New Release Blitz ~ Winning Over Harmon by Megan Slayer (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Winning Over Harmon by Megan Slayer

Book 3 in the Love Me Do series

Word Count:  42,193
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 169

GENRES:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description


Second chances are possible if you’re willing to give love a chance.

Harmon Keyes wasn’t looking for romance when he visited Roy Mars’ gallery show, but the moment he sees Winston Saint, he’s smitten. He has no idea who Winston is, but the attraction is off the charts. He also isn’t sure if he’ll ever see the man again. Can a trip to Dye Hard Style help get him together with Winston?

Michael Winston Saint knew the second he spotted Harmon that he’d fallen head over heels. He’d never forget the geeky guy who talked too much or that kiss full of electricity and passion. Unfortunately, he has to leave the gallery show before he can give Harmon his number. He returns to Norville for a rest and the chance to connect with his dream man. Winston’s determined to win over Harmon at all costs.

Will the teacher and the rock star be able to make a go of their relationship? Or will the gossip and complication of small-town life be more than they can handle?

Reader advisory: This book contains references to addiction and inadequate parenting.

Excerpt

“You’re sure this is the place to find someone?” Winston asked. “I mean, it’s an art gallery. How many hot guys are going to be here?” He elbowed his band member and best friend, Duke.

“Why would I tell you to come to this if there weren’t hot guys?” Duke shrugged. “I mean I don’t know if there are available men here. There are people here and that’s what you need. Look, I don’t care if you find someone or not, but I want you to get on with your life. This is a good place to meet people―even if they aren’t hot men. You just need to talk to someone who isn’t famous and we won’t be recognized here. Promise. The focus is on Roy.”

“It should be.” He spied one of the paintings. The art might have been created by Roy, but the pieces focused on Duke. The romance between the men blossomed and shimmered on every painting and in each photograph.

Winston sighed. He wanted a love like this. Wanted to be desired and craved. He’d thought he had this with his previous girlfriends, but no one had really loved him. They loved the image and the money connected with him. He resumed looking at the art and drinking in the images. People milled around and some chatted, but they did leave him alone, like Duke had said they would. He delighted in being able to walk around without being accosted. No one cared he was famous. The art mattered.

He stopped in front of a gold-framed painting of Duke on a stool. He’d never looked at his friend in the nude—not intentionally. They’d shared moments in the shower when the entire band had had to use one hotel room, but he’d never looked at Duke like a lover. But this way made him seem sexy and approachable, but sad and lonely, too.

“Have you ever seen anything so sensual?” a woman beside him asked. “It’s like the artist captured him at his most vulnerable.” She clicked her tongue. “I love it.”

“It’s nice.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to keep looking at Duke this way. He wandered over to another piece, an abstract one. He liked these better because he could interpret them as he pleased. He liked the play of color blocks.

“Do you like that one?” The curator gestured to the work. “Only three thousand dollars. Might be wonderful above the sofa.”

He snorted. He didn’t have a couch, much less a home to put either in. “Oh, I don’t know.”

“About its worth? Or the placing?” the curator asked. “I’m sure you could come up with a better placement. Just a suggestion.”

“This seems more like a statement piece than a placeholder in a room.” He nodded. “But I’m considering buying it.”

“You are?” The curator grinned. “I’ll let the others know it’s under consideration.”

“Sure.” He glanced over to his right and paused. A man he’d never seen stood before one of the photograph series. Winston’s breath lodged in his throat. The moment he looked at the guy, he wanted to get to know him.

He strode across the room, dodging and weaving around the people in the crowd until he reached the mystery man. He’d never forget him if he tried. He liked the way this person’s sport coat seemed tailored for his body, the way he carried himself with confidence and the slight graying at his temples. He wanted to touch him and memorize every detail of his face. To dance with him and kiss… Oh God, he wanted to kiss him.

“What are you doing?” Duke asked. He nudged Winston. “You’re drooling.”

“Would you believe I’m in love?” He faced Duke. “The moment I saw him across the room, I fell in love.”

“You fall for someone after every concert, too.” Duke rolled his eyes. “Who is it?”

“The guy over there.” He gestured to the man, trying not to be obvious. “Dark hair, dark eyes, tall…handsome. I want him.”

“He’s not a possession.” Duke swatted Winston’s arm. “He’s a person.”

“I know that.” He glared at his bandmate. “Jesus. I’m not heartless.” He didn’t want to own this guy. Just experience him and find out if they could be together forever. “It’s like that old song. I’ve seen his face and I can’t forget it. I can’t forget that I want to be with this person, and I want everyone to know I’m in love.”

Duke snorted. “In love. You have no idea what love is.”

“Maybe it’s time I found out.” He swatted Duke’s arm again. “Excuse me. I need to meet my destiny.”

“Right.” Duke didn’t chase him.

Good. He didn’t want to be chased. The attraction was instant. He needed to know this handsome man in the suit coat. He stopped beside the guy. “Do you like this painting?”

The man rocked on his feet and chuckled. “I like a lot of art.” He met Winston’s gaze. “Do you?”

“Like this work? Sure.” Winston swept his gaze over him. Dark hair, deep hazel eyes with chips of green among the brown, thick lashes and the guy reminded him of a professor. The studious nature spoke to Winston. He’d bet this guy wasn’t trouble. Wouldn’t get him into trouble or con him into going back to his drug habit.

“Is this your first show?” the man asked.

“Of this sort, yeah.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Is it yours?”

“No, I like to visit the various shows here at the gallery. I appreciate art. I’m not artistic at all, but I like to look at it.” He smiled and the warmth in his smile lit in his eyes. “My name is Harmon.”

He offered his hand to Harmon. He liked the sound of his name and the way his skin tingled when they touched. “I’m…Michael.” He didn’t want to admit his stage name just yet. If Harmon could like him without the airs of his fame, then they had a chance of making it. Too many people couldn’t see beyond the glitter of celebrity.

“Hi, Michael.” Harmon gestured to the painting. “What do you think of this one? I like the play of light, but the sadness in the subject really gets to me. It’s like I’m looking into the soul of the man, while being closed off from what’s wrong.”

Damn. He simply saw yet another painting of a naked Duke. He pieced through what Harmon had said. He hated having to hide his true emotions behind the mask of the character he’d created for the rock music stage. Few saw the pain he hid because he’d closed himself off from so many people.

“Is that what you see, too?” Harmon asked. “I’m famous for getting these things wrong.” He chuckled. “My friend Suzanne would tell you I see things that aren’t there.”

“Suzanne?” Shit. He hadn’t considered this guy might not be gay. “Girlfriend?”

“God, no. She wants to be more, but she’s just a fellow teacher. She thinks we’ll make beautiful babies. I hate to tell her I’m not interested in being a dad. Ever.” Harmon blushed. “Shit. I’ve talked too much.”

“Not at all.” Winston snagged two glasses of sparkling cider from the tray. “Have one?”

“Thank you.” Harmon sipped the drink. “I’m told the artist and his husband are recovering addicts, so no booze. I don’t mind when someone drinks, but I’m not much of a drinker. I can’t hold my liquor.” He blushed again. “And I’m talking too much again.”

“You’re fine.” Winston liked learning about him. “How long have you been teaching?”

“Twelve years.” Harmon grinned and held up his glass. “I got hired right out of college here in Norville. I love teaching in a small town. The moment I took the job, I felt like I’d been welcomed into the town. I became part of the family.”

“It does seem like this place is one big family.” Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business—except Duke hadn’t known Harmon. According to Duke, Norville was the place to disappear into and find his footing.

“Anyway, they don’t mind that I’m gay, don’t mind that I like being a history nerd and that I’m not interested in being a parent.” Harmon sipped his cider. “What about you? What brings you to the show tonight?”

“My friend encouraged me to come along.” More like conned him, then begged and pushed. “I’m glad I did.” His phone buzzed in his back pocket. Shit. He’d answer it later. “I’m glad I got to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Harmon toyed with the stem of his glass. “So do you live in Norville?”

“I’m looking for a place, but I’m living with a friend.” He needed to get out of Duke’s basement and fast. “Do you know of any good apartments? Or houses?”

“I live in the Cordell building. It’s three blocks from the high school. It’s a small apartment building and I doubt there’s any openings, but I found it through the apartment finder paper. It’s online now. Search Norville apartments and you’ll find it.” Harmon shook his head. “I talk too much. Suzanne would’ve chewed me out by now. She’d tell me I disclosed too much.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He liked how he’d managed to get Harmon to open up. A woman elbowed him and he gestured to Harmon. “Why don’t we go over here? I think we’re monopolizing the painting.”

“Sure.” Harmon followed him to the edge of the room away from the works. “I tend to get wrapped up in the art and it’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t a fellow teacher.”

“Then it’s a good thing we met. I’m not a teacher and could never impart information to students.” He chuckled and toyed with his glass. “I play music.”

“Are you in a band?” Harmon asked.

“I was.” He still had the band, but the Saints were on hiatus. One day he’d get them back together—after he did his stint with the supergroup he’d joined, Big Philo. He hated being without music. “I just like singing.”

“What kind of music?”

“Rock. I like emoting through my songs.” He hesitated a beat. Most people knew who he was, but this man seemed oblivious. “Have you heard of the Saints?”

“No.” Harmon downed more of his cider. “I gravitate more toward oldies and classical music.” He rolled his eyes. “I guess that’s fitting. I like history and would rather listen to old tunes.”

“It’s nice. I like the classics, too. It’s nice to get back to the roots when you sing. I practice on the old songs to get limbered up to perform.” He nodded. “Plus, those songs are so great. Complex, but simple and so full of emotion. I hear them and I know exactly what the singer is going through. Are they in love, breaking up, sadly single…crushing?”

“Yeah.” Harmon’s smile built slowly and his eyes sparkled. “Like how I saw the art.”

“It is.” He held out his hand and the second he touched Harmon’s fingers, sparks shot through his body, just like before. “I have to ask. Are you seeing anyone?” He needed to know if he had competition for Harmon’s attention.

“No.” Harmon inched closer to him. “I’m very single.”

“Would…would you like to have coffee sometime?” Winston asked. “And talk some more?”

“I’d love that.” Harmon placed his nearly empty glass on a close table and opened his mouth to speak, but someone pushed and he collided with Winston. The move managed to knock the rest of the cider from Winston’s glass onto his shirt. “I’m so sorry,” Harmon apologized. “Let me get you some napkins.”

“I’m not going to melt.” He put his glass with Harmon’s and allowed Harmon to blot his shirt. “The last time I had someone clean me up was when I caught the flu.” He’d been so sick and hungover that the roadies had had to carry him off stage. “Thanks.”

“It’s all part of being a teacher. I want to fix things for people.” Harmon continued to sop up the drink. He slowed his touches, seeming to caress Winston’s chest. “You’re like steel under there.”

“I work out.” Instead of drink or get high. “Do you?”

“I run laps at the school. It’s one big square, so it’s easy to do laps indoors or head to the track when it’s nice.” Harmon flattened his hand on Winston’s chest. “Is it just me, or did the temperature spike?”

“It’s warm.” He inched closer to Harmon. “But I like it.” He liked Harmon. He memorized the crinkles at the corners of Harmon’s eyes, the sprinkling of hairs on his cheeks and chin and the way his cologne wrapped around Winston. “May I kiss you?”

Harmon nodded. Instead of answering in words, he bridged the gap between them and kissed Winston.

Winston bit back his initial shock at being touched and kissed, then melted into the connection. He liked being kissed. Liked being held. He grasped Harmon’s hands and kept him close. The softness of Harmon’s lips competed with the slight scratch of his short whiskers. When Harmon opened to him, Winston sucked on Harmon’s tongue. He liked the way this man tasted and the way he felt against him. They were tailored for each other.

Harmon whimpered and deepened the kiss. He bumped noses with Winston and let go of his hands, then slid his arms around Winston.

God, yes. Winston swayed with Harmon, never wanting this moment to end. His synapses misfired and the rest of the world seemed to melt away. Nothing mattered except this kiss.

“There you are.” Someone Winston didn’t know swatted his arm. “Hey.”

Winston rested his forehead on Harmon’s, then sighed. “I think we’re being interrupted.”

“We are.” Harmon blushed and put some space between them. “And they’re staring at you.”

He’d thought so. He could’ve sworn he felt the stare boring into his side. Why did this person have to interrupt him right now? He hooked his fingers in Harmon’s front pants pockets, then stared at the person touching him. “Yes?”

“You’re not responding to your phone.” The man folded his arms. “I’ve been sent to talk to you.”

“Are you being investigated by the IRS?” Harmon asked. “Or the CIA?”

“Neither.” He kissed Harmon on the cheek. “Give me a moment. I’d like to spend more time with you, but I need to address this first. Okay?”

“Sure.” Harmon let go and nodded to the gentleman, then disappeared into the crowd.

Winston gritted his teeth. “What do you want?”

“You need to answer your phone,” the man said. “Dazzle, Ronny, Vik and Rummy are expecting you at the next five gigs. You did remember you signed on to front Big Philo for five shows, right?”

“I remember.” He did, but he’d sort of hoped they’d forgotten about him. “They start next week, right?”

“Tomorrow.”

Fuck. “I need to tell Harmon I’m leaving.” Where was Harmon? “Just a moment.” He surged into the crowd, locating Duke and Roy, but not Harmon. He grasped Duke’s sleeve. “Hey. I need to go.”

“Gonna leave with the guy you were over there kissing?” Duke winked. “He’s cute. Not as cute as Roy, but hey. I got the best guy around.”

“Yeah. The thing is, I’m not leaving with Harmon.” He needed to find him. “Have you seen him?”

“I haven’t.” Duke frowned. “What’s up?”

“I said I’d play with Big Philo and they want me tomorrow. It’s my own fault. I over-scheduled myself.” And he’d have to get going if he planned on making it to the plane to head to the gig on time. “Help me find him.”

“I thought you were done with music for a while. Why pick a supergroup? Jesus. Dazzle alone will get you back on the sauce. You’ve made so much progress.” Duke grabbed Winston’s arm. “Don’t do it.”

“I have to go. I’m contractually bound.” He still didn’t see Harmon. Shit. “I want to tell him goodbye and that I’ll be back.”

“I’ll tell him.” Duke snorted. “I see Lee coming. He looks pissed. Go, but keep your fucking head on. Don’t you dare start taking again. I will kick your ass.”

“I’ll kick my ass.” He growled. “Okay. If I see him before I leave, I’ll tell him I’m going, but please tell him, too. Oh and there’s a painting the curator thinks I’m buying. Tell him I am and let me know what I owe. He said he’d put a hold on it.”

“I’ll handle it.” Duke nodded. “Count on me.”

“Thanks.” He left Duke by the painting of a vase, then hurried to the door with Lee. He’d rather be staying, but he’d signed contracts to say he’d front the supergroup and he had to live up to the contracts. He stopped at the door to look for Harmon one more time without luck. The guy was starting to feel like a figment of his imagination.

“Are you ready?” Lee snapped his fingers. “We need to go.”

“Yeah.” He’d have to explain the situation to Harmon when he returned because, damn it, he was coming back to Norville. He wasn’t done with Harmon. Not by a long shot.

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About the Author

Megan Slayer

Megan Slayer, aka Wendi Zwaduk, is a multi-published, award-winning author of more than one-hundred short stories and novels. She’s been writing since 2008 and published since 2009. Her stories range from the contemporary and paranormal to LGBTQ and BDSM themes. No matter what the length, her works are always hot, but with a lot of heart. She enjoys giving her characters a second chance at love, no matter what the form. She’s been the runner up in the Kink Category at Love Romances Café as well as nominated at the LRC for best author, best contemporary, best ménage and best anthology. Her books have made it to the bestseller lists on Amazon.com.

When she’s not writing, Megan spends time with her husband and son as well as three dogs and three cats. She enjoys art, music and racing, but football is her sport of choice.

Find out more about Megan on her website, and sign up for the newsletter here. You can also check out her Blog, Amazon Author Page, Bookbub and Instagram.

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New Release Blitz ~ Wreck My Mind by Brooke Taylor (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Wreck My Mind by Brooke Taylor

Book 2 in the Wicked Games series

Word Count: 79,989
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 326

Genres:

ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

 

Treasure abounds for those who dare, but only truth can set you free in this island paradise.

Truth…

Because honesty is always the best policy.

Mysteries abound on Marakata Cay—an exotic, Eden-esque island owned by a multi-billionaire known as OZ. Perhaps the biggest secret of all is the one haunting capable and passionate Aziza. Dutifully, Zee has served the eccentric and reclusive OZ as his right hand, even to the detriment of her own freedoms. In fact, she’s never so much as stepped foot off the island since washing up on its shores. But when the man she’s falling in love with disappears amidst lies and betrayal, Zee begins to wonder. Has the paradise sanctuary protecting her from her past actually been a trap?

Or dare?

Because with great risks come even better rewards.

Former Navy SEAL Michael Cooper has spent his life thwarting death. Playing scarecrow for Beryl Enterprises as OZ’s Director of Defense and Specialized Operations is no exception. But for the first time in his life, Coop finds himself truly facing reality—he’s not invincible. Not at all. When OZ offers Coop an insanely lucrative mission, he’s in no position to turn it down. The deep-sea treasure recovery should be easy for a man with Coop’s diving and demolition skills, but the job comes with more than its fair share of danger. Sharks, modern-day pirates, and the possibility of losing the love of his life, the beautiful and tenacious Aziza.

Even Eden had a snake, and for the first time in the island paradise’s illusive history, money and power can’t mend what’s been wrecked upon its shores, daring Aziza to pull the curtain back and reveal the truth, no matter the cost.

Reader advisory: This book includes scenes of violence and murder (sometimes graphic), and mentions of the mistreatment of neurodivergent characters, kidnapping, child abuse, and human trafficking.

Excerpt

Coop

Aziza and I were not friends, we weren’t enemies, and we certainly weren’t lovers…we were liars. The biggest lie of all, the one I’d been telling myself for years, had become damn impossible to keep up. But the constraints of reality had never stopped me before, no sense starting on a boat speeding into the shadowed heart of the Amazon river basin at zero dark thirty.

Aziza

“You’re not happy to see him!” I scolded myself. “You’re just glad the stubborn, prideful, stupid…man isn’t dead.” Because if anyone or anything was going to kill Michael Cooper, it was going to be me!

I growled over the sounds of the tropical storm battering Marakata Cay.

Pulse punching, I scrolled back through the video capture dated nearly twenty-four hours ago. The heavily bearded profile blending into a small crowd of people before disappearing into the thin blue air of Rio de Janeiro most definitely belonged to an alive and well Michael Cooper.

What the hell are you doing in Brazil?

If he was even still there.

Twenty-four hours may as well have been a month. He could be anywhere now, even in a morgue. It wasn’t like he hadn’t made serious enemies working for Beryl Enterprises. As our Director of Defense and Specialized Operations, he contracted with major private sector corporations as well as notable governments for high-level security solutions. His teams were often called in to deliver asset reconnaissance and recovery, be it intel or high-value targets. And occasionally those clients required more direct and unconventional warfare resolutions. It was these uniquely focused, clandestine operations that often put Beryl Enterprises in the crosshairs.

Concerned for his safety, I’d boldly asked Coop to relocate his home office from Dubai to Marakata Cay—the crown jewel of Beryl Enterprises. I’d proposed it would help shield both him and Omar Zaki’s private island. But it certainly hadn’t been my main motivation.

I’d truly believed he’d felt the same attraction, connection, to me that I did for him. Sure, our relationship was primarily professional. But for the past year or more our virtual meetings had lingered long after all work talk had been settled. We’d joke and laugh, talk about life. What had started as fun flirtation had quickly turned into something special.

Oh fuck it, I thought we were in love.

How could I’ve been so wrong?

So foolish!

I’d risked much more than my heart and pride when I’d dared ask him to make good on the flirtatious dance we’d been doing for years. And what had been his response? To send Brecken Wolfe, his top operator, here in his stead. To take off on an indefinite vacation while avoiding all forms of contact. To go completely off grid while simultaneously evading all SIGINT—every CCTV camera and satellite surveillance mechanism known to man. To freaking ghost me!

Hint. Taken.

But why go to such great lengths to stay undetected? Was it to dodge me, or was something else going on?

Coop had been acting off for months now, and if it wasn’t because he’d been fighting his feelings for me, then why? Someone else? Something even worse? Just because I hated him didn’t mean I’d stopped caring. Hoping.

My nerves knotted tight enough to fray as I fretted over what I might discover. But I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer.

Ignoring my heart overfilling like a balloon and bursting on every beat, I replayed the loop in slow motion. I should’ve been scanning the background for clues as to what exactly Coop was doing in Rio, and more importantly why he’d slipped up and gotten caught when he’d expended great effort the past month to stay off grid. Instead, my questions and frustration evaporated as I paused on the singular image of him. He looked just like when I’d first met him over ten years ago—a little angry and a lot tired. Hardened from too many tours in the sandbox. Handsome as sin. Hot AF.

Despite the shitty resolution, those deep, ocean eyes of his managed to steal my air and throttle my heart.

“I’ve missed you, My-sharky,” I whispered on a sigh.

The pet name was his butchered reiteration of mushaeghib—the Arabic word I often called him in frustration. It meant troublemaker and it fit him as well as calling him my shark did.

He was my protector. My warrior. My worst freaking headache. I wasn’t about to lose him forever and have him become my greatest heartache, too.

My gaze traced along his jawline. The carved edges were now covered by a thick, rough beard. He hadn’t shaved in a month, but the dark mass cloaking those panty-melting dimples of his looked more like a year’s worth of growth. Same with the wild, black licks of hair.

Licks…

My eyes drifted to the slight protrusion of his tongue. Suddenly it was if his lips weren’t on my computer screen or thousands of miles away in Brazil anymore. They were here on Marakata Cay right where I wanted—needed—them. My conjured vision of him had blown through my bedroom door with the same force as the tropical storm pelting my windows.

Dear Lord! My head needed to be examined. I’d spent weeks terrified I’d never see Coop again. I was furious at him for inexplicably leaving. Frightened, confused, hurt…and though it was tough to admit considering we’d never even touched, my heart had been wrecked when he’d vanished without a trace. Yet a stupid screenshot of him could still completely derail me with delusions and desire.

How could one gorgeous, but frustrating—infuriating—man have such a massive effect on me? I was a capable, intelligent, task-driven professional. As Omar Zaki’s right hand, I had authority over the Beryl Enterprises empire, which included multiple specialized operations teams full of cocksure alpha men.

So why couldn’t I control my own thoughts when it came to one, very annoying, smoking hot, Michael freaking Cooper?

The man had a way of slipping up on me and taking over my mind the same way scents of plumeria and rain had slid beneath my balcony’s French doors to saturate my room. Being unable to stop myself from jumping his bones was half the reason I’d kept him in the Dubai offices and far away from the island for so long. I had too much to lose to be getting sexually involved with anyone I had true feelings for.

Asking him to relocate had been reckless and impetuous.

Foolhardy.

The mere sight of him, even on a computer screen, melted my resolve and my body like butter on a beach. Now was no different.

I wanted him here—not just here…here with me—more than I’d ever wanted anything.

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About the Author

Brooke Taylor

Brooke Taylor lives and writes from her country home in Oklahoma where her pets are a constant, but happy, distraction. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys horseback riding, going to the lake, and traveling.

Brooke has worked extensively in the travel industry, from dude ranches to ski resorts to cruise lines. Her many overseas adventures include sky diving in New Zealand, scuba diving with sharks, sailing through hurricanes, and having her tent attacked by wild animals in the Mara game reserve in Kenya. Due to current health insurance rates, Brooke is letting her characters do most of the risk-taking from now on.

Find out more about Brooke at her website.

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Book Blitz: Possibilities by Kira Stone (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Possibilities

Author: Kira Stone

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: May 13, 2022

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 19 pages

Genre: Erotica, BDSM, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, SciFi, Dark Desire, Age Gap, Gay

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Synopsis

Choices…

Neal dives into a secluded pool hoping to find release for his aching body and his troubled mind. Instead, he finds Saul. The scribe is everything Neal could dream of — and yet he knows he dares not pursue his desires, for Saul is a Scribe.

Saul wants Neal, but not in servitude. Even a slave can make choices, and Neal chooses to make love to the man who opens his mind — and his heart.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2010 Kira Stone

Moonlight strokes the rocks and vegetation bracketing the waterfall with its ghostly fingers. Crystal clear water tumbles from one shallow pool to another, tugged down by gravity’s inexorable grip. Flowers bend in the gentle breeze, and nocturnal creatures add to nature’s nightly chorus as they go about their lives. It is perfect. It is peaceful.

It is a place where possibilities are born… although it would take me some time to realize it.

Although I’ve travelled past this location many times before, this particular spot is unfamiliar to me. It is, however, a welcome sight. I am weary and need a place to rest for the night. The pool looks so inviting. Perhaps a swim before bedding down would help erase the strains of the day.

Rushing water stifles my tired groan as I remove my silks. Little more than scraps of black fabric to cover the most male part of me, held together by a single braided strand of rope. Even so, I treat them with care for they are all I have to shield me against the elements so I set them on a rock beside the water.

The journey to this place, this moment in time, has not been an easy one. My body bears the scars of battles fought, some still fresh. See there, across my wrist, the lines of red? A demon who nearly bereft me of my life left those marks with his razor sharp claws. I can’t decide whether to praise the gods or curse them for sending the district’s healer along to save me when they did.

My spirit is equally marred. Hope has crawled into some dark corner of my soul. I dine on regrets and guilt, a meal that doesn’t sustain a man of thirty-eight for very long. And yet, here I am, still living and breathing. I don’t know why.

I ponder this as I move toward the edge of the lowest pool. The water is warmer than I expect given the lack of the sun’s warming rays, and I find myself drawn into its embrace. At its deepest, it rises no higher than my waist. I swim the breadth of it several times before finding a rock near the middle to sprawl on.

My limbs dangle loosely, toying with the surface, and I stare up at the heavens with the three moons of Trinity hanging low in the sky, searching for answers.

This is how he must have first seen me, looking like some debauched sprite fallen to ground.

I take no notice of the stranger in my midst at first. Slowly, he colors my world. Sound grows clearer, flowers perfume the night air, and everything around me begins to hum with a vibrancy as though it’s newly awakened to life.

I sit up and spy a ripple of midnight blue, just a shade paler than the sky, along the edge of the pool. He stops moving, and his cloak settles around him. Just as my surroundings burst into full life, so does he. Dark blue cloth wraps his rugged frame from neck to knee. His mahogany hair curls back from his face. Black boots and gloves cover his feet and hands. Though a handsome man by any rational person’s account, I remain unfazed.

Until I reach his eyes.

How is it possible to see one’s soul through their eyes? It’s a myth I never believed until I met this stranger. Although I’ve always been partial to blue, it’s not the rich color that holds me captive.

It has little to do with the expression on his face, which seems faintly amused at coming upon me bathing in the moonlight as he had. Nor is it the air of danger and sexual prowess that he exudes. No, it is the reflection of a lifetime of experiences, good and bad, hovering in those blue, blue eyes that I cannot look away from.

Oddly, I’m slightly ashamed of my nakedness for the first time in my humble life. He is the only Master in sight; I am merely a servant boy. I have nothing that he does not give me, including my life. Appearing naked before him should be as natural as breathing and yet I long for some form of cover, as if his eyes might delve into me too deeply otherwise.

Slowly I recall my duty and slip from the stone, back into the water. I swim across to him, kneeling in the shallows when I reach the water’s edge. Still I cannot look away from his face and those startling eyes. “Master, may this boy be of service to you?”

He breathes deep, his broad chest expanding, before answering in a commanding yet gentle tenor. “Tell me your name, boy.”

“This one is called Neal, Master.”

“And you may call me Saul.”

I admit I’m not often at a loss for words, but that request stopped all thought from forming in my brain. A Master wants me, a slave, to refer to him by name? Unheard of! “Master, are you sure?”

He laughs and the sound is more cleansing to me than the crystal clear water. “When we are alone, yes. I want to hear my name from your lips.”

He is Master. I am slave. I shouldn’t question his requests. And yet… “But Master, I am only a boy. I have no right to speak your name.”

“You have whatever rights I give you, and I grant you permission to use my name.” He cocks his head to the side in consideration, then adds, “For tonight.”

His expression hasn’t changed, but there’s something in his manner that convinces me he is serious. I didn’t wish to cross him, for even one of the scribe caste could be dangerous if provoked. “Yes, Mas — Yes, Saul. May this boy be of service to you?”

“Perhaps it is I who am here to serve you,” he suggests with a smile.

A great and mighty Master would lower himself to serve a humble boy? It had never been done before in my knowledge and I can only think of one reason for him to suggest it. “Is this a test for me, to see if I will behave properly?”

“No, Neal. It is merely a suggestion.”

It’s the first of many possibilities he shows me this night. Even now my body trembles with the memories of that first spectacular glimpse of what could be.

“How would you… Boy can… This is not…” No thought would complete itself in my brain before a new one birthed.

Saul laughs again as he presses his finger to my lips. “Easy, Neal. Do not hurt yourself.”

I search the depth of his eyes for some explanation for what is happening. All I find are more questions. “Saul…”

With a smile on his face, he commands, “Come with me.”

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Meet the Author

Kira Stone lives in a warm cave tucked away in the remote Scottish Highlands, where a small band of ever-changing heroes serves as company. As they relax in front of a roaring fire, demons dance in leather pants and angels stroke tunes from the harp strings, while the Fae stop in to share tales from other worlds. Bound by pen and imagination, these are the folk who wait to greet you from the pages of Kira’s stories. Find out more on their website.

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Book Blitz: Kelpie’s Claiming by Alexa Piper (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Kelpie’s Claiming

Series: Fairview Chronicles 10

Author: Alexa Piper

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: May 13, 2022

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 147 pages

Genre: Romance, Mystery, Thriller/Suspense, Paranormal Romance, Action Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Alternate Universe, Shapeshifters

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Synopsis

Rob’s current goal in life? Do not eat people. That’s easier said than done when you’re a kelpie in the service industry. While Rob pursues his goals from behind the bar, a stranger walks in, and Rob catches the man’s scent. Yet, patrons are not for eating, and it should have ended there… except when Rob smells that delicious scent again, the beautiful stranger needs help.

Bertrand wants to fit in, but because he’s part Fae, part Elf, and grew up human, he’s not really at home in either human or supernatural society. Still, he likes being a reporter and following a story all the way to its conclusion. The story he’s pursuing when he walks into Rob’s bar one night is one of supernaturals going missing, and Bertrand seems to be the only one who cares.

Meeting Bertrand might just shift Rob’s life goals. Coming face-to-face with a kelpie stallion might be enough to help Bertrand see where he fits in perfectly. Except Bertrand doesn’t really know what to make of Rob, and also, Bertrand’s missing persons story is bigger than even he envisioned. It’s turning into a case of abduction and trafficking he needs to unravel before he can even think about Rob’s advances. The story will lead Bertrand to some dark places before the year is out.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2022 Alexa Piper

Rob

In his more philanthropic youth, Rob had been excited about opening a bar-slash-diner and making a name for his establishment. He had succeeded with the Ragdoll, which was known for amazing sandwiches and exquisite liquor concoctions in supernatural circles and human circles alike. Going fully vegetarian had been the logical choice for Rob when he’d moved to the city of Fairview.

Now, he had over twenty years in the service industry under his belt, and the occasional slice of liver sounded so appealing when Rob had to cling on to his smile for all he was worth in front of a customer. It was why he’d hired a half-succubus and sexy Ilya whatever-he-was to handle the personal interactions.

(Rob was convinced Ilya could have, if he’d ever shown the inclination, charmed the pants off a barstool if barstools wore pants.) But now, with Ilya in love with a disgustingly rich witch and consequently out of town for whatever spell the Fey had planned to put on Rob’s most beloved employee, Rob had to pick up the slack behind the bar. And Ilya’s brother was not a suitable replacement, even if he was responding well to getting trained for the job.

“There is not enough rum in this,” the customer told Rob again, and Rob was pulled from his musings and back to wishing for a slice of liver.

“I’m ever so sorry,” Rob said without conviction. He looked up from the lime he was about to dismember on his cutting board behind the bar and glanced over the customer’s shoulder at Titi. The busboy was taking down the Fat Man Day decorations and prepping the Ragdoll for Sparklers and Public Drunkenness Day. There would be even more early drinkers here on Sparklers and Public Drunkenness Day, and Rob would have to be behind the bar, because sweet Ilya was getting bewitched.

“So are you gonna make me a new one?” the customer asked. Apparently, the red-faced man in his thirties with a beer belly threatening already was still there. At three in the afternoon. To consume rum cocktails. Not that Rob was the judgy type.

Rob had no intention of making another Mai Tai. He took a step to his right, located the dark rum, and poured the customer another finger of the liquor into his glass. “There you go,” Rob said, giving the man his best take it or leave it look.

The man looked from Rob to the cocktail, back again, and took it. He was complaining under his breath as he moved back to the table he’d occupied with two equally annoying male companions. The beer bellies were imminent in all of them, in Rob’s opinion. Sadly, that meant their livers would be fatty rather than yummy.

“Sorry,” Ilya’s brother said. Rob looked over to the man, who wore a black button-down shirt and jeans, but not as well as Ilya. He didn’t look half as sexy as Ilya. Rob still could not understand how that worked, how they were related. Ilya was a mysterious pale-skinned and raven-haired delight (who could easily handle over-drunk patrons with his charm). Kyle was plain dishwater blond. It made no sense, apart from being unfair to Rob, who would have loved nothing better than two Ilyas behind his bar.

“It’s fine,” Rob said. “The drink wasn’t the issue.”

Kyle narrowed his eyes and looked at the floor. “Okay.”

Rob frowned. Kyle was an odd one, but he followed direction perfectly. The real downside was simply that he wasn’t the sexy barman his brother was.

“Really, it’s okay. Some people just need to be assholes, and there is nothing you can do about that.” He patted Kyle on the shoulder. Kyle jerked a little at the contact before he relaxed.

Rob felt that was enough life advice, so he went back to murdering the lime. About five seconds later, the door opened, and on a breeze of cold air, the local mage and one of her lovers drifted into the bar. This lover (the nice one) was slightly too chatty for Rob’s taste, but judging by the time, the two of them were just here for a late lunch or coffee and something sweet. (This time, Rob hoped they wouldn’t have their… dessert in the ladies’ room. Rob wasn’t a prude by any means, he just disliked cleaning a bathroom after people spent time on their knees in there for whatever reason, and it was extra work, even if Kyle happily volunteered each time.)

Predictably, after the mage — in conversation with the nice lover — waved hello at Rob and Kyle, who seemed like he wanted to hide under the bar at seeing her, they made for a table rather than the bar. Rob knew Ilya, and possibly the Fey witch, had gotten the mage to become a regular, and it made Rob miss his night bartender all the more.

Kyle sidled up close to Rob. “Uhm, do you want me to serve them?” he asked quietly.

Rob put his knife down. This lime was getting lucky, for now. “I can do it. I don’t think she bites, and that lover definitely doesn’t.”

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Meet the Author

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

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | BookBub

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Book Blitz: Blue Rose by Lena Austin (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Blue Rose

Author: Lena Austin

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: May 13, 2022

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male/Female (Male/Male interaction)

Length: 114 pages

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Action Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Alternative Universe, Bisexual Pansexual & Multisexual, Elves Dragons & Magical Creatures

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Synopsis

Princess Zara knows one of royal blood is sometimes forced into political alliances, but what’s wrong with wanting a real Prince Charming? Few princes would want a wife who could best them with any weapon, still, there are more rivals for her hand — and her father’s kingdom — than she expects, but only two catch her eye. Prince Bram seems perfect, but he’s more interested in Prince Kennit than Zara. And the nearsighted Kennit isn’t perfect enough — her father will never approve the marriage.

Prince Kennit knows there’s only one woman for him, but few princesses would find a shape shifting dragon to their liking. When Zara is poisoned, Kennit’s the first to volunteer for the expedition to save the princess, though the quest will lead them deep within the ninth circle of Hell. Zara refuses to be left behind, and Bram’s along for the ride.

Things have changed a little — okay, a lot — since the days of Dante’s Inferno. This time the tourists are Zara, the poisoned princess, and her two suitors. Together they must find a single blue rose in the deepest part of Hell before the next full moon, or Zara will run out of time — and choices.

Excerpt

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2022 Lena Austin

Zara shrieked in rage and aimed the next statue from the mantel at her father’s head. The heft of the clay dog might open up his thick skull. “I am not a fucking piece of merchandise!”

“Hang it all, Zara! I don’t like this any more than you do, but I would appreciate the courtesy of being treated like the king now and then!” King Ragnar dodged another object and winced as it shattered behind him. “Damn it! That was your mother’s favorite.”

“She’s been dead for twenty-five years. I don’t think she’ll miss it.” Zara cast about for something else to use as a weapon, but the more useful items were behind her father’s desk, putting her in reach of his burly arms. “Did you already send a herald to announce, ‘One kingdom for sale! Marry the princess and rule Powell Mountains’?”

Ragnar snorted, but kept a wary eye on her. “Thank goodness I had the sense to rule all persons must be disarmed in my presence, or you’d be hacking at me with your sword.” He drew himself up. “As a matter of fact, I did indeed issue invitations to the local princes. They should arrive in time for tonight’s feast.”

Zara swallowed another shriek and ground her teeth instead. “You mean to sell me and the kingdom into marriage quickly, don’t you?”

Ragnar’s fingers opened and closed convulsively, and Zara guessed he’d love to have them around her throat. “At least I’m giving you a choice of princes, you ungrateful wretch. I could have simply chosen one and delivered you to him trussed up like a goose.”

“I’d much rather you changed the law that demands this kingdom be ruled by a wedded pair. Just because you got lucky and found Mother while you were children doesn’t make the law right.” Zara tossed her thick black braid over her shoulder and slammed out of the door, not waiting for a dismissal. The cold fury on her face magically cleared a path through the corridors before her.

She’d known something was wrong when the guardsmen who usually gave her a sword workout were conspicuously absent from the fields. Not even the sergeant looked her in the eye when he informed her they were all out on field maneuvers for the week. She sailed through the doors leading to the back of the castle and noted the guardsmen had miraculously reappeared from their maneuvers.

Now she knew the why of the lie, and her anger soared even higher to realize her father had ordered all her “masculine” activities curtailed. Few princes would find a wife charming when she could best them with any weapon. Fewer still would find her preference for masculine clothes alluring.

Zara turned from the now forbidden joys of beer by the smith’s fire, a joint of beef in the barracks, and the clash of metals on the practice field. She knew better than to approach her old friends and cause them to lie to her further. Her eyes stung, not with pain, but more anger than she’d felt in many a year. Her shoulders slumped as she headed for the cliffs to walk as she often did when troubled. The men would read her posture and know that while she didn’t like it, she’d accepted it wasn’t their fault.

The wind and sky played a tempestuous love affair, whipping her comfortable, woven shirt until it plastered against her body, revealing too many feminine curves even in leather pants and vest. She hated her soft skin, though she’d honed fine muscles beneath the easily bruised flesh, of which there always seemed to be too much. “Can I help it if I’m as tall as a man, and nearly as broad? Certainly not. I refuse to be one of the court wenches who daintily picks at her food and then throws up what little she does eat for fear of not appearing feminine and delicate. Pahh!”

She stepped around a particularly large boulder and beheld a sight so strange it stopped her angry ruminations.

A lanky man stood at the very edge of the cliff, his black cloak seeming to hang in the air as if riding the winds, and his shoulder-length black hair escaped its silver thong to join the cloak in flight. Nothing could be seen of the man’s face, for his back was to Zara, but the whole figure was one of tranquility.

That peace alone intrigued her, for so few could bear the fearful heights, and fewer still dared walk the edge on a day when the winds could yank a full-grown man over the precipice. Either this one was very brave or very crazed.

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Meet the Author

Someone cursed Lena Austin with “may you have a life so full you’ll have many tales to tell your grandchildren.” Lena’s a “fallen” society wench with a checkered past. She’s been a licensed minister, hairdresser, Realtor, radio DJ, exotic dancer, telephone service tech, live-steel medievalist swordswoman, BDSM Mistress, and investment property manager. Not necessarily in that order. She never finished that degree in marine archaeology, but did learn to scuba — she’s got a lifetime of “Research material!”

Hey, why waste these stories on kids who won’t listen anyway? Writing them down is a nice way to spend her retirement. What? You expected an ex-BDSM Mistress to take up crocheting or something?

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New Release Blitz ~ Madeline’s Park by Ellen Mint (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Madeline’s Park by Ellen Mint

Book 3 in the Happily Ever Austen series

Word Count: 72,300
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 284

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
RUBENESQUE
SECOND CHANCE

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Book Description

Her heart’s looking for a forever home.

All her life, Madeline Prix’s loved Everett Berry, but she’d be a fool to think he’d ever notice her. She’s nothing more than a big Southern girl with frizzy red hair. No way would the sunshine and perfect Ev look twice at her. To her surprise, fifteen years later, he appears in her city while she’s in the middle of a kitten rescue. Madeline’s dreams are about to come true when Ev asks her on a date until his ex enters the no-longer-rosy picture.

Everett thought he could start his life anew after a messy divorce in a small Southern town. Maddy came into his world like a breath of fresh air, but he finds himself stumbling back into old patterns. Can he ever be good enough for someone as sweet as Madeline Prix?

Madeline must choose between the man she’s loved all her life who keeps breaking her heart and a man who’s only good on paper. Good thing she has her adorable cats and best friend to help her out, because her heart may not be able to survive.

Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of domestic violence, an apartment fire, fist fights, and body image issues including fat-shaming.

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Click HERE to enter

Contest ends on May 21st, 2022

Excerpt

“Come here…” Madeline pleaded to the dash of gray. Freezing sleet bounced against her legs, the December New York weather in no mood to help. Her chest slid on a patch of mud, the sequins popping off as she tried to pull herself deeper into the culvert. It was, on the whole, one of the least pleasant experiences of her life.

The construction crew stood in a half-circle, gawping at the woman who’d belly-flopped onto the mud and cooed into the darkness. Madeline frowned, hating that they had to be staring at her flattened backside as she struggled to reach for the tiny ball of fur crying for its life.

“I’m here to help, I promise,” she tried to assure the little construction stowaway. Blue eyes darted over her. The muddy kitten was scrunched tight against the wire screen. Madeline tried to tip the borrowed flashlight up, but half of it was submerged in the icy mud. Still, she couldn’t see any obvious holes.

With luck, there wouldn’t be a way for the kitten to run deeper into danger.

Eyeing up the tight squeeze, she held her breath and reached farther inside. She extended a steady hand to grapple for the ball of fluff. From the darkness, four claws swiped in a deep line across her flesh. The pain stung like a multitude of bee stings, and Madeline screwed her face up to swallow it. But that also meant she was closer.

“Here, little baby.” Her voice was soft, the long-swallowed Southern accent flaring up like kudzu. Warmth brushed over her fingers, telling her she had reached the kitten’s head. Before it could bite her, Madeline pinched her fingers on the kitten’s scruff and began to tug it out.

Oh, goodness! The shrieks of the baby being pulled into the light were ear-splitting. It screamed as if she were murdering it, but Madeline wouldn’t stop.

Hooking a hand to the outside, she pulled both herself and the kitten free. As she slid out of the culvert, her sweater lifted up, streaking mud across her vast stomach. The chill walloped her entire body, but she shook it off. She had a more important package in her fingers.

Madeline rose by herself, not that she expected anyone to help, and curled the screaming kitten against her breast. There was warmth, safety and impressive cushioning. While the kitten wasn’t too young, four to five weeks, it could almost vanish into her cleavage.

“There you go, little guy,” she whispered to the ball of fluff who had ceased its wailing. The kitten turned up to her, warily watching as she tried to pull off the larger clumps of mud.

“You got it, ma’am?” one of the guys in construction orange asked. She glanced around at the burly men who hadn’t dressed for the cold, their breath spurting out smoke. All stared at the kitten nuzzled in the crook of her muddy arm. Did they want to pet it?

“Yes,” she said while shielding the kitten from more of the drizzle. They had work to do—doubtful anyone wanted to waste their time with her.

“Well, you heard her. Back at it!” the first guy said. With a slow turn, the other men walked away from the tiny dash of excitement. For Madeline, this was normal. She didn’t pluck kittens from culverts every day, but finding them in dumpsters, walking down the middle of highways, buried in garbage bags…that kept her busy.

At the sound of jackhammers roaring up, Madeline stared down at the tiny face she had rescued. It peered at the strange world, uncertain of life outside of the culvert. What am I going to call you?

“Maddy?”

Her heart stopped dead. No, it can’t be. New York was known for being crammed full of people. Whoever that was had to mean someone else. Of course.

She focused on the kitten, trying to juggle it safely in her arms when the same sweet-tea voice called her name again. “Maddy?”

No one had called her that. Not in years. Not since high school. No one, but…

A ray of sunshine punctured through the dreary gray world. Hair of spun gold swept back and to the side, a square jawline and strong nose, thin but sculpted lips forever in a wide smile—he was the epitome of gorgeous boy-next-door. The one she had pined for during all of high school. The boy she had dreamed of taking her to prom, of giving her a ride in his truck, of asking her to be his girlfriend.

Everett Berry, a man so jaw-dropping it was a wonder bluebirds didn’t perch upon his shoulders, was talking to her. Asking about her. Staring at her in concern because she had fallen stupid.

“He…hey! Everett? What are you…?” Madeline whipped her head around, fearing this might be some prank reality show. Or worse, one where people got together to try to make over a dumpy friend.

“It is you!” His smile somehow brightened to new heights, piercing the pressing clouds around them. “You haven’t changed a lick since high school,” he said, his eyes darting from her rounded face to her rounded body.

Madeline tasted the scorn he was too tactful to phrase. Look at you, just as fat as ever. Sure, he never said it. He was far too kind to point out the obvious. But he didn’t have to. She heard it every day, from every person around her, from the world pointing out that she was wrong for being cushioned.

“I’ve, um, gotten older,” she muttered, her cheeks burning as she glared down at her lazy sweatshirt coated in mud. She hadn’t even bothered with jeans, had only thrown on a pair of sweatpants and run out to save the kitten. This was how he had to find her, not dolled up in a fancy dress…

Madeline, when do you ever put on makeup or wear cocktail dresses? Where would you find one that fits? No, it was while she looked like she had taken a swim in the mud on laundry day. Great.

“But you.” She pointed at Everett as if he didn’t know who he was. “You look…” Perfect. “The same, I mean, younger. Um, you look good.”

He laughed at her stumbling, raking a hand through his golden locks. How she wanted to run her fingers through them. They had to be as soft as silk and smell of sunshine on a summer day. Everett opened his mouth, no doubt about to say his goodbyes, when the kitten hidden in her arms mewled.

Madeline raised it up, checking to make certain it was okay, and Everett leaned closer. “Still running out into the rain saving baby animals?”

Her cheeks burned even hotter while she watched the glorious man scratch a nail over the kitten’s tiny head. All Madeline could do was nod along. Yep, rescuing animals. Mostly kittens, as she couldn’t keep dogs in her place. Though, if she did find a lost puppy, she knew who to give it to.

“Weren’t you gonna be a vet?”

“That was the plan,” she said with a shrug. “Then I took a chemistry course and whew, never mind.” God, stop bringing up your past failures! “What about you? You went to college to study some, um, business thing?” A business degree with an emphasis on multinational finance.

Everett’s smile dimmed a touch, his striking green eyes searching around the construction zone. “Yeah, that…didn’t work out the way I hoped. Got into a construction program later and volunteered for the firefighters. Much more my speed, and I don’t have to wear a tie every damn day either.”

She genuinely laughed at his sweet joke, but there was no denying that Everett was built for a suit. The last time she’d seen him in one was graduation when he and his friends had sneaked under the bleachers with a case of beer. They’d had no idea she was even there.

Silence fell between them, just the grinding sound of the city being chunked up and repurposed breaking the air. Should she say something? Ask him how he was doing? If he was with anyone? Visiting the city or staying? If he was single?

“I do website SEO stuff!” Madeline blurted out, panicking as she realized how sad that sounded. “Ads, more or less. Though I keep hoping to finally, er, do rescue animal stuff full-time…” Her entire vocabulary leapt into a cement mixer and solidified into nothing but slack-jawed staring. “What, uh, what brings you to New York?”

Last she knew, he was living back in North Carolina along with a good chunk of their graduating class. If they hadn’t paired up in high school, they did in college at UNC. Madeline felt like she had been the single one to run screaming away as fast as she could with her hot diploma in hand.

“Got a job here working for the city,” Everett said.

“That’s fantastic!” Madeline squealed before pulling it back. “I mean, New York is…I don’t really have to tell you what it is. Big City. People kinda everywhere.”

Everett nodded along with her babbling as if she were coming close to making a lick of sense. From the top of the scaffolding, a voice shouted, “Hey, cat girl! If you’re done, you need to leave!”

“Sorry.” Madeline waved at the man, wincing deeper into her stained sweater. “Sorry,” she repeated to Everett. “I need to get this little one to the vet. You’ve got some deworming in store for you.” The last part she said to the kitten. She doubted Everett had anything but the cleanest of bowels.

Christ, why did you think that?

Waving once more to the construction crew who were far too busy to worry about her, Madeline dashed to the plastic fencing put up to keep the rabble out. Everett walked behind her, watching as she tried to fish out her phone while juggling the kitten.

“How are you planning on moving this little guy?” he asked, getting in one last chance to pet the tiny head. “Because I could take you. Still have my truck. Haven’t gone full city yet.” He laughed while scratching the back of his neck.

“Oh, usually I call this guy. He runs an Uber and lets me bring in cats I find that…” Her lips kept going because internally she was shrieking. Everett Berry wanted to drive her somewhere. Like she was with him. Well, not with him with him—that was impossible. But an honest offer.

Glancing down at the kitten who seemed resigned to its fate, Madeline smiled wide. “Yes. That sounds…perfect.”

A smile that could launch a thousand ships beamed upon her while he gestured down the street. “Then follow me.”

Always.

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About the Author

Ellen Mint

Ellen Mint adores the adorkable heroes who charm with their shy smiles and heroines that pack a punch. She recently won the Top Ten Handmaid’s Challenge on Wattpad where hers was chosen by Margaret Atwood. Her books, Undercover Siren and Fever are available at Amazon as well as a short story in the Lucky Between The Sheets anthology. Married, she lives in Nebraska with her dog named after Granny Weatherwax. Her hobbies include gaming, painting, and halloween prop making. The basement is full of skeletons because they ran out of room in the closets.

You can find Ellen at her website here and also on Bookbub.

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New Release Blitz ~ Saving the Wedding by Nicole Dennis (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Saving the Wedding by Nicole Dennis

Book 7 in the Southern Charm series

Word Count: 102,663
Book Length: SUPER PLUS NOVEL
Pages: 430

Genres:

CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GAY
GLBTQI

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Book Description

Out of the swirling mix of secrets and a hurricane, can love survive? 

Two years later, part of the Charm family, Gavin Hartfield creates magical memories and events. One of those weddings will be for the Charm’s owners, Samuel Ashford and Dakota Mitchell, if they ever make up their minds. The other one for his ex-boyfriend and his new partner. In the middle of all this, he keeps tangling with a tattooed brusque EMT.

Xavier “Gray” Grayson feels a bit on the outside looking in when it comes to the collection of Charm men. He envies all of them finding love. Pushing his non-existent sex life filled with one-nights at clubs aside, he runs through life as an EMT and college student pushing to better himself. Running along the beach and trails become his relief and sanctuary. Until he keeps tripping over the new event coordinator.

An incoming hurricane takes aim at Shore Breeze. The town braces for the impact. Plans falter and change. Will life, love, and a wedding follow these changes?

Excerpt

Stepping outside on a Saturday morning, Gavin Hartfield, the creator of Charmed Occasions, the wedding and event-planning company within the Southern Charm Bed & Breakfast, touched the Bluetooth wireless earpiece that wrapped around his ear to reset it. Then he adjusted the microphone.

A trio of calls with immediate hang-ups buzzed his phone.

He pulled it out and checked the screen. The area code was from Atlanta, his previous hometown.

There was one person who kept harassing him, no matter how many times he changed his number.

A flicker of a panic attack increased his heartbeat.

Again. All of this. All over again.

He wanted the bastard to leave him alone.

“No. No. Concentrate on the wedding. They deserve your full attention—not an asshole who can’t let go.”

“Help! Gavin! You there?”

Wincing at his assistant’s voice, Gavin wanted to rip the entire headset away. “Yes. I’m here. Use the volume control. Please.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Victor MacArtney said. “Better?”

“Yes. What did you call for, Victor?”

“The family member acting as the cameraman for the virtual part is here. His name is Ryan. He wondered if he could follow you for all the pre-wedding stuff to show the family and guests waiting in their online group.”

“I’ll meet him inside. Have him wait by the entrance.”

“Gotta keep some of our secrets and tricks. Right?”

“Right.”

“Will do, boss.”

Shrugging off the earlier panicky sensation, he checked his tablet to update the list and timings for the wedding of Michael and Charles. Since the pandemic had changed everything, they’d pushed back their wedding multiple times until it was considered safer, when everyone would have been vaccinated. Once they’d chosen this Saturday, they were determined to exchange their vows and rings. They’d selected Occasions’ smaller package with a gazebo wedding and a brunch reception. The rest of the extended family, friends and co-workers had been invited to a virtual party in a Discord group that would be livestreamed by Ryan. The grooms kept the ceremony and reception areas subdued, simple, with a few splashes of flowers and a single pale-blue accent color against the natural background. It suited the older couple, who were both in their early forties. Now he needed to make their dream wedding come true on this July morning.

“Gavin, we have a problem!” Victor said while racing over.

Gavin wondered what disaster Victor had created this time. “Where is Ryan?”

“Left him inside like you said.”

“What is that?” Gavin focused on what Victor held in his hand.

Victor held up the battered birdcage. “One of the birdcages fell while the lighting team tried to hang it in the gazebo. A few pieces of metal snapped. Luckily, Jude hadn’t added the flowers or that would be another disaster. Ryan didn’t film anything. Would make it even—”

“Don’t even go there.”

“Yeah. True. What should we do?”

“First, calm down. There is always a solution. You must learn that part of the job.”

“Okay.” Victor spun the damaged item between his hands.

Gavin inspected the cage and realized they couldn’t repair it. They would have to discard the item. Okay, minor disaster, but there’s always a solution. Focus on that. “There’s no fixing this cage.”

“What’s the solution?”

Gavin tapped open the inventory program and scrolled to figure out his options. “Okay. Aisle 3, Bin C. There’s a matching cage that’s a little smaller, but it’ll work. Toss that one, remove it from the inventory list and get the replacement.”

“Will do.”

“Please tell them to be extra careful. Those are our only white cages. We’ll have to be on the lookout next time we go shopping. And don’t go through the main entrance. Avoid the camera.”

“Promise. Keep out of sight until it is all fixed and perfect. Understood.” Victor raced off.

“What next?” Gavin waved to the violinists. While he talked to Victor, the pair of music students had arrived and begun practicing. They’d worked an Occasions wedding before and knew the drill. Then he returned inside to weave his way to the kitchen.

“Morning, Malcolm, how are we progressing?”

The sous chef, Malcolm Bissete, chopped and diced with a massive chef’s knife. If Gavin used one of those, he would be afraid of losing a finger. “I’m not going to be filmed. Right?”

“The camera guy is waiting by the front entrance. I’ll keep him contained. This was agreed upon between Occasions and the grooms.”

“Okay. Too busy to deal with that nonsense. Stupid pandemic.”

“I know. I know. At least we get to go back to some normalcy.”

“True. Anyway…progress check. Right.” Mal didn’t look up throughout the entire conversation but kept his attention on his work. “Cocktail hour is done and ready.” He scooped the ingredients to a bowl. “The cocktails will be made fresh to order. Zak is on his way and will mix everything. Unlike me, he knows what he’s doing.”

Mal went to the warming oven, plucked out a couple of pieces, plated them and passed it to Gavin. “These are the egg-white tartlets with bacon, Gruyère and sun-dried tomatoes. The other is the mini-French toast. I added dark maple syrup, so it bakes into the bread. Nothing should bother your lactose issue. Both grooms requested alternative milks.”

“I missed one of my favorite parts of every event—the tasting element.”

“Still not going to share with Victor?”

“Nope. Not guilty, either.” Gavin savored the hors d’oeuvres Malcolm had created to satisfy an early morning hunger before the actual brunch—something to offset the morning dip into alcohol. The cocktail hour would be celebrated with an option of mint juleps and Bellinis, along with coffee and tea. While the grooms and wedding party finished the pictures, the guests could enjoy some delicacies. “Wow. These are delicious!”

Malcolm slid over a cup of fresh coffee, doctored to Gavin’s taste. “Appreciate it.”

“What else is ready?”

“Katie’s delivery guy dropped off the cake. It’s waiting in the walk-in fridge. Simple but elegant, like one of the grooms, Charles, wanted. Katie loved how it came out and will add it to her social media pages.” Mal pointed to another workspace. “I’m finishing the salad wraps and grilled vegetable tartlets. The frittatas are baking. The scones are done.”

“Perfect. You rock.” Gavin polished off the rest of the French toast, loving the flavor combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup.

“It’s a small event, so there isn’t much to make. It’ll be the same with Sunday’s reception. I enjoy these little ones. I’m not running around like crazy to get everything done.”

“There are going to be more of these smaller events until everything settles down.”

“And people become comfortable in larger ones.”

“Life came to a stop and changed. Now we need to figure out a way back,” Gavin said between sips of coffee. “Just wondering. What are you going to do when Dorian finishes school and returns home? Will you keep helping with the event side?”

“I’ll return to restaurant cooking with the occasional event-planning stuff for the larger groups. The restaurant side is my passion.”

“What?” Gavin frowned in a playful, teasing manner, complete with the sad puppy-dog look that collaborated with his baby-blue eyes. “Don’t you like working with Victor and me?”

“Not the puppy-dog eyes! No! No. Stop that.” Mal snapped his towel at Gavin. “You’re evil, man, just plain evil. Not going to sway me. Nope.”

Gavin grinned while he dropped the look when he knew he’d gotten to Mal.

“Hey, I adore you, honest. I don’t mind helping with the events if I’m needed, but I’m a restaurant kitchen guy. It’s in my blood. I love the craziness of a busy evening.”

“Understandable.” Gavin finished the coffee and pushed the dishes back across. “I’ll let you get back to things. Let me know if anything changes.” He tapped his earpiece. “Unless you run into Vincent, then tap me on this.”

“Always.” After a flourish of the towel, Malcolm tucked it back around one of his apron’s ties.

Gavin left the kitchen with a fresh burst of energy. Heading through the main restaurant, he studied a couple of people from the local businesses dressing the closed-off area for the reception. Pale-blue tablecloths with sand-colored napkins and chair covers united the area. A bounty of fresh flowers in shades of cream and pale blue added a beautiful fragrance. He loved everything the florist, Jude Sebastian, designed.

Taking a moment to adjust a couple of items and locate a missing placement, he returned outside. There he found Jude and his team setting up the last of the exterior floral arrangements around the gazebo and aisle. The lighting team finished adding pin-style lights around the gazebo that went with the strings of fairy lights. The natural morning sunlight would brighten the rest of the setting.

Though he discovered the second birdcage hanging, he couldn’t locate his assistant.

Gavin tapped his headset. “Victor, where are you?”

“Helping Charles with his outfit. We have a loose button and a wobbly belly,” Victor replied. “Don’t worry. Ryan is still in the front entrance area.”

“Okay. Keep me updated. I’ll pick up our cameraman and check on the grooms next.”

“Will do.”

Gavin stepped closer to the dark-haired florist where he was tucking pale-blue and cream flowers into the birdcages. “Hey, Jude.” Memories of the Valentine’s Day surprise he’d created for Jude at Dr. Elliott Sheffield’s request to reveal their new home flashed through him. It had been one of his most memorable moments.

“Morning, Gavin. Wonderful day for a wedding.” Jude shifted his attention from the cage and flowers toward Gavin. He let out a low appreciative whistle. “Looking pretty dapper this morning. I like the paisley suspenders.”

Every single time they met, the florist commented on Gavin’s combination of bow ties and suspenders. They were his look, his trend and something he’d started with his first wedding. In a way, they remained his good-luck charms. If he needed to go a bit more formal, he had a collection of vests and a few coats more reminiscent of earlier centuries. There was a touch of steampunk style to some of his wardrobe. Today, he’d chosen gray-checked pants with a long-sleeved white button-down shirt. Due to the steamy early-July morning, he’d rolled the sleeves up his forearms then set off the look with gray paisley suspenders and matching bow tie.

“How many pairs of suspenders do you have?”

“Lost count a while ago,” Gavin admitted. “Same with the bow ties. At least a couple hundred, if not more, of each type.”

“Damn. How are we to know what set to get you for your birthday?” Jude let out a low whistle. “Sheesh. You probably have every single style and pattern.”

“No, not everything. Still missing a few sets, and more are always being revealed and designed. My collection is always growing. I’m not stopping anytime soon. There’s some higher-end ones I didn’t pick up.”

“Do you have a wish list?”

“Multiple ones.”

Jude laughed.

“Still can’t get Doc Elliott to try them?”

“Nope. Claims they get in his way in the ER.”

“Riiiiight.”

“Silly doctor of mine,” Jude said. “He prefers his boring scrubs.”

“He’s still a keeper. Does he have a twin?”

Jude laughed and shook his head.

“Damn. Too bad he broke the mold.”

“Oh, I’m not giving him up for anything.”

“Don’t blame you.” Gavin cupped his fingers under one bloom that was tucked into a stylized vase set on a pedestal. “These are gorgeous.”

Jude caressed one petal with a fingertip. “The one you’re touching is a morning glory. I adore that sky-blue color. The others are a combination of white mini cala lilies and ruffly double tulips. It took a bit of luck for me to find these white hybrid nerine lilies. They’re the perfect addition to intersperse among the foliage. After sending the grooms a picture, they became excited and gave me a bit of extra budget to find them.”

“I remember their excitement about it.”

“Crazy how that happens. Anyway, I chose Italian ruscus, eucalyptus and fern combinations to finish off the centerpieces and accents. Smaller versions are on the tables,” Jude said. “The grooms chose a boutonnière of a single morning glory flower and two strands of Italian ruscus. I delivered those earlier.”

“Other than tulips, I have no clue about what you just said. Tell me more.”

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About the Author

Nicole Dennis

Ever the quiet one growing up, Nicole Dennis often slid away from reality and curled up with a book to slip into the worlds of her favorite authors. Over the years, she’s created a personal library full of novels filled with dragons, fairies, vampires, shapeshifters of all kinds and romance. Always she returned to romance. Still, there were these characters in her head, worlds wanting to be built on paper, and stories wanting to be told and she began writing them down whether during or after class. She continues to this day. Only recently has it begun to become fruitful, spreading out to let others read and enter her worlds, meet her characters, and see what she sees. No matter what she writes, her stories of romance with their twists of paranormal, fantasy and erotica will always have their Happily Ever Afters.

She currently works in a quiet office in Central Florida, where she also makes her home, and enjoys the down time to slip into her characters and worlds to escape reality from time to time. At home, she becomes human slave to a semi-demonic tortie calico.

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New Release Blitz ~ Made of Folded Paper by Kai Wolden (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Made of Folded Paper by Kai Wolden

Word Count: 35,645
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 131

Genres:

BISEXUAL
CONTEMPORARY
GAY
GLBTQI
ROMANCE
TRANSGENDER

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Book Description

College friendships are supposed to last a lifetime… But this is a little more complicated…

Will, a daydreamer and romantic from small-town Iowa, starts his first year at Weston Academy of the Arts, where his peers nickname him “Iowa.” Iowa becomes acquainted with a charismatic thespian named LA, who introduces him to his two best friends—Cynic, a suave and sardonic musician, and Charlie, a reserved and enigmatic writer.

Over time, Iowa becomes increasingly fascinated with his three new friends in different ways, forming a brotherly bond with LA and a more complex connection with Cynic. Only Charlie remains distant, capturing Iowa’s intrigue most of all.

When Iowa catches a glimpse of an alarming scar on Charlie’s chest, he becomes obsessively concerned about him. He begins to view Charlie as a fragile, tragic figure—but when he finally breaks through Charlie’s barriers, he discovers that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

As Iowa is overcome by intensifying feelings for Charlie, the group dynamic grows tense. It turns out Charlie and Cynic have a history, and seeing Charlie and Iowa together just might be enough to drive Cynic off the rails…

As graduation approaches, the four friends’ relationships are tested by jealousy, heartbreak and tragedy. Will love be enough to hold them together in the end?

Reader advisory: This book includes the death of a character in a drunk-driving incident. There are mentions of substance abuse, self-harm and depression, as well as mentions of suicide, homophobia, and transphobia.

Excerpt

I’m not sure when I first started fictionalizing my life, casting everyone around me in glamorous roles, romanticizing their flaws and my own. Maybe it was in middle school, when life was hell and it made things so much easier to imagine that the mean kids had secret, tortured home lives—neglectful parents, dead siblings, empty cupboards, holes in the roof that let in the rain. Maybe it was in high school, when I skipped class and hid in the back of the library with a stack of books, listening to the other truants who slipped between the shelves for more sensational reasons, contriving storylines for their hurried love affairs, illicit exchanges and muffled heartbroken sobs. Maybe it was after high school, those nights working at the general store, where drunks shuffled in to buy cigarettes and pornography, where my boss told me not to accept checks from Black people, where one year off to save money for college turned into another and another while at home my father slowly died from lung cancer. Regardless, at some point along the way, I developed a fascination that bordered on fetishism for tragedy.

I had always planned to go to college. There was never a time in those five years that I resigned myself, even for a moment, to a lifetime of working at the general store or the mill where my father had grudgingly labored for most of his life. I made excuses for putting it off year after year—money, my father’s health, my mother’s well-being after he died. She didn’t need me, but I pretended she did, pretended she needed someone to clean the leaves out of the gutters and fix the leaky pipes at the very least. I put into that drafty old clapboard house all the love I was never able to give to my father and all the love I wished I could give to my mother that she wouldn’t accept. When she told me she was selling the house and buying a condo in Des Moines, it was like she was telling me she was giving me up for adoption. I was twenty-three, but I curled up in the corner of my closet and cried like I was six. Then I crawled out, grabbed the laptop that I’d scrimped and saved for and lay on the threadbare carpet all night, researching colleges.

I made the economical choice—I would take general classes at a community college, a respected one as far as community colleges went, that was only an hour’s drive from Des Moines. I still wasn’t ready to completely sever those arterial ties with my mother that she’d clipped as easily as an umbilical cord. After two years, I would transfer to a four-year university to complete my bachelor’s degree, though I wasn’t sure yet where I would go or what I would study. I’d only ever loved one thing—books—but there was no money in an English degree, and I needed to make money if I ever wanted to escape Iowa for good. For those two years, in which I worked odd jobs and rented an elderly couple’s basement for almost nothing, provided I helped out around the house, I tried to muster an interest in something else—accounting, real estate, law, anything lucrative and sensible.

But in the end, when I confessed to my guidance counselor that I’d failed, she said impatiently, “Hey, at least you love something. You know how many people live their whole lives and never find anything they love? Do what you love.” So I started applying to English programs.

I had it in mind that I wanted to go to the East Coast—Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire or New York. I wanted to get out of the Midwest anyway, and there was something so gloomy and romantic about the East Coast in my mind (I’d never actually been there). But when I added up tuition and living expenses, I just couldn’t make it work, no matter how many financial aid packets and possible scholarships I factored in. I wasn’t a particularly impressive student on paper, though I had done well on my ACTs and written a masterful personal statement on the topic of my father’s agonizing demise. I ended up applying to eight universities across the United States, chosen for the prestige of their English programs, affordability and admittedly the aesthetic of their websites. I got three letters of acceptance, and when I laid them out on the flimsy card table in my rented basement room, it was the one with the thickest paper, the blackest ink and the most elegant sigil at the top—which contained an open book, a pen, a paintbrush and a violin—that drew my eye because I’d never seen anything so beautiful with my name on it. That was how I ended up in Michigan.

I was a bit embarrassed to be starting college at twenty-five—and I did think of it as starting because, compared to Weston Academy of the Arts, my quaint little community college was less than nothing. During the long drive east, then north in my beat-up Toyota with everything I owned rattling around the back seat, I did something I hadn’t done in a while—made up a backstory for myself. My father’s death I would keep, but it would be a boating accident rather than cancer—much more dramatic and devastating. My mother’s estrangement I would also keep, but I would lose her to grief and a pill addiction instead of apathy and a condo in Des Moines. Iowa I would abandon entirely in favor of something a bit superior—Minnesota or Illinois, perhaps—nowhere that would require an accent or change to my mannerisms. I wouldn’t lie about my age, but I would explain it away—a gap year that got out of hand, a spree of reckless behavior after my father’s death, a soul-searching quest across South America, a whirlwind affair with a Columbian woman (I’d taken Spanish in community college). By the time I arrived, I knew my story so well it was almost as if I’d actually lived it. But I never told it to anyone.

It turned out I’d misjudged the student population of Weston. I’d thought they would be wistful romantics like me, and they were. But the people who attended Weston were people who could have gone anywhere, but chose to slum it in Michigan because they romanticized the Midwest, small-town America and working-class, salt-of-the-earth folk like me. There was no better role I could have played than William Paine from Iowa. People called me “Iowa,” and soon enough, I dropped my name and embraced the character. I began to exaggerate certain parts of myself, the parts I could tell my peers most appreciated—my ignorance and inexperience (I didn’t know what Uber was, I’d never tried sushi, I’d never been to Europe), my wealth of practical knowledge (how to change a tire, how to sew on a button, how to fix a wobbly table), my poverty (my old flannel shirts and scuffed work boots, my battered Toyota with its cracked windshield, my job at the campus bookstore where I hauled boxes of textbooks and mopped muddy footprints from the floor).

I played the boy next door, blond and broad-shouldered, wholesome and hard-working, bursting with Midwestern hospitality. I exuded images of green and gold cornfields, boundless blue skies, blood-red sunsets, black storm clouds and ruinous tornados. I manifested the American Gothic—William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Sherwood Anderson, Stephen Crane. I became a warped and grotesque caricature of myself, composed entirely of the qualities I had been most ashamed of and most wanted to leave behind when I started my new life. But my peers reveled in it, and I enjoyed the unfamiliar novelty of being popular, even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

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About the Author

Kai Wolden

Kai Wolden writes fantasy, sci fi, and contemporary fiction starring queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming characters. Whether it takes place in outer space, a fantasy world, or a modern-day college campus, Kai loves honest, heart-wrenching stories about queer love in all its forms: friendship, romance, found family, and those ambiguous relationships that are somewhere in-between. Growing up queer and trans in small-town Wisconsin, Kai always wished he could find fictional characters who were more like him. Now he’s populating the world with them, one book at a time!

Check out Kai’s website here.

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New Release Blitz: In the Trap by Jessica Cranberry (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  In the Trap

Series: Hazel & Maeve: The Campus Mysteries, Book One

Author: Jessica Cranberry

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 05/10/2022

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 67500

Genre: Contemporary, campus drama, college, contemporary, drug and alcohol use, HFN, lit/genre fiction, murder mystery, new adult, no romance, self-harm, students

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Description

For Hazel, an introvert with a knack for people watching, campus life is awkward and hard and…lonely. That is, until she starts to let her guard down around her roommate, Maeve—who’s fun and has a wicked flair for drama. Could there be more than just a friendship here? Maybe. But Hazel has a lot of family trauma to work through before figuring out the other big parts of her life. For now, she’s just happy to have someone to talk to.

All seems to go well until a night in the Trap—the university’s green space—leads to a tense encounter with some drunk guys. When one of the guys ends up dead, Hazel is implicated, and she and Maeve set out to solve the crime before police can connect either of them to it. But how can two amateur sleuths put together a solid case to hand over to the police in time? By following the campus online diaries, that’s how.

Set at the beginning of the internet age, people are just starting to share all their deepest, darkest secrets via the World Wide Web, yet the assumption of online anonymity may be a critical mistake. As the perpetrator posts their criminal diary for public consumption, Hazel and Maeve scramble to use technology to piece together the murderer’s identity. Can they hack their way out of becoming suspects? And if so, could they ever go back to their boring majors?

Excerpt

In the Trap
Jessica Cranberry © 2022
All Rights Reserved

Bell-e-fon-taine. We soared past the exit in Aunt Liddy’s old Volvo station wagon, and I couldn’t read the sign any other way. Ohio had a couple of cities spelled one way but pronounced another. Bellefontaine was actually Bell Fountain. In Versailles, west of here, closer to the Indiana border, people called it Ver-sales. I didn’t know why; I wasn’t really from Ohio.

Aunt Liddy’s car was humid, just like outside. We drove a little to the middle and a little to the east. Dark clouds gathered. I could’ve said on the horizon, but Midwestern storms didn’t always work that way unless a tornado was coming. No. The clouds hung close, not a ways off. Their color changed, oppressive ash-gray shifting to ominous lead billows. The sky darkened so hard one might think the whole world was on fire.

With a crack and a flash of silver-white, raindrops fell thick and loud, pounding against the car. The storm’s beating percussion drowned out the sound of Aunt Liddy’s sappy oldies music, so much so she ended up clicking the station off. I cranked up the air conditioning to keep the windows from fogging up.

The windshield wipers went wild, swiping waves of water away as fast as possible. It reminded me of how Dad used to laugh when he told the story about helping Mom learn to drive. They were high-school sweethearts—of course. In the rain, she’d get lost in the tempo of the wipers and automatically steer the wheel to the rhythm. She’d swerve all over the road until he’d scoot in close and steady her hand, instructing her to look farther ahead, past the wiper blades.

“I better slow down,” Aunt Liddy mumbled to herself. Most people talked just to hear their own voices, but especially when they got nervous.

The car’s momentum slackened, but the road and our windshield still blurred with splashing water. I couldn’t see anything in front of us. Out the side-view window, everything was soaked in the deluge, a blurry, slushy mix of greens and grays.

“Should we pull over?” I asked.

Aunt Liddy chewed her lower lip by way of an answer, and the hairy mole on her chin twitched—in a good witch kind of way. She ran her hand through the cropped mop of curls on top of her head; she was in her early fifties and had already accepted a Golden Girls haircut into her life.

I could make out an elongated mound up ahead. “Looks like an underpass. We could pull over underneath.”

In seconds, our car slid under the shelter. The beating of the rain silenced for a moment. But Aunt Liddy didn’t stop; her knuckles turned white as she gripped the wheel, and we kept going.

“We’re not stopping,” she said as if I wasn’t already aware of her steadfast persistence to get me to college.

“There’s no timeline, Aunt Liddy. It’s the weekend. We can show up at the dorm whenever.”

“We made a plan; we stick to the plan.”

This was our screwed-up version of a family motto. I wasn’t sure when or how it originated, but Fischers rarely deviated. We did what we thought we were supposed to do. No matter the warning signs, we pressed on.

The rain subsided a little; its pounding beat softened to a patter, and Aunt Liddy relaxed her shoulders. She punched the radio back on, and the soothing tones of “I Can See Clearly Now” filled the car.

As Aunt Liddy hummed along, I worried a hangnail on my thumb, savoring the little sting of pain. It reminded me who I was, where I was going, and that I was doing it alone. The road stayed slick with water and sounded like its own river as we drove over and through puddles.

Suddenly, a sharp bite stole my breath as I lurched forward in my seat, the seat belt digging into my collarbone and chest. Aunt Liddy put her arm in front of me as if that would be enough to stop my head splitting against the windshield. The dashboard was mere inches from crushing the bridge of my nose.

She stomped the brakes and yelled and cursed. Bright red taillights filled our windshield, sparkling and reflecting in the last of the raindrops that hadn’t been swiped away. The back of our car started to edge around. Back and forth, fishtailing as Aunt Liddy tried to gain control. Her face flushed pink, expression strained.

Life was supposed to flash in front of my eyes, but I hadn’t lived long enough for anything to really show up. I saw my mom smiling and heard my dad laughing, and nothing more. Were they—and everything they’d been through—all my life had amounted to?

Miraculously, Aunt Liddy steadied the car. She laid on the horn. It blared long and loud.

“Did you see him? He cut me off!”

The truck in front of us was massive, with a set of mud flaps showing the curving silhouettes of two naked women. Classy. The truck driver stuck his middle finger out the window.

“Stupid dick.” Aunt Liddy drew in a deep breath. “He’s gonna get someone killed.” She turned to me. “I’m sorry. Are you okay, hun?”

I could barely breathe. My heartbeat pounded in my throat and ears. My eyes watered and felt as though they were barely in their sockets. But sure, I was fine and said as much. That stupid song continued. Its singer insisted life was all clear blue skies and obstacles could be seen from far off, which was a damn lie. Trucks came out of nowhere, and so did bad people. Red flags didn’t look like red flags until after the fact.

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Meet the Author

Jessica Cranberry lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills and spends most days striking a balance between parenthood, teaching, and writing suspense novels or eclectic short stories. Find out more on Jessica’s Website.

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Audio Blitz: The Real Baxter by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title: The Real Baxter

Series: The Baxter Chronicles

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Narrated by: Michael Ferraiuolo

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 10 hrs and 48 mins

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Bodyguard, Fake Boyfriend, Humor, Hurt and Comfort

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Synopsis

The silver-fox and the faux bodyguard…

Sebastian

Who’s the true hero behind the Hollywood heartthrob, crime-fighting, adventure-seeking international man of mystery? Me. I’m the real Baxter.

Well, I wear the suit and let the action play out onscreen. You want to know the secret of my success? Sell the story you want to tell. Even if you have to bend the truth a little.

Okay…a lot.

Trust me, no one will notice. Except Trent, who seems to notice everything. And for some reason, I like that. I like him. I’m just not sure what to do about it.

Trent

Look, I’m not exactly killing it. I’m a typical struggling actor-slash-waiter, hoping for a break. And boom…in walks Sebastian Rourke. He’s a cutthroat, wickedly charming silver fox, a Hollywood legend in the making. No joke. You’ve got to sell a piece of your soul to get in this man’s orbit. Or fake a British accent, then take a job playing bodyguard to fool the press. As one does.

I know I should take advantage of the very strange situation I find myself in, but I’m not sure I’m cut out for it. However, I’m willing to take a chance, ’cause I want the real Seb.

Even though it might cost me everything.

The Real Baxter is a MM age-gap, bisexual romance featuring the man who has everything and the actor who’s willing to show him what’s real.

Excerpt

“Home sweet home, eh?”

Seb gathered his suit coat and his takeout bag with a strained smile. “Something like that.”

“Hey, for what it’s worth, I didn’t mean to offend you earlier. Under different circumstances, I might go for a guy like you.”

His snort-laugh oozed sarcasm. “Wow, I’m flattered.”

I shrugged, aware that I should probably stop talking. Of course, I couldn’t do it. “You’re real. I get that. It’s just that…observationally speaking, real you and real me don’t mix. We got nothin’ in common.”

Seb unfastened his seat belt and whirled to face me. I couldn’t read him in the shadows. It would have been nice to know if he was amused or irked…or both. “Okay, first of all, ‘observationally speaking’ is a terrible way to begin any sentence and second—and most important, you know nothing about ‘real me.’ ”

I held my hands up in surrender. “You’re right. I had no idea you were the rich, old dude in the ‘Who’s your type?’ scenario.”

“I never said I was, but now that you think I am…you suddenly want to date me, eh?”

“Date you?” I scratched my temple as if mulling over the idea. “No way. But I’d totally do you.”

Seb froze with his hand on the door lever, threw his head back, and guffawed.

He literally had the best laugh I’d ever heard—contagious, hearty, and kind of wicked. It bounced merrily off the old car’s interior, making everything feel shiny and new. Including me. I couldn’t help smiling.

I tried to think of something clever and somewhat humorous to keep his attention for another minute or two, but I got sidetracked, staring at his stubbled jaw, full lips, and the deep crinkles at the corners of his eyes. For a half a beat, I wished he were someone else—less in demand, less wealthy, less connected.

Crazy, I know. This was why I didn’t go for sophisticated types. I didn’t stand a chance with a guy like Seb.

And on that dose of reality…I inclined my head with a meaningful grunt as he composed himself.

“You have no idea how tempting that sounds. Thanks for the ride. Thanks for tonight. It was…exactly what I needed.”

“Happy to be of service.”

He pulled at the handle—once, twice… “The door is stuck.”

“It does that sometimes. You just have to wiggle the handle.”

Seb tried again. “No, it’s definitely stuck.”

I unfastened my seat belt and leaned across him. Bad move. I breathed in the scent of his cologne and felt scorched by his body heat.

And of course, the door didn’t budge. I turned off the engine and held a finger up, signaling a bright idea on the horizon.

“Hang on. We’ll do this the old-fashioned way.” I hopped out of the car and used my key to manually unlock the passenger side door with a flourish. “Ta-da!”

He unfolded his long legs, somehow managing to look like an A-list celebrity sliding from the back seat of a limo at a red-carpet event. He slung his suit coat over the crook of his arm, grabbed his to-go bag, and stepped aside.

“Thank you.”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you. So, thanks for taking me to pick up my wheels, thanks for drinks and the burger, and thanks for not laughing at my impromptu Baxter audition.”

Seb grinned. “You’re welcome. It was…fun.”

I nodded, shoving my hands into my pockets awkwardly before angling my head toward the house. “You really rattle around in that place by yourself?”

“Yeah. My kids are here a lot. I have Oliver tomorrow and…” He squinted as if looking for something or someone in the dark. “I have friends.”

“You do?” I teased.

He made a funny face. “One or two. I think.”

We smiled as if sharing a joke. But the punchline was a silent acknowledgment of temporary camaraderie. We weren’t friends or coworkers. He probably wouldn’t remember my name next week.

However, right this very moment, we had a connection. Maybe it was akin to making friends with your seatmate on a long flight, but it was something.

I held on to it fiercely, marking the ticking seconds to the soundtrack of chirping crickets and the rustle of leaves in the late summer evening breeze. I studied the sharp planes of his cheekbones, softened by the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes. I noted the hint of gray in his close-shaven beard when he licked his bottom lip and—

Oh, fuck.

Yeah, time to go.

“I should, uh…” I hiked my thumb behind me, then rested my hand on the open door. I was about to close it when I spotted his milkshake. “Do you want your shake?”

“Um…” Seb switched the to-go bag to his left hand and stepped toward me. “I think it’s gone.”

I pulled it from the cupholder and turned to find him closer than expected. As in…we stood grungy boot to Italian loafer.

I shook the cup. “Might be a little something in there.”

“No, I’m done. I can throw it away in the house. I don’t want to leave trash in your car.”

I scoffed. “Dude, have you seen my car?”

Seb chuckled…and I joined in.

When his laughter faded, we were back to staring at each other. Only now, it wasn’t awkward. It was…something completely different. A little unsteady and unsure, but somehow promising.

I didn’t move. I didn’t sidle past him with an absent good-bye or a bro high five. I didn’t try to draw him into more conversation. I didn’t want to break the spell…as if I had any power over what was happening.

And something was definitely happening. Maybe because it was so unexpected, it took me a few extra seconds to define it.

Lust. Hunger. Need.

He wanted me.

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Meet the Author

Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions and/or were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in a not quite empty nest.

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