New Release Blitz: Elaine’s Gift by Victoria St. Michael (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Elaine’s Gift

Author: Victoria St. Michael

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/18/2023

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance, Female/Female

Length: 22800

Genre: Contemporary, Contemporary, Family-drama, New Adult, Coming of age, Illness/disease, Grief, Mental illness

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Still reeling from the untimely death of her wife, Elaine, twenty-seven-year-old Kit Barrows is a ghost of herself. But Kit’s fractured life is about to take a turn for the unexpected when she wakes up one morning to discover a mysterious envelope and a notebook sitting on her nightstand, with a note inside—a note addressed to Kit—in Elaine’s handwriting.

As Kit is led on a heartwarming journey of self-discovery and healing, she encounters a homeless veteran on the brink of death, two eccentric old ladies, nine porcelain dolls, a large sum of money, and an anonymous benefactor. As she learns to process her grief, Kit learns that even in death Elaine still has so much to teach her.


Elaine’s Gift
Victoria St. Michael © 2023
All Rights Reserved

As Kit steps out of the Uber into the howling wind and rain, the little voice in her head begs her to turn back. Wouldn’t you be so much more comfortable in bed, the voice asks, filling her with anxiety. Curiosity killed the cat, isn’t that what they say?

Kit shoves the voice into a box in the back of her mind and puts it on a shelf. Now muffled by her resolve, the voice continues to whine in the background as she fights desperately to ignore it. The urge to return to the car and head straight back home to her dusty, leaky apartment is overwhelming, but Kit gives the driver a quick wave and sloshes through the deep puddles to the sidewalk.

Ice cold water seeps through the worn-out soles of her boots as she clutches a little black notebook, no bigger than the palm of her hand, tightly to her chest. Kit has no idea how the book came to be in her possession, only that she had been meant to find it. It had been propped up on her bedside table when she had awoken this morning. Only four pages had been written on, the rest were blank.

The brief note scrawled in Elaine’s familiar, barely legible handwriting on the fourth page is imprinted in her mind. Kit had stared at it for so long that she had unconsciously memorized it:

Miss me? Eleanor Roosevelt said the purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience. So, go live. I love you; I’ll see you in Paris. – E

Paris, Kit thinks bitterly to herself, another dream we were forced to put away on a shelf, left up there to collect dust. It’s just like E to be so frustratingly whimsical. Already slick with rain, the leather-bound cover of the notebook sends tiny shock waves from Kit’s fingertips to her chest. I can’t turn back, she tells herself. I have to do this. For her.

The hospital looms ahead, a pitch-black monster silhouetted against the angry storm clouds clogging the evening sky. Kit hates hospitals, this one more than most. She has not been here since that day and had not planned on ever returning if she could help it. And yet here I am, all because of this stupid book. She curses her own morbid curiosity.

Kit steels herself against the stinging wind and trudges up the steps into the fluorescent lights of the hospital lobby. She shakes droplets of rainwater off the notebook in her hands and opens it to the first page, feeling her pulse quicken as she reads the name and address written there:

Ridgeview Trinity Hospital: 394 Ridgeview Rd. Room 317, Thomas Greene.

It’s eerie, seeing Elaine’s loopy, slanted letters written so plainly on the page. Haunting. It’s something that Kit had never expected to see again. A hollow pain begins throbbing from somewhere deep in her chest. Kit remembers how Elaine used to say her thoughts flew by too rapidly for her hand to possibly keep up. She wonders when Elaine had written the note and tries to imagine her wife’s dainty porcelain hand gripping the pen. A tangible memory to hold onto.

Somewhere in her mind, Kit wonders why Elaine had even bothered to write down the hospital’s address. They had both learned it by heart, by the end.

She approaches the nurses’ station. Ridgeview is a small hospital; Kit could likely find Room 317 on her own, but she figures it would be more polite to ask. The nurse seated at the desk looks up from her book with surprise.

“Kit! I wasn’t expecting to see you here so soon. It’s a terrible night to be out and about! How are you holding up?”

Kit ignores the question.

“I’m looking for Room 317. I’m here to see,” she checks the name written in the book again, “uh, Thomas Greene?”

The nurse looks confused for a moment; then her face lights up. “Oh, that’s wonderful to hear. Tom never gets any visitors! This will make his night. Technically visiting hours ended at five, but I think we can make an exception. Tom has no family that we know of. Not even a next of kin, the poor man. Let’s go see if he’s awake, shall we?”

The nurse stands and hurries down the hall, gesturing for Kit to follow.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Victoria St. Michael is a writer from Ontario, Canada. She has an Honours Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Ottawa and a Diploma in Journalism from Algonquin College, with bylines in various publications across Canada and the U.S. In her spare time she enjoys photography, horror movies, spilling her chaotic thoughts on her blog and going on adventures with her partner and their furbabies.

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New Release Blitz: Almost Famous by Jim Elledge (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Almost Famous

Author: Jim Elledge

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/18/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: No Romance, Male/Male

Length: 91900

Genre: Historical, historical, crime, ménage, gay, performance arts, blue collar, criminals, cross-dressing, humorous, law enforcement, lawyers, musicians, religion, sex industry

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One steamy June night in 1925, a woman shot an insurance exec to death. After ten women were arrested and, ultimately, released, a late-night tip led police to Norma West. Although she didn’t look like the shooter, the exec’s widow swore Norma was the murderer—just as she had sworn all ten of the other women were her husband’s killer. Police charged her with the crime after her jailor noticed her five o’clock shadow. The DA banked on the jury convicting a “third-sexer,” whether guilty or not.

Missing her gig as a local cabaret chanteuse, Norma acted outrageously, flirting and camping it up with the reporters who stampeded her cell hoping for a scoop. One, Paul Sammy, a straight tabloid hack, decided to write her biography full of lies and half truths, hoping its popularity would give him a leg up at his paper. Drop-dead gorgeous Victor Winchester, who was tired of defending prostitutes for mafia-supported pimps, offered to defend her for the free publicity her clowning—and notoriety—provoked. Norma became a cause célèbre among Chicago’s fairies, flappers, and sheiks; her trial a circus trigged by her antics; and her fate as much a product of Sammy’s fantastical biography as Victor Winchester’s legal hocus-pocus.


Almost Famous
Jim Elledge © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Norma’s first set had gone swell. The audiences at the Cat’s Pajamas liked the jazzier numbers, nothing by Rudy Vallée or any of the sentimental boys. They wanted songs with a bit of oomph and a generous splash of blue.

“I’m a Jazz Vampire” had become her signature number, and she knocked them out earlier tonight when she let down her hair and growled:

It’s easy to see.

Try as they might to fight it,

the men swarm after me.

I never leave them unkissed

’cause none can resist

aaaaaa jazz vampire.

She swung her hips. Her bosoms followed all on their own. Caught by the spotlight, the silver beads on the black fabric of her dress glittered like the Milky Way.

But now, in the tiny room the women performers used, one after another, as a dressing room, she took a breather between sets. Dressing room. What a laugh. A broom closet came closer to describing it. She hung her dresses on one of the nails in the wall to her left. Two sawhorses with a board across them and a scrap of mirror leaning against the wall served as a vanity. A naked light bulb with a pull chain dangled from the ceiling over the board. Class. Real class.

At least she had a stage and an audience.

The P.J. Orchestra blared as another woman belted out a number. Orchestra. That’s about as funny as dressing room. But that’s what they called themselves, an orchestra. Norma thought a four-piece band was too skimpy for such a grandiose word. Still, they were as good as it got in a joint like the Cat’s Pajamas. The boys kept up with all the hits, too, and had all of Marion Harris’s numbers down pat. She covered the star’s biggest hits, like “I’m Nobody’s Baby” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” and a few by other recording artists in her first set. She liked to strut to Mamie Smith’s “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” adding “but I can sure keep him up” here and there to Smith’s lyrics. Norma always made a song her own.

Her favorite songs told the same story with minor differences: a woman aches for her man, but he’s not around, and she suspects he’s romancing another woman. Sometimes she kills the other woman. Sometimes she kills the man. She’s always caught, tried, convicted, and sings about her sorry state while locked up on death row.

But her audiences—all men with, sometimes, a handful of women—wanted the rawer songs that lent themselves to all sorts of boob-and-butt twists. They ate it up in healthy portions, with a spoon.

Norma adored all the women who sang their hearts out on the radio and on records, all jazz-filled, jazz-lived. Except for one. She hated everything that bitch Fanny Brice sang. Fanny! Why not call yourself Assy Brice or Butty Brice? That would make as much goddamned sense as Fanny!

Norma sang two sets each of the nights that she worked, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from nine o’clock to ten and again eleven to midnight. Bigger names than hers took over the stage on Fridays and Saturdays. Between her sets, other acts kept the customers entertained. They were all singers too, of course. Solos, duets, trios—all accompanied by the orchestra: a piano, trumpet, clarinet, and drums. After finishing her last set, she and the other legit acts scrammed, and strippers took over the stage until closing at four o’clock. She always tried to leave shortly after midnight. Bernie, the stage manager, never even tries to hide his leer when he tells her good night. What would she want with small fry like him? When she goes fishing, she trawls for the big boys with the big jobs and the bigger bank accounts. A real three-course meal, that’s what she called them, not a snack like Bernie.

Besides, she needed to hurry home. She had Frank to take care of.

And Jenny.

A pitiful excuse for a man, Frank didn’t know how to take a piss on his own. He called himself an automobile mechanic but hadn’t worked in ten years. Maybe longer. Jenny wasn’t much better. Helpless, the both of them. Like babes in the woods. That’s the real reason they were with her. Norma had no illusions about relationships. You had to get something out of being with someone, or why bother? She paid the rent, fed them, clothed them, and got them out of the apartment for fresh air once in a while. If she wasn’t in their lives, God knows where they would be. Frank in a grave. Jenny knocked up, more than once by now, diseased, and on her way to the grave too.

Frank was knee-deep in the grave already. Junkies don’t last long. Their skin goes ashen and weird to the touch. Their eyes get dull and blind-like unless the junkie drops heroin in them. That makes them glisten, as vivid as the hallucinations lurking behind them, eager to get out once the needle goes in. Frank would skip a week’s worth of grub without a second thought for half a hypo of the stuff. The morgues were full of junkies. Constellations of track marks covered the obvious, and all-too-often not-so-obvious, places on their bodies. Frank hid his between his balls and asshole.

She saved Frank from dying on the streets years ago. Lucky Frank.

Cute, petite Jenny was a whole other matter, but she got to the point where she took a liking to the stuff, too, and couldn’t resist a needle. Still, you had to hand it to the kid. She kicked the habit cold turkey, even if she almost died in the process. Frank would never be as brave—or as stubborn.

Jenny had a schoolgirl’s charm, even if she hadn’t seen the inside of a classroom for years. Her porcelain skin subtracted a decade off the date on her birth certificate, and she became popular with the type of man who turned into a slobbering pig when she walked into a room wearing a little girl’s ruffled pinafore and a big pink bow in her hair. Plenty of houses would offer a girl with her looks and talent a large cut of what she brought in, not the trifle most girls got, to make sure she didn’t stray to another house, but Jenny didn’t work for any of them anymore.

Not long after they met, Norma took charge, arranging everything for her. Jenny worked the occasional party with big shots from out of town or with city hall’s bigwigs with a penchant for the underage. French. That’s all Norma allowed now. She didn’t want a brat in the apartment, its screams and shitty diapers all over the place, or for Jenny to bleed to death from a botched fix-it. Norma had already invested too much money in her to let that happen. Besides, men paid big bucks for French, as rare in the bedrooms of Chicago’s happily married as a real French whore in its bordellos. Jenny’s ticket these days was French from a schoolgirl. She made a killing. Norma’s cut wasn’t half bad.

Most girls, even the ones in the best houses—those with thick carpets on the floors, a piano in the drawing room, servants in livery—don’t last long either. Junkies and whores: lives that burn bright for a few years, then pft! Despite the legends that ran rampant among the working girls, none had a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting the man of their dreams who would sweep them off their feet, turn a blind eye to their sordid history, and flip the quickie they were having into a honeymoon.

Norma gave Frank and Jenny stability in their lives and a chance to survive in one fashion or another. Sure, she bought Frank his stuff and even experimented once herself. She tried a drop or two in her eyes. The high it gave her with one hand stole her self-control with the other, and that made her vulnerable, an easy target for the cops and the wise guys who were always trying to muscle in on a good thing when they found it. She fought its allure for months.

So what if Jenny still worked? She worked for Norma once a week, maybe twice, and none of that crazy stuff like at other houses. Norma kept her safe. Norma kept all her girls safe.

Norma made all the difference in the world to both of them, but they never showed her an ounce of gratitude. Never a thank-you or a surprise bauble in return, just take, take, take. That’s what you get from a junkie and a whore, a whole truckload of nothing!

And Lord, they fought! They argued day in, day out. One would leave a pair of shoes in the hall, the other would stumble on them and blow up. Or one would snatch up the last slice of cake or pie, and angry words would turn into slaps and tears into bruises. They burned with jealousy when Norma paid the least bit more attention to one than the other. The one who smarted over being ignored would explode into threats and obscenities, and the two were at each other’s throats, fangs and claws bared, fists swinging.

Norma stepped in and reminded each of them about the many times she put him or her into the center of her heart and promised to love and to take care of them, body and soul. She did, too, didn’t she? She never broke a promise. Not to them. Not to anybody.

When either was under the weather, who sat by their bed day and night and, one spoonful of chicken soup after another, nursed them to health?

Her, that’s who.

When she moved from one apartment to another, who let them tag along, never asking either of them to chip in on the rent?

Norma. That’s who.

When she found she had a little extra cash after paying off the utility and grocery bills, the girls’ percentages, and even the cops on the beat, who took them out on the town, one swanky joint after another, and paid for everything?

Norma. Norma. Norma. Nobody else would have bothered.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Jim Elledge has received two Lambda Literary Awards, one for his book-length poem A History of My Tattoo, the other for Who’s Yer Daddy? Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners, co-edited with David Groff. His most recent books are Bonfire of the Sodomites, poems about the arson of the UpStairs Lounge; a biography, Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy; and The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century, a history. Almost Famous is his debut novel.


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Book Blitz: Overexposed by Alexa Piper (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Overexposed

Series: Vampire Tales 2

Author: Alexa Piper

Publisher: Changeling Press LLC

Release Date: April 14 2023

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 119 pages

Genre: Romance, Thriller/Suspense, Action Adventure, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal, Bisexual/Pansexual/Multisexual, Gay, Sorcery & Witchcraft

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After the events that drew them together, Ethan and Auris have grown into their feelings for one another. On their quest to discover other supernatural beings, Ethan will have to do some healing after the violence he experienced, and Auris, in order to help the man he loves do so, will share his past with Ethan.

While their relationship deepens, the pair finds something in Prague that they had hoped for but not expected: traces of another vampire. But that discovery brings with it a greater threat and more things between light and shadow they will have to deal with.

Content warning: Overexposed contains brief mention of self-harm and suicide.


All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2023 Alexa Piper

Auris had not planned a direct flight to Prague. A precaution against any pursuing priests, he’d said. We had landed in Dresden. I’d been in that unhappy state of surviving a transatlantic flight, but since it had been just barely night still, Auris had made sure to get me to the front of the line for my rapid test before his eyes turned daylight silver.

And now, there was a city waking to cold November air, and we were leaving the roofs and tall buildings behind to cross the border into the Czech Republic.

The hum and rattle of the train finally pulling out of the station was a relief after the flight, dry air, and my ears popping, and I appreciated that we had a compartment to ourselves. First class, of course, and we were both masked, Auris because it was now fully daytime and he couldn’t control minds as easily, me because I didn’t have a vampiric immune system.

Auris had left the window seat to me and sat on my right instead of across from me. “You know, Ethan, it harms my self-confidence, this preference of yours to gaze at the outside when you have a perfectly dressed vampire right next to you,” he had told me with exaggerated drama.

“This was… all really easy,” I said after a while. I was watching a bank of fog cling to bony tree branches against the backdrop of a milky pale sky.

Auris put a hand on my knee, squeezed lightly. “I told you it would be. A lesser man might take your surprise as a blow to his confidence. Another blow to his confidence.”

I turned and looked at him, his daylight-silvered eyes and faerie prince features a different sight than the wintry landscape outside. “You mean a lesser vampire. And with the pandemic, I just thought getting a flight would be harder. I thought you’d have to use your vampire entrancement thing to get some Gen Z influencers to give us their tickets. The private plane simply threw me. Also, you’re pretty. I look at you. I’m doing it now.” I pointed at my eyes.

“It helped that you had your passport on you,” he said. “Especially since modern technology is ever encroaching on travel, especially with so many travel restrictions still in place. You should try to sleep a little. You look tired after the flight. I’ll let you look at me to excess once we arrive in Prague.”

I sighed. “Just jetlag. How long until we get there?”

“A little bit over two hours.”

“And is there, I mean, are we crossing another border? And it’s daytime? Is that going to be a problem?”

He smiled at me, folded up the armrest that separated our seats, hooked his arm around me, and then drew me close to him. “It won’t be. We’re in Europe. There’s a very good chance no one will even want to see our passports. You can rest your eyes for a little while, my sweet.”

I sighed and relaxed into him, but I couldn’t quite let go of the day. “Where are we staying? Once we get to Prague, I mean?”

“I own a building in the Old Town, and I keep an apartment in it ready for personal use.”

I smiled, his black suit soft against my cheek. “Of course you do.”

Auris ran a finger through my hair. “I hope you’ll like it. It’s been a while since I visited. You’ll definitely like the Old Town. There are no abandoned places in that city, but I can find you lonely places and places that aren’t lonely but beautiful. The age of the city might lure you better than even I could.”

I craned my neck so I could look up at him. “You really thought about that, huh?”

“Of course.” Something passed over his face, but he smoothed his expression out quickly. But I’d seen it.

“What?” I asked.

His eyes narrowed on me. I wondered whether people could read him or whether his vampire don’t-notice-me magic made that difficult. Then I wondered whether he was just unguarded around me or whether I truly had a knack for interpreting his features, and if the latter, was that because of this love prophecy I still couldn’t bring myself to fully believe in?

“Little worries, Ethan.”

“Tell me?”

“I took you away. From home, your family, your life. And I care about you greatly, so I worry about whether you’ll thank me for that, down the line. Leaving a life behind like you did, that isn’t a small thing.”

I didn’t respond. Auris hadn’t been fishing for a response, for absolution, he’d just been frank with me.

Instead, I moved until I was comfortable but also able to see some of the landscape outside the window, my back against Auris’s chest, and his slowly beating heart echoing along my ribs and spine.

In my apartment, I kept several collages. Photos of my dad and Ben, his now fiancé, photos of my mom. I had my friends and my life on there, in no order that made sense to anyone but me. In a kitchen cabinet, there was a mug I loved. It had sat on my desk next to me for uncounted hours while I worked. It was black on the outside with white yellow cat eyes and whiskers, white on the inside. It had been so well used that the glaze was beginning to show spiderweb cracks now.

As I sat there in the first-class seat next to the vampire I’d saved from certain death, I slowly, slowly realized that these things were… if not gone, then not the steady mooring that they had been. I was not going back to that apartment or to my studio with the exposed brick and threadbare carpet anytime soon. Likely never. The things that had surrounded me — some of them to my chagrin during lockdown — were gone from my future now. There was a slice of blue cutting through the shroud-gray morning sky. I felt like a kite released to the wind.


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Meet the Author


Alexa (she/her) has a lot of characters living in her head and wanting their stories told. Many of these people get snarky and won’t stop complaining if Alexa is too slow writing them, which means that for this author, sleep is a luxury. Consequently, Alexa is a coffee addict, but she is sure she has it under control (six cups of coffee are normal in a morning, right? Right!?)

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New Release Blitz: That Slow Awakening by Laurel Beckley (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title: That Slow Awakening

Series: The Satura Trilogy, Book Two

Author: Laurel Beckley

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/11/2023

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 75900

Genre: Science Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Lesbian, Military, Military SciFi, PTSD

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After a small yet memorable explosion that got him expelled from his academic studies and kicked straight to the Black Hells Army, Quernadenta Khelek was prepared for a quiet exile in the middle of the Dragonback Mountains. The worst he’d face were a few magical flare-ups, a bunch of blizzards, and his taciturn new partner.

He never expected to see one of the offworlder invaders—not so far north. Until an offworlder flying contraption slammed into one of the mountains, and Khelek and his partner were sent to investigate with strict orders to ensure there were no survivors.

Khelek never meant to disobey, but that was before his entire world became unraveled by what he found in the ice.


That Slow Awakening
Laurel Beckley © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Power shifted, rippling throughout the mountains moments before a thunderous bang roared across the lookout post.

Khelek’s wards triggered, firing magic to keep the structure together, tendrils knitting and locking as the ground trembled, shaking his chair and the books on his desk. The cave groaned. His pen rolled off the flat surface and plinked to the floor. Khelek dove from the chair, trying to figure out if the ringing, tingling sensation in his chest and fingers and ears was the aftermath of a powerful magical working, a magic-caused earthquake, or something else. He tried to remember if he should be cowering under the desk or struggling to hold the cave together.

He’d never seen a magic flare-up like this before. Earthquake season was in the summer, when the mountains grew restless, shedding their perpetual coats of snow. He’d had several moments of breathless panic during those flares, watching as the mountains shuddered and heaved, bucking up and down as though something underneath was trying to escape. In the past, when the ground stilled so did the magic and his nerves. According to his partner, winter was supposed to be the quiet season. No earthquakes. No flares. Not for the past three months.

But this. This didn’t feel like the wild magic running rampant in the Dragonbacks.

This felt wrong.

The trembling continued and the power pulling on his chest grew stronger. A sensor ward began wailing, both audible and in his head. If whatever was going on didn’t cease, in a few seconds his wards would seal the lookout in a safe cocoon and then—

“Oh shit.” Khelek scrambled to the cave’s rear chambers, hands pressed against the cold rock walls for balance, until he reached the base of the rough-hewn staircase leading to the lookout tower.

“Mother of dragons, do you feel that?”

Khelek shrieked and clasped his chest as a face leaned over the stairwell opening, cast into shadow by the light streaming through the watch point. He doubled over, trying to catch his breath. The wards relaxed with him, pulsing slower and opening as the rocking in the mountains ceased, until his magic retreated into its dormant state.

His partner knew how easy it was to frighten him.

“Seriously?” Secara asked, the scorn apparent in her voice. “Something crashed into Youngest Sibling so hard it shook this side of the mountain and I startled you? Get up here. You’ll want to see this.”

Khelek eyed the staircase with concern, but obeyed, moving as fast as he dared up the icy steps and wishing he’d changed from his slippers into his hob-nailed boots. He had been studying not three seconds ago, dammit, and it wasn’t even close to his watch shift.

His glasses fogged at the change in temperature. He waited for them to clear, wishing he’d brought his goggles with the special inserts. Wished, too, that he were wearing his parka instead of a sweater. Their lookout was built into the side of a mountain, the watchtower emerging from one of the peaks and open to the air. It provided a wonderful view of the southern portion of their sector, but it was always freezing. He checked the heat wards he’d placed when he had first arrived. Secara had not activated them, which explained why his nose hairs had frozen and his toes were starting to go numb.

It was a brilliantly clear day in the Dragonbacks, with a blue sky a painter would die to capture, the sun so bright it reflected white gold off the snow-covered peaks. Smoke rose off one of the peaks—he never remembered the names Secara had given all of them. She treated the mountains—some of the mountains—like they were her extended family. Khelek hoped he wouldn’t be stuck out here long enough to start doing the same.

“What the hell happened?” he asked.

“A flying thing came out of nowhere and dove straight into Youngest Sibling,” Secara replied. Her voice was a distressing combination of angry, alarmed, and flat, all at once. Her entire face was covered, from parka to half mask to goggles, hiding her expression.

Khelek peered closer. Something was off about that smoke.

It should have been white, or dark gray, the color of most wildfire burnings—and they were too high in elevation for trees. Instead the smoke billowed into the sky, a thick, voluminous black. Blue flickered within the column, flashes of magic. He blinked, peering harder and wishing he’d worn his damn goggles. Secara handed him her binoculars.

The peak came into focus, but the blue flickering faded, the wind whipping the column away, erasing the damage like it had never been there. There was no trace of whatever had hit the mountain.

“Do you feel anything?” he asked. “Or see anything unusual in the smoke?”


That made sense. Secara was as magical as… Khelek frowned. Everything had some magic, except her. She was the least magical person he had ever met, although he’d heard stories of the offworlders and their own astonishing lack of power.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Laurel Beckley has been writing ever since she started her first novel the summer before eighth grade—a hand-written epic fantasy catastrophe that has lurked in her mind and an increasingly ratty college-ruled notebook ever since.

She is a writer, Marine Corps veteran, and librarian.

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New Release Blitz: From the Universe to Me by Scott E. Garrison (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  From the Universe to Me

Author: Scott E. Garrison

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/11/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 59500

Genre: Contemporary, age gap, coming of age, college, friends to lovers, in the closet, mental illness, teaching, family drama, new adult

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Eighteen-year-old Tobias Gavin is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. For many years, the what-ifs of coming out have swirled around his head, so he has chosen to live a lie to keep from disrupting the “normal” life he has created with his family and friends.

That is until he meets Gareth David the day he enrolls for his first semester as a college student. He feels an immediate connection with Gareth…a connection that pushes Tobias to question the way he has been living his life. When Gareth coincidentally becomes, Tobias’s History professor, Tobias is forced to confront his feelings and confront the universe.

Tobias must come to terms his depression, anxiety, heartbreak, and his sexuality before he can even begin to heal his wounds. He believes that everything happens for a reason, but he learns that some experiences are meant to teach even if they cause heartbreak. Once he comes to terms with himself, he might find his knight in shining armor.

Tobias must learn to trust himself and those around him if he wants to find happiness.


From the Universe to Me
Scott E. Garrison © 2023
All Rights Reserved

I only graduated high school two months ago, and I’m already excited to start Ashelford University as a history major.

I’m a huge nerd and love to learn, so college has been a goal of mine and of my parents since I could form sentences. When my parents and I sat down to discuss which university would be the best fit for me, I knew that the hometown university would be a no-brainer due to funds and the proximity.

I’ve spent countless hours on campus exploring every building and classroom, including the school’s black-box theater where I performed as a chorus member in the production of Once on This Island. I pretend I’m an explorer on a new adventure every time I visit. I like to think I’m a stealthy spy, looking for a secret passage that will lead to an exciting new discovery, which I’m sure makes me seem even more nerdy, but the cherry on top of my nerdiness sundae has to be the fact I showed up for my enrollment meeting with my advisor, Dr. Helena Richards, for my freshman year a few hours early.

With my adventures for the day complete, I make my way toward the Liberal Arts Building, which towers over me like a giant about to devour its prey. As I stand on the sidewalk, my eyes climb the red-bricked exterior that seems to grow infinitely the more I stare. I feel small in its shadow. I straighten my back and confidently make my way up the front entry stairs.

My mission—should I choose to accept it—is to put together a list of classes I want to take prior to my meeting, which rests clenched in my sweaty right hand. I’ve heard so many great things about Dr. Richards, but I’m still extremely nervous to meet her in person. We have emailed since I got accepted into the university, but I still worry she might not like me because I’m an immature freshman.

As I enter the main lobby, everything looks as I remember. Everything seems to have a purpose; a reason for being placed in its seemingly permanent location. I take a deep, calming breath. This is where I will learn new, exciting life lessons that will leave me a more educated student ready for graduate school; one step closer to becoming a professor.

I’m ready to make my dreams a reality, something my parents have always encouraged.

They have such high hopes for me. My parents have always told me I could never disappoint them, but there is still that hesitation I’m sure every child has when faced with big life decisions. In the back of my mind, I wonder where those limits end. I know deep down my mother and my father are my biggest fans, but my anxiety makes me overthink every decision before acting.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to be myself around my parents, never revealing too much of myself, hiding behind masks I’ve created. I know I’m attracted to men, but I do my best to convince myself that I’m straight. I fear being different and being rejected by the people in my life. These fears feed the energy-sucking parasite formerly known as my depression. I’ve had many opportunities to reveal myself to my loved ones, but as I have done many times before, I remain silent because my fears always win.

I walk up to the front desk in the history wing where a tired-looking girl with blonde hair, wearing a white and green Ashelford University T-shirt and a black skirt, sits staring at the computer. I might think she was dead if I didn’t hear the clicking noise made by the mouse in her hand.

She has a name tag that reads Anna Pasley pinned to her shirt. She doesn’t look up at me as I approach.

“Can I help you?” she says, forcing the words out with all her strength. She looks like she hasn’t slept in weeks. God, I know college is difficult, but do they force all students to stay up for hours studying and testing their academic prowess? Like the Hunger Games but centered on academia.

“Excuse me. My name is Tobias Gavin. I have an appointment with Dr. Richards to discuss my schedule for my first semester.” Anna flinches in her chair when she hears me speak.

Anna looks at me with bloodshot eyes. She looks like she has accomplished the horrifying skill of sleeping with her eyes open. She has tons of books open in front of her, but I can see the game of Solitaire open on the computer screen, which explains the mouse clicking away as I walked up to the desk.

“Do you have an appointment with Dr. Richards?” she asks.

“Um, yes, I have an appointment. She asked me to be here at 2:00 PM to discuss my schedule for my first semester.” I am baffled by her inability to register my previous statement.

“You realize it’s 1:15, right?” Her questioning expression makes me feel like I’m a small, insignificant freshman starting high school all over again.

I chuckle and sport a half-assed grin, so she doesn’t realize I’m embarrassed for arriving forty-five minutes early. This isn’t how cool college kids behave. They arrive fashionably late, acting like they have zero cares in the world. This isn’t me, so I blush in response.

I’m annoyingly early to everything. My family and friends hate and love me for this quality. My friends like the fact I will always arrive early to help set up parties but hate when I’m adamant about getting to the movies an hour early to find the best seats, which you select when you buy the tickets. I’m smart, but my anxiety runs my life more than my common sense.

I glance at the screen. “You can move the Queen of Hearts to the King of Clubs to free up another space.” Who knows, maybe we will become good friends?

“She is with another student so you will have to wait,” she responds, ignoring my tip. “She won’t finish with this student for another forty-five minutes. You can wait over there on those couches.” She says turning her attention to the Solitaire game. She waves her hand with a small amount of effort in a random direction. Her lack of acknowledgement of my statement assures this is where our relationship ends and dies.

I notice red couches in the room’s corner, so I shuffle over to them and sit down. I glance around the room, wondering how many people have sat on this same couch. Where are they now? Did they attain their goals or fail miserably?

Failure isn’t an option for me. I have too many dreams I want to accomplish. I want to become a history professor. Personally, I don’t care what college I end up teaching at as long as I can fill the minds of my students with illustrious, educational information about our world’s history.

I would never admit this in public, but I have secretly aspired to be like some of the teachers that have encouraged my goals of becoming a professor.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Scott E. Garrison is a debut author, who wants to share new, queer stories with the world. He currently lives in the Oklahoma City, OK area.

Alongside writing, he has a Masters in Library and Information Studies and works as a Librarian Manager for an Oklahoma-based library system. He spends his free time reading, baking, watching movies and TV shows with his husband, and cuddling with his dogs, Jarvis and F.R.I.D.A.Y.



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New Release Blitz: Hope for Spring by S.E. Smyth (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Hope for Spring

Author: S.E. Smyth

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/04/2023

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 82100

Genre: Historical, Coming-of-age, Coming out, Criminals, Dark, Friends-to-lovers, Homelessness, Hurt/comfort, Illness/disease, Mental illness, #ownvoices, Road trip, Soulmates, Tear-jerker

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Alex struggles with purpose and loneliness. In an act of desperation, betting on fate, she goes out into the streets of California looking for her friend Bob and to get lost in the world herself.

Her journey gives insight into the emotional underbelly of transient life and the unforgiving pulse of mental illness. Both things are daunting, but they are especially lethal when combined.


Hope for Spring
S.E. Smyth © 2023
All Rights Reserved

I wish I had left last night. I rummaged for memories, buried screaming feelings, and collapsed sleepless with anger. I hadn’t yet said thank you enough. All I can think about is how I’m so late, and I’m such a horrible person for not leaving last night. I lay awake blank, lifeless. I could’ve alleviated my frustrations by getting up and out early. It’s six thirty in the morning, and I slam the door and drop the storm door, loose in its frame, on top of the hardwood slab. I am unaware of time owing to a lack of sleep. That dicey balance surfaces. I’m somewhere between tolerable, excused unawareness and anxiety ridden fear—someone will ask me if something is wrong. Up at five forty-five, I shake myself with anger.

Last night I went to bed perplexed, unsure how to explain what Uncle Mack means to me and what he signifies. Someone needed me, someone I should have paid back. I can feel death creeping over him miles away, and I am scared to touch him while he slips into darkness. He won’t know the sincerity. I’m afraid he won’t feel my emotion. It is everything I can do to rush to get to the hospital.

Uncle Mack, a close family friend, saved my life when I barely even knew him. His short, wiry hair is a dull pile of disorder. His head is finally fully gray. Close friends would often tease him; he had a few more gray hairs than the last time they saw him. Mostly, they were referring to his past, the days of drinking and addiction that led to his downfall. Years before I met him again, before he saved my life, Mack had problems. Problems that likely caused the predicament, his hospital stay.

Maybe, I shouldn’t go right away. Maybe, this scene, this event, this wake, isn’t for me. I would decide on the way. I grasp for Sue’s exact words, and I feel for my own pulse. I listen waiting for the words to resurface. All I remember is she beckoned me to come.

It’s a long three-hour drive drawn out by slow gazes at scenery and reflective observations that take eyes off the road. The distractions pull me irritatingly off purpose. I’m trying to avoid rush hour, but traffic piles up just as it crashes into Friday night dinner plans. I mutter to myself, Traffic sucks all the time, anywhere, severely. The congestion pauses me and exhaust from the car in front of me circles. Anger rises and dwells on itself. My thoughts stick, tacky, to those feelings. My mind goes nowhere else. Traffic does this to me. The madness assaults and breaks me.

My 2004 Subaru chugs along, but ten times over, I am ready to get one off the lot. The color is Silver Stone Metallic. That’s what the internet says when I look up the practically antique model online. I bought the car used, but that doesn’t mean the hunk of junk isn’t beautiful. This car, more than a mode of transportation, retains some inherent character I get to embellish. I’m not sure the thing is worth more than five hundred dollars. The car has power windows and a leather capped shifter but only one good visor and missing back seat headrests.

The beast is the first car I bought on my own, paid for with dimes I found on the ground, hard earned paychecks, and a few dollars Mack once gave me over twenty years ago so I would get out of the house. I kept the money for several years. I feel comfortable in the car and smooth the arm rest with my hand. I realize I can’t remember a time in this car when I felt worse. My headache will not lift.

I tap my fingers on the steering wheel to a beat, even though the music isn’t on. I can’t place a copyrighted song that might fit. The radio is off because I demand concentration. For once, I’m not having an attack of consuming reflections about life with layers of loaded regret. I’m not making concrete conclusions, so I don’t remember these feelings forever. They shouldn’t appear unexpected when I’m brushing my teeth or answering the phone. That’s fine with me.

I breathe in, and there is still the issue, the reason I don’t appear alright. Uncle Mack is dying, and I don’t know how to say thank you. I need some words. TV captures death wrapped in poignancy. That’s what we come to know in absence of experience. Even though I realize this, I still want my fleeting time to be indelible. I want to capture the “in sum,” as much as the memories.

I survey coping mechanisms. I think about the wisdom of Hallmark cards, and I have nowhere to write them down. I recall traumatic death scenes like in The Hours when Richard throws himself out of the window. In my head, I search for what he might say and what I should say. Left without a perfect sentiment, I settle on revisiting our collective memories and our similar experiences. Remembering before I went to stay with him is too much. I won’t broach that time. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have with him. He’s asking for me that’s all that matters.

We had a conversation after the neighbor’s shed burned down. His “in sum,” was no one would help me be better at being a person. “You have to want to be a person among others and find fulfillment that gives you passion,” he said, as I remembered the words. “Your mind can work itself into the darkest corners, and only you can change its direction,” I heard him say. I felt like, “I’m here to talk when you need me. I’ll give you my opinion on anything and help you out, but you need to find patience in yourself to accept those things and drive yourself to be more than this.”

His collapsed face didn’t always move as expressively as mine. His skin worn by the sun and elements blushed with memories of winter sports and whipping winds. An outsider’s pain, fear, and sadness confused in equally confounding ways. The confusion grew in the skin that bent on my face. My mouth moved as I hoped for some bit of inflection to gauge his feeling.

Some pathways don’t close off. There were so many ways to lose oneself in the nooks and crannies of the mind. Those hidden spaces were familiar to me and the thoughts that occupied them festered. My rough nail ripped the scab off whole so the wound oozed and bled pooling where a band aid would not stick.

I decided that day, a long time ago, there were no more winding ways to see. There were better things for me, and I wanted those things. Alone in Uncle Mack’s spare bedroom, I waited for things to get better, and they did. True, I stared at the wall for about two hours, but I got up only to see the filtered light from the window screen dance on the pavement outside. I moved toward it and the outside.

I accepted the bipolar disorder, Type 1 diagnosis later when I heard words that made sense. They described how I felt. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t grasp to complain or explain the feelings correctly or walk the funk off. I declared myself unwell with broad boundaries. Naming the state supplied relief. Even though I’m stronger, recollection is like a poisoned apple. I jump through the mirror into unshakable relivable moments. I’m lucky the events, the incidents, are not every day.

My pace quickens as I move through the parking lot, leaving the specific bits and pieces of the past behind but holding imperative my timeliness. With intent, I step over white parking space lines, my stride stuttering or lengthening. The cold chill of the morning is appearing, pushing aside the bitter.

I poke the button on the elevator and send warm thoughts at a mother and child, holding a balloon. The inflatable bubble says, “Get Well Soon.” The kid laughs and asks for his book, with crumpling gimme-gimme fingers. With this, I know his father or the family’s friend likely lay in a hospital bed because of a broken leg or gallbladder surgery on the third floor. She fiddles with the bag, the young reader book, and the overaged child on her hip. She grins and nods acknowledgment; I am a witness. She’s happy for me to see the glowing child.

I get off, and they stay on. The woman pushes the close door button several times, realizing I’m a stranger, potentially untrustworthy, that she is behind schedule, or she wants to close the conversation of glances. It is one of these things, and I’ll never entirely know which. The giggly child turns a page in a book, waves bye-bye, and I glance harder to confirm I don’t know them from some farfetched incident.

Walking briskly, I skip checking in and ask a nurse what room he is in. “Straight down the hall on the left, room three sixteen,” she says. Nurses in this recently sanitized zone are all business. I pull in deep wafts of bleach and disinfectant looking for the line where the recent clean stopped. I imagine the nurses have no time to break the sad news or scold doctors for risky bedside manners in this close to death section of the hospital. They, doubtless, don’t let anyone in emotionally or express sympathy at feelings, so they don’t have to hold the damage for visitors while they are there. The nurses don’t want to take the frustrations with them when they go home to their own families. I thought of her like the rest, broken working on this floor, all behind cute cartoon scrubs.

Jason, an old friend from childhood, stands right by the door, a sentry. His hands are folded in front of him, and he bows his head. I hadn’t called him in over a year. It’s so sad that Uncle Mack’s death brought us together. Jason is my root, and I will never forget that.

“Hi, Alex,” Sue says. Dropping my coat on the door hook, I move in screeching my rubber soles as I slow myself down. Holding onto the door hook, I place my jacket on the U-shaped silver and steady my hands. There’s only one set of two hooks. Everyone else crosses their coats across their laps or sits on them in odd chairs temporarily assigned to this room. “He’s just sitting up. He’s taking meds for the pain. He will get distracted easily, but he knows everyone.”

Sue and Mack got married about six years ago, and they are the perfect couple as far as I know. They get along like milk and cake. Their lives seem absent of bickering, and they stare lingering into eyes, heads tilting up, when they are irritated. They duck away to whatever alcove or cubby if they disagree so as not to upset anyone, and this amazes me. I go over to him and perch on the raised vent. The big metal rectangular box collects air before entering the room. The breeze sticks in the corner of my eyes as I look at Mack. Whoever painted the box did a sloppy job, or the paint didn’t adhere smoothly to the particular surface. It’s hard to tell which. The air breathes at my back and pushes my shirt against and away from my skin.

I’m letting breaths out with him, inhaling deep with long exhales out. The air is a medication I am lucky enough to share. I see myself old with short gray hair, which is tight against my head. The style is short not because I’m old and don’t want to take care of my hair, but because I have grown into the appearance. With all the years cut off, I can finally be bound to one day. My skin gaps and gathers with splintering lines forming in all directions. The folds wrinkle at the kinks and work toward leather just as his. Family and friends are around me, as they’re around Uncle Mack, and I see so many friends care. I sigh in response to seeing myself old, somehow, in the rounded silver arch bedframe above his hospital bed, a casket, and I know it’s true. I will be old.

A small cat crosses the room, an orange tiger. Everyone is looking at the tiny creature and me with tight corner curling smiles. I don’t see the full extent of the humor right at this moment. Sue says the nurses let them bring their cat. Death is near. Mack grows a baby grin, and that is all anyone needs.

“Ah, hi.” I say, “Sue said you’re refusing treatment.” I’m glad I arrived soon enough; all the worrying made this moment so much more important. I don’t know what else to say. I gather his hand and hold it while bending at the waist, reaching in from my window seat. His skin is frail. I am afraid to rub. His hand doesn’t respond to my weight, and I am terrified to squeeze. If I leave the limp appendage there, the whole hand will inevitably fall off him and onto the floor, cold. Here I am, trying to push the emotions I always have into him, so he remembers the feeling of me. I want to embed the summary of it all like a tattoo. My mind plays a trick on me as a younger Uncle Mack appeared next to his favorite oversized chair, the gray in his hair and beard not quite as rampant as it is now. His face is still plump and full, unlike the sallow and shrunken visage that lay in his bed. That was where he was comfortable and was where he would be if he had a say in the matter. I try to give feeling to him, as I imagine his body in his favorite chair.

“Aww. You know. If I go home, I’ll be back the next day. And, if I have to come in here one more day to sit for five hours, I’m gonna shoot myself in the temple. I’m glad you came. I just wanted to see you…” he says. He gazes off and thinks. He has a weak smirk and weeps with the corner of his eyes, but there are no tears. “One other thing though. I’d ask Sue to do it, but I think the words are better coming from you. Sue will give you her address. I want you to go see my daughter. Just tell her I love her.”

Uncle Mack’s daughter left when he fell off the wagon, thirty feet straight down. I think it is unforgivable what happened, but I don’t pry much. He’s been sober over twenty years now. She isn’t here though, and I feel the room. The white walls are as cold, as sterile, and everyone is crying behind smiles. I’m stealing all the heat. I can explain how he’s been there for me or how he’s been there for so many friends. She needs to know he is one of the most generous and caring men I know. Yes, I’ll say that.

Uncle Mack is the person who helped me stand the way others do, overcompensating for a crooked spine, pacing in comfortable shoes. Every solitary being has a person, although I didn’t believe the quip at the time. There was a presence in his life who did the same for him. I know his daughter must also have a friend when she needs someone to talk to, picket fence, and the essential dependent family unit.

“Mack, if she knew you. If she even knew half of the matter. She’d be here. She’d be so proud of you. I’m so proud of you. I know what you’ve done for so many people,” I say. I didn’t need to give him a passionate farewell, only I would remember. I begged a mere response. I want to make his daughter feel guilty for abandoning him, but also share his love.

Uncle Mack is the person you would say must be the best parent ever. That fact his daughter was estranged was inconsequent. His daughter did a military turn and marched away. She did not return. She is so confident in her stubbornness I don’t know if they even called her to come to the hospital. That was the first selfish thing, and it was what his close loved ones did for him.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

S.E. Smyth is a versatile author putting words into the world. The stories she tells are never exactly how they happened. Elusive as she proclaims she is, you can usually find her nose buried in primary sources plotting a story. Despite persisting historical references, she wholeheartedly believes she lives in the present.

She resides in a smaller sort of town in Pennsylvania, carries heavy things for her wife, rubs cat bellies, and can often be seen taking brisk walks. The household is certain there is something odd going on. She and her wife travel when the air is right looking for antique stores, bike trails, and the perfect beach. S.E. rises unnecessarily early and usually falls asleep by 9 p.m.

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New Release Blitz: Bad Crowd by Chloe B. Young (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Bad Crowd

Series: Bad Crowd, Book One

Author: Chloe B. Young

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 04/04/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 80900

Genre: Contemporary, contemporary, gay, romance, BDSM, clubs, new submissive/experienced Dom, age difference, sex toys, bondage, pain tolerance, family issues

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Sometimes, safety and danger can be the same person.

Gideon Orchard has enough baggage to fill a cargo ship. Two years ago, he left his abusive family, but the urges he’s always tried to suppress won’t be ignored any longer. Desperate to submit, he stumbles into a notorious fetish club…and right into the lap of its captivating manager.

Mal Brannon can’t believe his luck when sweet, scared, and determined Gideon falls into his arms, completely uneducated in BDSM culture and begging for proper instruction. Their romance intensifies more quickly than either of them expects, but an unsavory figure from Mal’s past threatens their relationship and their lives.

Running from the past may be tough, but escaping with their future will be harder.


Bad Crowd
Chloe B. Young © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Pink light dripped over the speckled sidewalk like a tongue, alive and coiling with the flickering of the sign. Gideon Orchard’s eyes had the letters burned into them, but he couldn’t look away, despite having read them every day for the past year.

They were brighter on this side of the street. The lurid neon tubes were weeping. Salivating.

He shivered, his skin buzzing. And buzzing again. And again—

“Hello?” The phone was cold against his ear, soothing the strange evening heat of the desert. “Evan?”

“Yeah, hi, sorry. We can’t come. Beth got too drunk, and she yacked everywhere.”

“Oh. That’s fine. Is she okay?”

On the other end of the line, something rubbed over the microphone, and then Gideon heard a pitiful moan and a hacking cough.

“Yeeeeeah, she’ll be good. She just has to sleep it off. Have a good time, though!”

Terror ripped through him. “No, I can’t—”


The beep in his ear signaled Evan’s exit, leaving Gideon alone on a street that wasn’t quite abandoned. At the traffic light, someone got off the bus Gideon took to and from work every day. They disappeared around the corner before he could think to hide in shame.

Gideon squeezed his eyes shut, his phone biting into his hand. That pain he could handle. It was familiar, useful for clearing his head. The ache in his chest was harder to shake.

Tonight was supposed to be fun. The culmination of weeks of teasing after he’d mentioned this place—Bad Co.—in passing in the lunchroom. His palms got sweaty when he remembered their mirth at his naivete.

“A bar,” Beth had crowed. “How cute are you?”

Beth and Evan were supposed to be here with him, laughing together like they always did, not letting Gideon in on the joke. He still wasn’t sure they’d ever intended to come here with him. He’d replay the sound of Beth’s retching in his head later, trying to discern if it was real or if they’d purposefully abandoned him outside a den of sin.

The light up at the intersection changed, and a little car with wings on the back buzzed past, buffeting Gideon with warm wind even as he reeled from the return of old habits.

There were no dens of sin. And if there were, they wouldn’t be located ten minutes from Gideon’s apartment, on a not-quite main street in Tucson.

Someone laughed, high-pitched and attention-seeking. Gideon turned around, stumbling over his feet in his haste not to be standing outside a place like that.

It was only when the laugh echoed away that Gideon stopped himself.

This couldn’t go on. The wondering. For months, it had built up in his gut every time he walked past, ever since Beth had told him it wasn’t a “normal” bar, but a place for freaks and perverts. On the way here, he’d stopped a dozen times and nearly turned around.

The sign was different in this light. Usually, it was off when he went by or dimmed by the morning light when he came home from the night shift.

He’d turned around to face it, he realized, without noticing. A moth to a lantern.

He couldn’t go on like this. Maybe—hopefully—it would be awful, and he wouldn’t get the release he worried he’d find, but at least he’d know.

The door swung open smoothly, then fell heavily behind him as he walked into a wall of sound. His eyes, sore from staring at the sign, watered at the change in light. There was none now that the haze of pink was gone, only a dim purple glow that grew brighter the longer he blinked.

“Good evening.”

A shape materialized from the darkness, and he almost went right back out the door he’d come in. But he stopped himself at the last moment, standing straight and unmoving except for the shaking of his tightly clenched fists.

Idle hands, his mother’s voice hissed in his ear. Two years out of her reach, and he still couldn’t break the habit of keeping them still. He’d considered trying, just to prove he could, but the risk was too great that he’d become addicted to the ridges of his scars passing under his fingertips. No. His hands would stay still at his sides as long as he could stand it.

“Hello,” he said, his voice steadier than he felt.

The bouncer’s voice rumbled through the blackness. “One?”


Their clothing matched. Gideon had to suppress a manic laugh as he yanked some bills out of his wallet. Their black T-shirts and jeans could have been purchased from the same store, if in very different sizes.

That was where the similarities ended.

Tall and short, dark skin and light, short-buzzed and stubbornly wavy hair, they were as different as they could be, but they’d both ended up here.

Probably for very different reasons.

“Through there,” the bouncer said, handing back a few bills.

Gideon would count them later when he could see the number and had time to worry about his budget. For now, he was too busy worrying about where there would lead him.

A curtain separated the dark-walled, boxy front area he’d been in, and the source of the purple light emanated from behind it.

Sumptuous was the word that first came to mind when he drew the drape back, revealing a foyer that belonged in a mansion, but an abandoned one without the warmth of a crackling fire in the next room.

Sinful was the next, but he swept it away, leaving it—and the person he’d been before this very moment—on the other side of the curtain.

The music was clearer here but still too loud and throbbing to be distinct.

Two women stood by a long, elegant bureau, a study in contrasts just like Gideon and the door man.

One was tall and rail thin, dressed for an office job. Splotches of blue and pink from the lights bounced off her dark, smooth cheekbones.

The other woman…

She was exactly what Gideon had pictured when Beth and Evan had described the place in detail, thinking to shock and educate the naive country boy. This woman was small, and she wore next to nothing except strips of black and so many spikes.

His tongue was thick in his mouth, and he nearly choked on it when those spikes glinted as she glided toward him.

“Hello,” she purred. “First time?”

Only the courtesy beaten into him allowed him to answer. “Yes.”

“Fun! What are you here for? It’s an open play night. No formal demos, just free reign on the floor equipment. The private rooms are all booked, but you can always hang around and see if someone wants to invite you in.”

Her lips glistened as if freshly moistened with something unspeakable, pursing as she waited for an answer he couldn’t give.

A clipboard appeared in her hand from somewhere, the edge flashing sharper than the shards of metal on her shoulders, and she tapped it with the daggers of her fingers. “So? It’s a bit of a maze back there, so I should really show you where you’re going. What are you looking for?”

“I need—”

His throat closed up, keeping the secrets inside. They were comfortable there, had made a home for themselves in a lonely, sunless part of his soul. Buried too deep, even here, where the promise of warmed skin and aching release was so close.

Need was too soft a word for how he yearned.

“I’ve got this one.”

It was the other woman, the tall one in a slim pencil skirt that wouldn’t look out of place at the old church. It fell obediently over her knees as she crossed the space.

“Whatever you say, Lenore.” The spiked woman went back to her clipboard.

“Welcome,” Lenore greeted him, coming to a stop milliseconds before Gideon would have backed up out of her reaching presence. From an invisible pocket in her blazer, she pulled three slim bands. “Which one do you want?”

He stared at them, draped over her hand innocuously. They all looked the same to him, except for their bright colors. He looked and looked, trying to interpret the right answer from her silent insistence, but had to admit, “I don’t know.”

She nodded as if he’d passed some kind of test he hadn’t studied for. “They let other people know what you’re looking for. Like a stoplight, see?” She flattened them out on her palm, pointing at each one. “Green, if you want to play. Yellow, if you’re not sure but wouldn’t mind being asked. Red, if you’re not interested in playing.”

He searched her face for humor, a joke he was missing to explain the repeated use of the word “play.” The spiky woman had used it too.

He’d seen pictures. He’d never been able to make himself read the words that went along with them—typing in keywords letter by letter had been hard enough with shaking hands—but nothing he’d ever seen was close to “playing.”

“Plaything,” maybe. A toy to be used and discarded. Not fun for anyone other than the capricious player. Something to be endured.

Dreadful want shuddered down his back, and he used its momentum to take the green bracelet from Lenore’s hand. He’d come this far. He wasn’t leaving until he’d been cleansed of the demons that kept him up at night.

Lenore watched him struggle with the piece of plastic for a few moments before seeming to take pity on him and fastening it around his wrist while he held still like a child.

“You can change your mind.”

Gideon’s fingers, already still and silent on the edge of the plastic, went tense. He looked to Lenore, who’d tilted her head, studying him.

“At any time, if you’d like a different wristband,” she said. “Just ask someone with a name tag.”

Surprise made his eyebrows furrow. It sounded so…clinical. He hadn’t expected the shadowy world he was entering to have name tags. It didn’t matter. They could dress it up, but this was still a place of sordid pleasure and pain inflicted on those who couldn’t stop craving it.

Lenore’s heels clicked as she stepped away, leaving room for her next question. “Are you ready?”


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

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

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

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr


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Audio Release Blitz ~ Out In The Surf by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Out in the Surf

Series: Out in College, Book 10

Author: Lane Hayes

Narrator: Michael Dean

Publisher: Lane Hayes

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 4 hrs and 8 mins

Genre: Romance, Contemporary MM Romance, Sports Romance, Bisexual, College Romance

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The hockey player, the surfer, and a lesson neither can forget…


I love the beach, and I’m a good athlete. Learning how to surf should be a breeze, right?


In a twist, hockey is nothing like surfing. That’s okay—I just need a diversion to round out my new life in So Cal while I figure out what comes next. As long as I keep my head above water, this could be fun.

Bonus…my instructor is hot.


Teaching newbies to surf is easy money. Usually. My newest student is a wild card who seems to think his jock status should make him a natural at everything he tries, and I can see why. Luca is…special. He’s dynamic, energetic, and fun. It’s hard not to like him. But I like him a little too much.

This could be trouble.

Out in the Surf is a low-angst MM romance, bisexual-awakening story. When the teacher becomes the student, it may be time to come out in the surf.


I held out my hand, smirking when he stared at it suspiciously.


He pressed his palm against mine, shook my hand, and released it. No big deal, right?


My fingers tingled and my heart rate soared to the stratosphere. I played it cool, though. I hooked my thumbs in my belt loops, casually glanced up at the street sign before asking, “So…when do you want to schedule your next lesson?”

Luca barked a laugh. “I’m not doing that again. That was single-handedly the most traumatic thing that’s happened to me since I moved to Cali. A clear sign I should stay closer to shore and away from surfboards.”

“No, no, no. You’ve got that wrong,” I cajoled. “It’s like I tried to tell you…you’ve got to get back on that horse. Or surfboard. Don’t let fear win.”

“I’m not afraid of surfing. It’s more a matter of returning to the scene of the crime.”

“What crime?”

“The kissing crime!” He threw his hands in the air and paced a few feet away.

I pursed my lips to keep my smile in check when he came to a stop in front of me. “Are you going to do it again?”

Luca shrugged. “I didn’t intend to do it the first time around. But what if I accidentally stick my tongue down your throat? Don’t look at me like that. It could happen.”

“I’m willing to take a chance.” I chuckled. “How about Monday?”

He screwed his features into wide-eyed disbelief. “Really?”


“I can’t. School started last week and I can’t be late…yet.”

“Wise choice.” I stepped away from the crosswalk to lean against the building’s façade. “Okay, if you have any open mornings, we’ll make it work. Otherwise, I’ll make time for you on the weekend. Early.”

Luca furrowed his brow. “If I hypothetically agreed, what is ‘early’ to you?”

“Seven a.m.”

“Fuck that.” He snorted with a laugh. “I need my beauty sleep.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to assure him that he didn’t, but that was a strange sentiment coming from another guy. Wasn’t it?

“Early bird gets the worm and all that,” I singsonged.

“Hmph. I’ll think about it…someday.”

“Sounds fair. Gimme your phone number.” I handed over my cell and let him add his contact info. “I’m free tomorrow morning…just sayin’.”

I was teasing. I was more interested in coaxing an incredulous reaction than anything. And Luca didn’t disappoint. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head in mock consternation.

“You’re nuts. Certifiable. I wouldn’t want to hang out with hungover me if I were you.”

“I’ve seen you barf. Does it get worse?”

He opened his mouth and closed it. “Wow, I really was a mess that day.”

“You weren’t that bad,” I chided playfully.

“Liar,” Luca scoffed. “All right. Call me or text me. We’ll have a redo and next time, I promise not to kiss you.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did,” I replied, unthinking.

We both froze.

I wasn’t sure who was more surprised. My jaw unhinged while he cocked his head and really looked at me for the first time that night, his eyes roaming my face as if searching for clues.

“So kissing might be okay,” he hummed, narrowing his eyes.

I felt his gaze like a physical touch. It had never occurred to me to wonder how another man saw me, but I had to admit, the flash of naked desire in his expression did something for me.

This was a new one. Luca was gay, or maybe bi. Either way, he was plainly interested in me…and I didn’t hate it. In fact, my jeans hugged my crotch a little too tightly, which meant my body appreciated his interest and maybe shared it. And that was pretty…gay.

Was I okay with that?

Purchase at Audible


Meet the Author

Lane Hayes loves a good romance! An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016, 2017, 2018-2019, 2020-2021 Rainbow Awards. She loves wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband and her fabulous pup, George.

Website | Facebook | TwitterGoodreads | Instagram | BookBub


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New Release Blitz: Killing Nightmares by Reis Asher (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Killing Nightmares

Series: Killing Games, Book Two

Author: Reis Asher

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 03/28/2023

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: M/NB

Length: 51700

Genre: Science Fiction, horror, alternate universe, dystopia, action/adventure, bisexual, transmasculine, nonbinary, civil war

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It’s been four years since the Killing Game turned Reis and Edgar’s lives upside-down. Believing the past to be behind them, they’ve tried to move on with their lives. Edgar has returned to freelance computer programming, while Reis is training to become a Bureau agent. Emily is about to marry, and Reis’s biggest concern is what to wear to the wedding as they navigate the rocky seas of their gender identity.

The peace they won is soon cast into doubt as Tony Anvas is released from prison. Shortly after, Edgar and Reis are thrust into a conspiracy more deadly and dangerous than the Killing Game when Anvas stages a coup d’etat, forcibly severing the Twin City-States in a bloody and brutal attack.

It’s once again up to Reis and Edgar to save the day, but Edgar is still suffering the after-effects of trauma and Reis is trying to determine whether to go ahead with medical transition. Can they outwit Anvas’s machinations once again and emerge whole—and if so, what will it cost them?


Killing Nightmares
Reis Asher © 2023
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Edgar jolted awake, gasping for breath. It took him too long to realize he was at home, in the safety of his bed. Reis slept on beside him, their breathing shallow and even despite the stifling summer humidity.

He threw the sheets off and set his feet down on the floor, putting his weight on them slowly so he didn’t jolt the mattress. He knew where every floorboard in their home creaked and measured his steps carefully, tiptoeing around the problem spots like a ballet dancer. The ritual set his mind at ease a little as he cleared the bedroom without Reis so much as stirring. From there, it was a simple matter of padding across the hallway to the bathroom, where the cold tile floor against his feet helped him to shake off sleep as he emptied his bladder into the toilet and flushed.

He peeked out from the bathroom and heard a gentle snore from the direction of the bedroom. Reis slept on, oblivious to the fact that Edgar was awake at two in the morning again, having been torn from a fitful sleep by the nightmares that haunted him.

The terrors of his subconscious along with lack of sleep had come close to driving Edgar over the edge. He wiped the sweat from his brow and started the long journey down the stairs, grateful for the thick carpet they’d installed as it muffled his footfalls. The open-plan living room gave way to a massive kitchen they rarely seemed to use any more. Reis could cook, but they seemed less inclined since they’d started working at the Bureau. Reis often came home late and rose early. Sometimes he and Edgar would go without seeing each other for days. It was a far cry from the way they’d met, stuck with each other for weeks as they fled the people who wanted Edgar dead.

Edgar poured himself a glass of water. He thought about coffee; he could get some work done on the computer if he started early. The best thing about running a freelance business was he could work whenever he felt like it, sociable hours be damned. It was surprising how many clients seemed to respond at odd hours, and Edgar wondered if they couldn’t sleep either.

Maybe he should go back to his therapist. Reis would support him; they’d both spent a good amount of time in therapy, both together and individually, after the Killing Game they’d suffered through four years ago. Edgar had talked at length about everything bothering him—how he didn’t feel safe leaving the house, how he was becoming a hermit, the nightmares and night terrors. But there was one thing he’d never opened up about because he feared the repercussions, and the suppressed secret slowly crushed him now, bearing down on him like the weight of a skyscraper.

Every night he pulled the trigger on Ash. He watched Ash’s chest explode in a shower of blood and bones, and that was something he could never talk about. Not even to Reis. Especially not to Reis. Reis was a natural born killer—a soldier at heart, even if they’d chosen to use that talent to protect others. Edgar was a lover. Reis could separate and cut that part of themself off, but Edgar couldn’t. His brain traced patterns in moments of downtime, wondering how the world’s destiny had been irrevocably altered without Ash in its timeline. Like a line of code that had been deleted, Ash was gone, forever. He’d ceased to exist.

Ash was viral code, Edgar tried to reassure himself. He’d been involved in a terrorist attack that had cost a dozen or more lives. Ash had tried to kill him, in addition to burning down Reis’s apartment, destroying the last connection they had to their mother—the piano she’d bought for them. Ash had been about to murder Reis—and he wouldn’t have hesitated like they had. Edgar had been left with no choice but to pull the trigger and do what Reis had been unable to.

Maybe it would have been easier if Reis had hated Edgar for it, but their attitude seemed to have been largely one of resignation, despite Ash being their former lover. Their relationship had been abusive, Reis had admitted, seeming more relieved than heartbroken at his death. Ash had chosen his dark path not because of belief in a cause, but as an agent of chaos, determined to cause harm to a world that had hurt him so. All of that was true, but still—

Edgar had put the bullet that had ended him in Ash’s chest. He’d taken a life, even if it was for the purpose of saving one.

He decided against coffee, noting the tremor in his hands as he placed his empty water glass in the sink. He browsed the fridge for a snack to distract him, but it was a buffet of out-of-date salad vegetables and moldy leftovers. Reis never touched the fridge since they’d been introduced to the joys of Bureau catering. Edgar contemplated emptying it all into the trash, but a shard of resentment lodged itself in his heart and he closed the door, wondering why it was his job and not Reis’s. He worked full-time too, even if his career didn’t take him out of the house. He took on the lion’s share of the chores as it was. No, Reis could clean the damn fridge. He was sick of doing everything, damn it.

He slumped into his computer chair and let out a long sigh. No, his frustration wasn’t about the fridge. None of their little spats lately had been about the minor nuisances they purported to be. They were the manifestation of Edgar’s festering agony vented out into their shared living space, poison leaving his body by the fastest available route. He hated that this unresolved fragment of history had lodged itself in his heart and was ruining his present. He wanted to spill the beans and tell Reis what was bothering him, but something held him back. What if Reis dismissed his nightmares as irrational? Reis had killed more than once: they’d slaughtered a squad of highly trained mercenaries trying to protect him. What did Edgar have to complain about, really? If Reis could handle that, why couldn’t Edgar handle putting one bullet in one of the most despicable human beings he’d ever come across?

Edgar eyed the gun cabinet where Reis’s sniper rifle sat, locked away. He would have sold the gun if he’d had the option, but it wasn’t his to dispose of. It was Elias Torell’s rifle, the gun that had ended a war and started Unification. It was Reis’s last link to their father, and despite the fact his reputation had become rather tarnished in Reis’s eyes, they weren’t likely to get rid of it to silence Edgar’s demons.

Besides, without that gun, Reis would be dead. Edgar knew it and reminded himself of it daily. He’d done what he needed to do. He’d taken the shot to save Reis’s life, and he couldn’t bring himself to regret it, even as he tormented himself with it. Reis was safe and alive. Working toward their dreams, instead of lying in a coffin six feet under the earth. Given the choice between Reis and Ash, of course he chose Reis, every single time. But he was still a killer, and it was something he couldn’t reconcile with, even now, four years after the fact. His fathers had been singers. He was a programmer. He came from a long history of makers and lovers, of creative people who brought wonders into the world, not took them away. He glanced over at the mirror set into the back of the living room door and wondered if his eyes gave away the fact he’d destroyed a life.

He opened the locked drawer in his computer desk and took out a tiny box. He opened it. A flat, silver band with the sigils of Anver and Kasyova—the snake and the braid—entwined upon its surface sat cushioned against blue velvet. The engagement ring had sat in his drawer for a year now, waiting for the right time, but that time seemed further away than ever, now. They were becoming strangers, torn apart by the tides. Edgar had to fight the urge to wake Reis right now and get down on one knee.

No, he wasn’t fool enough to think marriage would make all their woes go away. They were enduring a test and cheating on it would only come back to bite them in the long run. He’d hoped Emily Vos’s upcoming wedding would give him the moment he needed, but the timing was all wrong with Ash’s specter looming over his shoulder.

Edgar closed the box, put it away, and locked the drawer. Part of him wanted to lose the key, to give up, to stop coming down here in the early hours and tormenting himself with things that had already happened and things that might never come to pass.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Reis Asher (he/him) is a transmasculine author living in rural Pennsylvania with his husband and four cats. He loves video games, reading, technology, and of course, writing.

He enjoys shining a spotlight on queer characters and their adventures in a diverse range of worlds, from the fantastical to the everyday.

Catch him on Twitter where he’s happy to interact. You can find Reis on Twitter.


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Book Blitz: Second Chance Omegas by Will Okati (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Second Chance Omegas

Author: Will Okati

Publisher: Changeling Press

Release Date: March 24

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 394 pages

Genre: Romance, New Adult, Action Adventure, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Gay, Second Chances, Sex/Gender Shifters & MPreg

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Second Chance — a small town where anything can happen — and it usually does.

Only You: Once upon a time a teenaged Alpha fell in love with a pretty Omega from the wrong side of the tracks. Zachary was everything Alex wanted — sweet, sassy, and sexy as hell. Alex would have married that boy if Zachary hadn’t run. When the secrets they’ve been keeping come to light, will they shatter their bond for keeps, or bring them together in a forever kind of love?

Yes, You Are: Everyone assumed petite Darian would be an Omega, and big, athletic Coby would be an Alpha. When they met as teenagers, they had no reason to doubt that was who they’d be. But everyone was wrong. Opposites attract like lightning and steel rods when they meet again in Second Chance, but do they have what it takes to overcome the unexpected for the long haul?

Come for You: Gabriel, a dreamer and a librarian, is so shy and introverted that he’s still a virgin Omega at twenty-five — but he can’t help wishing for a fairy-tale Prince Charming. Meet captivating quarryman Alpha Wynn. For them, it’s love at first sight. But the happy ending is harder to come by. Who will rescue who?

Take You There: Ethan teaches music at the university. He’s not looking for Mr. Right, just Mr. Right Now. A quick, dirty alley encounter should have satisfied him. But now Ethan can’t get Blue out of his mind. The smoldering musician who caught Blue’s eye and what they did in the alley, should have been enough. Until Ethan finds him. And then, everything changes. Again.


Copyright ©2023 Will Okati
Excerpt from Only You

“Coffee, sir?”

“As much of it as you can fit in a cup. No cream but double the sugar. Please.”

The train attendant shook his head, but with a smile and a finger briefly pressed to his lips as he passed over not one but two Styrofoam cups filled to the brim. He was an Omega too, in his mid-thirties by the look of him, and he wore a black jet widower’s ring instead of a wedding band. Things weren’t much easier for the widowed than the unmated or separated. He understood.

Zach took a grateful gulp, not caring that the coffee was hot enough to scald his throat, and asked, “How far behind schedule are we?” Stretching his legs at the next station would do him good; they ached when he stayed still for too long.

“About half an hour, at this point.”

Wishing wouldn’t make the wheels turn faster, but with nothing to look at outside in the dark, Zach adjusted his position so he could get a better view of the passengers in his car. Like most Omegas, he wasn’t very tall. Some new folks had gotten on and others disembarked while he’d dozed, and he liked wondering what their stories were. Two young Alphas who acted like frat bros; interesting, they weren’t the usual size for Alphas, but small and compact and they weren’t at each other’s throats but laughed and joked like best friends. A couple that had to be recently married from the way they could barely resist climbing all over each other; an Omega with a contented smile, probably on his way back home, and —


Oh, God.

Zach’s heart jumped into his throat and wedged stuck there even around the burn of his beverage. Three rows ahead, dark wheat-blond hair and a profile almost as familiar as his own turned to smile at the attendant as he refused their offer of coffee. It couldn’t be, it couldn’t be, he hadn’t seen that profile since he was eighteen, but —
He’d changed — well, he’d grown up, the way everyone did, the bones of his face maturing from soft boyish cuteness to strong, masculine definition. A short beard, trimmed and shaped, that suited his strong, stubborn jaw. The kind of casual suit that would have cost the equivalent of a month’s rent in Manhattan. Elegant hands with sturdy knuckles and deft fingers, and a smile that lit up the train.

He did and didn’t look a thing like the boy Zach remembered but it was, it was, it was him.


Zach would have known him anywhere, even if he’d shaved his head and started scowling instead of smiling. If he closed his eyes, he could feel those hands on the bare skin of memory. After all, you never forgot your first.

I love you. And I know you love me too.”

He should stop staring. Alex would sense it any second now, and he might look around, and —

His gaze drifted back up, drawn like a moth to a flame.

Alex. Oh, Alex.

Zach’s body twitched with the first pangs of arousal, wanting what he’d had once upon a time. He remembered it all, and he remembered it perfectly. He dreamed about it, when he slept. The taste of Alex’s skin, the softness and hardness of his mouth and how his eagerness had nearly rubbed the insides of Zach’s thighs raw. The fullness, almost too much and too tight, when he slid inside Zach.

“I love you. And I know you love me too.”

Anger slowly took alarm and unhappiness’s place – anger, and frustration with himself. Zach should have sensed this train was to be avoided. Dodged. Something! And Alex, sitting there as if he didn’t have a care in the world – it was everything Zach had wanted for him, the entire reason he’d left Alex in the first place, but seeing it in the flesh opened all those old wounds back up and made them bleed afresh. The pain from that moment of saying no to what Alex had offered with all his big, warm heart cut sharper than any knife – but he’d had to. You didn’t do that to your first boyfriend, did you? Take him up on a marriage proprosal and tie him down to a shitty life based on a few promises made in the afterglow?

He’d done the right thing by saying no, leaving, and giving Alex his freedom. Zach knew that. Was sure of it. Even if none of that had ever made him feel any better about it.

They must have been traveling farther and faster than Zach had realized, or he was more out of it than he’d known. Between one blink and the next the train’s PA system crackled to far-too-loud life again, announcing they’d reach their next station at Second Chance in ten minutes. Second Chance? What kind of name was that for a town?

Alex looked up at the speaker, nodded in an absent sort of way, and stood to open the overhead compartment. He took out a bulging messenger bag and slung it over his shoulder and stuffed a pair of thick gloves and a warm knit hat in the pockets of his coat. This would be his stop.

Zach caught his lip between his teeth, torn between – it was pure foolishness, the idea of going to him — and sanity, staying right where he was.

Let it go.

Zach would have, really he would. But as Alex walked past him – always so eager to do things, that one; he would start heading for the exits before the train had even come to a halt — he only made it two steps past Zach’s seat before he stopped. As Zach’s heart sank down past the pit of his stomach he saw Alex pause, then turn to look back.

He stopped, just like Zach had, blank with surprise. “Do I know you?”

Zach held his breath. Could he lie? Yes, but this new, matured Alex would have the life experience not to believe him, and he hadn’t changed nearly as much as Alex had. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

“I do know you. I know your face,” Alex said. His voice had matured with the rest of him as he aged, going from sweet to firm with a raspy vocal fry on the edges. “Zach?”


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

Meet the Author

Will Okati (formerly known as Willa) has lived through a few Interesting Times, but come out the other side a little grayer, a little wiser, and ready to get writing. Still as passionate about coffee, cats, and crafts as ever, but knowing that to your own self you must be true. Also still one of the quiet ones to watch out for, but life — like storytelling — is always a work in progress.


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