A Jeri Review: Pay It Forward (Giving Back #1) by Nic Starr

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

This was a sweet romance with very little angst or drama. It wasn’t exceptionally fluffy either and there was really only 1 sex scene. Just, what I like to call, a palate cleanser.
Bailey has a bit of a crush on the barista at a local coffee shop. Turns out the barista is the owner and might have a crush himself. And so they go on a date. SHOCKING! It seems that jumping into bed usually comes first and then a couple falls into a relationship. But this time they actually went in the right order.
The most drama is Tom not wanting to accept help from his friends and then later Bailey not wanting to accept help from Tom. I guess every book, no matter how sweet it is, needs some sort of discord that needs to be worked out.
There isn’t a lot for me to say about these 2 ordinary guys finding love with each other. If you need something sweet that will make you smile, this is it.
Cover art is sweet and appropriate for the story.
Sales Link:  Amazon
Book Details:
Kindle Edition, 203 pages
Published November 11th 2018 by Nic Starr
ASINB07K8QVGCL
Edition Language English
Series Giving Back #1

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Fair Isn’t Life by Kaje Harper

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

 

Luke Lafontaine survived the past year by not thinking about the father he lost, the dairy farm he couldn’t save from bankruptcy, or his way of life that vanished with the rap of an auctioneer’s hammer. Cleaning up city folks’ trash at the Minnesota State Fair is just another dead-end job. But at the Fair, surrounded by a celebration of farm life, ambitions he’d given up on and buried deep start to revive. And seeing Mason Bell in the parade—gorgeous, gay, out-of-his-league Mason—stirs other buried dreams.

Mason left his hometown for college in Minneapolis without looking back. Student life is fun, classes are great, gay guys are easy to find, but it’s all a bit superficial. He’s at the State Fair parade route with his band when he realizes a scruffy maintenance worker is Luke, his secret high school crush. Luke should be safely home working on his dad’s farm, not picking up litter. Mason wishes he hadn’t fallen out of touch. He’s an optimist, though, and it’s never too late for second chances. Now he just has to convince Luke.

I wasn’t entirely prepared for portions of this story. And I should have been by the description and the author’s talent for conveying pain and loss.  Still…

I live in a county that used to be almost entirely agricultural, horse farms, sweeping forests, orchards and fields of corn and grain.  Now mostly mini mansions or townhomes/condos as far as you can see depending on where you live in the county.  That you had a choice of a farm on your license plate was highly ironic given how fast the farms were being sold and plowed under.  But what we weren’t seeing was the emotional cost on the other end.  Kaje Harper puts a face to that loss. And it’s devastating.

That Kaje Harper now delivers in heart wrenching detail.  If for no other reason to buy this book, it’s for the portrait of what the loss of a legacy, a family, a person’s foundation does to one young man.  It will hit you in the gut.  And we don’t even go through the worst of it with him.  That’s already been done.  By the time we meet Luke Lafontaine, he’s survived the loss of his dad to cancer, the sale of his family house and farm, including livestock he himself  raised, to auction, and been homeless.  No, now he’s through that, but just barely.

But all through this story, how that has all impacted Luke, in small ways and large, will return.  And it will be shattering.  It will also be a reminder that it’s happening to kids and families all over the nation with  little media coverage.  It will make you weep for Luke, for all those he represents, and for the farmers that  no one seems to be speaking for anymore.  Remember Farm Aid anyone?  Kaje Harper gets this so incredibly, harshly right.  We feel the pain, as we should, of the struggle to  stay afloat in this economy.  And how fragile the bar is on keeping the farm or losing it.

Anyhow.  Combine Luke with a young man named Mason, eyeliner, clarinet, college going Mason (I love Mason) and you have such a wonderful endearing romance and relationship.  The dynamics between them was sweet and supportive. It went both ways  as Mason was used to guys being embarrassed by his love of lip gloss and liner. It felt so real, painfully so as they worked their way towards a future together.

I will remember this book for quite a while.  I’ll remember the trials and the joys that Luke went through, his “Anne” (no spoilers, but ‘sniffles”), and the fact that a Christmas story for me sometimes has a title called Fair Isn’t Life by Kaje Harper.  Really, I just loved this book.  I think you will too.  I highly recommend it.

Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht.  I really like this cover, right down to the dairy cows.  Great job.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 148 pages
Expected publication: November 16th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781640808942
Edition Language English

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Cops and Comix (Murder and Mayhem) by Rhys Ford

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Rating:  3.75 stars out of 5

 

It’s all fun and games until someone leaves a dead body on the floor.

Life for comic book store owner Alex Martin usually runs to the mundane. Sure, he has a regular influx of geeks and freaks, but for the most part, it’s a familiar weird. That all changes when he opens up Planet X Comics one morning and finds a corpse in the middle of his shop.

When Detective James Castillo is called in to investigate, Alex is torn between wanting to climb the man like a tree and giving him a wide berth. Luckily for Alex, the handsome detective is just as interested in him—as a suspect in the murder.

I love Rhys Ford’s Murder and Mayhem series about former cat burglar Rook Stevens and Detective Dante Montoya.  In that series, one of Rook’s cousin’s and the only member of Rook’s family, outside his grandfather, he is close to, is a man  called Alex.  He and his boyfriend, a detective, not only get mentioned but get pulled into a number of scenes.  Alex just had a way of grabbing your attention and a piece of your heart.

So I was thrilled to see a short story about how Alex met his boyfriend, Detective James Castillo.  I was almost certain Rook played a part in it.  Color me shocked he was innocent….

At 38 pages, this is just cute glimpse into Alex’s life, his Planet X Comics store, and the tale of how he met James Castillo.  It has all the hallmarks of the other stories, including the same quirky, believable characters, wild situations only Alex (or a Rook) could find himself in, and a Detective there to help him (them) out of it.  I only wish for more pages and a longer resolution.  As always with this group, more is advisable!

This is a lovely, cute addendum to the main series.  I certainly enjoyed it.  Any fan of the series and cast of characters will too.  I definitely recommend it.

Cover Artist: Reece Notley.  Cover works great for the story and series.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, Second Edition, 38 pages
Expected publication: November 16th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781644051528
Edition Language English

A Lucy Review: Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys #3) by Ari McKay

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.

While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and the car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.

I loved the idea of a cruise ship romance, even more that it wasn’t a passenger type thing but workers.  Add in that Devin wants to be a chef and I thought this is a total win for me.  Devin comes from a super close knit, large family who support each other unconditionally.  That was another win for me.  Paul’s family, though wealthy, doesn’t seem quite as close. 

Paul is on board to check out the workings of the ship but he is there with a secret.  One that really doesn’t affect much unless you start hanging out with and falling for the bartender who is assigned to be your ship liason.   They both have baggage, Paul’s in the shape of an ex-boyfriend who after Paul lost his leg in an accident dumped him and assumed they would no longer be able to do the physical, outdoor things they had always done; Devin’s in the form of an ex-boyfriend who was using him as a way to upset his conservative parents.

The two bond over getting to know the ship’s crew and workings.  Devin shows Paul how to chill out a little and enjoy life and in the process begins to fall for him.  It was a little odd to read how much time off Devin got.  With a relative who worked the cruise ships who always talked about how little time was their own, this was a little bit of a shock.

I felt like they got to know each other, even though the secret was in the way.  It was insta-love to be sure, as the whole thing happens over the course of a two-week cruise.  The final reveal of the secret is a little bit of a let down.  There is no angst here, despite the baggage they each have, and they are pretty well adjusted.  Paul gets over his insecurity about his  missing leg and scars fairly easily as well.

A very weird thing was as I was reading about Beau Walker and Jake Parnell, Devin’s cousin and his husband, I kept thinking how much I would like to read their story.  It wasn’t until I looked it up to add to my list that I realized I already read it! 

There is a moment in Jamaica with a pair of shorts, when Devin realizes that he is really falling for Paul, that totally made my heart melt.  It was my favorite moment of the book.

Cover art:  Alexandria Corza.  Has the moon and ship as the backdrop and Paul as the center model.  If that is supposed to be Devlin, a total miss of the mark.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Dreamspinner

Book Details:

ebook, 206 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 139781640805231
Series The Walker Boys

Striking Sparks

Breaking Bonds

Seeking Solace

Gene Gant on Why He Writes and his new book Borrowed Boy (guest interview)

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Borrowed Boy by Gene Gant 

Harmony Ink Press
Cover Artist: Adrian Nicholas

Sales Links:  Harmony Ink Press | Amazon

Scattered Thoughts and  Rogue Words is happy to host Gene Gant here today on tour with his latest story, Borrowed Boy.  Welcome, Gene.

~ A Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Gene Gant ~

 

With so much going on in the world today, do you write to explain?  To get away?  To move past?  To widen our knowledge?  Why do you write?

I write mostly because I have a passion for it, the same as I do for reading. I enjoy telling a story as much as I enjoy reading one. But my writing is often driven by events and situations occurring in the world around us. The Battle for Jericho, as an example, grew out of my concern that religious belief was (and still is) having far too much influence on our country’s laws and public policy. Child exploitation is a recurring theme in many of my works because someone dear to me was sexually abused as a kid and left with permanent, debilitating emotional scars.

Division, intolerance and hatred are on the rise in our country. Police shootings of unarmed black people; Trump’s use of racism, xenophobia and blatant lies to set his administration’s agenda and stoke the ire of his supporters against “the other side”; the steady erosion of civil rights protections for people of color and those on the LGBTQ spectrum; the woefully under-addressed crisis of climate change; these are all things that weigh on my mind. Writing about them is a way of coping for me.

But I don’t see only the dark and ugly aspects of human nature. There is still beauty, hope, joy and love in the world, and those things find their way into my writing as well. We need to nurture them, hold onto them, because they will ultimately see us through the chaos and bring us together.

How do you choose your covers?  (curious on my part)

The artists at Harmony Ink Press design multiple covers for my books using my input. Among other things, they ask what I’d like to see in a cover, if there are any objects or images I want included, and if there is any particular thing I don’t want in the cover. The result is that I’m usually presented with several cover versions that are all so good it’s hard to pick one.

It comes down to feeling. Which cover comes closest to the overall mood of the story? Which one do I feel best represents the characters and situations depicted in the novel? Which one pulls at me and makes me wish I could walk right into it? The cover you see on Borrowed Boy pushed all my buttons. In my humble opinion, it effectively captures the emotion and the hope of the story.

If you could imagine the best possible place for you to write, where would that be and why?

That would be a nice little house with a covered patio that looks out on a private beach. Why? Well, I love the ocean for one thing  And for me, writing is a necessarily solitary venture. I have to let my mind settle into the world I’m building, have to inhabit the souls of the characters I’m bringing to life. To do that I need an environment that is quiet and without distraction.

Those conditions that can be hard to come by when you have a family, as I do. That means there’s usually someone watching TV or talking on a cell phone or listening to music, all at the loudest of volumes. It’s hard to hear the voices in your head with that kind of distraction going on. (Voices in my head…hm. Does that make me sound unwell?)

Sometimes I write in the midst of the hullabaloo because I have no choice; my novels would never get finished if I didn’t. Fortunately, I live in an area that’s fairly rural, so in temperate times I can retreat to the patio, which looks out on a spread where a neighbor has horses and chickens, for a bit of quiet isolation in which to write. There’s also the rare occasion during the day when I have the house all to myself, allowing me to turn off everything except my laptop and let my imagination run free. Of course, push come to shove, I can always wait until the wee hours when everyone is asleep and do my thing.

What’s next for you as a writer?

Next I have a companion piece to Borrowed Boy titled Golden Like Summer, which will be published by Harmony Ink Press in 2019. This second book is not a sequel or part of a series as it doesn’t involve any of the characters from Borrowed Boy. But they both grew out of the same general idea of a kid discovering that he’s been living under a false identity.

Beyond that, I’m working on a new adult novella/novel (not sure yet how long it’s going to be) about a young man starting his freshman year of college. He’s been homeschooled and sheltered and is eager to jump into all the things he thinks he’s missed out on, including parties, drinking, drugs, and losing his virginity. He’s going to quickly discover that adult life is a lot more complicated than he thinks. The working title is Mannish. So far, I haven’t run into the dreaded writer’s block on this one. Keep your fingers crossed for me.    

Blurb:

An entire life can be snatched away in an instant.

Thirteen-year-old Zavier Beckham is an average teen living in Memphis. He has great parents and a quirky best friend named Cole. He’s happy, and he thinks his life is totally normal… until an FBI agent shows up and informs Zavier he was stolen as an infant and sold to an adoption agency.

Now his biological parents want him back.

Forced to confront his distant past, Zavier faces an uncertain future. He may be taken from the only home he’s known by parents who are strangers living in Chicago. He may have to deal with a brother who hates and torments him. He meets Brendan, an older boy who offers him friendship and wakens a strong, unsettling attraction in Zavier. Brendan has secrets of his own, and he’ll either be the one ray of light in Zavier’s tense situation or the last straw that breaks Zavier under the pressure.

 

 

About the Author

Gene Gant grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. After living for a time in Missouri and Illinois, he now makes his home on a quiet country lane outside Memphis.

Website

New Release Blitz for Irresistible Indigo (D’Vaire #9) by Jessamyn Kingley (excerpt and giveaway)

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Irresistible Indigo (D’Vaire, Book 9)

Author: Jessamyn Kingley

Cover Artist: LJ Anderson, Mayhem Cover Creations

Genre/s: M/M Fantasy Romance, M/M Paranormal Romance

Heat Rating:  3 flames

Release Date: November 15, 2018

Add on Goodreads

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US

Amazon UK 

Blurb

A young wizard, a noble duke, and the potion that changes D’Vaire forever.

Since arriving at the Draconis Court of D’Vaire at the age of sixteen, Idris has done everything he can think of to make his new family proud of him. After five years of challenging work, he is finally poised to reach the highest rank within the Spectra Wizardry. The only glaring thing missing is his mate. While he may be young, Idris wants to share his heart with his other half, so he asks Fate to send him a nice dragon who will be kind to him and his familiar. He does not want to be demanding but Idris knows without him he won’t be complete.

Duke Macardle “Mac” Stenetdraconis’s days are centered around his amazing grandparents who raised him. When his grandfather suggests he apply for a new duke position at Court D’Vaire, he is intrigued. It is a place that has opened its doors as a sanctuary and he’s drawn to the idea of helping others. When he arrives, he finds himself with a small dragon familiar on his lap. Minutes later, the owner of that familiar saunters through the door and Mac’s heart is instantly hooked on the irresistible wizard. Determined to make Idris his, the pair soon find themselves tested by life. Their love turns out to the anchor Mac cannot do without while Idris opens the door to a new future for his family.

Excerpt

“Does anyone have a ball or anything?” Mac asked.

Idris lifted a hand and within seconds, an indigo sphere appeared. He tossed it to Mac, who bounced it in Greggory’s direction. When the familiar used his head to return it, Roger flew off his shoulder and landed on the floor, so he could play too. Two of the young men Mac was sworn to protect were sitting at a round table placed in the office designed for Delaney and Idris. The sorcerers were painstakingly going through the two boxes of warlock books and scrolls found in the Arch Lich’s library. Dra’Kaedan insisted the two get first crack at everything since they were still seeking research ideas. Duff was presumably in his room working on his own studies.

It left Mac with barely anything to do. When Mac discovered how little he knew of sorcery, he went to Aleksander and explained his problem. He wasn’t content to spend his days sitting around. If he was going to oversee the protection of two wizards, he needed to be able to assist them in some way. Aleksander agreed and called the Prism Wizard. Vadimas was receptive to the problem, and Mac was expecting his own box, full of basic magic books, to arrive soon. He might not be able to cast but he could learn, and he was determined to be an asset to Delaney and Idris. If they weren’t trying to reach the pinnacle of their education and power, he would’ve asked them for help, but Mac wasn’t going to get in their way.

In the meantime, Mac could be close to them and entertain the cute dragons who were taking to playing with the ball Idris provided with enthusiasm. He tossed it again and cringed as the two familiars crashed into each other and wiped out. “Sorry, guys,” he offered. Growls were hurled in his direction, but they allowed him to help them off the floor and both waited patiently until he threw their toy again.

“I think I might’ve found something interesting,” Idris announced.

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“It’s written in archaic warlock. I need Dra’Kaedan to translate some of this. It’s a language I’m still learning, but what I can read is really intriguing.”

“Are you going to tell us why?” Delaney inquired.

“Not until I’m sure I am reading this right,” Idris remarked as he stood. “I’m going to go find him.”

“I’m coming too,” Delaney said.

“We’ll play ball later,” Mac told his scaly friends. Roger soared up to his shoulder as soon as Mac was on his feet, and Greggory flew behind them all as they headed toward the office down the hall which housed the Coven of Warlocks. Inside they found Dra’Kaedan, his twin, and his familiar.

“Do you have a minute, Dra’Kaedan?” Idris asked with the scroll held protectively in his hand.

“For you guys, always. What’s up?”

“I found something I can only read parts of. Can you translate the rest?”

Dra’Kaedan took it from Idris’s hand. The small blond’s eyes grew wide with shock as they moved down the parchment in his grasp. When he was finished, he handed it to his brother. Dre’Kariston’s reaction was the same as his twin’s; then it was passed to Renny.

“This can’t be real,” Renny declared when he was done. “I mean really. This can’t be fucking real. How’s this possible? Because if it is, my brain’s going to explode.”

About the Author

Jessamyn Kingley lives in Nevada where she begs the men in her head to tell her their amazing stories which she dutifully writes it all down in what has become a small mountain of notebooks. She falls in love with each couple and swears whatever book she wrote last is her absolute favorite.

Jessamyn is married and working toward remembering to start the dishwasher without being distracted by the scent of the magical detergent. For personal enjoyment, she aids in cat rescue while slashing and gashing her way through mobs in various MMORPGs. Caffeine is her very best friend and is only cast aside briefly for the sin better known as BBQ potato chips.

Visit her website 

Follow her on Facebook

She loves to engage with readers there.

 Author Links

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Giveaway 

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a chance to win one of five

copies of any ebook (reader’s choice) from the D’Vaire series (1 – 8)

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RELEASE BLITZ SCHEDULE

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Review Tour – Seeking Solace (The Walker Boys #3) by Ari McKay (excerpt and giveaway)

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Length: 55,188 words
 
Cover Design: Alexandria Corza
 
 
Walker Boys Series
 
Book #1 – Striking Sparks – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – Breaking Bonds – Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb
 

All hands on deck for a shipboard romance—with a secret.


Like his cousins, Devin Walker aspires to be a chef, but he wants to indulge his wanderlust while feeding his customers, and working a cruise ship seems like the solution. Since he can’t find an opening in the kitchen, he’s happy to start out in a position behind the bar.


While onboard Poseidon’s Pearl, Devin is assigned to shepherd a visiting executive. Paul Bailey is quiet and unassuming, and a car accident that cost him his leg also shattered his confidence. He doesn’t think he’s attractive to other men anymore, and Devin is eager to show him just how wrong he is. Paul has a surprising secret that might sink their passionate affair before it even leaves port.

 

Excerpt
 
PAUL MERCER stood in front of the full-length mirror mounted on the closet door and checked his tailor-made navy suit for lint or wrinkles before he left his cabin, which was more like a small hotel room than he’d expected. But Triton Cruises prided itself on being one of the more upscale cruise lines, and Poseidon’s Pearl was one of their top ships.


The suite was luxurious enough that Paul could have spent the entire trip inside, maybe reading on the private deck, which was big enough for two lounge chairs with a small table between them. But Paul wasn’t on vacation.


He’d been sent by his father, who was the CEO of Triton Cruises, to assess the ship and its crew and to report on whether the crew was adhering to company standards. To do so, he was posing as Paul Bailey, a new executive with the company who needed to learn about the cruise line. He was using his mother’s maiden name to help avoid anyone making a connection between him and the company’s founding family.


He glanced down at his pants, which were loose enough to hide the fact that he wore a prosthetic on his left leg below the knee. He’d covered the prosthetic foot with a shoe, and looking down at his dress shoes made him feel almost normal again. He had a slight limp, especially at the end of the day when he was tired, but most people were tactful enough not to ask about it, if they even noticed.


The other reason Paul had been sent was because he’d never been on a Triton cruise before. Hell, he’d never been on any cruise before. The cruise line was strictly eighteen-plus so Paul was never allowed to go with his parents when they took their annual trip while he was growing up. Then he’d gone away to college, and after graduation he went straight into grad school for his MBA. After that, he’d started working his way up the ladder at Triton and hadn’t taken much time off except for a few long weekends here and there. Then the accident happened. So the trip was a way for him to experience a Triton cruise from their guests’ perspective. It was also the last trip Paul would take anywhere in a while. Andrew Mercer was ready to retire, and he had put Paul on a fast track to taking over after Paul finished rehab and was cleared to return to work.


Focusing on his reflection, Paul smoothed his hand over his dark brown hair, which was cut short and neatly styled, its natural wave tamed with product. It was too early to go to the dining room, so Paul decided to visit the bar for a while instead.


While most cruise lines these days seemed intent on going the megaship route—huge vessels that could accommodate almost seven thousand passengers—Triton catered to a different clientele. Ships like Poseidon’s Pearl and her sisters carried a maximum of nine hundred passengers, with a crew of nearly six hundred, and every stateroom on the ship boasted a private balcony. The decor in the common areas was just as posh as it was in Paul’s cabin. As he left his cabin on Deck 7, it was only a short walk to the Seafarer’s Lounge.


He heard soft piano music—live, not recorded—as he entered the two-story lounge, which was set in the fore of the ship. It had glass windows from floor to ceiling on three sides that offered a magnificent, panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico and the serenely blue sky above. The room was large, with stairways on the port and starboard sides giving access to the second level. Small clusters of loveseats and chairs were set around low tables, allowing for intimate groups to engage in conversation, while the rear of the room was lined in bookcases housing the ship’s library, which was large enough to cater to almost any taste. The plush carpet underfoot was patterned in tones of deep blue and gold, which set off the cream of the upholstery.


In the center of the room was a semicircular bar topped with polished mahogany, surrounded by comfortable high seats. As with everywhere else on the ship, the trademark of the line—a three-pronged triton—was subtly worked into the decor, such as the patterns of tile fronting the bar and the fabric covering the seats. There were no more than twenty or so people in the bar, broken into groupings around the room. Everyone was well-dressed, and conversations were muted, giving the room a relaxed and welcoming feeling.


As Paul approached the bar, he caught sight of the bartender, who was tall with broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist emphasized by his tailored uniform vest. He had high cheekbones, a square jawline that looked sharp enough to cut paper, and skin with a rich copper glow that seemed to result from a combination of genetics and sunshine. His dark, thickly lashed eyes were crinkled at the corners as he flashed a dazzlingly white smile and handed an olive-garnished martini to his customer. His midnight-black hair was pulled back from his face and hung in a thick braid that reached all the way to his waist.


As soon as the bartender had scanned the customer’s cruise card and returned it, he turned to Paul, who had claimed a seat at the end of the bar, and Paul got the full effect of his smile. “Good afternoon, sir. I’m Devin. How can I make your day even better?”


The intense charisma behind that smile made Paul almost believe Devin meant the greeting for him alone, but he sternly reminded himself that the ship employees were supposed to say such things to all the customers.


“I’d like a glass of Malbec, please,” he said.


“Excellent choice,” Devin replied. He retrieved a bottle from the wine rack, and after uncorking the wine, he placed a crystal wineglass on the bar, then held an aerator over it as he poured a stream of the rich, dark wine from the bottle through it, making a bit of a show of the process. Then he set the bottle and aerator aside, placed a gilt-edged paper napkin in front of Paul, and served the glass of wine.


“Thanks.” Paul picked up the glass and took a sip, and he was pleased by the quality of the wine.


After cleaning up and recorking the bottle, Devin returned to Paul, favoring him with another smile. “How do you like it? Triton prides itself on the quality of the wines it serves, even the ones they use in the kitchen.”


Good to know, Paul thought, making a mental note for his report. “It’s good, thanks.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge, but he must not have seen anything that needed his attention, since his gaze returned to Paul. He tilted his head to one side, looking at Paul with a slightly puzzled expression. “If I may ask, sir, have you cruised with us before? You look familiar.”


Paul smiled as blandly as possible and shook his head. Full-sized portraits of Andrew Mercer and Abraham Mercer—Paul’s grandfather and the founder of Triton Cruises—hung in the atrium, so Paul wasn’t surprised one of the employees had picked up on the family resemblance.


“No, this is my first cruise,” he said, assuaging the slight pang he felt over deceiving the crew with the fact he was telling Devin the truth.


“All right, then. I’m very good with faces, and I’m sure I would have remembered you.” Devin grinned. “Especially since you’re almost as tall as I am.”


“Almost?” Paul raised one eyebrow. “I’d say we’re about even.”


“I’m six-foot-five,” Devin said. “In the lower areas of the ship, I have to be careful not to smack my head on the conduits.”


“Then we are in fact even,” Paul said. “I was in high demand for basketball teams all through school.”


Devin chuckled. “If that Charleston accent hadn’t already told me you weren’t from Texas, the basketball comment would have. I was in demand too, but as a wide receiver.”


“I’ve heard rumors that football is the state religion of Texas, but I’ve never played it myself,” Paul said, taking a sip of his wine. “I was on the varsity basketball team in high school, and I played intramural in college.”


“Nice,” Devin said. “I played in high school, then was offered a scholarship to Texas A&M, but football was never more than a hobby. I wanted to go to culinary school, and they don’t have football teams.” He lowered his voice. “Although we often played badminton with food that didn’t turn out very well. It’s amazing how much overdone chicken Kiev resembles a hockey puck.”


Paul chuckled. “How did you go from culinary school to tending bar on a cruise ship? Have you worked here long?”


“Six months, and it was a matter of opportunity,” Devin said. “My best friend and I took a cruise after… well, after I went through a bad breakup, and it was just what I needed. I fell in love with the ship, and the sea, and the travel. I’d never even been out of Texas before, and the travel bug bit me hard. I did some research, and Triton is far and away the best cruise line to work for. They have people lining up for jobs, and it took me almost two years to get my foot in the door, and then it was because I’d also trained in bartending. Of course I hope to work in the kitchen someday, but when they offered me a position I jumped on it, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.” Devin’s smile was rueful. “I hope I haven’t bored you to death.”


“Not at all.” Paul thought it was helpful for the staff to be friendly, especially on longer cruises like this one. It would promote the family atmosphere that Triton Cruises wanted to cultivate. “I don’t want to monopolize your time, though.”


Devin glanced around the nearly empty lounge. “It’ll be slow in here until after dinner,” he said. “The action right now is up by the pool. But once the sun goes down, everyone will come into the Seafarer to socialize and listen to the cruise director’s talk about our ports of call.”


“I should probably come back for that,” Paul said. “I don’t know much about the ports we’re visiting, and I don’t want to wander off without a plan.”


“There are some great shore excursions,” Devin said, his brown eyes shining with interest. “They have some for people who like to be physically active, like diving trips and hiking tours, and some for people who prefer to relax on the beach and play in the waves. They also have activities for people who want to experience the culture of the various islands. And if you’d prefer to be on your own, they’ll have maps to help you out.”


“Sounds like I shouldn’t have any problem finding something fun to do.”


“I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” Devin said. “If I may make a suggestion, there’s something you can do tonight. Just before midnight, go up on Deck 9. They have an open area to do outdoor yoga. The captain always turns off all the extra lights on the ship for several minutes, and we’ll be well away from land by then. You’ll be able to see more stars than you ever thought the sky could hold. It’s beautiful and humbling at the same time.”


“If I’m still awake, I’ll check it out.” Paul glanced at his watch, then slid off the bar stool, taking his wineglass with him. “I should probably head to the dining room.”


“Be prepared for a real treat,” Devin said. “I recommend the beef Wellington, and the triple chocolate torte with Chambord for dessert. Although you won’t go wrong with any of the selections. The food on the Pearl is fantastic.”


“You had me at triple chocolate,” Paul said, lifting his glass to Devin. Then he headed out of the lounge. He wanted to get there in time to take a few notes about what he had observed so far before dinner, but if the rest of the ship had the same kind of staff and atmosphere as the lounge, his assessment would be a glowing one.

Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.


Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.


McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.


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