In the Spotlight: Mandi Ware and Resist and Triumph, a charity Anthology (excerpt and giveaway)

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 From The Respect of Love by Mandi Ware

Excerpt

Standing at the podium, looking out at the faces of our friends and families, it was hard to control my emotions. I shuffled the papers in my hands again, buying a few scarce moments.

This isn’t how this is supposed to work. This isn’t right to have a funeral, but have no loved one to mourn.

“Thank you all for coming. I know Peter would’ve loved everyone together. He would’ve donned his naughty nurse apron and fired up the grill.” A light chuckle wafted across the room. The memory of our last barbecue wrapped around my heart.

*

“Baby, can you please bring out the salt for these glasses?” Peter yelled from the backyard.

“Of course,” I mumbled. “Allow me to service you, sire. May I cleanse your tuchus for you, too?” I raised my voice. “Where the hell is it?”

“Sweetheart.” Peter’s voice came from directly behind me. “Relax. It’s going to be fine. This is just going to be a small speed bump on the highway for our family.” He reached around me and grabbed the salt bowl at my hip. “Oh, by the way. I don’t need you to wipe my ass, but if you want to service me, we got some time.” He planted a kiss on my eyebrow.

I wrapped my arm around his waist bringing our lips together. He was always a fabulous kisser. Those warm full lips and marvelously sweet tongue had magic powers. He definitely knew how to make my knees weak.

Breaking the kiss, he peered into my soul.“Have I ever told you how much I love you?”

“Um,” I tried to think. “Nope. Never heard it.”

“Good.” Peter pulled me into his strong embrace. “Because love is nowhere near the right word for how I feel for you.”

I snuggled tighter against his warmth, nuzzling into his chest. His heart beat against my collarbone.

“Stop that.” He laughed, pushing me away playfully. “You keep that up my meat is going to burn.” Taking the salt he turned his back on me, shaking his bite-worthy bottom.

Reaching out, I pinched him. “I can burn your meat, baby.”

“That you can, my lover.” He smiled and winked as he escaped out the patio doors. “Later.”

“Tease!” I yelled. His melodic laugh floated back.

Author Bio

Twenty+ years ago, Mandi embarked on an adventure to the Midwest, Southeast Wisconsin specifically, where writing became an expansive habit in distraction and pleasure. Through loss, love and marriage Mandi has exploited the muse of storytelling for entertainment, distraction and as a form of personal therapy.  For some of Mandi’s earlier stories and bloggings, visit Mandi at http://www.mandiware.com.  When that’s not enough there’s always Twitter and Facebook.

Author Links

Twitter: @scribemandiware
Facebook: scribemandiware

Rafflecopter/Giveaway

Don’t forget to click the link below and take your chance at winning a FREE paperback copy of “Resist & Triumph Anthology”.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/3797bda115/?

resist and triumph fb banner (1)

 

As 2017 opened, the United States took several steps back in the progress toward equality. In response, a group of authors has stepped up to offer positive stories of hope and love. In an effort to help fight and support those groups who are facing even greater challenges, we wrote these stories to offer a small amount of aid.

Stories of hope, resistance, and ultimately triumph fill the pages of this anthology.

All proceeds of the anthology go to The Trevor Project and GLAAD to help fight the effects of the dark times we’re facing.

 

Purchase Resist and Triumph here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078NKHVCK

Cover art: Jess Small
Publication date: 1/26/2018

Genres: M/M Romance, Paranormal, Historical, Dystopian, Contemporary, BDSM, F/F Romance

 

Other stories included in the anthology:

Breaking Ties with the Bully by Perci T. Brooks

Consummation by Tucker McCallahan

Fighting the Alpha, the Omega Way by Carol Pedroso

Get Off of My Runway by Shane K. Morton

Leto of The Ionian Sea by Maria Siopsis

The Respect of Love by Mandi Ware

Small Victories by Helen Dupres

White Rabbit by Grace R. Duncan

A MelanieM Review: Rook by T. Strange

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

 

For killing his husband, Rook is sent to B-226—an alien planet populated by deadly creatures, where the average life expectancy for a prisoner is three weeks. Rook is relieved by the sentence—all he wants is to die and rejoin his husband.

Upon arrival on B-226, Rook is partnered with Stevie, who has beaten the odds and survived for several months. Rook is drawn to Stevie in a way he didn’t expect in the aftermath of losing his husband. Before Rook can untangle the mess of his emotions, the already deadly situation on B-226 worsens, plunging Rook and Stevie into an even more desperate struggle to survive.

I’m really of two minds here when it comes to Rook by R. Strange, especially when rating the story, which I really liked.

It really falls into dividing my review and rating into two categories.  The  first being the characters and their relationship  which was excellent.  The second?  The world building and the creatures on planet B-226, none of which actually made any sense.  So lets get the problematic out of the way first and  end with what I loved about Rook.

If you are going to build an alien world, especially one with as important concept as a prison/mining planet whose environment is a death sentence, killing those within days of landfall, the majority lasting only 3 weeks.   With such a featured narrative aspect such as this one, then you need to make it and everything on it solid, well thought out, from the atmosphere, land masses, water features, flora, and yes, fauna.  If you are going to give us superstar killer fauna, explain why the environment produced them and supports them.  Have them make sense physically for the planet and in relation to each other. And once you do that, don’t contradict yourself.  As in, yes this creature only comes out in the rain, until oh look, the creature does come out when sunny because you need it to do so for narrative purposes.  And really, with regards to the dragons, which breathed fire, the latter made much more sense to begin with.  Why would fire breathing dragons (why dragons on this world to begin with) only come out when its raining?  Never got that one.  Plus there are cannibalistic flying kite/umbrella bats with three mouths, large reptiles I’m assuming that roll like wheels and much more.  It sounds more like a child’s book of wacky creatures than a well thought out naturali history for B-226.  Yes, Strange managed to make those bats scary but in the back of this naturalist’s mind was  much on that planet  just wasn’t supported from a animal standpoint or in the author’s worldbuilding. Why not just one mouth with serrated teeth?  Three is honestly overboard. Does it go to three stomachs?  And for what purpose?  From there my mind wanders to things like poisonous plants, (where are they, its an obvious rainforest…) because it can’t be just the fauna that’s trying to do you in.

Plus there was the whole thing about the humans smelling so bad that the animals attacked them but wouldn’t eat them.  Ok, surely that idea could have been explored more or exploited by scientists employed by the mining corporation or government or whoever.  Develop a scent, etc.  Also all the native animals showed the ability to adapt/outthink the invader/human technology to keep them out.  Yet there is no mention of sentient beings? Smh. Sigh.

And if my mind is trying to fill in the blanks and worrying over the huge holes in the  world building (this is the rarest, coveted,and important mineral in the galaxy and they haven’t done any planetary surveys, just sent in the miners?).  More questions than are answered.  Don’t give the reader reason for their mind to wander like that.  Supply a well reason, beautifully built universe to begin with and the reader’s mind will stay put where it belongs…on the story and the characters.

Well, enough of that.  You get my drift.

What I did like  was T. Strange’s character’s.  Rook and Stevie, a murderer and thief sentenced to die on B-226.  Again, the author didn’t do a great job with their backhistory.  It’s muddy for both men.  You never really get the full story   on what happened  in their pasts, just vague hints for Rook enough to piece it together and nothing really for Stevie for them to be sentenced to death.

What makes the story is the day by day building of their relationship, through the stress, fear, isolation, and anxiety of their situation.  They could die at any moment and often are fighting for their lives.  It’s those scenes and their dynamics that  the author does well and makes Rook work.  At least until the dragons show up again.  Then its back to questions all over again, one species in one location for the entire planet…etc.  Uh no. Again I’ll stop.

So I like the people, not the world.  Sounds about right.  For those that like scify fiction, I think  that Rook by T. Strange is a quick read you might want to check out.  I was given an unedited version so I hope the editor might suggest a few changes.  Check it out and let me know.

Cover by Aisha Akeju is colorful, wonderful and matches the story.

Buy Links:  Less Than Three Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook
Published February 7th 2018 by Less Than Three Press
ISBN139781684311804
Edition LanguageEnglish

Release Day Blitz for Heart2Heart, A Charity Anthology (excerpt)

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HEART 2 HEART ANTHOLOGY 

May Archer * Charlie Cochet * Allison Hendricks * Sloane Kennedy *

Lucy Lennox * Ruthie Luhnow * Lily Morton * Chris Owen *

Poppy Dennison * Hailey Turner * A.E. Wasp 

M/M ROMANCE 

RELEASE DATE: 02.07.18

COVERHeart2Heart-Anthology-Medium

BLURB

Once upon a time, a bunch of authors wondered… What if a dating app that guaranteed you a love match broke down just in time for Valentine’s Day? What if you found yourself on a blind date with a random guy who might be your opposite in every single way? It could be a disaster. Or… When the code breaks down, fate just might take over.

Eleven of your favorite gay romance authors have joined forces to light up your Valentine’s Day with a collection of sweet, sexy, silly, and hot short stories, featuring a wacky cast of characters chosen from your reader suggestions! Morticians and magicians, superheroes and spies, lawyers and lobstermen, will all learn that love has nothing to do with algorithms… and sometimes you find it in the least-likely places.

And the best part? All proceeds from this collection will go to the authors’ favorite LGBTQ charities, to ensure that love in all its incarnations will be celebrated and protected every single day of the year!

It will only be available for 90 days, so Tuesday, May 8th will be the last time you can purchase this anthology.

Over 162k words total, contemporary MM romance

COVER DESIGN:  AngstyG/www.angstyg.com

ANTHOLOGY EDITOR:  Leslie Copeland

 

BUY LINK:  http://getBook.at/Heart2Heart

Charities

CHARITIES 

We are pleased to be donating 100% of our proceeds to 3 wonderful charities:

The Trevor Project: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Bisexual Resource Centre: http://biresource.org/

One n Ten: http://onenten.org/

We encourage all readers to learn more about these groups and consider making a donation of your own. Every little bit helps.

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EXCERPT

The Set-up 

How Bailey the geeky programmer lost his focus

 

It was like a scene out of a soda commercial. All of the women (and a few of the men) in the office gathered around and drooled over the sexy eye candy hanging onto the side of the damned building as if the guy was nothing but a sex object.

Fuck, he’s a hot sex object, Bailey thought. I’d like to sex object the hell outta that beefcake.

Bailey himself had been watching the guy for two days now. At first, he assumed the man on the scaffold was a window washer. It was the obvious explanation. Otherwise, why would a man—a beefy, hot, muscled man, ahem—be riding a hanging scaffold on the fifteenth floor of the office building?

But how long, exactly, does it take to wash a few windows? He’d been right outside of Bailey’s cubicle window for two straight days.

Bailey shook his head and tried to focus on his job, ignoring all of the lookie-loos in the space behind his cubicle. He was finalizing the algorithms to be used in Heart2Heart’s new matchmaking software, and it was critical he got the matchmaking algorithms just right in order for the product launch to be a success. He needed to pay attention to what he was doing.

A lot was riding on the Heart2Heart launch. Their big marketing campaign promised love matches just in time for Valentine’s Day, and in order for the actual matches to work, Bailey had to create pristine code that took all of the variables into consideration. He was almost done with the programming. Just cleaning up a few final glitches and he’d be over the last of the hurdles. His plan was to stay late to double-check everything that evening before the software went live after midnight.

His eyes slid over to his cubicle window again and caught sight of thick, tanned forearms flexing above huge, strong man hands. The late afternoon Miami sun shined against the guy’s skin, showing a light sheen of sweat from his work doing… something.

Ungh. You can do something… to me. Get sweaty… with me, Bailey mused, chewing on the end of his pen. He saw one of the man’s large hands grab a screwdriver out of his tool belt. Maybe he’s screwing… something.

The window man looked like he needed to be licked. Like, a lot.

Bailey didn’t realize his elbow had rested on the spacebar while he drooled out the window until he heard an angry series of beeps from his computer.

“Fuck. Shit,” he stammered, focusing again on his monitor and correcting his lapse.

A few minutes later, he heard a thud coming from the window. With his heart racing in fear of something happening to the poor man on the scaffold, Bailey snapped his eyes to the large pane of glass.

The sexy stack of muscles grinned at him and held up a piece of paper.

With a phone number on it.

The hot guy gestured to his cell phone and pointed at Bailey with a flirty grin.

Bailey looked behind him before turning back and pointing at his own chest. Me?

The beefcake nodded and put his finger and thumb up to his ear in the universal gesture of call me.

With trembling hands, Bailey dialed his phone, never taking his eyes off the window man while the man answered his own phone.

“How long do I have to pretend to wash this one window before you notice me?” Window Man asked in a deep, sexy voice.

“Who me?” Bailey squeaked in response.

“Yeah, you,” he said pointing to Bailey through the window and winking at him. The wink tightened Bailey’s pants in an instant.

“Um… I noticed you about two days ago…” Bailey admitted. “Can I help you with something?”

“Yeah. I can’t get your adorable nerdy self outta my head. Please god, tell me you’re gay or bi or something.”

Bailey’s face turned fuchsia and he squeaked again. “Gay. Mm-hm. Yeah. Gay.”

“What’s your name, gorgeous?”

“Bailey.”

“Well, Bailey, I’d love to take you to dinner tonight. Are you free?”

“Uh huh,” Bailey stammered. “Sure. Of course. Yes.”

“I get off work right now. Any chance you’re ready to pack up and get outta here?”

Bailey stood up from his chair quickly enough to knock his keyboard to the floor.

The Heart2Heart matchmaking algorithms would be just fine without a final round of testing.

Probably.

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BACKGROUND/TITLES

What began as a random idea quickly turned into a collaborative and completely voluntary effort from 11 authors, more than 130 readers, cover designer, 2 proofreaders, and one cat herder to keep it all together.

Readers were asked to submit ideas for characters, both typical and off-the-wall, and from that list, each author picked 2 seemingly mismatched guys and helped them find love.

May Archer – The Baker and the SEAL 

Charlie Cochet – The Assassin and the Dog Walker 

 Poppy Dennison – The Electrician and the Event Planner

Alison Hendricks  – The Professional Gamer and the Paranormal Photographer

Sloane Kennedy – The Florist and the Lawyer

Lucy Lennox – The Uber Drive and the Phone Sex Operator

Ruthie Luhnow – The Lawyer and the Lobsterman

Lily Morton  – The Tattoo Artist and the Writer

Chris Owen – The Criminal and the Sommelier

Hailey Turner – The Superhero and the NSA Agent

AE Wasp – The Magician and the Mortician

Release Blitz – – The Winning Edge by Keira Andrews (excerpt and giveaway)

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Universal Buy Link: books2read.com/TheWinningEdge
 
Cover Design: Dar Albert @ Wicked Smart Designs
 
Blurb
 

Can figure skating enemies find love off the ice?

After an explosive locker room confrontation with his Russian rival ends in the most intense sex of his life, American pairs skater Dev Avira is distracted to say the least. He’s worked for years to have a chance at Olympic gold, and he can’t let himself—or his partner—down. Playing cat and mouse with the steely and smoldering Mikhail Reznikov is the last thing he needs as he prepares for the biggest competition of his life, but they can’t keep their hands off each other as the Games approach.

Dev soon learns that beneath Mikhail’s arrogant and aloof exterior is Misha, a passionate man who warms Dev’s heart and scorches his bed. They’re both determined to win, but for Misha his freedom could be at stake if he and his partner take anything less than gold. Who will stand atop the podium? And can secret lovers from different worlds make a life together once the competition ends?

This gay sports romance from Keira Andrews features enemies to lovers, two alpha men, sequins, and of course a happy ending. Content previously published as novellas Cold War and Holding the Edge.

 

Excerpt
 

December: The Grand Prix Final

Dev reached for his partner’s hand, and he and Bailey glided onto the ice wearing matching bullshit smiles as a voice announced: “In second, and winners of the silver medal, representing the United States of America—Bailey Robinson and Dev Avira!”

Thunderous applause filled the arena, and flashbulbs popped as they took their bows and waved to the cheering Japanese crowd. Dev wished he could soak in their love and choke down the acid bitterness currently lodged somewhere around his sternum.

Smiles still firmly in place, he and Bailey hopped onto the carpet surrounding the podium where the gold medalists waited in all their sequined and red-feathered glory. Leave it to the Russians to make their Firebird costumes as literal as possible. Kisa Kostina, not a bleached-blonde hair out of place, beamed as she bent to air-kiss Bailey’s cheeks.

Dev’s jaw clenched as he shook Mikhail Reznikov’s hand. He hated himself for the skitter of electricity when their eyes and palms met. Mikhail’s lips curved briefly into an approximation of a smile. At thirty-one, with his short dark brown hair sweeping over his forehead, his steel-blue eyes, his broad shoulders and lean, tall body, and his truly spectacular ass, he was stupidly handsome.

Asshole.

Dev and Kisa exchanged air-kisses before he helped Bailey step onto the second tier of the podium. He took his place behind her and waved again to the audience while the third-place Canadians skated out to take their bows, followed by more air-kisses and handshakes. Although Dev and Bailey genuinely liked the Canadian team, this ritual was so painfully fake. They were all here to win, and there was only one satisfied team on the podium.

And satisfied the Russians certainly were. With his regal air, Mikhail was one of the most pompous, egotistical people Dev had ever met. He was the king of the pairs world, and he damn well knew it. Sharp-eyed Kisa was the ice queen, and together they were a perfect, humorless match. They kept to themselves off the ice, always civil but never friendly.

How Dev would love to see Mikhail Reznikov brought to his knees. He ignored the flare of desire in his belly at the other implications of that thought and refocused his attention on his resentment of Mikhail’s place on the podium.

The Grand Prix Final was the last international competition before they all returned home for their national championships in late December and into January. Olympic teams would be determined, and then on to the Games in Annecy in February. Since he was seven, Dev had dreamed of winning Olympic gold. He was so close he could taste it.

The officials presented flowers and medals, and Dev played his jovial part. Being on the podium here meant they were among the best of the best, yet the silver medal hung around his neck like an albatross. He knew he should be grateful for what he had, and proud of everything he and Bailey had accomplished. And he was. But second place wasn’t good enough.

He wanted to win.

As the all too familiar “Hymn of the Russian Federation” played, Dev watched the flags rise to the arena’s rafters. Just once, he wanted the Stars and Stripes to have the middle position. Sure, he and Bailey had won plenty of competitions. They had narrowly missed making the last Olympic team, and that disappointment had fueled them. They’d dominated American pairs skating ever since. Three-time national champions. Winners of multiple Grand Prix events—including Skate America, Skate Canada, NHK Trophy, and the Cup of China.

But they’d never beaten Kostina and Reznikov. Every time they faced the Russians, they came up short. They were the reigning world silver medalists, and even though they’d worked endlessly on their artistry and connection and edges and transitions—it was never enough.

It wasn’t as if the Russians weren’t good. Dev could admit they were amazing, particularly on the technical side. They were three-time world champions, and when they were on, they were unbeatable. But tonight Kisa had fallen on their throw Salchow and they’d lost unison on their side-by-side combination spins. Yet they still won by eight points. Eight! Sure, Bailey had put a hand down on their side-by-side triple toes, but it was a minor error. It felt like the judges had decided Kostina/Reznikov were the winners before any of the pairs even stepped on the ice.

The crowd cheered as the anthem ended, and all the skaters squeezed onto the top of the podium for photographs. At five-ten, Dev wasn’t the biggest of the male pairs skaters, but tiny Bailey only reached his shoulder. Mikhail stood a good three inches taller beside him, because of course he had to be better in absolutely everything. Dev grinned for the photographers and held up his silver medal as he fantasized about elbowing Mikhail off the back of the podium.

The torture continued as the teams posed for more photographs on the ice with their flags. Then it was time to circle the rink for a victory lap. Dev and Bailey stopped to hug a few fans, including Amaya and Reiko, two young women who attended almost every competition around the world. Dev had no idea how they afforded it, but he was always grateful to see them in the stands.

Reiko handed him a stuffed elephant. The elephant was the state animal of Kerala, the Southern Indian state where his parents had grown up before immigrating to the US, where Dev was born. He’d mentioned once in an interview that his good-luck charm was a tiny elephant pendant carved from jade that he wore during every competition on a silver chain, hidden beneath his costumes.

Ever since, fans had given him elephants in every imaginable form, from dolls to statues to goofy hats. He loved every single one, and his mother collected them in what she called the Elephant Room back home in Belmont in the Boston suburbs.

He kissed Reiko’s cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart. Hope we’ll see you in Annecy?”

She bounced. “Oh yes! We would not miss this. And we love new costumes!”

“Glad to hear it!” Dev grinned.

After NHK they’d scrapped their initial costumes, which didn’t quite capture the darkly romantic tone of their Jane Eyre long program—officially called the free skate—set to the score from the 2011 film. Now Dev wore navy trousers and a button-down silk shirt with a simple white cravat, while Bailey’s navy dress with delicate white embroidery at her wrists and around her neck perfectly set off her auburn hair, which she wore twisted into a braid wrapped around a knot. Dev had grown his thick black hair a little on top, where it curled in what he liked to think was a rakish fashion.

Reiko’s smile gave way to a frown. “The results not correct. You and Bailey are true winners today. Everyone thinks this.”

Amaya nodded vigorously.

“Thanks, guys. We love you!” Bailey gave them another hug before they skated on.

After yet more photos, they finally escaped backstage. Their coach, Louise Webber, walked them to the dressing rooms. Louise had been a pairs skater herself in her youth, although she’d never gone past the national level. Now in her forties, she was still in amazing shape, which she attributed to her “Asian genes.” There wasn’t a streak of gray in her short black hair, and while she often said Bailey and Dev would give her wrinkles when they didn’t follow instructions to her satisfaction, none were in evidence.

Dev just wanted to get back to the hotel, but there was still the mandatory press conference to contend with. “Is this over yet?”

“You did your job out there. The rest of it is out of your hands. I’m proud of you.” Louise gave them both a squeeze. “Don’t let it get to you.”

“I’m not. It’s fine. I’m fine,” Dev insisted.

Bailey snorted. “Uh-huh.” She patted his hip before disappearing into the women’s dressing room. “See you in a few.”

Of the six teams that qualified to compete at the Grand Prix Final, the three who didn’t make it to the podium were long gone. In the men’s dressing room, the Canadian, Roger Jackman, was already zipping up his hoodie and stuffing his feet into his sneakers.

“Hey, man. I gotta call my wife back home. The baby’s due any minute now and I want to catch her tonight before it’s too late. Or early. I’m so fucked-up with this time change. Don’t rush getting changed, okay? I need a few extra minutes. See you in the press room.”

“Sure, no problem.” Dev held out his fist. “Great skate tonight.”

Roger bumped him back. “You too.” He shrugged. “What are you gonna do, right?”

As Mikhail strode in, Roger hurried out, tapping his cell phone. Dev sat on a bench and unlaced his skates. From the corner of his eye, he watched Mikhail peel off his black bodysuit festooned with shimmers of burnt orange and red. Several feathers floated to the tile floor. Underneath he wore a black tank top and boxer briefs that clung to his narrow hips and muscular thighs.

Swallowing hard, Dev quickly stripped off his costume and transferred it to a garment bag. Wearing dark boxer briefs as well, he reached for his track pants, but found his attention drawn back to Mikhail. The arena’s locker room had been gussied up with several wardrobe racks and a bank of makeup tables with mirrors and chairs. Still in his underwear, Mikhail went to one of the mirrors and leaned close.

The ego on this guy. It wasn’t bad enough that Mikhail had to always win—did he have to parade around the dressing room half-naked? Still, Dev had to swallow hard as traitorous desire seared in him. Mikhail steadily met his gaze in the mirror, and Dev jerked his head away, cheeks hot. Stupid! The last thing he needed was to get caught lusting after this asshole.

“Don’t worry, your guyliner isn’t smudged,” he snarked before glancing over.

In the mirror, Mikhail’s brow furrowed, but he said nothing and pulled a lash from his eye.

For some reason this refusal to engage lit a fuse to the anger simmering in Dev’s gut. “You know, you could lighten up once in a while. We get it, you’re an artiste. So tortured and…Russian. With your flailing arms and your nines for Performance and Execution even though you just go through the motions. You always get nines, and I bet you did tonight, despite Kisa cleaning the ice with her ass on that throw. You guys even fall artistically according to the judges.”

Mikhail straightened and faced Dev. His gaze raked down Dev’s body and back up. Nostrils flaring, he asked, “You have a problem?” His accent was fairly thick, but his earlier years training in Connecticut gave him a strong command of English. “Talk to the judges. We don’t control them.”

Dev barked out a laugh and took a step closer. “We both know your federation has the judges in its pocket. Skating has always been about politics, and no matter what scoring system they bring in—it always will be.” He shook his head. “Why am I even getting into this?” he muttered, more to himself than Mikhail. He headed toward the bathroom. “Forget it.”

Mikhail stood unmoving, and maybe Dev meant to get a little too close and knock his shoulder. But he definitely didn’t intend to end up slammed into a locker with Mikhail gripping his arms, his eyes blazing and face twisted. Dev’s skin burned where Mikhail touched him.

“You think it’s so easy for us? You know nothing. Nothing!”

Dev shoved against Mikhail’s chest, but he didn’t budge. Fingers curling in Mikhail’s tank top, Dev struggled to focus when he wanted so much to rip the cotton away and feel Mikhail’s pale skin. “Cry me a river! You win everything just by showing up. You could drag Kisa around by her hair for four and a half minutes and you’d be golden.”

Poshel na hui,” Mikhail spat.

Dev had been around Russians long enough to translate. He gritted his teeth. “Fuck you too.”

Their harsh breathing filled the air, fingers digging into each other’s skin, bodies so close and—

They were kissing, mouths open and teeth clashing, tongues battling as they rutted together. The metal of the locker was cold against Dev’s back, but everything else was fire—desire pumping through his veins, and the unstoppable urge to get closer, closer, closer. He moaned raggedly as his brain tried to connect with his body.

What am I doing? Stop!

His body ignored him, and he spread his legs as Mikhail jammed his thigh between them. They were both already hard in their underwear, and Mikhail groaned as Dev grabbed his ass and ground their hips together. Dev hated him so much, but he couldn’t stop touching. His hands roamed over the hard angles of Mikhail’s body, and he panted into wet, messy kisses. Mikhail clutched Dev’s hips and thrust their cocks together.

Anyone could walk in. Stop! I hate him! Wrong, wrong, wrong!

The scattered snippets of thought only made his pulse roar louder, and his balls tightened already, his body desperate for the release. They jerked together, and Dev could only give in to the madness that had taken over.

When Dev’s orgasm ripped through him, his shout was muffled by Mikhail’s palm slapping over his mouth. Mikhail hunched over as he rubbed against Dev in a frenzy, his quiet little gasps warm and wet against Dev’s neck. He came silently, shuddering with the pulses of his release. Dev’s body hummed with aftershocks, and he closed his eyes, breathing hard through his nose since Mikhail’s hand still covered his mouth.

Then the heat vanished, and Dev opened his eyes. Mikhail backed up across the dressing room, shaking his head slowly, eyes wide. Dev was frozen in place against the locker, his briefs sticky, and his arms hanging at his sides. They stared at each other as the seconds ticked by.

“Gentlemen?” a man’s voice called, accompanied by a sharp knock on the door. “We’re ready for you in the media room.”

They leaped into action, yanking on clean underwear, street clothes, and shoes in a blur of movement, not meeting each other’s eyes. Dev made it out first, and he smiled and made his apologies to the officials, following them to the press room. Sweaty and sticky and in desperate need of a shower, he tugged on his fleece and felt exposed even though it wasn’t as if there were wet spots on his track pants.

In the press room, the other skaters sat behind a long table on a raised dais. Kisa waited in the middle with the Canadians on her left and Bailey her right, everyone seated in their medal positions. On the rows of chairs in front of the table, the media, coaches, and various event and federation officials waited. Dev avoided looking any of them in the eye as he took his seat.

He couldn’t avoid his partner, and he smiled in what he hoped was a low-key, completely normal way. His mouth felt raw. Jesus, do I have beard burn? Bailey’s brows knitted together, and she reached up and straightened his hair. Shit. His hair.

Everyone knows! It’s flashing all over me in neon letters. Neon and all caps!

Breathing deeply, he struggled to unscrew the cap from the bottle of water placed on the table in front of him. It took two tries, but he got it, and gulped. His heart pounded so loudly he was sure everyone could hear it.

“Everything okay?” Bailey murmured.

He nodded.

Under the table, she squeezed his thigh. “We’re almost there. Just think—tomorrow we leave Kyoto and get to sleep in our own beds again. At least for a few weeks.”

With a rush of affection, he took her hand. If there was one thing he could count on, it was having Bailey beside him. He exhaled and concentrated on her familiar warmth.

Mikhail entered the room, head high and shoulders back, his hair artfully swooped over his forehead. He managed to make warm-up pants and his red Russian team jacket look like Armani. Expression calm, he took his seat next to Kisa. While Dev wanted to crawl out of his skin with a mess of emotions from shock and anger to a shameful craving for more, Mikhail Reznikov appeared utterly unaffected.

Dev had never hated him more.

Author Bio

After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, fantasy, and paranormal fiction and — although she loves delicious angst along the way — Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said:

“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

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