Sep 18

Blog Tour: Torin by Lance Withton (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Torin

Author: Lance Withton

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 40300

Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBT, prostitution, sex work, degradation, kink, dirty talk

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Synopsis

Torin’s anxiety has made it difficult for him to navigate romantic relationships, so instead of trying, he keeps himself occupied with his work. But just because he doesn’t chase relationships doesn’t mean he doesn’t want something, even if he has to get it with a dash of taboo.

At Pillar, the only all-male brothel in the city, Torin makes an appointment with a charming sex worker who goes by the name “Davies.” It becomes hard for Torin to keep his emotions out of the intimacy, and his feelings become more complicated when a designer he works with starts to let on that his interest is more than platonic.

Excerpt

Torin
Lance Withton © 2017
All Rights Reserved

First Encounter

“Please look over the document to make sure we’ve got everything right.”

Mr. M slid the paper across the desk. Torin took it with nervous hands and glanced over the list.

While in Pillar, the city’s only all-male brothel and where he currently sat across from the establishment’s owner, Torin had spent far longer than he liked filling out an electronic document to make certain he’d vetoed everything he was uninterested in or made uncomfortable by. A summation of the results were now on the paper in his hands. The details on paper made the situation more real, somehow.

Torin had taken penetrative sex off the table, as well as oral sex and even undressing or touching below the waist. He’d made certain that his chosen worker wasn’t contractually able to do anything other than kiss him, and he was happy the owner and the lead screener hadn’t treated him oddly because of it.

“Have you finished reading?”

Torin glanced up at the owner, caught a glimpse of his gray hair, and focused back on the paper in his hand. He nodded.

“Do you need to make any amendments?”

Torin took a few minutes to reread the document, nodded to reassure himself he’d filled things out correctly, and then told Mr. M that he had no changes.

“Excellent.”

Torin released a nasal sigh and looked up at the owner. Mr. M was more personable than he’d expected the head of a brothel to be, but this was a working-class brothel, manned by desk staff in a front lounge while the rest of the building was hidden behind doors that led to a veritable maze of hallways. Mr. M was in many ways like a grandfather, which Torin thought should have been more unsettling than it was.

“Do you have any further questions?”

Torin swallowed and put the paper back on the desk. “I, ah… I do get a choice in who I—who I want to work with, don’t I?”

“Of course.” Mr. M opened a filing drawer in his desk and flicked through the files for several seconds before he finally pulled a few onto the table. He held them up one by one, opened them in front of himself, away from Torin’s eyes, and shuffled the contents. “Here are the best options for your specific desires. I’ve put the modest photos up front, so if you dig deeper, you’ll have to deal with something more provocative than you’d like.”

Torin nodded while he slid the files over to himself.

He glanced at the name on the tab of the first one: Holland. He opened the folder. On the left was a photo of a young redheaded man, sitting on a barstool in a photo room and laughing. He seemed sweet. Torin looked to the right and read the list of his specialties. Intimacy, anal and oral sex, age play, and a few more things Torin didn’t care to process. He slid the file aside.

The second file was labeled Pisces. Its inner left-hand side displayed a picture of a man who could have been twenty years old at most. His hair was dyed ocean blue and he was sprawled out on grass, hands tucked behind his head. If nothing else, he seemed mischievous. Like Holland, his specialties included intimacy and oral and anal sex, but beyond that, things strayed into fetish territory. Torin snapped the file shut. Across from him, Mr. M chuckled.

Torin picked up the third and final file.

“I would recommend Davies the most,” Mr. M said. Torin glanced up at his smiling face. “I hear he’s the best kisser.”

Torin gulped and opened the file. As he’d come to expect, there was a professional photo on the left. This photo was like Holland’s—Davies was on a barstool in a white studio. He was leaning over his knees, fingers laced and forearms resting on his thighs. He had common black hair and common brown eyes, but there was something about his cheekbones and his grin that Torin liked. He swallowed, hesitated, and lifted the corner of the picture to see the one beneath it. It was also modest, though was far more suggestive than the previous picture. Davies was prone on a bed, head lifted so he could look into the camera, and his fingers were laced under his chin. His eyes were half shut, and the smile on his face was nearly a smirk.

The right listed Davies’s specialties, but Torin didn’t read them because the last two lists had made him lose interest. He closed the file and set it on top of the other two.

“I’ll take Davies,” he said.

“Excellent.” Mr. M collected the files and stacked them on his side of the desk. “Does the agreement cover what you are and aren’t looking for?”

Torin glanced over the document a final time. “Yes.” He paused and looked up at Mr. M. “And this agreement… the—Davies has to follow it exactly, right?”

“Of course. And if at any point you decide that you don’t want to do something allowed by the contract, let him know. Even if you can’t say no physically or verbally, he’ll check in with you every now and then to make sure you’re all right. If you choose to see him repeatedly, you two will figure each other out and routine check-ins might become unnecessary or might happen only rarely.”

For no reason other than he was uncomfortable, Torin looked back down at the paper on the desk in front of him. “Do you—ah, do you have a pen I can use?”

“Certainly.”

Mr. M opened his drawer and handed him what must have been a fifty-dollar pen. Torin stared at it for several seconds before signing his name on the provided line and then dating his signature. There were a few pages after the basic agreement, listing certain rules and legally pertinent information, which Torin skimmed for anything alarming. He initialed and dated those pages before he handed the paper and pen to Mr. M.

Mr. M stood, and Torin followed his lead to the rear exit of the room, which led to the administrative hallway separated from the lounge for client confidentiality.

“I hope we’ll see you again soon,” Mr. M said.

Torin felt comforted by his smile. “You will,” he said. He offered his own smile. Mr. M opened the door for him, and after a farewell, they parted.

Torin headed down the hallway to the end where Ms. Madison’s office was located. She was one of two people who handled scheduling and was the only one in today. He stopped in front of her closed door and knocked with his shaking hand. He was going to do this. Torin was going to book time with a sex worker, and he wasn’t even going to have sex with him.

“Come in!” Ms. Madison called, and while he opened the door, Torin wondered how he’d gotten to the point in his life that he’d become so desperate for a shred of intimacy that he was paying someone to give it to him.

Ms. Madison’s office was half the size of Torin’s bedroom, and Torin lived in a midtown apartment. The woman wore cat-eye glasses the same red as her nail polish and had her hair up in a puffball of a bun. She and Torin worked out an afternoon appointment three weeks from then, after Torin left work. The following day was a free day for him. He thought he might need a day to ground himself after the experience. His nerves tended to get the best of him.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Lance resides in the desert of Southern California, sees a minimum of 50 Joshua trees daily, and is surprised every time it rains. He fiddles with stories almost daily and has dozens, if not hundreds, of unfinished ideas lying around in his writing folder. When not trying to write something that keeps him interested, he spends his time whiling the day away with video games and related media.

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Sep 18

Blog Tour: A World Apart by Mel Gough (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  A World Apart

Author: Mel Gough

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 51900

Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBT, drugs, HIV, AIDS, TB, familial abuse. Bi, gay. alcoholism, hurt/comfort, law enforcement

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Synopsis

Ben Griers is the darling of Corinth Georgia’s Police Department—intelligent, handsome, and hardworking. Thanks to his beautiful wife and clever daughter, Ben’s family is the envy of the town. Yet desperate unhappiness is hiding just below the surface.

When Donnie Saunders, a deadbeat redneck with a temper, is brought to the Corinth PD as a suspect in a hit-and-run, Ben finds himself surprisingly intrigued by the man. He quickly establishes Donnie’s innocence but can’t shake the feeling that Donnie is hiding something. When they unexpectedly encounter each other again at an AA meeting in Atlanta, sparks begin to fly.

With his marriage on the verge of collapse, Ben is grateful for the other man’s affection. But he is soon struggling to help an increasingly vulnerable Donnie, while at the same time having to deal with the upheaval in his own life. Ben eventually realizes that they cannot achieve happiness together unless they confront their darkest secrets.

Excerpt

A World Apart
Mel Gough © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

“What have we got, Lou?” Ben asked as he stepped up to the reception desk at Corinth Police Department. He glanced at a handcuffed man sitting on a nearby bench and staring determinately down at the scuffed linoleum floor. The man’s strawberry-blond hair was disheveled, falling low over his forehead and brushing his reddish eyelashes as his eyes flicked up nervously at Ben. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. One knee was jiggling nervously, and his jaw worked as if he was biting the inside of his mouth repeatedly.

“That guy was driving the vehicle involved in the hit-and-run yesterday,” Lou, the gray-haired desk clerk, said, jerking his thumb at the man on the bench. “Browne and O’Donnell brought him in. They’re with the captain.”

Just that moment, the door to the inner sanctum of the station opened, and Jason Browne strode out of Captain Buckley’s office. The sleeves of his uniform were rolled up as usual, to show off his muscular, tanned arms.

“How was court, brother?” Jason sounded cheerful, but his gray eyes were cold. In Ben’s partner and best friend since high school, that was never a good combination. Ben gave Jason a long look, then shrugged.

“As expected.” He didn’t want to think about the peculiar effect the defendant’s words had had on him, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to discuss it in front of a suspect, or Lou.

“You missed all the excitement.” Jason gestured toward the handcuffed man, who was staring at the floor again. “Saunders here knows some pretty colorful language, and he was none too happy to accompany us, neither.”

“Hence the handcuffs?” Ben asked drily.

Jason nodded, smirking.

“Wasn’t me that hit that kid,” Saunders suddenly muttered, his dark voice shaking slightly with suppressed anger. “Told y’all I wasn’t in town.”

Jason sighed, folding his arms across his chest with exaggerated impatience. “And I told you this: We got witnesses placing you at the scene, smart-ass. It’s your word against theirs. Who’re we gonna believe, some deadbeat, or the boy’s mother?”

Ben frowned at his partner. They had been in the radio car on their usual route the day before when the call about a hit-and-run near Corinth High had come over dispatch. O’Donnell and Myers, the department’s other two sergeants, had been closest and responded to the call. Last night, back at the station, O’Donnell had told them that the boy had a broken leg from being flung off his bike, but that he would undoubtedly survive. There really was no need for Jason to be so aggressive about the issue.

Saunders suddenly sat up straight on the bench, glaring at Jason. “It wasn’t me! Why’re ya not listenin’?” His dark blue eyes were wide with fury.

Ben, knowing Jason’s thought processes and impulses nearly as well as his own, stepped in his partner’s way. Gaze fixed on his friend, he said loud enough for Lou and any bystanders to hear, “Why don’t you and I take Mr. Saunders through to the interrogation room for a statement?” He put special emphasis on the last words, hoping Jason would get his meaning: Anything other than a polite request for an official statement from the suspect would be out of order at this point.

Taking Jason’s reluctant jerk of the head as assent, Ben turned around, intending to escort Saunders to the interrogation room. But as soon as his back was turned, Jason stepped nimbly around him and grabbed the man hard by the upper arm.

Saunders flinched, but Jason’s grip on him was like a vise. Saunders’s eyes met Ben’s, and there was pure animal fear in them, as well as something Ben couldn’t quite place. Anguish, perhaps?

He stepped up close behind Jason. “If you dislocate his shoulder there’ll be an awful lot of paperwork to fill in for both of us, brother.” Ben kept his voice quiet and even, but Jason knew him well enough to detect the steely undertone. After a moment, Jason huffed, then let go of Saunders and took a step back. There were finger-shaped marks on Saunders’s well-defined bicep, just below the rolled-up sleeve.

Now Ben stepped forward, and Saunders looked at him. He was still breathing fast, but the fear was beginning to fade from the indigo blue eyes.

Ben motioned at Saunders to stand, then pointed down the corridor. “Would you come this way, please?”

Good cop, bad cop. Ben really hated playing this game, but Jason had left him no choice. Saunders got up. He was no taller than Ben, who just about scraped five foot ten. Jason towered over them both, still glowering. Saunders gave him a quick, disgusted look, then preceded Ben down the dreary-gray hallway, handcuffed arms held stiffly behind him. As Ben followed, he noticed that Saunders’s shoulders were unusually broad for a man his height.

At the door to the interrogation room, Ben let Jason draw ahead. He followed the two men inside and closed the door. Jason approached Saunders, who had backed up against the one-way mirror.

“Turn around,” Jason said gruffly.

Saunders ignored him and stared straight at the bottle-green linoleum floor. Ben spoke before Jason could get angry again. “Sir, the sergeant will move the handcuffs to the front so you can sit down more comfortably.” The indigo blue eyes that met Ben’s were still full of mistrust, but after a moment, they softened and Saunders turned obediently.

“Sit,” Jason said when he had shackled Saunders’s arms again in the front. Saunders sat down heavily in the single chair on one side of the square floor-bolted table. Ben and Jason took the two chairs opposite.

Leaning forward, Ben waited until he had the suspect’s attention. “Do you mind if we record this conversation?”

“Yer arresting me?” The narrow blue eyes were suspicious again, but Saunders sounded more wary than belligerent. And he completely ignored Jason, his gaze never wavering from Ben.

“No, we’re not,” Ben said quietly. “But having a record of what we talk about will aid your cause.”

Saunders chewed this over, trying to decide whether Ben was telling the truth. Eventually he gave a small shrug.

“Sir,” Ben said. “Please state for the protocol: Do you mind if we record this conversation?” Forcing the police procedural on this man was surprisingly distressing. Saunders gave him a pained look.

“Go ‘head.”

Jason pressed the digital recorder button on the small panel in the tabletop to his right. But it was Ben who spoke again. When they interrogated a suspect together, Ben usually started off the interview. His milder, calmer demeanor tended to relax the atmosphere better than Jason’s hot temper. For now, Jason seemed to have gotten all his anger out by playing scary cop in front of Lou and sat quietly back in his chair.

“Statement protocol, September twenty-second, eleven forty-five a.m. Officers present: Sergeant Ben Griers and Sergeant Jason Browne.” Ben nodded at the suspect. “Please state your full name for the record, sir.”

“Donnie Saunders.” The man’s voice was quiet, and he sounded tired.

Ben waited for Saunders to look at him again, and nodded his thanks. Then he glanced at Jason, eyebrows raised, reminding his partner with his most level stare to act appropriately. “Officer Browne will now ask you a few questions.”

“Alright,” Jason said. Ben took this as the opening of the interview and an affirmation that he would stay calm. “Mr. Saunders, your pickup truck was seen driving away after hitting Dennis Mallory on his bike while he was riding home after school yesterday afternoon at about three thirty p.m.”

“I told y’all three times now, it wasn’t me. Why is it that ya can’t hear me?” Saunders’s voice had risen again in volume, but there was a strange quiver in it, too. He leaned back in his chair as far as he could, regarding Jason from eyes narrowed in anger.

Before Jason, who looked ready to explode again, could respond, Ben said quickly, “Let’s rephrase the question: Sir, where were you yesterday at three thirty p.m.?”

Saunders didn’t immediately reply. His eyes darted nervously around the room, never meeting Ben’s, and ignoring Jason completely. Then they settled on the shackled, tightly folded hands in his lap.

Is he trying to come up with a lie?

Eventually, Saunders said, “Was in Atlanta. Had an appointment at the DFCS.” His voice was very quiet, and he didn’t look up. It didn’t sound like a lie, but a truth the man was reluctant to share.

Ben decided not to press for details. It was none of his business why the guy had been summoned to the Division of Family and Children Services. As long as he could determine that Saunders had been forty miles away from the scene of the hit-and-run, he had done his job.

“I need to know who you were there to see,” Ben said just as quietly, and wasn’t surprised when his gaze was met with one of suspicion again. He added in explanation, “A phone call to the person you had the appointment with will clear you.”

Saunders gave a small jerk of the head in understanding. “Stacy Miller.”

“Thank you.” Ben looked at Jason, considering his options. Could he leave these two alone for a few minutes? His partner’s steely gaze never wavered from Saunders, and Ben could feel Jason’s tension. But if he told Jason to make the phone call, would he try very hard to get at the truth? No, Ben would have to call the DFCS himself. He’d just be really quick about it.

“Jason, stay with Mr. Saunders. I’m going to call Ms. Miller.”

Not waiting for Jason’s acknowledgment, or asking permission from Saunders to make the call on his behalf, Ben got up and left the room. He went back to the front desk. “Lou, find me the number for Atlanta DFCS.”

The desk clerk looked grumpy for a moment but then started hacking away at his keyboard without a word. Finally he picked up the phone, dialed a number, and held the receiver out to Ben.

“DFCS switchboard,” a tinny voice announced in Ben’s ear. “How can I help?”

“Stacy Miller, please,” Ben said, ignoring Lou, who was trying hard to look like he wasn’t listening in.

“Hold the line.”

Ben half turned away while he listened to the annoying phone queue music. After a few moments, there was a click and a crisp voice said, “Medicaid assessment team. How can I help you?”

“Is this Stacy Miller?”

“It is. Who’s asking?”

“Ms. Miller, this is Sergeant Ben Griers, Corinth PD. Did a man by the name of Donnie Saunders have an appointment with you yesterday afternoon?” Ben mentally crossed his fingers that the mention of his rank would suffice to elicit this piece of fairly innocuous information. Legally, he had no leg to stand on, but his experience had taught him that a courteous yet firm manner often got you surprisingly far.

And his experience held true again. After only a moment, the woman on the other end said, “Yes, he did.”

“And he attended?”

“Yes.”

“What time was his appointment?”

“Three p.m. But we were running late, so I think I started with him around three fifteen.”

“And how long was he there for?”

“About forty-five minutes. Officer, is Mr. Saunders alright?”

That was a surprising question. State employees usually had no time or interest to worry about the hundreds of people that passed by their desks every week. But then, here Ben was himself, trying to help Saunders as well, as quickly and with as little delay as possible. Maybe some of us do still care.

“He’s fine. Ma’am, if I were to check your office’s visitor register for yesterday, would the record back up your statement?”

“It would,” Ms. Miller said composedly. “And you’d find a parking permit in Mr. Saunders’s name as well. We don’t have much space out front, so clients get timed permits for the parking lot at the back.”

That was more than good enough for Ben. “Thank you for your time, ma’am.”

“You’re welcome, Officer. Have a good day.”

“And you.”

Ben put the phone down, nodded at Lou, and swiftly turned his back before the desk clerk could make a comment or ask any questions.

As he walked down the corridor toward the interrogation room, Ben’s mind was on the phone call, even as he kept telling himself that, beyond establishing a suspect’s alibi, what he had just learned was none of his business. But he couldn’t help wondering about it. Why had Saunders gone to the Medicaid office? He didn’t look ill. Of course, there were a dozen possible reasons. A sick family member. An old injury that no insurance would cover. Or even trying to get at some extra state assistance for no good reason at all. None of this was relevant to the case, and as he reached the interrogation room, Ben tried his best to push the thoughts from his mind.

He opened the door but didn’t rejoin the other two at the table. “Mr. Saunders, your alibi for yesterday afternoon was confirmed by Ms. Miller. You’re free to leave.”

Jason looked around at Ben, scowling. Ben ignored his partner and kept his eyes on Saunders, who, after a fleeting look of surprise, raised his shackled wrists. “Ya gonna let me keep them as a souvenir?”

Surprisingly, he didn’t sound aggrieved. Ben had been prepared for righteous indignation and anger, and wouldn’t have blamed the man for it. But Saunders just sat there, looking kind of tired and defeated. He held his arms out without comment as Jason leaned over with the handcuff keys. Once he was free, Saunders got up and, without a glance at Jason, walked toward the door. When he drew level with Ben, he stopped, eyes on the floor in front of him.

“Thanks,” he muttered quietly, then strode out of the room.

Ben glanced after Saunders as the man continued down the hall, shoulders hitched, face averted from the people milling around the lobby. A strange sensation rose up in him. Was it pity? He tried to tell himself that it was only natural to take an interest, feel something, after what Jason had put this man through without a single good reason.

And for Ben, the whole thing wasn’t over yet. Turning to his partner with a scowl, he asked, “Why were you so sure it was him? You practically had him convicted already.”

Jason shrugged. “Witness said they saw a dark brown pickup, same as Saunders has. And today, he was just sort of hanging around the gas station on Fullerton. Thought we should check him out.”

“Did you have anything else to go on? Description of the driver, partial number plate, anything?”

“Nope.”

Jason sounded smug, and Ben had to take a deep breath to keep his voice level. “Did he maybe behave in a suspicious manner?”

“Maybe,” Jason agreed as he got up. In Jason-speak that meant: Just didn’t like the look of the dude.

Jason sometimes got like this; he was all guts and instinct and reaction. That had its uses in policing, too, and Ben usually made excuses for his friend’s hot-headedness, because it mostly came from the right place in his heart. But somehow, this time he couldn’t. Maybe it had happened one time too many. Or maybe, because this time Jason’s ire had focused on a completely innocent party, he’d simply rubbed Ben the wrong way.

As he followed Jason out of the room, Ben hissed, “Since this was your party, brother, you can write it up for the captain as well, alright?” This would annoy Jason more than anything. He hated writing reports.

Without another word, Ben strode past the other man and out into the parking lot. He needed a moment to calm down or else he might well punch his partner and best friend in the face before the day was done.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Mel was born in Germany, where she spent the first twenty-six years of her life (with a one-year stint in Los Angeles). She has always been fascinated by cultures and human interaction, and got a Masters in Social Anthropology. After finishing university she moved to London, where she has now lived for ten years.

If you were to ask her parents what Mel enjoyed the most since the age of six, they would undoubtedly say “Reading!” She would take fifteen books on a three-week beach holiday, and then read all her mom’s books once she’d devoured her own midway through week two.

Back home in her mom’s attic there’s a box full of journals with stories Mel wrote when she was in her early teens. None of the stories are finished, or any good. She has told herself bedtime stories as far back as she can remember.

In her day job, Mel works for an NGO as operations manager. No other city is quite like London, and Mel loves her city. The hustle and bustle still amaze and thrill her even after all these years. When not reading, writing or going to the theater, Mel spends her time with her long-time boyfriend, discussing science or poking fun at each other.

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Sep 18

Release Blitz: Fate Heats Things Up by Sarah Hadley Brook (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Fate Heats Things Up

Author: Sarah Hadley Brook

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 15600

Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBT, bartenders, firemen, contemporary

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Synopsis

Scott Dwyer meets hot, new fireman Adrian Campbell in an embarrassing incident one evening and can’t stop thinking about him. While bartending at the local hangout for Station 39, he sees Adrian with this colleagues about once a week. He thinks Adrian might be interested in him, too, but every time they find a chance to talk, something gets in their way.

When rash of arson fires begins the same week Adrian starts at the station, the rumors fly about whether or not he is responsible for them.

Things are heating up in town, but will they heat up between the two men as well? Will Fate ever allow them to be together?

Excerpt

Fate Heats Things Up
Sarah Hadley Brook © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Tonight has to be the night, Scott swore to himself as he wiped down the long wooden bar top and snuck a glance at the entrance once more. He should have been here by now.

A strong hand clapped him on the shoulder, startling him out of his thoughts.

“You wouldn’t by any chance be looking for Adrian, would you?”

Scott narrowed his eyes and tried his best to glare at his boss, but when Tony only laughed, he knew he had failed miserably. He shrugged and tried to ignore the blush he knew was spreading across his face. “Why would you think that?” he asked, attempting to sound blasé.

“I’ve got eyes, don’t I, kid?” Tony gave Scott’s shoulder a quick squeeze before letting go. “You’ve been mooning over that man for the last month.”

Scott swallowed hard and silently chastised himself. He had been so sure he’d hidden his crush from everyone. Apparently not.

The bell over the door chimed, and before he could stop himself, he looked over at the double glass entry doors. His hope was short-lived, though, because it wasn’t Adrian. The chuckle he heard irked him, and he spun around to face his boss.

“For your information, Tony, I had already decided to do something about it tonight,” he huffed, irritation gnawing at him.

“And what would that something be?”

“I’m going to ask him out,” Scott admitted, pinning his gaze on Tony, just daring him to tease him again.

“Well, all right then! It’s about time, kid,” Tony proclaimed and grinned before heading toward the back room.

Scott couldn’t help it. He smiled back, shaking his head. When he’d first started working at the bar, it had irritated him that Tony called him a kid. He was twenty-five years old, for Pete’s sake. By the time he had a few days at Smokey’s under his belt, he’d realized that Tony referred to pretty much everyone under the age of thirty as a kid, so he’d stopped taking it personally.

He agreed with his boss—it was definitely time to do something about Adrian Campbell, and Scott was going to put it all out on the line this very night, even if the thought scared the shit out of him. Adrian should be arriving with his group of friends any second, just as he had been doing for the last few weeks. Scott felt a flutter in his stomach and tried to shake away the nerves by getting back to work. The bar would be filled with customers soon, and he still had to get some things done. The last thing he needed was to give in to his anxiety.

Of course, if the past was any indicator, he would be smart to worry. From the very first time he’d met Adrian, something had always seemed to prevent them from getting together.

That night, Scott had left a friend’s house and was heading home in his piece-of-shit car, as he lovingly referred to his 1989 Acura. It was late and he was on a dark, narrow, and winding two-lane road with no streetlights. Even the nearly full moon had been partially hidden behind some clouds. Dense woods butted up to the road on both sides for miles and oversized branches bowed out over the cars.

As he turned into another sharp curve, his tire rolled over something. His car lurched and the sound of dragging metal on concrete hissed out into the dark.

What the hell is that? He’d pulled his foot off the gas and turned his music down. He’d checked his rearview mirror and gasped at what he saw. Three massive shapes were barreling toward his car. The brake light cast a red glow on the moving figures, and his mind instantly flashed to all the horror movies he had watched over the years.

“Shit!”

He looked around frantically and realized there was nothing to do but floor it. He had no idea who they were or why the maniacs were chasing him in the dark, but he wasn’t about to stick around and find out. When he stepped on the gas, the screeching sound grew louder and his car jerked hard, just before a loud crunching noise echoed into the night. Crap! Was that my tire?

He’d frozen, unsure what to do. Did he try to keep driving? Should he continue on or pull over? He could hear his father’s voice in his head lecturing him on how he’d destroyed his car by not stopping. That did it. Scott had been more terrified of what his father would say than the chance of being murdered, and he pulled over, even though he knew it was probably the most idiotic thing he had ever done in his life. In any horror movie, this would be when the audience screamed at him to get the hell out of there, but it didn’t change his mind. As he set the brake, he glanced in the mirror again. The figures had gained ground on him and by this time were easier to see. All three appeared to be wearing matching long coats and boots, like a uniform of some kind. There was something familiar about them. One more glance and his heart dropped to his stomach.

Fuck! They were firemen and they looked furious. What the hell was going on? Relieved they weren’t three crazy escaped convicts that were roaming the woods looking for someone to kill, he rolled his window down. They were obviously pissed, but he was fairly certain he wouldn’t be murdered.

“Fucking lunatic!”

“Do you have any idea what you just did?”

Hmm. He reconsidered his escaped convicts theory. They weren’t making any sense. Scott tried to speak, but two of them just wouldn’t let him get a word in. They were screaming at him through the window while the third guy was crouching next to his front tire.

“All right, I’ve got it.” The guy by the tire stood up with something in his hand. “Here, Hernandez, take this back to the fire and see what you can do with it.”

Scott looked at the two men at his window and swallowed hard. “Um, did he say fire?”

“Yeah, you idiot! You ran over a coupling and dragged the damn fire hose down the road and out of our hands! Tore it off the fucking hose!”

“A what? I don’t understand,” Scott said, bewildered. He raked his fingers through his hair and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he darted his eyes between the two angry men. “What did I do again?”

Apparently, they were done screaming because they just glared at him.

“Guys, go on. I’ll catch up with you in a minute. I need to get some information for our report.”

Scott slid his gaze over to the third man again. Even in the dark, it was easy to see he was good-looking. Tall. Scott liked tall men.

The other two turned to leave.

“Fucking idiot. Could have killed someone,” Hernandez muttered.

Scott was mortified and started to shake. “I’m…I’m so sorry,” he said as he climbed out of his car and moved to talk with the only man still there. “How did I…I mean…fuck, I don’t know what I mean.” He ran his hands through his shaggy blond hair. “I don’t even know what a…what did he call it?”

“A coupling,” the fireman explained, his deep voice calm and reassuring. “It connects two hoses together when we need to lengthen the line. The house we’re working on is really far off the road.”

“Oh my God, is there anyone in it? Shit, what if someone dies because of me?” Scott felt sick and doubled over, fighting the urge to vomit. A full-blown panic attack was brewing up inside him.

“Hey, it’s fine.” The fireman moved closer and put his hand on the small of Scott’s back. “It’s an abandoned house. A really old, ramshackle house. Nobody lives there, so don’t worry. Just breathe through it. You didn’t hurt anyone. Hell, to be honest, this was as much our fault as yours.”

The fireman began to rub his large hand in small circles on his back, calming him down and at the same time sending warmth spreading through him. “What do you mean?” he whispered.

“I mean that Sanders shouldn’t have hooked up the lines in the street. We pulled the firetruck pretty far off the road and we hadn’t set out cones or lights around the area yet. But I’m new here, so I can’t really tell him he was wrong. For some reason, he left it there and went to check on the hydrant and then you hit it and dragged it down the damn road!” He chuckled a little as he drew his hand away from Scott’s back. “Shit. Never seen that happen before.”

Scott cleared his throat and pulled himself to a standing position, leaning his hip against his car.

“You feeling better?”

Scott nodded and started to reply, but as soon as their gazes met, his breath hitched in his throat. Shit. The man was gorgeous. Deep chocolate-brown eyes stared back at him and Scott couldn’t tear himself away.

“I’m Adrian. Adrian Campbell,” he said as he offered a hand to Scott.

He swallowed hard and shook Adrian’s hand. “Scott Dwyer.” Electricity jolted through his body as if he had touched a live wire, and Scott yanked his hand back.

Adrian quirked an eyebrow at him but kept silent.

“Um, yeah. I should be going. Thanks for…well, thanks. Sorry about the…the hose thing,” Scott stammered as he opened his door. “Wait…should I drive my car?”

“Yeah, the tire’s fine. The coupling and hose were dragged but then it looks like the coupling banged around in the wheel well for a bit.”

“Okay. Thanks. I don’t know a lot about mechanical things,” Scott admitted as he turned back to his car.

“Hey, Scott?”

“Yeah?” Scott looked at Adrian.

“Do you live or work around town?”

Scott smiled tentatively. Why was he asking? Could Adrian be attracted to him? “Yeah, actually both. I have an apartment in the center of town—over Gina’s Pizza Oven. And I bartend at Smokey’s Bar & Grill.”

“Smokey’s? The guys were telling me about that place. Said they all hang out there pretty often.”

“Yeah, they do. It’s sort of Station 39’s hangout. The owner, Tony, used to be a fireman.”

“Campbell! Get your ass over here!”

Adrian grinned. “Guess they need me. The fire was almost completely out by the time you dragged the hose, but I better get going. See you around, Scott.”

Damn. Scott tried to hide his disappointment as he nodded and slid into his seat. He checked his rearview mirror and was frustrated that he couldn’t see Adrian. Either it was too dark or he had moved too far out of vision. He shook his head and tried to ignore his intense longing to have Adrian touch him again. It had struck him that maybe fate had brought them together. As he drove off that night, he wondered how soon he would see Adrian again. He’d never really believed in fate before, but something told Scott it wouldn’t be long before they connected again.

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Meet the Author

Sarah Hadley Brook lives smack-dab in the middle of the Heartland and is the mother of two wonderful young men, as well as two cats. During the day, she works in the non-profit world, but reserves evenings for her hobby-turned-passion of writing, letting the characters she conjures up in her mind take the lead and show her where the story will go. When not working or writing, she can be found reading, working on dollhouses, trying her hand at new recipes, or watching old movies and musicals. In her ideal world, Christmas would come at least twice a year, Rock Hudson and Doris Day would have co-starred in more than three movies, and chocolate would be a daily necessity to live. She dreams of traveling to Scotland some day and visiting the places her ancestors lived. Sarah believes in “Happily Ever After” and strives to ensure her characters find their own happiness in love and life.

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Sep 14

Book Blitz: Full Disclosure by DJ Jamison (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Full Disclosure

Series: Real Estate Relations: 1

Author: DJ Jamison

Publisher: DJ Jamison

Release Date: Sept. 14,2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 73,906

Genre: Romance, mystery/suspense, contemporary, small-town romance, LGBT

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Synopsis

A new real estate agent gets more than he bargained with his first client ….

Camden
I’m desperate to make a fresh start as a real estate agent after leaving my alcoholic boyfriend of way too long. Getting a call to list a house while parading as a hot dog for a few bucks seems like my lucky break. Then things go sideways. My apartment is broken into and burglarized. Getting caught half-naked while squatting in my own listing is a low point. Seeing the sexy-voiced stranger who is now my client — and his gorgeous, cold boyfriend? — major bummer. But hey! I might sell a house … if we can ever get it in decent shape for the market and all the odd questions surfacing about my client don’t get in the way.

Reid
I’m a washed up US marshal turned bodyguard, and even that’s lost its appeal. A leave of absence to deal with a house I inherited from my great-uncle seems like a good opportunity to get my head straight. But then my boss pulls me aside and asks me to take on a witness in danger. We’d be off the grid, so to speak. The guy is a criminal, but he’s young and gay, so we set up a cover as a couple. Might seem risky in Kansas, but all the gossip about those gay guys will make a great smokescreen to our true secret: Lee is a target of the Dragon Boyz gang, and I have to keep him safe until trial. Of course, I wasn’t counting on the gorgeous blond, blue-eyed Realtor who makes me want something more in my life. When he starts asking questions, do I set him straight or risk losing him for good? And then there’s still those gang members to think about.

Story includes inappropriate attire, gunfights, flirting while in a fake relationship and male/male naughtiness.

Excerpt

Camden

I shimmied my hips, which in turn shook my moneymaker.

Sadly, I wasn’t on the dance floor, swishing for attention. I was wiggling and jiggling to reach my phone, which was inconveniently positioned in the waistband of my briefs.

The phone rang — and vibrated — turning my shimmy into a spastic hop.

People stared. Though that might have been caused by the hot dog costume encasing me in a sweaty, straining mess rather than the bun action going on. (See what I did there? Bun action. Ha, ha. No, seriously. My life is a joke.)

The sidewalk baked under my feet, and the thick, humid heat of Kansas summer hung heavy in the air. A fan inside the costume kept me from heat stroke, but sweat still poured from my body. The phone slipped and slid against my skin, evading my grasp.

My shoulder twinged with pain, but I managed to pull the dang phone free.

“You’ve reached Camden Lewis,” I answered breathlessly.

With luck, I sounded at least a bit professional. I didn’t intend to be the hot dog in Dogs N Stuff’s marketing campaign a minute longer than necessary.

I had already launched my new venture, as a real estate agent, but business was a little slower getting off the ground than I’d hoped. And my safety net — i.e. my well-paid boyfriend, Austin — was no longer a viable option.

Thus, the humiliating, poorly paid work.

“You’re the real estate agent?”

“Yes!” I responded with a little too much excitement. Clearing my throat, I tried to rein myself in. “Yes, sir, I am. How might I help you today?”

“My name is Reid Bishop. I inherited the place on Ivy Lane, owned by my great-uncle, Robert Winters? Have you heard of it?”

Nope. “Yes, sir. Are you looking to sell then?”

Please please please!

“I am. I live out of state, and I have no idea what condition the property is in presently. I need an agent I can trust to go check out the place and advise me on any steps I need to take to prepare it for market. I will be coming to town in a week or two. I’m not sure of the timetable just yet.”

Score!

“I can absolutely help you with that, Mr. Bishop. There’s some paperwork to get the process started, even if you’re not ready to go on market. I could fax that to your office?”

A loud, nasally voice interrupted my surprise sales call.

“Cam! I’m not paying you to talk on the phone!”

Damn. Dogs N Stuff’s manager, Mike White, who thought supervising a fast-food restaurant made him hot shit, was crossing the street at a jog.

“Fax works. Should I give you the number now?” Reid Bishop asked, his deep baritone smooth ­­­­­as coffee in my ear.

I could listen to that voice all day. But I didn’t have all day, or even all of a minute. Edging down the sidewalk, I put more distance between me and Mike while talking fast.

 “Actually, Mr. Bishop, I’m driving. On my way to a showing. You know how it is, all work for us busy real estate agents! But if you want to text the info, I’d be happy to get everything started when I get back to the office.”

“Sure, sounds good. I normally do more homework and check reviews, but I’ve got my hands full.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Bishop. If you’re not satisfied with my work, you can withdraw the listing and work with another agent. There’s very little risk.”

“Well, you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Thank you.”

Yesss. Score 1 for the art of bullshitting.

 “Thank you. Talk to you again soon, sir.”

I ended the call not a second too soon.

“Cam!” Mike bellowed as he grabbed my arm. “I pay you to work, not take calls. Hot dogs don’t have cell phones!”

I turned an irritated look on him. “Hot dogs don’t have legs. Do you want me to cut off my legs?”

“What? No—”

“It was an emergency call. It won’t happen again.”

God, please let it happen again.

If someone else called, maybe I’d finally have enough clients to leave the hot dog business.

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Meet the Author

DJ Jamison grew up in the Midwest and worked in newsrooms for more than 10 years before trying her hand at romance writing. Her first m/m romance stories focused on a series of love connections between small-town Kansas newspaper staffers, their sources and their readers before she expanded into novels venturing into emergency rooms and other settings. She lives in Kansas with her husband, two sons and three glow-in-the-dark fish who are miraculously still alive. The same can’t be said for the hamster she got in college. RIP Bogie.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | eMail | DJ and Company

 

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Sep 12

Book Blitz: Saved by A.M. Arthur (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Saved

Series: Breaking Free #1

Author: A.M. Arthur

Publisher: Briggs-King Books

Release Date: September 12, 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 67,000 words

Genre: Romance, non-shifter Omegaverse, alternate universe, mpreg

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Synopsis

He didn’t want an alpha to save him, but fate had other ideas…

Braun Etting was raised to know his place as an omega by his alpha father’s cruel words and fast fists, and he expects nothing but violence from the alpha who may one day mate him. His older brother Kell mated a cruel alpha who abuses him daily, and Braun is terrified of that seemingly inevitable future. When Braun’s father dies in a car crash, leaving Braun an orphan, he’s sent to a halfway house for omegas. But on his fourth night there, he witnesses a horrifying crime that sends him fleeing to the streets alone—and edging into his first heat.

Tarek Bloom is settled in his workaholic, single lifestyle, even if it is somewhat embarrassing to be a twenty-eight year-old unmated alpha. He enjoys his job as a constable, helping people and solving problems, so he isn’t prepared for his life to flip upside-down when he walks into his beta friend Dex’s apartment to help with “a problem.”

The problem turns out to be an unmated, nearly in-heat omega orphan who Dex and his husband rescued off the street last night. The even bigger problem is that Tarek feels the mating bond for this terrified omega immediately—and he’s pretty sure the omega feels it, too. But Braun hates alphas as a general rule, and no way is he giving in to the bond. All mating leads to is violence and suffering, so no thank you. But Tarek’s gentle kindness slips under Braun’s emotional shields, and Braun begins to want. To dream. All Braun has ever known is violent alphas, but Tarek is determined to make Braun trust him—and to trust in the idea of their happily ever after.

NOTE: This is a non-shifter Omegaverse story with alpha/omega/beta dynamics, heats, knotting, and mpreg. In this world, omegas are second-class citizens with few civil rights and almost no protections under the law. Trigger warnings for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. 67,000 words.

Excerpt

“Would you be able to describe exactly what you saw that night in detail?” Tarek pulled a notepad and pen out of his front pocket.

Braun’s entire body went rigid. “Why? Who are you really?”

“I really am Tarek Bloom.” For a moment, he actually seemed contrite. “What I didn’t tell you is that I’m also a constable.”

“Shit.” Braun bolted out of his chair and toward the front door, fork still in his hand.

In a flurry of movement, Tarek was in front of him, blocking his path to the door, and Braun lashed out with the fork. Dex grabbed his wrist and plucked the fork out of his hand, but that didn’t stop Braun from swinging. He punched Tarek in the chest. Twice. Panic settled in, overriding his common sense, and he tried to push past the brick wall of a man.

“Let me go! I won’t go back, I won’t!”

Arms wrapped around his torso from behind, pinning his arms to his sides. Serge’s comforting scent settled his racing mind a bit, but it was Tarek’s hand on the back of his neck that settled Braun completely.

“Calm down, firecracker,” Tarek said. His deep voice soothed Braun’s frazzled nerves, and his touch sent his pulse racing with delight. “You’re still safe, I promise. No one here wants to hurt you.”

“Why do you care?” Braun snarled. “I’m just some useless omega you’ve known for twenty minutes.”

“You’re far from useless, little one.”

Tarek’s other hand rose, nearing Braun’s face. Braun snapped at his fingers. “I’m only a womb to you.”

“Far from it, my firecracker.” The hand on his neck squeezed. “Far from it.”

The grounding touch made Braun want to roll over and show his belly, but he was done being passed around. Done letting other people control his life. He didn’t want to feel this mating bond to Tarek, but he also couldn’t turn it off. Even with the heat block, Tarek was under his skin, doing funny things to his insides.

Angry and confused, Braun dared look an alpha in the eye.

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Meet the Author

A.M. Arthur was born and raised in the same kind of small town that she likes to write about, a stone’s throw from both beach resorts and generational farmland. She’s been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long, in a losing battle to make the fictional voices stop. She credits an early fascination with male friendships (bromance hadn’t been coined yet back then) with her later discovery of and subsequent love affair with m/m romance stories. A.M. Arthur’s work is available from Carina Press, Dreamspinner Press, SMP Swerve, and Briggs-King Books.

When not exorcising the voices in her head, she toils away in a retail job that tests her patience and gives her lots of story fodder. She can also be found in her kitchen, pretending she’s an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | eMail | A.M.’s Pot O Gold | Newsletter 

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Sep 11

Release Blitz: Caught In Between by Tamryn Eradani (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Caught In Between

Series: Daniel and Ryan, Book 8

Author: Tamryn Eradani

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 11, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 13900

Genre: Contemporary, NineStar Press, LGBT, BDSM, contemporary, established relationship, businessmen, menage

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Synopsis

As a natural extension of their last scene, Daniel and Ryan invite a third to join them for one night.

Excerpt

Caught In Between
Tamryn Eradani © 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

Daniel’s not overly fond of sex toys. He’d much rather have his partner’s hands or mouth on him, but of the toys he and Ryan use, the suction-cup dildo is one of his favorites.

Right now it’s planted on the bedroom floor, and Daniel has his arms braced on either side of it as Ryan fucks him. There’s a hand in Daniel’s hair, pulling just as hard as he likes, forcing his head down, forcing him to take the dildo deeper than he would on his own. Ryan times it so he’s shoving Daniel’s head down as he thrusts his hips in.

Daniel gasps and chokes at the same time, sound trailing off to a whimper as Ryan lets up enough for Daniel to breathe and try to pull himself back together before Ryan breaks him apart again.

“You’re the loudest when I stuff you full,” Ryan says. He strokes his hand through Daniel’s hair now instead of grabbing it.

Daniel wants a rougher touch, wants to go back to what they were just doing, to when Ryan pushed Daniel right up against the edge of too much. Ryan’s hips roll, maddeningly slow, a tease that makes Daniel spread his knees another inch apart, presenting himself, trying to encourage Ryan to fuck him, hard and fast, until all Daniel can do is feel.

“Ironic,” Ryan says, still carrying what Daniel thinks is a stupid conversation. Ryan could be doing so many better things—fucking Daniel, for example—and instead he’s prattling on about words.

Maybe it’s what he’s looking for, though. Daniel’s not big on words once he’s in a scene. He has his three colors, but he rarely has to use those. He thinks Ryan would like him more vocal, more audibly appreciative, even though Daniel thinks the way he’s always a wrung-out mess once Ryan’s done with him speaks pretty loudly as to how Daniel feels about their sex life.

But relationships—and Daniel still stumbles over the word—are about compromise, about trying to fit better with each other with each passing day, and if Ryan wants Daniel louder then he can try.

Daniel pretends his arms are braced on Ryan’s thighs instead of hardwood, pretends the cock in his mouth is Ryan’s and he sets out to give it the attention it deserves. He doesn’t need a hand in his hair to shove his head down, to make him take Ryan’s cock as deep as it can go. Daniel can do it on his own, can do it because he wants to.

He closes his eyes and lets himself imagine Ryan is filling him from both ends; he has Ryan’s cock in his ass and his mouth. He’s surrounded by Ryan, hands on his hips to hold him steady, hands in his hair to pull Daniel closer. And Daniel opens his body for Ryan in every way he can, opens himself to every touch, every word, everything Ryan wants to give him.

But there aren’t two sets of hands on him, and when Daniel moans around the cock in his mouth, it doesn’t jump at the vibrations, doesn’t grow harder. Daniel’s hands scramble against hardwood instead of someone’s thighs. The next sound Daniel makes is closer to a growl, frustrated, because what he wants is out of his reach.

“I have you,” Ryan says. He fucks Daniel harder, knocks him onto his forearms instead of his hands, and it’s good, but it’s not enough.

When Daniel comes, he’s equal parts satisfied and guilty.

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Meet the Author

Tamryn studied English and Creative Writing in school but has been writing since she could first hold a pencil. Recently, she’s turned her focus towards writing erotica. She enjoys writing stories where sex comes first, then feelings, because doing things out of order can be fun.

Tamryn has spent the past few months writing the Daniel and Ryan series with a lovely view of mountains out her window, and she’s now searching for a new mountain range to serve as her backdrop as she begins her next project.

 

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Sep 11

Blog Tour: Whitecott Manor by Emma Jane (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Whitecott Manor

Author: Emma Jane

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 11, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 65300

Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, NineStar Press, LGBT, contemporary, British, paranormal, intrigue, family-drama, ghosts, friends to lovers, humor

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Synopsis

Alistair Ellis is the proud gardener for beautiful fifteenth-century Whitecott Manor, in England’s West Country. His life changes forever following a gas explosion at the manor, in which his boss—and love of his life—dies. However, his boss hasn’t exactly gone for good and Alistair still finds himself involved in conversations with the deceased.

Circumstances improve when he meets Noah, the handsome dog groomer for the manor’s new owners. Although there are some issues: Noah is already engaged and Alistair suffers from cynophobia—an acute fear of dogs!

Excerpt

Whitecott Manor
Emma Jane © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Once I was aware of the cuts, they stung like a bitch. I should’ve worn gloves, really, but it’s so much easier not to. I was almost finished anyway, and the Harpers’ rose borders were nearly ready. They’d look beautiful when they flowered in the summer—they always did. White and red rose blooms flanked the path to the tennis court. I just had one last bush to prune and then I could stop for a cuppa. The cuts were itching now too, right where the thorns had snagged and ripped my skin. I sucked the flesh between my thumb and index finger, tasting blood and mud, and stood there, secateurs in hand, watching the house.

It was a fifteenth-century manor—a beautiful listed building made from warm-yellow stone. It’d been revamped inside, a strange mixture of modern and ancient, and was currently—unfortunately, in my opinion—on the market. I didn’t want it to sell; I didn’t want to lose my job. The Harpers assured me that whoever bought the place would keep me on but, well, it wasn’t down to them.

I took my hand from my mouth and watched as the estate agent led a middle-aged couple from their car—some sort of old classic; light blue with a soft-top—to the front of the manor. Even at this distance, I could see the look on their faces as they gazed up at the building before entering. They loved it already. Everybody did; it was such an impressive place. Bloody hell, I’d buy it if I had a spare eight million lying around.

I glowered to myself and turned back to the last bush, reaching into the branches to snip it into some sort of order. I cut myself on another thorn and swore impatiently.

“Language.”

I turned to see Mr Harper—Emmett—watching me. He stood there, smiling, his hands tucked in the pockets of his ridiculous purple corduroys. He always reminded me of Colin Firth, though he didn’t look particularly like him. He was a similar age, I suppose, and had that same clipped accent and no-nonsense manner.

I tossed rose clippings into my wheelbarrow. “Sorry. It’s these roses. They’re full of thorns.”

“Ah, the roses. Yes. I thought perhaps you’d spotted Mr Daniels showing the Scrantons around.”

“Scrantons?”

“Mr and Mrs Scranton. I don’t know their first names, and I don’t care. Lottery winners, apparently.”

I scratched at my cheek with the edge of my thumbnail and then wiped the back of my hand across my brow. “You really want Whitecott Manor bought by lottery winners?” I asked. It wasn’t really any of my business, but I didn’t want to see the place sold on yet again because the Scrantons squandered all their money and ended up bankrupt within a year.

Emmett shrugged. “My dear, I don’t care who buys it as long as they cough up the money. You know I can’t afford to keep the place.”

I knew. Emmett was swimming in debt. His daughters—all five of them—had now moved out and he had to pay for everything on his own since his wife had left. Old Mrs Harper, Emmett’s mother, lived in the house with him, but she was in her eighties and, I think, had about as much money as he did. They wanted to move to a little cottage somewhere, with a nice granny annex and a garden that didn’t require much attention. Certainly not enough attention to take me with them.

I hadn’t said anything. Emmett came and put his hand to the small of my back. “Whoever ends up here would be mad to let you go. They can see how beautiful the gardens are.”

I nodded and stared into the rose bush.

“And you’re beautiful,” he added. “Who would not want you around?”

“You don’t need to flatter me.” I snipped at the bush and tossed branches into my wheelbarrow.

Emmett chuckled and moved away. “Cheer up, Alistair! You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. I’m off to take Mother her tea.”

I watched him stroll back to the house as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I’d miss him most of all. Well, maybe he wouldn’t move far. I’d probably still see him around—at the local fair or plant show perhaps. Besides, house sales took ages; I knew that from experience. If the Scrantons bought the place, it’d be a while yet before they moved in. And if they decided they didn’t want a gardener—if—then I had plenty of time to look for a new job. I could always audition for the X Factor and see where that got me—Emmett said I had a great singing voice, and I’d often dreamed of performing on stage.

I picked up the wheelbarrow and went to empty the clippings on the compost heap. I was just trundling back to the roses when I spotted the estate agent leading the Scrantons out into the gardens. I’d make myself scarce; I didn’t want to have to smile politely while they stood and gawked, so I downed tools and headed to the potting shed.

The cabbage seedlings were coming on nicely, I noticed, but my beetroots were depressingly small. I’d never had much luck with beetroot. They never grew much larger than rat testicles. I shrugged out of my overalls and tied the arms around my waist, singing an Elvis track softly beneath my breath.

I’d just reached for a watering can when an almighty bang made me jump out of my skin. The windows blew out the front of the manor, followed by tongues of fire licking the frames. I stared, heart frozen and mouth open. Then my heart started again, blood thumping in my ears. I threw open the shed door and ran.

“Emmett!”

I dashed towards the building, pulled open the door, and hurried down the hall to where the explosion had come from—the kitchen. Flames crackled in the room, red and angry and louder than I would’ve expected. Smoke and heat billowed outwards, and I coughed and covered my nose. My eyes watered.

“Emmett!” I yelled again.

Something crashed—maybe part of the ceiling falling—and I took a step to go after Emmett when somebody grabbed my arm and hauled me back.

“Mr Harper’s in there,” I shouted at the estate agent, fighting the man’s vice-like grip. “Emmett! Emmett!

The estate agent pulled me away, forcing me bodily back down the hall and outside. He was speaking—shouting, I think—but I yelled too, my voice hoarse, and I couldn’t hear him, couldn’t see, couldn’t… Emmett.

Sirens screamed in the distance, and then I saw the lights flashing through the trees that flanked the lane beside the manor. Fire engines arrived in a cacophony of noise and colour. The estate agent held me in a bear hug, and all I could do as firefighters jumped from their vehicles was stare at the flames roaring from the broken windows.

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NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

Emma Jane has been writing stories since primary school, some of which still survive in notebooks in her dad’s attic, and wanted to be an author as soon as she realised it was a possible career choice and ‘Pony’ or ‘Ninja’ weren’t viable options.

Her first short story, Club Freak, about an anonymous woman’s determination to find her husband’s killer, was published by Park Publication’s Debut magazine in May 2009. Since then, she has gone on to write many short stories and poems for various small presses and has achieved an Honourable Mention in the 2011 Writers of the Future competition.

In 2014, writing as Emma Jane, she signed her first publishing contract for not one, but two novels. Otherworld formerly published by Torquere Press, and Shuttered by Dreamspinner Press.

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Tour Schedule

9/11 Books,Dreams,Life

9/11 Drops of Ink

9/11 The Novel Approach

9/11 Happily Ever Chapter

9/11 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/12 Stories That Make You Smile

9/12 Southern Babes Book Blog

9/13 Love Bytes

9/14 Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

9/14 Two Chicks Obsessed

9/14 Erotica For All

9/14 Bayou Book Junkie

9/15 MillsyLovesBooks

9/15 A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog

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Sep 05

Book Blitz: Leaning Into Always by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Leaning Into Always

Series: Leaning Into Stories, #1, Part 2

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher: Self Pub

Release Date: September 5

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 30k

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Established Couple, San Fran, Beach, Surfer, Geek, Opposites Attract, Friends to lovers

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Synopsis

Life is good for Eric Schuster. He owns a highly successful tech company, has a great group of buddies, and he’s about to marry the man of his dreams. Eric is pleasantly surprised to find the transition from friends to lovers has been easier than he thought. However, after running into an overly friendly ex-boyfriend on an impromptu trip to their shared hometown, Eric realizes things are about to get complicated.

Zane Richards is a quintessential California surfer dude turned professional sailor. His laid-back approach has helped him navigate difficult times in his life. Eric may not share his easy-going mindset but Zane knows without a doubt Eric is the one. However, carving a future together may require confronting a piece of the past Zane thought he’d left far behind. Both men will have to decide if they’re willing to risk what they know for a chance to lean into always.

Excerpt

“Hmm. I want to drop this, but…I have one last question. What did you mean about ‘being from here?’ I know San Francisco is home now but this is a nice place too. I always thought it would be kind of cool to move back someday so I could—”

“No. No way. Never,” I replied emphatically.

I tried and failed again to make a getaway. Zane pounced on me and held me down, snaking his arm across my chest to keep me next to him.

“O-kay…where’s this coming from?”

“I can’t explain it. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“It sounds stupid.” I met his patient gaze, hoping he’d cut me some slack, but he didn’t budge and I had a feeling he wouldn’t until I spit it out. “Fine. I was teased pretty mercilessly for being a geek from kindergarten through high school. I never fit in. I wasn’t blond, athletic, or particularly charming. I was smart. Smarter than I appear to be now,” I huffed.

“Who bullied you? I’m gonna kick some ass. No one messes with my man,” he said, nuzzling my neck.

I chuckled, running my fingers along his spine. “Thanks. I told you it sounded lame. I’m a perfectly well-adjusted adult when I’m not here. And I’m actually pretty good when I come for quick family visits, but this feels different. It feels like I’m being thrown back in time and forced to hang out with the cool kids. Today was a great example. I made a fool of myself out there and I made you mad. Yeah, I was jealous but that was only part of it. I also wanted to prove I’d grown up a little and that I wasn’t the same sunscreen-caked dork who’d sit under an umbrella and read when he went to the beach anymore. I guess I still am.”

“You seem to be forgetting one major detail, Er.”

I traced the laugh-lines at the corner of his eyes and pushed his hair from his forehead. “What is it?”

“I like you just the way you are. I don’t expect you to change and develop a sudden passion for things I enjoy doing. Just be you. And if that means you’d rather finish a chapter lounging in the sand than jump in the water, that’s okay by me.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. It comes with the territory. I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life with you if I didn’t love all your weird habits,” he teased, pulling us both to sit up.

“Weird? Me? I bet you can’t name three weird things about me,” I declared as I sauntered toward the bathroom.

“I bet I can name ten. I’ll give you my list at breakfast. Jump in the shower while I call housekeeping and ask them to change our sheets.”

I stopped in the doorway and frowned. “Just tell them I spilled water on them or something.”

“Why lie? I’m going to tell them my boyfriend got jizz on my side of the bed and…”

I shook my head mournfully and turned on the shower to drown out his silly speech about being stuck with a messy lover and crusty sheets. I chuckled at his ‘put upon’ tone and called for him to join me before stepping under the spray. I stopped abruptly and backed up to look at my reflection. My cheeks were flushed, my eyes were bright, and my smile spanned my entire face. I was incredibly happy and if I said so myself, it looked good on me.

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Meet the Author

Lane Hayes is grateful to finally be doing what she loves best. Writing full-time! It’s no secret Lane loves a good romance novel. An avid reader from an early age, she has always been drawn to well-told love story with beautifully written characters. These days she prefers the leading roles to both be men. Lane discovered the M/M genre a few years ago and was instantly hooked. Her debut novel was a 2013 Rainbow Award finalist and subsequent books have received Honorable Mentions, and were winners in the 2016 Rainbow Awards. She loves red wine, chocolate and travel (in no particular order). Lane lives in Southern California with her amazing husband in an almost empty nest.

Books by Lane Hayes:

Better Than Good, Better Than Chance, Better Than Friends, Better Than Safe, The Right Words, The Wrong Man & The Right Time, Leaning Into Love and Leaning Into the Fall, A Kind Of Truth, A Kind of Romance, A Kind of Honesty, A Kind of Home AND A Way with Words

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Sep 04

Release Blitz: A Matter of Courage by J.C. Long (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  A Matter of Courage

Series: Hong Kong Nights, Book Two

Author: J.C. Long

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 4, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 81400

Genre: Contemporary, mafia, criminals, friends to lovers, alcohol use, slow burn

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Synopsis

Winston Chang has spent much of his young life admiring the Dragons who have kept his area safe and fought off the gangs that would bring violence to their area. Now that he’s an adult, he wants nothing more than to join the Dragons and live up to those standards.

The opportunity presents itself when his passion and knowledge of cars is just what the Dragons need. One of their own has been killed and his death seems linked to his involvement with the illegal racing scene known as the Dark Streets. Winston is needed to infiltrate the scene and find out who is responsible and why.

Steel has always been Winston’s best friend, and Winston has always been there to get him out of trouble. Just as the stress in Winston’s life reaches its peak, the relationship between Winston and Steel begins to change in ways neither of them expected.

Will Winston and Steel be able to find the courage to face not only the unknown killer stalking the Dark Streets racers but also their growing feelings?

Excerpt

A Matter of Courage
J.C. Long © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Winston Chang awoke with a splitting headache, a mouth that tasted like rubbing alcohol, and the feeling that he was on a boat out at sea during a storm. His stomach flip-flopped just from opening his eyes, and he let out a pitiful groan. He closed his eyes again and gritted his teeth to fight back the nausea that washed over him at the smell of his own breath.

What the fuck did I do last night?

He waited until the bout of nausea passed and slowly opened his eyes once more. He was happy to find he could open them without making himself puke; it was progress. He stared up at the ceiling, confused. It wasn’t the ceiling of his room. His ceiling didn’t have those weird little texture-bumps all over it.

The next thing Winston noticed was the sound of someone else snoring. He turned his head to the side, wincing at the stab of pain the movement caused. His best friend, who liked to be called Steel, was lying facedown on the bed next to him, head turned facing his direction. Steel was still lost in sleep, snoring every so often.

Winston couldn’t face him long; Steel’s breath also reeked of cheap booze and poor decisions.

Staring back up at the ceiling, he tried to remember something, anything, from the night before. He and Steel had gone to a bar, that much he remembered—like he remembered it being Steel’s idea, because it was always Steel’s idea. The place was a dive, dimly lit, stinking of smoke and booze and sweat. At some point in the night, they’d been approached by a group of people who asked them to join their group. Winston had been hesitant, wanting to get in early, though he couldn’t recall why he’d kept insisting they leave. Steel had convinced him to stay, as always. Winston never could tell Steel no.

He vaguely recalled stumbling back to Steel’s apartment, which was near the club, unable to drive home, barely able to walk up the single flight of stairs to Steel’s apartment. At one point, he had thrown up, though he couldn’t remember when, and everything after that was a complete blur.

Grunting, he sat up, and immediately buried his head in his hands to fight the swelling nausea that threatened to empty the contents of his stomach. Once he had it under control, he turned toward Steel. The way the sheet fell, Winston couldn’t tell if Steel was dressed.

He looked down quickly, lifting the sheet off his own form. He was naked and sporting quite the morning wood despite his hangover. It was funny the things the body did.

Why the fuck am I naked?

He glanced at the clock. It was nearly nine in the morning. He searched around him, finding no sign of his cell phone or clothes. He turned, shaking Steel’s shoulder roughly. “Dude, where’re my clothes? Dude!” He shook harder, and Steel finally stirred long enough to roll onto his back, muttering something unintelligible.

Seeing Steel lying like that made Winston’s pulse quicken. He raked his eyes over his friend’s sleeping body, admiring the musculature. Steel wasn’t a gym bunny, but his body was lean from a rougher-than-average childhood, whipcord muscles standing out with his arms stretched over his head. The room was chilly—Steel always slept with his air conditioner on—and his nipples were stiff buds. The sheet pulled down just enough for Winston to see that he was wearing his typical boxers.

Everything about Steel drew him in. He’d known Steel since he was ten years old—almost eleven years, now. For pretty much the entirety of that friendship, Winston had been in love with him. Something he’d been unable to shake. Most of the time, he didn’t think he wanted to—and then other times, Steel drove him crazy, and not just in a sexual way.

Winston couldn’t help his eyes traveling down to the dragon tattoo on Steel’s calf—his leg was sticking out of the sheet—and his admiration was interrupted by a jolt of envy. Winston longed to have one of those tattoos himself, the mark of the Dragons, the gang—for lack of a better word—that ran the Eastern District. The underworld of Hong Kong, both the island city itself and the New Territories on the Mainland, was run by gangs, competing against one another and struggling to gain power.

The Dragons, though, they were different. They didn’t rule through fear, drugs, or terror, but by protecting and serving the community. Wei, the leader of the Dragons, didn’t allow drugs to be sold in the Eastern District, and he didn’t demand protection money from the people; he protected them because it was a duty he’d taken upon himself.

It was a duty Winston wanted to take up, too.

He reached out to touch Steel’s chest and stopped himself, instead slapping Steel’s stomach—though it might not have been safer to go near his friend’s lower body.

Steel jerked awake, swatting at Winston, who knew his friend well enough to move quickly out of reach. “What the hell, man?”

“Where are my clothes?”

Steel flopped back on the bed, closing his eyes tightly. Winston sympathized with what he must have been feeling at that moment, and he was thankful his nausea was mostly gone, leaving him with just the headache.

“Dude, my clothes?”

Steel inhaled and exhaled slowly several times before answering. “You don’t remember? You puked all over them last night, so they’re in the wash.”

So that was when he threw up. That question was answered. “Okay, so how did I manage to get them off?”

Steel chuckled despite how much pain his head must be in. “You didn’t. You just tugged at the shirt like a baby, and I finally got you undressed. Dick stiffed right up when I took off those little boy briefs, too. How long has it been since you got some action, Winston?”

The sound of his phone ringing jarred Winston, and he peered around for it, finding it on the bedside table next to him. He grabbed it and saw that it was Conroy Wong, Wei’s right-hand man in the Dragons.

“Hey, Conroy.” He hoped he didn’t sound too hungover. Conroy didn’t disapprove of drinking—the opposite, actually; he drank like a tank and never in his life seemed to have a hangover—but if he knew Winston had one, he would take great pleasure in torturing him in as many ways as he possibly could. “What’s up?”

“Yo, where the fuck are you, man?”

Dread coiled in Winston’s stomach; he didn’t like it when Conroy sounded angry at him. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Just wanted to make sure your punk ass was up. A few of my boys told me you and Steel were out drinking ’til dawn. How ya feelin’?”

“I’m fine,” Winston lied. “Absolutely no problem.”

“Good, then you won’t mind hoppin’ in your car and driving to the airport,” said Conroy cheerfully. Winston guessed if he could see him at that moment, he’d have that smug little smile on his face that drove Winston crazy. “The boss is busy right now, and Noah will be arriving this afternoon. Wei refuses to let him just ride public transportation like a normal person, especially since—”

“Since the subway will take him through Twisted Viper territory,” Winston finished. He understood Wei’s concern; their recent run-ins with the Twisted Vipers had been far less than friendly, and temperatures were getting even colder, fast. Considering Noah was at the heart of that unfriendly encounter, Wei’s concern was completely justified.

“What time is he getting in?”

“Just after noon.”

“Damn it. That means I need to get going now.”

“Get on it.” Conroy hung up with that.

“What did Conroy want?” Steel asked. He was now sitting up in bed, looking relatively healthier. Winston felt a bit of resentment at his quick recovery.

“Asked me to ride out to the airport to get Noah. Wei’s busy.”

“Oh, is Noah coming back from America today?”

“I guess so.” Winston started out of the bed but stopped. “What the fuck am I going to wear?”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

J.C. Long is an American expat living in Japan, though he’s also lived stints in Seoul, South Korea—no, he’s not an army brat; he’s an English teacher. He is also quite passionate about Welsh corgis and is convinced that anyone who does not like them is evil incarnate. His dramatic streak comes from his life-long involvement in theater. After living in several countries aside from the United States J. C. is convinced that love is love, no matter where you are, and is determined to write stories that demonstrate exactly that. J. C. Long’s favorite things in the world are pictures of corgis, writing and Korean food (not in that order…okay, in that order). J. C. spends his time not writing thinking about writing, coming up with new characters, attending Big Bang concerts and wishing he was writing. The best way to get him to write faster is to motivate him with corgi pictures. Yes, that is a veiled hint.

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Sep 04

Blog Tour: The Dragon’s Devotion by Antonia Aquilante (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Dragon’s Devotion

Series: Chronicles of Tournai, Book Five

Author: Antonia Aquilante

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 4, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 108100

Genre: Fantasy, fantasy, paranormal, shifters, dragons, magic users, bisexual, family drama, abduction/kidnapping, political intrigue, royalty

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Synopsis

Corentin is a scholar with a secret—his magical Talent allows him to turn into a dragon, and he isn’t alone in that ability. Long ago, dragons were hunted fiercely, until they went into hiding, becoming things of legend. Corentin has traveled the world with one aim—to protect his people and keep their secret safe. Drawn to the principality of Tournai by news of someone close to discovering that secret, he hopes to avert suspicion. His attraction to the too-serious Bastien isn’t convenient for his purpose, but it isn’t something he can ignore either.

Lord Bastien, Earl of Ardesia, inherited his title unexpectedly when his parents were killed in a sailing accident along with the parents of his cousin, Prince Philip. Since then, Bastien has devoted his life to the obligations of his family and estate—so much so, that it has caused tension between him and his siblings. His world is further shaken when he receives an anonymous letter informing him that the tragic boating accident may, in fact, have been murder. Bastien throws himself into investigating whether the allegations are true and finding out who killed his parents.

As Corentin and Bastien become closer, the mystery of Bastien’s parents’ death draws him further into danger. Corentin feels compelled to protect Bastien, but the threat is closer than they know. Now, Corentin must decide whether preserving his secret—and potentially his people’s safety—is more important than saving the man he loves.

Excerpt

The Dragon’s Devotion
Antonia Aquilante © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

In the privacy of his small office, Corentin circled his neck and rolled his bare shoulders and back, trying to loosen the stiffness there—impossible because his muscles weren’t really stiff. But he did it anyway. It was just that he hadn’t changed and stretched his wings in far too long. Whether real or imagined, it had always been this way if he didn’t use his Talent regularly. Only how was he to accomplish that in this place?

There wasn’t anywhere in the capital city where he could change unseen, and few places close to Jumelle where a large dragon would go unnoticed.

But while he was in Tournai, he’d have to deal with it. He’d managed a few night flights out over the sea when there wasn’t much moonlight. He’d have to get away for another as soon as he could without rousing suspicion. Not that he was being watched, or that anyone suspected what he was, but if a foreign scholar slipped away too many times with no explanation and someone were to notice… He didn’t want to take the risk. He’d come to the principality of Tournai to make sure no one knew of dragons; he wasn’t going to risk anyone finding out from him.

With a sigh, he reached for a fresh shirt from the cabinet in the corner. It wasn’t entirely appropriate for the university, but the more formal shirt and tunic he’d been wearing for this morning’s early lecture had been ruined when he’d walked into a sorcery student’s experiment out on the lawn. The lack of formality of his new attire wouldn’t be a problem since he’d only be working in his office.

He’d just lifted the shirt over his head and was letting it fall over his shoulders when he heard the creak of the floorboard a step inside his office, warning him too late that he wasn’t alone.

His own fault. He’d gotten complacent about pushing the door closed since he was usually the only one on this corridor. And he’d just been chastising himself about not giving away his secrets.

He whipped around, and the man who’d caused the creak froze just inside the room. His tall frame was elegantly and expensively attired, his pale blond hair perfectly styled, his exceedingly handsome face brimming with shock and curiosity. Corentin’s stomach sank. He knew what this man was—he’d made a point of avoiding him because of that knowledge. Master Savarin, the most powerful sorcerer in Tournai, stood just inside his office. He’d obviously seen the markings on Corentin’s back, the faint, shimmering scale pattern that marked him as one with the Talent to become a dragon.

Corentin froze as well, a litany of curses running through his mind. Anyone who saw the pattern would know what he was. Or, anyone at home would know, at least. He’d come to Tournai because there were whispers of the prince’s cousin Etan looking into dragon legends. Lord Etan, a young scholar who often lectured at the university, was well-respected, and his interest was enough to worry Corentin. But Etan had only theories—some quite close to the truth but nothing proven.

The question was: what did Master Savarin know? He was a powerful sorcerer, and a scholar as well, which was why Corentin made a point of avoiding him. Corentin had already displayed too much of his power by using it recently to help find a kidnapped child, but it could still be passed off as merely a powerful fire Talent. Dragons were myth and legend these days. He could bluff his way through this… as long as Master Savarin didn’t know what the markings signified.

Corentin forced himself to relax, to present a casual demeanor he didn’t feel. He reached for his spare jacket, shrugging into it as he spoke. “Master Savarin, isn’t it? What can I do for you?”

Silvery gray eyes focused on him. “What are those? On your back.”

Corentin buttoned the jacket, keeping his movements unhurried. He would not look as if he was trying to hide anything. “On my back? You mean the tattoos? I suppose they’re not quite genteel, but…” He shrugged.

Master Savarin’s gaze sharpened. “Those are not tattoos. I’ve never seen tattoos that look like that.”

“Have you seen many tattoos?” Corentin asked, keeping his voice mild.

“Some.”

“I wouldn’t think they’re very common in the circles you move in. Or at least I haven’t seen many tattoos during my time here at the university.” Was this argument going to get him anywhere except into more trouble? He needed to divert attention from the markings, not discuss them interminably.

“Perhaps I know different people than you think.” Master Savarin’s attention never wavered even as Corentin used his most forbidding stoney mask.

“I got these on my travels. Perhaps they’re different from the ones you’ve seen.” Maybe that would be the end of it.

“I’m rather well traveled myself. I still haven’t seen anything like that.”

“You can’t have seen everything.”

When he saw the suspicious glint sharpen in Savarin’s eyes, Corentin wondered if he’d gone too far. Was it the words or the smooth tone with just a hint of flirtation that took him a step further than he should have gone? The question was what would Savarin do. And what did he know?

Savarin laughed, a smooth, practiced laugh probably not out of place at the court of Prince Philip and his consort Amory. “No one could, but I’m certainly doing my best.”

Corentin propped a hip on the edge of his desk, letting out a laugh of his own and fixing a charming smile on his face. He could still divert this conversation. “A fellow traveler. I’m doing my best to see everything as well. Insatiable curiosity, I suppose.”

“A thirst for knowledge and new experiences.”

“Yes, I’m always eager to see and experience new things on my travels.”

“I am as well.” Savarin tilted his head slightly, regarding Corentin in a way he couldn’t decipher. “Of course, sometimes I don’t have to leave home to find new experiences.”

For a moment, he wondered if Savarin was flirting. “A true scholar is always learning.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“It’s why I came here, why I travel in the first place.”

Savarin nodded. “I don’t think I ever heard where you’re from.”

Corentin’s guard went back up. “Far from here. A small place in the foothills of the Nashira Mountains.” Not exactly the truth but close enough. “No one’s ever heard of it. A reason to travel, yes? If you come from somewhere so small and isolated?”

“I suppose it is. I grew up here, so I didn’t have the same experience.”

He hadn’t heard much other than that about Savarin’s vague origins. “No, you wouldn’t have. Jumelle is a vibrant, busy city from what I’ve seen. So many people from so many places. So much knowledge here at the university.”

“Yes. And with all that, and all my travels, I’ve never heard of magic of the kind you performed.”

Corentin forced himself to remain calm, to appear calm at least. “Magic I performed?”

Playing dumb to stall would probably get him nowhere, but he did it anyway. And of course Savarin proved him right, because the man wasn’t stupid. “Yes, the magic you used to help recover Master Tristan’s baby daughter when she was kidnapped earlier this year.”

Since the incident, he’d been kicking himself for using the magic, and he’d done his best to avoid Savarin’s attempts to question him about it. But what could he have done? He hadn’t met Master Tristan, who was a merchant in Jumelle, before that day. He’d gone to have lunch with Etan and found the palace in an uproar because his infant daughter was missing. As much as he wanted to not draw attention to what he was, he couldn’t have lived with himself if he hadn’t offered to help.

And his help had aided the royal guard and Savarin in finding the baby. Both Etan and Master Tristan had been extremely grateful, and Etan, who was soon to marry Tristan, had said he was in Corentin’s debt.

“It was no great or special magic, but I was happy to be able to help. Horrifying that a baby would be stolen from her home,” he said.

“I have to disagree about the magic being special. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“You didn’t see it, so I can’t imagine how you would know.” His words came out sharper than he intended, and he regretted it immediately, but there was nothing for it now.

“It was described to me in detail,” Savarin said, showing no reaction to Corentin’s slip in tone. “You told Lord Etan, Master Tristan, and Lord Flavian that you have a fire Talent, but I’ve never seen someone with a fire Talent do what you did.”

“I doubt you’ve met every person with a fire Talent in the world.” He tried to say it lightly, almost joking, but annoyance at the questioning was layering over his worry.

“No, but I’ve spent my life studying magic and the different Talents people possess. I have a touch of a fire Talent myself. So I know something about it.” Before Corentin could decide what to say next, Savarin continued. “At first, when I’d heard what happened, I was simply curious. I wondered what you’d done and if I could learn how to as well. But when I asked to talk with you, you put me off. And soon I realized you were avoiding me. That’s when I got suspicious. Because you had no reason to avoid me.”

“Perhaps I didn’t feel the need to be interrogated about an uninteresting bit of magic used to help someone recover his child.”

“But the magic wasn’t uninteresting to me. And it wouldn’t have been an interrogation. It would have been two scholars—two men with Talent—discussing magic. From what I’ve heard, you have no problem engaging with scholars here. You and Lord Etan meet often to talk about your respective work. Given that, surely you can see how I might suspect you’d done something you wouldn’t want anyone to know about? Something that might even be dangerous to Tournai or its royal family.”

“I resent that implication. You’ll remember I used the magic to help Tournai’s royal family.” Corentin kept his voice steady, but he silently cursed himself. He hadn’t meant to become more conspicuous by putting Savarin off, but he’d needed more information, and a plausible story. Keeping away from him had seemed best if the alternative was giving away who and what he was. Now he wasn’t so sure.

“I haven’t forgotten.” Savarin’s tone wasn’t anything other than what could be termed condescending. But Corentin expected arrogance from him. “Neither does that mean you don’t have bad intentions. A smart man knows to bide his time, to gain the trust of others, before—”

“Before what? Betraying it? I do have some loyalty, and whatever you think, I helped out of the desire to see an innocent child brought home to her father.” Corentin regarded Savarin steadily, not giving him a flicker of anything he might twist into more suspicion. “I assume you used your magic to help for much the same reason.”

“I did. But it’s your behavior afterward that reflects poorly on you. You’re lucky I haven’t alerted anyone else to my suspicions.”

Corentin forced himself not to react to the threat in those words. He’d heard rumors, whispers, of spies being found in Jumelle, sent to ferret out information by the conquest-mad emperor of Ardunn. The Ardunn empire had been conquering and absorbing countries to its east for years, and it was rumored that its emperor had his sights set on Tournai, which was wealthy and strategically located on the western half of the continent. He had no love for Ardunn himself—the empire’s borders had expanded far too close to his home, which remained safe and hidden only due to the impassable mountains—so he could understand that there might be an air of caution. Would vague suspicions be enough in Tournai’s current climate? Savarin was trusted. Would his word be taken without any other proof?

“I don’t know what you think I’ve done, or am planning to do.”

“My suspicions might be nebulous, but my concern is for the safety of my country and its royal family when they are in such close proximity to an unknown and potentially dangerous magic.” Savarin seemed about to say something else, but at that moment, the university bells chimed the hour. He cursed under his breath. “I have to go to the palace for a meeting with the princes.”

Corentin nodded, glad for the reprieve. “Of course. We’ll finish our discussion at another time.”

A time long in the future, if ever.

Savarin hesitated and then seemed to come to some sort of decision. Dread flooded Corentin. “No. I’m not going to chance you getting away from me again.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m going to make sure you’re here waiting when I return from my meeting,” Savarin said as he stepped back through the doorway.

“I say again, excuse me? I might agree to wait for you, but I can’t see what you can do otherwise.”

Savarin’s lips curled into something that was almost a smile, but very definitely smug, and Corentin’s dread grew stronger. Corentin strode toward Savarin, not sure whether he would throttle the man or stride past him and away, putting an end to an infuriating and nerve-wracking confrontation. Before he could make the decision, he hit an invisible barrier in the doorway and stumbled back a step.

He put a hand up, flattening it against the magic that barred his path, a wall he couldn’t see. “What have you done?”

“Ensured that you’ll still be here to finish this,” Savarin said, as if it made complete sense for him to trap another person against his will, as if it was all right.

“You think I’m going to run away?”

“I think you’re going to go back to avoiding me, and I can’t have that. We’ll continue our discussion when I return.”

“You can’t do this,” Corentin bit out, but the sorcerer had already turned away, and a moment later he had disappeared down the stairs.

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Meet the Author

Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent—they all end in happily ever after.

She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats (which she shares with friends and family), and of course, reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to e-books, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antonia is living there again after years in Washington, DC and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.

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9/4      On Top Down Under Book Reviews

9/4      Books,Dreams,Life

9/4      A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog

9/5      Love Bytes

9/5      The Novel Approach

9/5      Hoards Jumble

9/6      Queer Sci Fi

9/6      Drops of Ink

9/6      Erotica For All

9/7      Bayou Book Junkie

9/7      Stories That Make You Smile

9/7     Shari Sakurai

9/8      Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/8      Boy meets boy reviews

9/8      Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

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