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

A MelanieM Review: Treasure Trail by Morgan Brice

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Erik Mitchell traveled the world uncovering art fraud and relic theft, which pitted him against spoiled billionaires, unscrupulous collectors, mobsters, and cartels. He worked with law enforcement across the U.S. and Europe, but then a sting goes wrong, Erik ends up injured and returns to find his partner cheating. He decides to stop globetrotting and buy an antique shop in scenic Cape May, NJ, rebuild his life, and nurse his broken heart.

Undercover Newark cop Ben Nolan went down in a hail of bullets when a bust went sideways, after a tip-off from a traitor inside the department. When he recovers, he spends a couple of years as a private investigator, only to tire of seeing the worst of human nature. So when his aunt offers him the chance to take over her rental real estate business in Cape May, it seems too good to be true. Now if he could just believe he could ever be lucky again in love.

Sparks fly when Erik and Ben meet. But when a cursed hotel’s long-ago scandals resurface, the two men are pulled into a web of lies, danger, and deception that will test their bond—and might make them Cape May’s newest ghosts!

Treasure Trail contains sexually explicit material intended for adults 18 and over.

Treasure Trail by Morgan Brice is another terrific paranormal romance with a mystery element from this author who quickly become a musts read based on her other series of the same nature, Badlands and Witchbane, both of which are loosely interconnected by their main couples who solve paranormal/supernatural murder/mysteries, albeit in other towns and states. While each series operates independently of each other, it’s not unusual to see or “hear” characters from the other series being referred to or as is the case here where Simon Kincaide (Badlands), a medium and friend of Erik’s, is part of the story.

For me, a reader already a huge fan of the multiseries universe this author is creating, adding another couple with complex back histories and locating them in a town that carries it own rich  paranormal history and historic legacy to use in future stories?  Awesome! For the new reader who will treat this as a standalone?  No problem because Brice provides enough of the backstory on each character (including secondary people such as Simon and Vic) that you won’t feel as though you are missing out on too much foundation story.

Treasure Trail is located in Cape May, New Jersey, a place, which is you have never had the pleasure of visiting, you should put it on your lists asap.  It’s everything Brice describes here, vividly in the story.  Full of gorgeous Victorian houses, a beach often underutilized, a lighthouse and birding to die for (not literally or course unless its in this story). It’s one of my favorite places to escape to .  And, as Morgan Brice so aptly points out, with its location on shifting sands, it’s a liminal spot, perfect for paranormal activities and ghostly tales.  That it  has many of.

As Brice has done for Myrtle Beach and Pittsburgh, the author folds in Cape May beautifully into her story and couple, using it’s history , atmosphere, and settings effortlessly.  So it allows us to focus on Erik and Ben, their relationship, their problematic back stories, and the mysteries they are working on.

As always, I love the paranormal treatment here. Brice brings in many elements of the paranormal community (as she does in each series), forming an eventual “otherworld family” for Erik and Ben to draw from.  Each one is well defined and intesteresting in their own right.  Erik and Ben?  Oh, my.  What a great couple.  Erik is an unexpected combination of toughness and vulnerability that is truly appealing.  And Ben himself is Erik’s equal so their partnership works on every level, including romantic.  Yes, I believe that they were soulmates.

At the end, the author throws in a twist to this story that made me aware that she writes under another name and yes, there are more connected series than just Badlands and Witchbane.  It has sent me running to her library to get caught up.  Oh my.  So yes, read the author’s note at the end.

Treasure Trail by Morgan Brice is a wonderful story and a great start to a new series.  I absolutely recommend it as well as all the other series Morgan Brice has written that are joined to this one.  Have fun and binge them them all!

Cover art: Lou Harper.  Love this cover, it works for the tone and characters.

Sales Links: Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 246 pages

Published: June 26, 2019 by Darkwind Press

Edition Language: English

Book Details:

 

A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Craving’s Creek by Mel Bossa

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

The blurb to this book really captured my attention. The story, seen through Ryde’s point of view, takes place over 15 years and is broken down into three main parts. The first part shows Ryde’s intense attraction and focus on his neighbor Alastair. The reader gets to see the juxtaposition of Ryde’s supportive, though neglectful family and Alastair’s strange and scary religious upbringing. Then, this gut wrenching tragedy happens taking away all their youthful hopes and dreams. The second part shows Ryde’s life fourteen years later. Surveying the landscape is bleak as Ryde hits rock bottom when his selfishness, pain, and grief become more important than his love for anyone, even Alistair. Meanwhile, seeing Ryde again makes Alastair realizes his life is not what he thinks it is. The third part of the story deals with them both trying to put their demons to rest and move forward. This is where most of the hurt/comfort trope plays out.

For this 2019 edition, the author has mentioned she “really toned down the drama” from the 2015 version, which boggles my mind since I cried several times while reading it. This book has a very high angst level with themes of rape, sexual abuse, mental illness, PTSD, addiction, religious fervor, and betrayal. It is stark in its depiction of what Ryde’s whole family has lost. Ryde’s best friend Sheryl is fighting her own battle since she made the decision to let Ryde drag her down with him.

I am of two minds about this book. Obviously, it was well written enough to affect me so deeply. There is so much nuance here to complex issues like religion versus spirituality and coping mechanisms. Watching Father Masson wrestling with his own conscience about what is best for Alastair is compelling. Father Cornwell, as Alastair’s spiritual advisor, shows the bad side of the Church in wanting to control the situation, or save his soul, rather than do what may be best for Alastair’s mental health. There is certainly a compelling argument that he should not have been allowed to take his vows. Through it all, Alastair never losses his Faith in God, even when he loses faith in the Church.

I think the main flaw of this book is the subtle implication, even after apparent rewrites, that love can cure mental illness, trauma, and stop alcoholism. Ryde’s sobriety is nearly instantaneous. Alastair almost never shows any sign that it isn’t all about him except for asking about Ryde’s nightmares. Their one attempt at sexual intimacy ends disastrously. He warns Ryde he may never be able to have sex, but I’m not sure Ryde actually thinks that might be true–his focus on the physical rather than the mental issues here is astounding. A lifetime of trauma can’t be solved in a few months of once a week therapy or even after one huge breakthrough. Going back to Craving’s Creek seems just thrown in for the dramatic affect.

Shared history and trauma are important components to their relationship, but in the end it can’t be the only thing that keeps them together. There is not much here to convince me they can live together on a daily basis and navigate normal life yet, so I would argue this is a HFN rather than a HEA. Still, the book ends on a hopeful note of catharsis as they move towards their futures, finally together, with Ryde much more able to cope with the reality of Alastair than his 17 year old self would have been.

The cover design was done by Written Ink Designs. This is not how I pictured Alastair at all. The picture does signal that religion will be a main theme and shows the place that is ground zero for what happens to them.

Sales Links:  JMS Books LLC | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & NobleKobo

Book Details:

ebook, 224 pages
Published June 29th 2019 by JMS Books LLC (first published August 18th 2015)
ISBN 139781634869560
Edition Language English

A Lucy Review: 9 Willow Street by Nell Iris

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Heartbroken after the death of his beloved Nana, Hannes, the family outsider, finally allows himself to grieve. The legal battle over Nana’s quirky old house — the only place he’s ever felt accepted and loved — is over, and he moves in and finds a sense of peace.

… And a rabbit.

An adorable bunny with a huge personality moves in, too, and refuses to leave. Hannes instantly falls in love with the sweet animal who helps heal his heart. But one morning, Hannes’ view of the world changes when the rabbit transforms into a man. A man named Mattis.

After the initial shock, Hannes and Mattis discover a connection between them that runs deeper than it seems. Will their newfound feelings survive unraveling secrets and meddling families, and grow into something real? Something deep and everlasting?

Poor Hannes.  His very beloved great-grandmother died suddenly (at age 109) and not only did he lose the only family member who supported and really loved him, but he had to fight his relatives for the house she left him.  The will was contested and thirteen months spent bitterly fighting before Hannes was allowed to move into his inheritance.  Which he did with such grief it poured off the pages.  “I couldn’t even cry on the one-year anniversary of her death last month, but here, in her garden, I finally let go.”   Nana and Hannes forever, it was supposed to be.  The rest of the family are as intelligent as Hannes but chose different paths – doctors and surgeons and they look down on Hannes for his career as an herbalist.  A career Nana supported fully. 

He is heartbroken that because the court fight took so long, nothing remains of Nana’s scent in the house.  The sight of her favorite cardigan sends him into tears again.  Then he spies, in the middle of the kitchen, a white and black rabbit.  He, in his grief and loneliness, is so grateful for a warm, soft friend who he can cuddle and confide in.  “You see, little one, my parents are smart and successful, but not particularly warm.”  That is such an understatement, especially Mommy dearest.

Hannes names the rabbit Mio and it becomes his companion.  When people come looking for their brother, he obviously hasn’t seen anyone.  However, when they return to ask about a rabbit…well, Hannes doesn’t know why but he lies.  No rabbit here, nope.  And so the connection between Hannes and Mio (Mattis as a human) becomes even more.

The story is very sweet and pretty angst free.  It is told in first person present tense by Hannes, not my favorite. Also, the mothers of both of them are pretty wretched, though Hannes’ mother wins the worst mom award by far.  “You know how we feel about pets,” Mother says.  Well, this isn’t your house and he’s an adult, so who cares?  I did love Hannes standing up to her. Mattis’ mother is just rude, not a horrible person.

There is explaining to do and I have to say I was glad Hannes didn’t just, ok, a rabbit, cool.  Because that would freak anyone out!  I liked the explanation of the warren, as well, and the reason Mattis left. 

This is a sweet, pretty fluffy tale (see what I did there?) of a boy and his rabbit. 

Cover art, showing Hannes and his man bun, is spot on.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | JMS Books | Universal Link

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 95 pages
Published July 6th 2019 by JMS Books LLC
ASINB07T6L4P9J

Release Blitz for How To Run With The Wolves (How to Howl at the Moon #5) by Eli Easton (excerpt and giveaway)

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Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal LinkExclusive to Amazon and Available to Borrow with Kindle Unlimited
 

Cover Design: Reese Dante


Howl At The Moon Series


How To Howl At The Moon (Book #1) Amazon US | Amazon UK
How To Walk Like A Man (Book #2) Amazon US | Amazon UK
How To Wish Upon A Star (Book #3) Amazon US | Amazon UK
How To Save A Life (Book #4) – Amazon US | Amazon UK

 
Blurb 



Zeus loves his job on the Mad Creek Search & Rescue team, and his inner Saint Bernard is finally being used to his full potential. When he sees a mysterious and wild-looking quickened—a dog shifter—at an earthquake site in Alaska, Zeus is compelled to investigate. Zeus falls hard for the primal beauty of Timo and of Alaska itself. Both call to his deep canine soul. But the Qimmig pack’s laws are as harsh as the Alaskan winters, and Timo is out of his reach.

 
Timo’s pack of dog shifters left their Inuit village generations ago and have lived wild ever since. Not trusting the “one-skinned,” and with their numbers dwindling, the Qimmig are on the verge of extinction. Timo is shocked to discover a whole group of “two-skinned” working as a rescue team, and he is particularly fascinated by Zeus, a gentle giant. He senses what Zeus feels for him… but it’s forbidden.
 
Can Mad Creek save this lost quickened clan? Perhaps—if they can learn how to run with the wolves.
 

Exclusive Excerpt


Chapter 1 – Fault Line


August

Anchorage, Alaska

Zeus


“All right, guys. Remember: stay in your section and stay with your partner. No matter what. And make sure your radios are on so I can contact you. Check them. Are they on right now?”


Zeus knew his radio was on, but he obeyed Matt and checked it anyway, as did the other eight quickened in the Mad Creek Search and Rescue team. Yup, the red light was illuminated.


“Mine is on!” Sammy called out with barely suppressed excitement. Other voices rang out too. The team was eager to get moving, Zeus included. His skin itched with the need to run, sniff, find.


But their team commander, Matt, didn’t release them just yet. He had his hands on his hips and was giving them all a stern look. His glower was all for show, Zeus knew. You could see the pride behind it, wanting to break out. Matt was a good leader. He was a full-blooded human, so he was less likely to get distracted by the job than the rest of them, and he knew just how to coordinate with the other human relief crews at a disaster site. And if people thought the Mad Creek group was weird, Matt dealt with it somehow, keeping the secret of the quickened, well, secret.


“All right, team.” Matt clapped Sammy on the back. “Go save some lives!”


They scattered, everyone running. They looked like orange confetti, Zeus thought, with everyone wearing the Search and Rescue uniform—heavy neon orange canvas pants, orange T-shirts, black heavy-duty hiking boots, and small gray vest and packs with first aid gear and tools. Blood pumped hard in Zeus’s veins. Since joining Mad Creek Search and Rescue, Zeus and the team had been deployed three times, once to a flood and twice to help with wildfires. And even in his brief stint with the group, Zeus had found a sense of purpose and usefulness he’d never felt before.


He was born for this! And it felt incredible to let that part of him operate to its potential.


Zeus and his partner, Sammy, headed into the section Matt had assigned them. From their command post in Delaney Park, they ran north on G Street. They had the area from 3rd to 9th streets to the north and south and H to C streets west to east. Some of the street signs were down or hidden in rubble, but Zeus could still see the map in his mind, and he knew where to go.


The 7.5 earthquake had hit near Anchorage eight hours ago. It had struck just after nine in the morning when the downtown buildings and streets had been full of people. Since then, the city had been rocked by several large aftershocks. Roads were cracked and split apart, becoming stairsteps. Shattered glass was everywhere from windows that exploded under the pressure of buckling walls. Rubble made haphazard mounds that spilled into the street. Tall brick buildings had gaping holes that looked like missing teeth, and a couple had lost their heads entirely. The landscape was uneven, a building here and there in ruins while others stood tall and straight, unaffected or missing only a few panes of glass. And there were so many smells! There were dangerous smells like oil and smoke and sad ones like blood and fear and even death.


For a moment, Zeus hesitated, looking down G Street. Where to start? He wanted to go everywhere at once. A loud siren pierced the air, hurting Zeus’s sensitive ears, but he was too focused on the job to care.


Sammy stepped up beside him and pointed to a field of rubble on the right between two taller buildings. Big cement slabs stuck up and jagged ends of rebar were exposed like broken bones. A triangular slab stood into front of the pile, one pointed end buried in the asphalt as if it were a memorial statue. “Look, Zeus! I bet that was a parking garage. And I bet people are trapped in there. Let’s see if we can help.”


“Okay!” Zeus agreed, and the two of them ran toward the rubble. His blood sang in his ears. Find them, find them, find them.


They scrambled over cement and dust. Zeus could smell people here, people trapped under the collapsed parking garage—one, two, at least four people. The scent drew a mind map in his head of where they were located, how deep, how far from him in 3D. He sniffed around and around, moving in a circle, skin thrumming, every sense on alert. Yes, here, and here, far down.


Zeus pointed and rattled off his finds, interpreting the scent-pictures for Sammy, giving him distances and head count. Sammy wrote numbers on the little flags, planted them where Zeus said, and relayed the news to Matt over the radio. There were two older people, a man and a woman together, probably in a car. There was blood with them, but not much, and their heartbeats were strong. They calm one another, Zeus thought, an idea that entered his head and flittered away again with so much to smell and others to help.


A short distance away, he found two bodies both ten feet down. Near them he detected the faint smell of old urine, like you might find in a stairwell. Face sad, Sammy set a black flag with a “2” written on it.


Zeus sniffed around the perimeter he’d set for himself, three times, four, to be sure he’d caught everything, that the little flags matched the map in his head.


Sammy signed off the radio call. “Matt’s gonna let the fire department know. They’ll bring the big machines. It’s so sad. The ones who are alive, are they scared? I bet they’re scared.” He took a crowbar from his tool belt and banged on a piece of rebar sticking from the cement near the yellow “2” flag. “We’re here! We’re here and we will come for you! Don’t be afraid!”


Don’t be afraid. The words echoed in Zeus’s head. Don’t be afraid.


“Oh, those poor people. I wish we could dig! I wish we could dig right now! Are you sure they’re too far down?” Sammy leaned down close to a flag to sniff and listen.


Zeus just grunted. He was sure.


He loved many things about the Mad Creek Search and Rescue team.


He loved that everyone on the team—except for team-leader Matt—was a quickened and thus had a dog’s keener sense of smell and hearing and doggie instincts.


He loved that his teammates had boundless energy and enthusiasm.


He loved their compassion and can-do attitudes. They never got cranky and they never complained. Zeus had been born quickened, but he’d worked with many humans over the years, so he appreciated those traits.


He loved the sense of pack he was developing with his S-and-R brothers and sisters. The Mad Creek Search and Rescue team was made up of Sammy, a young chocolate lab, Goldy, a pretty and bouncy golden retriever in her twenties, a middle-aged German shepherd named Bacon, a somber young bloodhound named Watson, and a tough pit bull named Lola Blue who was thick and stocky with a square face, small gold eyes, grayish brown skin, and short hair the same amazing shade of blue-gray as her dog fur. Georgia and Roscoe, both mixed breeds, rounded out the team. Matt was the only human in the group. All together there were nine of them.


In short, Zeus loved this job. If Mad Creek had become too crowded to take, the S-and-R crew was small enough for Zeus to bear. Even if he sometimes felt he would never really be one of the Mad Creek quickened.


Zeus continued, picking his way over the rubble, scrambling on his hands and feet when the way got rough. The heavy steel-toed boots on his big arched feet enabled him to step anywhere, testing each foot-place for stability before settling his considerable weight on it. Despite his large size, he felt light and nimble with the adrenaline coursing through his veins.


He had Sammy place several more yellow flags. And then….


“Here!” he told Sammy, huffing the rich scent. “There’s a man buried right here. We can get this one. He’s not far down at all.”


Sammy sniffed the ground, his face lighting up. “He’s alive.”


“He’s alive,” Zeus agreed. He went down on his knees and began to dig with both gloved hands.


A scree hill of gravel and powdered cement had landed here, next to a fallen piece of wall. Zeus’s hands were faster than his tools for small material like this, and his heavy gloves were nearly as good protection as the thick pads of his paws in his dog form. Sammy joined in, and the two of them scooped out the loose material and pulled away small chunks of cement and metal, finally clearing a hole under the piece of wall.


The hole was dark for a moment as the cloud of debris settled. Then fingers reached up. They were a man’s fingers, rough-hewn and covered with gray dust.


“Hello,” came a voice, then a cough. “H-hello? Are you there? Help me, please?” His voice had an accent Zeus had never heard before.


“Hello!” Sammy called out, his voice happy. “Yes, we’re here to help you. Are you hurt?”


More coughing. “Oh, thank fuck. I’ve felt better. I think I’m okay, but I would like to get out now.”


“We’ll get you out. Don’t worry!” Sammy enthused, while Zeus examined the situation. They had to be careful, because they didn’t want to cause the rubble to collapse. But the piece of wall on top of the hole felt stable when Zeus tested it. It wasn’t going anywhere. With some more digging—the man helped from inside with his bare hands—they managed to enlarge the hole. Sammy shone his light inside and they saw the man’s face. He was a young man, maybe in his twenties, and he had skin deeply tanned by the sun, eyes with a slight epicanthic fold, black hair covered in dust, and a lop-sided grin. Zeus thought he might be Inuit.


Sammy passed the man a bottle of water, and he unscrewed it and drank it thirstily, water making tracks in the dirt down his blue T-shirt.


Zeus sat back on his heels. The man was not badly hurt. He and Sammy could pull him out and send him on to the hospital. Then they could keep working. There was so much work to do. So many more to find! And hopefully they’d find more survivors, like this one, maybe even more they could dig out on their own. It was so satisfying to see them climb out of the earth like newborns, to know he had saved a life. Zeus would never tire of it in a million years.


As he waited for the man to finish drinking, Zeus’s gaze scanned ahead over the field of rubble. They could probably scramble over most of it and….


And that was when Zeus saw him.


About thirty feet away, standing on the flat roof of a small building, was a man.


The sun was behind him, his form outlined in the glowing light. He was average in height but taut and whip lean in faded, low-slung jeans, wide belt, and a short-sleeved T-shirt that was molded to his muscles. His brown hair gleamed red where it was struck by the sun and was incredibly thick, straight, and long, falling to his waist. Strands floated around him in the cold breeze. His eyes looked pale, though it was hard to tell from this distance.


Zeus sniffed, catching the barest tease of a new scent. It broke through the cloying, heavy aroma of dust and oil and smoke as though someone had opened a window in a stale house. The new scent was fresh, like the wind off a glacier, and there was something wild in it, too, wild and free, like deer or elk or… or…


Wolves?


Zeus couldn’t see the man’s face very well, backlit as he was, but something about him took Zeus’s breath away. His posture was agile and proud. And he was staring at Zeus. Right at him. His body was rigid, and Zeus could swear he was scenting him too.


Why the sight should strike him so deeply, Zeus didn’t know. But the man didn’t look like a rescue worker. He didn’t look like an office worker. He didn’t look like anything Zeus had ever seen before. He seemed to be a mirage, like something pulled up from the buried depths of Zeus’s own mind.


There was a grunt and a scramble next to him. Zeus turned to see the Inuit man dusting off his shirt.


“Are you okay?” he asked.


“You have blood on your pants,” Sammy said worriedly. “Is your leg hurt? You can lean on me.”


The man shook his leg and stomped his foot twice. “Nah, I’m good. Just a scratch.”


Zeus looked back to where he’d seen the strange man—but he was gone. There was nothing there now but an empty roof and the bright glare of the afternoon sun.


“Did you see him?” Zeus asked Sammy and the rescued man. He pointed at the roof. “There was a man. Right there.”


Sammy looked confused. “Huh? I didn’t see anyone, Zeus.”


But the dark-skinned man grimaced, his face knowing. “Qimmig,” he muttered.


“What?”


The man coughed, then wiped his mouth. “It’s a tribe. They’re around. They work on the big buildings. Construction, you know? Hey, thank you guys for finding me. My name’s Aput. You saved my life, dudes!”


Aput gave Sammy a hug, which Sammy was happy to reciprocate. Then Aput turned to Zeus, his arms held wide. Zeus wasn’t much of a hugger with strangers, but the man’s grin was infectious, so Zeus hugged him too.


“I have a wife and three little ones back in my village. They’ll want very much to thank you! Man, I thought I was going to die in there.” He wiped a hand across his sweaty brow, smearing dirt. And despite all his brave words, his hand was shaking.


Well, of course it was. It would be terrifying to be buried for—Zeus checked his watch—nearly seven hours since the earthquake struck.


“We’re so happy you’re alive!” said Sammy. “Are you sure you don’t need to sit down and rest?”


But Zeus was anxious to keep moving, anxious to find more people to help, maybe anxious to see that Qimmig again too. “There’s first aid and food and water at the convention center. Do you know how to get there?”


“Yeah, I do. Hey, where are you guys from?” He looked at Sammy curiously, then up at Zeus. “Not Alaskan, huh?”


“Nope, we’re from Mad Creek!” said Sammy proudly. “That’s in California. We’re the Mad Creek Search and Rescue.” Sammy turned around and pointed to his back where the name was printed in black on the bright orange T-shirt. “I’m Sammy and this is Zeus.”


“Well, Sammy and Zeus. I’ll look for you again. Okay?”


“Okay!” Sammy said. “Be careful walking to the first aid station. Watch out for glass! You wouldn’t want to fall on your ass. Ha ha.”


Man, Sammy’s jokes. Zeus didn’t find them funny, but in this case, he was pretty sure he wasn’t the only one. He moved ahead, shutting out everything but the rubble under his feet.

About Eli


Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, and organic farmer, Eli has been a m/m romance author since 2013. She has over 30 books published.


Eli has loved romance since her teens and she particular admires writers who can combine literary merit, genuine humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, bulldogs, cows, a cat, and lots of groundhogs.


In romance, Eli is best known for her Christmas stories because she’s a total Christmas sap. These include “Blame it on the Mistletoe”, “Unwrapping Hank” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles”. Her “Howl at the Moon” series of paranormal romances featuring the town of Mad Creek and its dog shifters has been popular with readers. And her series of Amish-themed romances, Men of Lancaster County, has won genre awards.

 

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A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Chef On Top (Sizzling In The Kitchen #3) by MJ O’Shea

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Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The third in what has been a delicious series (food pun intended), this story did not live up to its promise. Jake Casey is a snarky, nasty character in the first two books—a brilliant chef but with an abrasive personality and a huge ego. He’s responsible for booting Baldwin from his prestigious job at the restaurant in New York and he’s Bobby’s nemesis as well. This story opens as book two ended with Jake accepting the position of head chef at the new Hearth & Oak restaurant opening at the Empress in Las Vegas. But that’s where the similarity to the previous books ends.

We meet a Jake in this book who is lonely and decides to be the kind of guy people like. He wants friends and he wants a harmonious workplace. This is a complete 180 from the Jake we know. I was looking forward to seeing the feisty chef meet his match in a romantic push and pull sort of relationship. I hoped for a guy who wouldn’t take his backtalk and would give as good as he gets. And then there’d be a situation that would make Jake realize he needed to soften. But no, not in this book. There was no catalyst for Jake’s change, no major catastrophe or loss of family or friends. He just grew introspective and decided to change. To be honest, it was unbelievable. As my mother always said: tigers don’t change their stripes, but in this case, Jake became a cuddly kitten. 

We also meet Ty, a really great character who has worked for the Food TV crew from Baldwin’s show and has training in both management and as a chef. He’s assigned to be the restaurant manager in Vegas until the place is up and running. Do the two clash? No. Do the two fall in love? Not really. They do become friends and eventually Jake offers to be Ty’s fake boyfriend when his former fiancé shows up as the sommelier for the hotel. Love comes much later—at the very end of the book.

The first half is all about setting up a restaurant and Jake’s acclimation to his home and to life in Las Vegas and reads somewhat like a travelogue of the Vegas area and a restaurant handbook. There’s not even a short kiss between the two characters until 50% in. And, in fact, there’s never really more than that. There is a big Misunderstanding just before Ty leaves to go back to New York and then… The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. I won’t say what happens or doesn’t happen. I’m not sure if a chapter is missing or if that’s how the book was to end. Honestly? I’m surprised at how this was left, especially given that this is the third book, and possibly the last of the series.

So, no. This one is not on my recommended reads list.

Cover Design: LC Chase.  That is an adorable cover.  Too bad the book didn’t measure up.

Buy Links:

Universal LInk:  https://books2read.com/ChefOnTop

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2JqUfcv

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2S5S3Kb

 Book Details
ebook
Published July 10th 2019 (first published June 10th 2019)
Edition Language English
Series Sizzling in the Kitchen #3
Sizzling In The Kitchen Series
 

Book #1 – Chef In The Wild – Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal Link
Book #2 – Chef Vs Chef – Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal Link

A MelanieM Review: Séance on a Summer’s Night by Josh Lanyon

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Theater critic Artemus Bancroft isn’t sure what to expect when his aunt summons him home to California with vague but urgent pleas about being unable to cope with “the situation.”

The situation turns out to be the apparent haunting of Green Lanterns Inn—along with alarming rumors that long-suffering Auntie Halcyone may have murdered her philandering husband.

In fact, the rumors seem to have been started by the late Mr. Hyde himself—from beyond the grave.

Séance on a Summer’s Night by Josh Lanyon is another one of those complicated paranormal romances that Josh Lanyon does so well.  A terrific mixture of mystery, romance,.. and relationships of all sorts that border on the psychologically insane to the secretive to the familial and everything in between and all with a touch of the paranormal.  How I do love how Lanyon throws in those spooky elements!

In this story it’s Artemus Bancroft called back to his childhood home, er mansion, by the aunt who helped raise him.    Auntie Haycyone is clearly in desperate need but why?  Turns out her disposable  and quite dead second  of a philander husband has chosen to haunt said mansion, driving away servants and paying guests.

Not that Artemus is buying into any of this and wonders why his Auntie is and why the estate is in such disrepairs.  And who is that gardener wandering around?

Love the character of Artemus.  Cynical just where he should be, especially of all those crazy guests in residence at the mansion.  Even of his Aunt when her actions start to make no sense.  His is often the only level head of the bunch.  And his investigations proceed accordingly.

This is not a review where you can go into the various characters or much of the plot because other than to say there’s a medium involved that says she talks to the dead, hold seances that make for some dramatic and very entertaining scenes, and that, yes, Auntie Halcyone does seem to firmly believe in her,. Everything and everybody else contains potential spoilers.

I will say while all the main characters don’t carry the usual Lanyon depth, it’s not needed here.  This is a fun, slightly chilling mystery romance romp!  The two men who fall into a romance, one they that establish is HFN and is just realistically getting started, are made for each other.   I would love to know where their romance goes from here. But what I did see of the developing relationship was one that I liked (ok. Their romance moves pretty fast given the circumstances but Lanyon made a good case for that)/

The mystery and several accompanying murders was, as I said entertaining and completely held my interest.  If it still left me with questions at the end after everything had supposedly been resolved….well that accounts for the 4 instead of the 5 rating.  I guess I wanted everything wrapped up a little more neatly, all loose ends gone, which is not exactly the Lanyon way.

Perhaps this isn’t the end of this duo and we will be seeing more of everyone, including Green Mansions and Aunt Halcyone too.  She still has those pesky neighbors to content with.

If you enjoy a fun and entertaining mystery romance, then pick up Séance on a Summer’s Night by Josh Lanyon.  I definitely recommend it to while away those hote summer nights or any night at all.

Cover art for me isn’t a favorite.  Lighted keyhole or crystal ball.  Just blurry enough not to be dramatic.

Sales Links:   Amazon | JustJoshinPublishing

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo |iBooks |Smashwords\

Book Details:

ebook, 296 pages
Published January 31st 2019 by JustJoshin Publishing, Inc
ISBN139781945802386

Love SciFy? Check Out the Release Blitz and Giveaway for Black Sky Morning (Mind + Machine Series #3) by Hanna Dare

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Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal LinkExclusive to Amazon and Available to Borrow with Kindle Unlimited
 
Cover Design: Natasha Snow
 
Length: 74,000 words approx.
 
Mind + Machine Series
 

Book #1 – Machine Metal Magic – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – The Wayward Prince – Amazon US | Amazon UK

 
Blurb 



A bounty hunter in over his head.


Xin knows how to look out for himself, and he knows when something sounds too good to be true. But a forgotten planet filled with riches is too tempting to pass up. Fortunately Xin also knows someone who can back him up – if he doesn’t arrest Xin first.


A government agent who’s lost hope.


Jonathan Gray used to believe in a better future. Now he’s not so sure. Then Xin walks in, with his dark eyes and maddening smirk, and Jonathan feels like he’s waking up for the first time in months. Well, parts of him at least. He knows Xin is trouble, but when trouble looks this good it’s impossible to resist.


Two men. One dangerous planet. To survive they need to trust each other – too bad neither of them does trust.

 

A writer-for-hire for more than ten years, Hanna Dare now writes what she loves to read: well-written, character-driven stories of men exploring their identities and discovering their own unique kind of happily ever afters… usually through sexytimes.


Find Hanna on the internet enjoying pretty pictures, procrastination and caffeinated beverages!

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Look What’s Here! The Release Blitz and Giveaway for What Lies Beneath (Lancaster Falls #1) by RJ Scott

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Length: 67,000 words approx.

Cover Design: Meredith Russell
 
Blurb



In the hottest summer on record, Iron Lake reservoir is emptying, revealing secrets that were intended to stay hidden beneath the water. The tragic story of a missing man is a media sensation, and abruptly the writer and the cop falling in love is just a postscript to horrors neither could have imagined.


Best Selling Horror writer Chris Lassiter struggles for inspiration and he’s close to never writing again. His life has become an endless loop of nothing but empty pages, personal appearances, and a marketing machine that is systematically destroying his muse. In a desperate attempt to force Chris to complete unfinished manuscripts his agent buys a remote cabin. All Chris has to do is hide away and write, but he’s lost his muse, and not even he can make stories appear from thin air.


Sawyer Wiseman left town for Chicago, chasing the excitement and potential of being a big city cop, rising the ranks, and making his mark. A case gone horribly wrong draws him back to Lancaster Falls. Working for the tiny police department in the town he’d been running from, digging into cold cases and police corruption, he spends his day’s healing, and his nights hoping the nightmares of his last case leave him alone.

USA Today bestselling author RJ Scott writes stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, a happily ever after.


RJ Scott is the author of over one hundred romance books, writing emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.


The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.


She’s always thrilled to hear from readers, bloggers and other writers. Please contact via the links below:

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A Caryn Review: Dancing with the Lion: Becoming (Dancing with the Lion #1) by Jeanne Reames

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Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars

Focusing on homosexual relationships in historical fiction in the ancient Greek world is not new – The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and The Persian Boy by Mary Renault have done so and reached wide audiences – but I am still thrilled to see another entry into this particular area, especially when that relationship is deep, abiding, and meaningful.  There have been centuries of writing and thinking that served to ignore and whitewash what was an important, and beautiful, part of the history of that era.  While there are certainly many parts of the culture that I am glad are no longer accepted – the treatment of women, slavery, constant wars, to name a few – the general acceptance of sexual love between two men (or women) deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

I also have a weak spot for epic stories, and the life of Alexander the Great is certainly a compelling subject.  Dr. Reames added to this book what is a new twist for me – using Hellenic (Greek) nomenclature for names, places, and concepts.  Thus we have Alexandros, Aristoteles, Philippos, etc, instead of the usual westernization of the names, which lends it an additional air of authenticity and interest.  There is a wonderful section where Hephaistion tries to puzzle out whether eros – sexual passion – can exist with true philia – brotherly love  – in his relationship with Alexandros, and the use of the Hellenic terms made me really look at the debate in a deeper way.

The book begins when Alexandros was 13, and newly entering the ranks of the Pages, or the servants of the king, Philoppos of Makedon (Philip of Macedonia).  Even at this young age, Alexandros had to find a balance between being set apart as a prince, and Philoppos’ heir, and yet still one of the youth of Makedonian aristocracy training to become a soldier and officer.  Hephaistion was 17, the youngest and only surviving son of Amyntor, who ran away from his home to Pella against his father’s wishes, and Philippos was more than willing to add him to the ranks of Pages.  Partly because both young men were outsiders in a way, and partly because of their natural intelligence and curiosity, Alexandros  and Hephaistion struck up an unlikely friendship, that deepened over the next few years in the time they spent as part of a select group of young men tutored by Aristoteles.

The coming of age of a prince must necessarily be different from that of other boys, no matter how much Alexandros might want to be like them.  The court of Philippos was full of political machinations, and Philippos himself was a master manipulator.  Alexandros’ mother had her own ambitions for him, and she also used Alexandros as a pawn in the power games she played with her husband.  Surrounded by people who wanted to use him, Alexandros found his friendship with Hephaistion one of the few things he could fully trust and depend upon.  Although their culture was accepting of same sex relationships, these relationships were typically defined with a very particular power dynamic – the older “erastes” was the lover and dominant partner, the younger “eromenos” was the beloved, and submissive.  Alexandros and Hephaistion loved one another, but how could they have that type of relationship when Alexandros was the future king?  (NOTE – by keeping the ages of Alexandros and Hephaistion relatively close together, the author was able to introduce this idea without giving it the creepy connotations of the modern day practice of pederasty, which is pretty much flat out pedophilia from what I’ve read about it.  I have to give the author props for that – even if I don’t know if their relationship was consistent with how the custom was truly practiced)

This book sets up what I expect will continue to be an amazing story.  I know how it ends of course – sometimes isn’t that the worst part of a fictionalized biography? – but I can’t wait to see the rest of the journey between here and there.  There is a large cast of characters, which can be confusing at times, but they are all nuanced, multifaceted people.  Warrior king Philippos; philosopher Aristoteles; priestess/witch/mother Myrtale; as well as the young men tutored by Aristoteles along with Alexandros, all interact in complex ways that seem to drive towards some inevitable destination.  This is definitely a character-driven plot, which is my favorite!  The book ends as Alexandros participates in a venerable ritual that fully initiates him into manhood, a logical completion of Becoming, which makes me truly anticipate the next chapter of Alexandros’ life in Book II:  Rise.

I can’t wait to read the next book!

Cover art by LC Chase captures the ancient setting well, but does not reflect the grand, heroic nature of the characters.

Sales Links:  Riptide Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 282 pages
Published July 1st 2019 by Riptide Publishing
Original Title Dancing with the Lion: Becoming
ISBN139781626498969
Edition Language English
Series Dancing with the Lion #1
setting ancient Greece