A MelanieM Review: This Is Not A Love Story by Suki Fleet

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

When fifteen-year-old Romeo’s mother leaves one day and doesn’t return, he finds himself homeless and trying to survive on the streets. Mute and terrified, his silence makes him vulnerable, and one night he is beaten by a gang of other kids, only to be rescued by a boy who pledges to take care of him.

Julian is barely two years older than Romeo. A runaway from an abusive home, he has had to make some difficult choices and sells himself on the street to survive. Taking care of Romeo changes him, gives him a purpose in life, gives him hope, and he tries to be strong and keep his troubles with drugs behind him. But living as they do is slowly destroying him, and he begins to doubt he can be strong enough.

This is the story of their struggle to find a way off the streets and stay together at all costs. But when events threaten to tear them apart, it is Romeo who must find the strength within himself to help Julian (and not let their love story turn into a Shakespearean tragedy)

There’s a lot that can be said about This Is Not A Love Story by Suki Fleet.  It’s a hurt/comfort story without a lot of comfort going on.  Reading the majority of this novel feels like poking at an open wound.  It’s that’s raw and incredibly painful. Not a story I could read without taking needed emotional “timeout” breaks.  Honestly, parts of this are so agonizing, I wondered if I wanted to continue.

So why the 5 stars?  Why read it at all?

Because it’s extraordinarily well written, with an eye towards making the reader feel almost at a cellular level what Suki Fleet’s  homeless teenagers are going through on a daily basis as anonymous, non people of the streets.  The humiliation, the deprivation, the starvation, and pain.  The exploitation and danger that exists for them and just the edge of survival each one walks is brought vividly and horrifically to life in the persons of Romeo and Julian, and others we meet.

Hope?  That doesn’t occur until late in the story.  Until then it’s sheer determination and love for each other that carries each young man through the darkest of times, and yes, they get plenty dark and gritty.

Told through the mind and heart of Romeo, an artistic mute who’s never without his drawing pad or Julian, his protector and the person he loves, we see the cost of that protection on Julian, on them both.  The way being homeless is eating away at them, the despair, their ragged physical state and the things they are willing to do to survive.  Each character is someone so vulnerable, so achingly young and discarded that the more you read, the more gut wrenching  the impact.

Not surprisingly the story contains elements of thoughts of suicide, drug use, rape, self harm, and abduction.  If any of these are triggers of yours, please take note.

After all that, the novel ends on a note of hope and happiness.  It’s truly needed after the darkness the characters and the readers have endured for most of the story.  It wasn’t quite enough to lift the heaviness of heart I felt after reading the book but held so much positivity for the future that I could leave it at that, hoping that the worse was finally behind them

I’m not sure this story is for everyone but for those that love a great contemporary novel with amazing characters and unforgettable plot ….and a journey that’s dark, gritty and full of pain.  This is a story for you.

Cover art with the dim backdrop of London and not so bright characters grimly hints at the tone of the story.

Sales Links:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 453 pages
Published March 27th 2019 (first published March 22nd 2014)
Original Title This Is Not a Love Story
ASINB07Q47FFWM
SeriesLove Story Universe
CharactersRomeo Danilov, Julian Lavelle

A Free Dreamer Review: Severed (Precinct One #1) by Shona Husk

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Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

Halle Ish, one of Velli’s elite police Arrows, is shot down during a Precinct One riot. Wounded and unable to fly, she tries to hide and avoid capture, knowing that if she is found by the razor gangs or Clipper Sect they will sever her wings. She needs to get out of Precinct One. Avin Lent was once a promising medical student, but he started sniffing Mumble to beat the stress and is now the doctor to one of the biggest gangs in Precinct One—while not part of the Clipper Sect, they are just as dangerous. He knows he is only as useful as his next surgery and they would have no qualms about killing him. Only Jarro is keeping him safe. Jarro Coblic is deep under cover and has been for a year. Immersed in the gang, he suspects his hands will never be clean again. When he finds the wounded Arrow, he knows he can’t turn her over even though everyone is looking for her. With his lover’s help, they hide her and heal her wing. All the while, falling for her. He prays Avin will not crumble and reveal their secret as Jarro tries to figure out a way to get them all out of Precinct One before the Sect and the gangs bring the full wrath of Velli on Precinct One. Tearing the place down can’t come soon enough, but there will be blood before the slate can be washed clean.

“Severed” marks the beginning of a new series and I liked this first part. I avoided anything with M/F in it for a while and only recently discovered that MMF is actually a relationship dynamic I could come to really enjoy.

A little trigger warning before we start: Avin is a drug addict and his struggles with his addiction and being high are a very important part of the story. There’s also quite a bit of violence and some off-screen torture going on.

It’s a bit hard to find the right genre for this book, but I guess it’s a futuristic urban fantasy, set in a completely different world. For quite a while, I thought it was set on Earth, but in the distant future, where something had happened to make women grow wings. It was all a little confusing, since I was always wondering, what could have happened to cause such a drastic change in our anatomy. I think it took too long for the author to establish that, in this world, women have always had wings. If that had been made clear from the get-go, it would have been obvious that this is a completely made-up world, inhabited by humans with a slightly different anatomy.

Once I’d realized that this was a different world, I actually started to find it quite fascinating. Women are physically superior to men, the wings giving them a definite advantage over the land-bound men. The society is essentially matriarchal, but leaning towards equality. Kind of like our own society, but also the opposite, since we come from a patriarchy. Most of the book is set in a crime-riddled slum, with not a lot of normal people left. So we don’t get to see much of the normal society, which was a bit of a shame. From the little that was shown, it seemed really interesting.

Relationships work differently in this universe. It’s perfectly normal for people to be in same-sex relationships or in poly relationships. I found the idea that there were essentially two models of poly relationships. The “famili sect” is made up of two M/F couples, who live together and watch out for each other during reproductive sex, as that can actually get dangerous for the man. Then there’s the “poli sect”, which has one woman in a relationship with two men. I’m not a fan of the “I’ll change one letter and invent a new fantasy word” thing, though. Either come up with a completely new name or leave the normal English one. But that’s just a minor niggle I’ve seen in a lot of fantasy books.

We never really learn how the women’s wings look. Are they feathered? Or skin? What colour are they? The same as the hair or the skin colour or something completely different? That was a disappointing lack of detail.

I really liked the relationship between Jarro and Avin. It’s born out of convenience and lust and has grown feelings over time, though neither is sure if he can trust the other one. That made for some great tension. I did think Avin took the revelation of Jarro being an undercover cop a little too lightly, though. I also liked them as individuals and they had some really hot sex together.

I’m not sure how I feel about Halle and her inclusion into the relationship. The feelings developed very fast and under less than ideal circumstances. I didn’t really feel the love there. But again, the sex was hot. Though there is a bit of a blood kink, which is normal in this universe. Still not necessarily one of my favourite kinks, but it worked well here.

I didn’t quite understand why Jarro was in Velli in the first place. He’s from a different city state and I found it very odd that he’d be doing official police business for a foreign country. Why would the Velli police use a foreigner? They must have their own undercover agents. I kind of missed a proper explanation for that oddity.

Overall, “Severed” was an enjoyable read and I’m definitely interested in the next part. There’s no evil cliffhanger, though the overall story arc obviously isn’t finished yet. You could read it as a stand-alone with a HEA for the triad and HFN for the rest of the world, sort of.

I really don’t like the cover by Natasha Snow. I read the book despite the cover, not because of it. I don’t get why there’s only Halle on it, with odd-looking wings. The guys are definitely missing. And the pink background implies a lighter story. Also, I just generally hate pink, but that’s just me.

Sales Links:

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble

Book details:

ebook, , 281 pages

Published February 25th 2019 by NineStar Press

New Release Blitz for Severed (Precinct One #1) by Shona Husk (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Severed

Series: Precinct One, Book 1

Author: Shona Husk

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 25, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male/Female (Male/Male interaction)

Length: 79600

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, alternate universe, drug use/addiction, law enforcement, dark, dystopia, doctors, wings, menage

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Synopsis

Halle Ish, one of Velli’s elite police Arrows, is shot down during a Precinct One riot. Wounded and unable to fly, she tries to hide and avoid capture, knowing that if she is found by the razor gangs or Clipper Sect they will sever her wings. She needs to get out of Precinct One.

Avin Lent was once a promising medical student, but he started sniffing Mumble to beat the stress and is now the doctor to one of the biggest gangs in Precinct One—while not part of the Clipper Sect, they are just as dangerous. He knows he is only as useful as his next surgery and they would have no qualms about killing him. Only Jarro is keeping him safe.

Jarro Coblic is deep under cover and has been for a year. Immersed in the gang, he suspects his hands will never be clean again. When he finds the wounded Arrow, he knows he can’t turn her over even though everyone is looking for her. With his lover’s help, they hide her and heal her wing. All the while, falling for her. He prays Avin will not crumble and reveal their secret as Jarro tries to figure out a way to get them all out of Precinct One before the Sect and the gangs bring the full wrath of Velli on Precinct One. Tearing the place down can’t come soon enough, but there will be blood before the slate can be washed clean.

Excerpt

Severed
Shona Husk © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
There was blood everywhere. Avin needed to clean the room and his instruments before the next person arrived. Real surgeons didn’t work like this. His hands shook as he scrubbed and sterilized. He was tempted to skip that step and let his patients die of infection. But if something happened, he’d start losing toes…another toe. Not his fingers though because he needed them. As long as he was useful, the Tower gang would let him live.

If this was living, this was his punishment.

He mopped the floor. No one else arrived. Perhaps the cops had moved on to a different gang territory. Ever since the Clippers and the Bridge-side gang had attacked the central courthouse in Velli, the cops had been putting the pressure on the gangs of Industrial 13. Which, in turn, put pressure on him. Spending a night sewing up arrow wounds wasn’t his idea of fun, yet it was better than the other job they’d once had him doing—cutting women’s wings so they couldn’t fly anymore. The mop slid out of his hand. His fingers struggled to grab the handle to pick it up.

He was just tired.

He’d skimped on the anesthetic for his patients and there were a couple of vials left over. He licked his lower lip, already imagining the slightly sweet tingle as he inhaled what was known as Mumble on the streets.

If the Tower boss knew he stashed it, Avin would be in trouble. But after tonight, he deserved a sniff.

Satisfied the room was clean, even though the scent of blood lingered beneath the cleaning product, Avin opened the fridge. Behind some bags of blood were two small green vials. He’d leave one for later.

He knocked over a bag of blood as he reached in. His hand shook more than usual. How long had it been since he’d last inhaled? A few days at most. The boss was careful to give him just enough to keep him hooked, but not enough to make him useless.

The vial was cold against his palm.

He shouldn’t, but he wouldn’t sleep tonight without it. He wanted to forget he was even here. If he could go back three years… He cracked the top and got his first scent of Mumble. While he couldn’t go back, he could at least numb himself to the reality.

He brought the vial to his nose, the cold plastic against his top lip. Jarro would be annoyed. He wouldn’t say anything, but there’d be that look of disappointment in his gray eyes and the clenching of his jaw. It was enough to make Avin hesitate, but only for a moment. Then he inhaled, and the first whiff of Mumble trickled up his nose and into his lungs.

A groan escaped.

He was no better than an addict. While he didn’t pay with money, he still paid in loyalty and blood. He closed his eyes and inhaled the rest of the vial.

With his eyes still closed he took a couple of deep breaths. The drug spread through his lungs, and he felt the exact moment it hit his bloodstream. A cold buzz that took the edge off reality. In a few minutes, he’d have the typical Mumble of a user and the inability to do much more than stumble along with the support of a wall.

He knew the signs and the side effects, and how to use it medically and recreationally. Four years of med school had taught him that. It had also given him the habit. Mumble had helped him sleep after long shifts at the hospital and long days studying.

Avin dropped the vial in the trash with the rest of the waste. Bloodied bandages, arrow tips and shafts, needles and empty tubes of surgical glue. Just another day in Industrial 13. He turned off the lights, his mouth starting to feel pleasantly numb and his muscles loose, and made his way slowly, leaning on the wall, up the stairs to his room.

If Jarro found the extra Mumble in their apartment, he’d go spare.

He’d be asleep before Jarro got home. No doubt Jarro had been busy killing cops. There was too much blood on both their hands. The city-state of Velli would be a better place if Avin let the gang members die on the table.

Maybe if enough died he’d be able to leave. Start again. Get clean. His lips couldn’t turn up in a smile, and the laugh that bubbled up sounded more like choking.

His legs gave way and he sat heavily.

This batch was strong; the real stuff, not the cheap shit the gang sold to users. Avin rested his head against the wall; the cracked surface was cool against his temple.

Eyes closed, he let go of reality, happy to float in the numb space caused by Mumble where thoughts drifted past but didn’t catch and hold and they had no effect. All the violence and death and blood—he could remember it and see it, but from here it didn’t matter. Nothing did.

Footsteps made Avin open his eyes. The heavy tread of a man in boots. It took a couple of heartbeats for him to be able to focus on the black-clad man now standing a few steps below on the staircase and peering at him.

“You’ve been sniffing again.” Jarro frowned. A line of blood marked his cheek, and his dark hair was pulled back into a knot.

Avin tried to speak but his tongue was thick, and his lips didn’t obey. How long had Avin been sitting here? A breath, maybe two? From the stiffness of his back as Jarro hauled him up, Avin had been sitting for far longer than a few breaths even if he couldn’t reconcile the loss of time

He tripped up the stairs, but Jarro kept him upright so he didn’t land on his face or break anything. Mumble also caused stumble. It was funny, but he couldn’t laugh or share.

Jarro tugged at Avin’s clothes. “You smell like a chop shop.”

That’s what happens when you spend the best part of the night up to your elbows in blood and guts. Avin tried to help, but he was still too uncoordinated, and his hands got in the way.

“I know why you do it, but if you don’t stop, you will die here.” There was an edge in Jarro’s voice. What had he seen tonight?

Avin glanced up. Jarro made it sound as though there was another choice. There were no options once in the Industrial 13 precinct. No one got out unless as a corpse or sold. No one wanted to live here.

He didn’t want to live here, but drug debts weren’t easy to clear, apparently. And if he took off, they’d hunt him or his family down, and he had no desire to see his womb brother or his sisters and parents hurt because he screwed up. He’d done enough damage to his family.

Jarro grabbed Avin’s shirt and gave him a shake. “Are you listening to me? I don’t want to die here.”

Was he talking about leaving? Actually leaving.

Sounds bubbled past his lips but didn’t make words.

Jarro gave a cold laugh. “Can’t argue back when you’ve been sniffing.” He stripped off Avin’s shirt and undid his pants, Jarro’s touch lingered for a moment. The heat was almost enough to cut through the fog.

What had started as simple protection—pick the roughest, meanest bastard—had become something more. Yeah, Jarro could be cold and he kept more secrets than Avin had seen bodies, but he’d never once hurt him.

It was more than luck. Avin lifted his hand and touched Jarro’s cheek. The gesture was clumsy and not the soft touch that he’d intended.

Jarro took his hand and shook his head. “Not tonight. Not while you’re dreaming on that shit.” But he leaned in and pressed his lips to Avin’s cheek.

At that moment, he wished he hadn’t caved in to the hollow need of Mumble. What he wanted was Jarro, but he was already pulling away and drawing off his clothes.

“Get a shower, and then we can get to some sleep.” Jarro dropped his shirt on the floor. “I’ll make sure you don’t slip and crack your head open.”

Then Jarro guided him to what they called a bathroom. More of a wet room with hot, running water. There was no bath, and the mirror was rusted and cracked. Like everything else here, it was what it was, and no one expected more.

He glanced at Jarro. Except Jarro.

Jarro had crossed city-state borders after pissing off another gang. He’d ended up working for the Tower gang by luck and chance. Ended up in his bed after too much to drink.

But talking of fleeing, again?

That was dangerous.

Jarro needed to watch his mouth.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble

Meet the Author

Shona Husk is the author of over forty books that range from sensual to scorching, and cover the contemporary, paranormal, fantasy and sci-fi romance genres. Her most recent series are Face the Music, Blood and Silver, and Annwyn. As well as writing romance she also writes sci-fi for the Takamo Universe game and urban fantasy under anther pen name.

She lives in Western Australia and when she isn’t writing or reading she loves to cook, cross stitch and research places she’d one day like to travel.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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New Book Release for Blood Lust by L.E. Royal (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Blood Lust

Author: L.E. Royal

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: February 18, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 73200

Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, Paranormal, contemporary, lesbian, vampire, family-drama, human slaves, horror, dark, paternal murder, blood play, psychic ability

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Synopsis

The sequel to Blood Echo.

For Rayne Kennedy, the only Hybrid in Vires, a walled Vampire city in Vermont, life is almost over. Despite the new family and temporary happiness she’s found, her vampire girlfriend, Scarlett Pearce, has been given ninety days by the mysterious city government to turn her into a vampire. She’s sure her days as a human are numbered.

Scarlett fights to find a way to avoid Rayne’s death when her father and society have decreed it must happen. Between new relationships formed, old ones reshaped, and a bloody romp through the city’s darkness, Rayne must decide if she trusts Scarlett not to give in to her blood lust. Thrown into the center of an unexpected revolution, Rayne tries to save herself and Scarlett, unsure if her days as a human, and their time being blood bound, are truly coming to an end.

Excerpt

Blood Lust
L.E. Royal © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
“Pick it up.”

Scarlett watched with lazy eyes as my hand shot forward to grab the apple. I hated her a little for how easy she found this.

“You’re scowling, Princess.”

I dropped the apple the minute she let me and did my best to straighten my face.

The revelation that Scarlett and I were blood bound was old news, but its implications were still new to both of us. We’d been spending time when we were alone learning to overcome the phenomenon—or trying.

The vampire stretched, reclining before me on the black satin bedsheets, and I wondered if she felt me compelling her at all. I tried to recreate the feeling inside myself from the rare times I had succeeded in bending her to my will. Silently, I concentrated and willed her to pick up the apple.

She yawned.

Raindrops ran down the sleek glass doors of Scarlett’s balcony, the sky a dreary gray. Even from the great height of the thirteenth floor, I could see little beige specks below that I knew were actually humans. They came from the outskirts of the city—the Fringe, brought in to work around the decadent skyscrapers that housed Vampire families, like Scarlett’s. High up in Pearce Tower we could live under the illusion of safety, for the moment.

Below, the streets of Vires teemed with vampires, Deltas who were genetically advanced enough to walk in the daylight. The non-Deltas would join them at sunset.

A flash of curiosity disturbed me, pulling me back off the dark path I was traveling, thoughts of society in Vires starting to consume me. Without looking, I could feel her watching me, taste her curiosity. Her wish to know what was going on inside my head was clear through the emotional connection we shared. I tried to lock her out, to shield my feelings from her. She tipped her head and when I met her dark eyes, their intensity burned. I figured I was successful.

Pick up the apple.

Her voice was liquid smoke, lingering in my mind, penetrating every corner. My pale hand darted forward and grabbed it again. She smirked. My stupid, smug, beautiful vampire.

My fingers released their grip the moment she bade them to, and the abused fruit fell back onto the sheets.

“Your turn.”

I wanted to grumble, to ask what the point was. We both knew I couldn’t resist the commands she gave. We also knew she could resist mine effortlessly most of the time. I smoothed my hands over my jean-clad thighs and tried again.

“I’m not resisting you, sweetheart. I haven’t felt any compulsion to resist yet.” She was amused. It danced in her eyes, in the little tug at the corner of her mouth, but I knew she was trying to be diplomatic, at least.

“Why is this even important?”

She had been playful and light-hearted, secretly enjoying the little game we shared. The minute I asked the question I felt her growing cold, uncomfortable. The pleasant hum of her emotions as they lapped at me waned before they shut down altogether.

The subject we were avoiding hung between us, heavy and suffocating. After almost a week of sleepless nights and uneasy dreams I knew sometimes she could share, I was ready to drag it out into the light.

“I don’t ever want it to be used against us.” She was somber, her expression dark and unreadable.

“Scar, if I’m going to be a vampire anyway…”

She hissed. I prepared to backpedal, wishing I had been a little more tactful, but she was already speaking.

“Why are you so obsessed with becoming a monster?”

“Jade’s not a monster and she’s a vampire.” Dark eyes softened at the mention of her younger sister, one of the people she loved most in the world. Through our connection I had quickly grown to love her too.

“Jade has struggled more than you know.” It was cryptic and caustic and an answer that was oh so Scarlett.

“You’re not a monster, really.”

She scoffed.

We were silent for a few seconds, my reply dancing on the tip of my tongue. It was a large part of what had been keeping me up at night, but I was too afraid of her answer to voice the topic.

“Say what’s on your mind?” It was only half a question, and I could tell it took some effort for her not to command it out of me. Beneath the cold indifference she had painted on her face, tiny tells and miniscule shimmers of her feelings told me she was nervous.

“I don’t want to get old when you’ll always be young.”

She laughed, and the sound was ever so slightly bitter.

“I’m three hundred and sixty-nine years old, Princess.”

I wondered if I would ever stop being staggered by that fact.

“Besides, I don’t think aging is something we have to worry about. I’m almost certain you’ve already stopped, being as you are.”

“Hybrids don’t age?” My voice was an octave too high with surprise, and maybe a little bit of joy.

We hadn’t much discussed what I was, what I had become, what she had made me. Her cool and careful handling of the subject frustrated me, and it gave me the uncomfortable feeling she was making plans without any of us.

“Just a hunch.” She tried to curtail me before I got too fixated on the fact. “But if I’m right and age isn’t a factor, are you still so eager to be turned?”

I shrugged, unsure.

“Being a hybrid is still dangerous. What if the Government eventually discovers that us sharing blood is what caused this? What if they find out we’re blood bound? Wouldn’t it be safer if I was less…breakable?”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

L.E. Royal is a British born fiction writer, living in Texas. She enjoys dark but redeemable characters, and twisted themes. Though she is a fan of happy endings, she would describe most of her work as fractured romance. When she is not writing, she is pursuing her dreams with her multi-champion Arabian show horses, or hanging out with her wife at their small ranch/accidental cat sanctuary.

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A Free Dreamer Review: Bones and Bourbon by Dorian Graves

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Half-huldra Retz Gallows is having an awful day. First, he wakes up in the middle of driving to who-knows-where with an angry unicorn head in his passenger seat. This is almost normal, thanks to a lifetime of sharing a body with Nalem, a bone-controlling spirit with a penchant for wicked schemes and body-stealing joyrides. It’s probably a bad idea to ask what else could go wrong.

Jarrod Gallows left home with plans to rescue his little brother from possession. Instead, he got saddled with a dead-end job as a paranormal investigator, a Faerie curse, and a daredevil boyfriend who might be from another world. At least he’s got a new job—except why is his brother Retz here and why does this sudden reunion feel more like a bane than a blessing?

This day’s going to get worse for the Gallows brothers before it gets better. To survive, they’ll have to escape the forces controlling them, as well as the wrath of carnivorous unicorns, otherworldly realms, and even their own parents. Only time will tell if they’ll make it out alive…or sober.

I’ll be honest, “Bones and Bourbon” had me sold after the first paragraph of the blurb. That sounded so weird and crazy, I knew I just had to read it. And the book definitely delivered.

First of all, this is not a romance. Jarrod is in a relationship with a very interesting young man with a penchant for crazy ideas but that’s really not the focus of the plot at all. Rather, “Bones and Bourbon” is a wild Urban Fantasy with a protagonist who happens to be in a relationship.

The world building was excellent. I have a thing for myths and fairy tales of any kind. I’ve never heard of huldra (and some of the other creatures) before but there are actual myths about them. It was so fascinating. The author does a great job of describing their individual oddities. I’ve never met a character who’s literally only skin and bones. No blood, no internal organs, no nothing. And Jarrod has a cow tail, which is all kinds of weird and awesome at the same time. There were so many different creatures from all sorts of different cultures and I’ve heard about maybe half of them. Dorian Graves definitely deserves extra credit for creativity and uniqueness.

Nalem is probably one of the most interesting people I’ve met in a book in a very long time. His abilities are intriguing and also pretty creepy. We really don’t know anything about him and that makes him all the more fascinating.

All four of our protagonists are actually really interesting. And likable, with the exception of Nalem. Though even he has his moments. Oh, and they take “daddy issues” to a whole new level.

I’m Austrian, born and raised, so it added another layer of awesomeness that our protagonists were named after Austrian places. Retz is a tiny village I’ve never heard of before, even though it’s actually not that for from where I live. I’m always thrilled when authors remember little Austria exists.

The whole story was an incredibly wild ride of insanity and blood and violence. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Or unicorn fans. Because they’re actually vengeful bastards and extremely hard to kill. Which is all kinds of awesome, if you ask me. I think I’ve found my inner unicorn thanks to this book! And the best thing about this? This is only the first part in what promises to be a truly amazing series!

If you’re on the hunt for something a very different fantasy novel, and don’t mind dark and twisted stories that can get pretty gory and a little gross, then this is the book for you.  “Blood and Bones” will very likely make it under the top five books of 2018 for me. I’m not easily impressed, but this book did it. I can’t believe it only has less than 300 pages.

I’m not sure if I like the cover by Natasha Snow. It’s a bit generic, tbh.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 268 pages
Published April 23rd 2018 by NineStar Press
ISBN139781948608527
Edition LanguageEnglish

Release Blitz and Giveaway – Gray’s Shadow (Kings of Hell MC #4) by KA Merikan

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Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Length: 150,000 words approx.
 
Cover Design: Nastasha Snow
 
Kings Of Hell MC Series
 
Book #1 – Laurent & The Beast – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #2 – My Dark Knight – Amazon US | Amazon UK
Book #3 – On Your Knees Prospect – Amazon US | Amazon UK
 
Blurb

 

— There can be no shadow without the man to cast it. —



Gray. Lost his twin. Will never be complete. Works alone.
Shadow. Monster? Human? Exists to be Gray’s one true companion.


After losing his twin brother, Gray has devoted his life to the Kings of Hell MC. He will do anything to protect his family and that means anything.


Even sell his own shadow to the devil.


Following a fire that left him without one arm, Gray feels pushed to the sidelines. In order to prove to his club that he is still capable of completing dangerous tasks, he will have to team up with the strange creature from the Other Side. Tall, inhumanly strong, and menacing despite the handsome exterior, Shadow is just the tool Gray needs.


The moment Shadow lays his eyes on Gray, he wants to crawl under Gray’s skin and make the human his.


Gray on the other hand isn’t willing to get attached to a monster destined to do the devil’s bidding and disappear once his time is up. Rejected, Shadow has to do everything in his power to convince his human that they belong together.


But as the clock ticks away precious minutes of Shadow’s existence, Gray will have to choose between his loyalty to the Kings of Hell MC and responsibility for the creature he brought into this world.

*
 
“Do you feel me running through your veins?”
Gray nodded.
 
*



POSSIBLE SPOILERS:
Themes: motorcycle club, alternative lifestyles, demons, monster, tattoos, secrets, crime, gothic, grief, mourning, enemies to lovers, forced proximity, fish out of water, opposites attract, demisexuality, gentle giant
Genre: Dark, paranormal M/M romance
Erotic content: Scorching hot, emotional, explicit scenes
Length: ~150,000 words (Book 4 in the series)


WARNING: This story contains scenes of violence, offensive language, and morally ambiguous characters.

K.A. Merikan are a team of writers who try not to suck at adulting, with some success. Always eager to explore the murky waters of the weird and wonderful, K.A. Merikan don’t follow fixed formulas and want each of their books to be a surprise for those who choose to hop on for the ride.


K.A. Merikan have a few sweeter M/M romances as well, but they specialize in the dark, dirty, and dangerous side of M/M, full of bikers, bad boys, mafiosi, and scorching hot romance.


FACEBOOK PROFILE
K.A. MERIKAN’S TWITTER (RUN BY KAT)
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PINTEREST
M/F ROMANCE BY MISS MERIKAN

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New Book Release Blitz for Death Days by Lia Cooper (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: Death Days

Author: Lia Cooper

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: August 6, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 70000

Genre: Paranormal, college, teaching, magic, dark, slow burn, age gap, vampires, shifters

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Synopsis

By day, Professor Nicholas Littman works as an itinerant professor at a small college in the Pacific Northwest. He teaches seminars on mythology and the intersections of folklore and magic in the ancient world. By night, he’s the local necromancer, a rare magical talent that has left him alienated from other practitioners.

All Nick wants from life is to be left alone to run his magical experiments and teach kids the historical context of magic without anyone being the wiser. Unfortunately, his family is sworn to sit on the council of the Order of the Green Book—a group of magicians dating back to the Crusades—and they aren’t willing to take Nick’s no for an answer.

As though that wasn’t bad enough, a coven of Night Women has arrived in town, warning Nick that there are wolves at his door he had better take care of. But what can one necromancer do when every natural and supernatural card seems stacked against him?

Excerpt

Death Days
Lia Cooper © 2018
All Rights Reserved

One: The Professor
“Today we’re talking about the elision that occurs between Thoth worship in pre-Ptolemaic Egypt and early Greece. Let’s break into four groups for seminar,” Professor Nicolas Littman said, eyeing the half-empty teaching theater. He divided the room with a sweep of his arm and glanced at the clock on the back wall.

“We’ll meet back here in thirty minutes to discuss your thoughts as a group. And I want every small group to come up with a question to pose to the rest of us.”

He felt gratified at the way they began shuffling together into little clusters without further prompting.

“One of you should go use the lounge outside,” he said, waving absently at the small group at the very back of the room.

He didn’t care if they took the direction or not. He trusted in every student’s desire to escape the four walls of the classroom given a millimeter of freedom. All that mattered was that he now had thirty minutes of his own time in which to play hooky.

Nick grabbed a book and the vape out of his bag, and slipped out of the left-hand exit.

Why someone in the administration had decided to give him a corner theater for this class was beyond him. Four credits on Hermetic Mythologies and Cosmologies was hardly in demand. Especially when it was offered as a four-and-a-half-hour option on Saturdays. But if it meant they got a spacious room and the otherwise empty SEM II C building to themselves, he shouldn’t complain. His students could spread out to their hearts’ content, leaving him to steal outside to smoke without anyone around to gripe at him.

“Not even a proper smoke,” he muttered, flicking the round silver device on, warming the metal under his hand.

Nick sat on the concrete with his back to the building’s cement exterior and his knees bent, pressed the tip of the vape between his lips, and held down the button for a long, comforting drag. He closed his eyes to the bright sun and tipped his head back against the wall. Vapor streamed out of his pursed lips in a thick, fragrant cloud and pooled in the air above his head.

“Hiding from the students again?” an amused voice asked from above.

“I’m not hiding,” Nick grumbled.

A thin body lowered itself down onto the ground next to him, all long spidery limbs that folded with the kind of soft careless agility Nick hadn’t felt in a decade or two.

He looked over at his—teaching assistant wasn’t the word. Technically, Josiah didn’t work for him at all. He was just an independent contract student working on an eight-credit history project, but he let Nick use him like a TA so that’s how he always thought of him.

“What do you call this?” Josiah asked, knocking their shoulders together.

“Seminaring.”

Josiah’s face crumpled up with amusement. His flexible mouth stretched into a laugh while his shoulders shook. Nick held out the vape on offer and waited for Josiah to notice.

“Is it peppermint?” he asked.

Nick nodded.

“No thanks.”

“I’m not buying cake or whatever it is you like.”

“Are you trying to say there’s something wrong with cake?” Josiah returned Nick’s stony look with a nonplussed expression.

“It’s unna—”

“First of all: I don’t remember tobacco ever coming in ‘peppermint flavor’ before, and second: everything you do is unnatural, so that’s not a valid argument coming from you, Professor Littman.”

Nick grimaced. “Don’t call me that.”

“Nick.”

He sighed and took another long drag off his vape, waiting for the nicotine to soothe the flutter in his heart that Josiah’s words had kicked up. Nothing he did was natural. The kid had no idea just how right he was. Nick glanced down at his empty hand, automatically checking his nails for pesky traces of dirt, but there was nothing unusual to see. He’d scrubbed up hard the night before. Done a thorough job not to leave any of those unnatural traces that might have given Josiah a better-formed picture of what his professor and academic adviser got up to in his free time.

Shit, even in his head, he sounded like a pervert.

“You’re wrong. Some things I do are perfectly natural.”

“Like what?”

Nick gave the young man a slow look. “You have a very active imagination, Mr. Wexler.”

“The imagination is a hungry organ, seeking perpetual nourishment. I like to think that it’s not so much I’ve got an active imagination, but rather a well-fed one.”

“That you feed on thoughts of me?” Nick smiled, playing the comment off as a joke even though it left something low and hot in his body to sit up with interest. A curl of amused interest that quivered at the thought of a bright young man captivated by thoughts of him, even if they were merely frustrated or prurient or the passing whim of childish fancy, as he suspected was the case.

“Sometimes,” Josiah admitted, looking away.

The two of them sat in companionable silence until the phone in Nick’s pocket hiccupped its alarm to let him know that the requisite thirty-minute small group had passed, and he had to return again to face the lethargy of his classroom.

“Did you need something?” he asked, using the wall to push himself to his feet, and slipped the vape back into his pocket.

Josiah pulled out a sheaf of printouts from his backpack and held them up for Nick to take. “Two new chapters. I wanted to get your thoughts on them before I continue. It took a—the narrative took a direction we haven’t discussed before.”

“All right. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you want to come in?”

“Nah, I’ve got to meet Jen. Talk to you next week?”

Nick nodded.

Above them, the sky had dimmed as sure as if someone had taken a dimmer switch to the sun. Dark clouds cast a clear, watery gray light over campus, the edges of the quad hemmed in on all sides by towering dark trees that only helped to feed into the illusion of night creeping over them. The air smelled as though it were about to rain, bitterly cold and damp.

“Do you think it’s going to snow?” Josiah asked, climbing to his feet.

Nick shook his head. “Not a chance.”

He filed back into the teaching theater behind the stragglers. Sixty minutes for discussion and in-class readings, and then he’d be free for the rest of the weekend. Nick perched his feet on the edge of his desk, saw the streaks of mud clinging to his shoes, and dropped them again. He cleared his throat and looked out at the crowd for the first person to meet his eyes.

“Ah, Amelia, why don’t you start us off with a brief summary of what your group discussed.”

He folded his arms over his chest and listened with half an ear while his focus strayed repeatedly to the darkening sky and the promise of rain.

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Lia Cooper is a twenty-something native of the Pacific Northwest, voracious reader, pop-culture addict, and writer. She cultivated an early interest in writing through fandom and completed writing her first full length novel with the help of NaNoWriMo.

In the years since, she’s dabbled in catering, barista-ing, and working as a pastry chef before finally returning full time to the thing she loves most: storytelling.

When she’s not glued to Scrivener, Lia enjoys playing video games with friends and reviewing books for her booktube channel.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

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New Book Blitz for Bones and Bourbon by Dorian Graves (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Bones and Bourbon

Author: Dorian Graves

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: April 23, 2018

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: No Romance

Length: 102000

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Ace, bisexual, trans, faeries, dark, immortals

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Synopsis

Half-huldra Retz Gallows is having an awful day. First, he wakes up in the middle of driving to who-knows-where with an angry unicorn head in his passenger seat. This is almost normal, thanks to a lifetime of sharing a body with Nalem, a bone-controlling spirit with a penchant for wicked schemes and body-stealing joyrides. It’s probably a bad idea to ask what else could go wrong.

Jarrod Gallows left home with plans to rescue his little brother from possession. Instead, he got saddled with a dead-end job as a paranormal investigator, a Faerie curse, and a daredevil boyfriend who might be from another world. At least he’s got a new job—except why is his brother Retz here and why does this sudden reunion feel more like a bane than a blessing?

This day’s going to get worse for the Gallows brothers before it gets better. To survive, they’ll have to escape the forces controlling them, as well as the wrath of carnivorous unicorns, otherworldly realms, and even their own parents. Only time will tell if they’ll make it out alive…or sober.

Excerpt

Bones and Bourbon
Dorian Graves © 2018
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One: Retz
I woke up right when the teeth clamped down on my arm, which made me crank the wheel and almost ram into a guardrail before I realized I was driving. Neither of these things surprised me because it wasn’t the first time I’d woken up just in time to feel the hurt for whatever it was I’d unconsciously done.

What did surprise me was the identity of my attacker: a lone unicorn head. No body to speak of, just flaring nostrils, bloodshot eyes, and two rows of long, sharp teeth that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a shark.

I did the stupid thing and kept driving while I tried to shake the unicorn head off me. Why? Because I’m Retz Gallows, and I’d learned by then that even if I had no idea what I was doing when I woke up, I needed to get the job done first and ask what the fuck happened later.

I focused on the teeth that had broken through my skin (and my favorite shirt to boot) and were just striking my arm bones. My first order of business was strengthening my skeleton so the unicorn’s jaw couldn’t snap anything in half. It took just a few seconds for the bones to fortify, heavier but sturdy as stone. The unicorn gnawed my arm as if it were a chew toy. It snorted in confusion, both because of the sudden change and the fact that there was no blood or muscles in the way.

In case such wasn’t obvious, I’m not human. Well, not all the way. My father was a man of flesh, blood, and too many weapons hidden on him at any given time. But my mother was a huldra; her body was hollow, but she could still punch hard enough to stop a truck in its tracks. I’d seen her do it before too, though sadly, I hadn’t inherited nearly the same strength.

I imagined how nice it’d be if the unicorn’s teeth were fragile enough to crumble. As I did, bits of teeth stayed buried in my arm as the pieces fell apart, and the unicorn’s head fell unceremoniously into the passenger seat.

No, I hadn’t inherited the ability to control bones, even though sensing them was as natural to me as seeing and hearing. It’s a power my family wishes I’d never been given. But since I was pretty sure the unicorn head was no longer a threat, I decided it was time to ask the source of my powers what was going on.

“Nalem, you’d better not be asleep. Mind telling me where the hell we are?”

A deep, smooth voice purred an answer back in my head, “If you had bothered to look at the sign we just passed, you’d realize we’re in Oregon.”

“In case you didn’t notice, I was a bit preoccupied.”

A chuckle reverberated in my skull, and I felt the false sensation of my arms stretching, the ghost of Nalem’s actions. “Of course I did. I can tell when you’re borrowing my powers—and besides, who do you think left the head in here in the first place?”

I rounded another corner as the aforementioned head tried to headbutt my arm, horn-first. I realized I couldn’t affect the horn with my powers—it wasn’t quite bone, but something more magical that slipped away from my senses whenever I tried. So I just hardened my bones again and ignored the attack as I took in the scenery. True enough, we were on a half-paved road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by evergreens that tried to block out the bright blue sky. It was late July, so deep into summer that not even Oregon’s fondness of rain kept the heat away. My windows were rolled down, seeing as the AC in my ancient Buick had died out long ago.

“Two questions, then. Where are we going, and why do we have a unicorn head with us?”

Purchase

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Meet the Author

Much like Sasquatch and other local cryptids, Dorian Graves can supposedly be found in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Few have ever seen Dorian, but investigators have found trails of plot notes scribbled on receipt paper if they followed the distant sounds of old Blue Öyster Cult albums long enough. There have also been reports of Dorian lurking around the Mills College campus in Oakland, CA, where Dorian was last seen scurrying away with a B.A. in English/Creative Writing. Dorian occasionally crawls out of the woodworks with offerings of fiction, strange and fantastical stories with equal parts humor and horror, but often retreats quickly unless bribed with coffee and bad puns.

When not writing or working “the other day job,” Dorian lives with a romantic partner and a mischievous cat. Dorian Graves can be convinced to sit still if given art supplies, games of all sorts, or a selection from the ever-growing TBR pile. Dorian can be more reliably found on http://www.doriangraves.com, where one can find artwork, fiction, and whatever inane topic Dorian feels like rambling about this week.

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New Year’s Day Release Day Blitz for The Calling by MD Neu (except and giveaway)

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Title:  The Calling

Author: M.D. Neu

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 1, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 108300

Genre: Paranormal, paranormal, gay, dark, immortal, magic users, psychic ability, vampires

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Synopsis

Being a nobody isn’t Duncan Alexander’s life goal, but it’s worked for him. He has a nondescript job, a few good friends, and overall he’s content. That’s until one fateful trip to San Jose, California, where he is “Called” to meet the mysterious Juliet de Exter. Juliet is a beautiful, wealthy, powerful Immortal who is undertaking The Calling—a search for a human to join her world of Immortals. Inexplicably, Duncan’s calling is more dangerous than any of the Immortals, even Juliet, ever thought it would be.

There is more to this nobody, this only child of long-deceased parents, than anyone thought. When Duncan experiences uncontrollable dreams of people he doesn’t know and places he hasn’t been, Juliet and the other Immortals worry. Soon, his visions point to a coven of long-dead witches. The dreams also lead Duncan to his one true love. How will Duncan navigate a forbidden romance with an outcast Immortal? How will he and the others keep the balance between the Light and Dark, survive vicious attacks, and keep the humans from learning who they truly are? More importantly, who is this implacable foe Duncan keeps seeing in his dreams?

Excerpt

The Calling
M.D. Neu © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
What is death?

I once believed there was only one definition: your body stops functioning, your soul leaves and what’s left turns to dust. That was what I thought, until it wasn’t.

I’ve discovered when you’re a nobody, the world can be an amazing place if you want it to be. Your life can change in a heartbeat and not make the least bit of difference to anyone but you, or so it would seem.

That was my case.

I’m by no means whining or complaining. I had a job, a small place to live, and friends, but no real family, and that was something I desperately missed and wanted. My life wasn’t bad and I was happy. However, I was just a random person, one of the many faces you see on the street and never glance at twice. It was dull. Of course, as with me, the majority of society didn’t know our world had hidden secrets, unseen by most.

The other important thing I want you to realize about me is that before I met her, I wasn’t a lucky man, not with money and certainly not with love. I made enough to live on, but never enough to take fancy trips. My idea of travel was staying at home and watching movies. That was my price range. And as for love, it was forgettable.

The day my life changed was like all the others, until it wasn’t. It was August 19. The year isn’t important. But we had finished celebrating the Olympics, and in a few short months, the country would be picking between the lesser of two evils for president.

I sat at an outdoor café in Santana Row. I’d spent the afternoon going on a tour of the Winchester Mystery House. Once my stomach had started to growl, I decided to grab a bite to eat.

I had come to San Jose, California for a vacation that I couldn’t afford and didn’t particularly want to take. Why San Jose? Why not San Francisco or Monterey or Vegas or Yosemite? To be honest, I don’t know, but it’s like everything inside and around me pulled me there. Out of the blue, I got emails from the San Jose Visitor Bureau. My dreams were filled with images of the city and the surrounding hills and mountains. It seemed that old song, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick constantly played. Still, San Jose isn’t the place most people consider for a ten-day vacation, especially someone alone who had never been to the Bay Area before.

Despite my appreh, from the moment I arrived, I immediately felt at peace. I’d never been this calm or relaxed anywhere before, not even at home. There was another reason for me coming here, one I didn’t understand yet, at least not on a conscious level.

I would find out why soon enough.

I don’t want to get things out of order, so back on point. I sat at this Italian-style outdoor café watching people walk by, enjoying the scent of roses and vanilla that filled the air. The aroma tickled the back of my brain. I smelled it everywhere, which should have been my first clue that something was different.

After enjoying my Italian-style chicken marsala, and while I sipped my strawberry lemonade, I felt a sharp pull in my brain. It wasn’t like I heard voices—it was more like vague images filled my head: a house, a woman, gardens, a gate, hills covered in trees, and a pair of eyes. My hands shook, and my glass fell to the floor and shattered. An intense pressure grew between my eyes, and I pinched the bridge of my nose to ease it.

When the tug came, three things happened to me at once.

First, I had the realization that I had an important meeting in Los Altos Hills. I had never heard of Los Altos Hills and even had to look it up on my phone to see if it was real. I would have to check my GPS when I returned to my rental. I knew the address of the house and who I was going to meet. She had blonde hair and mysterious eyes. I knew her, but I didn’t understand how.

Second, the waiter came to my table.

“Sorry about the drink,” I said.

He gave me an odd look and informed me my meal had been paid for and to enjoy my evening. Flabbergasted, I stared at the server.

I glanced around the café and wondered who paid the bill and why. I wasn’t even done yet.

“Mr. Alexander, are you all right?” The waiter scanned me up and down. “Do you need me to call someone? You look pale.”

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m fine.”

How did the waiter know my name? Stranger still, when I checked the table, my drink sat there and nothing had fallen to the floor. I wasn’t sure what was happening.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Sorry. Just a headache,” I said.

“All right. I hope you have a pleasant afternoon.” He smiled and started to walk off but turned back. “Oh, I almost forgot. I’m supposed to remind you about your meeting tonight.”

A lump stuck in my throat, and I nodded. It was spooky, but I wasn’t scared.

The last thing: I got a text from my closest friend, Cindy Martin. Good luck tonight. I’m sure it’ll be you.

I remember thinking, What does she know that I don’t?

I’ve known Cindy for years, and for her to say anything that short and sweet was rare. In fact, I don’t suppose I ever got a message from her without any emoticons.

As bizarre as all of this was, I realized that no matter what, everything and everyone I cared about would be okay. Clearly, there was something more to this trip and my being here. I didn’t know what. But it wasn’t just some free meal. It was bigger than that. If I was selected for what? I had no clue. And if I wasn’t, then I would get to see them again. There would be no questions.

Part of me wanted to worry, but I wasn’t bothered, which in itself surprised me. I’ve been a pessimist for as long as I can remember. It probably had to do with the strange death of my father when I was a kid. A death never fully explained. So, for this not to make me worry was one more mystery. What was about to happen was something that would just be. Instead of freaking out and worrying, I was calm and accepting of whatever adventure or fate awaited me.

Even though I was short on time to get to the house in Los Altos Hills, I wanted to enjoy my lunch. Reflecting on it now, I’m pretty sure that was the cynical part of my brain trying to exert some kind of control. I took my time, finished my meal, and when I was done, I tipped the server and left.

I walked back to my rental car. I wanted to take in as much of the classical European architecture and lush landscaping of the outdoor mall as I could. I managed to get a few decent cell phone pictures of the place.

I stopped my lollygagging and got moving. I had someplace to be and what appeared to be no choice in the matter. Before you go crazy, understand this wasn’t like one of those stupid movies that you watch, shaking your head, yelling at the screen for them not to go into the dark forest or spooky house or whatever. It wasn’t like that.

I’d like to hope I’m explaining this well enough so you don’t sit there and think, “Oh this is stupid. I’d never do anything that dumb.” It wasn’t like I had a choice. I had to go—something compelled me to her. I had to meet this woman, calling me. It was hard-wired into me, no matter how much I tried to slow down or stall, I moved forward.

I moved toward her.

When I finally got in the car and took a breath, I wasn’t clammy or shaky, and my heart wasn’t pounding in my chest. I should have been anxious, but I wasn’t. I was fine.

Knowing without understanding what I had to do, I headed to the freeway.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

M.D. Neu is a LGBTQA Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California) and growing up around technology, he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Specifically drawn to Science Fiction and Paranormal television and novels, M.D. Neu was inspired by the great Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock and Kim Stanley Robinson. An odd combination, but one that has influenced his writing.

Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric, his husband of eighteen plus years.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

 

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It’s the Release Day Book Blitz for Run in the Blood by A.E. Ross (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Run in the Blood

Author: A. E. Ross

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: December 25, 2017

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 78700

Genre: I

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Synopsis

Raised on the high seas as an avaricious corsair, Aela Crane has turned her back on her roots, but she can’t seem to stem the ancient magic that courses through her. Del is a soft-spoken soldier who seems to know more about Aela’s inherited powers than she does. Brynne’s the crofter’s daughter who’s reluctantly learning to become a princess, if she could just get a certain swashbuckling someone off her mind.

Originally hired on (okay, blackmailed) by the King of the island nation of Thandepar, Aela’s light monster extermination gig takes a fast turn into kidnapping-for-profit. Del tries to ignore family issues by searching for a long lost friend, and ends up getting both for the price of one. Brynne’s prepared to give up her heart for her country until her own personal heartbreaker shows up with the most terrible timing.

As the three of them become more entwined in their own political predicaments, and each other’s lives, they may discover that the legacies their parents have left them aren’t as solid as they seemed. In fact, they may just slip through their fingers, leaving all three fumbling to forge their own future, before the kingdom comes crashing down around them.

Excerpt

Run in the Blood
A.E. Ross © 2017
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

A sharp blast of seawater hit Aela Crane square in the face, soaking her curls. As she gripped the rim of the crow’s nest with dark knuckles, the surface of the ocean seemed to rise up to meet her as the brigantine listed at a dangerous horizontal angle. The captain was throwing out all the stops to catch up to the mercantile cog just ahead of them.

Just below, her shipmates flew through the rigging, raising and lowering the sails as the ship made a shuddering turn to the right. On the deck, she could see a familiar spark of flame as their archers held lit arrows nocked to their bows, ready to release them into the air.

The corsair ship, faster and sleeker, gained on the struggling cog. Aela knew that their captain, the infamous man named Dreadmoor, would not give up his quarry. He did not like to lose. She heard his voice call out gruffly from the fore as he ordered the archers to release the flaming shafts. The arrows arced up and over, some sinking into the cog’s starboard side with a dull thunk, while the truer ones found their targets. Screams rent the frigid air as the brigantine finally veered within spitting distance. Several grappling hooks sank into the cog’s side, stabilising the two vessels.

The dull sound of boots on soaking wood thundered below her as the corsairs swarmed across a boarding plank, their swords ruthlessly singing with the blood of the merchant sailors. Aela leaped down from the crow’s nest; her hands burned on the coarse rope as she swung herself down to the deck where her own salt-weathered boots landed with a wet thud. The rigging above her head shook as the lookout boy scrambled down, eager to cross the planks and join in the fray. He landed beside her and slipped a dull blade from his belt. Shaking back his shaggy red hair, he grinned up at her. She clicked her tongue in reply and hefted her speargun with muscular arms, scarred by the marks of a dangerous life. Knife wounds and near misses were etched into her powerful limbs, evidence of her trade.

A corsair almost since birth, Aela Crane had grown to womanhood in the crow’s nest, her only masters the sea and the sword. She and the freckled boy, Timlet, made for the gangplank and the merchant ship, but as Timlet took a step onto the cedar board, it lost its purchase on the other side and fell free, crashing into the ocean below. Aela grasped Timlet’s arm and pulled him stumbling backwards before he could follow the plank down into the waves.

“Thanks.” Timlet smiled graciously, blushing. Aela released him as he took several steps back, readying himself. He burst forward towards the side of the ship and then leaped off the edge and across the gap to land safely on the other side. Not a moment after landing, he flew into the fray, confronting a young merchant sailor who had naught but a trowel to defend himself.

Aela stepped back, considering the jump. The gap between the ships wasn’t large, but she didn’t have the same acrobatic knack as Timlet, and above else, valued style over substance. She aimed her speargun into the mast of the merchant ship and let it fly. The spear arced through the night sky, and the spear tip buried itself deep into the mast, pulling the line taut. Aela took a run and swung herself across the gap to land up on the aftcastle.

Knees bent, she scanned the action. Her fellow corsairs fought man-to-man on the deck below. She could see Timlet dodging the young sailor’s trowel, bobbing and weaving as he prepared his attack as she had taught him. He ducked and danced away from his opponent’s lunges, letting him tire until he could get in behind and slit the throat. As he pulled his knife across the boy’s neck and released his blood, the body fell backwards, collapsing onto Timlet. Aela shook her head. The boy still had a lot to learn. As Timlet struggled to free himself, another man fought his way along the deck, past the body of the young sailor.

The man swung and jabbed at every corsair he could reach, seeming to search the boat until his gaze met Aela’s as she stood on the aftcastle. Here was the captain of the vessel. It was clear in his purposeful stride, which hastened after he saw her and made his way towards the stairs. Trying to think quickly, she tugged on the line of her speargun and flipped the retraction lever as the steel tip came free of the mast. The line reeled back into the gun and the sharp metal shaft came shooting back towards her, clicking as it locked back into its place in the barrel.

The merchant captain was almost upon her as she pulled her long dagger from its sheath and turned to block his first swing. She scanned his form. He wore a vivid purple coat. Its crest featured the North Star, a sign of his patronage to the king of Thandepar, the frozen country in whose waters they currently sailed, and whose merchants they currently slaughtered. She smirked as he lunged again, and blocked him easily.

“Don’t worry. We’re here to relieve you of your extra cargo.” She grinned, lowering her gaze as she flicked his curved sword away with her blade. She circled him, daring him to strike again.

“What goods? We’ve nothing but a hold full of bodies, thanks to you.” His hair was grey, and his skin was sickly pale. Still, there was something familiar in the ridge of his nose and the set of his brow. The captain tried to gauge her skill as she stepped around him, dancing away as he tried another strike. She clicked her tongue at him.

“Oh come on. You’ve got to have something good down there, sailing in the dead of night like you are. No lights. No noise. Quiet as a thief.” She lunged in with her blade, not to cut but to tap him on his waist, teasing. Furrowing his brow, he jumped back out of his range, a curious look in his pale blue eyes.

“So quiet we were, one almost wonders how you found us.” He raised an eyebrow and stepped aside quickly as Aela pounced forward for a true strike. He was spry, which surprised her. He was much sharper than he seemed, in his delicate purple coat.

“Come closer,” she said, still taunting. “I can make you a free man.” Her tongue brushed her lower lip as she stepped in close, tucking her blade between his arm and abdomen. “One plunge of my dagger and you’ll have no king but the patron of the dead.” Aela jumped back rapidly as the captain struck at her shoulder. She was too quick, and his sword cut only air. He sneered.

“You corsairs are all the same. You think you are the only free people in this world.” His voice was strained.

“Yes, as that is the case.” She mocked him smugly as she sidestepped another blow.

“Ah, but is it? I have land, I have a lord, and I have—” He stepped in towards her, catching her off guard. “—a family.” He thrust his blade against her outer thigh, pressing its sharp edge through her rough trousers, splitting threads and drawing blood, but barely wounding. “And your lifestyle will not allow you those things. Is that freedom?”

Aela jumped back, feeling his blade slide free of her flesh. She gave a quick glance down to the deck to see Timlet scrapping with another sailor.

“What is it you people say?” the captain continued. “I pledge allegiance to the sea. Landless, lawless, honour free?”

She spat at his feet. “My crewmates are my family, and this ocean is my land.” She thrust forward, but the captain stepped free of her blow. She was becoming irritated, and she knew that it made her vulnerable to attack, but she pressed onwards, striking again and again but failing to land a blow. He had made her angry, and the heat rolled off her body, warming her blade, fueling her fire. She tried to blink it away, but it was too late—she could not recover her concentration. The captain lowered his sword as he gaped at her. She knew that her eyes had blazed from their usual deep brown to a candle’s twin. Blazing orange, flickering like a flame, and the pupil ringed with blue. Before this moment, she could have been any woman to him, from any place. Her complexion was not unusual; deep brown eyes with skin the colour of a sequoia tree, its strength echoed in her muscular frame. Her head was crested by a bluster of curls, the sides haphazardly shaved for ease of maintenance at sea. Besides the profiteer’s attitude, the sea-dog smell, and the uncanny bloodlust, she would have been passed without notice in any marketplace.

Monster.” He choked out the word. His eyes were locked on hers. She allowed herself a moment to hate the familiar fear in his gaze before she lunged forward, striking at him, forcing him to defend himself.

“Do you want to keep staring? A second ago, you wanted to kill me.” Aela sliced into his leg, letting the blade bite before ripping it back.

She burned on, forcing him backwards. She had him up against the railing of the aftcastle, her dagger at his throat, the sea at his back, ready to finish him off when she heard a noise behind her. She glanced back, expecting a sailor come to defend his captain, but she could see the battle had ended. It was only Timlet, scrambling up the stairs towards her. That one look back cost her the chance for a killing blow. The captain pushed her back, and before she could strike him, he leapt over the railing and into the sea, swimming clear of the rudder and away from the cog. Timlet joined Aela at the railing as they stared out at the sea and the merchant captain swimming away in the waves. Aela’s eyes still burned.

“You little bastard, you let him jump!” She swore at Timlet, and a red blush spread under his freckles as he edged away to avoid her wrath.

“It was an accident! I was only coming to make sure you were all right!”

“I protect you. It doesn’t work the other way around.”

“Well, he’ll never make it to land anyways! He’ll just bleed out in the water or get speared by a narwhal or somethin’,” Timlet stammered. Aela stepped towards him and he flinched as if expecting a blow. Instead, she let out a laugh. The fire faded from her as she put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

“Speared by a narwhal? You’re ridiculous.” She gave him a slight push backwards and turned back to the sea. She pulled her speargun from its holster on her back and set it on the railing to steady her aim. She found her mark through the sight and pulled the trigger, sending the metal spear flying through the night. It landed with a thunk in the captain’s back, as his desperate swimming ceased with a shriek. His body bobbed on the frigid waves, spear sticking out like a dorsal fin.

She cut the rope that connected the spear to the gun. She would buy replacements on their imminent return to port, and had no desire to keep this one as a reminder that she had failed to keep her cool. Timlet squeaked behind her. She turned to see him rocking on his heels.

“He wouldn’t have made it far before drowning,” he remarked to his feet. Aela returned her gun to the holster and stepped towards him. She could hear the sound of the other crewmates’ celebratory hoots as they carried goods from the merchant ship back to the brigantine.

“Ah, but drowning is a long and painful death.” She shrugged and guided Timlet back down, across a new gangplank, and onto their ship. They would break the cog, sinking it with the sailors’ bodies inside, and find a less conspicuous spot to spend the night.

They chose a deep cove to drop anchor in until the morning. Its patchy evergreen forest was part of a small strip of land along the southern coast of Thandepar that its people referred to as the green belt. That coastline was one of the few fertile places on the northern continent where crops could be grown in abundance. The only others were a handful of deep river valleys tucked between the glaciers, the meltwater carving out hollows where the people of Thandepar had settled their major towns. It was a country made beautiful by its desolation. The valleys and the green belt produced the majority of the food for the small nation, but its trade wealth lay elsewhere.

Dreadmoor directed his corsair crew as they carried their bounty deep into the brigantine’s hold. It contained a rich cargo: gold from Thandepar’s deep mountain veins and vibrant dye squeezed from its tundra lichen. The refugees from Old Ansar had found it that way when their ships arrived on its shores. Empty. They came from southeastern lands of heat and spice, overcome with brimstone, to a world so penetrated by frost that it could scarcely feed their children. Gradually, they rebuilt their civilization, digging deep in the mountains for gold to trade and squeezing what little life they could out of the permafrost. Their capital, called Ghara, was built in the ruins of a stone stronghold they found etched into a high peak, its previous inhabitants long gone. But not entirely gone…

Aela floated on the surface of the ocean. Her evening swim was a chance for solitude. She could reflect on her thoughts without interruption. Heat radiated from her body, warming the water in her perimeter, another aspect she had inherited from unknown ancestors.

Tiny chunks of ice bobbed by, lazily melting as they entered her range. She tried to rein in her feelings, considering how the merchant captain had broken her practiced cool. He had known what she was, so she had killed him.

Aela dipped her head back into the warm water, letting it pool around her temples and in the hollows of her ears. It would have been a lot more therapeutic if she wasn’t jolted to reality by the sound of Timlet hollering at her from the deck. She jerked upright, flipped onto her stomach, and swam towards the rough rope ladder that hung down from the deck.

She climbed up, hoisted herself over the edge, and grabbed her worn pants and light-weight tunic from where they lay, then pulled them on as Timlet waited patiently. He had his usual expression of half-cocked excitement, but there was an odd pall behind his cheerful expression. He had seemed alarmed when she killed the merchant captain, although he himself had dispatched a young sailor only minutes earlier. He was easily her favourite crewmate, maybe because he was so different from the others. There was no question of their archetype—like her, life under the sign of the Corsair had made them reckless, charming and avaricious. Timlet, on the other hand, seemed like he might be more at home under the sign of the Merchant, working at a bakery or a grocer. He was a fair-weather fiend, but a true friend—almost like a younger brother. Aela didn’t think she’d enjoy her days half as much without the chance to ruffle his ginger hair or coax out his ragged smile. She meant what she had said to the merchant captain. Her crewmates were her family, for better or worse.

“Captain’s called a moot in the galley,” Timlet said, sweating slightly as he averted his gaze from the damp linen hugging her form. Aela considered him for a moment with a wry grin and then made her way to the meeting.

As soon as Aela stepped into the ship’s galley, she was hit with a hot blast of salt, sweat, and aging pork. The furnace was lit, the flames roaring behind Dreadmoor as he shouted orders at the crew.

“We’ll make port tomorrow morning at the city docks. If any one of you shit-brained amateurs draws the attention of the guard, you’re on your own.” Brine-aged ale sprayed from his tankard as Dreadmoor slammed it down on the table. Aela smirked. As much as he played the rough sea dog, she knew that the captain was a family man at heart. After all, he was the closest thing she had ever known to a father.

She rested her forearms on the cool surface of the ice box, listening to her crewmates chatter about the prospect of fresh food. After weeks of nothing but stale bread and salt pork, Aela was salivating at the prospect of a nice ripe orange or a handful of figs. She couldn’t wait to slip unnoticed through the dockside souk and grab some fresh piece of paradise, letting the juice of the fruit run past her teeth as she bit through its flesh. But those weren’t the only fruits she was looking to pluck. While every port had its own special delicacy, the city of Marinaken held her favourite—a crofter’s daughter by the name of Brynne. Aela traced her teeth with her tongue as she thought about the smell of hay and the warmth of sunbeams that highlighted scattered freckles, that thread of common themes came to Aela each night as she slept. She always woke with a fleeting internal warmth that could never seem to be replicated during her waking hours.

“Seabitch!”

Aela’s reverie snapped in half as Dreadmoor roared his name for her and shook his tankard. She wiped flecks of salty ale from her cheeks and bared her teeth at the old captain.

“Aye, Captain?”

“Something tells me you haven’t heard a word I said,” he barked.

“Memorized them, Captain.” Aela grinned, standing to attention. The captain gave her a dark, humourless glance.

“You better watch your shit-eating mouth. One more insolent word and I’ll declare open season on your hide.” His lips parted to show crooked, rotten teeth as Dreadmoor brokered a threatening smile. At his words, lude jeers and slurs erupted from the rest of the crewmen and women. Timlet shrunk back, appearing genuinely concerned. Aela peered around and raised her eyebrow at the hardened crew as she shifted into a defensive stance.

“Good idea, Captain. We’ve been riding a bit low with all the new cargo. Could stand to throw a few bodies overboard.”

Her hand rested against the smooth leather of her dagger’s hilt as she anticipated a brawl. Aela was used to the captain testing her ever since she arrived on the ship as a child. She had assumed he was trying to prepare her for the realities of corsair life, and if so, he’d succeeded. She moved into a crouch, ready to cut the first bitch or bastard to try to prove their mettle against her.

Before anyone could reach her, Dreadmoor’s tankard hit the slick deck like a shrapnel round, spraying ale and glass shards into jockeying crewmen.

“Get out of my fuckin’ sight, all of you!” he roared as his crew tried to flee from the blowback, piling out on to the deck. As they scrambled, Aela backed up and stepped discreetly down the narrow stairs that led below deck. She slipped into the belly of the ship, taking a shortcut through the cargo hold, and paused to run her hand over the looted crates. A surprisingly good haul for a mercantile cog of that size, especially one so close to the coast. Normally that kind of ship would be carrying food and supplies up to the river valleys, but the cargo in the hold was full of Thandepar’s best trade goods. Each crate featured a violet seal bearing the North Star, some holding high-value dyes, others good-quality seal pelts.

Aela poked and peeked, checking out the haul. Definitely one of their better ones in quite some time. Along with the crates were a couple of bulging gunny sacks. The first one made a clinking noise as Aela kicked at it with the tip of her leather boot. She raised her eyebrows and bent down, her suspicions confirmed as she opened the top to see that it was absolutely stuffed full of gold coins. Her breath caught in her throat as she realized she was looking at enough currency to establish a small estate. She picked up a gold piece, sliding her thumb across the design. One side bore the familiar North Star. The other side featured a profile of the Ansari king, his small tight mouth and high cheekbones standing out in stark relief. Aela stood up, flipping the coin across her knuckles, and tucked it into the lining of her tunic.

She left the hold, her head spinning over their newfound nest egg. Surely Dreadmoor had plans for it, but she had a few suggestions in mind now that they were apparently filthy fucking rich. But those could wait for tomorrow, she thought as she climbed up into the crow’s nest to watch the sun rise.

The clouds split open, bloody hues sinking down behind the buildings of Marinaken as the ship shuddered into its natural deepwater harbour. Reedy stretches of land reached out on either side of the boat as they slid up into the mouth of the estuary. Farmland spread out on either side, meeting in the middle at the crooked port. Like most towns in Thandepar, the buildings tipped the past into the present. Ancient stone foundations were topped by timber refits as the community built itself upon the bones of unfamiliar ancestors.

As the ship reached its mooring on one of the many rickety finger docks, Aela slipped down the rigging and landed on the deck with a thud.

She stalked across the ship, then vaulted over the side and down onto the salt-stained planks to help secure the brigantine along with the other crewman before taking a look around. After being so long at sea, the sounds of the harbour rang in her ears. The main marketplace for the country’s breadbasket, the dock area was full of every kind of salesman—fish, produce, baked goods, and those identifiable few selling something slightly more intimate. Aela smirked to herself. She had learned her lesson years ago in the southern ports. Young and hungry, she had handed her gold to the first woman to give her a peek, and ended up with a delicate and painful rash that made the local medic blush.

In the centre of the square, a crier stood on a raised platform, barking the horoscopical advice of the day for each of the archetypes. Not unusually, the Corsair was not included. Aela toyed with the gold piece from the hold as she approached the end of the dock, trying to decide which pastry seller seemed the most desperate. One sweet bun to get her energy up, and then her only plans involved freckles and moans.

As she stepped off the dock, she lurched forward, thrown off balance as Dreadmoor’s massive arm landed around her shoulder.

“Aela, dear. Spare a moment for an old sea dog?” He bared his ugly grin and offered a hand as she tried to regain her balance.

“Can it wait? I have somewhere I need to—”

“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that little ginger muff. Word on the cobble is that she’s up and moved.” He pulled Aela in conspiratorially.

“How do you know about her?” She knew that the captain didn’t give a shit what she did once she left the ship. She was instantly put off by the idea that he would bother to find out. Had he been watching her? Anticipation began to grow in her chest, prickly and strange. It was not a feeling that Aela Crane was used to. She tried to take a step away as he dug his fingers in tighter.

“Oh come now, pip. I know everything. What kind of captain would I be if I didn’t have all the information? After all, information is worth a lot.”

Aela’s stomach flipped as she stared at Dreadmoor. His blank expression was a threat. Not aggressive, not victorious—all business. Behind her, she could hear the townspeople scatter to clear the square at the sound of marching boots drawing near. The sound of the barker abruptly ceased as he quit the square, his monetary advice for followers of the Merchant abandoned midsentence.

Aela shuddered as she gazed past Dreadmoor onto the dock, where the crewman were lined up behind their captain. Not a single eye met hers—except for poor Timlet. He was peering around, concerned and confused. The idiot, he had no idea what was about to happen.

Aela knew. She knew that the person she trusted most had just bent her over a fucking barrel. She knew who she would see when turned around. She had his face tucked inside her tunic, imprinted onto the gold coin that rested against her skin.

“You sold me out,” she hissed at the captain, as she turned to face the king of Thandepar.

He was regal and refined. His skin wasn’t so different a shade from the coin itself. It was a deep bronze, his expression far from welcoming. The skillful etching on the metal’s surface had the same tight mouth and rigid cheekbones that framed a crooked general’s nose and two eyes like fine marble. His deep purple general’s coat matched the uniforms of the score of soldiers standing in formation behind him, the North Star insignia embroidered over their hearts.

The king cleared his throat pointedly in the midst of the awkward silence that had fallen as Aela looked him up and down, calculating. His attention lifted past her to rest on Dreadmoor, who still kept his arm firmly around his furious charge.

“I trust you received the payment?” His tone held no mirth. It was merely official, like chalk on slate.

“Like fish in a barrel.” Dreadmoor smirked. Aela shuddered at her own idiocy. Two full bags of Thandepardine gold on an inland trader? She bit her lip in fury, the taste of blood dancing on her tongue. Dreadmoor gave her a rough shove forward and she stumbled to her knees.

“Go south.” The king spat his words at the corsair captain. Clearly dealing with his kind left a poor taste.

“Move out, boys!” Dreadmoor shouted, herding the crew back towards the ship as the king’s soldiers surrounded their new captive. Aela tried to think quick, but her mind felt sluggish. She tried to rise, letting out a guttural cry as the nearest two soldiers slammed her to the ground, prone. The adrenaline fought its way through her veins, blocking out sight and sound. She hardly heard Timlet’s shouts. She only barely registered his body flying off the dock, knife bare, in the direction of the soldiers. What she did feel was the warm spatter as his arterial spray hit the cobbles of the dockside market.

“Up!” barked the king as the soldiers lifted her roughly to her feet. Now upright, she could see that he held the young sailor by the collar of his tunic as blood flowed loosely out of the gash in his neck. Red bubbles slipped out between his lips like glass orbs. Aela’s heart pounded viciously against her ribs as the taut string inside her snapped. She roared, furious and wild. Heat radiated across her face as her eyes ignited, burning as her veins caught fire. She lashed out with every limb, every ounce of strength remaining. The guard scattered and re-grouped, coming at her in fours and fives, overcoming her once again. They had order, control, and military training. She had only desperation and rage. She lunged her head and chest forward as two soldiers pulled her arms behind her, the metal irons ringing as they were clasped around her wrists.

“The longer you struggle, the less chance he has of surviving.” The king spoke evenly, devoid of emotion. Aela’s gaze snapped back to Timlet. He gasped raggedly. For a bare moment, his eyes met hers, projecting desperation. Breathing deeply, she tried to centre herself.

“What…do you…want from me?” She stumbled on her words as she tried to calm the bloodlust that controlled her. The soldiers’ grip held tight even as she swayed on her feet.

“I need your help with a task. And if you care about this misshapen pup as much as you seem to, you’ll agree to assist me.” He gazed down at her, his expression unreadable. This king seemed to have a knack for mystery. It suddenly occurred to Aela that she didn’t even know his name. Call it a perk of living the corsair life, but there was no need to pay attention to local politics. Aela turned from the inscrutable king to Timlet. Her instinct was to resist, to be self-serving and stubborn. But in the end, he was the only person from her so-called family that cared about her fate. The rest of the crew was already scrambling onto the ship, preparing to make sail.

“If I help you, you’ll get him to a medicinary?” she asked, hesitant to trust the strange monarch.

The king nodded.

Aela bit back the urge to keep fighting, her temperature dropping as she continued to breathe. “Then I agree.”

As two soldiers left the pack to carry her bleeding friend in the direction of the city’s healers, she cursed his idiocy under her breath. She always knew that he didn’t belong among the bruisers in their crew. There’s no place for a hero on a corsair ship.

With white-gloved hands digging into her arms on either side, Aela let herself be half marched, half dragged across the square to the nearby teahouse. A tiny bell hanging from the lintel chimed softly as they entered the fairly well-appointed establishment, startling a plump shop woman who dozed at the counter. The stone floors were covered with soft hand-woven rugs, giving an air of cozy sophistication. This was not the worst scrape that Aela had gotten into, as a career corsair. The prim atmosphere of the teashop was alarmingly calm, a juxtaposition given the events that led her there. It was not the kind of place that made Aela feel comfortable; she preferred the hay-and-piss stench of shithouse taverns.

The good shop woman mopped her gray bangs out of her eyes and then jumped up to bring her sovereign of a fresh pot of tea and two cups, at his signal. The high, strained whistle of a kettle sounded from the kitchen. She must have been in the process of making herself a morning cup, only to have it co-opted by the man to whom she already gave a quarter income in fealty. Thandepar was not a nation made rich by coincidence.

Jerked roughly into a chair at an intricately carved wooden table, Aela resolved to keep quiet until she figured out exactly what the king wanted from her. As he sat down opposite, he smoothed the rich fabric of his uniform and stared back at her, impassive. She studied his face, trying to pick out any thread of humanity that she could exploit. Like any good brigand, Aela knew that finding the human side of your enemy could mean finding their weak spot.

His fingers were slick, long creatures. He held the teapot in one hand, pouring it into two cups held with the other. She wondered about his family. She wondered who he asked for strength at night, when he scanned the stars. He had a military look, so perhaps it was the Guardian, but there was something about his demeanour that didn’t seem to fit. Aela had learned to pick out the constellation of the Corsair from a young age, though she had never stepped foot in one of his few blood-soaked temples. Dreadmoor taught her well in that regard. Aela flinched as she tried to squeeze that late fond feeling out of existence. Across the table, the king failed to hide a smirk. He had found her humanity first. She had lost their unspoken contest. He slid a cup of tea in front of her and signaled to her left guard. She heard the iron scrape as he unshackled her wrists. Aela resisted the urge to rub them as she stared hard across the table and repeated her question from the market square.

“What do you want from me?”

The king flicked his gaze up from his tea to meet hers as he took a sip. The steam from Aela’s own cup rose in front of her like a soft breath across her lips and nose. She took the cup in her hands, letting the warmth spring through her aching muscles. The king opened his mouth to speak, pausing slightly before his delivery.

“I knew your father,” he said.

Aela surprised herself by laughing sharply. Maybe she had overestimated this character if he thought that was going to help his cause.

“Congratulations. I didn’t.” Strangely, she thought she caught sight of a well-repressed smirk on the king’s lips as she took a sip of tea.

“Aela Crane, I have a proposition for you.” He poured himself a second cup as he waited for her to respond.

She didn’t.

“Perhaps you’ve heard of a little problem we’ve been having in the mountains surrounding the capital.”

Aela shook her head. “I’m afraid I haven’t been paying that much attention to the local gossip of your country.” Aela shrugged.

The king plowed on with his pitch. “The short version is that we’re having something of a pest problem. A certain type of beast that your family is particularly…proficient in hunting.” She didn’t like the way his gaze bored into her as he spoke.

Aela raised her eyebrows, skeptically. “Well, I don’t know what you’ve heard about me, but it can’t be much, because I’m not a hunter, and my parents didn’t teach me a damn thing.”

“Trust me, you may not know it, but you’re a natural-born hunter. And you’ll have four of my finest men to accompany you.” He gestured to his uniformed guards, standing in formation outside the empty tea shop.

“You mean guard me?” Aela glanced at the guards on either side of her chair.

“Not at all.” He paused to sip the tea. “You’d be leading the expedition.”

Aela stared at him, scrutinizing his every movement as he spoke, searching for a tell. She was waiting for the other boot to drop. So far nothing about this interaction added up.

“I’m sorry. Let me get this straight. You paid off my captain and crew to deliver me to your feet so that you could ask me for a favour?” Aela sat back, crossing her arms.

“Let’s just say you’re a difficult woman to get ahold of, and I was happy to do whatever it took to make that happen.” His cold expression wasn’t giving away any secrets as he spoke, so Aela decided it was time to push her luck a little. She kicked her feet up on the table and swigged the remainder of her tea.

“And what’s in it for me?” she asked, dropping some swagger. The king shook his head almost imperceptibly, his mouth tightening.

“A room in my household and a position as the Master of Hunt.” His lips twitched upwards at the corner as if he might attempt a smile. “The position your father once occupied.”

Aela pursed her lips, confused. This strange hard man was offering her something she had been purposely avoiding her entire life: security, patronage, and a link to her roots. Aela smiled, knowing her decision was an easy one.

“Sorry, man. That’s not really my thing.” She pushed her chair back and stood up. “But thanks for the tea and bloodshed.” The king signaled the guards to let her leave.

“Well, you’re more than welcome to go on your way. We’ll always be able to find you if we need you.” He broke into a truly terrifying facsimile of a grin.

Aela smiled. If that was the threat she was waiting on, it was one that she could live with. She shrugged and walked away from the table. Already, she formed plans in her head: a new crew, a new boat, and the waves beneath her once again.

As she hit the door handle of the tea shop, the king called out: “But I’d worry about that young friend of yours if I were you. Modern medicine can only do so much.”

Aela froze, her stomach dropping. Timlet. The king had managed to zero in on the one thing that made her human. Her blood flowed hot as she thought about the only person in the world she cared for, and realized that she should have let him die rather than be held over her head as a bargaining chip. She turned back to the king. He didn’t even have the decency to smirk victoriously. He was as blank as ever. It was the Bureaucrat, Aela realized. That was the patron that he looked to in the sky in times of need, if he even had any.

“When do we leave?” Aela said through gritted teeth.

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Meet the Author

A.E. Ross lives in Vancouver, B.C. with one very grumpy raincloud of a cat. When not writing fiction, they can be found producing and story-editing children’s cartoons, as well as producing & hosting podcasts like The XX Files Podcast. Their other works have appeared on Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Netflix (and have been widely panned by 12-year-olds on 4Chan) but the projects they are most passionate about feature LGBTQIA+ characters across a variety genres.

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