May 29

Blog Tour: Frank at Heart by Pat Henshaw (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Frank at Heart

Series: Foothills Pride series, #6

Author: Pat Henshaw

Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press

Release Date: May 31, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 30,236 words

Genre: Contemporary Gay Romance

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Synopsis

Everything about thirty-five-year-old Stone Acres hardware store owner Frank McCord is old-fashioned—from his bow tie and overalls to the way he happily makes house calls to his dreams of lasting romance, true love, and marriage. Frank’s predecessors have run the store and been mainstays in the small California town for over a century. While genial Frank upholds tradition and earns the respect of friends and neighbors, he fears he’s too dull and old to attract a husband.

Into his life comes handsome thirty-six-year-old electronic games designer Christopher Darling and his fifteen-year-old son, Henry. Christopher has everything Frank could want in a potential partner: charm, kindness, and compatibility. Also, he’s a terrific father to Henry. When their Stone Acres home turns out to be uninhabitable, Frank offers the Darlings temporary lodging in his ancestral farmhouse, where he and his tenant Emil reside. Since Emil thinks Frank is his, sparks fly. Suddenly, Frank’s monotonous life promises to explode with love and threatens to change him forever.

Excerpt

My procedure for hiring was pretty simple. In the identification section of the test, I gave applicants a common nail, a Phillips head screw, a paint stirrer, a tape measure, a claw hammer, a screwdriver, a crescent wrench, pliers, a putty knife, and a box cutter. I gave these objects one at a time to the teen and asked him to identify what the object was, when to use it, and how to use it.

Then I gave the applicant six pieces of precut plywood, eight corner angles, tools, and other supplies, and had him—it was usually a him—follow simple directions to make a box with a hinged flap. The whole test was either incredibly easy or horribly complex and frustrating.

My first applicant was a poster boy for the latter. He called both the nail and the screw a screw, then dissolved into a fit of adolescent giggles. I waited for his mirth to subside. He had no idea about any of the tools except the box cutter, which he simply called a wicked-ass knife.

As I walked into the back room with him for the second part of the test, I was appalled at how little he knew and wondered why he wanted to work at a hardware store. Was it just the money?

I stopped him after watching for five minutes as he tried to figure out how to make the box. When he looked at me with defeat in his eyes, I called a halt.

“Thank you for coming in, Seth. I think we both know this job wouldn’t be a good fit for you.” I looked over his application form. “I think working at one of the mall stores might be more your speed, don’t you?”

He nodded eagerly. “But my folks say that you’re more established and fairer than the mall stores. I wanted to work for the coffee shop or the movie theater.”

“Well, you can tell your parents I appreciate their support, but I’m voting for you to be a real success at either of those other two choices.”

He beamed. As we shook hands, I knew his dad would be in later this week to talk about his son.

 

 

Henry turned up alone at two o’clock, and I ran him through the first part of the test. We only hit one snag. We got along too well and ended up having side discussions about the items.

When I handed him the nail, for example, he took it between his fingers and caressed it.

“It’s a two-penny flat-head nail.” He rolled it around for a second. “You know, they used to keep nails in big casks like they do wine. Then they sold them by weighing them. They’d scoop them up out of the barrels.”

Well, I mean, what was I supposed to do? Ignore that? Of course not. I took him into the back room where we stored everything we’d removed when my father updated the store in the 1970s. I showed him the old scoop-shaped scale, and we weighed a few nails and other items hanging around.

“This is so cool, Frank. You should put it back on the counter. I’ll bet everyone would want to see it. It’d give the store an epic feel.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed about the epic part, but maybe it was time to give the store another more modern redesign.

We scurried out of the back room when the bell tinkled and we could hear someone walking around the front of the store talking to Riley. I tried to stop giving Henry the first part of the test, since he still had the box to build. But when we saw the customer was his father, who seemed to be fascinated by the wall of power tools, Henry took out the remaining items in the little bag.

He held them up one at a time and rattled off their names and purposes.

“There!” he crowed, smiling up at me. “Now what do you want me to make?”

I showed him the wood, tools, and directions and left him to the project. When I saw he was reading through the directions, I walked over to his dad. Riley’d already moved back behind the counter and seemed to be working on some inventory sheets.

“I’m not here to ask how he’s doing, so don’t think I am.” Christopher didn’t turn around when I got up behind him. He was staring at the power saws.

“He’s doing fine.” I didn’t step too close, but drat if I didn’t want to. I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder and squeeze. Or if I was even bolder, I’d put my arm around his waist and snuggle his head back onto my shoulder.

Weren’t those counterproductive daydreams? Now I’d have to wait a moment before I could go back to check on Henry. Overalls worn in public, especially if I was in the vicinity of Christopher, were my groin’s personal enemy.

Christopher turned his head. We were close enough to kiss if I leaned in a little more. I didn’t. Instead I stepped back, although I did smile.

“Can I peek?” Christopher was whispering like we had secrets.

I leaned back and looked over my shoulder at his son. Henry was nearly finished with the box. He was studying the directions like they were a map to the El Dorado treasure.

“Sure. Go ahead and peek. He’s just about done.”

I sounded as stunned as I felt. First off, Christopher and I were standing too close and whispering. I felt his warmth, and my cheeks burned. As I tried to shake myself back to reality, the second reason I was a little stunned hit me. Henry was on the final step of building the box. How could he be done so quickly?

As I walked back toward him, he held the box at eye level in one hand and opened and closed the hinged door. Henry looked up as I entered the workroom.

“I don’t get it,” he said. The hinged door snapped shut as he let it go. “What’s it for?”

He seemed so puzzled that I started to chuckle. Then at his stricken look, I stopped.

“It’s not useful in itself. It’s just a test to see if you can follow directions and know how to use the tools.”

His face darkened as I explained.

“You use up all of this stuff for that? Anybody can make this.” He put the box down, acting a little disdainful and a lot put out.

“You’d be surprised.” I didn’t elaborate. Why tell him that another boy who was in the same grade couldn’t figure out the directions at all?

I picked up the box and studied it. He’d done a remarkable job in so little time. He’d even used the flush piano hinges instead of the more cumbersome butt hinge, even though the directions didn’t specify which would be better for the project. His box opened and closed easily, and the corners made perfect ninety-degree angles.

I started to put the box down, but Christopher reached for it. I passed it over and watched a moment as he held it up, a look of awe on his face.

“Henry, this is—” he started, but his son stopped him.

“Dad, I’m taking a test here.”

With a sheepish grin and an amused side-glance at me, Christopher put the box down, said a short “Sorry,” and returned to the front of the store.

Again, I hid my amusement at how well they interacted and shelved my amazement at how Christopher had shared the moment with me. I ran my hand over the top of the box. This one I’d keep.

As I was about to find out when Henry could start work, the bell tinkled. I looked over my shoulder to see a newcomer hurry in. His sneakers squeaked on the wood floor.

“Hi. You the owner?” he greeted me.

I looked around for Riley but couldn’t see him anywhere. Had he called it a day and gone home? I wouldn’t blame him. Except for the Darlings, it’d been slow.

When I nodded at the customer, he launched into a fairly typical request. He and his wife had bought some Ikea furniture, and now he couldn’t put it together. I told him what I told everyone, to bring it into the shop and we’d assemble it for him.

Then I told him the setup fee, said it would take a week or so, and took down his name and contact information as he started to thank me. After I told him the store was actually closing right now, he left reluctantly, looking at the merchandise around him as he shuffled to the door. This time I locked it and put out the Closed sign. Christopher had said he wanted me to visit the Adams-Scott House this afternoon, but first I had to hire Henry officially.

“So, Henry, when would you like to start?”

He was staring at the door and the escaping customer. I had to ask the question twice.

“Who puts together the Ikea stuff?” Henry responded instead of giving me a date.

“Riley and I do. When we get a chance. We do it between other things. Why?” The truth was we both hated assembling the furniture because it was tedious.

“May I do it?” The eagerness in his question caught me off guard.

“You want to put together Ikea furniture?” He didn’t mean it, did he?

“Yeah. Cool. I love Ikea!” Henry beamed at me as if to ask “Doesn’t everyone?”

Purchase

Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Trailer

Meet the Author

Pat Henshaw has spent her life surrounded by words: teaching English composition at the junior college level; writing book reviews for newspapers, magazines, and websites; helping students find information as a librarian; and promoting PBS television programs.

Now retired, Pat, author of the Foothills Pride Stories, was born and raised in Nebraska and promptly left the cold and snow after college, living at various times in Texas, Colorado, Northern Virginia, and now Sacramento, California. Pat has found joy in visiting Mexico, Canada, Europe, Nicaragua, Thailand, and Egypt, and relishes trips to Stowe, Vermont, to see family.

Two of her fondest memories include touching time when she put her hands on the pyramids and experiencing pure whimsy when she interviewed Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch). Her triumphs are raising two incredible daughters who daily amaze her with their power and compassion. Her supportive husband keeps her grounded in reality when she threatens to drift away while writing fiction.

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Tour Schedule

May 29 – Sharing Links and Wisdom
May 30 – Sapphyria’s Steamy Books
May 31 – Divine Magazine | Stories That Make You Smile
June 1 – A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog | Love Bytes
June 2 – Bayou Book Junkie

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May 29

Release Blitz: Performance Review by Tamryn Eradani (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Performance Review

Series: Daniel and Ryan, book 5

Author: Tamryn Eradani

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: May 29, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 11600

Genre: Contemporary, BDSM, businessmen, friends to lovers, bisexual

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Synopsis

After a day testing Daniel’s limits and then a day being spoiled, Daniel has some time to reflect on his and Ryan’s relationship. He thinks they’re ready for their next step; planning a weekend away.

Excerpt

Performance Review
Tamryn Eradani © 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

Sundays are the one day of the week that Daniel doesn’t run, which also makes it the one day of the week he lets himself sleep in. There’s no alarm yanking him out of his sleep, no carefully planned morning routine to force him out of bed. Instead, he wakes slowly, arms stretching out, reaching toward the far side of the bed.

His hand knocks into an extra pillow, but doesn’t encounter another person, and that makes Daniel open his eyes. There’s supposed to be someone else in bed with him.

The other side of the bed is empty, and Daniel brushes his hand over the empty space. The sheets are cool. Which means Ryan’s been up for a while. Craning his head to get a look into the bathroom, Daniel sees that the lights are off.

Daniel pushes down the wave of hurt that comes when he realizes Ryan’s left him to go into the other room. Daniel leaves Ryan sleeping alone in the bed all time, especially on Saturdays when he wakes up much earlier so he can go running. And it’s not like he needs Ryan here.

He just wants him.

Awake now, Daniel slides out of bed, pausing as the first movement he makes alerts him to the fact that his entire body is sore. It’s an achy kind of pain, from his neck to his toes, muscles complaining that he didn’t even know he has. That’s what he gets for being so tense last night. Turns out not getting to come over and over again is a full body workout.

He likes the soreness. It’s not painful. It’s a reminder every time he moves of what happened last night. A reminder of how desperate he was. Desperate enough to cry. Desperate enough to beg Ryan to fuck him.

Daniel flushes, embarrassed even though he’s the only one in the room. It’s another useless emotion. There’s nothing for him to be ashamed of. If Daniel didn’t want Ryan to fuck him, then they wouldn’t be in a sexual relationship. And if Ryan didn’t want Daniel begging for it, then he wouldn’t have teased Daniel for as long as he did.

Then why isn’t he here, the insidious part of Daniel’s brain wants to know.

Daniel forces himself out of the room, but he doesn’t go looking for Ryan right away. He goes to Ryan’s bedroom instead, because his overnight bag didn’t make it to the guest bedroom, and Daniel doesn’t like wandering around his own apartment without clothes on, let alone Ryan’s apartment.

He pulls on a pair of sweatpants and a plain white V-neck, but it’s a little chilly in the apartment, and he looks around for something warmer. He has a sweatshirt in his bag, but it’s not what he wants. His eyes fall on one of Ryan’s cardigans, hanging over the open closet door. So close to being put back away.

Daniel plucks it from its current resting place, and slips his arms through the sleeves. Ryan doesn’t wear cardigans to work, or he hasn’t yet that Daniel’s seen, but he has a whole collection of them in his apartment. They’re all stretched at the sleeves or fraying at the collar. This one is light blue, and its sleeves are loose from being rolled up too many times.

Daniel tugs the sleeves over his hands and goes to find the owner of the cardigan.

Ryan’s in the guest room, standing by the bed with two plates in his hands and looking confused.

Daniel watches him wander over to check the bathroom, before he says, “Looking for someone?”

Ryan turns around, smiling when he spots Daniel in the doorway. “I was hoping to catch you before you got out of bed,” he says, holding up the two plates of breakfast for Daniel to see.

“Breakfast in bed?” Daniel asks. “Isn’t that messy?”

“We’ve got to wash the other sheets anyways.” Ryan sits down on the bed. “Come on, live adventurously.”

“I thought that’s what we did last night,” Daniel says, but he joins Ryan on the bed.

Purchase

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

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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May 29

Blog Tour: Permanent Jet Lag by A.N. Casey (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Permanent Jet Lag

Author: A.N. Casey

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: May 29, 2017

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 87000

Genre: Contemporary, literary, Student, family, coming of age, alcohol use, illness/disease, tear-jerker

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Synopsis

Nineteen-year-old Lucas Burke prefers being alone. He likes the silence, and he loves not having to care about anyone else’s problems: the less he’s forced to feel, the better. But after a year of college-induced isolation from everyone he used to know, the wedding of a former classmate sends Lucas back home, and that means reconciling with a group of friends that now might as well be strangers.

His sister hardly knows him, his “genius” best friend is nothing more than an addict, and his ex-boyfriend is still in a coma. All the while, wedding preparations send Lucas head first into a relationship with the groom’s best man—a recently cancer-free ex-Olympian who can’t stop talking.

Lucas knows that if he wants to survive the summer, he’ll have to learn to be a friend again, but it doesn’t come easy, and it might already be too late.

Excerpt

Permanent Jet Lag
A.N. Casey © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

96 Days Before

On the last day of my freshman year of college, my parents—dressed head to toe in the obnoxious green and gold colors of my school—arrived on the threshold of my dorm room with five extra-large boxes for packing, a tin of mom-baked chocolate chip cookies to cure my assumed “home sick blues,” and two snippets of hometown gossip for my ears only. When you leave home for college, there’s a certain assumption that says you will learn to be independent. You do your own laundry, you buy your own meals, and your parents never come knocking on your door to ask if you’ve done your homework or to ground you for coming home past curfew. You’re alone—blissfully independent and free.

My mother had other ideas. Ideas that filled the voicemail on my cell phone until I could no longer receive friends’ missed calls. Ideas that left a pile of cookie tins in the corner of the room and a dozen more care packages under the bed. Even now, as I finished the bulk of my packing, a poorly knit mom-made sweater hung limp over the side of the latest care package, threads unraveling and fraying in every direction with a note pinned to its sleeve with words I could not remember—words I likely never read.

My roommate sat on the other side of the room upon his stripped-down bed, munching away at the first cookie handed to him. He wore a thick pair of headphones that flattened his usually unruly brown hair. Though the cord was not connected to anything, my mother seemed pleased with this sense of security and began her “top secret” gossip. As though my roommate would care at all about the small-town news of Franklin Creek, California.

“Rylie Graham is getting married!” she squealed. Despite her rising age, my mother’s face still lit up with all the excitement and energy of the young woman I could just barely remember from the photographs on the walls at home. Today, my mother was plump and nearly always flushed in her cheeks. The freckles on her nose were faded underneath a splotchy tan that extended only to the bottom of her neck, and her clothes, though neatly pressed, still appeared crumpled by her slouch and the endless movement of her limbs. She went on and on about the wedding, the beautiful invitations, and the color schemes she hoped they’d use, how she could still remember Rylie as a baby, crawling around at the neighborhood block parties.

I was already aware of this news, of course. The invitation had arrived in the mail two days ago, vividly pink with a handful of red hearts and almost a dozen purple and green flowers decorating the edges. Unless the groom was a botanist, there was no inkling of his presence in the design. To top it off, at the very bottom of the paper, beneath the RSVP notification, was a dried crimson lipstick mark. Nine months since I’d seen her, and I could still vividly imagine Rylie prepping her mouth with that darkened color she had so adored in high school and kissing each invitation one by one.

The invitation was now crumpled up in my suitcase with the rest of my belongings, but the image of it had not left my mind for a second.

“Isn’t it great, Lucas?” my mother asked, and I nodded. “She’ll look so beautiful as a bride.” Another nod. “Just wait until you meet the groom. What a charming young man.” At this, I fidgeted with the zipper on my luggage and forced a smile.

My father, lounging lazily upon my still-sheeted bed, gave me a knowing smile over the top of his third cookie. My mother promptly smacked it out of his hand.

“That’s enough, Tim. Didn’t you hear a word the doctors said? I think one heart attack is quite enough for one year, don’t you?”

“I thought two would make a more interesting story at this year’s Christmas party,” my father replied, grinning.

And so began an argument that lasted through the remainder of my packing, the long trek downstairs, and into the oversized van waiting for us in the parking lot. It continued as my father stabbed the key into the ignition, as my mother pulled on her seat belt, and as I peered through the window and watched San Francisco—all its big buildings and bustling bridges—disappear into the night.

By the time we pulled into the driveway of my childhood home, my parents were just progressing toward the makeup phase of their disagreement, or, as I’d dubbed it over the years, the honeymoon period. They sat, arms tangled in the front seat, kissing and whispering loving platitudes into each other’s mouths with such nauseating enthusiasm that sitting through it was quite like staring at the sun: tolerance came in small doses. I left the car and dragged my luggage up the porch steps alone.

I had come home exactly twice since leaving for college, once for spring break and once after my father’s heart attack, and I was greeted the same each time. Homecoming generally went like this: my oldest sister, now sixteen, would nod her head in my direction over the top of her cell phone, give me a hug if I came close enough, and then resume her texting. My brothers, identical in all but their clothing, would rush in for the tackle. And my youngest sister would wave from the couch—a simple twist of her hand—and then return to her TV show. Today it was an old rerun about a teenage spy, and because the theme song was particularly catchy, the wave was even shorter than normal, barely a twitch of her fingertips.

I disappeared into my room.

From the window of my dorm room in the mornings, I could see the wide expanse of the San Francisco landscape for miles, a hundred buildings huddled together against the fading fog, life bustling below. From the window of my hometown bedroom, I could see the neighbor’s pool. A thoroughly unexciting, lifeless pool. As summer had not technically begun, the water that would soon promise endless good times and relief from the heat was still currently abandoned. A heavy pile of leaves covered much of the surface, but through the spaces between, I could make out a glimpse of the water—a murky, untouched green.

Rylie called at half past eleven while I was cleaning the windowsill for the second time. Her voice was shrill and rushed as she screamed into my ear, “Why didn’t you tell me you were home? I had to hear it from my mom, who heard it from your mom, and I feel like I’m in a weird stupid sitcom, because I’m not supposed to be hearing gossip from your mother, Lucas. You’re supposed to tell your friends when you come home. Clay is pissed.”

As she spoke, I tucked the phone between my shoulder and ear. Downstairs, my mom was yelling at the twins, and Dad was swearing about the score of a baseball game. I retreated farther into my room and closed the door.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Sorry?” Rylie let out a long, exasperated sigh, and I thought I could hear her nails tapping against the back of her phone. “Will you meet me somewhere? I haven’t seen you in ages, and everyone misses you. Please?”

“Okay.”

“Is this how this is going to be now? One-worded conversations?”

“Probably.”

Rylie laughed, a deep, chest-rattling sort of sound that in no way matched the high, squeaky pitch of her voice. It was for reasons like this I’d stopped trying to understand her in the third grade.

“You’re an ass, Lucas. Meet me at the flower shop across from the grocery store, okay? Ten minutes, don’t be late. Oh, and Todney is going to be there. I can’t wait for you to meet him. Don’t be late.”

“We have a grocery store?”

“Goodbye, Lucas.”

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

A.N. Casey is a Californian born and bred writer with very few interests beyond the literary. As a former copywriter and a current freelance writer and editor, Casey was asked what he likes to do outside of writing for work and responded only with: “write more”—much to the disappointment of his colleagues who had hoped he might be more interesting. His few attempts to leave his computer or notebooks behind have led to an interest in camping, traveling, and very bad attempts at cooking. He is currently studying to become a teacher where he hopes his fondness for the red pen will not make him too many enemies. Above all, Casey believes that storytelling has the power to shape lives, and that young people deserve to see themselves represented on the page in every shape and form until no one is left feeling alone in this wide and confusing world. You can find A.N. on Tumblr.

Tour Schedule

5/29    MM Book Escape       

5/29    MM Good Book Reviews       

5/30    Stories That Make You Smile 

5/30    Reviews for Book Lovers      

5/31    Divine Magazine        

5/31    millsylovesbooks      

5/31    Love Bytes Reviews   

6/1      Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words           

6/2      Sharing Links and Wisdom    

6/2      Happily Ever Chapter

6/2      Bayou Book Junkie    

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May 26

Blog Tour: Boys Don’t Cry by J.K. Hogan (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Boys Don’t Cry

Author: J.K. Hogan

Publisher:  J.K. Hogan

Release Date: May 25th 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70,000 words

Genre: Romance

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Synopsis

Mackenzie Pratt is having the worst luck of his life. His apartment building is being torn down, and since he’s jobless and just weeks away from graduating college, he can’t find anywhere else he can afford to live that isn’t a critter-infested dump. As he’s lamenting the very real possibility of job hunting while couch-surfing, he gets an offer from the coworker of his best friend.
An in-demand mobile app developer and heir to his parents’ fortune, Laurent Beaudry is literally an eccentric billionaire. Even though Mackenzie realizes he’s basically living the plot of a cheesy romance novel, he takes the proffered room in Laurent’s Baltimore mansion. He finds his new housemate to be grumpy, brooding, and, at times, incredibly kind and endearing.
Raised by his brother after their father’s death, Mackenzie spent his formative years plowing headlong through school, focusing on little else beyond earning his teaching certification. He’s never taken the time to explore love and relationships, much less sexuality, so when he finds himself being courted by another man, he has no idea what to do. And when he realizes he might actually return those feelings, his life takes a whole new direction.

Excerpt

The house was dark so I couldn’t see much, but what I could see was immaculate, contrary to what Taylor had said. The hardwood floors gleamed in the moonlight, the furniture looked expensive and perfect, and there wasn’t a dirty dish or dust bunny in sight. “I thought you said it was a sty,” I whispered.

“Oh, this? Not this. He only uses a fraction of the house, the suite with his bedroom, living room, library, and office. All of this is just for show,” he said with a sweeping gesture toward the big empty parlor we were facing. “And why are you whispering? He knows I’m coming.”

“I don’t know. It seems so quiet and…undisturbed.”

Taylor’s chuckle had an evil ring to it. “You want disturbed? Follow me.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. “Mr. Beaudry! It’s me, Taylor. Morrison. From Mindstream. The place you work.”

He made his way down a dark corridor with me dogging his heels. “He doesn’t remember who you are? Where he works?”

“Oh, he knows. But when he’s been staring at code for hours on end and not sleeping, sometimes basic stuff slips his mind. Details like that can be hard for geniuses like him.”

Genius? I didn’t think I’d ever heard that term used to sincerely describe someone. “What does he do again?”

“He’s a mobile app developer. Highly sought after, but right now he works exclusively for us. That was a huge coup for the company.” He stopped in front of a heavy, ornately carved door made of some kind of dark hardwood. He rapped his knuckles on it three times before barging on in, while I hovered in the doorway.

So this was the suite. Taylor had been right. What a mess. We stood in what I assumed was the living room, but it was hard to tell because every available surface was covered in wrinkled clothing, pizza boxes, and empty dishes. A huge fireplace was installed in the far wall, surrounded by shelves and shelves of books. More books than I’d ever seen in one place outside a library. The fire blazed in the hearth, and I was honestly surprised there wasn’t any garbage close enough to it to catch fire. As beautiful as the house was, the mess made my skin crawl. I usually lived in shitty apartments, so I was a bit of a neat freak to balance the universe.

“Beaudry? You in here?” Taylor called. There was no answer. “He must be in the bedroom suite.” He headed to a door on the left, like it was no big deal.

Wait! You’re just going to barge into the guy’s bedroom?”

Pausing in his tracks, Taylor looked over his shoulder. “This is no ordinary bedroom. Just because there’s a bed in the corner doesn’t mean it’s some intimate setting. It’s just a giant workspace.” With that parting shot, he burst through the door, once again calling the man’s name.

Trembling from too much alcohol and not enough nerve, I stepped inside the room. I was stunned speechless by the scene before me. Taylor had one thing right—it was no ordinary bedroom. It was the size of three average rooms lined up in a row and probably had double the square footage of the apartment I was getting booted out of. There was indeed a bed, a California king canopy bed off in one corner of the room. A fire was blazing in this suite as well, only I realized that it was the same fire in the same fireplace, which apparently connected the two rooms.

Taylor stood next to what had to be the man’s workspace. There was a giant U-shaped desk adorned with four widescreen computer monitors and various other gadgets typical of an office. However, on one leg of the U, there was a collection of what looked to be every tablet, PDA, smartphone, and any other mobile device known to man. I supposed he had to test his software on each gizmo that was likely to employ it.

Behind the office area was a ginormous TV screen—at least seventy inches—that looked like it would be more at home in a movie theater. Several fluffy couches were set up in a semicircle facing it. It would be amazing to have a movie marathon in this place. And of course, there was every gaming console imaginable to go along with the screen yardage. But…despite all the cool stuff, there was some very weird stuff about the place as well. Besides the office setup and the movie area, all the furniture in the suite looked like it had been bought from a garage sale at Versailles. It was expensive-looking, obviously, but very gilded and frilly. There were also several racks flanking the giant TV that displayed the man’s sword collection.

And then, the murals. The murals were creepy. On at least a couple of the walls above the wainscoting, there were huge, garish wall paintings of nudes in various scenes. Men and women, sometimes in sexual situations, sometimes just hanging out or whatever. But they weren’t like Renaissance or fine art nudes or anything; they seemed to be done by just some random modern artist. I had no idea how the guy could manage to look at them all day every day. Though if it weren’t for those, I’d never leave a place like this either. Speaking of the guy, though, there was no sign of him.

“Where is he?” I was whispering again. It just seemed like the thing to do when you snuck into someone’s bedroom at night. Not that we were really sneaking, but still.

As if in answer to my question, we heard a toilet flush, and a door to my right that I hadn’t even noticed swung open, startling me. The person who came through was pretty much just as unbelievable as the house he lived in. He was tall—very tall—and lanky, but with wide shoulders and well-defined musculature. His hair was just a little too long, like maybe he’d forgotten his last couple of haircuts, and very dark, shot through with a tiny bit of gray. It had to be premature because I doubted he was much more than ten years older than me. His facial features—though thrown in deep shadow because of the low light in the room—were chiseled and angular, too handsome to be fair to the rest of the world. Wire-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of his straight nose, slightly askew. Despite the handsomeness, he had dark circles under his eyes and frown lines around his mouth, as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. And he was wearing Angry Birds pajamas.

When he saw me, his deep-set blue eyes widened and he flinched like I’d snuck up on him. “Who the hell are you?”

I let out a squeaky gasp and backed away toward Taylor because the guy looked fucking scary when he turned on the full force of that scowl.

“Jesus Christ, Beaudry, relax,” Taylor said. He picked up his briefcase and pulled out a legal-size envelope. “This is my friend Mackenzie. I was driving him home, and I just popped in to drop off these contracts from Harrelson.”

Beaudry grunted and crossed the room to sit at his desk. He waved a hand in the vague direction of a stack of shelves. “Just put them in the inbox. I’ll deal with them later.”

“If you look them over now, I can take back any questions or return them…”

He glared at Taylor over his shoulder, and Taylor wisely shut his mouth. Then the man’s gaze settled on me. It wasn’t the scowl he’d given me earlier, but it wasn’t exactly a…nice expression either. It was more of an assessing glare than anything. “Welcome to Chatham House, Mackenzie. What do you think?” he asked.

I had no idea what he meant. What did I think of the house? The room? Him? “It’s…impressive. The artwork is…unusual.”

He let out a belting laugh that I hadn’t been expecting, so I jumped, but then the rich baritone of it made my toes curl. It was an odd reaction, as I wasn’t usually affected by such things.

“Unusual is a kind way of putting it. The artwork came with the house, along with much of the furniture. I just haven’t gotten around to redecorating.”

“Oh, that’s…” . “How long have you lived here, then?”

Beaudry turned back to his computer and began typing furiously. “About five years,” he answered without turning back around.

I choked on air, and Taylor snorted. “I think by ‘haven’t gotten around to it,’ you mean ‘just don’t give a shit,’” he muttered.

“Touché, Mr. Morrison. Is there anything else you need?”

Taylor sighed, probably realizing that the man was not going to look at whatever was in the envelope while we were still there to relay any messages back to Mindstream. He clamped a hand around my wrist and started dragging me toward the door. “All right, we’re going. Remember, drinks at the King’s Shield next Friday.”

“I don’t think I’m going to be—”

Taylor spoke right over Beaudry’s muttering. “You already said you would. No backsies. I can pick you up.”

“I think I’d enjoy driving my shiny Lotus instead, but thank you very much for the offer,” Beaudry growled. “Nice meeting you, Mack,” I heard him call through the open door.

“Nickname basis already?” I laughed to Taylor.

“That has nothing to do with nicknames and everything to do with your name being too long for him to remember.”

“I heard that, Morrison!”

Purchase

J.K. Hogan | Amazon | Payhip

Meet the Author

J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next?
J.K. resides in North Carolina, where she was born and raised. A true southern girl at heart, she lives in the country with her husband and two sons, a cat, and two champion agility dogs. If she isn’t on the agility field, J.K. can often be found chasing waterfalls in the mountains with her husband, or down in front at a blues concert. In addition to writing, she enjoys training and competing in dog sports, spending time with her large southern family, camping, boating and, of course, reading! For more information, please visit www.jkhogan.com.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Google+ | eMail | Instagram | Amazon | Pinterest

Tour Schedule

5/26    Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

5/26    My Fiction Nook

5/27    Erotica For All

5/28    A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog

5/29    Love Bytes

5/30    Joyfully Jay

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May 25

Book Blitz: Boys Don’t Cry by J.K. Hogan (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Boys Don’t Cry

Author: J.K. Hogan

Publisher:  J.K. Hogan

Release Date: May 25th 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70,000 words

Genre: Romance

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Synopsis

Mackenzie Pratt is having the worst luck of his life. His apartment building is being torn down, and since he’s jobless and just weeks away from graduating college, he can’t find anywhere else he can afford to live that isn’t a critter-infested dump. As he’s lamenting the very real possibility of job hunting while couch-surfing, he gets an offer from the coworker of his best friend.

An in-demand mobile app developer and heir to his parents’ fortune, Laurent Beaudry is literally an eccentric billionaire. Even though Mackenzie realizes he’s basically living the plot of a cheesy romance novel, he takes the proffered room in Laurent’s Baltimore mansion. He finds his new housemate to be grumpy, brooding, and, at times, incredibly kind and endearing.

Raised by his brother after their father’s death, Mackenzie spent his formative years plowing headlong through school, focusing on little else beyond earning his teaching certification. He’s never taken the time to explore love and relationships, much less sexuality, so when he finds himself being courted by another man, he has no idea what to do. And when he realizes he might actually return those feelings, his life takes a whole new direction.

Excerpt

The house was dark so I couldn’t see much, but what I could see was immaculate, contrary to what Taylor had said. The hardwood floors gleamed in the moonlight, the furniture looked expensive and perfect, and there wasn’t a dirty dish or dust bunny in sight. “I thought you said it was a sty,” I whispered.

“Oh, this? Not this. He only uses a fraction of the house, the suite with his bedroom, living room, library, and office. All of this is just for show,” he said with a sweeping gesture toward the big empty parlor we were facing. “And why are you whispering? He knows I’m coming.”

“I don’t know. It seems so quiet and…undisturbed.”

Taylor’s chuckle had an evil ring to it. “You want disturbed? Follow me.” He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. “Mr. Beaudry! It’s me, Taylor. Morrison. From Mindstream. The place you work.”

He made his way down a dark corridor with me dogging his heels. “He doesn’t remember who you are? Where he works?”

“Oh, he knows. But when he’s been staring at code for hours on end and not sleeping, sometimes basic stuff slips his mind. Details like that can be hard for geniuses like him.”

Genius? I didn’t think I’d ever heard that term used to sincerely describe someone. “What does he do again?”

“He’s a mobile app developer. Highly sought after, but right now he works exclusively for us. That was a huge coup for the company.” He stopped in front of a heavy, ornately carved door made of some kind of dark hardwood. He rapped his knuckles on it three times before barging on in, while I hovered in the doorway.

So this was the suite. Taylor had been right. What a mess. We stood in what I assumed was the living room, but it was hard to tell because every available surface was covered in wrinkled clothing, pizza boxes, and empty dishes. A huge fireplace was installed in the far wall, surrounded by shelves and shelves of books. More books than I’d ever seen in one place outside a library. The fire blazed in the hearth, and I was honestly surprised there wasn’t any garbage close enough to it to catch fire. As beautiful as the house was, the mess made my skin crawl. I usually lived in shitty apartments, so I was a bit of a neat freak to balance the universe.

“Beaudry? You in here?” Taylor called. There was no answer. “He must be in the bedroom suite.” He headed to a door on the left, like it was no big deal.

Wait! You’re just going to barge into the guy’s bedroom?”

Pausing in his tracks, Taylor looked over his shoulder. “This is no ordinary bedroom. Just because there’s a bed in the corner doesn’t mean it’s some intimate setting. It’s just a giant workspace.” With that parting shot, he burst through the door, once again calling the man’s name.

Trembling from too much alcohol and not enough nerve, I stepped inside the room. I was stunned speechless by the scene before me. Taylor had one thing right—it was no ordinary bedroom. It was the size of three average rooms lined up in a row and probably had double the square footage of the apartment I was getting booted out of. There was indeed a bed, a California king canopy bed off in one corner of the room. A fire was blazing in this suite as well, only I realized that it was the same fire in the same fireplace, which apparently connected the two rooms.

Taylor stood next to what had to be the man’s workspace. There was a giant U-shaped desk adorned with four widescreen computer monitors and various other gadgets typical of an office. However, on one leg of the U, there was a collection of what looked to be every tablet, PDA, smartphone, and any other mobile device known to man. I supposed he had to test his software on each gizmo that was likely to employ it.

Behind the office area was a ginormous TV screen—at least seventy inches—that looked like it would be more at home in a movie theater. Several fluffy couches were set up in a semicircle facing it. It would be amazing to have a movie marathon in this place. And of course, there was every gaming console imaginable to go along with the screen yardage. But…despite all the cool stuff, there was some very weird stuff about the place as well. Besides the office setup and the movie area, all the furniture in the suite looked like it had been bought from a garage sale at Versailles. It was expensive-looking, obviously, but very gilded and frilly. There were also several racks flanking the giant TV that displayed the man’s sword collection.

And then, the murals. The murals were creepy. On at least a couple of the walls above the wainscoting, there were huge, garish wall paintings of nudes in various scenes. Men and women, sometimes in sexual situations, sometimes just hanging out or whatever. But they weren’t like Renaissance or fine art nudes or anything; they seemed to be done by just some random modern artist. I had no idea how the guy could manage to look at them all day every day. Though if it weren’t for those, I’d never leave a place like this either. Speaking of the guy, though, there was no sign of him.

“Where is he?” I was whispering again. It just seemed like the thing to do when you snuck into someone’s bedroom at night. Not that we were really sneaking, but still.

As if in answer to my question, we heard a toilet flush, and a door to my right that I hadn’t even noticed swung open, startling me. The person who came through was pretty much just as unbelievable as the house he lived in. He was tall—very tall—and lanky, but with wide shoulders and well-defined musculature. His hair was just a little too long, like maybe he’d forgotten his last couple of haircuts, and very dark, shot through with a tiny bit of gray. It had to be premature because I doubted he was much more than ten years older than me. His facial features—though thrown in deep shadow because of the low light in the room—were chiseled and angular, too handsome to be fair to the rest of the world. Wire-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of his straight nose, slightly askew. Despite the handsomeness, he had dark circles under his eyes and frown lines around his mouth, as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. And he was wearing Angry Birds pajamas.

When he saw me, his deep-set blue eyes widened and he flinched like I’d snuck up on him. “Who the hell are you?”

I let out a squeaky gasp and backed away toward Taylor because the guy looked fucking scary when he turned on the full force of that scowl.

“Jesus Christ, Beaudry, relax,” Taylor said. He picked up his briefcase and pulled out a legal-size envelope. “This is my friend Mackenzie. I was driving him home, and I just popped in to drop off these contracts from Harrelson.”

Beaudry grunted and crossed the room to sit at his desk. He waved a hand in the vague direction of a stack of shelves. “Just put them in the inbox. I’ll deal with them later.”

“If you look them over now, I can take back any questions or return them…”

He glared at Taylor over his shoulder, and Taylor wisely shut his mouth. Then the man’s gaze settled on me. It wasn’t the scowl he’d given me earlier, but it wasn’t exactly a…nice expression either. It was more of an assessing glare than anything. “Welcome to Chatham House, Mackenzie. What do you think?” he asked.

I had no idea what he meant. What did I think of the house? The room? Him? “It’s…impressive. The artwork is…unusual.”

He let out a belting laugh that I hadn’t been expecting, so I jumped, but then the rich baritone of it made my toes curl. It was an odd reaction, as I wasn’t usually affected by such things.

“Unusual is a kind way of putting it. The artwork came with the house, along with much of the furniture. I just haven’t gotten around to redecorating.”

“Oh, that’s…” . “How long have you lived here, then?”

Beaudry turned back to his computer and began typing furiously. “About five years,” he answered without turning back around.

I choked on air, and Taylor snorted. “I think by ‘haven’t gotten around to it,’ you mean ‘just don’t give a shit,’” he muttered.

“Touché, Mr. Morrison. Is there anything else you need?”

Taylor sighed, probably realizing that the man was not going to look at whatever was in the envelope while we were still there to relay any messages back to Mindstream. He clamped a hand around my wrist and started dragging me toward the door. “All right, we’re going. Remember, drinks at the King’s Shield next Friday.”

“I don’t think I’m going to be—”

Taylor spoke right over Beaudry’s muttering. “You already said you would. No backsies. I can pick you up.”

“I think I’d enjoy driving my shiny Lotus instead, but thank you very much for the offer,” Beaudry growled. “Nice meeting you, Mack,” I heard him call through the open door.

“Nickname basis already?” I laughed to Taylor.

“That has nothing to do with nicknames and everything to do with your name being too long for him to remember.”

“I heard that, Morrison!”

Purchase

J.K. Hogan | Amazon

Meet the Author

J.K. Hogan has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, beginning with writing cast lists and storylines for her toys growing up. When she finally decided to put pen to paper, magic happened. She is greatly inspired by all kinds of music and often creates a “soundtrack” for her stories as she writes them. J.K. is hoping to one day have a little something for everyone, so she’s branched out from m/f paranormal romance and added m/m contemporary romance. Who knows what’s next?

J.K. resides in North Carolina, where she was born and raised. A true southern girl at heart, she lives in the country with her husband and two sons, a cat, and two champion agility dogs. If she isn’t on the agility field, J.K. can often be found chasing waterfalls in the mountains with her husband, or down in front at a blues concert. In addition to writing, she enjoys training and competing in dog sports, spending time with her large southern family, camping, boating and, of course, reading! For more information, please visit www.jkhogan.com.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Google+ | eMail | Instagram | Amazon | Pinterest

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May 22

Blog Tour: The Lure of Port Stephen by Sydney Blackburn (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Lure of Port Stephen

Author: Sydney Blackburn

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: May 22, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 29900

Genre: Contemporary, sweet, blue collar, class difference, interracial, camping, fishing, coming out, Lake Erie, Canada

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Synopsis

Robbie Wales is young and starting a new job in a new town, on his own. Coming from a split family, he was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents and came out as a teen without a lot of fuss, but his father, whom he only saw infrequently, has never known. As an adult, he’s found he’s got a lot in common with his father, and they’re finally getting to know each other. He fears coming out to his father may jeopardize that.

Then he meets Raj Williams, the attractive man in the trailer next to his father’s in a seasonal RV park. Raj is handsome, sophisticated, yet loves to fish and watch silly Disney movies.

Raj finds Robbie equally interesting. But Robbie’s still in the closet, at least in Port Stephen, and Raj’s ex used that as an excuse to treat him as nothing more than a friend with benefits. He’s not interested in a repeat experience.

Robbie finally finds the courage to come out to his father, but was it all just for a summer fling?

Guest Post

Where I Write

I actually have two main writing spots, but the winter spot is littered with fast food wrappers, an iron railroad spike, a Descendents doll,  and a smudged, water-stained hand-written gloss of an alien language I invented for a sci-fi story. It’s tragic, really.

Instead, here is a photo of where I write in the summer, which is in my RV.

And this is my view.

The park offers free internet, but it doesn’t extend to the RV, so I go to the bait shop to make use of it. I don’t have any pictures of the bait shop, but just imagine massive tanks of minnows and a fridge full of boxes of worms. And beer. But that’s not for sale. Nor mine. Sad face.

Excerpt

The Lure of Port Stephen
Sydney Blackburn © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Robbie Wales rented a car Saturday morning to go down to his father’s trailer in Port Stephen. Alone—because he’d just moved to St. Albans and hadn’t had the opportunity to meet someone. Like Dad and Wanda had been nagging him about.

It would help if he could actually tell them the someone he hoped to meet was a guy. His mother knew, of course. But his parents had split when he was a baby, and he hadn’t spent more than a couple weeks a year with his father until he’d moved to Woodstock for his apprenticeship training. He’d never had a boyfriend serious enough to mention. Coming out seemed too important not to do in person, but the right time never seemed to come up.

He had to come out to them soon—he was twenty-two, and the more time he spent with them, the more obvious it would be—but he was worried. What if his father rejected him just when they were finally having a real relationship? But—new job, new apartment, new city—it was time.

St. Albans was only a twenty-minute drive away from the port. He could, in theory, hang out and fish during the day and go back to town at night. It wasn’t that he didn’t like sitting around their firepit, but listening to a bunch of people his parents’ age or older wasn’t his idea of a fun time. They wouldn’t miss him.

He pulled in beside the end of his parents’ trailer, leaving room for other vehicles in case the people in the small Prowler next door had friends coming up for the weekend too. Robbie grabbed his duffel and used the keys his father had given him last year to let himself in. The water and electric were already on, and the fridge was humming softly.

He dropped the duffel and went out to retrieve the case of beer he’d brought. Hard liquor would take up less fridge space, he mused. Too bad it made him stupid. He gave the neighbouring trailer a sidelong glance. Small propane grill, decorative urns spilling jewel-tone flowers, sun shelter, and a couple of fishing rods. Retired couple, he decided. Flowers had to be a woman’s touch.

Movement on one of the boats caught his eye, and he turned just in time to see a man—literally tall, dark, and handsome—strip his T-shirt off. There was nothing erotic in the motion—guy probably didn’t even know he was being watched—but Robbie’s mouth watered all the same at the unexpected vision.

He was lean, deeply tanned, and wearing shorts that were short enough to make Robbie wish they were even shorter. Nice legs. Nice everything.

As if sensing Robbie’s stare, the guy turned his head. Robbie blushed, glad he was too far away for it to be seen, and hurried to bring in the beer. That was a sight he’d never seen here before. Was he the son of the couple in the trailer?

One way to find out. Randomly chatting to strangers was a thing here, giving Robbie an excuse. He stuck six beers in the fridge and took two of his father’s, already cold, and hastily checked his look in the mirror. His sandy-brown hair was tousled from the drive, but there were no stains on his tank or rainbow-coloured board shorts. Good. Normal. He pulled his sunglasses down over his eyes and almost forgot the beer on his way out the door.

Walking along the waterfront, he tried to appear nonchalant, though he’d never been 100 percent certain of what that meant. As he strode out onto the dock, the guy raised his head. He looked even better up close. His hair was thick, dark, begging to be ruffled… Try not to drool, Rob. He didn’t have the words to describe the guy’s mouth—full lips he’d love to kiss, a pinkish-brown colour a little lighter than his nipples. Dark hair scattered across a gorgeous dark tan. Robbie licked his lips before he realized what he was doing.

Then Tall, Dark, and Handsome’s kissable lips pulled up into a smile, and long fingers with very pale fingernails shoved the sunglasses up over his hair. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Robbie handed him a beer. “You looked thirsty. Boat trouble?” he added quickly, squatting down to eye level. Tall, Dark, and Handsome had eyelashes like a woman’s—long, feathery, soft. And his eyes were amber, a little darker than the beer he’d accepted from Robbie.

“Thanks.” He pushed a hand behind his ear, and Robbie’s tongue slipped out to swipe his lower lip again.

The handsome stranger twisted the cap off the beer and tipped the bottle to his mouth, his long throat working as he swallowed once, twice.

Robbie let his gaze slide down the deeply tanned bare chest in front of him. Gay men, in his admittedly limited experience, tended to wax their chests. Trying to match the guys on billboards and magazines, he supposed. Handsome here had a sparse triangle of dark hair from below his collarbone across pecs with more definition than he’d initially thought. Gravity pulled a trickle of sweat down the narrow bit of hair in the center of his torso, one that disappeared… Robbie forced himself to not stare as if the guy was the first steak dinner he’d seen after months of bread and water.

Tall, Dark, and Handsome was glaring at the cables he’d uncovered that led to his motor. “It pulls to the left.”

pulled his shades down, hiding his eyes. “You know much about boats? You’d think I’d learn, owning one, but goddammit, I had it in for a thorough check in St. Albans before I put it in the water.”

“I know a little more about outboards than inboards,” Robbie said truthfully, “but I’d be happy to take a look.”

TDH waved vaguely toward the open panel. “Sure. Please.”

Robbie’s heart tripped a little at getting so close to his new fantasy man, and he nearly lost his balance getting into the boat—to his embarrassment. TDH’s steadying hand was hot and dry, and Robbie nearly jumped as his cock twitched.

“Fuck,” he said, before he could stop himself. His voice was hoarse, but he hoped TDH would think he was cursing his clumsiness and not his riotous imagination.

The smile on his face seemed sly and suggestive to Robbie, but he figured that was wishful thinking on his part. He smiled back and took a swig of his beer. Down, boy, he told his overeager cock. He set his bottle in a holder and turned around, kneeling to examine the innards exposed.

“Huh. Interesting,” he said, having no idea what he was looking for.

“Isn’t it, though.”

His voice was like a caress. You’re imagining things, Robert Eliot Wales. He leaned back to sit on his ass and reached up for his beer. He froze momentarily as TDH sat on one of the pedestal seats. He could almost—but not quite—see up the leg of his shorts. Stop looking.

He forced himself to raise his gaze all the way to the other man’s face. “Tell me exactly what it’s doing?”

“When I put it under full throttle, it pulls to the left. I don’t notice it on the creek, but out on the lake this morning, it pulled so hard it almost yanked the wheel out of my hands.” He ran a hand through his hair again.

Robbie knew he was staring, but he hoped it wasn’t too obvious behind his shades.

“First time I’ve been scared on the water.”

“Sounds like your trim is out of whack. Maybe you bumped something in the creek?”

“Maybe,” he said. “It seems rather shallow this year. So I have to take it out of the water?”

“Yeah, I think so. When my dad gets here, he’ll take a look. He knows a lot more…” Geez, he sounded like a teenager. “Robbie Wales,” he said, thrusting out a hand, more dirty now than it had been twenty minutes ago.

“Raj Williams,” he said, grabbing his hand and pulling him to his feet.

Raj. That explained the great tan. Even if he still had tan lines, his bare ass was probably a gorgeous honey gold…. He shook his head. “That’s my dad’s trailer.” Robbie jerked his head. “The Golden Falcon there.”

TDH—Raj—laughed. “Tell me that’s not your dad’s name.”

“What?”

“Wayne and Wanda Wales of Woodstock.” He snickered. “Say it ain’t so.”

Robbie chuckled at the awful alliteration. “It ain’t so,” he reassured him. “Wales is my mother’s name. Dad’s is Richardson. And Wanda kept her own name, Nichols. I take it you’ve met.”

“Neighbours. Your dad is very…sociable.”

“They say in Woodstock, if you don’t know Wayne Richardson, it’s not Wayne Richardson’s fault.”

“I can believe that.”

Neighbours. So… “Which trailer’s yours?”

“This one,” he said with a pleased nod toward the Prowler. “My company started a work-from-home initiative, and I talked them into paying for my Internet to work from here, instead.”

Ah. Straight and married then. Robbie nodded, trying not to show his disappointment. “Where is home when it’s not Port Stephen?”

“Toronto.”

Robbie felt his eyes widen. “My god, you must feel like you’re in redneck country.”

Raj laughed again, a warm, rich sound that Robbie liked very much. “Kind of,” he said. “Let’s go sit in the shade. My deck’s a little iffy; carpentry isn’t my forte. Along with boat mechanics,” he added ruefully. “I can refresh your beer.”

Eh, he could still fantasize, as long as he didn’t have to watch TDH kissing his no-doubt-pretty wife. “Sure. Thanks.”

The deck, which looked like freight pallets bound together, had an outdoor rug on it and two director-style chairs. Solar LED lights were strung across the canopy. The flowers in each corner were bright primary colours, so intense they almost seemed fake. Nestled against the trailer was an electric cooler. Robbie watched those shorts get a little shorter and tighter as Raj leaned over to grab two cold bottles. To his horror, a whimper came out of his throat before he could stop it.

He cleared his throat and spun to examine one of the flowerpots. “Nice flowers.”

“Thanks. My apartment is tiny without much in the way of a balcony. But I’ve always admired those perfectly landscaped little houses on the magazine covers. Clearly, I’m not a landscaper or a designer either, but it makes me happy—those ridiculously bright flowers.”

“Oh. So you’re not married?”

Raj smiled at him, an expression that seemed full of hidden meaning. “Haven’t met the right person yet. And you? Will you be bringing someone special down to share romantic evenings on the beach?”

Robbie blushed. “No.” He’d never put Port Stephen and romantic together in his head. “So, why here?”

“The fishing. And I can have this place for five months for the same price a month’s rent would cost me in Toronto.”

Robbie opened his mouth to ask another question but frowned. “You’re not paying rent in Toronto? Are you moving here, like, permanently?”

“Hell, no. Can you imagine going all the way to Bayham just for groceries every week in the winter? Do they even have a bar that doesn’t serve a Sunday brunch?” Raj laughed.

Robbie hadn’t realized before now sound could be a thing one wanted to roll in—or lick up.

“Don’t think so,” he managed to say.

“I sublet my apartment for the season, so until October first, it’s not actually mine. I still have a place to live at the end of the season but don’t have to pay the rent. I love it here”—he gestured toward his boat, or perhaps just the water in general—“but it would be nice to meet some people under forty and over twenty.”

Robbie opened his mouth to invite Raj along with him to St. Albans some night. “You met me.” He hadn’t meant to say that, but for some reason the idea of Raj meeting someone other than him made his stomach twist.

Raj smiled. “True…”

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Meet the Author

Sydney Blackburn is a binary star system. Always a voracious reader, she began to write when she couldn’t find the stories she wanted to read. She likes candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach… Oh wait, wrong profile. She’s a snarky introvert and admits to having a past full of casual sex and dubious hookups, which she uses for her stories.

She likes word play and puns and science-y things. And green curry.

Her dislikes include talking on the phone, people trying to talk to her before she’s had coffee, and filling out the “about me” fields in social media.

Besides writing, she also designs book covers for poor people.

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5/22 – Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

5/22 – The Novel Approach

5/23 – Erotica For All

5/23 – Out Of My Head

5/24 – Happily Ever Chapter

5/24 – A Book Lover’s Dream Book Blog

5/25 – Stories That Make You Smile

5/25 – Sharing Links and Wisdom

5/25 – Bayou Book Junkie

5/26 – Boy Meets Boy Reviews

5/26 – Divine Magazine

5/26 – Love Bytes Reviews

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May 22

Release Blitz: Drama Queens and Adult Themes by Kevin Klehr (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Drama Queens and Adult Themes

Series: Actors and Angels, book 2

Author: Kevin Klehr

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: May 22, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male, Male/Male Menage

Length: 62350

Genre: Fantasy, performance arts, contemporary, established relationship, angels, over 40, open relationship, age gap, ménage, cheating, drugs, death, romance, fantasy, paranormal, cisgender

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Synopsis

Adam’s about to discover how much drama a mid-life crisis can be. He’s obsessed with Mannix, the nude model in his art class. But Adam has been married to Wade for nearly two decades, and they don’t have an open relationship.

Little do they know that Fabien, a warlock from the Afterlife, has secretly cast a spell of lust on Adam and his potential toy-boy.

As things begin to heat up, Adam’s guardian angel, Guy, steps in. But what’s the best way to save the relationship? Should Guy subdue Adam’s wandering passions or instigate a steamy threesome?

Excerpt

Drama Queens and Adult Themes
Kevin Klehr © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Adam

He stood wearing a velvety white towel and an eager grin. Either could’ve disappeared at my whim. I smelled the freshly laundered lemon scent of the towel combined with the odor of his body sweat, which I was dying to lick from his forehead. I’m always a sucker for a devil-may-care attitude. It makes me weak at the knees in an instant, but in this case, I was already reclined in my gleaming white tub, so there was no danger of losing my balance. The water filled to the brim, and I knew that when he joined me, he would splash the tiles below.

I’d only known him for half an hour, and already I was under his spell. Was he a young man of style, or was he a man of simple tastes? Did he have a daytime career that gave him the world at his fingertips, or did he simply have the freedom of freelance engagements?

Time slowed as his luxurious towel fell to the floor. His body was not toned like a swimwear model. His features would never inspire a dozen wet dreams. It was his everyday physical qualities that were driving me wild. That tuft of silky chest hair that traced its way to his belly button. He even had a little flab. Not too much, just a tad. To me, it signaled a man of zero pretense.

But as the towel was now on the floor, his upper body wasn’t what I was focusing on. He lifted one leg and eased himself into the water. The other leg followed as instinct lured my face toward his luscious…

“At some point, Adam, you do need to put pencil to paper,” said my art teacher. He had crept up behind me.

My wayward daydream vanished. Hopefully, I’d find it again before bedtime. I blushed and so did the nude model. I quickly drew a line, but it wasn’t in keeping with the young man’s form.

I was startled at my own behavior. A man of my age wasn’t supposed to act like a starstruck teenager. My instructor gently gripped my hand and guided my pencil to create a more natural line.

The model winked at me as some of the other students chuckled. Another budding male artist with bleached-blond hair nodded in my direction, smiling slyly.

“Okay, I admit it. My mind was somewhere else, and I apologize to the model,” I said.

All eyes in the room were on me.

“I’m flattered,” the model replied.

“It’s not like me to act like this, seriously.”

“Can I get you a glass of water?” asked the teacher.

“Thanks but I’ll get one myself. I think I need a walk. I’ll catch up on my drawing as soon as I get back.”

I rushed out of the classroom. This was all too weird in my situation. I was in my early forties and still madly in love with the man I’d shared my life with for the last eighteen years. We had a healthy sex life, even though I fantasized more than I’d like to admit. In fact, any dreamy man wandering past my view would arouse my animal instincts faster than a straight guy in a room of lipstick lesbians. But this young man posing for art class had my tongue dragging so close to the floor I was licking it clean. I was definitely not ready for a midlife crisis, or so I thought.

I sat on a seat in the corridor. Was I capable of having a discreet fling? I lightly slapped myself on the cheek, waking up to how ridiculous this question was. Why would he want to have an affair with an old fart like me?

It was the middle of winter, and I could already feel chilled air on the tip of my nose. I stood up and headed for the bathroom. I splashed warm water on my face. I stared at the mirror, giving my reflection some sound advice.

“Adam, get a grip. You don’t know this guy, but suddenly he’s invaded your thoughts. Yes, I know he looks really cute up there with nothing but that devilish grin and a pair of turquoise socks, but come on now, he can’t be more than thirty!”

“Seems like you’re smitten,” alleged the bleached-blond student.

He had wandered through the door and was heading for the urinal.

“Were you standing outside long?”

“I heard you down the corridor. Nothing to be ashamed of, really. This is my fourth class, and I’ve had to draw that same model once before. He hasn’t got the perfect body, but boy has he got the perfect attitude. Alluring, and if there is a god, available.”

The blond zipped up his fly and wandered to the sink next to me.

“I agree, but I usually don’t go around acting like a schoolgirl with a crush.”

“Enjoy it. Not all their models have that much charisma.”

We escorted each other back to art class where the other students had made headway on their drawings. I focused on the model’s socks in an attempt to concentrate on my artwork, rather than the young man’s prominent feature. Soon the ankles were added before my pencil carefully outlined his masculine legs.

As I traced up to the hip, I sighed as I studied his most manly asset. How should I draw it? Would the teacher fail me if I portrayed it erect? After all, a great artist should display his own feelings on the sketchpad.

I decided to skip his crotch and draw his chest. His slightly defined chest. Not too developed, but not devoid of shape either. The small tuft of dark hair in the center of the upper body was outlined with great care. Outlining shape was one thing, but defining the type of chest hair someone had was another. A trail of thick small lines was carefully added to the picture from the torso to the navel.

“Okay folks, pencils down.”

The teacher wandered around the room giving us feedback. The charming model reached for a pair of frayed blue jeans, which were neatly folded over the back of a chair just an arm’s length away. He pulled them up and carefully buttoned the fly around his naked assets, as he clearly hadn’t brought underwear.

“We’ll have him back in a couple of weeks if you want to complete this particular drawing,” said the teacher.

He gave me a cheeky look.

“How far did you get?” asked the model.

He grabbed his dusty-pink T-shirt and snuggled into it tightly.

“Not as far as I would have liked,” I replied.

“Let’s see.”

He strolled over to my unfinished work. I was anxious by the thought of only a patch of denim between me and the model’s private bulge. I concentrated on my artwork and tried not to let the man’s proximity lead me to more wicked thoughts. Who was I kidding?

I had to divert my attention to our teacher instead, who was heading my way. He was a funky, retired chap. Black thick-rimmed glasses, peppered hair, and beard with a gentle face. The kind of man who’d take long walks with his wife in the park and watch Sunday arts programs on television.

“For the short amount of time you spent on this, you did pretty well for a newcomer,” he said. “But what are these strange lines to his side?”

“Um, I had this desire to add wings to my subject.”

“Wings?”

“I know it’s odd, but you did say at the beginning of class not to be constrained by what we see, and that we all see characteristics differently.”

“Yeah, but wings? Are you picturing our model as some kind of angel?”

“Why not? I’m seeing caring characteristics.”

The young man gave me a saintly smile. The teacher stroked his chin before pointing to the socks I’d drawn.

“Are my ankles really that shape?” the model asked.

He bent over to take a closer look. I wanted to bury my tongue in the nape of his neck and lick off any imaginary sweat.

“Yes, that’s the shape of your ankles,” the instructor replied. He gestured toward a student near the window. “Ian over there did a better job on your ankles, but Adam really did well on your socks. The way the shape of the feet peep through the cotton is not something I expect from a first-timer.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “I used to do a little sketch work last year but only amateur stuff. Still life from things around the house. A clock, fruit, dirty laundry, that sort of thing.”

“Bring in your drawings next week. I’d like to see them.” He spoke up to address the class. “Now let’s check out Ian’s work, and Carla’s. Ian knows his ankles, and Carla’s good with faces.”

We walked over to look at Ian’s sketch as the other students followed. Ian’s careful study of the model’s feet almost made them look bare. Carla captured the man’s cheeky smirk skillfully, making that feature alone the highlight of her image. The budding blond artist did his best work with the chest and hips, although they were considerably more masculine than they needed to be.

We all made the rounds, admiring and commenting on the other artworks before ending back at my attempt. There were unanimous compliments about the socks, sparking the suspicion that I must have a foot fetish. Like anyone, I had my kinks, but sucking toes was not one of them. There’s something about a tinea marinade that just doesn’t float my boat.

“You know, Adam, maybe you’re onto something with the angel wings,” said Carla. “I would have put a wry smile and devil horns on him, just because I think he’s cheeky. But you see him as virtuous.”

“Divine, maybe, but not virtuous,” I replied.

Everyone strolled back to their easels to pack away their portraits except for the appealing model. He stayed to chat. He even helped me roll up the drawing as I studied the way his skillful hands worked with a cylindrical object.

“I’ll be back here in a couple of weeks if you want to finish the picture. They use me at least once a month.”

“Getting naked doesn’t bother you?”

“I have open-minded parents. They used to take me to nudist beaches when I was a kid.”

“Only child?”

“Only child.”

“Spoiled?”

“A bit. Still am, I suppose, even living away from home. Mum’s always dropping off baked dinners or cookies for me and my flatmate. You’d think we can’t fend for ourselves.”

“I’m Adam,” I said.

I raised my hand, and he shook it firmly.

“Mannix. Please don’t ask what my parents were thinking when they came up with that name. On marijuana or something.”

“I like it.”

“I want to change it, eventually.”

“What to?”

“At this stage, I haven’t a clue.”

“Keep it. It sounds like the name of a secret agent.”

“Yeah, a pretty lame one at that.”

Mannix handed me my picture as I beamed at him, probably resembling a lonely bachelor with a crush on an enigmatic porn star.

“I’m honored you were taken with the subject matter,” he teased.

“Between you and me, Mannix, that’s never happened to me before. I’m sorry if I was staring.”

“Not blowing my own trumpet or anything, but Adam, you wouldn’t be the first.” He winked, which kind of made me feel embarrassed. “Do you need a lift somewhere?”

“It’s okay. I have my car.”

Instantly, I regretted this admission of car ownership. Could I grab those words from the air and stuff them back in my mouth? My beautiful partner, Wade, was not going to be home for at least another hour and a half, and maybe, just maybe? I snapped back from my adolescent thoughts and sighed.

“Do you want a nightcap before going home?” he asked.

“Yes!” I replied with the zeal of a henpecked man about to get a lap dance. “I mean, sure. That’s a good idea. Whatever you want. Drink. Good suggestion.”

“Is that bar on Clarence Street on your way home?”

“As a matter of fact, it is.”

It was actually in the opposite direction.

“Looks like we’ve got a date.”

He walked ahead of me before helping get my pencils and my sketch onto the passenger seat of my car. It was a ten-year-old modest two-door hatch, which Wade and I had bought secondhand. We both used to drive it before my partner fell in love with a flashier sedan he’d found at a dealership.

I thanked Mannix as he walked to the opposite row of vehicles parked at the neighborhood center. The beep of the automatic lock made a sporty little mini double blink its headlights.

The young man eased into his understated luxury car with unassuming confidence. I was a sucker for material items I couldn’t afford, especially this type of tasteful indulgence. Mannix teased his engine before letting his vehicle make its way out of the car park.

I sat there for a minute or two, wondering if I was doing the right thing. After all, I was only going for a drink. Wasn’t I? Guilt was rising through my body. I could see Mannix climbing over me into that imaginary bathtub again. His basket of goodies inviting this old wolf to sample.

I turned the key and started my engine. As I made my way to the street, my thoughts alternated between Technicolor adultery and refined G-rated friendship. Did Mannix have an ulterior motive, or was I full of wishful thinking? It wouldn’t be hard to hide this fling from Wade, even if we just decided to meet up on another night when I was supposed to be at art class.

No, bugger it. Why wait? There was a bathtub waiting at home, and Wade was at his salsa lesson and wouldn’t be home for at least another hour. The tub would be filled to the brim, a bottle of champagne, two glasses, and a Northern soul compilation drifting in from the lounge room.

But then, I wondered what would happen if Wade’s dancing partner, Tim, didn’t need a lift home. He’d be home early. How would I have explained my need to bathe? Perhaps the other students attacked me with their charcoal crayons. Maybe the teacher hated my work so much that I was berated to the point of needing to soak up the tension.

I pictured Mannix on our sofa when Wade came home. I would try several coded words to let my husband know that a threesome was on my mind.

But this wasn’t our style. We didn’t invite costars to our bed. In fact, like most long-term couples we went through phases of being either solely devoted or acting more like two confident individuals. In recent months, we’d behaved like old souls who knew we couldn’t live without each other. We’d hold each other before we fell into slumber and awake needing to possess each other again. But it might have been fun to share that experience with Mannix.

I pulled up in front of the pub, still reeling from my own errant imagination. I took one deep breath to jolt myself back to reality. It didn’t really work. My sense of guilt magnified while I pictured that bathtub again and Mannix’s soft lips cruising toward my own.

“Adam, are you okay?”

My gaze darted to the person who was knocking on the windscreen. It was Mannix, curious to why I was taking so long to get out of my car.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Kevin lives with his long-term partner, Warren, in their humble apartment (affectionately named Sabrina), in Australia’s own ‘Emerald City,’ Sydney.

From an early age, Kevin had a passion for writing, jotting down stories and plays until it came time to confront puberty. After dealing with pimple creams and facial hair, Kevin didn’t pick up a pen again until he was in his thirties. His handwritten manuscript was being committed to paper when his work commitments changed, giving him no time to write. Concerned, his partner, Warren, secretly passed the notebook to a friend who in turn came back and demanded Kevin finish his story. It wasn’t long before Kevin’s active imagination was let loose again.

His first novel spawned a secondary character named Guy, an insecure gay angel, but many readers argue that he is the star of the Actors and Angels book series. Guy’s popularity surprised the author.

So with his fictional guardian angel guiding him, Kevin hopes to bring more whimsical tales of love, life and friendship to his readers.

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May 15

New Release Blitz: An Instruction in Sin by Amy Paine (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  An Instruction in Sin

Series: Travelling Companions, book 3

Author: Amy Paine

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: May 15, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 22000

Genre: historical, historical, in the closet, infidelity, established couple, vacation

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Synopsis

Millie, now married to James, is taking her delayed honeymoon on the Riviera, and her lover, Benita, has accompanied them. Millie’s attitude towards her has changed, and even though their affair is still as intense as ever, and now plumbs new depths of depravity—as she watches husband and wife together—Benita begins to wonder if Millie actually loves her as much as she thought, or if, as she feared, marriage has changed her. Her emotions in turmoil, Benita is plunged into a world of doubt as things prove harder for her to accept than she thought. In the midst of her anxiety though, she soon begins to wonder if the tales of James are true, and he is more of a womaniser than Millie knows.

As Benita fights for the love of her life, James is drawn further into the world of wealthy industrialist Lance Preslin and his beautiful damaged wife, Belle. Benita investigates his absences from the villa and soon fears that James is indeed having an affair. Events are poised as Benita finds herself in an impossible situation, should she or should she not air her fears, or will this push Millie further away. Then, the unthinkable occurs, and overnight, something happens changes her entire future.

Excerpt

An Instruction in Sin
Amy Paine © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Benita lay naked on a chaise longue by the narrow French hotel window, primed and waiting for her lover. She’d had so much sex she was satiated and floated in a post-coital afterglow, her limbs drugged, her mind softly intoxicated. It was like floating on a cloud.

Suddenly, her eyes were covered by a pair of hands that were much smaller and shapelier than hers. Millie’s hands. Hands as white as snow, the skin covering them so thin Benita could see every blue vein beneath. She rubbed her thumb over them, experiencing a familiar surge of passion. She loved the sensation of them twining through her hair, caressing her naked body, and plunging into all her concealed places—the deeper ones—where they were capable of giving exquisite pleasure.

She grabbed Millie’s fingers and held them. She was so much stronger, afraid she might break those delicate digits, yet the fragility made her feel fiercely protective.

Millie had always been as skinny as a bird but, for some reason Benita could not identify, she seemed frailer these last few weeks.

“Oh, be careful,” Millie chortled, her voice half laughter, half reprimand.

“Take me again, en flagrante delicto?” Benita murmured huskily. “Do as I command. Pose for me.”

“My dear, you can be so vulgar.”

She opened her eyes to see Millie standing in front of her. Millie had bathed and wore a fine negligée of sheer material that showed the dips and shadows of her body. Her hair fell around her shoulders, surrounding her face in a blonde cloud. She looked like an angel and not human at all.

They were so diametrically opposed. Benita termed herself voluptuous, while Millie was this beautiful wraith, this pale moonbeam of a woman.

“We really must resist,” Millie said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Sometimes I think it’s so wrong to indulge like this. In fact, I know it is. We behave like a pair of heathens.”

She was often so naïve in her statements, so innocent, so seemingly perfect in her behaviour, yet Benita saw another side to her unleashed on the Midi, where she rubbed shoulders with her beloved film stars and ravenously consumed the newspaper articles and endless gossip about them, even persisting in talking to the point of obsession about the bawdy parties and partner-swapping that apparently went on profusely.

“What’s the matter?” Benita asked.

Millie seemed slightly crestfallen, as if she didn’t want to be entirely here when, an hour earlier, at the mercy of Benita’s instruction in sin, she had thrashed and entwined her limbs dramatically in the silk sheets.

Benita experienced a flush of mixed emotions. This sexual greed, then despair—the vicissitudes of Millie’s emotions and needs—controlled her, making her life, at times, like hell. She had never anticipated being like this, allowing herself to feel so utterly directionless. But love had taken her over in such a short space of time, she feared she’d lost her sense of who she was.

The control was subtle, Millie tirelessly giving the impression it was Benita who led the way, but not concealing her manipulations. She was as conniving as a rake and created an illusion of submission that allowed her to imprison her lover. In the beginning, she had seduced Benita remorselessly. After Millie married James, though, and their sinful liaison deepened, it was she who acquiesced willingly to Benita’s game of domination. Yet, even within that world of new sin—of dipping her toe into the waters of carnal need, embellished by Benita’s dirty role-play—she held yet more direction. Millie fascinated, and that was control. She fascinated Benita by being as dirty as dirty could be, and begging her for her toys—for whip, chain, and pain.

The fact she thought she held power when she actually didn’t at all was alternately grim and pleasurable for Benita. Each day, she endured a ride of longing and excitement, swiftly followed by terror and a pain that, while excruciating, was also exquisitely masochistic. The only time she could ever be certain she led the game was during sex, and that made her violently demonstrative and her behaviour more imaginative and profound than she could ever have imagined.

Her secret places moistened just thinking about it. Millie was insatiably thirsty when it came to sexual experimentation. She exhorted Benita to tie her with scarves and ropes as tightly as she could, the pain a seeming penance for something Benita did not understand. She would squeal and thrash as Benita bathed her in kisses and the administrations of imaginative tonguing. Then Benita would tantalise her with her forbidden toys, the ones she kept carefully hidden, only bringing them out when she wished to amaze and incite ecstasy. That Millie asked Benita to fuck her harder with these toys on each occasion only heightened her love and desire for her mercurial lover.

Was this that most elusive of things, true love, she wondered? Was it possible for love not to be soft, but to be all about this obsessive need to control? The feeling was definitely more powerful than she had imagined it to be. This was not the gentle, deep thing the writers and poets spoke about. This was hot, trembling, and violent. A raw mixture of jealousy, rage, and a desire to give vent to her caged emotions that fed a fire without equal, deep inside. The highs of this passion were exquisite, how she imagined flying above the clouds would be. Soaring towards a searing, bright sun, warmed by it, wanting to be consumed by the heat and thus transformed; feeling light and free and so inexpressibly happy, until the fall back down to earth, the drifting through the continually oppressive and thick atmosphere as she anticipated hitting the ground with a bump.

Whenever they parted, she was tormented and captured by a tragic sense of loss that ripped her emotions into shreds and left her doubting her position in her lover’s life. In these moments, it seemed Millie loaded the dice of the game in her favour.

Millie might argue she was equally in ferment, but she never seemed to be. She only vented her passion when restrained. When she departed from whatever venue they were at, she would again be remarkably within herself and constrained, as if she lived life in two forms of bondages. One controlled by Benita, the other by her husband.

Benita was constantly insecure. At the back of her mind, she knew that if she jeopardised Millie’s marriage, Millie would walk away. She had made that clear enough in her veiled comments.

These fearful thoughts pounded away at Benita like breakers on the shoreline, until the situation drove her mad. They were in love. Both of them, equally but in different ways, absolutely and utterly, and yet their relationship was so precarious it was like walking a tightrope.

“It’s simply that…do you suppose they guess?” Millie queried. “I mean to say, the people here at the hotel? Even the little man across the road at the café seems to look at us intensely.”

“Oh, you are silly. You have nothing to worry about, you know. Always it’s as if you’re so concerned what others think. Of course they know. But what do they care? We are hidden, we are discreet, and that is all they would ask of people coming here for assignations… And we did know this was a place for that, didn’t we? That’s why we chose it.” Benita’s heart contracted, then expanded as Millie, whose eyes were excessively large and luminous in her pained face, stared at her.

“Do you think so?” There was a doubtful edge to her tone.

“We are completely safe, and I will protect you. I will never let anyone know. If I detect just a whiff of someone finding out, I will erase it. Anyway, no one would ever guess it—the reality of what we are to one another, that is. I am staying with you and James at the villa, so I must appear like an old friend, almost a sister—a gooseberry to two people so evidently in love.”

Benita hadn’t been able to help saying that. It was a deliberate dig. She did it often, as if she was fishing for a truth, hoping to observe a breakdown in Millie’s cultured façade.

“I do so wonder sometimes. I think I see people looking and speculating about our relationship. It’s fine at the villa, but I worry about it when we are in town. It would seem so unlikely for us to come here, two women on our own.”

“Oh darling, how could they possibly realise anything? They simply see we are close. That is what we have told them. What close friends we are, and it’s not so terribly odd. Lots of women have intimate friendships, even to the extent of sharing a room. It is nothing out of the ordinary.”

“I know, I do. I just worry such a lot. It’s so terribly important to me that—well, you know…that what we have remains secret. And you must admit, if someone did see us, it would be so positively awful.”

“No one will. We are exceedingly careful and this place is so off the beaten track.”

Again, the stabbing pain. Sometimes Millie talked as if she was ashamed of what they had together, but perhaps that was Benita’s paranoia and she read more into it than there was.

Anyway, she was sure they were secure at the hotel. It was a tasteful, hidden gem, a hideaway for movie stars and the well-to-do, and notable for the concealment of affairs. For that very reason, it could be found only by the circumnavigation of narrow streets.

Millie twined her hair around her finger, then she shrugged.

“I know, but still…”

They were so at odds, so different in their reactions to their affair. While Benita couldn’t care a fig about anyone finding out because she would easily field the gossip and to hell with it, Millie fretted to the point of hysteria.

Benita bit her tongue. She found she had to do it more and more often lately. If she didn’t, she knew what might happen. Millie was tense enough and the culmination of her fretting—a tirade of unconsidered words, said on the spur of the moment—could tumble the house of cards of Benita’s love and bring disaster in its wake.

It made her ice-cold to think of it. To even consider the possibility that, one day, Millie for all her protestations of devotion might come to her and declare that she had to consider her life and her position as a married woman. It did not matter that she had so often reiterated that she couldn’t let Benita go, not ever. She could no longer continue that delicate balancing act she fulfilled each day, and would have to say good-bye.

The savage battlefield that was James had become an increasingly complicated series of strategic moves that drained her. In the beginning, Millie had not mentioned him, which had made it easier. Now she did, and with increasing frequency. These remarks hurt so much, it was as if Millie were stroking Benita with a hard, abrasive brush that made her skin sore and percolated down to tear at her soul.

“The staff are not allowed to know,” she reiterated. “That’s their job here. That’s why this place is special.” Benita’s voice held an edge of hostility. It had been with her all day; it came from sitting in the shadows last night, enduring the sight of Millie dancing with James. A severe doubt had risen up in her. Sprouting like a wayward plant, it threw off leaves until it grew out of all proportion, sowing doubts in her imagination about how a man and a woman could dance together like that—twisting and turning and engaging in flirtatious laughter—and not be in love when their bodies spoke of lust. Those tender moments, when Millie was in the arms of her husband and seemed to adore him, wanting to kiss and touch him, put her through agony. The pit in Benita’s stomach opened wider, in tandem with her aching heart.

Her generally buoyant spirits sank further. She’d been melancholy ever since they’d stepped off the ship. Her initial enthusiasm for the sinful holiday she and Millie had cooked up together was jaundiced by James, who seemed to want to prove something to his wife in front of Benita. It was as if he’d grown envious of their womanly closeness. This was strange in itself, as he had always encouraged them to be together. Nonetheless, he seemed to be putting on a performance in front of her, as if to say, “This girl belongs to me, and woe betide you if you try to take her.” It was utterly ridiculous.

How could she ever be secure, in this mingling of woman-and-woman and woman-and-man?

Benita burned with the jealousy she hated herself for. She should not feel such jealousy towards someone she loved. But seeing them together as man and wife, doing the things two such people did, made her wild. It drove home to her that Millie did not belong to her, and, with the best will in the world, probably never would because of so many factors. Millie’s social position for one.

And supposing James left Millie at some point—or Millie left James, as improbable as it seemed? Even so, Benita wondered if she could ever be as she dreamed—like the woman she had once seen in the seedy club in Soho. The one in the suit, her cheek pressed close to her lover, who wore a filmy dress. It had been easy to imagine herself like that in the future.

The savage stab of emotion made her breathless. Sometimes it was better to just blot it out, as the whole thing was simply too awful to face up to. The threat of unrequited love: too catastrophic, and a vast ocean of possible pain.

Jealousy and insecurity were wounds that smarted. She wanted to bathe them, put a salve on them, and bandage them away out of sight so that they would heal, but that was next to impossible. She hated the way Millie aroused her, made her feel strong and yet feeble at the same time. The trouble was, the stronger her love grew, the more her doubts squeezed her to the point of pain.

She ought not to doubt her lover, but such was the nature of love she couldn’t help it. She had only to remember the day when they’d met in the railway carriage. An almost-dalliance between travelling companions, of the most obscene and out of character sort. Perhaps, in spite of everything, Millie was callous and played her for a fool. But she could not be that wicked, could she? Benita sometimes wasn’t so certain. It was true she was inclined to be a predator. She had been in the beginning; that was the trouble. It was Millie who had started it, after all, the whole passionate chain of events. She wants the best of both worlds. She is using me as a means to satiate her needs. Her needs to have a woman’s body as well as her husband’s and the things that husband can give her: a home, an income, security.

She tried to push these troubling thoughts away. She was seeing obstacles where there weren’t any. She was simply a fool in love and, as a consequence, her active imagination worked overtime.

Millie gave off an alluring aroma of musky womanhood mingled with Chanel perfume as she stepped closer.

“You are so beautiful,” Benita said.

“I am not.”

“Yes, you are.” She sat up and drew Millie onto the couch, encircling Millie’s wrist. She wanted to tie her again, and do all the things to her that her imagination forced her to do. She wanted to make her acquiesce so she belonged again, needing to eradicate Millie’s thoughts of James. She wanted to force her to writhe and squeal from her instruction in sin, as if she were a wild creature.

“Why are you smiling?” Millie asked.

“Nothing. Only that I want to possess you again and again, and I wish that I could climb inside you, like…” She couldn’t stop herself. “Like he does, like James. To possess you. I wish I were a man with a man’s penis. I want to feel my skin in contact with the essence of you. Only then can I truly possess you. Perhaps without a penis, I’m lost. What do you think?”

Two high spots glowed in Millie’s cheeks and her lips tightened into a firm, hard line. The blush was the ember of desire. Benita could also read a stubborn tilt to the chin that meant Millie would not be drawn further with this particular conversation.

“Don’t be silly.”

“I’m not silly.” Benita slid her hand beneath the negligée, cupping Millie’s buttocks. She had discovered her lover’s penchant for pain quite by accident. It was as fierce as hers was, and only required a swift clasp of the fist and dig of the nails. Her body moistened further at the thought of chewing on Millie’s neat, pink nipples, and how those nipples became rigid, her body arched and held as tight as a bow, as she quivered on the cusp of release.

“And when you speak like that it’s so vulgar.”

“And you love it. You cry for more. If you recall, you screamed and shouted so loudly you had to bite the pillow an hour ago.”

“Oh, that.” Millie turned and looked out of the window. She couldn’t meet Benita’s gaze. It was as if her passion embarrassed her. “Yes, well, if I am guilty of behaving like that, it’s because you’ve made me like it.”

If only she were a man, Benita sometimes thought. She longed for each new day with a trembling craving, akin to a man’s need for release. And if only she had the means to give Millie what she had to have. Her whole life, these days, was governed by fantasising over ways in which she could be more, make a better and more powerful life for herself, so that one day she could win Millie. It was infantile, but she had to do it. One day, Millie’s mother would die; in fact, she was already growing increasingly frail. When she did, Millie’s marriage would not then be so important to her, would it? That was why she had married James, after all: to save her mother and herself from poverty. To salvage them, when only she had the strength to.

She hated thinking these thoughts, but she invariably did following good sex.

“You are so gorgeous,” she said. “People stare at you because you’re like an angel. They stare at me through curiosity.”

Millie said nothing as she combed her hand through her hair and coiled it onto her head. She reached onto the bedside table to take her tortoiseshell combs and secure them in place. She knew she was beautiful; naturally, she did, and so she ought.

“Did you see her come in?” Benita said, wishing to change the subject and referring to the actress she’d noticed earlier.

“Elicia Pride, you mean? Move over, old thing.” The change of subject had worked, and Millie nudged her. Benita wriggled away, making room for her to lie down beside her, then embracing her with her long, languorous limbs. The contact blurred the jagged edges of doubt in Benita’s mind. That was how it was. Maybe it was what made their relationship so hazardous. The way Millie could anaesthetise her to anything other than the rapturous sensations inside her. She wondered if Millie ever felt the same and ever feared the end. She liked to talk about how she felt in love, but Millie didn’t much. It was expressed by the reactions of her body and her moans, garlanded by purrs of delight.

Words rose up in her throat. They were the ones she wanted to ask Millie on a daily basis and which she felt she could not. “Do you truly love me as much as I love you?” There, she had thought them, and today, for some reason, before she knew it, she had said them. She needed to hear Millie’s vocal reassurance, although doubts would still assail her, no matter if Millie said it.

“Oh, silly thing, of course I do.” Millie curled closer, like a kitten, and Benita trailed her hands around and across her nipples, while she used her thighs to draw apart Millie’s legs. Normally, her lips would follow the trail of her hands, but today they didn’t. Millie was more reticent than usual and less soft. It was as if something had hardened her overnight in some way, or perhaps it was simply Benita’s imagination. Whatever the reason, it made Benita draw back.

“It’s not the same implying it. Sometimes it would be nice for you just to say it, as you must say it to James.”

“It is not a question of rationing the words.” Millie seemed amused. “Not one for you and one for him. Besides, you know I do. You know how we are.”

Benita waited a moment before replying. She could sense her anger rising insidiously. The sensation of having to take second place, of being practically reprimanded all the time, grated on her, and it was happening more and more. She rarely felt angry with Millie. You could never be angry with the person you loved more than anyone in the world. But it niggled her and concerned her. She thought the world of her, and yet she did not seem to mean the same to Millie as Millie meant to her—the beginning and end rolled into one. Her love for this woman crippled her, even to the extent of calling off her relationship with her lover, Laurence. She had done that because Millie was the entire world to her. But Millie’s world was shared with James, and thus she was subsidiary to his power.

There was no point churning it over ad infinitum, she thought as she stroked Millie’s hair. She lived within a singularity and Millie lived within a duality—her life with James and her life with Benita.

Oh, how she hated James’s influence. Now she had thought it, she felt guilty and blamed herself for being the kind of woman she hated. Petty, insecure, and demanding. It was hard dwelling on things. In fact, it was the slippery road to despair and if she persisted, her thoughts would spiral out of control.

“Coming to the hotel feels increasingly dangerous,” Millie carried on. “Would it not be better, if, well…we stayed at the villa? It would be so delicious, as a matter of fact. I dream of you when I’m in bed with James. It’s almost unbearable the feelings I have. When he touches me—which, by necessity and being my husband, he must do—I imagine it is you, darling, always you.”

Right when everything had seemed poised on the turn of a screw, at the moment of maximum jeopardy, Millie had cleverly pulled it back.

“What a clever, what a positively fantastic idea.”

“James spends so much time down at the harbour lately with his new friends, and I have no inclination to go with him. That means we would be alone, darling, doesn’t it?”

She had called her “darling.” Benita felt a wave of sublime bliss. Millie was soft and warm again, as changeable as the winds that blew across the ocean here, and it was a fabulous suggestion. She would be happy to have Millie to herself at the villa. The Villa Lavende was so lovely, so isolated and private and improbably lavish, hidden as it was from prying eyes.

The bougainvillea-garlanded gardens tumbled down the hillside in fuzzy multi-coloured hues. The terrace had a striking view of the sparkling sea and the harbour, with its clusters of houses hanging to the precipitous hills, and the odd yachts that dotted the tranquil azure field of water, as placid as a millpond.

Benita’s back window faced none of that. Instead, it looked out over the hills. But she loved the view. She adored the copious folds of the Midi, like the flounced skirts of a dress spread out in dips and hollows, and smelling divine when the resinous branches of the wild herbs bled their infusions into the wind. One could walk for miles over the Provençal hills, and she had done so, because here she found solace.

“Yes, I had noticed he did. Silly man.” She couldn’t help the comment.

Benita wanted a cigarette but she dared not move. Instead, she stroked Millie’s hair, as Millie condescended to curl against her catlike, purring with a small sound she made in the back of her throat.

“I do hate the Preslins.” Millie referred to the new friends James had made in their time here. “Belle Preslin is so vain and vulgar, and as for Lance…” Millie said it quietly and thoughtfully as her thumb traced Benita’s nipple. There was an odd note to her voice: not anger, not jealousy, but perhaps both of those things mixed in with incredulity and sorrow. “They’re the most horrible people, Benny.” Millie called her Benny when she was disturbed. It seemed to be the pet name she had acquired during their games.

“Mmm. Personally, I find them rather interesting,” Benita replied. She didn’t want to sting Millie, but it was true. She did find the couple thrilling as they were so avant-garde. They were extravagantly rich and inclined to scandalise. Belle Preslin was impossibly glamorous, with an angular beauty that was noteworthy even in a resort full of beautiful people. She strutted around, vocalising madly over any subject that was likely to inflame. As for Lance Preslin, he was another matter entirely: the personification of sin and sloth. Somewhat portly now in middle age, yet still stunningly attractive. He was a magnet to women who found his sizzling American accent and plucky repartee hard to resist.

It puzzled her the way James had gravitated towards the brashness of these people. You could hear the Preslins for miles—Lance’s voice jocular and harsh, Belle’s almost laughing, like a tympanic accompaniment.

Because they did not seem like the sort of people James would choose to hang around, it made her pause for a moment. Something about that mixture seemed volatile, and so did Belle, come to that.

She had noticed a predatory look in James’s eye whenever they bumped into Belle Preslin. The attraction of the species had its secret code written down and conducted from between the pages of its own rulebook. Belle was so unlike her angel, so striking in a way Millie could never be. She was highly intelligent and had the dark looks of the Jewess, with interesting slanting eyes and a wide, generous mouth that doubtless James had thought capable of doing other things. Her humour was ribald, and frequently Benita had overheard Belle teasing him about things Millie couldn’t have got away with.

A tingle surfed over her skin and it was one of illicit excitement. She felt bad about the direction her thoughts were flowing in. It was not that she wanted to see Millie heartbroken by an affair, but it was as if she willed a flame to dance between Belle and James. If it did, it could provide her with a tool for possible leverage. Millie had put James on a pedestal he was not worthy of standing on. Men would be men.

James fancied Belle, and Belle fancied James. Millie was an idiot if she did not know, but maybe she did and that was the cause of her sorrowful voice. Millie might endure it, though; she did seem blinded by her husband’s saviour-like qualities and those might cancel out his bad points.

Millie pillowed her cheek on Benita’s light-brown breasts and, as her arm wrapped around her and drew her closer, a charge surged through her and she tingled from top to toe. She hated her body seeping fluids and emanating the soft, gentle smell of longing. It had never responded like this for anyone else. It was as if she possessed a dim, glowing light of sin that burned continually in the background. She was a tinderbox around Millie: primed every instant, ready for the strike.

Millie, always perceptive and lately frighteningly so, sat up and peered at her.

“What is it, darling? You are so strange lately. So thoughtful.”

“Nothing.” Benita forced a weak smile.

“Yes, there is. There is something terribly wrong. Aren’t you happy here with me?”

“Don’t be silly.” Benita glanced out of the window, aware of the forward march of time and how much she loved being here, encapsulated in the hotel that had become their sensual refuge from the world.

They were not the only ones who enjoyed their surroundings. They’d become quite friendly with a middle-class couple, who had the suite next to them and who had sex constantly, much to Millie’s mirth. Sex was thirsty. It consumed and swallowed you down like a drug that you couldn’t get enough of. Whenever the four of them met, they exchanged knowing smiles. The couple were open and pleasing to Benita. They were fellow conspirators in the never-ending circle of love, trapped in its vibrant rotation, spinning so fast that they couldn’t end the crazy merry-go-round ride without falling off and perishing.

“I think it will be so marvellous back at the villa, don’t you? There will be so much more opportunity to be together. This is a bit seedy, don’t you think? That’s how it feels to me.” Millie chuckled quietly, showing her even, white teeth.

Benita dandled her fingers over Millie’s smooth, scented skin. She knew each cosmetic Millie used. Every soap, talc, perfume. She could not breathe them in without experiencing a pang of longing.

“I shall miss it, though,” she said sadly. “It has been disgustingly dirty, but it’s nice in that it makes me feel like a thief stealing something precious.”

Millie’s frown drew her brows together into the familiar V. “You’re so poetic, but as I belong to you, you cannot steal me.” Then she swung the subject away. “In many ways it reminds me of how we met. The train was rather dirty, wasn’t it?”

She disengaged herself from Benita’s grasp. Benita was reluctant to have her go. She could lie with her all day. She would never get tired of the feel and smell of her, and yet all good things had to come to an end, or so they said. And despite their love, there were so many endings and beginnings. In fact, every day was an ending and a beginning simply because they couldn’t belong to one another in the way they would have wished.

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

Meet the Author

Amy Paine writes fiction purely for women, with no topic taboo. She loves contemporary lesbian romance but also finds writing stories with an historical flavour and plenty of emotional drama, thrilling. Her goal is to deliver interesting lesbian fiction that makes the reader think.

At the moment she is busy at work writing the Travelling Companions series – a project that took off when one of her friends who loved Downton Abbey, made her wonder about delivering a series of 1920s novellas from a purely female viewpoint. She is busy at work on lots of new projects, too, including short stories and a contemporary lesbian novel. You can find Amy on Facebook.

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May 15

Blog Tour: Will to Live by M. Christine (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Will to Live

Author: M. Christine

Publisher:  Torrid Books

Release Date: March 16, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Female, Male/Female/Male (No Male/Male interaction), Female/Male/Female (No Female/Female interaction), Female/Female/Male (Female/Female interaction)

Length: 29,509 words

Genre: Erotica, BDSM, Contemporary,Multi-Cultural,Friends-to-lovers

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Synopsis

The old adage learn by doing sure applies to Williamson “Will” Franco, a dominant prodigy at age 18. If it weren’t for an impromptu threeway encounter—with a sideshow of anilingus—this truly intercultural young man never would have dreamed of spanking, bondage, and role play. So he becomes an employee of a sex club.

When Will shows up, club revenues jump. Consensual kinky sex is not a required part of the job, but is optional. The club, however, ends up being much more than a sexual awakening. His coworkers embrace him as kin, while the proprietress and her submissive husband end up being Will’s benefactors, bankrolling his education and guiding him on a good path, despite a dire home life in the hood.

The experience matures him, equips him to cope with inevitable family problems and tragedy, and shows him how to live.

Excerpt

Once they arrived at Kendra’s sleek apartment, she got right to the point and explained the plan: although she and Yuri engaged in unprotected sex—they scheduled regular clinic visits to test for STIs—Will would need to use a condom.

Kendra had a special chair Yuri bought for her with Righteous Ding Dong proceeds. The chair let Kendra sit comfortably, but exposed and parted her ass crack and pussy for Yuri to service below.

“I’m not always a top,” she explained.

Will, though green with this lingo, understood.

“I’m very balanced. I like being top and bottom, often topping from the bottom—like now.”

Kendra espoused her philosophical ideal of sex while she settled herself on the chair. She wore stockings, a garter belt, and stilettos, as well as a half-cup bra to complete the look. She beckoned Will toward her, her face level with his fly, which she deftly undid. When he looked down at this brunette vixen, he detected some Asian ancestry.

Yuri was already set up under the chair, sighing at the sight of her slit. “While Yuri eats my ass, I’ll service your cock— with a rubber to be safe,” Kendra told Will. “Is that agreed?”

“Uh-huh,” agreed Yuri with a muffle, his mouth already planted in her heavenly cave as he stroked his full-to-bursting cock.

When Will’s hefty erection was wrangled out, Kendra was pleasantly enthused.

She smiled lustily and fondled it before opening a Magnum-brand condom to fit over his stiff meat.

“Gobble, gobble,” she said.

Will enjoyed that, as well as the power his prick had over her demeanor.

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Torrid Books | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Meet the Author

M. Christine is a SoCal writers whose work is infused with an extended tour of duty in adult-magazine publishing, melting-pot subcultures, and art school.

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | eMail | Simon & Schuster | Google Play

Tour Schedule

5/15 – Outrageous Heroes of Romance

5/16 – Happily Ever Chapter

5/17 – Erotica For All

5/18 – Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents

5/19 – Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

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May 15

Blog Tour: The Castaway Prince by Isabelle Adler (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  The Castaway Prince

Author: Isabelle Adler

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: May 15, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 20000

Genre: fantasy, fantasy, royalty, androgyny, cross-dressing, friends to lovers, disguise, princes

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Synopsis

Ostracized by his family for his sexual identity, Prince Stephan is forced to flee his homeland before his older brother ascends the throne.

Stephan has been drawn to feminine things for as long as he can remember, so when the dire need for secrecy arises, he seizes the chance to don the perfect disguise. With the help of his loyal servant, Stephan picks his way through hostile territory, hiding his identity by posing as a woman. His only hope for asylum lies with the man who had been his friend and lover three years ago. But when that man also happens to be the crown prince of a rival country, things are a bit more complicated.

With war looming on the horizon, the danger of discovery grows by the moment. With all odds stacked against him, will Stephan find a safe place where he can be his true self, or is he doomed to remain a castaway?

Excerpt

The Castaway Prince
Isabelle Adler © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

“My, aren’t you a beauty.”

“Shut up,” Stephan said as he hoisted his skirts. The wind and the rain had made the pier boards slippery, and he nearly fell over as the wet fabric twisted around his legs. All his surreptitious practice wearing dresses and feminine undergarments hadn’t prepared him for the trials of this kind of miserable weather. In the course of a few minutes after stepping out of the relative coziness of their private boat cabin, he’d managed to get soaked through down to his stockings and narrowly avoided falling into the river.

Warren, his manservant, seemed to be rather amused by Stephan’s efforts. He was grinning as he watched him try to drag his bags onto the pier. Stephan really wasn’t supposed to do that, but the port hand was currently busy unloading another boat, and the prospect of warming up in front of a cozy fire had lost Stephan all patience.

“Help me, you oaf!” Stephan glared at Warren from under the hood of his fur-lined cloak. The man was having a bit too much fun at his expense.

“Watch your language. You’re a lady, remember?” Warren said, quickly coming to his aid, shouldering the heavy travel bags. “One who’s too pretty to be so bad-tempered.” He winked at Stephan and led the way across the busy dock, farther into the streets of the city.

Zenna, the capital of Esnia, sprawled on both banks of the river, its two halves connected by a multitude of stone bridges. This was a city Stephan had never thought he’d be visiting—certainly not in his current predicament. The royal castle, partially visible from the docks, was an ominous presence that loomed over the city and more resembled a prison. It spanned the narrowest point of the river with its massive arch of a weathered stone bridge. Built to withstand invasion and siege, it was supported by great rectangular pillars rooted deep in the riverbed, now almost entirely green with centuries-old buildup of slime and algae.

Stephan was glad when its daunting bulk was lost from view as they headed to the more genteel part of the city, where the smell of fish and refuse wasn’t quite as overpowering. They had to walk a good distance from the docks, but as they left the bustle of the riverfront and fish markets behind, the streets became broader, and the mud was replaced with cobblestones. The rain was bitterly cold, making him miss the slightly gentler climate of his homeland.

Thankfully, with so much traffic this time of day, they didn’t attract too much notice. They found a respectable-looking inn, situated on one of the main streets, where noble folk, even those traveling ostensibly without a retinue, weren’t an uncommon sight.

“My sister and I require lodgings for tonight,” Warren announced with a haughty air as they stepped inside the common room and the innkeeper rushed to meet them. Really, Stephan thought as he pushed back his hood to watch Warren dispense silver coins, the man was doing a startlingly good job imitating nobility, even considering he came from a well-off merchant family and not some backwater village. Stephan stood aside, waiting meekly for his “brother” to finish giving instructions regarding their meals and baths, and then followed him upstairs. He would be overjoyed to finally see a dry bed and a lit fireplace in a room that didn’t sway with the river’s tides.

They were given two adjacent rooms on the second floor. Warren deposited Stephan’s bags in his room before retiring to his own, where Stephan could hear him unpacking on the other side of the wall. He took off his cloak and fumbled with the lacings of his bodice, cursing under his breath. The wretched things were so wet it made them more difficult to handle, but finally the knots came undone, and the heavy dress, crumpled and dirty from the journey, slipped from his shoulders to the floor. The corset that cinched his waist and added discreet padding to his chest was next to come off, and Stephan could finally draw an unrestricted breath, standing in nothing but a fine cotton chemise and bloomers.

As this was a room intended for a lady, there was a large standing mirror in one corner. Its ornate frame must have been the pride of the innkeeper.

Looking into the spotless polished surface, Stephan had to admit his bedraggled state didn’t quite mesh with his idea of feminine charm. The paint he’d used to accentuate his lashes had smeared beneath his eyes, and his chestnut hair, usually done in a low bun, was now in complete disarray.

Despite the dress being uncomfortable at times—particularly when it was nearly soaking wet—he was growing more and more accustomed to it. At the beginning of their journey, he’d been nervous about appearing ridiculous, despite all the previous careful preparation and the endless hours spent on modulating his voice and perfecting his posture in front of the mirror. His shoulders were too wide, his hips too narrow, his gait too awkward. Perhaps he’d been lucky no one had peered too closely at a noblewoman traveling under the protection of her fierce-looking older brother.

It was one thing to put on a costume once in a while for the sheer fun of it, and quite another to wear it constantly, living in it and assuming it as a part of his identity, affecting a wholly feminine character at all times. Especially when this identity—as attuned as it was to his preferences—was the only thing keeping him alive.

Still, as he wiped away the streaks of paint and grime from his face and leaned in to look more closely—at the smooth cheeks so rarely in need of shaving, the long lashes, and the finely arched brows—the familiar similitude of womanly features reasserted itself. There was nothing overtly masculine about the face staring back at him. Turning slightly, he lifted a shoulder, affecting a coquettish pose, and smiled at his reflection. Maybe the possibility of him pulling this off wasn’t so entirely unfeasible.

There was a knock on the door, and he turned around in alarm, clutching the chemise that had slipped off his shoulder, but it was only Warren, carrying a tray with two steaming cups of tea.

“Your Highness,” he said, after shutting the door with his heel.

Stephan took the cup gratefully, warming his fingers. The scalding-hot fragrant tea made him feel marginally better about the world.

Warren set the tray on the table. He took a quilted silk robe out of one of the bags and helped Stephan put it on, after which he proceeded to pick up the discarded articles of wet clothing strewn across the floor.

“It would behoove you to be a bit more circumspect,” he observed in a neutral tone as he shook the water out of the velvet. “For a pampered aristocrat, you behave like a loudmouthed milkmaid sometimes.”

Stephan barked a laugh and turned away from the mirror. “Only when I’m too cold to wait on my servant’s alacrity.”

It was meant as gentle ribbing, not real censure. Warren seemed to take it as such, because he draped the dress neatly over a chair to dry, and sat down without waiting for permission, pouring another cup for himself.

While Stephan had been busy ogling himself in the mirror, Warren had taken the opportunity to change out of his travel clothes. The plain linen shirt clung to his broad shoulders, and his short auburn hair was half dry already. He was tall and solidly built, the very image of hale masculinity, whereas Stephan was slender and almost petite, with fine bones and delicate features. He’d been teased for these attributes since adolescence, but now he worried they were not nearly as effeminate as the situation required.

“You seem glummer than usual,” Warren observed. “I’d have thought it would take more than a bit of rain to dampen your spirits.”

“The prospect of being thrown in prison and possibly executed if anyone were to recognize me doesn’t exactly make me cheerful,” Stephan said dryly, setting his cup down and removing the needle-sharp pins that held his long hair back. “And it’s so…dreary here.”

He supposed his own anxiety made the surroundings seem more depressing than they truly were, but so far nothing about this city had appeased him, apart from the tea.

“At least we’re off that cursed boat,” Warren offered wryly, watching him over the rim of his cup. He’d had some difficulties adjusting to that mode of transportation, and spent the first few days on the upper deck, leaning over the rail. The experience hadn’t served to lighten the moods of either of them. “And no one has followed us.”

Stephan nodded in acquiescence as he languidly finger-combed his hair, working out the knots. There had been no signs of pursuit, or of anyone actively looking for them, as far as he could tell. Of course, he was counting on the likelihood of his seeking refuge in Esnia being rejected as outright preposterous. Just as his outfitting himself as a woman would have been thought to be. It was one reason—though admittedly not the chief one—why he’d resorted to this type of disguise.

“We’re due to arrive at the royal castle tomorrow,” Warren reminded him. Stephan could tell he’d been steeling himself to have this conversation. Again. “Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this? You know what I think about this whole matter, Your Highness. It’s not too late to turn elsewhere.”

“We’ve come this far already,” Stephan said. “To back down now would be—”

“Prudent,” Warren interjected. “Up until now, we’ve been traveling by the waterways, which was safe enough. Not a lot of people, more privacy to be had, no fear of discovery. And if anyone thought you behaved strangely—well, gentle-born women are peculiar in their manner, you know? But it won’t be like that in Zenna. Here, there are real noblewomen aplenty, around whom you will need to take special care of how you conduct yourself. Not to mention people who might recognize you from before.”

“Who? The only ones who might would have been the members of the Esnian delegation to Seveihar, and that was three years ago. A lot has changed since then.” Three years was a long time, especially in that awkward age between sixteen and nineteen. Stephan was reasonably sure it would be difficult enough to associate him with the shy, lanky youth he’d been back then, even without the disguise.

Warren shrugged and took a sip of tea. For a moment, his eyes lingered on Stephan’s hands going through his hair, and then he looked away. “When you have reason to hate someone as the Esnians hate us, you remember your enemies’ faces. You send spies that would know what they look like. We’ve talked about this already, but what makes you think Prince Arlen himself won’t call the guards when he sees you? As you’ve said, a lot has changed in three years.”

“He wouldn’t,” Stephan said with a conviction he wasn’t feeling.

Warren rolled his eyes, his expression that of a long-suffering voice of reason. At twenty-five, he was only six years Stephan’s senior, but at times he acted like Stephan’s aged grandfather.

“It’s not as if I have a lot of choice,” Stephan said bitterly. He finished combing his hair and picked up his tea, which was rapidly growing cold. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. Arlen is the only one who might grant me asylum.”

“There are other people who could help you,” Warren said carefully. “I mean—”

“You know very well there aren’t,” Stephan cut him off. “None that would support me against Robert and my uncle.”

Warren opened his mouth and then paused as he seemed to reconsider what he was going to say.

“With all due respect, you have no idea what kind of man Arlen is now. Do you really want to risk your life on his ability to handle seeing you in a petticoat?”

Stephan turned away and walked to the fireplace, letting the warmth spread through his weary body. As much as he wanted to snap back at Warren, he couldn’t. Warren was right, of course, and it wasn’t only Stephan’s life that hung in the balance. Stephan’s title as the prince of Seveihar—even while he was fleeing his own country—offered at least some semblance of protection, while Warren had none. Furthermore, the circumstances in which Stephen’s identity could be discovered—namely, pretending to be a woman—would mean nothing but shame and ridicule for his family, regardless of his ultimate fate. Shame and ridicule that they would not react well to.

Stephan often wondered why Warren had agreed to accompany him and share in his uncertain fate—loyalty notwithstanding. More than loyalty, really, as a bond had formed between them, tenuous but certain. But it had become clear from their first night on the road that Warren’s plan had been to continue to dissuade him from this folly—a plan that had proved futile in the face of Stephan’s blind determination.

It wasn’t as if Stephan wasn’t aware of the risks. He knew exactly how dangerous this scheme was. He’d known that when he’d first devised it, but then it had seemed like a daring idea, a shockingly outrageous adventure, even if it had been conceived of out of sheer desperation. Making his way through enemy territory, securing invitations to the High King of Esnia’s annual ball under false names—all for a chance to reconnect with the man who had been his first love and best friend years ago, and seek refuge with him—it all seemed improbable.

But after surviving a third alarming “accident” at the royal palace at Sever, his home in the valley-situated capital of Seveihar, Stephan was more than ready to risk appealing to an old lover rather than tempting fate by remaining in the family nest.

Certainly, in coming to Esnia, he was placing himself in no lesser danger. Seveihar’s relations with Esnia had been tenuous for decades, and then there was King Feden’s personal dislike of him. If exposed, Stephan would most likely face captivity and incarceration.

At least the choice of disguise for his escape had come easily to Stephan. If he was going to be persecuted for his idiosyncrasies, he might as well embrace them fully. Stephan had always enjoyed exploring his feminine side, and despite the audacity of it, when the idea of this subterfuge entered his mind, he’d directed all his efforts to delving deeper into it. He was still not entirely certain of his ability to fool others, of not making some stupid mistake that would give him away, but it was attainable, given time. He just wasn’t sure he had enough of it at his disposal.

“I have to at least try to get through to him,” he told Warren. “I can do this. I promise I’ll be careful. And it’s not like anyone would miss me should anything happen.”

Warren wisely didn’t contradict him, but his expression grew pensive. He seemed to put his arguments aside, as he’d done so often before when Stephan refused to be swayed.

“I wish you’d listen to reason, Your Highness. But since you won’t, and we’re here, we might as well go through with it. I’ll fetch you some food and hot water,” Warren said. “I’ve requested for you not to be disturbed.”

“Thanks, War,” Stephan offered him a smile. The man insisted on addressing him by his title, but in truth he was more a friend than a servant; he’d become the only one whom Stephan could trust when so much was at stake.

Warren left to get their dinner, and Stephan shed his robe before stretching on the bed, luxuriating in the crispness of clean starched sheets against his skin. After a three-week boat journey at the wane of autumn, he was grateful for all the little comforts he’d always taken for granted. The linen smelled vaguely of lavender. Stephan liked lavender. His household staff had scented his pillows with the dried flowers, and he remembered the smell clinging to Arlen’s hair as they rolled about in bed, laughing.

He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. The memory of that long-ago summer had lingered on the edge of awareness. Now, he could see in his mind’s eye the bright-colored light that had spilled from the stained-glass windows of the throne room, lending an almost festive appearance to the first and only Esnian delegation to Seveihar. How handsome Prince Arlen had been, wearing a silver circlet in his hair and Esnian royal blue. How happy they’d been later, finding joy in each other’s company. He wished he could stay in that memory a little bit longer, but it dissolved in the warmth, transforming into deep, exhausted sleep.

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Meet the Author

A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.

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