An Alisa Audiobook Review: Can’t Hide From Me by Cordelia Kingsbridge and Nick J. Russo (Narrator)

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

 

Charles Hunter’s team is on a mission to extract an unidentified ATF agent from an undercover job gone wrong. All they’ve got to go on is the rendezvous location—until Charles recognizes the ex he hasn’t seen in years. Their “simple rescue mission” is about to get a lot more complicated.

 

For Ángel Medina, adjusting to life after his cartel nightmare is hard enough without confronting memories of a failed relationship. All he wants is a fresh start. But when a violent stalker lashes out from the shadows, Ángel realizes his nightmare is far from over.

 

As the stalker’s obsession escalates and bodies start dropping, Charles and Ángel are thrown together in a desperate search for the culprit. Tempers flare and old passions reignite, drawing them back into the same turbulent relationship that once ended in disaster.

 

But the stalker isn’t letting go—and the next strike might hit straight through the heart.

 

This was one of those stories that sounded interesting but I wasn’t too sure what to expect and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  This book was very well written with an in depth story and background that made for an enjoyable book.  Charles lives his life based on a bunch of rules that he has made for himself and many of the quickly get thrown out the window when Ángel comes back into his life.  Ángel has lived a lie for the last two years with minimal connection to the real world and just as he is hoping to and adjusting to real life again a stalker is turning his life upside down again.

 

Charles and Ángel are very much alpha males who don’t seem to know how to talk to each other about what is important.  Both of them are hurt from when they were together years ago but don’t focus on that since they want to find the stalker.  I loved that both of these characters had a vulnerability with each other that you didn’t see around anyone else.  The stalker tried to put a wedge between them but their strong connection doesn’t really allow for them to be pushed apart so easily.  I didn’t love the twist of who the stalker was and I know it never came to my mind.

 

Nick J Russo did a wonderful job narrating this story.  I was able to keep track of the story and characters which is always nice.  He did a great job separating the characters but also the differences in their ethnicities and accents that would be expected for the characters backgrounds.

 

Cover art by GD Leigh is absolutely perfect for the story.

 

Sales Links:  Audible | Amazon |  iTunes

 

Audiobook Details:

Audiobook, 9hrs 8min
Published August, 2017 (ebook first published October 3, 2016) by Riptide Publishing
Edition Language: English

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Audiobook Review: Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan and Iggy Toma (Narrator)

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

I really enjoyed this audiobook.  No wait—let me rephrase that—I immensely enjoyed this outstanding audiobook performed by the incomparable Iggy Toma. He brings characters to life, making them real people I’d enjoy meeting—even those like Xander, who is antisocial.

Xander Fairchild is an Introvert with a capital I.  He really dislikes people and his only friend is sharp-tongued Zelda, a person who might, or might not, be friendly to him on any given day.  Zelda is one of several people who work with Xander at Benton College to create a manga serial.  Zelda’s forte is not art, however; that right belongs solely to Xander, who is highly talented and creative, though repressed socially and very self-deprecating. 

Skylar Stone was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his every move has been planned by his very overbearing lawyer father. Skylar must score high on the LSAT test, and he must get into Yale and then, upon graduation, he must join his father’s law firm.  Period the end.  Per his father.  But Skylar takes one look at Xander’s art and falls head-over-heels in love with it.  And eventually, through a series of enlightenments about his own inner turmoil and life choices and new information about his feelings toward men and women and his own sexuality, he also falls in love with Xander. 

The journey Xander and Skylar take to love and acceptance is not typical.  The author gives us a totally different and unique perspective on love and sexuality.  Xander learns that he can express his love for Skylar through painting and his sexual connection can be expressed through touch and through use of his paint brushes.  Skylar learns what really makes Xander who he is and comes to love and accept him fully without attempting to change either his appearance or his personality. 

This is a very yaoi manga-slanted story and I loved the information passed to the reader through the characters in the delightful voices created by Iggy Toma.  I am an older woman who reads MM romance and LGBTQ lit for pleasure.  When I read, and certainly when I listen to an audiobook, I am looking for a real story to go along with whatever sex scenes an author may use to advance a plot. In other words, I’ve moved beyond choosing books because the sex scenes may be hot.  In this case, I’m pleased to say that I not only didn’t have to listen to gratuitous sex on page, but I was also gifted by a completely unique perspective on sexual pleasure and the simple enjoyment of connecting with one’s life partner. 

I can’t go heavy into details on the plot since I don’t have the book to refer back to for notes on character names, especially the Japanese character names affectionately given to Xander and Skylar and their friends.  That’s one of the few disadvantages of listening to an audiobook over actually reading an e-book version.  I will say, however, that the story was well-sprinkled with references to cherry blossoms and whether intended to be symbolic or not, I felt that watching Xander and Skylar come to a maturity and self-acceptance—each at his own pace and in his own way—was like watching a cherry blossom bloom. 

I highly recommend this audiobook!

~~

The very attractive cover depicts two young men drawn in manga-style but wearing clothing typical of each character in this book and, appropriately, cherry blossoms are sprinkled all over the page.   

Sales Links: Amazon | Audible | iTunes

Audiobook Details:

Audible Audio, 14 pages
Length: 13 hrs and 52 mins
Unabridged Audiobook
Published August 21st 2017 by Heidi Cullinan (first published August 8th 2017)
Original Title Antisocial
ASINB074VCZXSD
Edition Language English

Release Blitz for First Season (Harrisburg Railers #2) by RJ Scott & VL Locey (excerpt and giveaway)

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Length: 55,700 words approx.
 
Cover Design: Meredith Russell
 
Harrisburg Railers Series
 
Changing Lines (Book #1) – Amazon US | Amazon UK | KOBO | Smashwords | B&N | iTunes
 
Blurb


Layton wants success, Adler wants family, how can love make both these things possible?


Layton Foxx works hard for what he has. The condo, the career, the chance to make his mark, is all down to the sacrifices he has made. With tragedy in his past, he doesn’t want or need love. Then he meets Adler Lockhart, the extroverted, sexy winger for the Harrisburg Railers and abruptly he can’t avoid love even if he wanted to.


Adler Lockhart has had everything handed to him his whole life. Cars, villas, cash, college tuition at the finest Ivy League schools. The only things he doesn’t have are parents who care or the love of a good man. Then Layton walks into his privileged life and shows him what real love can be like.



Excerpt

“Guys,” I said calmly, even though the sight of these big men waiting by my car was enough to have me feeling anxious as memories of old times poked at me. Not to mention that Stan had his thick arms crossed over his chest and looked like he wanted to go to war with me. I recognized two of the others with him—Coach Benning looking grim, Arvy grinning at me—and the other man was the guy from the bathroom.

That was Adler, the one the captain, in my interview with him that morning, had chosen to highlight as “not exactly vocally critical nor entirely supportive.”

I was scarlet and I knew it, and Adler smirked at me. Asshole.

He wasn’t the first person to smirk at me, and he wouldn’t be the last. Adler Lockhart was a good-looking man, but then a lot of the players on this damn team were hot and right on to burning. Take Arvy with his goofy smile and his long wavy hair, or Coach Madsen with his intense blue stare and air of authority.

“Little bit talk,” Stan said, his voice loud and booming in the cavernous underground parking.

I glanced from Stan to the others. I wasn’t sure Adler wanted to talk. He was still smirking, but at the same time he looked like he was trying to edge away. The only thing stopping him was that he was pinned between Stan, Arvy, and my car.

I glanced at my watch, like I had to assess if I had the time to stop and talk. Of course I had time. Lots of time. All that was waiting for me at my place was takeout and a night of reading my notes. Oh, and catching up on the hundred or so Facebook messages from my family.

“I can give you five minutes,” I said, to qualify the importance of my time and reinforce my status. It was vital that I didn’t join in with discussions outside the official meetings; I had to stay outside the hockey circle, so that I could maintain a perspective on how things were playing out. Informal meetings didn’t get things done.

Stan pulled aside his shirt and showed me a tattoo. I had to peer closely, because I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, or even why it was being shown to me. It looked like a cartoon character; a Pokémon or something.

“Hulk,” Stan said, and looked at me expectantly like I was supposed to understand a word. I don’t speak any Russian, though, so I looked at Coach for help.

“What he’s saying,” Coach Benning said, “is that he likes Ten, a lot, and that Ten and he had tattoos the same day, and that if you end up hanging Ten out to dry, then he will have something to say about it and go all Hulk on your ass.” The coach’s tone was easy, but there was a thread of steel in there.

“You got all that from one word?” I asked, and looked up at Stan, who was still scowling.

Coach only smiled. “He’s a man of few words. English ones, anyway.”

Stan clapped a hand on my shoulder, and jeez, he was one strong man. For a split second, fear skittered through me, but I pushed the fear back down where it belonged. No one here was going to hurt me.

I edged out of Stan’s reach and offered up my most reassuring smile. Stan looked at me, and then he smiled as well.

Seemed like we had an agreement going.

“Are we done talking about cock now?” Adler said loudly, breaking the accepting vibe in the small group. He underscored the words by grabbing suggestively at his groin. “Unless we’re whipping them out.”

“Jesus Christ, Ads,” Arvy snapped, and elbowed him.

Adler grinned. “All I’m saying is some of us have actual sex to go home to and don’t spend all day jawing about it.”

Then he shoved his way past Arvy, who shoved him back before letting him go.

“Asshole,” Arvy muttered, but it wasn’t said with heat. I exchanged glances with him, and he gave that single-shoulder shrug of “What can you do?”

I mentally added Adler to my list of concerns.


 

RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.


The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.



mailto:rj@rjscott.co.uk
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V.L. Locey loves worn jeans, yoga, belly laughs, walking, reading and writing lusty tales, Greek mythology, Dr. Who, Torchwood, the New York Rangers, comic books, and coffee. (Not necessarily in that order.) She shares her life with her husband, her daughter, one dog, two cats, a flock of assorted domestic fowl, and two Jersey steers.


When not writing spicy romances, she enjoys spending her day with her menagerie in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania with a cup of fresh java in hand. She can also be found online on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and GoodReads.


Website: http://vlloceyauthor.com/
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My blog- http://thoughtsfromayodelinggoatherder.blogspot.com/

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Author Jere’ M. Fishback on Writing, Books and their latest release ‘On the Way to San Jose’ (author interview, excerpt and giveaway)

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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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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Jere’ M. Fishback

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

I wrote my first novel, Josef Jaeger, in 2004-2005. I subbed it to agents and publishers for about a year with no success. I let it sit for about a year. Then I re-wrote the entire book, nearly 100,000 words. The first time I subbed it to a publisher they bought it. So, sometimes stewing helps.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

The characters and events taking place in a story must be genuine and believable. All of my main characters are flawed, without exception. And since I don’t write fantasy, I want to be sure that the story reads like real life. No one ever gets exactly what they want, and they have to work hard at finding love and happiness.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Don’t expect to sell your first book to an agent or publisher right out of the box. It takes a great deal of perseverance to break into the publishing business, especially if you don’t write spy novels, murder mysteries, legal thrillers or romance for heterosexual women.

What did you want to become when you were a kid?

As soon as I saw the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, at age twelve, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer like Atticus Finch. And that’s exactly what I became. I tried civil cases for over twenty years.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?

Yes. Whenever I’m writing a novel I hit a point about 60% through the story where I hit a brick wall. It happens every time. I don’t know where I want the story to go and it’s frustrating, But I have learned I just have to sit at the keyboard and write and eventually the path to a satisfying conclusion opens up.

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

Tour Schedule

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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Review Tour – Amy Tasukada – Would It Be Ok To Love You

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Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Length: 41,000 words
 
Series
 
Would It Be Okay To Love You (Book #1)
Would It Be Okay To Love You: Year One (Book #2) Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb
 

A robot fanboy. An erotic voice actor. When love comes calling, will they shed their armor?


Sato’s only long-term relationship is the one he shares with his Gundam collectibles. He dreams about the kind of unconditional love his parents enjoy. If only he could break out of his shell, he might find his special someone…


Outgoing playboy Aoi has sworn off relationships. He knows they only distract him from his budding voice acting career. He’s earned a few loyal fans, and if he keeps at it, he may even earn enough to never worry about being evicted again…


When Sato meets Aoi at the local anime store, there’s definitely a spark. But even as they tread carefully, their commitment issues and Aoi’s troubled past soon muck things up before they can start. In order for Sato and Aoi to have their happily-ever-after, they’ll both have to take a leap of faith… and hope to be caught.


Would It Be Okay to Love You? is the first book in a gay romance series set in Japan. If you like original characters, nerd culture, and simmering chemistry, then you’ll love Amy Tasukada’s charming multicultural love story.

 

 

Author Bio

Amy Tasukada lives in North Texas with a calico cat called O’Hara. As an only child her day dreams kept her entertained, and at age ten she started to put them to paper. Since then her love of writing hasn’t cease. She can be found drinking hot tea and filming Japanese street fashion hauls on her Youtube channel.



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In the Spotlight: Golden by RL Mosswood (excerpt and giveaway)

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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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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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