A MelanieM Releases Day Review: Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1) by Michael Vance Gurley

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

Infernal Instruments of the Dragon

As the British Empire builds power based on new clockwork and steam technology, Ireland draws its might from its potent magical traditions. Only two boys with little in common can end the fighting between the two nations and prevent a terrible worldwide war.

Gavin Haveland’s dreams are in the sky with the airships, while his reality as a High Councilman’s son means hiding secrets that will get him executed if revealed.

Orion of Oberon is not just a powerful mage, he’s the nephew of the Irish queen, and the one she’s sent him on a quest for the ancient Dragon Stones that will bolster her fading power. In the process, he might restore his family to their rightful place in society.

With enemies determined to stop them by any means necessary and war or peace hinging on their success, Gavin and Orion must find a way to work together, despite the centuries of mistrust between their nations.

Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1) by Michael Vance Gurley is the first that I read by this author and it won’t be the last.  If for no other reason then this story is but the first in a new series, something that thrills me for several reasons which I’m going to go into here.

Gurley spends a good amount of time within his novel world building and it pays off.  He has a world torn apart in the past by an all too powerful mage bent on world domination, the consequences of that horrific battle have come down through the ages, with an Ireland fiercely holding on to its magic and mystical energies and the land.  While in England and beyond, steam power and coal is driving industry and the Empire forward.   Such divergent natures and thoughts of living are written into every part of Gurley’s world, including those who would rebell.

Each side is represented by a young man.  Gavin,a would be pilot of steamships, the son of a Counselor of England’s most powerful.  And Orion, son of Oberon, mage, for the magical Ireland. Two sides of the coin of a broken realm that’s forever at battle with each other.

Gurley has laid them both with a giant tasks and several prophecies, only one of which is covered here, both are fated for greatness.  And as this fast paced plot shows there are so many elements here that the author has just become to reveal.I love how the author cobbles together a sort of misfit gang to backup Gavin on his flight across London and success in his journey towards fulfilling his destiny.  Oh my, Landa (a master artificer in a top hat quite won my heart), Wish, and what’s his name, right  Lucas.   Each with their own relationship issues with family and each other.  Landa a girl who dresses/identifies as a boy (it’s never clear) nor practically steals the novel.  I actually found Landa to be such a leading character, with such a strong identity and layered personality that she often put Gavin into the “pale” at times.  So did her relationship with Wish, another steely, persistent, almost loutish types who wins you over.   Then there is Lucas who just barely comes into his own at the end.  Most of the time I couldn’t remember his name.  The problem with this is that he’s the romantic other half for Gavin.  Or supposed to be.

Then Orion arrives.  And clearly that’s who Gavin is supposed to be with.  Excerpt the author wants Lucas, at least in this book.  And there is a Lucas wannabe named Riley for Orion back in fairyland.  Just as bland with with little backstory for us so meh.

As you can tell, my issues with this story are with the romance relationships.  Well four of the relationships. Gavin and Lucas.  Orion and Riley.  To be exact.

The rest of this novel?  5 stars worth  of fantasy steampunk action adventure.  That’s so well written and thoroughly enjoyed every word of it.

But when it came to write YA romance?  Well, excerpt for Landa and Wish who are at the “at least you  aren’t insulting me” stage anymore, the other two just don’t have any chemistry.  We are told they do.  But we don’t see it or at least I didn’t.   We don’t get any feel for Riley other than he follows Orion around like a puppy dog, ditto Lucas for Gavin.  In many respects you could switch those two out for each other.  Only Gavin and Orion had a semblance of spark between them.   It would have almost have been better to have left this without any romance but a total steampunk fantasy crossover.  That would, imo, have left me feeling better at the end instead of resigned at what I felt was a banal ending for two couples.

Maybe the next story will fix that.  Here’s hoping there’s still more to put aright with the world ….

Still, romance aside, the rest of this story is fantastic.  A great mashup of fantasy, steampunk, magic, and action/adventure.  I’m looking forward to the next installment  Pick up this story and see what I’m excited about.  And check out Landa!

Cover art, which is uncredited, show a disturbing trend in not matching the cover to anything that has to do with the subject matter of the story.  Which includes magic, fae, flying ships, swords, steampunk and battles over London.  Instead you get this with that metal heart. But really?   Considering where it is for much of the story.  Nah.

Sales Links: Harmony Ink Press | Dreamspinner Press (paperback) | Amazon |

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published July 23rd 2019 by Harmony Ink Press

 

 

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Four ( Love By Numbers #2) by Tia Fielding

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

After fleeing from an abusive relationship, genderqueer Kaos is welcomed by friends Makai and Emil (book one – Ten) who give him a safe place to stay while he looks for part time work until he can get a Wisconsin tattoo license. There he meets veterinarian Padraig Donovan, a silver fox who lost his husband four years before and is still having trouble getting used to being alone.

Padraig is stunned when he meets Kaos (who happens to be more feminine that day) since he’s never given a moment of attraction to anyone with feminine qualities before. But everything about Kaos appeals to him and soon they’ve become friends, then friends who kiss and cuddle, and eventually more. But it takes a long time to get there and an equally long time for Padraig to come to terms with his grief and for Kaos to accept his own reactions to his second chance for love.

This is a May-December, slow burn, second chance love story. There’s a lot to like here and the author did a lovely job building the characters and allowing their relationship to develop. And there was plenty of puppy love as the couple adopted and trained a mutt so those who love men with pets stories should love this as well. On a dark note, there was an underlying dramatic turn of events involving a break-in at the vet’s office and a scene describing animal abuse.

But the overall story offers hope and a sweet romance so those who look for age gap and hurt-comfort MM romance should enjoy this one.

The cover by Garrett Leigh features a young blond man looking toward the camera, a hoodie/shrug over his head. This is a great representation of Kaos, and the overall look of the cover is eye-catching.

Sales Links:  Amazon | Dreamspinner Press

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 222 pages
Expected publication: July 23rd 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ASINB07T8PCDHC
Edition Language English
Series Love by Numbers 

Ten

Four

Michael Vance Gurley On Writing YA and his new Release Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1) + Giveaway

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Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1) by Michael Vance Gurley

Dreamspinner Press
Publication: July 23rd 2019
Steampunk / Teen Fiction

Buy link  at Dreamspinner Press  (paperback) Kindle link to come

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Michael Vance Gurley here today talking about the new YA Steampunk release Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1). Welcome, Michael.

✒︎

 

 

I have a dark and dirty secret I am going to confess to your faithful readers: I love the young adult genre and I’m not afraid to admit it. I remember when we had to hide the YA books, and deny reading them. Now it is pretty widely accepted and they are being turned into movies. There’s an easy buy in to the struggles of young people and the instant underdog vibe of these stories. There are so many high risk situations explored in YA but the feel is fresher and less saturated with blood and murder overall compared to adult books. Although YA is changing, it is still so focused on relationships as much as the plot, and I find it refreshing. I am a devout reader. At any time I can be appropriately accused of reading a novel, listening to an audiobook, reading a graphic novel, and sitting next to a stack of comics I’m tearing through, like four seasons in one day. I get asked how I can do it without mixing them all up and then I remind folks of how many TV shows they are into weekly. Then they nod and seem to get it. I like opening people up to the idea you can read a bunch of stories at the same time. I’m not quite Elvis and his TV sets yet though.

I think my writing is influenced by what I read in some metaphysical way, as much as how the people I meet or the places I’ve been inform characters and the arenas I invent. I love Scott Westerfeld and Cassandra Clare’s Steampunk worlds, and the adventure style of a Holly Black faerie book. I think the challenge is in creating your own clockwork alternate history or your own faerie culture that is true to the genre but isn’t a clone of some great author. The creative process has no limits in YA unless we as authors, or as readers, start giving in to the idea that tropes have to be filled or our book won’t be accepted or we won’t enjoy the read.

A big roadblock to writing younger used to be having to end happily ever after. This is changing so much. Harry Potter had to win at the close of each book, but there was such a breakthrough there of a massive experience that spanned books. Ending on a high note where everyone but Chewbacca gets a medal isn’t totally necessary anymore. Hunger Games taught us this too. Now the human living in faerie doesn’t have to win in book one, and in fact can leave us worried for their sanity and safety. Steampunk is a growing sub genre and like fantasy, often lends itself to multi book epics. It is also growing more common in YA to dangle some threads at the end, mix it up, maybe not have the good guys win too fast. You don’t have to leave teens or the largely adult reader hanging, but I enjoy finding a way to mess up the status quo so even though we are almost happy for now, we might also hate that the book ended in that rough spot.

However, after my first  over, The Long Season, left the reader in charge of making some conclusions, I challenged myself to hand out a few figurative medals at the end of this one. I wanted people to be somewhat satisfied but also to say, “No way, that can’t be it.”

I hope people enjoy exploring the Steampunk world, the airships and warlocks, artificers and pilots of this late 1880’s England set adventure. Gavin is prepped, his goggles firmly on, gloves gripping the wheel to guide the reader into the high stakes of coming out and coming of age during war. He openly shares his best friend, the ever impressive tinkerer Landa, and the handsome Irishman who brings danger everywhere he goes. These friends have important things to do if they are going to give the reader a happily ever after, and it all starts here.

You can read the first chapter on the purchase link at the Dreamspinner and Harmony Ink sites, but here’s an excerpt which showcases the meet cute I hope brings a smile to your face amidst all the war and risk the boys are facing.

Excerpt.

Orion slipped away from the hut and headed around several tents and lean-tos until he found himself at the side of Victoria’s tent. A simple distraction spell caused the people who walked by to look away as he dashed through the flap and gently dropped it closed behind him.

Orion stopped and gaped at what he found inside. In front of a tub stood a slim boy about his own age. He was poised to lower himself into the steaming water. The lanterns in the room danced across his thick brown hair and illuminated the bruises on his thin sides and back. Something stirred deep inside as Orion glimpsed the muscles in the boy’s legs and backside contract and release as he lowered himself into the water, hiding what he thought to be an attractive arse.

“Ahhh.” The lad let out a long sigh of relief as his body melted into the hot bath water. He leaned his head against the wooden back, his eyes closed. He looked like someone trying to forget a hard day. He took another deep breath and let it out slowly. Another and his shoulders drooped farther into the tub.

Orion suddenly felt guilty, secretly standing in the room with this bather. The lad massaged his own neck with one hand. Orion had to adjust himself when he couldn’t control the excitement he felt. He knew he needed to discover a way to the Dragon Stone, which the handsome British lad could lead him to. Or at least he could, according to the visions.

“Hope I’m not interrupting,” Orion stated with more than a little humor in his voice.

The boy bolted upright to his feet and turned to defend himself, splashing water over the sides onto his clothes and everywhere. “What the hell?” he said. Before he could cover himself, Orion took him in.

“Well, at least I know the water isn’t cold,” Orion complimented, trying again to fake an English accent. After the incident with Victoria, he worried his British impression would not work but needed to try to blend in. He knew he shouldn’t but couldn’t help from looking as the water dripped down the small but muscled chest to his….

“Huh?” the lad answered, staring at Orion’s face, his mouth agape. Orion noticed how this young man’s lips curved in a Cupid’s bow. Orion was the one fully clothed but suddenly felt self-conscious and nervously tucked his hair back into his green hooded cloak. The other lad’s cheeks looked flushed but he felt hot.

“Uh-hmm, it’s rude to point,” Orion said, his gaze traveling the lad’s length until he glanced at the boy’s crotch. The young man peeked down quickly to notice his penis had indeed begun to betray him. He snatched a towel from the side table and haphazardly wrapped it around his dripping torso.

“Who… who are you?” he managed to eke out.

Orion stepped forward and thrust out his hand to shake, which resulted in awkward towel readjustment so the boy could return with a free hand.

“I am called… Zachariah,” Orion lied. He held the hand firmly but gently for a long time, studying his face. “Yours?”

“Gavin Ha—Gavin. Why are you in here?”

“I’m sorry, is this your tent?”

“Well, no, but I’m….”

“I am only joking. I heard there were other new people here and thought I’d get to know them. You.”

“Do you mind?” Gavin asked as he motioned to his clothing on the floor by Orion’s feet. Orion bent down and retrieved the pants and the undergarment still in place inside them and handed them to Gavin.

Gavin blushed.

“So you’re the one who arrived yesterday? How did they capture you?”

“I wasn’t captured,” Orion said, a little laugh escaping his lips. He batted his eyelashes at Gavin. “I came here of my own free will. And as far as I can tell, you could leave when you wish as well.”

“That’s what Victoria said,” Gavin replied. He moved behind a changing screen to put his pants back on. “Why did you come?”

Orion grinned, but it was wasted since Gavin hid behind a screen. “So you and your friends came in one of those infernal clanking machines?” Orion chided himself for the slip immediately because British people didn’t express hatred of machines.

“What’s that?”

“Did you come from London?” Orion quickly added to cover his slip up. His accent and native colloquialisms came out the faster he talked.

“Do you not know what’s been happening?”

“Tell me, please. Recently my head’s been way up in the clouds, it seems.” Orion couldn’t help himself. His wit had gotten him into trouble more times than he could recall, but it was also the only way he could expel the restless energy he had felt from the moment he stepped into the tent. When Gavin came out from behind the changing screen in a crisp shirt tucked neatly into tight pants and a sharp vest pulling it all together, Orion felt himself being drawn to him.

“Faeries attacked London, maybe beyond,” Gavin said. This shocked Orion out of the haze caused by infatuation.

“Faeries? It couldn’t be. There hasn’t been an attack in—”

“Well, there has been now,” Gavin finished. “We were barely able—”

“Oh Gavin—” a tall, lanky boy entered and startled them. The boy took one look at Gavin and his wet hair, then Orion, and stopped.

“Lucas, this is…,” Gavin began, before seeing how Lucas looked on Orion with anger. Lucas composed himself quickly and turned away from Orion.

“Miss Hanover has assigned us sleeping quarters for the day since we didn’t really get much rest.” He paused dramatically, then continued, “She put Landa in her own room, Wish in one with a family, and we are sharing a room in the pub.”

“There’s a pub?” Gavin asked.

“The others have already gone to bed. Let’s go. I’m zonked.” Lucas was acting possessive in front of Orion, and Gavin’s frown spoke volumes. They weren’t together. Not really. Orion could tell that much. Gavin breathed too fast, his body tense with growing anger until he closed his eyes to calm down.

“I will let you rest, then, but tonight over dinner, I want to hear all about your daring escape from London,” Orion prompted.

“That would be fine, Zachariah,” Gavin said.

“I’m Lucas, by the way. We will see you at dinner.” Gavin shot Lucas a frown, and Lucas returned the look.

They walked away, Gavin sneaking a peek over his shoulder on the way out.

 

Blurb

As clockwork-powered England and magic-driven Ireland war against each other, two boys will rise to their destinies.

The son of a powerful British councilman, Gavin Haveland is more interested in airships than politics. He’s also hiding not one, but two secrets—and either one could cost his life.

Orion of Oberon is the nephew of the Irish queen, tasked with crossing the sea and finding the Dragon Stones that will restore her flagging power. Along the way he hopes to defeat the unscrupulous Brotherhood of the Mage and regain his family’s honor.

Fate throws them together, but they’ll have to follow their hearts and trust each other to prevent war from breaking out on a global scale and evade the agents their governments send to sabotage them.

About the Author

Michael Vance Gurley writes fiction with unconventional settings. Whether he is writing about hockey players in the Roaring Twenties or magicians in Victorian England, he promises something different. His first novel, The Long Season, discovered the secret world of professional athletes from the Jazz Age who fall in love with one another. Traveling around the world with a passion for history brought about a kiss of the Blarney Stone, which sparked the steampunk/magic blended Absolute Heart.

Michael won a “Pitchapalooza” literary event and garnered high praise for his books from readers and authors such as Jeff Adams, Brent Hartinger, and Jay Bell. His work with children in schools and LGBT outreach allows him to tap into the YA genre with authenticity and the respect of others. Michael has written short stories, comic books, and poetry since he was a little kid, eventually owning his own comic book publishing company. Not so secretly, he wants to be Green Lantern.

When not writing or working, Michael wanders from Chicago and the best pizza in the world to see Broadway plays, Alaskan glaciers, penguins in Antarctica with his husband, and once sang in a band in Italy. He reads constantly, takes photos with stars, and plays with his dog, Finnegan.

Giveaway

The author has graciously brought an ebook copy of Absolute Heart to giveaway to one of our readers.  Just leave a comment here with your email address and one winner will be chosen and  notified.Must be 18 years of age or older.

Summer Reading: StandAlones, Series and Genre! This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

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Summer Reading: StandAlones, Series and Genre!

 

As the heat continues here and across most of the midwest and eastern coast, it’s a perfect time for reading.  Series or standalones as we started to talk about last week.  Our poll is running almost neck and neck as far as preferences are concerned.  So we are leaving it up another week to see if we can tip the scales.

Me?  Series are a given.  Love having more than one story to dig deep into.  Doesn’t matter if it’s two more, three more or, be still my heart, seven or more stories, to love in a series.  I know how hard that must be for a author to sustain.  But as Yoda would say, love them I do.

Does it matter whether the series is fantasy or science fiction or supernatural or contemporary?  Not a whit!  I love them all.  Bring them forth!!!!!

Although I do wonder if one type of series is easier to sustain than another but that’s a question for authors.   If you are listening, please feel free to chime in.

Summer reading in the past was always a time for the big blockbuster books (along with the big blockbuster movies).  You’d lug the heavy hardback bestsellers to the beach in your carryall, the Michael Crichton’s, the latest Stephen King,  Mario Puzo, Danielle Steele, ….and now it’s Kindles and and more authors than I can happily name.

Back then the genre didn’t matter much.  Swinging from the horror of King to the romance of Nora Roberts to the intrigue of James Patterson to the fantasy of J.K. Rowling, we read it all any time of the year, but especially during the summer.    So it has never seemed to matter what genre we read.

Or does it?

Poll time times 2!

Turns out I’m also listening to my stories too.  Another wonderful way to get through this heatwave when looking outside and watching the weeds grow is your only choice.  Lightening my mood this week was the audio for Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and Ramón de Ocampo (Narrator.  I adored this.  A perfect summer read  or audio in every way!  Funny,, sweet, lighthearted and adorable.  Catch my review on Saturday.

A Participation gold star and $10 Amazon gift card will be handed out next Sunday!

Have a great week and stay cool.  Happy Reading and Listening to all.

This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

 

 

 

Sunday, July 21:

  • Summer Reading: StandAlones, Series and Tropes!
  • This Week at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
  • Blog Tour Guest Post – Heidi Cullinan ‘s Doctor’s Orders

Monday, July 22:

  • Book Blitz – The Positions Of Love Collection – JM Snyder
  • PROMO Michael Vance Gurley + Giveaway
  • Review Tour – Patron of Mercy (Lords of the Underworld #3) by Sam Burns & W.M Fawkes
  • A Lucy Review The Positions Of Love Collection by JM Snyder
  • A MelanieM Release Day Review: Anhaga by Lisa Henry
  • A Chaos Moondrawn Review : Patron of Mercy (Lords of the Underworld #3)  by Sam Burns & W.M Fawkes

Tuesday, July 23:

  • Review Tour -Cold Pressed (Seacroft #2) by Allison Temple
  • BLITZ The Exile Prince by Isabelle Adler
  • BLOG TOUR Breakaway by Charlie Novak
  • A Stella Review : Cold Pressed (Seacroft #2) by Allison Temple
  • An Ashlez Review: Julie the Pianist (Miss Baxter’s Girls Book 1) by Davina Lee
  • A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Four ( Love By Numbers #2) by Tia Fielding
  • A MelanieM Releases Day Review: Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1) by Michael Vance Gurley

Wednesday, July 24:

  • TOUR The Midspring Rebellion by Doreen Heron
  • Review Tour – What Lies Beneath – RJ Scott
  • A MelanieM Review : What Lies Beneath (Lancaster Falls Trilogy #1) by R.J. Scott
  • A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Enough by Matthew J Metzger
  • An Ashlez Review: Anise the Snowboarder (Miss Baxter’s Girls Book 2) by Davina Lee
  • A Chaos Moondrawn Release Day Review:Anhaga by Lisa Henry

Thursday, July 25:

  • Release Blitz  – Trusting The Elements – Elle Keaton
  • RELEASE BLITZ Out of the Office by Louisa Masters
  • RELEASE BLITZ Eminently Elf (D’Vaire, Book 13) by Jessamyn Kingley
  • BLOG TOUR Crossing Nuwa: Escape by Sean Ian O’Meidhir and Connal Braginsky
  • An Alisa Review Out of the Office by Louisa Masters
  • An Alisa Review Pack Strap Carry (Carry Me #9) by Charlie Richards

Friday, July 26:

  • Review Tour – Eli Easton – How To Run With The Wolves
  • Lisa Henry on Writing and Anhaga
  • BLOG TOUR Intoxicating by Onley James
  • A MelanieM Review:  Stand In Place by Mary Calmes
  • A Stella Review:How to Run with the Wolves (Howl at the Moon #5) by Eli Easton
  • An Alisa Review Close to Home (Finding Home #3) by Carly Marie

Saturday, July 27:

  • TOUR Ignite by Drake and Elliott
  • Release Blitz – Jay Northcote – Nothing Ventured
  • A MelanieM Audio Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston and Ramón de Ocampo (Narrator)

Love Contemporary Romance? Then Check Out the Release Tour for The Doctor’s Orders (Copper Point Medical #3) by Heidi Cullinan

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The Doctor’s Orders (Copper Point Medical #3) by Heidi Cullinan
Publication: August 20th 2019

Cover Art: Kanaxa

Buy Links

Goodreads • Publisher • Audible • Ripped Bodice • Barnes & Noble • Google Play Ebook • Google Play Audio • Apple Books • Kobo (US) • Kobo (Canada) • Amazon (US) • Amazon(Canada) • Amazon (UK) • Powells

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Heidi Cullinan’s tour for The Doctor’s Orders, the third story in her Copper Point Medical Trilogy. Enjoy the excerpt below.

Blurb

The elevator at St. Ann’s is out of order…but the chemistry between the doctor and CEO is working just fine.

Once upon a time Nicholas Beckert was the boy who stole kisses from Jared Kumpel beneath the bleachers, but now Jared’s a pediatrician and Nick is the hospital CEO who won’t glance his way. Everything changes, however, when they’re stranded alone in a hospital elevator. Ten years of cold shoulders melt away in five hours of close contact, and old passions rekindle into hot flames.

Once out of the elevator, Jared has no intention of letting Nick get away. It’s clear he’s desperate for someone to give him space to let go of the reins, and Jared is happy to oblige. But Jared wants Nick as a lover in a full, open relationship, which is a step further than Nick is willing to go. They’ve traded kisses under the bleachers for liaisons in the boardroom… and it looks like the same arguments that drove them apart in high school might do the same thing now.

Jared’s determined not to let that happen this time around. He won’t order Nick from his shell—he’ll listento what his friend says he needs to feel safe. Maybe this time he can prescribe his lover a happy ever after.

 

Excerpt

The Doctor’s Orders

Once upon a time, Nicolas Beckert went to weddings without a heavy pang in his heart.

He’d attended plenty in his day, between his Copper Point cousins, relatives in Milwaukee, and friends of the family. For several years it felt like every weekend there was yet another gift his grandmother or mother picked out, waiting for Nick to amplify it with a little extra cash and a handwritten note wishing the couple a bright future. Nick had always happily gone to these weddings. As the one who had understood without being told it was his job to live up to the legacy of service and grace his father had left behind, Nick knew his duty, and he took pride in fulfilling it, never once begrudging even a penny of those cash packets tucked into the card or a second of those busy Saturday afternoons.

Lately, though, the weddings themselves underscored the fact that while he was present at these events, he was separate from them in a way he couldn’t ever let anyone know.

The wedding of his third cousin at the New Birth Baptist Church in Copper Point was particularly uncomfortable, and it wasn’t just because the first Saturday in June had dawned uncharacteristically muggy and hot. People were gossiping as they always did, but the topic du jour made him distinctly uncomfortable.

“Did you hear, the surgeon and nurse finally picked a date for their wedding? Coming up fast too. First weekend in October.” The speaker, one of Nick’s distant relations, raised her eyebrows knowingly, fanning herself with a paper plate as she stood in line for the buffet. “Going to be a big to-do, since Dr. Wu has his family coming from Taiwan.”

Nick’s great-aunt clucked her tongue. “The things we see sometimes.”

The group around them made ever-so-slightly disapproving noises.

This was spoken a bit loudly, for the benefit of Dr. Kathryn Lambert-Diaz, whose first cousin was the bride. Kathryn was attending with her wife, Rebecca, whom she’d married years ago in a ceremony among friends and accepting family members while Kathryn was doing her residency at the University of Iowa. Nick watched them both, worried Rebecca in particular would say something, but they only continued to chat politely with Kathryn’s parents. They didn’t have plates of food in their hands and looked as if they were about to leave.

“The other couple hasn’t set their date yet, but they’re next.” By other couple, his great-aunt meant Dr. Owen Gagnon and Erin Andreas. “Should have never thought to see the day.”

“All of them working at the hospital too.” Uncle Billy leaned around his wife to addressNick, who stood close enough to easily be drawn into conversation. “You best keep your people in line there, son.”

His wife swatted Billy with her fan. “You leave the boy alone. He’s had enough work, with the embezzlement scandal. He don’t need your sass too.”

Pastor Robert came up behind Nick and rested a hand on his shoulder. “I have faith in our Nick. He’s done a wonderful job with the hospital. I daresay we’ve never had better leadership in place there, thanks to him. We certainly haven’t had a better CEO.” He winked at Nick. “If all it comes with is a bit of unusual community color, I suppose we can count that as a blessing.”

Everyone at the table chuckled, and Nick inclined his head. He wanted out of this conversation. “I should go check on my grandmother and mother, to make sure they don’t need anything. If you folks’ll excuse me?”

They shooed him away gleefully, but Nick could hear them talking about him as he disappeared, and a perverse instinct kept him nearby but hidden so he could eavesdrop.

“He’s the next one we need to see married off.”

“Get him a wife and a couple of kids, and we’ll have ourselves the Copper Point Obamas!”

“What’s taking him so long, though? He never dates anybody.”

“Well, he’s been busy with all those scandals.”

“Scandal’s been done and dusted. Besides, a man’s got needs. It’s not right, him never dating.”

“You don’t think our Nick….”

Nick’s stomach turned over. Wiping his mouth to cover the grimness of his countenance, he moved out of earshot before he heard the rest of that sentence.

He didn’t get three feet, though, before he ran into the choir director, James Grant.

James greeted him with his usual wide smile. “Nick, looking good, brother.” His grin faded as Nick failed to mask his unsettled emotions fast enough. “You all right? Something happen?”

Nick fished up a smile. “Nah. No worries. Too much to do, is all, too much on my mind.”

James raised an eyebrow. “Things haven’t calmed down at the hospital?”

“Oh, you know how it goes.” Nick couldn’t quite catch his groove. That last remark kept echoing in his head. You don’t think our Nick….

James put a hand on Nick’s shoulder. “Hey. You want to go sit somewhere for a minute and talk? You don’t look so good.”

Talking was the last thing Nick wanted to do. And much as he loved James, sitting with himand having an intimate heart-to-heart would only fuel the flames of what people were apparently thinking about their Nick. He held up his hands. “Thanks, but honestly, I’m just doing a little too much these days.” He took a step sideways and kept walking as he spoke. “I gotta go check in for a second. But we’ll talk soon. The choir is killing it, by the way.”

“All right.” James waved him away, looking sad. “We’ll talk later.”

Nick gave himself a moment behind a bush to gather his composure before hunting down his family. His mother, grandmother, and sister were together at the table where the groom’s closest relatives had gathered, Grandma Emerson holding court. She was in the middle of telling some story as Nick approached, but his sister broke away to greet him.

“Hey, you.” She nudged him with her hip. “You going to get down with me later?”

“Can’t. Got the reception for Dr. Amin.”

She sighed. “Oh right, I forgot you had to leave early.”

“Erin’s covering for me, letting me show up late.” He tugged at his tie and reached into his pocket for his handkerchief to dab at his neck, which dripped in the heat. “Need to go home and freshen up before I head out to the country club.”

“Country club crowd.” Emmanuella wrinkled her nose. “How bad will thatbe?”

“Standard hospital donor schmoozefest. Pretty dry and crusty, but they made the cardiac unit possible. I wish you would’ve agreed to be my date so you could meet Dr. Amin. She’s amazing. You’ll love her.”

“I’ll meet her sometime when she’s notat one of those dog and pony shows, thanks. The dedication ceremony was more than enough for me.” She punched him lightly in the arm. “Besides. It’s time you get a proper date for yourself instead of hauling me around to these things.”

“She wants to meet the family, though, since she wasn’t in town for the ceremony.”

“You should invite her family over for dinner. Mom and Grandma would love it.” She leaned in closer and spoke quietly. “Did I hear right, the Ryans will be there?”

The Ryans were Jeremiah Ryan, their father’s longtime friend and sometimes business partner back in the day, and his daughter Cynthia. Since then, Ryan had made quite a name for himself in the hospital industry, to the point that now he was the CEO of a corporation managing several medical centers in the Midwest. Nick nodded, stealing a careful glance at their mother. “Was she the one who mentioned it?”

Emmanuella snorted. “I can’t believe she hasn’t bothered you about it yet. You know she’s always dreamed about Cynthia Ryan as a daughter-in-law.”

Yes, Nick was painfully aware. He didn’t comment, choosing to wipe his mouth with his hand and send his gaze out across the crowd. It landed on the bride and groom, who stood hand in hand as they greeted their guests two tables over. They looked so happy.

Nick fought another pang in the center of his chest.

His mother spied him then, smiling wide and waving him to her side. “Baby, come sit and eat. I made you a plate, and it’s getting cold.”

Though Nick wasn’t remotely hungry, he held up his hands in apology, dredged up his most charismatic grin, and settled into the space beside her. “Sorry, was making my rounds.” He reached across the table to shake hands with the groom’s family. “Wonderful ceremony. Thanks so much for having us.”

Mrs. Hill beamed and pressed her hand to her chest. “We’re so glad y’all could come. Especially since your mother tells me you have another event yet today?”

“Reception for the new cardiologist, yes.”

Mr. Hill’s chest puffed up at being prioritized over the fancy country club shindig. “I’m telling you, Nick, your daddy would be so proud to see the work you’ve done with that hospital. Not just becoming the CEO, but cleaning up all the mess those fools made for so many years. You’re a credit to his name.”

Nick inclined his head. “Thank you, sir.”

Mrs. Hill elbowed her husband with a sly wink. “Now we have to help find hima lovely wife too.”

Nick pushed the potato salad and baked beans around his plate, doing his best to ignore the leaden feeling in his stomach.

As the table conversation resumed, allowing him to drift into his own thoughts again, Nick focused on the sea of guests. People were happy and laughing, caught up in the festivities. It was a humble gathering, with homemade decorations and family and church members helping cook and serve the dishes in lieu of a catered lunch. It was practically more picnic than wedding, except everyone was dressed in their finest outfits, and in the case of many of the ladies, hats. Nick loved the children the best, in their frilly dresses and suits and ties, chasing each other and giggling as they ran about the lawn, mothers and aunties occasionally hollering at them to mind their clothes or sit and finish their food.

Everything was warm and wonderful and perfect.

The bride and groom glowed as they reveled in their special day. They were good people, and Nick looked forward to watching them make their family together. Except though he celebrated their union and their happiness, it pained him too. With every tinkle of laughter the couple inspired, each beaming smile they shared, the yearning inside Nick grew, until eventually he excused himself from the table and flitted around the reception once more.

When the time came for him to bid people goodbye and get ready for the country club party, he was almost relieved. As he stopped by his family to let them know he was leaving, his grandmother put her hand on his arm. “There’s a bag on the table in the kitchen, a small gift for the Ryans. Give it to them, will you, when you see them this afternoon? And be sure to say hello to Cynthia. Tell her to stop by the house the next time she’s through.”

“Of course.” With a squeeze of her shoulder, Nick went on his way.

He found the gift—locally roasted coffee and a loaf of Grandma Emerson’s famous banana bread tastefully tucked inside tissue paper in an elegant bright blue gift bag—where she’d said it would be. It smelled wonderful, and he lingered to savor the mingling scents. Then, setting his keys beside the package so he wouldn’t forget it, he hurried upstairs to shower.

Shutting his eyes under the spray, Nick saw the smiling faces of the bride and groom once again in his mind’s eye. So happy. So celebrated. So protected. Everything laid out before them, the community ensuring their path stayed clear.

What would that be like, he wondered?

Adjusting the plain silk bow tie over the tips of his shirt collar, he stared at his reflection. He felt much stiffer in his tuxedo than he had in the tan suit and gray-striped tie he’d worn to the wedding. He tried out a few expressions in the mirror, searching for one that allowed him to remain guarded but still seem dignified.

He grabbed the gift bag along with his keys, and to boost himself on the way to the country club, he blasted The Weeknd on his stereo. He sang along, winding down the long, scenic road leading to the country club on the top of the hill overlooking the most beautiful and expansive part of the bay.

Pulling up to the gates, he clicked off the radio, put his work face on, and presented his member card to the guard.

The party was in full swing as he handed his keys to the valet and entered the crush. The women were in elegant dresses, the men all in tuxedos or suits—excepting Rebecca Lambert-Diaz. She and Kathryn had already arrived, no longer dressed in airy outdoor wedding clothes, but while Kathryn wore a simple black evening gown, Rebecca had donned a smart black pantsuit with glittering rhinestones on the collar and cuffs. They seemed a bit more at ease at this party than the one they had left, laughing and mingling with the guests.

Nick took his place in the crowd as well, moving from group to group, smiling and shaking hands, ensuring people felt welcomed. His reception here was markedly different than it had been at church. Here they were wary of him, the young upstart who had changed so much about the tidy lives of Copper Point.

As far as they were concerned, he’d broken all their rules. Nick had been hired to be a pawn. Oh, no one had ever come out and said as much, but he’d understood things with one glance. A hospital CEO, at his age? He didn’t have the experience. His suspicions had been confirmed as soon as he’d come through the door. No real power, no backing. Even so, experience was experience, and it was nice to stay close to home. He’d told himself he could put up with it for a while, until it was time to upgrade.

Except part of him hadn’t been able to shake the idea that he could dig under the rotten surface of the institution and dismantle the system that had broken his father’s spirit and nearly ruined their family. A few years on the hospital board had been enough to catch the attention of the power players at the hospital in a way that dogged him even after he’d been voted out. They worked behind the scenes to ruin his business and nearly cost him his home—and ultimately, through his failing health, had cost him his life.

Nick hadn’t really thought he’d be able to avenge his father, had only dreamed of it. But with the help of Erin and the others, he’d done just that. Now there was a new board, a new balance of power, and a new day at St. Ann’s. For many of the people in this room, though? Oh, Nick was still that man. It didn’t matter that the board members who’d embezzled a scandalous amount of money were all in jail and that Nick had helped put them there. These people still didn’t like him. They didn’t like how he’d gone out of his way to make the new hospital board reflect the diverse population of Copper Point. There was a lot of rumbling from this set about “the way things used to be,” their gazes turned toward the past with longing.

Well, Nick thought as he sipped a glass of champagne he’d collected from a passing tray, if they’d rather have the crooks than progress, then screw ’em.

Jeremiah Ryan beamed when he saw Nick, waving him over. Cynthia waved too, her expression welcoming and warm, reminiscent of the faces he’d left at the wedding reception. It also carried the whiff of something more, something hopeful.

Nick smiled back, ready to make his way to this important donor, this friend of the family, this man who understood his difficult position better than anyone, this woman he admired and considered an important friend. But before he reached them, he bumped into another guest, and as soon as he saw who it was, his carefully constructed image fell apart.

“Sorry.” The man, fair-haired and tall, but not as tall as Nick, held up his hands and stepped aside. As their gazes met, the man’s smile fell away. “Oh. It’s you.”

Yes. It’s me.

It’s you.

They both had their masks down as they regarded one another. Nick was conscious of the heavy beating of his heart, of the ache and longing he always felt when he stood this close to Dr. Jared Kumpel. He looked devastating in his tuxedo, crisp and neat, dark-blond hair gleaming in contrast to the dark fabric, his light skin glowing in the dim light.

He was beautiful in a way that stole Nick’s breath and short-circuited his brain. This man had stirred him ever since he could remember, since the moment Nick had been, at last, able to understand why he felt so different than everyone else around him.

Jared spoke first, his voice thin and forced. “How was the wedding?”

It took Nick a second to register what Jared had said, to remember he shouldn’t simply stare at the seductive curve of the man’s upper lip. “G-good. It was good.” He cleared his throat. “Hot.”

“Yes, it’s a muggy day out, isn’t it?” The conversation, such as it was, broke off and dangled.

Nick tugged at the cuffs of his shirt and glanced away. “I should….”

“Of course.” Jared’s voice was flat, dead, as if he couldn’t wait to get away. “I’m sorry to keep you.”

And just like that, they parted, Jared wafting over to the bar, Nick resuming his trajectory toward the Ryans, plastering on the expression he’d practiced in the mirror as the leaden weight settled all the more deeply onto his heart.

Dr. Jared Kumpel wanted to find a dark broom closet, put a bucket over his head, and scream.

It was supposed to be an evening of celebration. The physicians, board members, and local donor class were gathered at the Copper Point Country Club to toast the arrival of Dr. Uma Amin, who would start work next week. After years of embezzlement scandals and a complete overhaul of the hospital board of directors, at last things were peaceful. Perfect, even.

Except for the part where Nick Beckert had a smile for everyone in the room but Jared. The memory of Nick’s bright expression melting away at the sight of Jared, the way he’d hurried off as if escaping the plague, drove Jared directly to the bar, where he sipped his drink and tortured himself by watching Nick pull out the charm for everyone else.

Goddamn it.

Jared had absolutely no right to feel so proprietary, which only made him crankier. Nick wasn’t his boyfriend, was barely his friend, despite the fact that once upon a time they’d been so intimate he could have identified the man by the sound of his breath. For the past four years, Nick had been Jared’s employer, in a sense, though the contractual relationship between clinic physicians and St. Ann’s Medical Center was complicated. For years the two of them had silently agreed to pretend the past never existed, and this strategy, while frustrating, had mostly worked out for the best.

It was just lately they’d gotten along, talking casually, playing racquetball, hanging out in the safety of large groups. Jared realized he’d allowed these interactions to engender false hope and perhaps a bit of expectation. He wasn’t ready for Nick to start freezing him out.

Before the embezzlement crisis, Nick had focused entirely on work, and Copper Point had seemed willing to leave him to his monkhood. But then Nick had taken out the embezzlement ring in the old board and overseen funding for the long-overdue cardiac center, dedicated in his father’s name. He was the shiniest man in town, and everyone wanted him on their arm.

So many damn womenwanted him in their bed.

Watching yet another woman brush a manicured hand along the sleeve of Nick’s tuxedo jacket, Jared told himself it didn’t matter. He’s never going to admit who he is, even to himself, so who cares who flirts with him?

I care, damn it.Turning away with a glower, Jared finished off his drink and wandered into the crowd. Except he didn’t feel like mingling, so he found a table as far from Nick as possible and sat, ready to bury himself in his phone.

He hadn’t had so much as a chance to reach for his pocket before someone joined him. Dr. Owen Gagnon, the anesthesiologist at St. Ann’s Medical Center and one of Jared’s best friends, pushed a glass in front of Jared and plunked down at the table beside him. “Doing all right? You seem off your game.”

After taking a sip of his drink, Jared waved a breezy hand. “Fine. Not feeling the hospital function vibe, is all.”

With a grunt of agreement, Owen peeled back the panels of his tuxedo jacket and settled in. “Jack has to be jealous we didn’t throw him a party when he arrived.”

Jack was Dr. Hong-Wei Wu, St. Ann’s resident general surgeon. “Knowing Jack, he’s indifferent. I’d think he wouldn’t want the fuss but would have endured it if we’d arranged it for him. Though maybe you’re right. Maybe he was quietly offended we didn’t treat him better. He holds a lot of cards close to his vest.”

Owen snorted. “He’s all about doing things up properly. I bet he was mad we didn’t give him more of a welcome. He sure as hell deserved it.”

Jared felt better not thinking about Nick. He tried to keep the conversation going. “By the way, the quintet sounded great, but of course it always does. Your solo was particularly good.”

As usual, Owen ignored the compliment and wrinkled his nose. “I don’t love how every time we have one of these gigs I have to play Pied Piper. Sometimes I want to sit and grouse about having to show up in my monkey suit with the rest of the doctors.”

“If your fiancé hears you, you’ll be sleeping in the garage tonight.”

“Yes, well, the good news is the garage in the mansion is climate controlled.” Owen glanced around. “Still, there’s no reason for Erin to have to hear.”

This time Jared didn’t have to fake his grin. “Have you seen Jack or Simon?”

“Jack’s talking with Dr. Amin. Simon, I’m not sure.”

“Probably with Jack, since he’s not with us. He feels out of place at these things. Until he was Jack’s plus-one, he never had to come.”

“As the nursing rep on the hospital board, he’d be here anyway. He needs to get comfortable.” Owen leaned in closer, eyes sparkling with mischief. “So, Mr. I-Know-All-the-Gossip. How’s Copper Point’s elite handling yet another physician who isn’t a white male evangelical Christian?”

“Oh my God. Where do I start?” Jared rolled his eyes and picked up his drink, sipping it as he moved closer to Owen so they wouldn’t be overheard. “The retired college president’s wife was in a private chat group pitching a fit because the new cardiologist isn’t only from India, she’s Muslim. Someone pointed out there was nothing wrong with that, and the end result was the country club scrambling to find someone they could send into the women’s locker room to break up a fight when the online spat went abruptly offline. Then on Copper Point People someone else—no one of note, some random MAGA—complained about how it was obvious St. Ann’s had an antiwhite hiring policy.”

Owen buried his face in his hands. “That Facebook group is trash.”

“Wait until you hear how it got resolved. People argued back and forth for two days, but when everyone was starting to cool off, someone came in as the ‘mediating’ voice and pointed out at least she was straight this time.”

Owen sat up slowly, drawing his fingers down his face and staring sightlessly at the table decorations in front of them. “Tell me again why we live here?”

“Because Simon couldn’t bear to leave his family when we were looking for somewhere for us to get jobs together after med school. Plus now you’re marrying one of the founding sons. Just because we’re stuck in this crazy town doesn’t mean we can’t get our quiet revenge by living well, though. I think you and Erin should adopt a horde of children and raise them Wiccan. It’s the only way to heal this place.”

Owen rubbed his jaw. “I dunno if I’m organized enough to be Wiccan. Aren’t there a lot of meetings and rituals? I could do casual pagan.”

“I think it depends on the type of Wiccan.” Jared lifted an eyebrow. “Are you ignoring the hordes-of-children part, or is this your way of telling me you’ve changed your opinion on fatherhood?”

“Well. I mean, I don’t know about hordes. But yeah, we’ve talked about it some, and it doesn’t seem such a terrible idea, when I think about it with Erin. Oh.” He straightened, his face transforming into a youthful, slightly ridiculous grin as he waved to someone across the room. “Speak of the devil. I need to go. You sure you’re okay here?”

You fine being alone?That was the translation.

Jared got out the fake smile, wrestling it into something genuine. “Nowhere else I’d rather be. Go see your man.”

After Owen left, Jared sipped his drink and people watched for a few minutes, telling himself everything was fine, but his gaze kept drifting to Nick. The DJ switched to a slow song, and one of the women surrounding Nick took his hands to lure him onto the dance floor. He didn’t fight her.

It was the daughter of the investor from Milwaukee. Cynthia Ryan. The two of them looked stunning together, her dark hair swept up in a breathtaking style no white woman in the room could emulate, her brown skin glowing against her goldenrod evening dress.

If Nick took Cynthia home to Grandma Emerson, she’d give her blessing in the span of a sigh.

Setting his teeth, Jared finished his drink, then rose and went to get a refill.

Matthew Engleton was at the bar, collecting change for a vodka sour, and he grinned at Jared as he approached. “Dr. Kumpel. Good to see you.”

It wasn’t a dismissive greeting, which Jared found interesting. He knew Matt, vaguely, because you couldn’t live in Copper Point and not know the Engletons, especially if you ever had to buy a suit from their family store. Matt was on the hospital board now too, so they’d gotten a bit closer.

Jared smiled back politely. “Good to see you as well. Enjoying yourself?”

“Oh, as much as I can at these sorts of things.” Matt leaned an elbow on the bar and gestured at the crowd of Copper Point elite and St. Ann’s higher echelon. “What about you? You aren’t with your usual crew.”

“We’re all busy networking bees. They want the doctors talking to the potential donors, so if we stay in the corner and drink, it defeats the purpose.”

Matt laughed. “Difficult to hide, I suspect, when one of you is engaged to the vice president.” He motioned to the bartender. “Let me buy you a drink, and you can network with me.”

“But you’re a board member.”

“I’m also one of the potential donors. Dad always gives liberally to the hospital, but he never comes to these functions anymore. He says he needs me to be the representative now. So I have double duty.” He raised his eyebrows. “You’ll have to charm the money out of me, Doctor.”

Oh my. Was Matt… hitting on him? A closer inspection of the man’s focused gaze told Jared yes, he was.

Well. He hadn’t seen this coming. Jared had assumed Matt hid his orientation in deference to the family business. Apparently he was wrong, or there was an exception clause for local pediatricians.

Did he wantMatt to hit on him? He hadn’t thought of Matt as anyone but the polite man who sold clothing well before, and now was also the man who sat in boring meetings beside him. He supposed he was cute enough….

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked.

“Old Fashioned,” Jared replied.

A familiar feminine laugh behind him made his shoulders relax. “Someone’s ordering an Old Fashioned? Dr. Kumpel must be at the bar.”

He turned around in time for Rebecca Lambert-Diaz to catch his cheek in her hand and give it a gentle tweak. He playfully swatted it away. “Hello, Rebecca. Where’s your wife?”

“Hiding in a corner. She hates these things, and we already had to endure a family wedding this afternoon.” Rebecca smiled at Matt. “Hello again, Matthew. How’s the store?”

Was it Jared’s imagination, or did Matt’s expression dim a little? “Everything’s going well, but we’d do better if our favorite lawyer came by and checked out our new summer line.”

“Always a salesman. But now that you mention it, you’re right, I haven’t been by in a while.” She withdrew a twenty and waved it at the bartender. “Let me get my glass of wine, we’ll find a seat, and you can tell me what you have in stock. I do need a new suit.”

The three of them ended up back at the table Jared had vacated, Rebecca in the middle as she and Matt spoke intensely about women’s clothing. Jared sipped his drink and scanned the room, more concerned about where people were. Jack was with Dr. Amin, poor Simon appearing as lost as Owen had said. Owen was with Erin, talking with the leader of the Copper Point string quintet.

Where was Nick, though?

Jared’s lip nearly curled when he found him. He was with Cynthia Ryan, and didn’t they lookcozy.Grumbling under his breath, Jared took a fortifying drink of alcohol, the burn fueling his ire.

“Don’t you think, Jared?”

He snapped out of his funk at Rebecca’s question. “Sorry, what?”

She gestured to herself, miming dress parts as she spoke. “I enjoy a double-breasted suit, but I think what’s best on me are those single-breasted smooth pieces that don’t have a crease. You know what I’m talking about?”

Jared frowned at her, his attention officially drawn away from Nick. “Well, yes, it’s the most flattering option for you, but it isn’t as if you can wear the same thing all the time.”

Matt held out his hands. “Thank you.I’ve been trying to convince her of this for months.”

Rebecca waved airily. “Whatever, I’ll let the two of you dress me.”

Jared snorted into his Old Fashioned. “You won’t ever give up control so easily, but nice try.”

“Who I’d really like to get into the store is Jared.” Matt bumped Jared’s arm, lingering a little longer than necessary. “It’s been a while since you’ve treated yourself to some new clothes. Unless you’ve been cheating on me with other clothing stores?”

Rebecca laughed. “Jared, leave town to shop? Good luck with that.”

No question about it, Matt was trying to flirt with Jared and was getting lesbian cock-blocked at every turn. Well, Jared supposed he could do worse.

He cut a glance to the other side of the room. Matt was as nice as any number of men, but Jared’s attention was firmly fixed elsewhere.

Jared’s gaze landed on the woman’s hand sliding down Nick’s arm, and his teeth set.

“Did you want another drink?” Matt shook Jared’s glass, which he was shocked to discover was empty. “Or maybe you want to get up and walk around?”

Jared couldn’t look away from Nick, though he knew he needed to. He felt a hand on his arm as he stood—Rebecca gave him a questioning look.

“You’ve seemed off all evening. And honestly, you haven’t been yourself lately, period. Is there something going on?”

How could he tell her or any of them the truth? He bent and kissed her on the cheek. “I’m fine, but thank you.”

She caught his shoulder and kept him down long enough to whisper. “You’re not. You might have fooled the others, but you haven’t fooled me. Who’s giving you a ride home?”

Oh, Lord, now he had Rebecca mothering him. Sighing, he patted her shoulder. “Seriously. It’s not a problem. Okay?”

Matt frowned at him.

Jared squared his shoulders. He wasfine. He was absolutely perfect, and he didn’t need a babysitter. Maybe he’d start an affair with Matt Engleton, what the hell. Maybe sweet little Matt would surprise him and he’d be the next one of their group to find a happy ever after.

Sweet, boring Matt.

“You okay?” Matt asked.

God, they needed to stop asking him. Jared’s face was going to break, he was stretching it so far for these damn smiles. “Absolutely.”

Except as they rounded the corner of a group of chuckling old men, he got another glimpse of Nick as the music shifted. It was Prince of all the damn things, and not only Prince but “Kiss.”

Like magnets, Nick and Jared’s gazes met and locked.

You’re not boring, baby. Not boring at all.

And I haven’t forgotten a thing.

When two new women appeared beside Nick, giggling and tugging him forward, Nick turned away, and Jared couldn’t stand it anymore.

Jared threaded his fingers through his hair in an attempt to hide his shaking hands. “Actually,” he said to Matt, “I think I wouldn’t mind stepping outside.”

Matt beamed. “Great.”

Yes, let’s get out of here.

Except Jared knew from experience it didn’t matter how far he ran. He couldn’t get away from Nick.

 

 

About the Author

Author of over thirty novels, Midwest-native Heidi Cullinan writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. Heidi is a two-time RITA® finalist and her books have been recommended by Library Journal, USA Today, RT Magazine, and Publisher’s Weekly. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading novels and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more at heidicullinan.com.

Copper Point Medical Series

The Doctor’s Secret

The Doctor’s Date

The Doctor’s Orders

An Alisa Release Day Review: Kneading You by CS Poe

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

Christopher Hughes is new to the small New England town of Lancaster, New Hampshire. He’s been hired to save an old library from closing, but his obstacles include not only fighting for state funding, but a Selectman who wants to tear the building down in favor of a shopping center.

Christopher meets Miles Sakasai, a charming tattooed repairman hired to help restore the historical interior. Working in close proximity has both men falling hard for each other, and also provides Christopher an opportunity to learn about Miles’s passion for baking. As it turns out, Miles’s skills in the kitchen may end up being the key to saving the library—but only if his bread can rise to the occasion.

This was a nice sweet short story.  Christopher thinks he has finally found somewhere to belong, he just needs to save the library in order to keep his job.  Oddly enough, it’s the handyman that comes in to help out that saves the day and becomes important to Christopher.

I liked how sweet Max was, he knows who he is but is oddly shy about his bread making.  I was glad he got the courage to enter the cooking competition though he really did it for Christopher.  Their hard work paid off too.  I just wish there would have been a bit more about their relationship but for a short story it was very enjoyable.

The cover art by Brooke Albrecht is great and is a perfect visual for this story.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon | B&N

Book Details:

ebook, 40 pages

Published: July 19, 2019 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13: 978-1-64405-249-5

Edition Language: English

Check Out the New Release Tour with Exclusive Excerpt for On Wings of Passion (On Wings Saga Book 0.5) by M.D. Grimm

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On Wings of Passion (On Wings Saga Book 0.5) by M.D. Grimm

Dreamspinner Press
Published July 12th 2019

Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson

BUY LINKS: Dreamspinner Press 

 

 

Good day! M.D. Grimm here with an exclusive excerpt for my newest release “On Wings of Passion.” I want to give a big thanks to Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words for hosting me today.

“On Wings of Passion” is the prequel to my surprisingly popular story “On Wings of Thunder.” The great dragon Asagoroth is different in this story then when we met him in “On Wings of Thunder.” He is young, ambitious, and without the wrath of imprisonment and the poison of grief to drive his goals.

There are other dragons alive in this period of time and they battle each other for dominance. While Asagoroth participates in the battles he has a bigger plan—to conquer all the realms. He doesn’t do so with malicious intent, it is simply how dragons function. They are born fighting and spend their entire life doing more of the same just to survive. However, his plans are shaken when he meets Roland, an angelic artist of some note.

Roland is thrown for a loop when he meets Asagoroth, and his fascination with the dragon continues to grow until he finds the courage to ask questions. To talk to him. Roland has no idea that he’s caught the dragon’s eye, and Asagoroth has no idea that he could be worthy of an angel’s attention.

Enjoy!

Exclusive Excerpt

**

Still moving carefully, Roland grabbed a blank piece of parchment and some charcoal, then began to sketch. The compulsion wasn’t something he could deny or ignore. Besides, what was the harm? Asagoroth’s calm breathing was almost hypnotic, and it lulled Roland into a steady rhythm, weirdly comforting. It wasn’t long before he realized his own breaths had changed to match. Smiling slightly, Roland did the best he could to draw an accurate representation of Asagoroth. Yet it just wasn’t enough. As he grew more frustrated, he realized he would never be able to do the majesty of the dragon justice. It was disappointing to acknowledge that.

“What do you draw?”

Roland jumped, and the charcoal fell from his stained fingers. His heart skipped a beat as he looked up to find Asagoroth focused on him with unnerving intensity.

“Um. I—nothing. Nothing. Just….”

Asagoroth watched him, waiting.

With a shaky sigh, Roland stood on unsteady legs and took hesitant steps forward. Holding his breath, he turned the parchment around and lifted it above his head. Asagoroth flickered his gaze over it.

“That is me.”

It wasn’t a question. He knew it was him. Well, thank the Light he didn’t sound offended, merely surprised.

“Yes. But I can’t capture you right. I don’t know why I even attempted it. You’re just too, well, massive for me to accurately represent you.”

Asagoroth grunted. “You are saying I am too fat to fit on your parchment?”

Roland’s eyes bugged out of his head as he lowered the sketch. “What? No! No, not at all. That’s not what I—”

A light rumble trembled out of Asagoroth’s chest, and Roland exhaled in relief.

Laughter. He was teasing again.

Roland smiled. “What I mean is your energy, your being, is just too massive to convey with any medium.” He felt himself blushing. “You’re majestic, and I can’t capture you with my meager talents.”

Asagoroth lowered his head until his eyes were level with Roland’s. Roland hoped his gulp wasn’t audible.

“Your talents are not meager. I like that you want to draw me. I enjoy you looking at me.”

Uh. What?

Roland blinked, speechless.

Asagoroth settled his body on the ground, resting his stomach against the stone. He set his chin on the tops of his forearms and sighed in apparent relief. He snaked his tail all the way around his body. Roland didn’t think it would be a horrible fate to gaze into those startling eyes forever.

The slit pupils dilated slightly, and he was reflected in the black. He looked rather haggard, and his hair was tangled and stringy. His robes were also clingy, and he doubted he smelled the best. He barely stopped himself from cringing. It was rather humiliating to be so dingy when compared to the being in front of him.

“You are an artist, then?”

Roland snapped his attention away from his vain thoughts. He nodded. “Yes, that is what the seer chose for me.”

“Your fates are chosen from birth.”

“Yes. The seer looks upon us and knows what we are destined to be.”

“Strange,” he said absently. Then, quietly, “Perhaps it is the seers I should have taken.”

Roland frowned. “Pardon?”

“Without your seers, the angels would not know what they are supposed to be or do. Better chaos. Faster capitulation.”

Roland clenched his fists, which had him crinkling the parchment in his hand. Asagoroth stared at him, head somewhat slanted, eyes gleaming with interest. Perhaps amusement. He was amused by Roland’s anger. Arrogant ass.

“Why are you doing this?” Roland asked, forcing himself to relax and keep his voice calm. “To rule all the realms? Then what? What will you do once you conquer everything?”

Asagoroth stared at him. Roland could read nothing in his gaze.

“Will owning everything make you happy?”

“Happy?” Asagoroth said, contemplating the word. “What is ‘happy’?”

Roland gaped. “You… you don’t know….” He took a deep breath. “It’s not easy to describe. Is this what you really want to do?”

“It is not about want,” he said softly.

Roland frowned and tilted his head, considering the great beast in front of him. For an intelligent being, he seemed confused by simple things. Or perhaps such concepts were more complex than Roland thought.

“Who are you?” Roland asked quietly.

Asagoroth focused on him again. “I am dragon.”

“That’s what you are. I asked who you are.”

He narrowed his eyes, but not in anger. “I don’t understand.”

Roland highly doubted he uttered such words regularly. “What you are is a dragon. What I am is an angel. But who is Asagoroth the dragon? I was born an artist, and that’s who I am to my people. Sometimes I wonder if I could be someone else, would I want to? Do you ever want to be someone or something else?”

Asagoroth huffed, and warm air fluttered over Roland. He staggered back a step at the force.

“I am dragon.”

“Humor me.”

Asagoroth stretched out his neck, and his snout almost touched Roland’s stomach. “Why are you asking these things?”

Roland swallowed hard. “I want to understand you. To be perfectly honest, I find you fascinating. And I have to wonder if there’s more to you than a conqueror, than a lord of demons.” Feeling abruptly vulnerable and unable to hold Asagoroth’s gaze any longer, he bowed his head. “I apologize if I have offended you.”

Asagoroth lifted his snout and, with astonishing gentleness, touched it to Roland’s chin, forcing him to raise his head. His eyes were burning with an even brighter light, which made Roland squint.

“I am not offended.” He stood, hunching to avoid the stalactites. “I enjoy your intelligence. And your voice.”

Realizing he was gaping again, Roland snapped his mouth shut, his blush heating his face. “I—thanks? I—I enjoy talking with you as well.”

Asagoroth bobbed his head before he tapped seven demons with the tip of his tail, waking them.

“Come.” Then he was gone, striding away, the demons close behind. Though, strangely, he didn’t head out of the cave but turned in the other direction, moving deeper underground.

**

I hope to eventually write two sequels after “On Wings of Thunder” to continue Asagoroth and Trystan’s story. Perhaps in a year or two.

Right now I am working on three series concurrently plus a fantasy trilogy I hope to submit next year. I have way too many stories buzzing around in my brain.

Thank you for joining me and I hope you’ll check out my story!

May dragons guard your dreams,

M.D. Grimm

BLURB:

Every story has a beginning….

Dragons. Angels fear them and demons follow them. Formidable beasts of incredible power, they fight each other to the death for dominance. But dwindling dragon numbers cause alarm among the angelic ranks. Surely when the dragons have finished killing each other, the victors will search elsewhere for conquest… maybe even the Upper Realm.

Roland, an angelic artist of significant talent, doesn’t know what to believe. Part of him longs to see a dragon in person, and his peaceful life of contentment is wearing thin. He wants passion, desire, adventure, and love. He gets more than he bargained for when he and his sister are ambushed and captured by demons, and they bring him to a creature who surpasses Roland’s wildest imaginings.

But the mighty dragon Asagoroth is not all that he seems. Something sparks between him and Roland. Something neither anticipated. Something that will shake the cosmos to its core.

 

AUTHOR BIO:

M.D. Grimm has wanted to write stories since second grade (kind of young to make life decisions, but whatever) and nothing has changed since then (well, plenty of things, actually, but not that!). Thankfully, she has indulgent parents who let her dream, but also made sure she understood she’d need a steady job to pay the bills (they never let her forget it!). After graduating from the University of Oregon and majoring in English (let’s be honest: useless degree what else was she going to do it with it?), she started on her writing career and couldn’t be happier. Working by day and writing by night (or any spare time she can carve out), she enjoys embarking on romantic quests and daring adventures (living vicariously, you could say) and creating characters that always triumph against the villain (or else what’s the point?), finding their soul mate in the process.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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A Barb the Zany Old Lady Release Day Review: Warm Heart (Search and Rescue #1) by Amy Lane

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

I have a long and love-filled history with Amy Lane stories and I’m sure most have been four or five stars for me, but this one squeaked in at a 3.5 and the .5 is only for the warm and fuzzy feelings I’m left with from the end.

Tevyn is an Olympic-level snowboarder, in his midtwenties, strong-willed, driven, with a dying grandmother who raised him and a manager/financier who loves him. Mallory is that manager and has come out to Tevyn’s current event to let him know his Grandma Missy is in her last days in hospice care. Mal’s the kind of guy who wouldn’t have just called—because he cares too much for Tevyn. What he doesn’t know is that Tev cares for him as well. Each hopes they’ll get a chance to finally tell the other how they feel. When they leave to get Tevyn to her side, the helicopter they’re in is hit by a vicious updraft and crashes.

The two men and their injured pilot, a friend named Damian, survive the wilds for over 5 days in a snow cave they’ve hollowed out and through extremely ingenious and highly creative ways of making things work. The only luggage they pulled from the copter before it slipped over the cliff was Tevyn’s go-to bag and apparently that young man not only carries hand warmers, water, protein bars, and extra clothing, he knows creative ways of making those all work to help them survive. Together with Mal’s high-end wool overcoat with the silk lining, a thermal blanket, and creative weaving, they manage to keep out the wind, create snow shoes, and toward the end, they even manage an impossible slide down the mountain. 

All of this lends to the excitement but the romance fell flat for me. We’re told about their past attraction and the current situation acts as a catalyst to get them talking, but when they declare their love for each other, it’s based more on the backstory that readers weren’t present for so their closeness feels more like insta-love. I didn’t feel the depth of emotion usually present in an Amy Lane story. The words were there but they didn’t penetrate my heart. I guess that’s the only way I can say this. I liked the men, separately and together, but not as a couple.

I totally disliked Mal’s best friend and former lover, Charlie, portrayed as nasty female who was jilted, though apparently she wasn’t. They parted amicably and are still business partners. And, supposedly, she and Mal have been friends for years. She acted more like a jealous bee-atch. So no, not good. I also liked Damian and his unrequited love for a young man named Preston. I hope their story is book two. In hindsight, I suspect my feelings on this book relate to how unbelievable their crash survival was and how even more bizarre their eventual trip down the mountain was. I guess you’d have to read it to believe it so don’t be put off by my review. If nothing else, it makes a great survival handbook.

The cover by Alexandria Corza features a handsome young man wearing a handknit sweater. This is a great tie-in to the sweaters knit by Grandma Missy that the guys wore in the story.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 226 pages
Expected publication: July 16th 2019 by Dreamspinner Press
ASINB07PRBV7V2
Edition Language English
Series Search and Rescue #1

An Alisa Review :A Series of Fates Anthology 1-3 by C.C. Dado

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Denying Fate (#1) – 3 out of 5 stars

Fate is a funny thing. Some try to cut its threads, while others wrap themselves in it like a blanket.

Young wolf shifter Max is cocky and crass. Unlike others his age, he has yet to discover a talent that will serve his pack. Since childhood, he’s been convinced the pack alpha is his mate, but Alpha Christian cannot envision unfiltered and directionless Max taking the place of his elegant mother at the head of the pack. As Max begins to build a life with his best friend, he also begins to see that maybe what he thought was inevitable was all in his head, and it’s time to move on.

Or are they both denying fate?

Oh man is Christian stubborn and at times deliberately hurtful but he does make it up a bit by the end.  I struggled to like Max throughout this whole book, I know he knew the Christian was his mate but he also didn’t treat him with respect back and felt he acted childish.  I also didn’t get why it they took years to actually get to the claiming part.

I guess those were my gripes (a bit of a holdover from the last few not so good books I read) but I did enjoy the book and felt I got to know these characters better in the other books.

The cover art by Brooke Albrecht is nice, I like the visual of Max.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon | B&N

Book Details:

ebook, 83 pages

Published: August 31, 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13: 9781640807297

Edition Language: English

Embracing Fate (#2) – 4 out of 5 stars

Sometimes you just have to embrace your fate.

Seth has a secret: he has a crush on the human next door. His brilliant plan to meet Jack, the man of his dreams who happens to be an animal trainer? Take wolf form and ask his best friend, Max, to take him next door for training. Seth is the only one surprised when things go horribly awry.

Still, can this shy wolf and a human meet their fate as mates?

Seth so adorable and shy, he comes up with a crazy plan to actually meet and send time with his mate but it allows him the opportunity to find the ability to relax around Jack.  I really liked Jack for who he is and how open he was to this new community he lived in, though I felt his initial reaction to shifters was strange he did come through in the end.

I liked Max much more in the story and found him hilarious at times, he was the perfect complement to Seth’s shyness.  I loved that Jack felt such a connection to Seth’s wolf even before he knew the truth about everything,

The cover art by Brooke Albrecht is once again nice, it follows the same style as before but gives us a visual of Seth.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon | B&N

Book Details:

ebook, 91 pages

Published: October 26, 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13: 9781640807303

Edition Language: English

Fearing Fate (#3) – 3.5 stars out of 5

He is a fearless protector by nature and in his heart. But nothing’s ever simple with love… or fate.

At nearly seven feet tall, Zeus’s role had always been to protect the pack—but his newest charges need him more than most. Kimber and Kron are transplants from another pack, and they have a dangerous stranger on their tails. Zeus is determined to do his duty and drive the human out of town. But when he confronts Toren, his wolf has other ideas….

Something isn’t right, but should a huge, tattooed wolf with a secret soft heart fear his fate—to love a man with secrets of his own?

I was glad that Zeus finally go to show his soft side, he always has to be intimidating and protective but here he was able to let his guard down to take care of Toren.  Toren is so sweet and confused, he doesn’t know why he was sent but doesn’t want the kids to get hurt and then to find that his mother had been poisoning him his whole life did nothing to help his feelings of insecurity.  I didn’t quite like that Toren was never flat out told what was going on with him until he was in pain from his wolf coming forward, I think some sort of conversation should have happened,

I love that the guys from all these stories have built a family together and while some of them do have family still around this group has become their primary family, even sitting together during the pack meals.  They went through quite a bit in a short period of time but it all turned out well in the end.

The cover art by Brooke Albrecht is nice and I like the visual of Zeus and the town he has sworn to protect.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press | Amazon | B&N

Book Details:

ebook, 71 pages

Published: December 14, 2018 by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13: 9781640807310

Edition Language: English

Love A Shifter Romance? Don’t Miss the Series Tour for The Series of Fates by C.C. Dado (excerpt and giveaway)

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SERIES REVIEW TOUR

A Series of Fates Series and Anthology

Easter Valley is a place for shifters to thrive, protect each other, and be themselves. It’s also a place for friendships, laughs… and love. From the Alpha, to the shyest of pack members, these mates find their way into each other’s arms in this trio of romantic comedy tales, and while the path to love can be bumpy when fate is involved, the endings are always happy.

The stories should preferably read in order but can be read individually as they have their own main characters and HEA.

Author: C.C. Dado

Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press

Cover Artist: Brooke Albrecht

Genre/s: Paranormal Comedy,  M/M Romance

Trope/s: Fated Mates

Themes: Shifters

Overall Heat Rating: 2 flames (my stories are intended to be more comedy romance, bordering on young adult)

Add on Goodreads

 

BOOK 1

Book Title:  Denying Fate

Length: 23 500 words/ 83 pages

Release Date: August 31, 2018

 

Blurb

A Series of Fates: Book One

Fate is a funny thing. Some try to cut its threads, while others wrap themselves in it like a blanket.

Young wolf shifter Max is cocky and crass. Unlike others his age, he has yet to discover a talent that will serve his pack. Since childhood, he’s been convinced the pack alpha is his mate, but Alpha Christian cannot envision unfiltered and directionless Max taking the place of his elegant mother at the head of the pack. As Max begins to build a life with his best friend, he also begins to see that maybe what he thought was inevitable was all in his head, and it’s time to move on.

Or are they both denying fate?

 

Buy Links

Dreamspinner Press  |  Amazon US  | Amazon UK

 

BOOK 2

Book Title: Embracing Fate

Length: 27 222 words/ 91 pages

Release Date: October 26,  2018

 

Blurb

A Series of Fates: Book Two

Sometimes you just have to embrace your fate.

Seth has a secret: he has a crush on the human next door. His brilliant plan to meet Jack, the man of his dreams who happens to be an animal trainer? Take wolf form and ask his best friend, Max, to take him next door for training. Seth is the only one surprised when things go horribly awry.

Still, can this shy wolf and a human meet their fate as mates?

 

Buy Links

Dreamspinner Press  |  Amazon US  | Amazon UK

 

BOOK 3

Book Title: Fearing Fates

Length: 21 250 words/ 71 pages

Release Date: December 14, 2018

 

Blurb

He is a fearless protector by nature and in his heart. But nothing’s ever simple with love… or fate.

At nearly seven feet tall, Zeus’s role had always been to protect the pack—but his newest charges need him more than most. Kimber and Kron are transplants from another pack, and they have a dangerous stranger on their tails. Zeus is determined to do his duty and drive the human out of town. But when he confronts Toren, his wolf has other ideas….

Something isn’t right, but should a huge, tattooed wolf with a secret soft heart fear his fate—to love a man with secrets of his own?

 

Buy Links

Dreamspinner Press  |  Amazon US  | Amazon UK

 

 

Excerpt from Embracing Fate

Seth walked down to the bakery to get the ovens warming and opened the window behind the sink so it didn’t get too hot. It was still early morning, but it was already at least seventy degrees out. He could smell the morning dew burning off under the sun. He spent the next few hours preparing the backup set of baked goods for the display cases. Max had come in a little while ago to get the front ready for another busy Saturday. Seth was really glad they had high school kids helping out in the afternoons now, so they didn’t have to put in such a long day. Seth was on his last batch of cupcakes. He’d grabbed the muffin tin off the cooling rack and started filling the paper cups with batter when he heard a commanding voice pierce through the window.

“Sit.”

Seth was unable to control his response as he dropped his spatula and sat his butt hard onto the floor. What the hell was that? Not even his alpha had that type of control over him. His premonition of undecidedly awful things coming ran through his mind—this is it. He barely registered the squeak of the swinging half doors as Max walked into the kitchen from the front.

“Whatcha doing there?” Max asked, leaning across the kitchen island.

Seth stared up at Max, his eyes blown wide. “I have no idea,” he said, the cupcake tin he had somehow managed not to drop still held awkwardly in the air.

“Lie down.” The voice came through the window again.

Max looked at Seth questioningly as Seth instantly fell onto his back.

“Okay…,” Max said, obviously trying to stay calm. “That was weird, right? Did you just lie down because someone outside said to?”

Seth whined, lying on the floor of the bakery in shock, scared eyes staring toward the ceiling.

Max came around the island, rushing to help Seth up.

“Okay, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m calling Christian.” Max pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Wait,” Seth said, needing a moment to process.

“Umm, no. We should call Christian.” Max leaned over the sink to see out the window into the backyard. “There’s a guy out back at the house next door. I think it’s the new neighbor. Maybe he’s an evil wizard or something. Is that a real thing? Oh….” He paused. “He’s pretty hot, but like not really my type. I like them with a little more muscle, to the point where their shirts stretch just a bit across their chest and shoulders, like Christian’s do. But he’s not bad, lanky, brunet too,” he said, sounding disappointed. “I prefer blonds, and he has on glasses. Can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of a man in glasses, but they fit on him.”

“Are you seriously checking out my neighbor right now?” Seth demanded, his anxiety starting to lower from DEFCON 3 as he took calming breaths.

“No, I mean yes, but not for me. Sorry, okay. Focus. Let’s get you up off the floor. We’ll call Christian and Zeus.”

Seth let Max help him up off the ground, and he peeked out the window. “Wait,” he said again, stopping Max’s hand as he reached for the phone in his pocket. “I’m not scared anymore.”

“What do you mean, you’re not scared anymore? You just laid down on the ground because someone told you to.”

“I know. And it scared me at first too. Normally I’d still be having a full-blown panic attack in the corner, probably crying a little, but I’m not.”

“Okay, so, you don’t want me to call Christian because you’re not freaking out anymore that someone is controlling your mind?” Max sarcastically summarized.

Seth shook his head at his friend. “I meant, I’m not panicking. The voice, it makes me feel different, like in a good way, peaceful almost.”

“I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re obviously not thinking clearly. You’ve lost the ability to make your own choices. I’ll have Christian’s lawyer draw up papers. I’ll be your legal guardian from now on.”

“If you’re ever the rational one out of the two of us, we’re both screwed, and I’m not insane, just curious, I guess. I don’t want to tell them yet.” Seth looked out at the stranger again. He was tall, his dark brown, wavy hair fell just past his shoulders, his nose was a little too big for his face, and Seth thought it was perfect. “Handsome but not too perfect.” His earlier words to Max about his preferences played back through his mind, making him take a deep breath.

Max leaned in next to him a bit to get a better look. “What is he doing out there?” Max attempted to whisper, watching intently out of the window.

“Zeus said he was a trainer.”

“Oh, Seth,” Max said, pausing to choke back a laugh with his fist. “He’s a dog trainer.” He snorted, apparently unable to hold it in any longer, “And you’re… you’re obeying his commands.”

Seth could barely make out what Max was saying past his laughter.

“Shit, I think I may die,” Max said, bent over the counter, holding his side. “This might be the best thing that has ever happened in my life.”

“I hate you,” Seth said, focusing his attention back out the window. Recalling his conversation with Zeus, the new neighbor was a dog trainer. Seth watched as the man knelt down in the grass and patted his leg for the dog to come. The chocolate lab bounced his way across the yard, ramming into the man.

“That’s a good boy.” The man’s purr sent chills over Seth’s body. His wolf was definitely awake, pulling at him to get closer.

 

About the Author

I write about painfully awkward, usually embarrassing, romance because long confident gazes followed by sexy dancing NEVER happens to me. I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, and will probably never leave. I’m like a hypochondriac sundae, with claustrophobic sprinkles, and a big cherry of anxiety on top, so I don’t travel much. I read to relax my mind, so I love getting lost in someone else’s story, even if it is only for a little while.

 

Author Links

Twitter: @C_C_Dado

 

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