A Free Dreamer Release Day Review: The Wanderer (Chronicles of the Riftlands #1) by Rowan McAllister

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

After centuries of traveling the continent of Kita and fighting the extradimensional monsters known as Riftspawn, mage Lyuc is tired and ready to back away from the concerns of humanity.

But the world isn’t done with him yet.

While traveling with a merchant caravan, Lyuc encounters Yan, an Unnamed, the lowest caste in society. Though Yan has nothing but his determination and spirit, he reminds Lyuc what passion and desire feel like. While wild magic, a snarky, shapeshifting, genderfluid companion, and the plots of men and monsters seem determined to keep Lyuc from laying down his burden, only Yan’s inimitable spirit tempts him to hang on for another lifetime or so.

All Yan wants is to earn the sponsorship of a guild so he can rise above his station, claim a place in society, and build the family he never had.

After hundreds of years of self-imposed penance, all Lyuc wants is Yan.

If they can survive prejudice, bandits, mercenaries, monsters, and nature itself, they might both get their wish… and maybe even their happily ever after.

I really enjoyed The Wanderer. It ticked a lot of boxes for me and I just couldn’t put it down.

I liked both Yan and Lyuc immediately. They’re very different but make a wonderful couple. I really enjoyed their relationship dynamic and it was pretty obvious that they cared for each other. I really enjoyed watching their relationship blossom and especially Yan changing and growing in character.

But my favourite character by far was Lyuc’s traveling companion and friend. He’s so cool and he really added to the story.

The fantasy part has all the potential to become truly epic. It’s not exactly a brand new idea, but the author definitely made it work. The world building was well done and I immediately fell into the universe. It had me intrigued and I definitely want to find out more. This is just the beginning, after all.

There weren’t all that many sex scenes. While I don’t always need tons of sex to enjoy a book, I think this could have used a bit more. It’s implied that Yan has had some not so great experiences in the past and that he’s used sex as a favour to get out of trouble. It felt like he immediately went from “sex as a favour” to “sex out of love”. There was no slow change over time and that’s a bit of a shame. But that’s all I have to complain about.

Long story short, I absolutely loved “The Wanderer” and I can’t wait for part two. This really has the potential to become a really epic fantasy story with a wonderful relationship. I just hope the author will keep the current couple and won’t introduce a new one. I really liked our trio.

I really like the cover by Stef Masciandaro. It makes me smile and fits the story perfectly.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book details:

ebook, 200 pages
Published May 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781640802360
Series Chronicles of the Riftlands #1

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Forged in Fire (Asheville Arcana #2) by Ari McKay

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

The magic touch.

Ever since Harlan Edgewood was bitten by a possessed werewolf, his monthly shifts have been agonizing. When he meets Whimsy Hickes—a mage who specializes in transformation—the attraction is mutual. But Harlan believes his curse is too great a burden to inflict on any romantic partner.

Fortunately, Whimsy thinks he can help.

When Harlan is provoked into an unexpected change, Whimsy uses his magic to help ease Harlan’s pain, but with an unexpected consequence. While he’s shifted, Harlan’s wolf claims Whimsy as his mate.

As they draw closer, suspicious events in the Asheville magical community escalate. Shifters are disappearing, others are murdered, and Harlan’s curse makes him an obvious target. It will take all of Whimsy’s magic to force back the rising evil—and if he fails, Harlan will lose not only his life, but his very soul.

Whimsy Hickes! Of all  of the character names that have leapt across the  pages I have read all these years, this is one of the ones I wish I could grab for myself.  Just the sheer charm of this name speaks to me.  As does the character himself.  I have adored  Whimsy since I met him in Out of the Ashes (Asheville Arcana #1).  Then he was dealing with the loss of his triad relationship when his friend and lover, half-elf Arden Gilmarin, finds true love with his mate werewolf Eli Hammond.  When their other third, the Vampire disappears in his research, it leaves Whimsy lonely and searching for something for himself in Forged in Fire (Asheville Arcana #2) by Ari McKay.

The Asheville Arcana series or maybe trilogy is so wonderful.  Layered over with multiple storylines that keep your attention glued to every sentence less you loose a clue or important element that will frame out the next action, McKay never forgets that its the people (or beings) that are the foundation here.  And I mean every character, not just the main ones.  Just terrific characterizations all around.

Both Whimsy and Harlan are looking for something….and find each other unexpectedly.  It’s the mate bond that shows them the way.  Each character is lovingly built up so that they feel alive, each detail, right down to the handmade candles that one makes and the other joyfully receives, gives us insight into them as people and as a couple.  I loved that and them.  And could see them so clearly in my mind that I felt I  was nearby, listening in as  a friend and happy for them.

Of course, there is an ongoing series storyline arc here with a great evil and that is carried through here with suspense and wonderful action.  I was holding my breath at parts to see how it would all shake out and how if any resolution would happen knowing the series was only as book two.  I wasn’t disappointed. The authors can write action as well as romance.  And of course, we still have a lonely vampire at large.  Can’t have that, can we?

So what have we got?  A terrific magical series with supernatural and fantasy characters that feel alive and so vivid that you will connect with them easily.  An evil so pervasive that it sends chills down your spine and make you fear for all involved.  And plenty of love and romance for all lovers of, well, love and romance.  Plus the name Whimsy Hickes. You know how I feel about that.

I can’t wait for the next story in this series.  Until then, if you are new to the Asheville Arcana series, pick up book one and find out what’s in store for you.  None of them are standalones.  Then read this one.  I highly recommend them both.

Cover art:  Aaron Anderson.  Love this  cover.  That’s my idea of Whimsy Hickes now absolutely.

Sales Links:     Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 220 pages
Expected publication: May 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781640806979
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series Asheville Arcana

Out of the Ashes (Asheville Arcana #1)

Forged in Fire (Asheville Arcana, #2)

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Stand By Your Manny (The Mannies #3) by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

I loved this story! Amy Lane always brings family drama to life with a touch of angst balanced with a touch of humor, and both are in evidence here in this third installment of the Mannies series.

Little Sammy Lowell is all grown up, and though his uncles Channing and Tino (The Virgin Manny) still dote on him, he now has a little sister and brother in the household so he’s not the center of attention he once was. Sammy is finishing his bachelor’s degree and will be heading into a master’s program next term. His major is music and his first love is piano; so much so, that he’s supplementing his coursework by volunteering to teach in an enrichment program for disadvantaged middle school students in a low income neighborhood. Plus, he’s planning to do a weekly gig at a pub that will let him play to a live audience and he’s psyched about it, even though it’s in a tough part of town and his uncles might object. The biggest glitch in all his plans, however, is his medical condition. He has a form of anemia that leaves him weak and exhausted if he neglects his diet and he’s the king of forgetting to eat when he’s composing or playing so he’s always suffering from the effects of low iron.

Cooper Hoskins is raising his “sister” and working to keep food on their table and clothes on her back by doing construction for the company where Brandon (Manny Get Your Man) is supervisor. Unfortunately, he loses the battle to shore up an air conditioning unit on a rooftop and when it comes tumbling down, Cooper, and all his secrets, come tumbling down with it. When he awakes in the hospital, he panics and reveals Felicity’s existence to Brandon. Unfortunately, Felicity was one of the foster kids from his last foster home and when he finally aged out of the system and left, she found out where he lived and showed up to live with him. After returning her to a foster mother who didn’t even know she’d left, Felicity showed up again and Cooper let her stay. Now, the gigs up, but after a phone call from Brandon, Channing and Tino step in, and with Channing’s wealth and connections, the two men become her official guardians. They also offer Cooper a job as their manny, to begin once his wounds heal.

It’s almost too good to be true and it takes Cooper a while to build trust in this shiny, happy family, but with Sammy’s help, Cooper begins to see his own worth and the two young men start to find their own form of happiness when they act on their attraction.

One more key piece the author has used in all the stories—both men are virgins. Slowly, a few stolen kisses lead to more and Sammy and Cooper realize they never settled for someone else because they were meant to be. Now they have to hope Sammy’s health cooperates, and that his uncles approve. And Cooper has to protect his naïve boyfriend from some of the tough guys both inside and outside the bar where’s he doing his music gig.

Some things just don’t come easy to either young man, and it’s a pleasure to watch their growth and to revisit the large extended family of Amy Lane’s Mannies books. There’s a foundation of family strength throughout the story, as well as an underlying sense of humor, and of course, the usual heartbreaking moments mixed with heartwarming romance. Amy Lane does it so well. 

I very highly recommend this book. It can stand alone, but it’s really going to be so much better if readers start with The Virgin Manny and work their way through the series. For those who’ve already read the first two, you can look forward to a few enjoyable visits with all of the past characters, including Tino’s sister, who is now on baby number six. All in all, it’s a very satisfying conclusion to a terrific series. 

~~~

Cover art by Bree Archer features a handsome young blond man with a baby grand piano in the background. It’s the perfect depiction of the bright and outgoing Sammy, whose love for piano stands out in this story.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 182 pages
Expected publication: May 1st 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
Original Title Stand by Your Manny
ASINB07CLJKL66
Edition LanguageEnglish
Series The Mannies

Release Blitz and Giveaway – Diego’s Secret by Bryan T Clark

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Cover Design: Krista Lynn Design
 
Length: 80,921 words
 
Blurb
 

Can love conquer our deepest secrets and fears?


Are the challenges worth the struggle?


Eight years ago, at the age of seventeen, Diego Castillo came to the United States illegally from Mexico. Working long hours in the family landscaping business, he now shares a tiny apartment with his two machismo brothers in Southern California. Diego has worked hard to keep his desires for other men a secret from his brothers. He’s worked just as hard to keep his undocumented status a secret from the world he now lives in.


Thirty-two-year-old Winston Makena is beautiful, intelligent, and intimidating. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but no amount of money can relieve the enormous grief he is suffering from his husband’s sudden death. He is one of Diego’s best accounts and lives a life in stark contrast to his gardener’s. Winston’s wealthy upbringing has influenced his ideas, leading him to certain biases.


Winston believes he could never love again. Diego believes that his family’s lives depend on him keeping his secrets. What neither of them know is that the heart knows no such boundaries. Will social divisions, ideology, and secrets destroy both their chances for happiness?


Can love really conquer all?

 
Author Bio
 

Bryan Thomas Clark is a funny, loving, family-oriented, and proud member of the LGBTQ community. After twenty-seven years in law enforcement, Bryan retired in 2015 to focus on his writing full time. Behind his computer, working on his next novel, Bryan writes Romance with real emotions that represent the moral dilemma that his characters face in their pursuit of love. He brilliantly weaves real life situations filled with difficult challenges, where his vibrant characters experience personal growth, and of course, what we all desire, lasting love.

 

Author’s website: www.btclark.com
Twitter: @BryanTClarkx2
Facebook: BryanTclarkauthor@facebook.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/romanceauthor/
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/7875459.Bryan_T_Clark.com

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New Release Book Blitz for Astray (Wavesongs #1) by Elvira Bell (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Astray

Series: Wavesongs #1

Author: Elvira Bell

Release Date: May 1, 2018

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 99,500 words

Genre: Romance, Historical fiction, LGBT, M/M, Coming of age, Pirates, Age gap

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Nick Andrews has grown up in poverty in a tiny village. All his life he’s been told that he’s useless. After getting one scolding too many he decides to go far away, off to sea. But his experience as a farmhand has done little to prepare him for the hardships of a sailor’s life.

When his ship is attacked by pirates, Nick’s life is miraculously spared by the notorious pirate captain, Christopher Hart—a man in charge of a crew feared for their brutality. Nick is forced to join the pirates, and he dreads finding out for what reason the captain has saved him.

But Hart is nothing like his reputation suggests, and Nick soon finds himself entangled in a relationship that could endanger both their lives. Unless Nick can help Hart on his quest to find a long lost treasure, their forbidden love may tear his new life apart.

Warning: This book ends with a cliffhanger, and it does not have a happy ending. The series as a whole will have a HEA ending.

Content note: This book contains dark themes and depictions of torture, murder, and rape.

Excerpt

Nick enters the cabin to find Hart sitting at the table. A book is open in front of him. Red-tinted sunlight floods the windows, casting a burnt orange glow over his hair and coat. He doesn’t look up as Nick steps inside and closes the door behind him.

“What did you want with me, sir?”

Hart sighs. Gives Nick a brief glance. “Ah, yes. My boots need a cleaning. Over there.” He points to the boots, neatly placed next to the door. “You should find what you need in that chest opposite them.”

Nick glances at the clogs on his own feet. Hart has not just one pair of footwear, but two—on his feet instead of the jackboots are black leather shoes. Sinking down to his knees, Nick gets to work. He grabs one of the boots, reaching for the cloth he’s found. His stomach clenches. All he can think of is that pool of blood around Stubbs’ head. He worries that Hart’s soles will be red, stained with the cabin boy’s blood. Thankfully, they aren’t. In fact, there’s not a trace of blood on them—almost as if they have been cleaned before.

Nick glances over to Hart. Did he clean his own boots before calling Nick in here? And if so, why? It makes no sense that he has wiped away the blood himself, when he could have made Nick do it.

Hart sighs and scribbles in the book. It’s unnerving to be alone with him and Nick feels relief surge through him when both boots are spotless and shiny.

“All done, sir.” He puts the boots back by the wall and stands up, turning to face Hart again.

The Captain doesn’t look at him. “Thank you.” Outside the window, the glowing sun has turned to just a sliver on the horizon. “That will be all.”

Available to purchase at Amazon

Meet the Author

Elvira Bell lives in Sweden and spends most of her time writing, reading or watching movies. Her weaknesses include, but are not limited to: vintage jazz, musicals, kittens, oversized tea cups, men in suits, the 18th century, and anything sparkly.

Elvira writes m/m fiction with a touch of romance and has a penchant for historical settings. She adores all things gothic and will put her characters through hell from time to time because she just loves watching them suffer. It makes the happy endings so much sweeter, after all.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | eMail

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New Release Day Blitz – The California Dashwoods by Lisa Henry (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  The California Dashwoods

Author: Lisa Henry

Publisher:  Self Published

Release Date: May 1, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 62 000

Genre: Romance

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Synopsis

Make a new future. Choose your true family. Know your own heart.

When Elliott Dashwood’s father dies, leaving his family virtually penniless, it’s up to Elliott to do what he’s always done: be the responsible one. Now isn’t the right time for any added complications. So what the hell is he doing hooking up with Ned Ferrars? It’s just a fling, right?

Elliott tries to put it behind him when the family makes a fresh start in California, and if he secretly hopes to hear from Ned again, nobody else needs to know. While his mom is slowly coming to terms with her grief, teenage Greta is more vulnerable than she’s letting on, and Marianne—romantic, reckless Marianne—seems determined to throw herself headfirst into a risky love affair. And when Elliott discovers the secret Ned’s been keeping, he realizes that Marianne isn’t the only one pinning her hopes on a fantasy.

All the Dashwoods can tell you that feelings are messy and heartbreak hurts. But Elliott has to figure out if he can stop being the sensible one for once, and if he’s willing to risk his heart on his own romance.

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

His father’s hand was weightless. Elliott held it gently, rubbing his thumb over the loose, wrinkled skin of his knuckles. His father’s fingers were thin and fragile now, and scrubbed clean. Elliott had never seen his father’s fingers without paint under his nails.

“Elliott,” Henry Dashwood whispered, and Elliott lifted his blurry gaze. The smile on his father’s face was almost beatific, but that was probably down to the morphine.

“I’m here,” he said, his throat aching. “John’s here too, Dad.”

John Dashwood was seated on the other side of the bed, his hands folded in his lap. His jaw was clenched tight, and his gaze was fixed on some point just above Henry’s pillow.

Henry lifted his free hand and held it out toward John. John looked startled for a moment, and then reached out and took it gently.

“My boys,” Henry murmured. “My sons.”

They sat for a long moment as Henry drifted off into a doze, only the sound of his heart monitor punctuating the silence.

Elliott didn’t even realize Henry was awake again until he spoke.

“John,” he said. “John, promise me that you’ll look after your brother and your sisters.”

John seemed to recoil for a moment, and then he wet his lower lip with his tongue. “I will, Dad.” He met Elliott’s gaze and then looked down at their father again. “I promise.”

“Is Abby coming?” Henry asked, his voice faint.

“Mom’s on her way, Dad,” Elliott said. “She’s on her way with the girls.”

Henry passed away before they arrived.

***

Francesca Dashwood, John’s wife, arrived the day after Henry passed away. She organized the entire funeral, shoving Abby and her children aside as though Henry’s second marriage had been nothing more than a footnote in the Dashwood Family history. Norland Park was filled with a curious mix of mourners, well-wishers, and gawkers. Elliott, Abby, and Marianne suffered their attention, or lack thereof, with varying degrees of politeness. Greta, thirteen years old, locked herself in her bedroom and threatened to stab anyone who tried to drag her out again.

Three days after the funeral, the Naked Blue Lady vanished from her place above the fireplace, and that was when Elliott knew for certain that Francesca had made her move.

The Dashwood Family—always a capital F in Elliott’s mind, to distinguish it from the tiny offshoot that he considered actual family—had never forgiven Henry for running off with the help—Abby—and proceeding to prove their dire predictions wrong by living in wedded bliss with her for over twenty years before the cancer took him. Abby had never been interested in the Dashwood Family money. She’d signed the prenup the Family lawyers had asked her to. In exchange, the Family had allowed Henry to retain Norland Park and had provided him with a monthly allowance. Those, however, had only been guaranteed for as long as Henry lived.

And now, staring at the blank space above the fireplace where the Naked Blue Lady had hung, Elliott knew that he and his mother and his sisters were next to go.

“She’s evil,” Marianne announced. “She’s a horrible evil troll, and we should let Greta stab her.”

“She’s not evil,” Elliott began, and caught Marianne’s look. “Okay, so maybe she’s a little bit evil, but she’s also John’s wife, so can we try and be civil, please? Also, why does every scenario that anyone in this family comes up with always involve Greta stabbing someone?”

“Not every scenario,” Marianne said, her slight smile vanishing as she looked at the blank space above the fireplace. “Mom is going to be pissed.”

Right on cue, the French doors flung wide open and Abby Dashwood swept through in one of her trademark kaftans. She stopped when she reached the fireplace, and pressed a hand over her heart. “That bitch! Where’s my painting?”

Elliott exchanged a glance with Marianne, and together they stepped forward and put their arms around their mother.

“I’m fine!” Abby shook them off. “It’s fine!”

It clearly wasn’t fine. Their wonderful, vibrant mother had been badly shaken by their father’s death. She had never once allowed herself to believe that Henry wouldn’t go into remission.

You have to think positive,” she’d said a thousand times, and thought so positively herself that she had refused to even begin to entertain any thoughts to the contrary. “Positive thoughts are positive energy, and that’s what your father needs right now.”

Elliott wasn’t certain she’d actually come to terms with the fact that he was gone. Even though they’d all sat in the front row at the funeral, the Family on the left side of the chapel, and Abby and her children on the right side, with poor John constantly darting between both factions like some frazzled emissary, silently begging Elliott to please prevent Abby or the girls from making a scene.

“Mom,” Elliott said now. “Come upstairs.”

“Yes,” Abby said, and lifted her chin. “Yes, let’s go upstairs and pack our bags! I’m not staying in this house a minute longer!” She raised her voice for the benefit of any eavesdroppers. “We’re clearly not welcome here!”

Marianne met Elliott’s gaze.

“Mom,” Elliott said, “we don’t have anywhere else to go. We can’t just leave.”

“Oh, honey.” Abby smiled at him, her eyes shining with tears. She reached up and cradled his cheeks in her palms. “Of course we can! All we need is each other.”

And somewhere to stay. And jobs. And money for college for Marianne and school for Greta. And health insurance. And a million other things that their father’s savings would barely begin to cover. But Elliott didn’t have the heart to say any of that.

“We can’t go anywhere yet, Mom,” he said. “Not without a plan.”

“Oh, honey,” Abby said again, her smile softening. “You worry too much.”

Marianne twined her fingers through Abby’s and tugged her gently toward the stairs. “Come on, Mom. Let’s go and see if Greta’s stabbed anyone yet.”

Elliott watched them leave, and then headed down the hallway toward his father’s study.

Norland Park, outside of Provincetown, was the only home Elliott had ever known. It had seven bedrooms, a sunroom, and a large parlor that Henry had used as a studio. The house had been built in 1910 in the American Craftsman style, and purchased by the Dashwoods a little over a decade later when Alexander Dashwood made his first million in the burgeoning aeronautics industry. It had served as a summer house for the Family for generations. And now they clearly wanted it back.

Henry Dashwood’s study was on the ground floor beside his studio. The hallway smelled of his oil paints. Tears pricked Elliott’s eyes, and he wiped them away before he opened the study door.

John was sitting at Henry’s desk, flicking through paperwork. He looked up.

“Elliott,” he said, his expression suddenly guarded. “Is everything okay?”

“Mom’s pretty upset,” Elliott said. “The, um, the painting?”

John had the decency to look abashed. “Francesca felt it was confronting.”

A wave of grief rose up in Elliott. He could almost hear Henry’s voice. “Art is supposed to be confronting, Elliott. It’s supposed to make you uncomfortable! It’s supposed to challenge you, to shake you up, to make you feel!”

Which were all good points, but Elliott still didn’t feel he could invite his friends over with the Naked Blue Lady hanging over the fireplace. She was very, very blue, and she was very, very naked. She was also his mom. Elliott had been twelve at the time, and not sure how to explain to his friends that yes, that was his mother sitting spread-legged on that chair, and yes, that was her vulva.

“It meant a lot to them,” he said.

John’s mouth pressed into a thin line.

And yeah, the painting meant a lot to John too, didn’t it? It represented the moment Henry Dashwood had walked out of his life and away from all his responsibilities as a father and a husband to be with the college student he’d hired as John’s au pair for the summer. John wasn’t a bad guy, but he was never going to be able to put that betrayal aside. Elliott couldn’t blame him. Henry had been a wonderful father to Elliott and Marianne and Greta. They’d stolen that from John, in a way.

“There’s a little over ten thousand dollars in Dad’s savings account,” John said at last.

Elliott nodded. “It’s what he’d been putting aside, except there’s not even enough for Greta’s school fees, let alone Marianne’s college tuition.”

From the moment Henry had been diagnosed, he’d saved what he could from his monthly payments from the Dashwood family trust, but in the end it had been too little, too late. In the end he’d gone so quickly, and there were funeral costs, and taxes, and bills for the alternative treatments they’d tried when it was clear the chemo wasn’t working—bills the insurance hadn’t covered.

John sighed. “Elliott, I promised Dad I’d do what I could to help, but most of my assets are tied up in the corporation, or held in trust. I mean, the board isn’t going to . . .” He cleared his throat.

Elliott nodded, his eyes stinging again.

“I’ll see what I can do,” John said. “But Francesca wants the house.”

Elliott nodded again, and slipped outside before John could see him crying.

***

Greta’s bedroom overlooked the front entrance of Norland Park, and she’d taken to leaning out of her window like a particularly malevolent gargoyle and glaring at anyone who came or went. She was a pretty girl, usually, when she wasn’t plotting murder behind the curtain of her dark hair, but Elliott couldn’t blame her.

“Oh my God,” she exclaimed. “There’s another car coming, Elliott! Another one!”

Elliott couldn’t bring himself to care enough to climb off her bed and go and see.

“It’s like Francesca can’t even wait until she kicks us out to start filling the place with her awful friends! These ones are driving an Audi.” She leaned further out the window.

“Greta!” Elliott leapt off the bed and crossed to the window before she dived out of it. He wrapped an arm around her and looked down.

The black Audi was parked close to the front entrance of the house, and the two young men climbing out were both wearing blazers, khakis, and boat shoes.

“Oh, look! It’s the Brooks Brothers!” Greta exclaimed.

Greta had no volume control.

The young men looked up.

Elliott and Greta pushed back from the window at the same time, and landed in a heap on the bedroom floor.

Greta stared at Elliott wide-eyed, and he stared back.

Then, for the first time in what felt like weeks, they both started to laugh.

***

The Brooks Brothers, Elliott learned at dinner, were actually the Ferrars brothers. They were Francesca’s younger brothers, Ned and Robert, and they apparently did something in construction. By the looks of them, nothing at the dirty end of that business. The Ferrars family resemblance was clear. The brothers were both tall, blond, and good-looking in a way that had just as much to do with presentation as it did with genetics. Skincare lotions and hair products and designer clothing gave a glossy shine to the brothers’ otherwise ordinary exteriors. Elliott found himself glancing at Ned’s profile more than once during dinner. His nose was a little long for his face. His jaw was a little wonky. His ears stuck out a bit. Without that two-hundred-dollar haircut working for him, would he still be as handsome, or would the slightly awkward way he held himself be even more apparent?

Elliott had never had a two-hundred-dollar haircut in his life. His father might have grown up obscenely wealthy, but his mother hadn’t. Two hundred dollars for a haircut when there was a perfectly good pair of scissors lying around? Not on Abby’s watch. Even now Elliott’s dark hair was tousled and unruly. When it was wet after a shower, it hung in tendrils in his eyes and down the back of his neck. When it was dry he rubbed some wax through it, stood it on end, and let it do whatever the hell it wanted for the rest of the day.

And he was the most presentable of his side of the family. He’d heard Francesca telling Robert exactly that after the brothers had arrived, before conceding that he was also “the least objectionable.”

Not exactly high praise, then.

Elliott glanced at Ned again, and this time Ned caught his gaze and offered him a small smile. Elliott smiled back, a little embarrassed to have been seen looking, and stabbed a piece of carrot.

Dinner with the Family was an ordeal. And Elliott meant that in the most ancient judicial sense. At this point he would rather choose ordeal by fire and walk over red-hot plowshares than endure another round of stilted conversation and barely concealed barbs. In addition to John and Francesca and the Ferrars brothers, Great Uncle Montgomery had been in residence since the funeral. He hadn’t done much except wander around Norland Park poking his cane into the wainscoting and announcing the presence of dry rot, then making grumbled threats to sue Abby for failing to keep the house maintained while she was a tenant.

A tenant.

Aunt Cynthia and her husband, Aldous, had also been staying since the funeral. Elliott couldn’t decide if they were better or worse than Montgomery.

“Oh, such pretty children,” Aunt Cynthia had said the night she’d arrived. “They don’t look anything like Abby, do they?”

Aldous had grunted. “That girl’s got metal through her nose.”

Worse, probably. They were worse than Montgomery. Montgomery might complain about holes in the wainscoting, but at least he didn’t comment on the hole in Marianne’s nose.

With the arrival of the Ferrars brothers, it didn’t take long for conversation at dinner to turn to the fact that they now had more guests than available guest rooms.

“Well,” Francesca said, with a thin smile in Abby’s direction, “I’m sure that the children can share, can’t they?”

Abby narrowed her gaze. “Excuse me?”

“I think it’s only fair to offer guests a proper bedroom, isn’t it?” Francesca asked.

Elliott met John’s gaze. John glanced away.

Invited guests, yes,” Abby said. “But I didn’t invite them.” She grimaced in the direction of Ned and Robert. “No offense.”

They both mumbled something that sounded vaguely polite.

“Well, I just thought that Marianne and Greta could share,” Francesca pressed on. “That would free up a room.”

Abby drew a deep breath. “Excuse you. My daughters don’t have to—”

“Ned and Robert can have my room,” Elliott said, to head Abby’s diatribe off at the pass. Francesca looked smug, John looked relieved, and Abby looked like she had a hell of a lot more to say on the subject. “It’s fine. I don’t mind.”

Ned shot him a worried glance. “That’s really not necessary.”

“I don’t mind,” Elliott repeated.

In the awkward silence that settled over the dining room, Great Uncle Montgomery muttered about nonexistent mold spores, and Greta turned her steak knife over and over in her palm in a thoughtful manner that made Aunt Cynthia shuffle her chair a few inches further away.

Happy families.

***

Elliott trudged upstairs after dinner to grab some spare clothes and his laptop and phone. He dragged a duffel bag down from the back of his closet and shoved clothes into it. This was his room, but he had known since his father died that he wouldn’t be allowed to stay in it. The Family wanted them out of the house. It was a matter of when, not if.

Elliott slid his laptop into his bag, then zipped it up and slung it over his shoulder. He stared down at his rumpled bed, but fuck it. If the Ferrars brothers wanted clean sheets, they could find them for themselves. Elliott crossed to the door and wrenched it open, surprising Ned Ferrars.

He had a suitcase on wheels.

“Sorry,” Elliott said, and stepped outside his room.

“No, um, I’m sorry.” Ned pressed his lips together. A faint wrinkle appeared at the top of his nose, right between his drawn-together eyebrows. “For, um . . . for your loss, and for everything.”

Elliott’s heart skipped a beat. He didn’t think a single person associated with the Family in any way had stooped to offer him their sympathies. At the funeral, everyone gave their condolences to John, as though Abby and her children, even in that moment, were interlopers with no claim on Henry Dashwood.

He was our dad too.

“Thanks,” he murmured, his throat aching.

Ned nodded and wheeled his little suitcase into Elliott’s room. The door snicked shut behind him.

***

Henry’s studio was largely undisturbed. It smelled of oil paints and turpentine. Stacks of unfinished canvases leaned against the walls. Elliott set his duffel bag down on the old paint-spattered couch his dad used to take his naps on every afternoon. It still smelled faintly of weed.

He crossed to the wall and traced his shaking fingers down a canvas. The paint was laid on thick, in a choppy texture that read like Braille. He closed his eyes and could hear Henry’s voice.

“This is art, my boy! Art! Nothing matters more in the world!”

“Says the man living in a Cape Cod mansion!”

Henry’s laughter had filled the room, and then he’d grown uncharacteristically solemn.

“Alexander Dashwood used to fly kites, you know? He used to watch the birds, and fly kites. He wanted to soar. He had an artist’s soul as well, I think. What would he make of his descendants, hmm? Making their fortune by manufacturing military drones. All innovators become oppressors, given enough time.”

Elliott smiled, his chest aching, and lifted his fingers away from the canvas.

“Love you, Dad,” he whispered to the silent studio. “Miss you.”

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Meet the Author

Lisa likes to tell stories, mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters.

Lisa lives in tropical North Queensland, Australia. She doesn’t know why, because she hates the heat, but she suspects she’s too lazy to move. She spends half her time slaving away as a government minion, and the other half plotting her escape.

She attended university at sixteen, not because she was a child prodigy or anything, but because of a mix-up between international school systems early in life. She studied History and English, neither of them very thoroughly.

She shares her house with too many cats, a green tree frog that swims in the toilet, and as many possums as can break in every night. This is not how she imagined life as a grown-up.

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