Book Blast with Reviews – Boy Next Door (Hot Off the Ice #5) by A. E. Wasp (excerpt)

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BOOK BLAST

Book Title:  Boy Next Door (Hot Off the Ice #5)

Author: A. E. Wasp

Publisher:  Self-Published

Cover Artist: Ana Phoenix

Genre/s:  Contemporary Gay Romance

Heat Rating:  3.5 flames

Length:  100,000 words/432 pages

It is a standalone book.

Add on Goodreads

This is a story about losing the path and finding yourself.

It contains kissing, yelling, spanking, and carb-loaded family interventions. 

Blurb

Hockey superstar Joey Luciano has always been good at being whatever people needed him to be. The fans want a good-looking fast-living party boy? Enter ‘the Looch,’ Joey’s carefully created public persona. But the cracks in his mask are starting to show, and he’s begun to lose touch with who he really is. It’s going to take someone who’s been there from the very beginning, to help him find his way home.

Coach Liam O’Reilly always had a very clear picture of what his life should look like. Falling in love with the infuriating, passionate, stubborn, and endlessly fascinating boy next door was not part of the plan. But when Liam’s carefully constructed life fell apart one Christmas Eve, Joey Luciano was there to pick up the pieces. Now Liam can’t stop wanting him.

The passion blazing between them on the ice and behind closed doors could leave both of them badly burned. But through the smoke, Liam can see glimpses of a future brighter than any he’d imagined, a future worth risking his career and reputation for, if only he is brave enough to reach for it.

But Joey’s got a secret he’s keeping from everyone. If it gets out, it could be the end of everything.

Buy Links – Available in Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US

Amazon UK 

Excerpt

“Hey,” Joey said, looking up from his phone as Liam fell into the bathroom. “Took you long enough. I’ve been in this fucking bathroom for ten minutes. It’s not that nice. One of those for me?”

“Fucking hell,” Liam said.

Those were the first words he’d spoken to Joey since Christmas Day. Jerk. Stupid gorgeous jerk.

”Okay, then.” Joey reached for one of the shot glasses and downed it, coughing a little from the tequila burn. He’d been expecting whiskey. “Tequila?” Bad things happened when they drank tequila.

Liam nodded and poured the other shot down his throat.

“Gina?”

“Who else?”

Who else but his big sister would do that? Of course, he’d known they were planning on trapping him in the bathroom. He’d also known Liam would do what they wanted, too. The O’Reilly-Luciano double-team had a ninety-five percent success rate.

He’d gone along with it because someplace, not even that deep inside, he desperately wanted to see Liam again. To see if Liam would still have the same effect on him as he had since puberty. Joey licked the last drop of alcohol off his lips, feeling a tingle of lust when Liam dropped his gaze to Joey’s mouth. Yeah. Still, the same effect. Stupid, good-looking smug bastard.

Liam set his glass on the counter with a thud, and then closed the distance between them, forcing Joey to look up to meet his eyes. Sometimes Joey really hated being four inches shorter than him.

“Nice outfit,” Liam said taking in the remains of Joey’s hastily-constructed pirate costume; red and black striped nylon pants ending in a ragged cuff just below the knee, black patent-leather Doc Martin boots, and a wide gold sash tied around his waist. He’d lost his shirt somewhere in the club. The way Liam couldn’t tear his eyes away from Joey’s tattoos made the loss of the two hundred dollar shirt totally worth it.

Liam picked up the end of the sash, sliding the silky material through his fingers. “How come every time I see you, you’re wearing some kind of costume?” Last time they’d met, Joey had been dressed as Santa.

Liam, of course, was his normal GQ self in dark trousers, a white dress shirt, and one of his vast collection of purple ties. The perfect simplicity of his clothes making everyone else look like they were trying too hard.

“How come every time I see you, you’re overdressed?” Joey asked.

Liam ran his hand through his thick red hair. “At least I’m not wandering around half-naked, letting everybody and their brother get their eyes all over me.”

Joey’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”

Liam scowled. “It’s a snake pit out there. I got groped half a dozen times walking here.”

Joey leaned back against the water-splattered sink counter. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Your point is?”

Liam stepped close enough that their thighs brushed. Dropping his hand heavily on Joey’s shoulder, he watched transfixed as his thumb traced the curve of Joey’s collarbone. “My point is, that maybe I don’t like the idea of you getting pawed at by a room full of drunks and puck bunnies.”

Joey knocked Liam’s hand away. He had to be fucking kidding. “Tough shit.” Joey pushed himself upright, poking Liam in the center of his (distractingly firm) chest, hard enough to make him take a step backward. “You got no right to tell me what to do or not to do.”

About the Author

After time spent raising children, earning several college degrees, and traveling the world with the U.S. State Department, she is returning to her first love – writing.

A dreamer and an idealist, Amy writes about people finding connection in a world that can seem lonely and magic in a world that can seem all too mundane. She invites readers into her characters’ lives and worlds when they are their most vulnerable, their most human, living with the same hopes and fears we all have. An avid traveler who has lived in big cities and small towns in four different continents, Amy has found that time and distance are no barriers to love. She invites her readers to reach out and share how her characters have touched their lives or how the found families they have gathered around them have shaped their worlds.

Born on Long Island, NY, Amy has lived in Los Angeles, London, and Bangkok. She currently lives in a town suspiciously like Red Deer, Colorado.


Author Links

Blog/Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Instagram 

BOOK BLAST SCHEDULE

 

Read Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words’ review here.  We highly recommend it.

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Neve Wilder on Cracker Jacks and her new release Centre Of Gravity (Nook Island #1) by Neve Wilder (excerpt and giveaway)

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Neve Wilder here  today talking about her latest novel Center of Gravity and  Cracker Jacks! Welcome, Neve!

Thank you so much for having me today! So Cracker Jack—yes, the caramel popcorn stuff with the prize—is a thing in the beginning of this book, and I’m going to talk about how it ended up becoming this oddly appropriate symbol for their unfolding relationship in Center of Gravity.To be honest, the whole Cracker Jack idea just popped out when I was writing. I saw Rob, my grumpy accountant, standing at the window, and when I thought about what he was seeing outside, I saw Alex with a box of Cracker Jack in his hand, tossing bits in the air and catching them in his mouth. It was weirdly specific, so I ran with it, liking how the sight threw Rob off and cast him back into his own memories of baseball games and bleachers.

There’s a part in the book where they argue/flirt over the merits or lack thereof of Cracker Jack, with Rob dismissing the treat altogether as too sweet and the prize disappointing, and Alex disagreeing, saying that it’s all about the anticipation and that the prize doesn’t matter either way. It’s a really telling moment of their character—Rob’s grumbly pessimism to Alex’s persistent optimism.

Rob starts to pick up boxes of Cracker Jack to give to Alex, and this thoughtful gesture on his part signals that he’s more into Alex than he’ll admit. As their relationship progresses, Rob begins to realize that Alex might be right: it’s all about the journey. Though the prize in this case—their hard-won happily ever after—ain’t too shabby, either!

 
Excerpt from Center of Gravity. In this bit, Rob and Alex discuss the merits—or lack thereof—of Cracker Jack while Rob tries to rein in his attraction to Alex.
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Alex looked up at me again. I thought he might say more about my dad, but instead he tossed a Cracker Jack in my direction, calling out “Catch!”

I had to veer hard to the right to catch it, but I did. The caramel melted on contact and stuck to my teeth. He gave me one of those gleaming, sun-bright smiles. “By the skin of your teeth.”

I leaned over, snatching the box and shaking a few in my hand so I could return the favor. He caught it easily.

“The best part of this stuff was always the prize. They’re not really that good.”

“You’re wrong.” Alex tossed another kernel up in the air for me to catch. I threw up my hand and caught it midair. “The prize is always disappointing. But it’s all about the anticipation, that maybe someday the prize will be really good. Cracker Jack itself is decent.”

“How is that any different than what I just said?”

Alex shrugged. “It just is.” Then, fishing through the box, he pulled out the wrapped prize and tossed it in my direction. “Do the honors.”

I peeled the paper back to reveal a smiley face with a disembodied hand giving a giant thumbs up.

Alex laughed. “See, terrible. But admit that for a second you thought maybe it’d be something good.”

“Not even for a millisecond.” I smirked.

“So jaded.”

I slid the sticker from the backing and held it up on my finger. “It’s all yours, color whiz.” I leaned forward on my knees to stick it in the center of his T-shirt, fist bracing my weight to one side of Alex’s leg as I pushed the sticker into cotton. His chin angled down as he examined my handiwork, and then his eyes met mine, his grin fading. He licked his lips and I had to force a casual smile. Don’t mind me as I try to inhale you.

“Rob?”

First I was just relieved he didn’t call me Mr. Macomb, then came a strange mashup of anxiety and awareness that I was still hovering in his space. It was too damn tempting to stay in that pocket of air scented with his soap, his hair, his deodorant, the Cracker Jack-tinged sweetness of his breath.

“Yeah?” I forced myself back onto my own patch of carpet that smelled of dogs and age.

“Thanks for giving me this job. Seriously.”

I cut a dismissive wave at the liquid green-gold sincerity of his eyes. “Break my heart, why don’t ya.”

His sober expression gave way to another grin, this one mischievous. He was good at layering his expressions with nuance and, as with the paint chips, I was becoming more adept at discerning the undertones.

His brows bounced. “Give me a chance to.”

I tossed the empty box of Cracker Jack at him and stood. I needed him out of the house before I decided I needed him to stay.

“Go home,” I said, not unkindly.

Winslow grunted and huffed air, stretching out long against Alex’s leg and nuzzling his head against Alex’s thigh.

“And take this damn traitor dog with you.”

“Seriously?” he said, his hand sweeping over Winslow’s belly before he stood.

“No. He hasn’t made me miserable enough. Yet.”

 

Buy Links:Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2DTNP55

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2Rln8sB

Length: 98,000 words approx.
Cover Design:Jay Aheer
Blurb

When life comes apart at the seams, love is the only thread that can repair it.


Accountant Rob Macomb has a stable job that he’s good at and… that’s about it. A year of nothing but heartache leaves him seeking refuge from loneliness and grief behind spreadsheets, punishing daily runs, and the occasional anonymous tryst. He wants only to bury the past and focus on his career, but he has one last task to complete: pack up his parent’s quaint beachside house and put it on the market.
Alex Andrews is a budding artist with a penchant for Converse, Cracker Jack, and piercings. Family turmoil sidelines his dreams of finishing art school and building a career in three-dimensional design, and now he’s doing whatever he can to keep everyone afloat.When Alex shows up as a part of the moving crew hired to help Rob clean out the house, what should be a simple move becomes far more complex. Because it’s not the first time they’ve met, and their last encounter was memorable for all the wrong reasons.The attraction between them is undeniable and intense, but Rob’s hell-bent on pushing everyone away, and Alex is on the verge of spinning out of control. Can a grumpy accountant and a bootstrapping artist find their center of gravity together, or are they on a collision course to heartbreak?*An emotionally-charged, slow burn m/m romance featuring an age gap, hurt/comfort themes, and a hard-won happily ever after. This is the standalone first in the Nook Island, Georgia series.*

 

Read Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words 5 star review here.

Neve Wilder lives in the dirty South, where the summers are hot and the winters are…sometimes cold. She is a mom to three rambunctious weebeasts who have joined forces in a mission to carpet the family home with toys and small items that really suck to step on at six in the morning.


She reads promiscuously, across multiple genres, but her favorite stories always contain an element of romance. Incidentally, this is also what she likes to write. Slow-burners with delicious tension? Yes. Whiplash-inducing page-turners, also yes. Down and dirty scorchers? Yes. And every flavor in between.


She believes David Bowie was the sexiest musician to ever live, and she’s always game to nerd out on anything from music to writing.


And finally, she believes that love conquers all. Except the heat index in July. Nothing can conquer that bastard.

Newsletter: You can keep up with Neve’s future projects by joining her newsletter, where you can instantly download the free Watch Me, Extracurricular Activities #1 short story. The series continues exclusively for newsletter subscribers. Subscribe here: readerlinks.com/l/320361

Author Page: readerlinks.com/l/320362
Facebook Readers’ Group: readerlinks.com/l/320364
Website: https://www.nevewilder.com
Goodreads: readerlinks.com/l/320363
Amazon Author Page: readerlinks.com/l/320389

Giveaway

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A MelanieM Review: Center Of Gravity (Nook Island #1) by Neve Wilder

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Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

When life comes apart at the seams, love is the only thread that can mend it…

Accountant Rob Macomb has a stable job that he’s good at and… that’s about it. A year of nothing but heartache leaves him seeking refuge from loneliness and grief behind spreadsheets, punishing daily runs, and the occasional anonymous tryst. He wants only to bury the past and focus on his career, but he has one last task to complete: pack up his parent’s quaint beachside house and put it on the marketCenter Of Gravity (Nook Island #1) by Neve Wilder

Alex Andrews is a budding artist with a penchant for Converse, Cracker Jack, and piercings. Family turmoil sidelines his dreams of finishing art school and building a career in three-dimensional design, and now he’s doing whatever he can to keep everyone afloat.

When Alex shows up as a part of the moving crew hired to help Rob clean out the house, what should be a simple move becomes far more complex. Because it’s not the first time they’ve met, and their last encounter was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The attraction between them is undeniable and intense, but Rob’s hell-bent on pushing everyone away, and Alex is on the verge of spinning out of control. Can a grumpy accountant and a bootstrapping artist find their center of gravity together, or are they on a collision course to heartbreak?

Center Of Gravity (Nook Island #1) by Neve Wilder is just what I hope for and rarely find when reading a new author and new contemporary romance.  It’s that marvelous, heartwarming story full of just about every  element that grabs at you and compels you to read it!  That once started makes you want to keep going, find out what happens to these men, and dog, and even a house,  and a family on a place called Nook Island.

You get hooked in ever so slowly too.  It’s bit by bit because, trust me, this is a sloooow burn romance.  Not slow as in the slow to jump into bed slow. Nope not that.  But slow to admit the connections that are forming, or have formed between the mixed use artist  and the CPA.  Each has such a heavy emotional set of baggage that is revealed to the other haltingly in steps, some the reader already is aware of as the story is told in alternating points of view.  Such confused and endearing men, totally different and yet, so alike in other fundamental ways.  Of course, it’s a lack of communication and a truly awful beginning that builds a barrier that both need to build a bridge over.  A Jack Russell terror (not a misspelling) paves the way as does emptying and working on Rob’s parents house.

Of course, there’s so much more there.  I could actually write pages about this book.  Wilder’s amazing creation and  use of Alex’s family and father, Rob’s sister Summer, the memories of Rob’s own parents, and, yes, the developing detail that I suspect will become the next story in the series Alex’s  friend in the moving business.

The relationships here are rich, layered, and believable.  People hurt, grow in depth, cry tears that will flow over into your own heart, and when it happen, their happiness becomes yours as well.

Yes, there was one part where the author almost lost me. Whew! Didn’t happen.  Nice save.

I adored this story.  I will be waiting impatiently for the next in the series.  And yes I’m so happy to have found a new author to read.  Win, win, and win.

Totally recommended this one.

 

Cover art: Jay Aheer.  Nice beach scene.  But I wish for a little more elements from the novel.  Just a little too generic.

Sales Links:

Book Details:

ebook
Published October 4th 2018 (first published October 2nd 2018)

Riptide Publishing Bluewater Bay Tour and Giveaway: New Hand (Bluewater Bay #23) by L.A. Witt.

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New Hand (Bluewater Bay #23) by L.A. Witt
Riptide Publishing
Cover Art: L.C. Chase

Read an Excerpt/Buy It Here

About New Hand

Months after his husband’s death, Garrett Blaine desperately needs a fresh start. He sells his house in Seattle, leaves his accounting job, and starts bartending in Bluewater Bay. There he meets a man who wakes up his nearly forgotten libido.

Jesse Connelly’s friend with benefits bolted after Jesse disclosed his HIV status. Stood up and stinging, Jesse tries to drown his sorrows . . . and finds an unexpected connection with a lonely bartender.

Jesse and Garrett quickly bond over a shared love of comics and card games, and they can’t get enough of each other between the sheets. Not even a bumpy start and a fifteen-year age gap can derail them as they go from strangers to lovers, then friends, then much more.

But as Garrett’s feelings for Jesse deepen, so does his grief for the man he lost—especially as he sees hints of his late husband in his new boyfriend. Now Garrett has to figure out if Jesse is his second chance at true love, or if Jesse’s just filling in for the man he’s never fully grieved. And he needs to figure it out soon, because Jesse’s starting to wonder the same thing.

Available now from Riptide Publishing!

About Bluewater Bay

Welcome to Bluewater Bay! This quiet little logging town on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula has been stagnating for decades, on the verge of ghost town status. Until a television crew moves in to film Wolf’s Landing, a soon-to-be cult hit based on the wildly successful shifter novels penned by local author Hunter Easton.

Wolf’s Landing’s success spawns everything from merchandise to movie talks, and Bluewater Bay explodes into a mecca for fans and tourists alike. The locals still aren’t quite sure what to make of all this—the town is rejuvenated, but at what cost? And the Hollywood-based production crew is out of their element in this small, mossy seaside locale. Needless to say, sparks fly.

This collaborative story world is brought to you by eleven award-winning, best-selling LGBTQ romance authors: L.A. Witt, L.B. Gregg, Z.A. Maxfield,  Heidi Belleau, Rachel Haimowitz, Anne Tenino, Amy Lane, SE Jakes, G.B. Gordon, Jaime Samms and Ally Blue. Each contemporary novel stands alone, but all are built around the town and the people of Bluewater Bay and the Wolf’s Landing media empire.

Check it out at Riptide Publishing!

About LA Witt

L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies. She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don’t tell Lauren. And definitely don’t tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut . . .

Connect with L.A.:

Website: www.gallagherwitt.com

Author Blog: gallagherwitt.blogspot.com

Personal Blog: navywifeadventures.blogspot.

Twitter: @GallagherWitt

Facebook: facebook.com//L-A-Witt-MM-Fiction

Goodreads: goodreads.com/GallagherWitt

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of New Hand, one lucky winner will receive a $10 Riptide credit and their choice of two ebooks off LA Witt’s backlist (not counting New Hand)! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on December 23, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!

A MelanieM Review: The Royal Marine (The Sin Bin #4) by Dahlia Donovan

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Who keeps the Royal Marine’s heart safe when he’s running headlong into danger?

Akash Robinson fuses his Indian and British heritage into his baked creations. His life is all things sugar and spice, especially when a blind date leads him to the older military man of his dreams. Family, friends, and an unwanted admirer all threaten both his sanity and his budding romance.

Hamish Ross carries the names of his lost soldiers on his back. He takes his work seriously with no time for love. All it takes is one impulsive kiss to lead him into uncharted romantic waters.

When a sarcastic baker mixes with a stoic alpha marine, who will come out on top when the flour settles?

The Royal Marine is book four in Dahlia Donovan’s international bestselling gay romance series, The Sin Bin. Each one features hot rugby players and the men who steal their hearts.

So once again, I’ve found myself starting a series at book four!  What a surprise! Not!  I give up, it really seems to be just a path I’m meant to take so I’m embracing it because again I’m going to have to go back to the beginning and pick up all the preceding stories.  Why?  Because of the heartwarming success of The Royal Marine (The Sin Bin #4) by Dahlia Donovan.

Dahlia Donovan must be a part of or know intimately a warm Indian /mixed Indian family. How she writes Akash or Aki, as he’s called and his family is just plain wonderful and authentic.  From the family dynamics to the linguistic rhythm of the dialog that sings out to the reader (often leaving them smiling or outright laughing in commiseration), it’s all a part of letting one gently feel the culture, the love, and the family without anything really shouting out at you.  It’s just a lovely part of this story and the main character and it brings Aki and his family so alive that you connect with him (and them) immediately.  Plus I really wanted to taste his baking!

Hamish, aka The Hamster, Ross  is The Royal Marine.  He’s the man Aki is set up on a blind date with, one of two actually, but he’s the one that Aki has something in common with and likes immediately.  The connection is mutual.  The Royal Marine would be one of the slow burn sort of stories excerpt for Hamish’s job which takes him away for long, dangerous stretches at a time and an interesting sort of WiFi  dating/getting to know you courtship ensues.  He too  is surrounded by his own version of  family, that of his “crew”, the marines that retired with him and they now work together.  The characters here are believable, memorable, and people you want more of in this story and perhaps the next.

The story is told from two perspectives which is necessary given that they are apart and they get to have a long distance “romance”  that we “peek” into.  Then around them, there is further drama which heightens the suspense for the couple on several levels.  Yes, there’s plenty of suspense,  anxiety, and danger to go along with the romance.  It’s really a  wonderful story.  And I loved that ending!

So now it’s onto  books 1 through 3.  I’ll let you know what I find.  You can easily read this one without the others and I think you should.  It’s  lovely and I  absolutely recommend it.

Cover art by Claire Smith is sort of bland, would have preferred the bakery or another element from the story.

Sales Links:  Hot Tree PublishingAmazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 192 pages
Published October 14th 2017 by Hot Tree Publishing
ASIN B0753CSBF9
Edition Language English

1 Week Tour for At Attention by Annabeth Albert (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  AT ATTENTION

Series: Out of Uniform, book 2 (but stands alone well–different couple for each book)

Author: Annabeth Albert

Publisher:  Carina Press

Release Date: April 10, 2017

Heat Level: 4 – Lots of Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 73,000

Genre: Romance, Military romance, contemporary, age difference, may/december, SEALS

Add to Goodreads

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Annabeth Albert here today.  Welcome, Annabeth. Tell us more about your new release!

✒︎

Thank you so much for having me today! I’m so excited to be celebrating the release of AT ATTENTION which stars a widowed navy SEAL dad and his best-friend’s little brother who’s staying with him for the summer to help with the kids. Music is a huge part of my creative process, and I knew going into this that the playlist for these two was going to be a challenge.

Apollo is dealing with a lot of grief and the pain of moving on after losing his husband, so his songs to start with were sad and slow, while Dylan is sunnier, younger, and more upbeat. I’d go from bombastic TV show soundtracks for Apollo to fun pop for Dylan and back again, trying to find the musical profile for this book.

Sam Smith was an obvious choice, but other notable additions to the playlist were revelations—lesser known artists who became intertwined with the writing of this book.  You can find the full playlist on spotify, but I wanted to talk about a few songs and why they were so key to the book.

  • James Blunt, “When I Find Love Again.” I’d never heard of James before starting this book, but when I found this song, I knew I’d found Apollo’s path forward. It’s joyous and upbeat and everything missing from Apollo’s life at the start of the book. But by the end, this song really has become the embodiment of the book’s message about being brave enough to try again.
  • Tenth Avenue North, “Worn.” This song more than any other on the playlist really encapsulated who Apollo is at the book’s opening—he’s tired of struggling, tired of being alone, but he’s not sure he believes in a different future for himself. He’s waiting for something like Dylan in his life, even if he can’t admit it yet.
  • Angus and Julia Stone, “Stay with Me.” The thing about Sam Smith being on repeat for two months is that eventually one finds their way to Sam Smith covers. And this one is particularly gorgeous, and really spoke to the black moment for me, for both men, how much they need each other.
  • Haley Reinhart, “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” I listened to a lot of covers of this song, as it was such a perfect song for Apollo who really, really does not want to fall in love with Dylan, but does anyway, but this version of the song really spoke to me with her heartbreaking delivery.
  • Rebecca Ferguson, “Nothing’s Real but Love.”  Another artist I discovered while searching sad song playlists, her voice really spoke to Apollo’s resilience and how much he needs love back in his life.
  • Kina Grannis/Gardiner Sisters, “I was Made for Loving You.” This is one of Dylan’s songs—hopeful, and full of love, but wary.
  • Jewel, “Near Me Always.” I put a little piece of myself in every book, but in this case, I gave them a song from my past, one that always makes me relive a little heartbreak to hear because I needed to channel that sadness, and a funny thing happened—over the course of listening to my playlist, this song became much less about my own past and more about Dylan and Apollo’s future.

Thank you so much for having me! If you’re curious to learn more about Dylan and Apollo’s journey, I hope you’ll check out AT ATTENTION. And if you have a good earworm for me, I love hearing of new artists and songs!

Synopsis

Lieutenant Apollo Floros can ace tactical training missions, but being a single dad to his twin daughters is more than he can handle. He needs live-in help, and he’s lucky a friend’s younger brother needs a place to stay. He’s surprised to see Dylan all grown up with a college degree…and a college athlete’s body. Apollo’s widowed heart may still be broken, but Dylan has his blood heating up.

It’s been eight years since the teenage Dylan followed Apollo around like a lovesick puppy, and it’s time he showed Lieutenant Hard-to-Please that he’s all man now—an adult who’s fully capable of choosing responsibility over lust. He can handle Apollo’s muscular sex appeal, but Apollo the caring father? Dylan can’t afford to fall for that guy. He’s determined to hold out for someone who’s able to love him back, not someone who only sees him as a kid brother.

Apollo is shocked by the intensity of his attraction to Dylan. Maybe some no-strings summer fun will bring this former SEAL back to life. But the combination of scorching desire and warm affection is more than he’d expected, and the emotion between them scares him senseless. No fling lasts forever, and Apollo will need to decide what’s more important—his past or his future—if he wants to keep Dylan in his life.

Book Two of the Out of Uniform series

This book is approximately 73,000 words

Excerpt

**This is from the first chapter**

Hamburger. Onions. Pickles. Ketchup. Buns. Buns.

Well, hello, there. Possibly the most perfect specimen Apollo had ever seen was bent over in the bakery aisle at Sprouts, looking at a rack of organic cookies. High. Tight. Round. Attached to muscular legs poking out of board shorts, the kind of legs that suggested a serious investment in a sport or fitness. He wasn’t going to do more than look, but even when he’d been with Neal, he hadn’t been blind, and it was nice to know perfection like this guy existed in the world.

It was like swimming by a perfect coral reef on a dive or the blue of a cloudless sky right before a jump—

Wink. Fuck. The guy straightened before Apollo could look away and caught Apollo staring, and instead of blushing or serving him with the angry glare he deserved, he gave Apollo a saucy wink. It was the sort of wink that a decade ago would have had Apollo crossing the shiny linoleum and getting the guy’s number, but those days were long gone.

Instead he grabbed the closest twelve pack of hamburger buns and one of hot dog buns and headed to the next aisle. Those were the only kind of buns he had any business letting himself be distracted by. He was a father for crying out loud, not some single guy out treating the natural grocery store like his own personal pickup joint. Reflexively, he rubbed his ring with the side of his pinky, making it spin on his ring finger. Yeah. No more looking.

“Apollo! How are you?” Bridget from down the street almost ran her cart into his as he navigated the aisles. Her red-haired toddler waved at him from the basket.

Hell. He knew he should have brought at least one of the girls shopping. Then Bridget could have focused on the kids, and not his least favorite question in the universe.

“Hanging in there.” Apollo gave her a practiced a smile. “Good” would be a lie and no one wanted to hear “same as yesterday,” which was closer to the truth. But what the Bridgets of the world all wanted to hear was that Apollo was moving on—like time was the magic cure for the hole in his heart. “Having some people over for a barbecue later. Apologies if anyone parks in front of your place.”

“Oh, no worries.” Bridget patted his arm. “Having friends is so important.”

“Yeah, it is,” Apollo agreed because Bridget was a nice person, but inwardly his teeth gnashed together. He was so tired of well-meaning people telling him what was good for him when not a damn one of their suggestions would bring Neal back. “I better get on with my list.”

“You do that. And be sure and let us know if you need anything.

Apollo nodded. Two years. It had been two years of neighbors and friends stopping him like this, making kind offers, but none of them able to do the one thing he wanted more than anything.

Fuck. Snap out of it, Lieutenant. No one wants your mopey ass around on this sunny May weekend. And it was an absolutely gorgeous day, perfect for playing with the girls outside and kicking back a few beers with his friends. He wasn’t on duty and had three consecutive days off for the first time in a long time. No sense dwelling on sad shit. Time to get stuff done.

Find something else to focus on.

Like that perfect ass?

No. Absolutely not that. Like…pickles. Lots and lots of pickles.

He saw Mr. Perfect Butt again in the juice aisle, and it was damn hard to keep his resolution to stick to shopping. The guy was model cute—curly hair falling just so over his forehead, sparkling eyes, chiseled jaw, and a tight T-shirt advertising a British soccer team showing off a defined chest and tight stomach. The guy smiled at him again and looked like he might want to speak, so Apollo grabbed the juice boxes for the girls and got out of there like he’d just launched a flash bang in the guy’s direction.

At the checkout, Mr. Perfect Butt was ahead of him in the only line that seemed to be moving. Apollo very carefully did not look at his butt again and busied himself grabbing some gum and trying to give off “don’t talk to me” vibes.

But those vibes seemed to be an utter failure as the guy turned, offering another movie-star-worthy grin. “You want to go first?” His voice was husky, like every word was a secret.

“I’m good,” Apollo said.

The man nodded, shy smile teasing the edges of his mouth, making his blue eyes dance. “You know—”

“ID please.” The cashier interrupted whatever flirtation the guy had planned as his six pack of beer went across the scanner.

“Oh, yeah.” A faint red flush spread up the guy’s neck. Oh hell. He wasn’t just younger than Apollo. He was a kid. A kid who still got carded, and rightfully so with that baby face. What the hell had Apollo been thinking, admiring his body?

Apollo focused on unloading his own groceries, making neat rows for the cashier, and making sure the buns wouldn’t get squished.

Buns. Nope. Not going there. The kid hung around after paying for his groceries, mouth moving as if he were debating speaking, but Apollo kept his attention squarely on the cashier.

No more looking. Remember who—what—you are now. When he finally looked up, perfect butt guy was gone, and if Apollo felt a twinge of regret for being a bit on the rude side, he squashed it quickly. Wasn’t like he’d ever see the guy again anyway.

****

What will Apollo do when he discovers that Perfect Butt guy is his best friend’s little brother? Find out in AT ATTENTION!

Purchase

Carina Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes

Meet the Author

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.

Sign Up for Annabeth’s Newsletter!

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The Angel of 13th Street is Back in Fallen Angel by Eden Winters (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Fallen Angel

Series: The Angel of 13th Street 2

Author: Eden Winters

Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books

Release Date: 2/27/17

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63,000 words

Genre: Romance, Age difference, urban, rent boys, redemption, second chances

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Who can save the rescuer of lost souls?

For ten years ex-rent boy Noah Everett has fought the good fight, offering second chances to those still in the life. Now he’s cracking under the stress. What began as a two-man mission is now going corporate, meaning rules, regulations and inexperienced volunteers needing guidance in a field Noah makes up as he goes along. Who can he turn to when his mentor’s strength is all but gone and his lover is leaving for college—possibly for good?

Four years at State with a full ride scholarship will launch Jeremy Kincaid’s future, but his present includes Noah, Doc, and the closest he’s ever had to a family. And a meth addict who’s become Jeremy’s own personal mission.

An attack sends Noah spinning out of control. Jeremy has to find the way to reach Noah before the man he knows and loves disappears forever.

Excerpt

Noah slammed a case of beer down in the cooler and fished his ringing cell phone out of his pocket. Nobody called his personal phone at this time of day without good reason.  “Noah Everett.”

“Noah? Hey, man. It’s Chip.”

Noah emerged from the cooler, passed through the bar and mouthed, “I’ll be back,” to Mary behind the bar. He stepped out the back door of The Twelfth Street Bar and Grill and plunked down onto a dry spot on the stoop. The rain had finally stopped, raising the humidity to sweltering levels. If this call didn’t need privacy he’d have stayed in the cooler.

“Have you thought any more about what we discussed?” Given the phone call, the caller probably had. Trouble was, thinking alone didn’t seem to be getting them anywhere.

The casual, “Yeah,” didn’t bode well.

“And?” Fuck.

A long silence followed. “Well, my… my boyfriend isn’t a bad man. I mean, he treats me good and stuff, it’s just that I don’t like… I don’t like—”

“You don’t like him pimping you out to other men,” Noah finished for Chip.

Inside his bar, sixty-seven notches decorated a doorframe, signifying sixty-seven rent boys who’d left prostitution behind and started over someplace else.

Had Doc Cook carved a notch somewhere when he’d pulled Noah from the gutter, dusted him off, and pointed him in the right direction?

What the hell made Chip stay with the user? Noah should’ve notched him in at sixty-eight by now. Instead Chip sat on a fence, dreaming of a better life and fooling himself into believing he could have it here.

 

An exasperated huff sounded in Noah’s ear. “Yeah. Things were cool until he started arranging dates for me.”

Arranging dates? Noah ran his fingers through his short hair and blew out a breath. Motherfucking pimps. More like pimples on the ass of mankind.

Chip continued trying to talk himself out of seeing reason. “I dunno, maybe he’ll stop. I mean, I know he loves me.”

Loves me? Chip had strange ideas of love. He loves me, and we’re only doing this until we have enough money to go away and have it be just us. Noah had said those same words to himself once.

 

But “us” never happened.

Empty promises had sustained him through sleazy meetings that had started with come-ons and a handful of cash and ended with Noah grateful when johns did him in a hotel room so he could scrub himself raw after they left.

And some johns had scared the fuck out of him.

Chip would be a hot commodity in certain markets. Cute, in an innocent, boy-next-door kind of way, easily influenced, with an inborn willingness to please, and, worse yet, gullible, much as Noah had been many years ago. Chip might as well hang a sign around his neck: “Use me!” No way would the boyfriend give up such a low maintenance source of cash.

Noah began pacing behind the building, boots crunching against gravel. Every kid who called forced him to relive his own past, his own fuck ups.

Damn it all to hell! Had the kid known so little love in his life that he’d cling to a sick illusion?

“Do you actually believe he’ll stop?” Noah kept because I sure as hell don’t to himself.

More silence, a sigh, and then a rare scrap of reality from Chip. “No.”

Noah forced his voice calm when he really wanted to jump through the phone and fix the dumb kid’s life before it was too late. “From what you’ve told me, your parents are out of the question, but how about your grandparents? Or older brother?” Those were Noah’s first choices: stick Chip on a bus and let others with a personal interest manage putting his life back together. Second choice? Put him on a bus to a safe house; let those better qualified handle the details.

This time, no uncertainly colored the adamant, “No! Definitely not! I can’t go home.” More quietly Chip added, “But I’m not sure how long I can stay here, either. He… he talked to a friend of his yesterday.” Even through a telephone connection, Noah envisioned a shudder. “I don’t wanna be in videos.”

Oh shit. Videos. Noah slammed his hand against the wall. No!

“Charge extra for pictures, Noah,” Stevie had said. Noah’s pimp didn’t want to miss a buck, and every time Noah flexed and stretched, it was an easy extra that went straight into the pimp’s pocket.

 

Bad enough how Noah had made his living without adding hard evidence. It was only a matter of time before Stevie sent him to a studio.

 

Noah couldn’t go back in time and save his eighteen-year-old self, but he could save Chip. If only the guy would listen.

Purchase

Rocky Ridge Books | Amazon

Meet the Author

You will know Eden Winters by her distinctive white plumage and exuberant cry of “Hey, y’all!” in a Southern US drawl so thick it renders even the simplest of words unrecognizable. Watch out, she hugs!

Driven by insatiable curiosity, she possibly holds the world’s record for curriculum changes to the point that she’s never quite earned a degree but is a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit.

She’s trudged down hallways with police detectives, learned to disarm knife-wielding bad guys, and witnessed the correct way to blow doors off buildings. Her e-mail contains various snippets of forensic wisdom, such as “What would a dead body left in a Mexican drug tunnel look like after six months?” In the process of her adventures she has written fourteen m/m romance novels, has won several Rainbow Awards, was a Lambda Awards Finalist, and lives in terror of authorities showing up at her door to question her Internet searches.

When not putting characters in dangerous situations she’s a mild-mannered business executive, mother, grandmother, vegetarian, and PFLAG activist.

Her natural habitats are airports, coffee shops, and on the backs of motorcycles.

Website | Facebook | Twitter
Goodreads
|  eMail |Rocky Ridge Books

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In Our Spotlight: Fallen Angel (The Angel of 13th Street Book 2) by Eden Winters (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Fallen Angel

Series: The Angel of 13th Street 2

Author: Eden Winters

Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books

Release Date: 2/27/17

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 63,000 words

Genre: Romance, Age difference, urban, rent boys, redemption, second chances

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

Who can save the rescuer of lost souls?

For ten years ex-rent boy Noah Everett has fought the good fight, offering second chances to those still in the life. Now he’s cracking under the stress. What began as a two-man mission is now going corporate, meaning rules, regulations and inexperienced volunteers needing guidance in a field Noah makes up as he goes along. Who can he turn to when his mentor’s strength is all but gone and his lover is leaving for college—possibly for good?

Four years at State with a full ride scholarship will launch Jeremy Kincaid’s future, but his present includes Noah, Doc, and the closest he’s ever had to a family. And a meth addict who’s become Jeremy’s own personal mission.

An attack sends Noah spinning out of control. Jeremy has to find the way to reach Noah before the man he knows and loves disappears forever.

Excerpt

Noah slammed a case of beer down in the cooler and fished his ringing cell phone out of his pocket. Nobody called his personal phone at this time of day without good reason.  “Noah Everett.”

“Noah? Hey, man. It’s Chip.”

Noah emerged from the cooler, passed through the bar and mouthed, “I’ll be back,” to Mary behind the bar. He stepped out the back door of The Twelfth Street Bar and Grill and plunked down onto a dry spot on the stoop. The rain had finally stopped, raising the humidity to sweltering levels. If this call didn’t need privacy he’d have stayed in the cooler.

“Have you thought any more about what we discussed?” Given the phone call, the caller probably had. Trouble was, thinking alone didn’t seem to be getting them anywhere.

The casual, “Yeah,” didn’t bode well.

“And?” Fuck.

A long silence followed. “Well, my… my boyfriend isn’t a bad man. I mean, he treats me good and stuff, it’s just that I don’t like… I don’t like—”

“You don’t like him pimping you out to other men,” Noah finished for Chip.

Inside his bar, sixty-seven notches decorated a doorframe, signifying sixty-seven rent boys who’d left prostitution behind and started over someplace else.

Had Doc Cook carved a notch somewhere when he’d pulled Noah from the gutter, dusted him off, and pointed him in the right direction?

What the hell made Chip stay with the user? Noah should’ve notched him in at sixty-eight by now. Instead Chip sat on a fence, dreaming of a better life and fooling himself into believing he could have it here.

 

An exasperated huff sounded in Noah’s ear. “Yeah. Things were cool until he started arranging dates for me.”

Arranging dates? Noah ran his fingers through his short hair and blew out a breath. Motherfucking pimps. More like pimples on the ass of mankind.

Chip continued trying to talk himself out of seeing reason. “I dunno, maybe he’ll stop. I mean, I know he loves me.”

Loves me? Chip had strange ideas of love. He loves me, and we’re only doing this until we have enough money to go away and have it be just us. Noah had said those same words to himself once.

 

But “us” never happened.

Empty promises had sustained him through sleazy meetings that had started with come-ons and a handful of cash and ended with Noah grateful when johns did him in a hotel room so he could scrub himself raw after they left.

And some johns had scared the fuck out of him.

Chip would be a hot commodity in certain markets. Cute, in an innocent, boy-next-door kind of way, easily influenced, with an inborn willingness to please, and, worse yet, gullible, much as Noah had been many years ago. Chip might as well hang a sign around his neck: “Use me!” No way would the boyfriend give up such a low maintenance source of cash.

Noah began pacing behind the building, boots crunching against gravel. Every kid who called forced him to relive his own past, his own fuck ups.

Damn it all to hell! Had the kid known so little love in his life that he’d cling to a sick illusion?

“Do you actually believe he’ll stop?” Noah kept because I sure as hell don’t to himself.

More silence, a sigh, and then a rare scrap of reality from Chip. “No.”

Noah forced his voice calm when he really wanted to jump through the phone and fix the dumb kid’s life before it was too late. “From what you’ve told me, your parents are out of the question, but how about your grandparents? Or older brother?” Those were Noah’s first choices: stick Chip on a bus and let others with a personal interest manage putting his life back together. Second choice? Put him on a bus to a safe house; let those better qualified handle the details.

This time, no uncertainly colored the adamant, “No! Definitely not! I can’t go home.” More quietly Chip added, “But I’m not sure how long I can stay here, either. He… he talked to a friend of his yesterday.” Even through a telephone connection, Noah envisioned a shudder. “I don’t wanna be in videos.”

Oh shit. Videos. Noah slammed his hand against the wall. No!

“Charge extra for pictures, Noah,” Stevie had said. Noah’s pimp didn’t want to miss a buck, and every time Noah flexed and stretched, it was an easy extra that went straight into the pimp’s pocket.

 

Bad enough how Noah had made his living without adding hard evidence. It was only a matter of time before Stevie sent him to a studio.

 

Noah couldn’t go back in time and save his eighteen-year-old self, but he could save Chip. If only the guy would listen.

Purchase

Rocky Ridge Books | Amazon

Meet the Author

You will know Eden Winters by her distinctive white plumage and exuberant cry of “Hey, y’all!” in a Southern US drawl so thick it renders even the simplest of words unrecognizable. Watch out, she hugs!

Driven by insatiable curiosity, she possibly holds the world’s record for curriculum changes to the point that she’s never quite earned a degree but is a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit.

She’s trudged down hallways with police detectives, learned to disarm knife-wielding bad guys, and witnessed the correct way to blow doors off buildings. Her e-mail contains various snippets of forensic wisdom, such as “What would a dead body left in a Mexican drug tunnel look like after six months?” In the process of her adventures she has written fourteen m/m romance novels, has won several Rainbow Awards, was a Lambda Awards Finalist, and lives in terror of authorities showing up at her door to question her Internet searches.

When not putting characters in dangerous situations she’s a mild-mannered business executive, mother, grandmother, vegetarian, and PFLAG activist.

Her natural habitats are airports, coffee shops, and on the backs of motorcycles.

Website | Facebook | Twitter
Goodreads
|  eMail |Rocky Ridge Books

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A Caryn Release Day Review: September (Pride and Joy #1) by Robert Winter

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

september-by-robert-winterExceptionally beautiful and moving.  This is Robert Winter’s debut novel, and I will definitely be looking for more from him!

The blurb for this book doesn’t really do it justice, even though it basically lays out the entire plot.  There is no mystery, no crimes to solve, no near death experiences, just a story of two men and their journey of falling in love, and learning to make that love work despite circumstance and convention.  In short, everything I love – that excellent characterization that makes me want to know these men and their friends, and the authenticity of all the situations that lead them through turmoil to a well deserved happy ever after.

An omniscient observer opens the book by setting a rather lonely but somewhat hopeful scene.  A man in bed, alone, restlessly sleeping, and the observer hopes he is ready to move on to something new and better.  This man is David James, a 48 year old Washington DC lawyer who is still grieving his lover Kyle’s death two years previously.  David has channeled that grief into an almost obsessive devotion to exercise which eventually leads to a mild shoulder injury.  His doctor refers him to physical therapy, and David is surprised and a little embarrassed to find that he is attracted to his therapist, Brandon Smith.  That not-so-simple touch between therapist and patient makes him start thinking of how lonely he really is, and, as usual, he starts hearing Kyle’s voice in his head.  Telling him it’s completely normal to be attracted to another man.

Brandon is 27 years old, an athlete who gave up dreams of playing professionally after an injury, and is now working on building a career, though financially he’s struggling.  He is still an athlete, now playing a variety of recreational sports, and enjoying the occasional casual hookup.  He  isn’t really looking for a relationship, but as he comes to know David better over the weeks of therapy, they become friends, and flirt with their mutual attraction.  When they act on that attraction, the sex is mind-blowing (and well written!), and a revelation to Brandon who has never experienced that kind of connection with another man.

From the very beginning, though, their differences – age, wealth, background, experience – cause a lot of angst.  David can’t get over the 22 year age gap, and Brandon feels a little overwhelmed by David’s wealth and success.  Despite that, everything is wonderful as long as they keep their budding relationship in a bubble.  To most of the outside world though, theirs is the stereotypical rich daddy with a kept boy arrangement, and the biggest danger of that view is that both men fear there is some truth to it.  Getting over that anxiety means confronting their own doubts and fears, and learning to let go of pride.  It takes a tragedy that affects both of their identities to make that happen.

There was plenty of angst, both internal and external, none of it artificial.  I loved how Kyle almost became an active character himself through the memories of the men who knew him, and especially through the portrayal of David’s grief.  The way David learned how to incorporate his love for Kyle into his love for Brandon was a mark of true healing, notably because it never diminished how much he cared for Kyle even as he found new happiness with Brandon.

On a final note, the title of this book was entirely perfect.  The first time I really thought of it was when David was telling a friend his misgivings about getting into a May-December relationship.  His friend replied “First off, you’re not even fifty years old, so let’s drop the December comments.  At most this is a May-September situation.”   I thought that was pretty clever, but towards the end of the book, other events occur that make September even more special to both men, and make the title more memorable to me.  It’s rare that the title of a book connects with its theme as well as this one did.

Cover art by Catt Ford really captured the two men!

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Book Details:

ebook, 290 pages
Expected publication: December 9th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781635331189
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesPride and Joy #1

Re-Release Day Blitz & Giveaway for Settling the Score by Eden Winters

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Settling the Score Blitz Banner

Title: Settling the Score

Author: Eden Winters

Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books

Release Date: 10/6/2016

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 86,000 words

Genre: Romance, Humor, Age Difference, Movie Star, Author, Small Town, Mechanic, Getting Even

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Synopsis

Outed and dumped on national television by his rising star boyfriend, Joey Nichols must face the bigotry of the locals in his small Southern town alone. His dreams of a happy ever after lie crushed at his feet.

Novelist Troy Steele has an axe to grind against Hollywood heartbreaker types. Transforming Joey into a gorgeous, unobtainable hunk would be payback worthy of Troy’s poison pen. It’s a brilliant way to get back at Joey’s image-obsessed ex-boyfriend and the movie producer who’s mutilating Troy’s novels.

What begins as simple revenge may tangle them together in something far more complicated. Living well may be the best revenge, but Troy and Joey could rewrite that to loving well.

Excerpt

The Nichols’ dining room table could easily seat six people if it weren’t covered with business records, homework, and car parts. Instead of clearing it off, the family assembled in the living room, parents on the couch, Joey and his sisters on the floor. Overloaded plates balanced on each lap.

“Hush, it’s starting,” Joey’s mom warned, mostly to thirteen-year-old Stacey.

“Oops! Gotta go!” Stacey disconnected her call and dropped her phone onto the floor.

Joey and Jackie were quiet already, Joey afraid he’d miss something important if he so much as blinked.

Ten years separated him and his twin from Stacey. Mom often joked that it had taken her that long to forget the horrors of giving birth enough to try again.

Dad blamed his cousin’s homebrew.

“Good evening, I’m Evelyn Hugh. Welcome to Hollywood Seen. Tonight’s hottie, err, I mean, hot story”—the show’s hostess began, grin unapologetic—“is a young man who’s got all of Hollywood talking. Riker Sanderson has what it takes to survive in this town: looks, talent, and a legion of screaming fans.”

On cue, the camera focused on the audience, where the legion, mostly young and female, chanted, “Riker! Riker!”

“Sorry to disappoint you girls. Rumor has it that Mr. Sanderson is taken.” Evelyn pouted for the camera. “Or is he? Joining me tonight is none other than Riker Sanderson, star of the action thriller, Something to Die For.”

Taken? Joey swallowed hard. Surely she couldn’t mean…

The camera zoomed out, showing the beautiful man who’d stolen his heart and who’d shared his apartment up until a few months ago. Riker, more muscled thanks to a heavy training routine for the movie, sported gold highlights in his now much shorter hair. He looked downright sinful in tight-fitting T-shirt and jeans.

Joey idly toyed with the silver band on his middle finger, a nervous habit, before noticing its mate missing from Riker’s hand. Maybe he’d taken it off for the movie. It didn’t mean anything. No, nothing at all.

All worries disappeared when Riker slowly raised a simmering gaze to the camera. Something clenched deep in Joey’s insides. Those dark eyes hypnotized him, even if they were on a TV screen and not actually in the room. Bedroom eyes intense enough to cause instant paralysis. How many times had Joey lost himself in them, lying in a sweaty, satisfied tangle with Riker?

“Thank you for joining us,” the bleached-blonde hostess gushed, a woman Big Joe said gave him gout.

“Why does she do that to her hair?” Mom asked. “She’s ruined it.” She added the tried and true statement guaranteed to grant forgiveness for any unkindness spoken by a Southerner: “Bless her heart.”

With her whiney voice and constant fawning, Evelyn Hugh reminded Joey of one of the teenaged fans. “I can call you Riker, can’t I?”

“Sure, if I can call you Evelyn.” Her ordinary name sounded exotic when spoken in Riker’s deep tones. That was his gift. He could make anyone feel like the most important person on the planet just by talking to them. Joey had warmed himself by Riker’s fire on many a cold winter’s night.

“I loved you in the romantic comedy, Trying the Knot, filmed in your home state of Georgia. Although only a minor supporting role, your portrayal of the obnoxious cousin at the wedding turned out to be a real scene-stealer and resulted in your big break, didn’t it?”

Riker hadn’t really wanted the cousin role that required him to wear a fat suit and play a backwoods redneck, even if he’d had to beat out a lot of other hopefuls for the part.

“Well, Evelyn,”—Riker turned puppy dog eyes on the hostess—“I’d originally auditioned for the role of Chuck.”

“The pain-in-the-ass playboy who seduced several bridesmaids? Oh, you’re too sweet to play such a cad.”

“You’re too kind.”

A better-known actor had won the honors of playing asshole Chuck. Riker had stormed around the apartment for days.

Riker smiled like he’d hit the jackpot by missing the role. “Actually, I found the cousin part more intriguing. I mean, it stretched my acting skills to play someone so unlike myself.”

“Oh, please, I’m trying to eat here,” Jackie spat.

Joey flashed her a quick evil eye and went back to watching TV.

What a tantrum Riker had thrown about “playing a hick nobody.” In the end he took the money, and assurances from his agent of appearing with a few big stars being a good career move and a way to get noticed.

But he’d done the part enough justice to bring Hollywood knocking.

“What an amazing experience,” the man of Joey’s dreams replied, though that’s not what he’d called it to friends. “It really helped me grow as an actor.” He’d privately referred to the part as beneath someone of his talent and his own personal hell.

“What’s it like working with powerhouse actress Clair Clancy?”

Joey lost the battle to keep a straight face. He’d gotten more earfuls about “Clair, the air-headed bitch.” She’d only spoken to Riker twice during filming when their roles overlapped.

Onscreen, Riker described her as, “An amazing actress. A true professional.” He waved at the camera. “Congrats on the birth of your little girl, Clair. You’ll be an amazing mother.” This from the man who’d wanted to pass a law making it illegal for the woman to breed. Wow, what a good actor. For a moment even Joey believed him.

“In a real-life Cinderella story, a relatively unknown actor is chosen for the lead role of Mitchell Keller in the biggest film of the year. How’s that working out for you?” Evelyn leaned her head on Riker’s shoulder, eyeing him through batting lashes. How dare she? She needed to back off.

A punch to the shoulder brought Joey back to reality, breathing hard and fingernails digging into the palms of his clenched fists.

“She does that with everybody,” Jackie murmured. “What’s your problem, anyway?”

Joey took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a flush creeping up his cheeks.

After what could have been two years, or more probably, two seconds, Riker answered, “It’s really amazing.”

“Doesn’t he know any adjectives besides amazing?” Stacey cut in. “I mean, really! He’s an actor, he’s supposed to be good with words.” Oops, the last holdout in the family swayed to the “We don’t like Riker” side.

Joey ignored her. He’d show them. Soon he’d be living the good life, basking in the California sun. He and Riker had even talked about getting married.

“…and my producer, Ian Hagan, is amazing,” Riker was saying.

Stacey made an “I told you so” face.

Their mother swatted her arm, nipping in the bud whatever sarcastic remark she’d been about to sling.

Riker plowed on. “He took a huge chance in hiring an unknown for such a major role, and I’m grateful he believes in me. I’ve done everything I can to make sure he doesn’t regret taking a risk. We’ve wrapped up the final scenes. Now it’s in post-production, where they’ll add the Hollywood magic.”

What? Riker said a few hours ago that they were still shooting. Well, maybe they had to reshoot some parts.

“Oh, that’s fabulous.” Evelyn’s fake smile lost its battle to look sincere.

Joey knew how she felt. The standing local rule: Never mention acting around Riker unless you had a least an hour and didn’t mind listening. Folks in town phrased their words very carefully.

“Now, Riker, I know you’ve heard the rumors and seen the pictures posted on the Internet of yourself with someone who is apparently very close to you.”

Joey’s heart pounded and his ears rang. Rumors? Pictures? He peeped over at Jackie, who sat up straighter and put her plate down on the floor.

The smile fled Riker’s face, and he wore the same pleading expression he’d used to get out of cooking. “Yes, I have. For the record, I’d like to state that my personal life isn’t anyone else’s business.”

Oh, shit! What had they found out?

“Breathe, Joey,” Jackie urged.

No matter how he tried, Joey couldn’t, because Evelyn dropped a bomb. “Are you gay?”

Oh, my God! They’d been careful since Riker signed the movie deal. How had anyone suspected? Sure, in a few months maybe, when they were ready. Not now!

Jackie stiffened and Joey held his breath.

“Yes, Evelyn, I am.” Riker sighed, his anguished eyes filling with tears. Joey had never seen anyone who could cry on demand quite so convincingly, not even Stacey. “I’m not ashamed of being a gay American, and I don’t see how my orientation has any bearing on my acting ability.”

“I knew it!” Stacey shrieked. Jackie shushed her. Joey ignored her again.

Evelyn scented blood and went for the throat—her trademark. “The man shown with you in the pictures, is he your boyfriend?”

Man in the pictures? Boyfriend? Surely it couldn’t be… Who the hell were they talking about? If it wouldn’t have given too much away, Joey would have made a mad dash to his parent’s aging computer to find out. Evelyn Hugh moved much too slowly. Stomach too queasy to eat, Joey plopped his uneaten meal down on the coffee table.

Riker sat quietly gazing into the camera and Joey almost heard the wheels turning under that mop of highlighted hair. Finally, his lover became his ex-lover with the casually spoken, “I guess you could say we were in a relationship at the time. Nothing serious. We’ve decided to cool things down while I focus on my career.”

What!? Nothing really serious?! Joey gaped at the screen, a flash fire creeping up his cheeks all the way to his ears. Did Riker mean him? A boulder formed in his throat.

They’d talked about forever. He gasped for breath, unable to turn away from the train wreck of his life unfolding on national television.

“Yes, it’s true.” Riker used the same sorrowful tone the hick cousin had during a big scene in Trying the Knot. “I mean, he’s back home, I’m here. It wouldn’t work out.”

Jackie might have snapped, “Oh, cry me a river!” Joey was too caught up in his own personal drama to know for sure.

He knows I’m watching! He knows I’m seeing this! Why is he coming out now? Why couldn’t he tell the nosy woman it’s none of her damned business?

Riker focused directly on the camera, as if seeking Joey out. “Yeah, we kind of grew out of each other. It’s time to move on.”

“I certainly appreciate your candor, and I’m sure there’s plenty of people around town willing to keep you company.” Evelyn sat up, patting at her hair. “We all look forward to your upcoming movie. It’s sure to be a blockbuster. Thank you for joining us.”

Joey dared not dart out of the room like he wanted to and give too much away. At the moment the family only knew that he’d had a gay roommate. Should he act surprised?

The camera left Riker and zoomed in on the hostess. Joey saw her through a glaze of tears and fears. “Remember that you heard it first on Hollywood Seen.” Her goofy grin dimmed a few watts. “Now, here’s another Hollywood Seen exclusive, the photographs that started it all. Last month they began circling the Internet. Until tonight, spokesmen for Mr. Sanderson firmly denied their authenticity. A pity, really. They made such a handsome couple, don’t you agree?”

Joey’s reality crumbled, replaced by a nightmare. The TV screen filled completely with an image of Riker and himself dancing at the club in Atlanta, Riker’s leg wedged between Joey’s, Joey’s mouth locked to his lover’s neck and his crotch pressed against Riker’s denim-covered thigh.

Oh dear God! He looked like a humping vampire!

The image lasted forever. Enough already, take it down! He’d been stripped naked. Laid bare, all his deepest, darkest secrets exposed.

Calm down, no one can tell it’s you. Maybe they’ll think it’s someone out in Hollywood. That hope dashed to pieces with another picture, probably taken shortly after the first. In it, Joey and Riker both faced the camera. The hostess delivered the killing blow. “Our sources tell us that the man in the picture with Riker Sanderson is Joseph Nichols, Jr., with whom Riker lived in Georgia before moving to California.”

Joey fumbled his cell phone out of his pocket and barely managed to hit the right number. Instead of one of the ever-changing heavy-metal ringtones Riker used, a recorded message stated flatly, “The number you have dialed has been disconnected…”

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Settling the Score SquareMeet the Author

Author AvatarYou will know Eden Winters by her distinctive white plumage and exuberant cry of “Hey, y’all!” in a Southern US drawl so thick it renders even the simplest of words unrecognizable. Watch out, she hugs!

Driven by insatiable curiosity, she possibly holds the world’s record for curriculum changes to the point that she’s never quite earned a degree but is a force to be reckoned with at Trivial Pursuit.

She’s trudged down hallways with police detectives, learned to disarm knife-wielding bad guys, and witnessed the correct way to blow doors off buildings. Her e-mail contains various snippets of forensic wisdom, such as “What would a dead body left in a Mexican drug tunnel look like after six months?” In the process of her adventures she has written sixteen m/m romance novels, has won several Rainbow Awards, was a Lambda Awards Finalist, and lives in terror of authorities showing up at her door to question her Internet searches.

When not putting characters in dangerous situations she’s a mild-mannered business executive, mother, grandmother, vegetarian, and PFLAG activist.

Her natural habitats are airports, coffee shops, and on the backs of motorcycles.

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