A Vivacious Review: Repeat Offence by Jackie Keswick

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Rating: 3 Stars out of 5

In their afterlife, Hiro and Taz are judged and found guilty. As punishment, they must continue to live their lives but on opposite sides of the veil, always. The moment they find themselves together at the time of death is when their punishment will be fulfilled. But living years, centuries without each other is taking a toll and when the time comes to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, what will they do given the punishment they received before for the same crime?

The premise of this story is quite extraordinary and I liked how the author executed her vision of where the story was going.

Hiro and Taz are lovers? friends? The story doesn’t specify. This miffed me a little because it is left up to the reader to decide what kind of a relationship these two share. Considering the overwhelming tones of wanting to be together, it could be a romantic one but it wouldn’t be a stretch to see this as platonic. There is the decided lack of other lovers which helps the romantic angle. Also, the fact that they try to figure out a way to communicate from opposite sides of the veil that builds up the romantic angle but again the fact that nothing is explicit is a little disappointing. I felt like we were building up to the moment where they would be able to meet each other again after centuries on opposite sides of the veil and at that moment I wanted to see some tangible outward expression of emotion that would make the moment worth it, but it didn’t happen.

The implied nature of Hiro and Taz can only be expressed through their wish to talk and keep talking to each other which I have to agree is a pretty good description of a soul mate. But, again that interpretation of seeing them as such is left upon the reader. I personally can identify their longing for each other and I liked how something as simple as the way they talk to each other can communicate so much.

I liked the setting of this story and the mythos that was created to explain the world and its working. It was a novel idea, having them be punished for something that did a lot of good put a whole new twist on the judgement they received. The judges really do seem like a novel concept. Hiro and Taz are quite developed characters and considering the paucity of words the author does a good job of making sure Hiro and Taz feel like two separate beings with their own individual quirks.

Overall, this story is unique especially in the story it tells and the way it tells it but whether the story will be satisfying is entirely up to the reader’s interpretation.

Cover by Pavelle Art is very appropriate for the story’s setting.

Buy Links

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK  |  Amazon AU

 Amazon CA  |  Amazon DE  |  Amazon FR  |  Amazon It

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 69 pages
Expected publication: August 14th 2019 by Jackie Keswick
ASINB07V1HTHN5
Edition LanguageEnglish
Other Editions
None found

An Alisa Review Relationship Material by Jenya Keefe

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Rating:  3.5 stars out of 5

It’s not always possible to meet in the middle.

Registered nurse Evan Doyle doesn’t consider himself fit for more than occasional hookups. He has a good life, but the emotional aftermath of a horrific crime makes him feel too damaged to date. So when his sister’s hot bestie, Malcolm Umbertini, comes on to him, he turns him down flat. Mal is Relationship Material: the kind who thinks in the long term. What would Evan do with a man like that?

As a prosecuting attorney, Mal’s learned how to read people, and he knows there’s more to Evan than meets the eye. Mal has faced his own hardships since his family kicked him out as a teen, and he respects Evan’s courage and emotional resilience. More than that, he wants Evan—in his bed and in his life. But can he weather another rejection?

Both wary, they agree to a no-strings fling. Mal knows that Evan wants things to stay casual, but he’s falling in love a little more with each encounter. With health, happiness, and bruised hearts on the line, Mal and Evan must risk everything for love.

I am still not totally sure what I thought of this book, while I enjoyed it there were a few things that rubbed me the wrong way too.  Mal and Evan have been hurt by those in their pasts and though those experiences were drastically different at times their coping mechanisms end up hurting others.

This story had a lot of push and pull which I expect with characters that have tragic pasts but at points you have to suspend normal thinking in order to understand or accept how the characters acted.  First off Evan hasn’t seen his sister is fifteen years because of what happened when they were teens and I gotta say, I’m not sure I really liked her.  I know she had damage from their childhood too but she doesn’t seem to really care about hoe Evan feels about things just what she thinks should be happening and I felt she was selfish in many of her actions just assuming and not actually talking about what she wanted.

I hated that Mal was ready to allow himself to be hurt just to keep Evan in his life.  Now, I liked Evan and understood he is still hurting and needs certain things to cope with what happened to him but his running from basically everything wasn’t the answer and he doesn’t seem to get that.  And while Mal is still working though how his parents’ treated him he is more willing to try.  I don’t know but the ending gives a HFN vibe but doesn’t make me feel confident in their actual relationship.

Cover art by LC Chase is nice and you can see some of Evan’s troubles on his face.

Sales Links: Riptide Publishing | Amazon | B&N

Book Details:

ebook, 215 pages

Published: August 5, 2019 by Riptide Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62649-879-2

Edition Language: English

An Alisa Review: Anticipating Rejection (Anticipation #2) by Silvia Violet

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

Del is now a single dad, and for the sake of his young daughter, he’s moving back to his parents’ ranch. Returning to Anticipation means seeing Noah again—the man who was his best friend and then so much more. Del enjoyed surrendering control to Noah, but fear of what their relationship would mean sent him running. Will Noah even speak to him again, much less give him a second chance?

Noah has resigned himself to a quiet life improving his baking skills and running his family’s café. When his mom volunteers him to pick up Del at the airport despite an incoming blizzard, he braces himself to be stranded overnight while trying to pretend he hasn’t missed the man who broke his heart.

The moment they see each other, heat flares between them, and all Noah’s dominant urges come to life again. He wants Del as badly as he always has, but he can’t trust Del to stay around long enough for their relationship to develop. Is there any chance of a future for these two men who are both anticipating rejection?

This was another nice story in this series.  Noah has lived behind the bakery for years and suddenly the one person that could disrupt his calm is coming home.  Del made a lot of mistakes when he was younger but even now has kept a secret from everyone but it might just be the one thing to break down Noah’s walls the fasted.

Okay, first off Clarice is adorable and I can see why she is the catalyst for Del to finally stop running away.  Other than the few timeline issues and editing errors (which I am only pointing out as I was given a final proof) my only frustration was that Del and Noah did a LOT of assuming and not a lot of real talking.  They would talk around a subject great but never flat out said anything to the other until the very end and then everything was suddenly hunky dory, not my favorite trope.

I like the cover art by Amai Designs and how it follows the same style as the first book.

Sales Links: Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 236 pages

Published: June 23, 2019 by Silvia Violet Books

Edition Language: English

Series: Anticipation #2

Andi Lee on Writing, Characters, and the new release Mischief Maker (Animal Lark #1)

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Mischief Maker (Animal Lark #1) by Andi Lee

Dreamspinner Press
Published August 13th 2019
Cover Art: Reece Notley

Sales Links: Amazon | B&N

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Andi Lee here today answering our author questions and talking about the writing process and her new book Mischief Maker. Welcome, Andi!

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interviews Andi Lee….

 

Thank you so much to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words for having me. My debut novel Mischief Maker was published on the 13th August and I’m so excited to be here and answer some of your questions.

How much of yourself goes into a character?

It depends on the character. Quite a lot of myself went into Jamie and Liam, from their love of rats, to their love of trashy films and the town its set in, but my current work in progress has more of me emotionally if that makes sense!

Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character?

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to use your own experiences and knowledge to create a character, it creates depth, emotion and realism. I don’t think Gary Stu’s have that, and it’s easy for a reader to tell the difference. A Gary Stu is more of an idealised version of the author and everything that makes a person (or a character) meaningful is smoothed over and they become flat.

Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write?  Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

Research doesn’t necessarily play a role in choosing what genre I write in—whatever genre it is I’ll research something—places, cameras, rat varieties! But I do find research can be a hinder if I’m writing fantasy/urban fantasy because I don’t know where to stop and will often tie myself in knots. I tend to do more research if I’m making up my own worlds and cultures, so it’s actually easier for me to research for a contemporary. I do enjoy research, but I can get caught up in the details, I have to know when to step away and just write. I’m quite bad at that!

Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?

Most definitely!  I devoured the teen section of the library when I was a teenager (admittedly this section consisted of one very sad spinner!) When I read them all I started to read my mom’s Mills and Boon books which I think instilled a love of romance in me. I was about fifteen when I stopped reading teen books. I think I read more YA now than I did back then!

Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it?  You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?

I have, not so much because of emotional ties, but because I let myself get too invested in the little details—trying to make it so believable that it took away from the actual story. 

Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?

I prefer HEA because I read for escapism and I want to finish the book on a high. I will read HFN but I usually want assurances it will eventually turn into a HEA—and I’ll usually wait until all the books are available so I can read one after the other! I love a bit of angst because it makes the romance all the sweeter, but I want to finish the book knowing I’m leaving the characters happy.

Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?

Both! I read lots of teen romances from Sweet Valley High, Zoey Fools Around, Point Romance, then onto Mills and Boons as I mentioned above. Now I read predominantly MM romance, fantasy, and paranormal romance with a little YA thrown in. I love a good romance, no matter what the genre!

Who do you think is your major influence as a writer?  Now and growing up?

That is such a hard question! As a child I struggled with reading which was very frustrating as I came from a family of readers—I luckily had parents and siblings who would read ‘grown up’ books to me. But I remember vividly reading The Stream That Stood Still by Beverly Nicholls by myself and it was THE book that finally made me push through the difficulty and persevere. Looking back at reading that book, I still feel that sense of accomplishment at finishing the book, and the absolute wonder of the story and needing to find out what would happen at the end.

As an adult I think Laurell K Hamilton is a big influence. Her Anita Blake series spoke to my love of the supernatural and I just adored the world she created. On a completely different note, Bret Easton Ellis also influenced me, not so much in the content, but his style. I always thought I should have beautiful flowery prose similar to those I’d studied in school and uni. He showed me that I didn’t need to be wordy, and that every author had their own style.

How do you feel about the eBook format and where do you see it going?

I love it (which may shock some people because I’m a bookseller by day!) eBooks were the reason I found MM authors. I couldn’t find these books in bricks and mortar bookshops, so I went where the books were being published. I remember when eBooks first got big and how everyone was worried they would push printed books out, but I don’t think that will ever be the case—It just gives people different formats to read on, and many book lovers will buy an eBook, then buy a printed copy if they truly loved it.

How do you choose your covers?  (curious on my part) I’ve only done it the once, but Dreamspinner are super helpful and really included me in the initial process, asking what I liked, what I didn’t, any ideas I had. I had a great cover designer who seemed to know exactly what I wanted.

What’s next for you as an author?

I’m currently writing the sequel to Mischief Maker. It’s set in the same town, but concentrates on two of Jamie and Liam’s friends, and an adorable ferret. 

If you write contemporary romance, is there such a thing as making a main character too “real”?  Do you think you can bring too many faults into a character that eventually it becomes too flawed to become a love interest?

It’s like you’ve read my mind! I’ve talked about this with some friends recently as I have a first draft of a contemporary in which one character gets severely injured. I was so concerned with not only getting the details right, but incorporating every single one into the story that the romance became secondary and I lost that spark—it became less about the romance and more about issues. Even now I’m not sure how to fix it. So, to answer your question I think you can make a character too real. I’m not saying there should be less faults, but maybe there doesn’t need to be so much detail on the page?  The romance should always be the focus in a contemporary romance, otherwise it’s not a romance anymore!

Have you ever had an issue in RL and worked it through by writing it out in a story?  Maybe how you thought you’d feel in a situation?

Funnily enough I did this at university when I got bullied by a supervisor at my part-time job. I named an antagonist after her and let my protagonist blow off steam! On a more emotional level I think I’m doing that in my current work in progress, but I can’t say too much as I don’t want to give anything away!

Ever drunk written a chapter and then read it the next day and still been happy with it?  Trust me there’s a whole world of us drunk writers dying to know.

I’m sure I did when I was at uni (but I can’t remember) but not recently. Alcohol tends to make me tired, so I don’t get much done if I’ve had a few!

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

When I picture myself as an author, I’m in an old country house overlooking rolling hills, beautiful flowers with birds singing in the background. Quiet, but not too quiet, the sun is shining. You get the picture! Oh, and I’m writing on a typewriter. Completely impractical! In actual fact the best place for me to write would probably be a quiet coffee shop because there are less distractions than at home, and…coffee!

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 as a form of escapism, it’s the same reason I read, too. There are enough stresses in the world,  so most often I want to write something that takes me, and the readers out of that—it could be into the stress of a make-believe world, or into an angsty romance, but it’s away from our day to day struggles.

What’s next for you as a writer? I’m hoping to write more in the Animal Lark series. There are many characters and cute animals I can write about, but I’ve also got ideas for other contemporary romances, as well as paranormal romance. Too many ideas and not enough hours in the day!

Thank you so much for having me, I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions!

Andi

 

Mischief Maker
(Animal Lark #1)

An Animal Lark Novel

What to expect when your pet rat is expecting, or how to fall in love at a pet show.

Jamie Hewett rescues and breeds prize-winning fancy rats. While he’s surrounded by supportive, animal-loving friends, his ex-boyfriend has never been one of them. One embarrassing breakup later, he definitely isn’t looking for love again, but perhaps a rebound relationship might ease his broken heart.

Liam Donnelly’s quirky dating life is the subject of a popular vlog, and his viewers have interesting ideas on where he might find romance. When they suggest he take Mabel, his new rat, to a pet show, he’s up for the adventure.

Although they can’t deny their growing interest in each other, neither Jamie nor Liam believes in love at first sight. They’ve both had bad luck with men, and Jamie isn’t pleased that Liam makes a living as a serial dater. On top of that, others are conspiring to keep them apart, and Jamie is left holding the baby—or twenty-plus babies—when their fur children have no trouble making a connection. Will a YouTube ukulele serenade convince Liam that Jamie’s love for him—and their unborn rat children—is for real?

About the Author

Andi Lee lives in the UK, close enough to Birmingham city to be considered a ‘Brummie’, but far enough away to enjoy the Staffordshire countryside. She enjoys writing in many different genres as long as they contain a large dose of cute guys falling in love. She’s a sucker for a happy ending.

When she’s not writing, she enjoys making junk journals, and also jewellery out of polymer clay and resin. She has kept pet rats on and off for twenty years and fell in love with her first ferret when she found him on her way to work one day. She’s kept them ever since.

(And she apparently has an obsession with Vans—the shoes not the vehicles!)

Release Blitz for Repeat Offence by Jackie Keswick (excerpt and giveaway)

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Repeat Offence

Author: Jackie Keswick

Publisher: Jackie Keswick

Cover Artist: Pavelle Art

Release Date: August 14, 2019

Genre/s: Fantasy/metaphysical, fantasy/paranormal

Trope/s: abiding love, defeating death, 

Themes: actions have consequences, paying the price for compassion, perseverance, triumph over adversity

Heat Rating: 0 flames. No sexual content. (It’s a love story, but not a romance)

Repeat Offence is a fantasy story, told in first person POV. It’s NOT a romance, and there’s no sex, but I consider it a love story. Apart from the first and last scene, the two MCs are apart. Readers can infer that it’s m/m, but Taz’s (the narrator’s) gender is never mentioned in any way. It fits into general fantasy as much as into LGBT+.

Length: 20 000 words/66 pages

It is a standalone story.

Add on Goodreads

 

Buy Links

Amazon US  |  Amazon UK  |  Amazon AU

 Amazon CA  |  Amazon DE  |  Amazon FR  |  Amazon It

 

 

Blurb

It should have ended with their deaths.

But dying in a wash of blood was just the beginning.

Sentenced to eternal life for sacrificing themselves in battle, warriors Taz and Hiro must take turns living as human and Guardian on opposing sides of the veil with only a chance to catch a glance of each other in the moment of death.

Until an attack forces Taz and Hiro to make a choice. Should they cling to what little solace they’ve carved out for themselves? Or should they sacrifice their lives to save countless others and risk the wrath of the Judges for a second time?

 

Excerpt – Judged

It should have ended with our deaths.

It didn’t.

Dying in a wash of blood was just the beginning.

I’d closed my eyes to firelight and pale grey mud, trampled and stained crimson, grateful when death took me swiftly, only to wake to light harsher than the noonday sun at midsummer.

The stone beneath my back leeched the heat from my body and the brightness around me held so little warmth that my breath rose in puffs of vapour. I felt no pain, and my arms bent when I willed them to. I raised my hands to my neck where the smooth skin under my fingertips mocked my memories.

By the time we’d fought our way out of the Sakkadian king’s tent, I’d been bleeding from a raft of shallow wounds. And when the king’s guards had overwhelmed us, a savage cut to my neck had ended my life.

There was no sign now of the slash that had almost severed my head. The fatal wound had vanished, along with the mud, the firelight, and the sounds of battle.

A rasping cough made me turn my head. Hiro lay beside me on the cold stone, skin smooth and eyes wide. “Taz?”

“Yes.” My voice grated, as if I’d not used it in years. I cleared my throat and tried again. “It’s me.” I sat up to better watch him—alive, serene, with his blue eyes glowing like the finest gemstones. “Do you think—? Is this the afterlife?”

He scratched his head, his fingers catching at the curls in his pale hair.

It hadn’t been that long when I’d seen it last. Running through the ward fires had singed the ends to ragged shreds. They framed his face in messy tangles, dark with sweat and spattered with blood. Holding a sword in one hand and a long dagger in the other, he’d appeared like a savage in the final moments of our lives. Glorious, undefeated, victorious. Dying shouldn’t have felt so right, but with Hiro beside me, elation had left no room for fear. Even the pain of my wounds had shrunk to a minor annoyance.

I’d gone to my death with a broad grin on my face.

Only to wake here… wherever that was.

I fingered the loose trousers and deep blue tunic that covered me from neck to ankle. Slippery, and with a soft sheen, the material was as unfamiliar to me as the cut of my outfit. As strange as waking from death, my wounds gone and even Hiro’s long hair restored.

When Hiro rose, I rolled to my feet and stood beside him, surveying the place where we’d woken. A huge, empty hall stared back at us, perfectly proportioned and large enough for a company of men. A mosaic of pale-yellow stone formed the floor. Whitewashed plaster covered the walls.  Dark beams leaned towards each other high above our heads, twining in an intricate pattern to create a roof.

Neither cressets nor sconces marred the smooth expanse of stone and plaster, and no hearth or fire pit interrupted the slabs covering the floor. Since the room lacked doors and windows, it should have been pitch dark. Instead, we stood in frigid brightness.

I took a step towards the nearest wall, intent on solving this riddle, when Hiro’s grip on my wrist held me back.

“I’ve never believed in tales of an afterlife,” he answered the question I’d asked earlier.

“Wise of you,” came a voice from behind us. “Because what might pass for an afterlife in your world will be your penance in ours.”

We turned as one and the sight sent my heart racing.

“I am your Judge,” he rumbled.

The Judge towered over us, his height that of two ordinary men, with breadth to match. Swirls of shadow and light swathed his form and hid his face, and his regard touched me like an icy breath, colder even than the chill air in the hall. I itched to wrap my arms around myself to ward off the shivers, but I didn’t want to show weakness. His words hinted at worse to come, and whatever he chose to throw at us, he wouldn’t find me any less steadfast than Hiro.

I had no idea who or what he was, whether god or demon. Every kingdom on the continent had its own gods, temples, and rituals and I’d never been one for much worship. I’d made offerings to Balar, the god of storms, and Veenis, the hearth goddess, at times, but those had been little more than token gestures. I swore by the gods, of course, or at them, though I wasn’t insane enough to mention that. The entity facing us looked forbidding enough to be Balar, but the storm god was never judgemental. He smote sinners and believers alike.

“I am not a god,” he said as if my mind was an open book to him. “Neither am I a demon. The Judges guard the balance of these worlds.”

Worlds. As if there was more than one.

I pushed the thought aside and focussed instead on Hiro and the Judge who watched each other like rival cats.

“Why do you require our penance?” Hiro dared to ask when too much time had passed in silence.

“You were given a gift, and you chose to squander it,” the Judge unbent enough to enlighten us. “You didn’t wait for death to come for you at the appointed time. You went out of your way to seek it. You both lie dead long before that destiny was meant to be yours. And for what?”

His voice rolled through the empty hall and teased echoes from each corner. The anger and disdain in his glare heated my blood until I no longer felt the cold. I was about to tell him not to sit in judgement over what he would never understand when Hiro’s grip tightened on my wrist and stopped me.

“We didn’t squander our lives,” he told the Judge, much calmer than I would have done. “We didn’t raid the Sakkadian camp on a whim. We’d long waited for such an opportunity and we took it when it arrived. We fell to Sakkadian swords, but not until we’d achieved our goal. Ten years of warfare are done with. Over.”

“That is irrelevant.” The Judge’s anger crackled in the air like static before a thunderstorm. “I hold that you threw away your lives, because you knew that your mission was suicide.”

Hiro let go of my wrist and turned his head until our gazes met. I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to reassure me or keep me quiet. I wanted to argue—desperately so—but what could I say that would be acceptable to the Judge?

We hadn’t known. Not in the way he implied. I’d never once gone into battle believing I’d not make it through. And I’d swear any oath that Hiro hadn’t either.

“We didn’t—”

“It is irrelevant.” The Judge didn’t let Hiro plead our case. “We have judged you by your actions. You wasted the life gifted to you and you will do penance for your transgression.”

With each word, the Judge seemed to grow taller and wider. His voice filled the hall until even the harsh, bright light gave way before his wrath. “You are sentenced to eternal life. You will spend your lives on opposite sides of the veil, taking turns living and watching. You will switch places at death. We will consider your penance complete if you manage to meet in the exact moment the human in your pairing dies.”

His pronouncement ended with a snap. The air grew icy and thick. And before I could exchange more than a single glance with Hiro, darkness wrapped me up and my sense of self disappeared with the light.

 

About the Author 

Jackie Keswick was born behind the Iron Curtain with itchy feet, a bent for rocks and a recurring dream of stepping off a bus in the middle of nowhere to go home. She’s worked in a hospital and as the only girl with 52 men on an oil rig, spent a winter in Moscow and a summer in Iceland and finally settled in the country of her dreams with her dream team: a husband, a cat, a tandem, a hammer and a laptop.

Jackie loves unexpected reunions and second chances, and men who write their own rules. She blogs about English history and food, has a thing for green eyes, and is a great believer in making up soundtracks for everything, including her characters and the cat.

And she still hasn’t found the place where the bus stops.

For questions and comments, not restricted to green eyes, bus stops or recipes for traditional English food, you can find Jackie Keswick in all the usual places:

 

Author Links

Website

Newsletter

Twitter

Facebook

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Instagram

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Giveaway 

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 one of five ebooks from Jackie’s backlist

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Join us for the New Release Book Blitz for Stray by Nancy J. Hedin (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Stray

Author: Nancy J. Hedin

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 12, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 65800

Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, New adult, contemporary, family drama, lesbian, gay, vet, farm, homophobic beating, church, politics, social worker, mystery

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Lorraine Tyler should be in vet school, but she stayed behind in her home town of Bend, Minnesota to care for her nephew, spend time with her lover, Charity, and give her momma a chance to complete nursing school.

Lorraine is content until her momma brings home a steady stream of bachelors to straighten her out. Charity is out of town more and more, and Lorraine’s brother-in-law is looking for a new mom for Little Man. To make matters worse there’re new people in town. A politician is drumming up fear and hate, a social worker is flirting with Lorraine, and Lorraine’s new friend, Ricky, is beaten into a coma.

Lorraine suspects Ricky was beaten because of being gay. Lorraine is determined to find out who did it, protect Ricky from the hater who might try to finish the job, and she’s worried she might be next on the hater’s list.

Stray is a story of politics fueling hate, competing romantic interests, and regular people examining their hearts, souls, and hormones. Will the people of Bend harbor the fear-rattled haters of some, or will they provide sanctuary for all?

Excerpt

Stray
Nancy J. Hedin © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
It was supper time on a weeknight and there were two vehicles I didn’t recognize and a hearse parked next to our farmhouse. It wasn’t really a hearse, it was Pastor Grind’s tan Toyota, but any visit from him meant bad news. God how I hoped Momma had started a book club or extorted people to attend a Tupperware party. More likely she was bringing me a parade of potential husbands. She wanted to straighten out her queer daughter, me. I didn’t know if she was acting alone or if she’d again claim she had God on her side. Maybe she got Pastor Grind to agree to marry me to one of those men on the spot.

“Lorraine, Lorraine!” Momma came rumbling out of the house onto the open front porch, waving her arms. “Don’t change out of your college clothes. We have guests for dinner.”

It’s not like I routinely changed clothes in the yard. I parked my truck in between Dad’s beat-up pickup and Momma’s dented station wagon. Momma had parked on half the pink flamingo pair of lawn ornaments Dad had installed the day before.

“We’re having chicken. Ricky wants to learn to make my gravy.” Momma wiped her hands on her denim apron.

Before I could ask her who Ricky was—like I didn’t already know he’s some guy she found at college and deems him a good husband for me—the only requirement being a penis in his pants—she put her hands on her wide hips like she had more to say. “That Charity girl is here too, but she’s not staying.” Momma swiveled around and marched to the house.

My girlfriend, Charity, was there. Finally, some good news. At least it meant she was driving her dad’s car and he wasn’t with her. There was no way that holier-than-god man would come to the queer’s house and have his daughter with him.

Dad and my three-year-old nephew, Little Man, came out of the barn with the dogs, Sniff, Pants, and Satan. Dad was telling Little Man some damn animal story—something about what they can tell from smelling another dog’s pee. Little Man and the dogs came running to me. “Raine, Raine, we’ve been throwing balls for the dogs.”

Most days I took care of Little Man, but Tuesday was a school day for me at the junior college where I had enrolled in as many math and science classes as I could manage until I left for Grayson School of Veterinary Science in Duluth. Grayson wasn’t a top ten veterinary school, but it was my first choice because I didn’t have to have a bachelor’s degree before entering their program. That was good for me since I had already delayed my college entrance by a couple of years because of the needs of my family.

Grayson accepted two years of college level science and math and allowed degree candidates to take summer classes for the entire four years of pre-veterinary science programs. It floated my boat, but what really got me excited was if I was short on the college level courses, which I was, they’d let me take skills and knowledge testing which would count toward coursework. All those things I’d learned from helping Twitch with his vet business could be parlayed for course credits. Sweet.

Little Man hugged my legs. When I looked at him and Momma and Dad, I had a hollow ache in my chest for who was missing. My twin sister, Becky, was dead. She left behind a dope of a husband and the sweetest little boy I could imagine existed in the world. My brother-in-law Kenny’s truck was gone. He must have still been at work at the lumber yard.

I scooped up Little Man. He wore the matching blue and white T-shirt and pants I’d put him in early in the morning, but he was filthy from playing. As I kissed his doughy neck, I sniffed him to know what he’d done while I was away. I detected the scent of outdoors, dogs, dirt, and snickerdoodle cookies, an average day.

I dropped him off in the mudroom. He climbed the green plastic, frog-faced step stool so he could reach the mudroom sink to wash his hands, and I looked for Charity. Charity leaned against the kitchen counter. Damn she looks good. I forgot all about supper. My whole body hungered for her touch and the sweet things she always said to me. I wanted to wrap my arms around Charity and kiss her until my lips fell off.

No kissing for me. Momma came back in the kitchen looking like she owned and ran the place, which she did. Momma and Charity were as far apart from each other as possible in the room and despite the temperature outside being near eighty degrees, the air temperature between them was colder than a well-digger’s lunch, as my dad would say.

“Hi.” I touched Charity’s shoulder. “I’m glad to see you. Why are you driving your dad’s car? You about scared me to death.”

She smiled and squeezed my hand quick, her eyes glued on Momma. “Dad needed my truck to help somebody move some boxes or something.”

I smelled her shampoo and she’d just put on some lip gloss I wanted to methodically taste and remove.

Momma gave the queer girls only cursory attention. I almost snuck a kiss, but I realized half a man twitched and kicked on the kitchen floor. The other half of him was tucked in the cabinet under the sink. When the top of him emerged I about lost my mind.

Christ, she’s at it again. This time the man was old enough to have possibly signed the Declaration of Independence, or at least the Constitution.

“Momma, I hope you haven’t been trying to find a date for me again.” Next, I addressed the fossil under the sink. “Ricky, I’m sorry you come all this way for nothing but a busted sink.”

Just then Little Man came in the kitchen. Momma’s face brightened as she whisked Little Man into her arms. He dried his wet hands on the front of Momma’s good apron—the full-length one with chickens embroidered on it and pockets on both sides of the skirt. Next Momma pulled me into the utility room with her and Little Man. “Excuse us.” She slid the accordion door closed.

Oh Christ, she’s going to murder me. No. She wouldn’t murder me in front of Little Man and so many witnesses in the house, but there was a fair chance she was going to lecture me and possibly brain me with one of her sacred books. She appreciated the Old Testament shock and awe. She didn’t much go for the patient tolerance of God’s later work or “the mushy parts,” as she called them. However, she did like the way her slim New Testament fit in the oversized pockets of her denim apron, and she liked the way it fit nicely in her hand when she wanted to swat someone, usually me. But she didn’t hit me. Instead, she reminded me of the way her mind worked and how she got everything done with speed and efficiency.

“That’s not Ricky. It’s Harold. Has it ever occurred to you, Lorraine, that we needed the sink replaced?”

That’s Momma for you. She could probably kill more than two birds with one stone. She weaseled getting our sink fixed and paraded a bachelor for my appraisal. She was so efficient, I was surprised there were any birds left.

Momma continued, “Besides, you can’t marry Harold. He’s already engaged to a gal from the square-dancing club.”

“Square dancing,” Little Man said.

Little Man, at three years old, needed an interpreter. I caught most everything he said because I listened to him most days. He had acquired a new habit of repeating parts of whatever he’d heard somebody else say.

“Well, do-si-do and an allemande right if I’m not relieved.”

“Smarty pants,” Momma said. “Behave yourself. It wouldn’t hurt you to try to make friends with our guests. Supper is almost ready.”

“Great. I want to sit by Charity.”

“She’s not staying.”

What? Hadn’t we made any ground at all? Couldn’t my girlfriend at least enjoy a meal at our house? It’s not like we would make out at the dinner table.

Momma pushed me out of the utility room, put Little Man down with half a cookie, and helped Harold get up off the kitchen floor.

“Can’t you stay for supper?” I asked Charity.

Charity glanced at Momma. Then she looked at her feet and bit her lip.

Those lips. I knew how pillowy soft and warm they were. The first time she ever kissed me it felt like I had known her mouth forever.

Charity turned her back on Momma and she half whispered and half gasped, “Lorraine, are you ever leaving for college? This is too small, too much.”

“How can something be both too small and too much?” I tried to joke, but Charity wasn’t having it.

“I don’t know, but Bend is and you need to decide. I’m going home.” Charity headed to the door.

I wanted to remind her I was moving as fast as circumstances would allow. I’d enrolled in as many science classes as the junior college offered while I worked with Twitch…and I minded Little Man. But I didn’t speak up for myself.

“Are you still coming over tomorrow?” I whispered. “Little Man has some new plastic animals. I’m thinking of decorating the kitchen like an African safari.” My scheme kept Little Man busy and allowed me to study animal physiology and anatomy at the same time.

“See you tomorrow.” Charity called over her shoulder with very little enthusiasm.

I watched Charity through the window walking away. My heart raced. I almost ran after her, but then Momma grabbed me and harped at me to go sit in the dining room and talk to the guests. Why is everybody so mad at me? Why is everyone pressuring me to move faster or be different? Momma wanted me to not be queer and marry a man. Charity wanted me to leave Bend before I had Little Man settled. I took deep breaths and prepared to enter the dining room.

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Meet the Author

Nancy Hedin, a Minnesota writer, has been a pastor and bartender (at the same time). She has been a stand-up comic and a mental health crisis worker (at the same time). She wants readers to know that every story she writes begins with her hearing voices.

In 2018 Nancy’s debut novel, Bend was named one of twenty-five books to read for Pride Month Barnes and Noble, and was named Debut Novel of the Year by Golden Crown Literary Society and Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for GLBT Adult Novel of the Year.

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Looking for Your Next Romance Novel? Out of the Office by Louisa Masters (giveaway and tour)

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“A cute short read…!”
Title: Out of the Office
Stand-alone Novella
Genre: M/M Romance
Word count: 18k

Whoever thought achieving career goals could be boring? Not Duncan Witten, but here he is at forty-one, in his dream job… and hating it. Throw it all away for a challenge? Yes, please!

If only Dunc had known his challenging new job came with Paul Hanks, a man who redefines “stubborn.” They need to work together to meet targets, but thanks to Dunc’s idiot predecessor, Paul won’t take his calls or reply to emails.

There’s only one solution: travel across the country and confront Paul face-to-face. It’s time to take things out of the office.

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