Oct 09

Blog Tour: Off Pitch by Brianna Kienitz (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Off Pitch

Series: Pitch Prodigies, Book One

Author: Brianna Kienitz

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: October 9, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 92600

Genre: Contemporary, lesbian, musician, new adult, performing arts, romance, sports

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Synopsis

Soccer star Adeline Fahey has never taken an interest in the world outside of the pitch. The daughter of wealthy Irish immigrants, and a straight-A student, she sees nothing but the goal—finish her last two years of school and join a professional soccer team—no ifs, ands, or buts.

Then Gabriella Soto, a cello prodigy in her own right and the teaching assistant in Adeline’s dreaded Beginning Spanish class, walks onto her playing field.

After a drunken night in a T-rex costume boots their hearts onto a collision course, Adeline and Gabriella must tackle a field of school scandal, homophobic parents, and their own passionate career goals to have a shot at something more. In the face of so many obstacles, Adeline and Gabriella fear that their love may not be strong enough to score them the championship relationship they never knew they wanted.

Excerpt

Off Pitch
Brianna Kienitz © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

I stood back to watch my handiwork as the soccer ball soared gracefully into the top-right corner of the goal, and a whistle blew from somewhere near the sideline to signal the end of practice. I sighed with contentment at my own spectacular skill and jogged toward the net to help clean up the mess of balls that littered the goal area. My bedeviled locks clung to my sweaty forehead as the summer sun beat down from the clear August sky and reflected off Lake Michigan, bathing the soccer field in a double-whammy heat wave.

“God, Adds! Do you ever let up? The season hasn’t even started yet,” Jessica whined from her position inside the goal.

“After fourteen years on the pitch together, I thought you’d have learned the answer to that question.” I gave her chestnut ponytail a playful tug, and she glared at me while she leaned casually against the goalpost.

“Well, there was that one time in first grade when we sat down in your living room and watched a movie.”

“Ha. Ha.” I rolled my eyes. Jessica Strobel and I had been best friends since first grade. Now, going into our junior year at Northwestern University, our relationship subsisted entirely on sarcasm and caffeine.

“I’ll tell you what. Since you managed to block almost 10 percent of my shots, and I know what a sore loser you are, I’ll take you out to coffee after we’re done here.”

“Wow, your highness. You are so magnanimous. Thank you soooooo much,” Jessica said with a flagrant eye roll. As much as we teased, I did feel a little guilty for dragging her to this practice. It was the last day before the start of fall classes, and while pre-semester practices weren’t mandatory, I was beginning to feel the stress of the inevitability of graduating in two years. I only had two seasons left to impress scouts and get picked up by a professional team, or risk becoming another college has-been. That was a fate to which I refused to succumb.

Jessica was, and always had been, my rock. She kept me grounded and sane, which was no small feat, given my penchant for being a high-strung ass much of the time. Her role in my life was much like that of the Roman slaves who whispered in Caesar’s ear, “Remember, thou art mortal,” as he paraded victorious. Not that I thought I was immortal but I did have a big head. Jessica was the person who kept my over-inflated ego from carrying me away like a hot-air balloon.

“Fahey! Strobel! Clean up now, chitchat later,” Coach barked from the sideline. “Some of us have places to be.”

“You heard the man.” Jessica gave me a pointed look. “You made this mess. You clean it up.” Without another word, she traipsed off toward the locker rooms. I sighed audibly, but silently smirked at her retreating back. She put me in my place like no one else could. It was only fair that I pick up. If I hadn’t dragged her to this voluntary practice, she would probably still be sitting in our shared apartment in her pajamas, watching whatever show she was currently obsessed with.

Once I had stuffed the plethora of soccer balls back into a bag, I hitched it over my shoulder and hauled it to the sideline where the coach waited impatiently. He seemed focused on whatever he was doing on his clipboard, so I didn’t dare disturb him. I threw the bag into the pile of soccer sundries for the equipment manager to deal with and started to trot toward the locker room. I was only a few steps along when the coach called after me.

“Hold up, Fahey. A word, please.” His tone was always gruff, but I had learned that his demeanor was more warm than harsh. His face seemed to bear a perpetual five-o’clock shadow, but his blue eyes were always bright beneath his bushy rich brown hair. It was as if he was built to be a coach, right down to his powerful physique and firm attitude.

“What’s up, Coach?”

“Gardener is gone,” he said without looking up from his clipboard.

“Yeah. I know.” I felt like he was stating the obvious. Cam Gardener had been the captain of Northwestern University’s women’s soccer team for the past two years. She had graduated last year, and we’d held a big going-away party for her and the other graduates at the end of the semester. I was perfectly aware that graduating meant she wouldn’t be on the team anymore.

“So, we’ll need a new captain.” Coach looked up at me finally. “It’ll be the ladies’ decision, ultimately, but I want it to be you.” His expression was calculating as he waited for me to respond.

“Oh…wow! I…thanks, Coach. I mean, it’s up to the others, obviously, but…yeah. I’ll think about it. Thank you. I’ll think about it,” I babbled and started to walk away. I felt Coach’s gaze weighing on the back of my strong shoulders, and my thoughts began to race. I had never really considered being captain of any team. I was an excellent player by any standards, and it wasn’t that I was selfish, or a showboat, but I was always focused on being the best I could be. I loved being part of a team, but I had never thought of myself as a leader.

The prospect was both exhilarating and daunting. I tried not to let it worry me as I undressed and showered in the locker room. Hopefully, Jessica was up for being a sounding board, and she could help me figure this whole situation out. She was always the level-headed one.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Brianna Kienitz (pronounced Kee-nits) started out as an avid reader of lesbian fiction on Wattpad. When reading no longer sated her appetite, she turned to writing the stories she craved. Brianna believes a good story should make you feel every moment deeply, whether it be laughing until it hurts, crying yourself dry, or screaming with unbridled rage. Her Wattpad works have been widely read and have received multiple awards from the Wattpad community. Her current project, Off Pitch, was named Wattpad LGBT Book of the Month in March 2017.

Brianna lives in Missoula, Montana, where she works as a slayer of transit demons, and a dance instructor. She spends most of her down time hiding in her Hobbit Hole with her wife and cat, curating T-rex costume GIF’s and pretending not to be socially awkward on the internet.

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Oct 05

Release Day Blitz: Leaning Into Touch by Lane Hayes (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Leaning Into Touch

Series: Leaning Into Stories, #4

Author: Lane Hayes

Publisher:  Lane Hayes

Release Date: October 5

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 80k words

Genre: Romance, Bisexual, Humor, Second Chance, Friends to Lovers, San Francisco, Office

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Synopsis

Josh Sheehan is unlucky in love and now… newly unemployed. He’s not sure what to do next, but he’s sure he should give up on romance. Especially after last time. His friends warned him that falling for the hunky Irishman was a bad idea. Josh can’t help feeling torn even though he knows it’s best to move on. But when an unexpected dose of family drama blindsides him, Josh finds himself leaning on the one man he’s supposed to forget.

Finn Gallagher is driven by success. He makes no secret that building a name for his tech company is his number one goal. Finn left home a decade ago with a ton of regret, a heavy heart, and a vow to never repeat the same mistake twice. However, there is something undeniably appealing about the self-deprecating man with the silly sense of humor that makes it difficult for Finn to remember why falling for Josh is a bad idea. It soon becomes clear they’re both in deeper than they intended. There is no way to remain untouched. And there is so much to gain, if they’re brave enough to lean in.

Excerpt

Finn smiled and fell into step beside me. It seemed quieter on the street than it was earlier; there wasn’t as much foot traffic. Typical for midweek, I supposed. I breathed in the refreshing night air, loving the faint smell of the ocean. I shivered and crossed my arms. So much for enjoying a leisurely stroll. It was cold as fuck out here. I picked up my pace, but Finn pulled at my elbow to stop me.

“Are you daft? Where’s your coat?”

“I f-forgot it at the last bar. It’s okay. I’m cl-close.” I visibly shook when the wind whipped up the sidewalk, sending a scrap of newspaper flying by us like a paper airplane.

“Let’s go back and get it.”

“No, my friend will give it to me later. Or her friend will. I’m almost h-home so—what are you doing?”

“Put this on, then.”

Finn shrugged his suit coat off and set it over my shoulders like a cape or a cloak. He was two inches taller than me and far more muscular. It was like being wrapped in his warm, cologne-scented embrace. The gesture was so chivalrous, it left me speechless for a moment. I knew he was just being kind, but I couldn’t contain my smile.

“Thank you,” I said. “Are you sure you won’t be too cold?”

“Where I’m from, this is a summer breeze. You need it more than I do. Now tell me about your mates. I’m relieved to know you weren’t out drowning your sorrows on your own tonight.”

I snickered at his paternal tone. “I’m not above it, that’s for sure, but no…I was with my work crew for one last happy hour. Marley insisted. She was the redhead with the awesome curls I was with this morning at the museum.”

“I remember. She’s the one holding your jacket for ransom, eh?”

“Yeah. She’s on a mission to find the perfect man for me,” I huffed, making sure he saw my eye roll before we turned the corner to my street.

“Has she ruled out women? You’re bi, aren’t you?”

“Honestly, I don’t know what I am anymore. I had girlfriends in high school and even in college but after the first time I was with a man, I haven’t been interested in anything but dick.”

Finn laughed. “Good to know.”

“What about you?” I asked, leading him down a brick path and up a short flight of stairs.

I leaned against the bright red door as I fumbled for the house key in my front pocket. In my head, I was planning a cinematic-worthy good-bye. Something lighthearted but sincere before we parted for the last time. It would have been a helluva lot easier to concentrate if he wasn’t standing so close and looking at me like I was the last brownie on the buffet table. I cocked my head and waited for him to break the spell.

“I like it too,” he said in a husky voice I hadn’t heard in far too long.

I gulped and licked my bottom lip as he moved in, bending slightly to brush his nose against mine. He surrounded me in every possible way. The heat of his body and the warmth of his coat draped me in a seductive cocoon. I felt woozy with a rush of desire so intense, I would’ve swayed on my feet if he hadn’t been standing so close. I set my right hand on his hip to steady myself and leaned in…just as he pushed away.

Finn let out a ragged breath and swiped his hand over his stubbled chin. “Fuck. I forgot how bloody difficult it is to walk away from you.”

“Then don’t.”

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Meet the Author

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

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Oct 02

Blog Tour: Loving Sarajevo by CL Mustafic (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Loving Sarajevo

Author: CL Mustafic

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: October 2, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 97500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Family drama, BDSM, D/s, spanking, travel, businessmen, men with children

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Synopsis

Gage has problems saying I love you. After five years with his live-in boyfriend, Lucas, he still hasn’t said it. When Lucas calls it quits, it’s not a surprise, but it couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time—the eve of Gage’s first business trip to Sarajevo.

Nikola, who’s been tasked with chaperoning Gage during his stay, is the walking epitome of sex on a stick. Gage quickly develops an attraction to him, even before he’s certain it could ever be reciprocated. When the feeling turns out to be mutual, Gage is surprised by Nikola’s domineering bedroom persona but finds he likes being manhandled by the sexy Bosnian.

After a heated disagreement, Nikola must convince Gage that even though they’ve only known each other a short time, what they feel for each other is worth fighting for. With only his cell phone and a plan, Nikola goes about getting the man who has stolen his heart to give them a chance at happiness.

Excerpt

Loving Sarajevo
CL Mustafic © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

“I swear to god, if you get on that plane tomorrow, I’m going to pack my shit and go home,” Lucas shouted.

Gage sat on the couch looking up at the slight blond man who was in the middle of having yet another tantrum brought on by Gage having to leave on a business trip. “I thought this was your home,” Gage replied blithely.

It wasn’t the first time Lucas threatened to leave, and it probably wouldn’t be the last since they’d had this same argument each time Gage left on a business trip. Still, he knew he’d get on the plane, and when he got back in a month, Lucas would be there—apologetic and looking to make up. That’s the way it had gone for the last two years—ever since Gage took over the emerging markets accounts at his dad’s company.

“You know that I only came here to be with you. There’s no other reason anyone would come to this Podunk town.” Lucas gave Gage his best scowl. “But you’re never here. This isn’t what I signed up for.”

“I told you I’d be gone quite a bit. I never lied to you. You were the one who decided to move here. I was fine with driving down to see you on the weekends.”

Okay, so he knew Lucas wasn’t exactly happy in a smaller city, but it was Lucas’s decision—after a year and a half of only seeing each other on weekends—to move. Lucas had been happy in Minneapolis, when they both had their own places and could see each other whenever they’d wanted but had grown weary of the weekend-only visits that were primarily spent in bed. Gage had been just as happy with seeing Lucas only on the weekends when he’d moved back north to his hometown, and with all of Lucas’s drama of late, he’d been thinking he’d be happy to go back to that arrangement. He’d thought his feelings for Lucas would deepen over time but, though he cared for Lucas, he’d never fallen in love with him—or at least he didn’t think this was what love felt like.

“Sure you were fine with that, but I want more. I’m not just some booty call here for your pleasure when you need to get off,” Lucas spat out. And there it was. It was like there was a script for their lives, and this scene was repeated often.

Lucas wanted more, and at the age of thirty-seven Gage probably should too, but he’d come to realize more wasn’t always better, and even though he tried, it was impossible to convince Lucas what they had was good enough. He’d only let Lucas move in with him because he’d been lonely, although now he was thinking he should have gotten a dog.

Pushing himself up off the couch, he went to Lucas. This was the part where he always took Lucas in his arms and let him cry it out until he decided to stay. Then Gage would take him to the bedroom, fuck him through the mattress, and Lucas would fall into a contented sleep in Gage’s arms. In the morning, Lucas would wake up just enough to tell Gage to have a safe trip and that he loved him when Gage kissed him before he left for the airport. Of course, Gage would reply with a “Me too” because he’d never said the actual words to anyone before, and he wasn’t about to start with Lucas—Gage had never lied to Lucas.

“Don’t even, Gage,” Lucas said holding up his hand to ward Gage off. “I’m not going to let you sweet-talk me into bed this time.” Oops, Lucas had gone off script. He looked up at Gage with his big blue eyes on the brink of tears. “I’m really going this time. You know I love you more than anything, but I can’t do this. I’m sick of being alone so much, and there’s nothing here for me. All of my friends and family are back home. You’re all I have here, and you’re never here.” His voice cracked with emotion, and he ended his speech with a sniffle Gage knew always preceded the tears that were inevitably going to come.

“Babe, come on; we do this every time. You know how this is going to play out. Can’t we just skip this?” Gage grabbed his hand, giving it a tug, and Lucas let himself be pulled to Gage’s chest, even wrapping his arms around Gage’s waist like he wanted to be there. Lucas’s chest hitched, and Gage knew he was crying before the wetness seeped through his shirt. Gage stood there holding him for a couple of minutes, hoping Lucas would come to his senses like he normally did.

“I have to leave, Gage. Maybe you were right. Maybe we’re just in different places in our lives—our timing is off. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m going to be gone when you come home. I hope you understand. I don’t want you to hate me because I still love you. Maybe someday you’ll be ready, but I can’t take the chance that you may never be,” Lucas said into Gage’s chest after he’d calmed enough to talk.

Gage couldn’t help thinking how sad it was that Lucas was the one saying it to him instead of the other way around. He should be the one ready to settle down and start a family, not Lucas, who was only twenty-six—just a cute little twink. Someone like Lucas should be out clubbing and fucking everything that moved and not tied down to a guy like Gage.

It wasn’t that Gage didn’t want to be with just one guy for the rest of his life and maybe adopt a couple of dogs or kids or whatever. It was hard for him to explain it to Lucas because he didn’t really understand it himself. He could tell Lucas that his shrink diagnosed him with “commitment issues” that stemmed from his not “fully accepting his homosexuality,” but Gage was sure Lucas wouldn’t buy it for a minute—hell, Gage didn’t buy it for more than the time it took him to walk from the guy’s office to his truck.

“You have to do what’s best for you, Luke. I just wish you wouldn’t have waited until the night before I leave to tell me.” Gage was more than a little annoyed at the timing.

“If I would have told you sooner, you’d have had time to talk me out of leaving. I thought about just letting you leave, thinking I was happy, and moving while you were gone, but I couldn’t do this over the phone. I’ve loved you too long to end it that way,” Lucas said softly. He tilted his head up to look at Gage, who leaned down for a kiss, which Lucas accepted, letting Gage kiss him tenderly but pulling away before it could become anything more. “I can’t do one last goodbye fuck with you, Gage, I know how it will end. I’m going to go stay at Jen’s tonight. I’ll move my stuff out before you get back.”

“You don’t have to go. You can stay here. We’ll just sleep. Just let me hold you while we sleep one more time.” It was finally sinking in—Lucas was serious this time and was going to leave. That fact hit Gage harder than he figured it would. He wasn’t sure he wanted Lucas to stay, but he was almost certain he didn’t want him to go either. Yeah, I can’t even figure things out in my own headsome great catch I am.

“No, you know that is not what will happen. I need to go now while I still have some control over my emotions.” Lucas put on his coat, grabbed his car keys off the hook by the front door, and then turned his tear-stained face to look at Gage. “I’m so sorry, Gage. Have a safe trip. I love you.” Opening the door, Lucas walked out on Gage without giving him the chance to say “Me too.”

Purchase

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Meet the Author

CL Mustafic is a born and bred American mid-westerner who mysteriously ended up living in one of those countries nobody can ever find on the map of Europe. Left with too much time on her hands—let’s be honest here: it was the lack of television channels in her native language–and too many voices in her head trying to fill the silence, she decided to give her life-long dream of writing a novel a shot. So now, between shuttling kids back and forth from various activities and risking her life on the insanely narrow, busy streets of her new hometown, she loses herself in her own made-up world where love always wins.

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Oct 02

Blog Tour: Third Son by Mickie B. Ashling (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Third Son

Author: Mickie B. Ashling

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: October 2, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 75000

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, mystery, action, family-drama, gay, crime, suspense, explicit, criminals, bodyguard

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Synopsis

American Niall Monroe returns to Hong Kong—a city he calls home—after being away for eight years. He hopes to finally find happiness with Peter Wei, his closeted lover of fourteen years, but is disappointed to find Peter has been put in an untenable position. He must marry and produce the long-awaited grandchild or get cut off by his millionaire father.

Gerard Sun, a talented artist, bursts back into Niall’s life after a one-night stand in Las Vegas. Circumstances force the men to deal with their attraction, especially when Niall’s firm considers Gerard to help promote tourism in the People’s Republic of China.

James, Peter’s younger brother, has been Niall’s best friend since they were schoolmates. He encourages Niall to ditch his brother and move on. He encourages Niall to ditch his brother until he finds out Niall is thinking of dating Gerard Sun, a talented artist.

Coming home seemed like a great idea until it wasn’t. Niall finds himself a stranger in a familiar landscape, slammed on multiple fronts by broken promises, jealousy, intrigue, unimaginable deceit, and undercurrents of evil. As his dreams quickly turn into nightmares, Niall reaches out to new allies for support.

Excerpt

Third Son
Mickie B. Ashling © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

“I’ve heard rumors you’re in denial,” the guy from Chatty Man commented.

Leaning forward, I waited to hear Adam Lambert’s response. I’d been ignoring the interview so far, but now I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the flat-screen, not after hearing that accusation.

Warily, the superstar asked, “About what?”

“Being a ging.”

Adam smiled, showing off those gorgeous white teeth. “I’m not in denial, just quiet about it.”

“What was it like for you at school being a ginger?” Alan Carr asked.

“Unremarkable. You know,” the stud confided in a mock whisper. “We’re said to have a lot of secret powers.”

“Really?”

“We can go for hours,” Adam replied, bursting into laughter.

“Yeah, right,” I slurred, flipping him the bird. Disgusted, I got off the couch and went to refill my drink. Super powers, my ass. If that were true, then how come the guy dyed his hair black? Because it’s a myth, I concluded scornfully. Like the correlation between fingers and dick sizes.

“A face without freckles is like a night without stars,” someone in the audience commented.

God…give me a fucking break.

My knee-jerk reaction to that old cliché was another shot of tequila. I was on day two of a monumental bender. Thank God, the weekend was almost over. Tomorrow, I’d be back to normal—innovative, focused, and coolly competent—despite this setback. Dealing with clients in my current state of mind wasn’t an option and could end up a financial disaster. A large part of my success as a top-tier exec at one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world was my inscrutable façade. It would have been the kiss of death to show any sort of weakness among Hong Kong’s movers and shakers. The majority of my clients were from the PRC. They asked to work with me, because I was born and raised here. Even though I looked like your average American, I spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese and knew the drill. Emotions, good or bad, were viewed as a character flaw. Men who allowed feelings to interfere with business were usually dumped like yesterday’s pork bun.

I tried making out my reflection in the glass cabinets above the bar and only saw a reddish blur where my head was supposed to be.

“If you’ve dated a redhead, raise your glass, if not…raise your standards.”

What in the ever-loving fuck was this guy yammering about? I turned my attention back to the TV screen and muttered, “Piss off!”

To my surprise, Adam looked me right in the eyes, with a sly grin plastered on his gorgeous face, and purred, “Make me.”

Whoa…

Blinking rapidly, I stared at the flat-screen. Was I hallucinating or what? Had the overpriced tequila finally destroyed my few remaining brain cells?

I staggered toward the sofa and threw myself backward, hoping the cushions would catch me, so I wouldn’t end up on the floor with a mild concussion. They did, thankfully. Never losing sight of the flat-screen, I took another shot of the aged Patrón and shuddered as it went down my gullet.

TV Adam snickered.

“Are you making fun of me?” I grumbled.

“You started it, honey.”

Grabbing the remote, I pointed it at the TV and made stupid pew-pew noises, hoping it would blow up. The room was plunged into darkness, and the abrupt silence was a much-needed reprieve. I waited a few minutes to see if Adam would goad me again, but nothing happened. All I heard was the soft hum of the central air. Good. I could chalk this up to an overactive imagination and some wormy tequila.

When I woke up on Monday morning, daylight seeped in through the vertical blinds. The noises in my head had been replaced by a relentless pulse of pain. I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to focus on my goals. Aspirin, shower, change, meet with the client, close the deal, and send them on their merry way. Now was not the time to dwell on my love life or lack thereof. Glancing at the digital clock on the nightstand, I saw that I had two hours to get my shit together and walk into my meeting with a studied look that oozed calm and confidence. It would be a stretch given my current condition, but I knew I’d pull this off. I had to. There was no one else on staff who could deal with Minister Xiang Guo. She was a formidable negotiator and set in her ways. It was my job to open her eyes and help her understand that, if the Chinese hoped to improve their status abroad and lure in more tourists, they needed a serious makeover.

Fucking hell…

I sat up and swung my legs off the bed, immediately regretting the sudden move. My head was spinning and I cradled it between my hands, hoping that would help. When the room stopped tilting, I inched my way toward the bathroom, grabbing on to the wall whenever I found myself lurching. My earlier assessment would need a hard edit. This hangover was going to be a bitch. I reached for the bottle of aspirin, shook two in my hand, and used the shower water to chase them down. Under the stinging spray of oscillating heads, I recalled how this binge had started.

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

Meet the Author

Mickie B. Ashling is the pseudonym of a multifaceted woman who is a product of her upbringing in multiple cultures, having lived in Japan, the Philippines, Spain, and the Middle East. Fluent in three languages, she’s a citizen of the world and an interesting mixture of East and West. A little bit of this and a lot of that have brought a unique touch to her literary voice she could never learn from textbooks.

By the time Mickie discovered her talent for writing, real life got in the way, and the business of raising four sons took priority. With the advent of e-publishing—and the inevitable emptying nest—dreams of becoming a published writer were resurrected and she’s never looked back.

She stumbled into the world of men who love men in 2002 and continues to draw inspiration from their ongoing struggle to find equality and happiness in this oftentimes skewed and intolerant world. Her award-winning novels have been called “gut wrenching, daring, and thought provoking.” She admits to being an angst queen and making her men work damn hard for their happy endings.

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Oct 02

Book Blitz: Tender with a Twist by Annabeth Albert (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Tender with a Twist

Series: Rainbow Cove #2, but stands alone well

Author: Annabeth Albert

Publisher:  Annabeth Albert

Release Date: October 2, 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 79,000 words

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, May-December, BDSM (light), Small Town

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Synopsis

One kinky wood carver. One younger chef looking to try new things. A series of lessons that bring both men more than they bargained for…

Curtis Hunt has made a name for himself as a chainsaw wood carver, winning national competitions and operating a small business in Rainbow Cove, Oregon. As winter whittles away his tourist traffic, his goal is just to survive the season and try to not get lost in grief for his dead lover. It’s been two years, but he’s sure he’ll never be over the love of a lifetime. However, his body has a certain restlessness that he doesn’t quite know how to calm.

Logan Rosner knows a thing or two about restlessness. It’s what drove him to Rainbow Cove to be a chef at a bar and grill run by his friends. And it’s what drives him to a single sizzling encounter with the local legendary lumberjack. Both men get far more than they expected and learn that first impressions aren’t always accurate…

But when Logan proposes a series of sexy lessons, Curtis must decide how much he’s willing to risk. He knows he can’t afford to get attached to Logan’s good cooking, his easy smiles, or his caretaking, but he keeps going back for more, even as deeper emotions become involved. Soon, Curtis must decide whether to risk his heart again or risk losing Logan for good.

Tender with a Twist is a 75,000 word stand-alone gay romance with a May/December theme, featuring a second chance at love, opposites attract, loads of sexy times with mild BDSM elements, and one emotionally-charged, guaranteed happy ending with no cliffhangers.

Excerpt

Logan

The crazy woodcarver was shirtless. Again. It was a sleepy Thursday in January on the Oregon Coast which meant most sane people were in flannel and jackets and bundled for the sharp bite of the wind. I was wearing fleece-lined bike pants and a long-sleeved cycling jacket myself as I celebrated the first good ride of the year, and I was still chilly when I stopped my ride near the jewelry store on 101—the main highway running through Rainbow Cove. I told myself that I’d stopped for some water from my bottle, but I knew it was a weak excuse. Really, I’d been transfixed by the sight of Curtis Hunt carving up a giant tree trunk with his chainsaw.

For all that rumors flew about his eccentricity, the man was an unparalleled artist, and watching him do his thing was a true pleasure. Sweat dripped from his head and back despite the cool temperature, and he worked like a man possessed, moving this way and that around the piece, dancing almost as his chainsaw flitted about with the sort of grace I’d expect from the jeweler, not this buff lumberjack with heavy machinery.

He wore sawdust splattered jeans, heavy boots, safety goggles and ear protectors, but his red flannel shirt lay discarded on a nearby sculpture of a falcon, showing off his shimmering muscles and tats that even from a distance were impressive. For all that the guy had probably fifteen years on me, he was in amazing shape. Hell, if I had ink and muscles like that, I wouldn’t keep my shirt on, either. All the muscles made something warm unfurl in my gut, but I dismissed the low thrum of arousal as a never-happening-in-this-lifetime thing. Chances were very high that he’d laugh at any of my fantasies, especially the ones involving him, some rope, and his usual intense stare replaced with something closer to supplication.

But, a guy could still look. And want. So I took my time drinking my water, watching as the outline of a bird slowly emerged from the raw tree trunk.

In a town as tiny as Rainbow Cove, the rumor mill worked overtime, and I knew all the rumors about Curtis. Knew he’d lost his longtime lover a year or two ago and that the two of them had been mythic fixtures in the area. Curtis had apparently gotten more eccentric since the other guy had passed, moving into the old gas station he used as a gallery for his carvings, growing his own food, and going notoriously cranky about change.

And change was what had driven me to Rainbow Cove. Change was what my restaurant represented—hope that the area economy could find a new foothold in tourism. So it wasn’t surprising that Curtis didn’t seem to like my friends and me any. Probably wouldn’t appreciate me looking at him like he was a lumbersexual Tumblr all queued up for my viewing pleasure.  But damn, those muscles…

I gave myself last look before I pedaled away, heading away from the center of town, taking the turnoff that would lead me to the narrow residential road that skirted the beach to the south. I was alone on the road, glorious, vast gray skies and sprawling blue ocean my only companions. This was what I’d come to Rainbow Cove for, the space to be alone, the quietness that I’d only ever found before in a dojo. Portland was crowded, and not just with people. My parents’ expectations always loomed large, as did past mistakes and hurts, and the general hustle of the area made it hard to catch my breath, hard to think and breathe and simply be. The traffic. The noise. The demands. All of it had gotten to be too much for me, and when my friend Mason had proposed the idea of the bar and grille here on the coast, I’d leapt at the chance to start fresh, especially since I’d loved the coast from some of my earliest memories of family weekends away.

Eventually, my ride returned me to the tavern where Mason was signing off on a meat delivery from a local farm.

“Chef!” The driver greeted me with a wave as I locked up the bike. “We’ve got some new fillets in. Think you might want some for a special this week?”

My mind immediately flitted away the shirtless woodcarver and back to my real passion—cooking. I loved being the chef here, the guy who made the decisions and the specials. I’d had years of sous chef positions in Portland, growing ever more eager for my own menu, one where I could play with sauces and presentation and choose my own local ingredients.

“I’m picturing a peppercorn crusted fillet with red wine reduction.” I inspected packages Mason was loading into the freezer and fridge. We’d do most of our business with the endless stacks of burger patties, but I loved changing things up with my daily specials, too.

“Don’t know if anyone will pay fillet prices.” Mason shook his head. The slow winter season was starting to wear on my friend, who also served as our business manager. “You can try it as a special, but let’s not over-order.”

I reluctantly took a small order of fillets, ceding to Mason’s wishes, and rounded out my weekly specials plan with cheaper options like shepherd’s pie.

“How was your ride?” Mason asked after the delivery guy was on his way.

“Fine.” I didn’t feel the need to report on my perving of the woodcarver. It had been a little personal indulgence. Not to mention the fact that Mason’s police chief boyfriend, Nash Flint, was close friends with Curtis, which meant I’d be in for double the teasing if I let on that I’d let my eyes wander in that direction.

“You’re not too lonely, are you?” Mason pressed. “It’s your first winter on the coast, and I know that can be hard.”

“Not lonely,” I said, truthfully. I was so happy to be free of all the voices of Portland—my well-meaning parents, my ex, my aikido master, my many opinionated friends, the executive chefs and restaurant managers who hadn’t seen fit to promote me. The silence of the off season meant that for the first time in my life I was finally free to figure out my own direction, and I intended to seize that. I wasn’t telling Mason, but that was my New Year’s resolution—be the person I’d been reluctant to embrace in Portland. It was high time I took a chance on myself.

Purchase at AmazonMeet the Author

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Annabeth’s Angels Facebook Group | Sign Up for Annabeth’s Newsletter!

 

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Sep 25

Blog Tour: Golden by RL Mosswood (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Golden

Author: RL Mosswood

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 33500

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBT, Romance, fantasy, paranormal, gay, captivity, magic users, mythology, sailors, slave

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Synopsis

Harem boy might not be the most appropriate role for someone who’s never really seen the appeal of sex, but Elin’s status as dahabi: golden in a land of tan and brown, has marked him for The Dragon’s service since birth. He’s content enough with his life of uncomplicated, if restrictive, luxury, until an unremarkable chore becomes a case of love at first sight.

Mysterious newcomer Hathar, a roguish “merchant adventurer” from far-off lands, ignites an exploration of Elin’s first taste of physical desire, as well as a desire to experience life beyond the palace. Now, they must find a way to escape before Hathar’s ship departs, stranding them forever in The Dragon’s harem.

Excerpt

Golden
R.L. Mosswood © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Elin woke in his usual place on the silken pallet between Nikil and Rian. The haram was dark, and the night sky outside the elegant, grated windows was still inky. He wasn’t sure what had roused him. He couldn’t recall a dream, and the room was quiet but for the usual nighttime chorus of the men’s sighs and snores.

A moment later, he realized he could hear something else. Not in the room, but maybe down the hall or from the floor below, he could make out rough, raised voices. A fight? But who would it be at this hour, and in this part of the palace? He propped himself on his elbows a little and scanned the room—all the beds seemed to be filled. The men of the haram knew better than to fight anyway, at least not that kind of fighting, with yelling and tussling. The Dragon didn’t take damage to “her boys” lightly, and anyone caught inflicting that damage was likely to disappear without notice or explanation.

He listened a little longer, trying to make out words or recognize a voice, but whatever was happening was far enough off to make that impossible. Finally, he heard a door slam, and that seemed to be the end of it.

He rolled over and drifted off, still puzzling over what he had heard.

*****

At breakfast the following morning, everything seemed normal. The hall was filled with the groggy murmur of men beginning their day, the rich aroma of coffee, and the tap of wooden cutlery on fine china.

Elin, as usual, sat on his own, thoughtfully chewing a honeyed pastry. Though it was hard to ever be truly alone in the haram, his tendency to quiet contemplation left him out of most of the livelier interactions the other men favored. He wasn’t much for sport, which was one of the main entertainments among his comrades, and his thoughts tended to follow slow and dreamy pathways that didn’t lend themselves to clever banter.

As he was pondering the particular play of light on the grain of the highly polished tabletop, a shadow moved into his peripheral vision. One of the guards, a man named Emun, was approaching. The guards of the haram were in a unique position: They were, in most ways, subordinate to the residents they guarded, so they spoke in polite tones, made requests rather than demands, and would usually do whatever was asked of them. At the same time, they were in charge of keeping the men in their place—generally not a hard job. Who would want to escape the lap of luxury, after all? But it was known that, if pushed, the guards would muster force to keep order, which lent an edge to all their interactions with their charges.

Elin finished his bite and looked up, inviting Emun to address him.

“I’ve got something for you to do after breakfast,” he said. “A new resident who needs some cleaning up.”

“A new resident? To our wing?”

Elin was used to being assigned chores considered beneath the more favored men of the haram, but this was unusual. His wing was inhabited by the twenty-one- to thirty-year-olds. They had all entered the haram as children, as soon as they’d been found by The Dragon’s collectors, or ceded by their parents. New arrivals had trickled in through their younger years, a few carefully hidden late arrivals into their early teens, but it had been nearly a decade since anyone had joined the group Elin had grown up with.

“Yep.” Emun cut his thoughts short. “City guard found him skulking around the palace walls and assumed he was an escapee, but we’ve never seen him before. He’s The Dragon’s now, of course. Pretty rough around the edges though. Weird accent, needs a scrub and a shave. See what you can do. Jurah will have him waiting for you outside the baths after you’re done here.”

“Sure. Okay.” Elin wasn’t sure what else to say. How did a fully grown dahabi end up wandering outside the palace? Did he mean to get caught? He supposed he’d have a chance to answer all his questions soon enough, and returned to his breakfast as Emun returned to his post near the door.

*****

Outside the baths, Jurah was waiting as promised. With the guard was a man who could only be the new addition, looking much worse for wear than Elin had anticipated. His hair was so filthy and matted that Elin was surprised the city guard had known him as dahabi at all, and there was blood caked down his cheek and through his stubble from an angry split on his brow. He hadn’t come voluntarily, then. The sturdy rope binding the man’s wrists only reinforced that fact.

“Emun asked me to come down after breakfast,” he said, not quite ready to volunteer what he’d been asked to do. Maybe Jurah had a different understanding of the matter.

No such luck. “Yeah! I’ve got quite a job for you here,” the guard replied jovially, indicating the filthy man by tugging lightly on his bindings. The “job” in question scowled slightly, but said nothing.

“Does he, uh, need to stay bound like that?” Helping with a bath was one thing, but Elin didn’t think he had it in him to wrestle anyone into submission.

“Oh, no. Our friend here has settled down quite a bit since last night. He’s going to be on his best behavior for you. Right?” With that, Jurah elbowed the other man for a reply.

He looked up from under his brow, directly at Elin as if the guard wasn’t there, startling him with moonlit-silver eyes. “I’m no threat to you. There was just a…misunderstanding with these other gentlemen earlier, and they don’t quickly forget.”

Elin found, thankfully, that he believed the man. “Let him go then. I can’t get him cleaned up with his hands tied together.”

The guard did so and then hesitated a moment, as if unsure what do to next. “Would you like me to come in there…with you?” The guards usually gave the men of the haram their privacy in the baths—it was their job to protect, not to ogle—but Jurah clearly didn’t feel the same faith in the stranger’s intentions that Elin did.

Elin looked again into the strange, pale eyes. Seeing no malice there, he said, “We’ll be fine. You can watch the door to ensure a little privacy for our new guest, and I’ll call out if I have any need of you.”

Jurah looked uncertain, but released the man, clearly feeling himself on the subordinate end of the equation in this interaction.

Elin stepped forward and opened the door to the baths, gesturing for the man to follow. “It’s just a bath, really,” he said to the skeptical Jurah as he closed the door behind them.

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Meet the Author

RL Mosswood lurks in the depths of the Pacific Northwest rainforest, where they dabble in queer fiction in an attempt to add a little magic to their otherwise mundane existence.

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9/25 Divine Magazine

9/25 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

9/26 Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

9/26 Love Bytes

9/27 My Fiction Nook

9/27 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/28 Happily Ever Chapter

9/28 Drops of Ink

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9/29 On Top Down Under Book Reviews

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Sep 25

Blog Tour: On the Way to San Jose by Jere’ M. Fishback (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  On the Way to San Jose

Author: Jere’ M. Fishback

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 53900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, College, bi, gay, contemporary, road trip

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Synopsis

Terrence, a socially inept clarinetist whose driver’s license is suspended, needs his panel van driven from Orlando to San Jose, where he plans to start a new life. Levi’s a Stanford University student with Asperger’s Syndrome who answers Terrence’s Internet drive-away listing.

The two start out as strangers, but as their journey westward progresses a friendship is kindled, one that will change both boys’ lives in profound ways.

Excerpt

On the Way to San Jose
Jere’ M. Fishback © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Levi McKane studied an Internet drive-away listing:

Need vehicle driven from Orlando to San Jose, CA. We can split the gas. I want to leave ASAP.

The listing provided a phone number.

Levi was twenty with an athletic build, cobalt eyes, and sandy hair that grew to his shoulders. He would start his third year at Stanford University in two weeks. He’d earned himself a full academic scholarship to the California school after graduating second in his class from Merritt Island High in Brevard County, Florida two years before.

But his life was not perfect.

When Levi was four years old, a child development specialist diagnosed him with a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder causing difficulties in social interaction. So, despite his high intelligence, Levi had never mastered the art of human communication. At school and home, he said little. He kept to himself and avoided eye contact. Conversations, even with family members, seemed like thickets to Levi. He had no close friends in either Brevard County or California, and until recently had never dated. In truth, he felt the happiest fishing by himself on his parents’ dock with a six-pack of beer at his side.

“Leave him alone,” his dad must have told Levi’s mother a thousand times. “It won’t be long before he figures himself out.”

Over summer break from Stanford, Levi had saved up three thousand dollars while working at his dad’s auto repair business on Merritt Island. He could have flown to California if he chose to, but didn’t want to waste part of his summer earnings on airfare, not with the problem he faced.

He’d met a girl named Taylor back in June. She waited tables at a beachfront grill that Levi sometimes patronized after surfing at the Cocoa Beach Pier. Taylor wasn’t the subtle type; right away she let Levi know she liked him. And Levi, being a socially artless boy, let her take him down a path he hadn’t walked before. One thing led to another, and now Taylor was pregnant.

While he studied his computer screen, Levi thought of the phone call he’d received from Taylor a month before: “As of yesterday, I was late on my period two weeks. I knew something was wrong, so I bought a testing kit, and now it’s for certain. What’ll we do?”

“We?” Levi said. “Are you even sure it’s mine?”

“Positive, asshole.

They discussed abortion. Taylor wasn’t inclined, as she was Catholic. Then they discussed marriage. Levi wasn’t inclined, as he was due back at Stanford. And though he didn’t tell her so, Taylor wasn’t exactly someone he’d want to share life with. A girl of limited intellect and shrill voice, she was rough around the edges, and Levi knew she’d wear the pants in whatever marriage she made—a union he wanted no part of.

So, the pregnancy floated in limbo.

Levi studied the Internet offer again. He had drive-away experience. At the end of last school year, he’d driven a retiree’s Crown Victoria from San Francisco to St. Petersburg. The old guy even kicked in two hundred bucks for gasoline. Levi made the cross-country trip in five days and delivered the car to the owner’s Florida condo where Levi’s mom picked him up and drove him to Florida’s east coast.

Making the three thousand mile trip by himself had not bothered him. He liked listening to the Crown Vic’s radio while traversing the never-ending brownness of southern Arizona and New Mexico, and then the ceaseless hill country of west Texas. The whole experience made him feel like the characters in one of his favorite books, On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

Now, seated at his parents’ kitchen table, Levi swung his gaze to a pair of double-hung windows with a view of the Indian River. He scratched his chin stubble while watching a shrimp boat cruise past his family’s dock, likely headed to Sebastian Inlet. The boat’s gauzy nets fluttered like dragonfly wings. Sunlight reflected in the boat’s wake that ruffled the river’s otherwise glassy surface. The time was close to 9:00 a.m. and already the day was heating up. By noon, the temperature would hit ninety-two; the relative humidity would likely reach a similar level, and Levi was glad he wasn’t working at the garage that day. He could stay in the air-conditioned comfort of his parents’ home.

When Levi punched up the phone number in the drive-away ad, a boy answered on the second ring, his voice a scratchy tenor. He answered Levi’s questions in a rapid-fire cadence, as though he couldn’t get the words out of his mouth fast enough.

“It’s actually a van, not a car.”

“No, it doesn’t have air-conditioning.”

“Yeah, I’d be riding with you to San Jose. I can’t drive; my license is suspended.”

When the boy asked Levi how soon he could make the trip, Levi said, “I can leave the day after tomorrow. I’ll still need to pack my things.”

They talked money.

“The whole trip’s 2,800 miles,” the boy said. “The van gets twenty miles per gallon on the road, so we’ll burn about three hundred dollars’ worth of gas. And then we’ll need to rent motel rooms for at least four or five nights, so I figure—”

“I don’t do motels,” Levi interjected. “I tent camp in parks and cook my own meals on a propane stove; it saves a lot of money.”

The boy was silent for a moment. Then he said, “I guess I could sleep in the van, but I don’t really know how to cook.”

“We can split the cost of food,” Levi said. “I’ll cook and you can clean up afterward; how’s that?”

More silence, this time for about thirty seconds.

“Are you still there?” Levi said.

“Yeah,” the boy replied, “I’m just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Are you somebody I can trust? I mean, I’ve never done this before. How do I know you’re not some kind of psycho?”

Levi drew a breath and then let it out while he fingered the edge of his cell phone. “I go to college in northern California. I can show you my university ID. And I’m a good driver—I’ve never had a ticket—so you don’t have to worry about me. I’ll get you and your van there safely.”

They traded names and e-mail addresses. The boy’s name was Terrence DeVine; he lived in east Orlando, not far from the Orange Blossom Trail.

“I’m moving to San Jose,” he said, “to live with a friend.”

They agreed Levi’s mom could drop him off at Terrence’s house at 9:00 a.m. two days hence, a Thursday. “We can hit the road as soon as I load up my stuff,” Levi said. “We should make it to Alabama by dinnertime.”

“Sounds good,” Terrence said. “I’ll see you then.”

***

Levi and Taylor faced each other in a booth at Taco City in south Cocoa Beach, just a mile from Patrick Air Force Base, where Taylor’s dad served. The restaurant was a Brevard County institution; it served tasty Mexican cuisine and draft beer so cold it numbed the back of your throat on the first swallow. The crowd that night was a mix of surfers, condo dwellers, young families with kids in high chairs, and servicemen sporting crew cuts.

Taylor looked nice enough in her short shorts and a tank top. Her straight brown hair was parted in the middle; it draped her shoulders. Her dark eyes focused on Levi while she toyed with her uneaten burrito.

“This is both our responsibilities,” she said. “I can’t believe you’re running off to California while I’m stuck here with this…situation.”

Levi lowered his gaze and rubbed his lips together while his brain churned. Why hadn’t he used a condom? He’d never even asked Taylor if she was on the pill before they started having sex. He’d just assumed as much, and how stupid was that?

“I’m on scholarship,” he told Taylor. “I can’t just not show up.”

Taylor glanced here and there. Then she said, “You could enroll at UCF’s campus in Cocoa. At least that way you’d be here when the baby arrives in April.”

Levi shook his head. “It’s not going to happen.”

“Why?”

“Stanford’s one of the best schools in the country. I won’t walk away from there just because you’re pregnant.”

Taylor squirmed on her bench while she twirled a strand of her hair around a finger. “You’re dumping this whole thing on me, you know, and it’s not fair.”

Levi wasn’t in the mood to argue, so he didn’t respond to Taylor’s last remark. Instead, he told her, “I’m leaving tomorrow, but I’ll call you from the road Friday night. Think again about an abortion; I’ll pay half.”

Taylor didn’t say anything; she only stared out a window at traffic passing on A-1-A.

Purchase

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

Meet the Author

Jere’ M. Fishback is a former journalist and trial lawyer who now writes fiction full time. He lives with his partner Greg on a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. When he’s not writing, Jere’ enjoys reading, playing his guitar, jogging, swimming laps, fishing, and watching sunsets from his deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

Website | Facebook

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9/25 Love Bytes

9/25 MM Good Book Reviews

9/26 Stories That Make You Smile

9/27 Zipper Rippers

9/27 Divine Magazine

9/27 Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

9/28 Bayou Book Junkie

9/28 Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews

9/29 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

9/29 Happily Ever Chapter

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Sep 25

Release Blitz: Figure Study by Suzanne Clay (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  Figure Study

Series: Chiaroscuro, Book Two

Author: Suzanne Clay

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 25, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 19900

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, erotica, contemporary, lesbian, artist, teacher/student, age-gap, interracial, light D/s, edging, spanking, rope bondage/shibari

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Synopsis

Ainsley and her former student Noma face the aftermath of their unexpected one-night stand in this second story of Chiaroscuro.

The night Ainsley spent gently dominating Noma was far more intimate than any scene she’d ever been in before. The intensity of playing with someone she’d taught and cared about was a completely different experience–and twice as intimidating. She’d had two options: turn Noma away and never see her again, or let her stay for a few hours more.

The years away from scenes have left Ainsley eager for play but unsteady in her role. And memories of a younger Noma, when their relationship was student and mentor, only add to the confusion. A return to familiar ropes and knots, an erotic bondage play, helps Ainsley regain a sense of control and face her vulnerabilities. She must learn to see Noma as an adult woman in every way, risking a dangerous power imbalance, even as her heart begins to yearn for intimacy she’s long hidden from.

As they delve into new scenes, Ainsley and Noma confront past pain and baggage. Only by facing their fear of opening up can they learn to trust each other and share something deeper.

Excerpt

Figure Study
Suzanne Clay © 2017
All Rights Reserved

 

The last time Ainsley made breakfast for someone she was procrastinating for her senior show. There had been paintings to finish, an artist statement to make foolproof, and a final defense to prepare, and ultimately, it had been too much for her. A warm body and a kind smile had helped for the night, but the morning after had been too soon for Ainsley to jump back into the fray. On that day fifteen years ago, her delaying tactic had been blueberry muffins. This morning, it was blueberry pancakes.

The fruit felt cool and firm in Ainsley’s hand as she poured them into the pale batter. She lingered for a moment, considering their fullness and the way they floated on the surface. There was a striking color contrast emphasized by the sunrise cutting through her kitchen’s picture window. It felt shameful to ruin it. But ruin she did. With one stir of her wooden spoon, she watched the berries disappear under the surface, leaving behind divots that rapidly filled with the batter again.

Moments like this struck her on a daily basis, and not for the first time, Ainsley wondered why. Was it from her artistic sensibilities, appreciating the difference of colors and the play of textures and the shifting of shapes? Or was it from yet another night of insomnia? Did her exhausted mind make everything feel a little more visceral, look a little more striking? She wasn’t sure. And while she found appreciation from these little things regardless, she also felt uncomfortable that maybe, just maybe, it was something she shouldn’t be pleased by.

She was making these pancakes to delay waking the girl in her room. She was making coffee to avoid sleeping so she wouldn’t risk sensual, aching dreams about the woman she still wasn’t sure she regretted touching.

Ainsley paused by the pantry with the syrup bottle loose in her grip. She sat at the breakfast table cradling the bottle safely in her hands.

Fifteen years ago, she made blueberry muffins to avoid her final university projects. And Noma, the girl dreaming so peacefully in her bed, had left kindergarten only a short time later. God, that puts things in perspective.

Ainsley sacrificed a pancake’s perfect golden-brown color to pour some coffee and drink it—too hot, too bitter, and too strong. The taste was enough to drown out the burgeoning worries in her head, and the burned edges of the pancake were enough penance to set Ainsley’s heart at ease again. Ainsley would eat it. She never much minded eating things everyone else wanted to throw away.

By the time Ainsley brought the tray full of pancakes and coffee and syrup into the bedroom, her mind was clear again. Noma looked like she hadn’t moved an inch in her sleep. She lay on her stomach, hands fisted by her face, and the pinks and purples that Ainsley had painted on her back were perfectly intact. She hadn’t stirred from the sounds of Ainsley moving pots around or the grinding of the coffee beans. She slept perfectly. Peacefully.

Ainsley envied that to the very depths of her soul.

After setting the tray on the end of the bed, she sat next to Noma and caressed her arm. The play of the color contrast between their skin—Ainsley’s blue-white paleness against Noma’s umber brown—stirred her imagination toward painting, but her thoughts silenced as Noma moved under her touch and made a low sound. Ainsley gently squeezed her arm and smiled. “Good morning.”

“Mmnh…” Noma squinted up at Ainsley, came up on her elbows, and rubbed her eyes. “Morning.” She froze, hand still in a fist, and grunted. “God, I’ve still got my makeup on. Did I really just pass out last night?”

“You did,” Ainsley said with a chuckle. “You must’ve been out of it.”

“Yeah, well…” Noma’s cheeks flushed a dark rose as she collapsed flat again. “I mean, y’know, I had a pretty good night and all.”

Ainsley tipped her head to the side. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” With her cheek resting on her bent forearms like a pillow, Noma peeked up at Ainsley, half her face still obscured. “You?”

Ainsley had spent a long night sitting at her breakfast table staring into the darkness and remembering over and over again what she’d done: crossing paths with Noma at Ainsley’s gallery showing, getting Noma’s safeword, painting her skin, tasting her sweet arousal—all without ever asking herself if it had been wise to move so fast. Ainsley considered her response. “I think it went rather well,” she finally said as she pushed her hair over her shoulder.

Noma stared at her intently. “You think so, huh?”

There was something Noma wasn’t saying—something Ainsley couldn’t pick up on as much as she wanted to. It was like Noma was hedging her bets until she knew exactly what Ainsley wasn’t saying. Ainsley narrowed her eyes, weighing her thoughts, and shook her head. “Didn’t I used to be able to read your face a lot better?”

“That was a long time ago,” Noma said, smiling. “I’m not quite the girl I used to be.”

“No, you’re not,” Ainsley murmured. “No, you’re a woman now.” She flicked her eyes down Noma’s body and took in the swell of her rear end, the stretch marks over her hips, and the smoothness of her skin. “Do you want to know a secret?”

Noma sat up on her elbows. “Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s part of why I didn’t sleep last night,” Ainsley said. “Just from trying to reconcile the idea of you as a woman instead of a student.”

The smile Noma gave was more tentative than anything, no doubt still trying to figure out her place in Ainsley’s bed. “Makes sense. Guess I gotta do that too. I keep seeing you as Miss Edwards.”

Ainsley smiled back. “Is that why you called me ‘ma’am’ just a second ago?”

Noma seemed flustered for a moment, her cheeks flushing even more. “No, that’s, uh…no, I think that’s from last night.”

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Meet the Author

Suzanne is an asexual woman with a great love for writing erotica and enjoys spending her time confusing people with that fact. She believes there is a need for heightened diversity in erotic fiction and strives to write enough stories so that everyone can see themselves mirrored in a protagonist. She lives with her husband and cat, and, when not writing, Suzanne enjoys reading, playing video games poorly, and refusing to interact outdoors with other human beings.

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Sep 18

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

Title:  Torin

Author: Lance Withton

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 5 – Erotica

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 40300

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

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Synopsis

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

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

Excerpt

Torin
Lance Withton © 2017
All Rights Reserved

First Encounter

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

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

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

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

“Have you finished reading?”

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

“Do you need to make any amendments?”

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

“Excellent.”

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

“Do you have any further questions?”

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

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

Torin nodded while he slid the files over to himself.

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

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

Torin picked up the third and final file.

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

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

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

“I’ll take Davies,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“Certainly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

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

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Sep 18

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

Title:  A World Apart

Author: Mel Gough

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 51900

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

Excerpt

A World Apart
Mel Gough © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hence the handcuffs?” Ben asked drily.

Jason nodded, smirking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Turn around,” Jason said gruffly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go ‘head.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he trying to come up with a lie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hold the line.”

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

“Is this Stacy Miller?”

“It is. Who’s asking?”

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

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

“And he attended?”

“Yes.”

“What time was his appointment?”

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

“And how long was he there for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

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

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

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

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

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