — blond, blue-eyed, and cherub-cheeked — a nice contrast to Jonah’s dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and stubbled jaw. The nerdy guy and the goy. Pitiful. More than the width of the bar separated them.

But looking couldn’t hurt.

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Meet the Author

Gale Stanley grew up in Philadelphia PA. She was the kid who always had her nose in a book, her head in the clouds, and her hands on a pad and pencil.

Some things never change.

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New Release Blitz: Fairest by K.S. Trenten (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title: Fairest

Author: K.S. Trenten

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/12/2023

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 30800

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy tale, romance, witches, royalty, magic, enemies to lovers, revenge to romance

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Description

All my life, I’ve been haunted by her dark eyes. At birth, she cursed me to prick my finger on the spindle and sleep for a century. She appears in my dreams, my reflections, shaping my desires. Who is she? Follow me into the lonely Forest of Tears where the dwarfs dwell, walking where she once walked. Gaze into the depths of the magic mirror which reveals her secrets. For I refuse to fear her, even if I should.

Excerpt

Fairest
K.S. Trenten © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Dark Eyes

My first memory was of her dark eyes. They captured all the colors of my infant universe, threatening to swallow me. Those eyes should have been terrifying, but they weren’t.

Her bloodred lips moved, shaping words I could not recall.

My parents remembered them only too well, along with everyone else who’d gathered in the castle for my christening.

“I too have a gift for this child. She will grow up with all the beauty and promise of the dawn, but her sun will never rise.”

My mother told me she nearly swooned with terror at the look of sheer malevolence the witch gave the sunbeams playing around my cradle. She wanted to stop the witch from speaking, as did my father.

No one could speak, no matter how much they wished to. Everyone froze in place, spellbound by the witch’s gaze.

“Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, the princess shall prick her finger on a spindle. With the first drop of her blood, a sleeping curse will fall upon her, claiming her for a hundred years.”

The witch disappeared into a cloud of emerald smoke.

No one could find her after my christening, despite many attempts. The only thing she left behind was the memory of her dark eyes.

I wondered if she’d been real. Her appearance was the sort of thing I’d read about in old legends. The way she haunted my dreams, I felt like I was being drawn into one of them.

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NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

I’m a California Bay Area author, exploring the borders of reality and gender to create new worlds and populate them with compelling characters. I live with my husband and our two four footed children, i.e. cats.

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New Release Blitz: A City of Abundant Opportunity by Howard Leonard (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  A City of Abundant Opportunity

Series: Seattle City Limits, Book Two

Author: Howard Leonard

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/12/2023

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 67400

Genre: Contemporary, Diverse relationship structures, age disparity, interracial, over 40, therapist, gay, cisgender, gender queer

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Description

Becoming single in middle age was difficult for Alan, until a seemingly ordinary day turns extraordinary, when it presents him two very different but promising paths forward. On that day, Alan unexpectedly runs into a prior lover, moments after a new acquaintance offers him an unusual proposition.

One man provides youthful comfort and enthusiasm, and the other, the task of forming intimacy with a person who was raised from a lineage quite removed from his own. Either man might lead to a fortunate future, yet each inevitably requires tender navigation. Knowing he must make a decision, Alan eventually chooses and is then faced with new challenges, insights, and a struggle to obtain and hold onto what he hopes his future will become.

In this follow-up novel to A City of Hopes Unrealized, familiar characters re-emerge with the maturity of time, and new characters add a depth of diversity, creating a need to explore potential challenges and rewards, often accompanied by intergenerational, cultural, and racially diverse relationships.

Excerpt

A City of Abundant Opportunity
Howard Leonard © 2023
All Rights Reserved

On an unusual summerlike weekend in early June, which brought crowds of underdressed men to the normally empty outdoor cafes on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, I was enjoying a rare and refreshing sidewalk brunch with my best friend, Mica, and Mica’s husband, Lyle. Time had passed since Mica and Lyle had nearly ended their long-term relationship, a relationship I had a part in fucking up. Time had also passed since I had begun my own frantic search for a new partner, a quest which followed the breakup of the relationship I had created in my twenties. Having dated, slept with, or at least had coffee or a drink with an embarrassing number of prospects, I was finally beginning to believe my worth was not dependent on meeting Mr. Right. That may suggest my transition into being unexpectedly single was a natural one, but my move into singledom had been anything but smooth.

It took three years, but life was finally getting easier. I was now able to go out, not driven by compulsion, but instead only when I genuinely wanted to get out, and my mood walking home was no longer determined by a chance meeting, or the lack thereof. I was neither running toward, nor away from therapy with Dr. Goldberg, nor was I obsessed with Marley, the man who most stood out in the crowd of men I’d tried to couple with since Teddy ended our long relationship. With only a few exceptions, most of the people I’d dated, other than Marley, were seemingly erased from my memory. I was finally becoming more confident about my work as a primary care doctor, and for some reason, my practice was also easier to manage.

In recent years, the Off, a smallish bar and restaurant on Capitol Hill, had become both my home away from home and my habit. At times I fit right in, while at other times I felt unseen there. I always worried my age created a creeping invisibility, as I and my peers in the over-fifty afterwork crowd cleared out in time each day to be replaced by younger and objectively cuter arrivals as the sun set and the evening’s darkness approached. Although today, yard work was calling, and after finishing brunch, I wanted to enjoy the weather and walk by the Off before heading home. In Seattle, one was never certain if or when there would be another warm Sunday.

Being the middle of the afternoon, the Off was busier than I would have expected. The mix of age, look, and dress was also diverse compared to the familiar men I’d see during the work week. Of course, it was the men in tanks and shorts, or just shorts or onesies, who were having the best time, while those of us standing off at a respectable distance, looked ill at ease as we fixated on the young bare-skinned among us. I didn’t immediately see anyone familiar, but recent months had made it more okay than ever to stand by myself on the periphery with my rum and cola, and simply enjoy the view. Practice also lowered my self-consciousness, allowing me to notice that I was not the only man who was alone in the crowd.

Lost in my own head and unfocused ruminations, it took a moment to become aware that someone was trying to engage me. I think the man introduced himself as DeVon. Not wanting to be taken as rejecting, my first words were of apology for being obtuse, and I extended my hand. “Hi. Sorry. I’m Alan. I guess I was lost in my own head.”

“DeVon here,” which confirmed his name and helped me continue the conversation.

“Actually, you are Noah. At least you look exactly like the Noah I’ve been telling my coworkers I’m seeing. I know all this might sound crazy, but have you ever had the experience of being the only one at work, or anywhere, I guess, who’s single?”

“Oh, God, yeah,” I nearly yelled, while scrunching my face into a well-practiced, disgusted frown, which I’d recently perfected to replace the look of apology I used to carry for being single.

“Well, a few months ago, I made up a new boyfriend to get my coworkers off my back. I told them I was seeing this guy, Noah, and we were getting pretty serious. I know this is weird, but you look like the personification of this imaginary man I’ve been describing to them. Handsome, smart, friendly, Semitic. So, that’s my story,” DeVon explained with the cute, embarrassed expression of someone admitting how contrived this all might sound.

Only random murmurs escaped my lips, as I really didn’t know how to respond.

DeVon, following up seemingly with intention to recapture control, or perhaps fearing coming across like someone who was trying to pull something over on me, turned to fully face me, and he gently touched my arm. “I know this is strange and maybe it’s the beer talking, but I’ve got this major work event in a couple of weeks, and my coworkers have been unrelenting in telling me that I have to bring Noah. But there is no Noah, so might I bring you, Alan, as Noah?”

I stammered, not knowing exactly what I was thinking, let alone how to respond. Fortunately, DeVon rescued me. “Like I was saying, I know this is strange, but if you’d let me take you to dinner tonight, I’ll explain it all. My treat. Will you meet me for dinner?”

Once I said “Yes,” the awkwardness between us began to dissipate. I nursed my drink as a subtle sign meant to convey my desire to extend the conversation, even if we were going to meet up again for dinner in only a few hours. We talked about what it was like to be middle-aged and single in a coupled world, or at least a world that made those who were single work harder to feel okay about ourselves. But beyond sharing the commonality of being single, I had no idea who DeVon was, nor did we ask anything substantive about the other. I made a conscious decision to save the details about my life for the evening’s dinner. He might have figured the same, though I wondered if he even wanted to know me, or if I was just a potential prop to get him through some undefined work event. We did discuss the unusual June weather and the gifted view of male skin the warmth had unleashed. And as gay men do, we bantered through sexual innuendos that bring that pseudo-intimacy which our straight friends envy, given they’re denied the liberty of sexual banter, especially upon first meeting. The comfort that was forming between us had me looking forward to the night’s dinner, and I became a bit aroused by the unknowns of this man.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Howard Leonard earned his PhD in Clinical Psychology in 1981. Dr. Leonard and his partner moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1983, where he began a private practice which he maintained for thirty-five years. He chose Seattle in part due to his belief the region would allow two men to legally create a family through the use of surrogacy, something largely unchallenged by gay men in the eighties. He has two daughters, now adults, and one grandchild. Howard and his husband, Robert, live in Palm Springs, California. Writing has become an important part of his life since retiring from clinical practice. A City of Hopes Unrealized is the first novel in the “Seattle City Limits” series.  You can find Howard on Facebook.

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New Release Blitz: Heart First by S.B. Barnes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Heart First

Series: Hudson Valley Murder Mysteries, Book One

Author: S.B. Barnes

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 12/05/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 90800

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, gay, mystery, murder, campus, town/gown, professors, auto mechanic, family drama, classism, class difference

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Description

Daniel Rosenbaum leads a predictable life. He’s a professor at Lobell, a small liberal arts college in the Hudson Valley, where he spends his days teaching classes and doing research alongside his friends and fellow professors, Colette and Mario. The biggest change Daniel’s routine has seen in years is when car trouble leads him across the Hudson and into an unexpected romantic encounter with local mechanic Tony.

When tragedy strikes in the form of Mario’s murder, Daniel’s orderly life is thrown into chaos. Not only is his friend dead, it seems Mario was keeping secrets that could cause rifts in Lobell’s close-knit community. At first, Daniel’s intensifying relationship with Tony is the only way he can find solace from his grief and confusion. But all too soon, the trail of Mario’s secrets leads Daniel to the same place he’s been seeking comfort: Angel Automotive, the auto repair shop run by Tony’s family.

Before long, Daniel is forced to question everything: his friends, his job, the way he lives his life, and the relationship he’s not even sure he’s in yet. Only one thing is for sure: Daniel is falling heart-first—in love or into mortal danger.

Excerpt

Heart First
S.B. Barnes © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Hello?” Daniel calls out into the seemingly deserted garage. “I, uh…I brought my car in?”

He winces at himself. Of course he brought his car; it’s an auto repair shop. What else would he have brought? A tricycle? There’s something about places like this that make him acutely self-conscious of his own ignorance. There’s probably nothing seriously wrong with his car, and he’s already bracing for some guy with a mustache and a baseball cap to tell him condescendingly he could have easily fixed it himself.

“Just a second,” a voice calls back, much closer than Daniel expects. He flinches and looks around, trying to find the source.

There’s a clanging noise, like someone dropped a tool on the floor, immediately followed by the sound of wheels scraping over asphalt. From beneath the sleek black car parked to the left, a guy in a pair of washed-out jeans and a stained white tank top emerges.

He has a mustache.

Daniel called it.

Granted, he also has a beard, which makes the mustache less out of place, but still.

“Hi,” Daniel says and waves awkwardly.

“Hey,” the guy says. “Wasn’t there someone at the front office?”

“There was.” Daniel bristled a little. “She told me to come here.”

The guy rolls his eyes and pushes a strand of hair out of his eyes. The rest of it is in a short ponytail at the back of his head, with the once close-shaved sides grown out a bit. With the mustache, it’s an intense look.

“Fuck,” the guy says. “Uh, sorry. I’m guessing she didn’t give you any paperwork?”

Daniel shakes his head. Mostly, the goth girl at the front desk snapped her gum and said “Uh-huh” when he tried to describe the sound his car started making this morning on the drive over from Rhinebeck. When he finished, she pointed him wordlessly toward the garage. She didn’t look up from her phone once during the interaction.

“I wish I could fire her,” the guy mutters to himself, wiping sweat off his forehead with his forearm.

It gives Daniel an unobstructed view of his arms, which are really nice.

Not the time, he chastises himself. Hitting on a mechanic in an auto shop in a dinky little town in upstate New York sounds like a neat way to get himself in trouble, and anyway, making a move on someone while they’re at work is just bad manners. Besides, that mustache is really something, and while it does suit the man’s face, Daniel’s not sure how he feels about it.

“Sorry, I’m Tony. I should probably have led with that.”

Daniel grins. “Hi, Tony. I’m Daniel, and I’m having trouble with my car.”

“Well, you’re in luck. I happen to be a mechanic.”

“Wow, what are the odds?”

Tony shrugs and gestures to the rows of different-size chains hanging on the wall. “You walk into a setup like this, it’s an even split—mechanic or sex worker.”

It shocks a laugh out of Daniel. He gets the impression he doesn’t need to worry about homophobia here if Tony’s using respectful language, which is a relief.

“So, what’s wrong with your car?”

Daniel winces. “It’s been making this weird noise all morning. Like a kind of irregular clunking?”

“All the time or just when you go over a bump?”

“Um…” Daniel considers. The roads are pretty shitty between Rhinebeck and Lobell College anyway, so he wasn’t exactly sure how frequent the noise was. He didn’t hear it much on the better-paved way into Kingston, but he was also focused on finding the garage and wasn’t really paying attention.

“Your muffler might be loose,” Tony tells him when he fails to answer the question.

“Okay,” Daniel says slowly. “And that’s…bad?”

Tony blinks. “Not a car guy, huh?”

“No,” Daniel says quickly. “Computers guy. Classic literature guy. Fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer guy. Very much not a car guy.”

A frown line draws tight on Tony’s forehead. “That’s a really bad season, which, okay, no one’s perfect. Here’s what we’ll do. Technically, we’re booked totally full today, but you’re here now, and I don’t feel great about sending you away when we don’t know for sure what’s wrong with your car. I’m gonna take a quick look at it to see what’s wrong.”

“That would be amazing,” Daniel says. “Thank you so much. I’m sorry to put you out.” It figures they’d be busy. He chose this place because it’s the only auto shop in a twenty-mile radius that takes walk-ins, and he couldn’t quite work up the motivation to call somewhere. He’s probably not the only one.

Tony waves a hand. “Don’t worry about it. Just don’t tell my boss or Mrs. Cooper when she comes to pick up her car in an hour.” He nods toward the car he’s been working on, and Daniel taps the side of his nose.

For a long moment, they grin at each other widely. Tony has really nice eyes. Daniel’s always thought brown eyes exuded warmth, and Tony has exceptionally long eyelashes. There’s something kind in there, in the crinkles around the corners. He must laugh a lot.

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Meet the Author

S. B. Barnes attended college in the Hudson Valley, studying English Language and Literature and Anthropology (although unlike her characters, her time there was not interrupted by crime-solving). She grew up split between the USA and Germany, attending university in both countries before eventually settling in Germany. Today, she works as a teacher and lives with her husband and two cats in an apartment with too little shelf space. Fiction has always been one of her greatest loves, as a reader, as a teacher, and as a writer. While S.B. has been writing for most of her life, this is her first foray into publishing her work.

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20th Annual A Very Changeling Christmas Celebration

‘Tis the season of giving! That means it’s time for our 20th Annual
A Very Changeling Christmas Celebration

Are you on Santa’s naughty list? Worried you won’t receive presents this year?
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Naughty Nights of Christmas:

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New Release Blitz: Lose Me to Love You by Chloe B. Young (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Lose Me to Love You

Author: Chloe B. Young

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 11/28/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 64000

Genre: Fantasy, contemporary, gay, romance, urban fantasy, paranormal, suspense, magic/magic users, slow burn, tattoos, depression, grieving, second chances, religious parallels/subtext

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Description

At the bottom of a downward spiral of alcohol, sex, and risky behaviors, Matty Hill discovers that magic is real and that a mysterious man will teach him how to wield it if he can deal with the trauma of his past and present.

Sean Wildgust, Matty’s new teacher, is as secretive as he is fascinating. But when those secrets come back to haunt them both, Matty must decide if obsession is the same thing as love.

Excerpt

Lose Me to Love You
Chloe B. Young © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Matty gasped awake.

He opened his eyes, then closed them immediately when the light pouring in the grimy window burned. Recoiling from the light set off a chain reaction of aching muscles tensing, nausea roiling, head pounding, and there was nothing he could do to keep from throwing up.

The desperate lurch of his uncoordinated limbs had him puking off the side of his makeshift mattress instead of on himself. Though he wasn’t particularly happy about it while choking on stomach acid.

He’d never understood why people said it was better to throw up. Sure, his nausea wasn’t dragging him through the dirt anymore, but he had to deal with a dozen other smaller discomforts. When it was over, he flopped to his back again, his throat burning and his ribs sore from uselessly trying to suppress the inevitable. He blinked the tears out of his eyes, stinging from the sun and the force of his gagging.

When he’d rubbed most of the crud out of his vision, he looked around.

Nate’s house. Weird. They’d started at a rave with a lot of people Matty didn’t know. He knew Nate, and Nate knew everyone else, so he supposed it made sense that they’d all crashed at his tiny two-bedroom house.

Not all, it seemed. He could only see two others, and bits of flickering footage from last night told him the living room had been a lot more crowded before he’d passed out.

Carefully, so he didn’t upset his stomach’s tentative equilibrium, he pulled his feet out from under the strange bunk bed he and a stranger had made from the couch. The other guy was still sleeping on top of the bare springs while the cushions sank almost to the floor under Matty’s ass.

Getting up was a multistage process that took anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour. He couldn’t be sure. Had he fallen asleep in child’s pose between stage three and four?

Eventually, he made it to his feet and took a few cautious steps to test whether the floorboards stayed under him, giving the mess a wide berth with a silent promise to return and clean it up before he left.

The other person in the room was dead to the world, curled up tight in a sagging armchair, her jeans wormed down so low she was basically naked. Matty didn’t recognize her from the ratty mess of her hair and the bare expanse of her back.

A pattern of goosebumps traveled up her spine.

The sweater hanging on a hook near the front door was way too big to be hers, but it wasn’t Nate’s either, so no one would miss it, probably. When Matty draped it over her, it covered everything she would have wanted to be covered, and he hoped it was warm.

He found Nate in the kitchen but didn’t say anything and, instead, unscrewed the cap from a bottle of clear alcohol. Vodka, he guessed from the blurry red logo. It took two small swigs to chase away the sweet, metallic taste in his mouth. He rolled the liquid across his tongue like mouthwash and swallowed it down instead of spitting it into one of the plastic cups on the table.

Blue cups, not red. They were sophisticated, postcollege wastrels, after all.

The clock on the microwave told him it was earlier than he thought…until he spotted the clock on the stove. He looked at the microwave again and then at the stove as if staring at the glowing red numbers would help him decide which one to believe.

“Is one of those right?” Matty asked, his voice wrecked. (One of the least shocking discoveries he’d made today.)

Nate looked up from the pot he was watching and glanced at both of the clocks, then nodded. “Yep.” He jerked an elbow at the one next to his hip. “That one.”

That meant it was 1:36 in the afternoon, a fact Matty didn’t have any particular opinion about, other than surprise he’d slept so long on pillows about as soft as a pack of printer paper.

Nate tapped a dry spoon against the rim of his pot. He leaned on the counter, away from the glowing element. He was so skeletal-skinny Matty had no problem reading the clock past him. Had he always been that way, or had Matty not noticed until now?

Matty laid his arm on the cool counter and squeezed his wrist. He’d always been taller than he was broad, but was he thinner? Undoubtedly. The new hole in his belt told him so. But was he skin and bone, like Nate?

He couldn’t tell anymore. Like Nate, he didn’t have anyone to tell him to eat more solid meals or get some sleep while the sun was down.

The problem with eating was it required a few things Matty hadn’t had in months: an appetite and a base level of concern for his continued existence.

Sleep though. That was different. He wished he could sleep. He’d gladly put his ear to the sheets if it meant everything would just…stop. For a little while. But it didn’t work like that, and if avoiding a REM cycle meant avoiding all the bullshit that came with it, he’d never count sheep again.

“What are you doing?” Matty asked, standing on tiptoes to try to see what was sloshing around in Nate’s battered pot.

“Water for jello.”

A visceral memory of the time Matty had found out how gelatin was made sent a rippling shudder through him—not unlike a wiggling cube of set jello, actually. “Really? That’s your idea of brunch?”

Nate’s spoon didn’t falter. “Jello shots, dude. For tonight.”

“What are you—fourteen?”

Nate’s bony shoulders lifted and fell under his T-shirt as he kept stirring, not sparing Matty’s derision a look. “Never too old for fun. You coming?”

Matty had forgotten that the weekend wasn’t over yet. What was the end of a week when he didn’t have a Monday grind to return to?

He looked around the kitchen at the abandoned cups and bottles in various stages of emptiness. The overflowing ashtray. The smudges of pale powder under a potato chip bag Matty didn’t want to think about very hard.

It was crazy to think that in a few hours, the place would be as clean as it had been on Monday. Nate was a hell of a cleaning machine when he was on a bender. It wouldn’t be spotless, but garbage bags would bulge on the porch and none of the surfaces would be mysteriously sticky, which was all Nate’s friends seemed to care about.

“Yeah, probably,” Matty answered, leaving room for bowing out so Nate wouldn’t get on his case if he decided to stay home and stare at his ceiling instead.

“Do you remember last night?” Nate finally stopped stirring long enough to toss something at Matty’s face.

He flinched but caught it. It was a bag of plastic shot glasses. Four hundred of them. He ripped it open and started lining them up on the available counter space. The popping noise they made as he put them down was nice, and the neat rows satisfied something childish in him.

“Not really,” Matty said. “I remember leaving the rave, but once we got here, it’s kind of fuzzy.”

“Man, you missed out. Don found a playlist of trippy screensavers on YouTube, and we all got high and watched them.”

“You’re a true party animal, Nate.”

“It was awesome.”

Matty tuned out of the play-by-play, getting into the rhythm of shot glasses coming out of the package. Slide, tap. Slide, tap. Slide, tap.

“And then you did a line,” Nate added, “and you were singing too.”

Plastic cracked under Matty’s hand. “Fuck off,” he blurted. “No, I didn’t.”

“Yeah,” Nate answered, placid as always rather than offended. “It was my stuff. Why would I lie about it?”

Out-logicked by a guy who watched screensavers for fun. If Matty didn’t know about Nate’s engineering degree and valedictorian plaque, he would’ve thought he’d hit a new low, which would’ve stung all the more, considering the record had only been reset twelve hours ago.

“Shit,” Matty said, dropping the crushed plastic cup next to the good ones. “I don’t—”

No, he did remember. It was in snatches, but the longer he thought about it, the more his own memories filled in the gaps: the offer, the temptation, the refusal, then another offer, and the tone of the evening changing.

The intensified blast of the giant, flashing neon sign that read in two-foot-high letters shone over every decision he’d made last night:

FUCK IT.

Nate took the pot off the stove and set it down next to the lines of plastic soldiers. He tore into a box of red jello. His yellow-stained fingers were obviously working more carefully than he was used to, but he still managed to spill pink powder all over the counter.

It was kind of pretty. It sparkled in the afternoon daylight, like snow, but wrong.

“I’m going home,” Matty said, and he chucked the half-full bag of shot glasses onto the biggest available space.

“See you tonight?”

“Maybe.”

Matty went through the living room to get to the door and saw that the girl hadn’t woken up or moved. Her hair, though, managed to look even more of a disaster from a new angle. Where it wasn’t a mess, it was blond and straight, though neither of those things came naturally, he was pretty sure.

It was basically the antithesis of Matty’s hair; the only thing it shared was it hadn’t seen a comb in too long. They were visual opposites, like he and—

He left Nate’s behind. He hadn’t cleaned up the floor, which he figured to be Nate’s punishment for offering him blow when he was drunk, but he had turned the guy on the couch over, so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit.

Good friend? No. Great friend.

No one should have to ride in an ambulance with someone who was already as good as dead. Not even Nate.

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Meet the Author

Writing is just one of the many ways Chloe gets her storytelling fix. In her other life, she sings and acts to fulfil the urge, and is never far from a stage.

When not writing, Chloe cooks with too much garlic, sharpens her eyeliner to a deadly point, and tries to accept that she’s turning into one of those people who only wears one color. (Pink.)

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